Monday, October 28, 2019

Smyrna: Birthplace of Homer Pt.1

Photos by Jack A. Waldron

Pictured above, I propped my bicycle up against the ancient Roman aqueduct as I was entering this most chaotic city to get this photo.  If you look in the distance through the arch above my bike, you can see the massive rock sculpture of Ataturk.  The ancient city of Smyrna and birthplace of Homer dates back at least three millennia.
Founded by Amazons according to legend, and later taken over by the Hittites, the Ionian Greeks eventually seized control of the city in the 9C BC under less than honorable circumstances.  Having sought refuge in the city, the Ionian Greeks saw an opportunity to take control of the metropolis during a festival of Dionysus, when most of the citizenry were celebrating outside the city walls.  According to Herodotus, the Ionians closed the gates, seized the city from Colophon, and exiled all its inhabitants.
Pictured above, some beautiful unrestored homes from the early twentieth century, that remarkably, show some lineage to the ancient Greeks that once dominated the city of Smyrna, which kept that name up until the 1930s.  Note the classical Greek style mutules/guttae on the roofline of the building in the top photo, and architrave or epistyle circumnavigating the midsection of the building in the lower photo, as well as above each window frame.
The ancient dwellings of the the 10th - 4th centuries BC that are illustrated above and below hold hints of a connection to the structures of later centuries.  For instance, the wooden beams along the roofline in the illustration below are represented in later structures in marble (in Greek and Roman buildings, or in neoclassical structures), or, in wood and plaster, such as in the mutules/guttae along the roofline of the early twentieth century building in the top photo above.
The centuries that followed the ascension of the Ionions were prosperous, however, the Lydians would harass and attack the city relentlessly until its eventual destruction and abandonment.  Lost to war and depravity, the site would not see renewed interest until the arrival of Alexander the Great, who after a hunt, was visited in a dream on Mt. Pagus by Nemesis, the dual goddess of retribution and revenge.
Nemesis instructed Alexander to build a new city on the site of the old, and after the Oracle of Apollo at nearby Claros was consulted by the Smyrnaeans, they received this reply:
Three and four times happy shall those men be hereafter Who shall dwell on Pagus beyond the sacred Meles
Hittite texts suggest an ancient city named Tsumurna resided on the eastern side of the bay, and that this settlement dates back some 8500 years.  
Evidence from excavations carried out on the Yesilove Mound site in this area support the existence of such a settlement.
The Situla pictured below dates from the Late Geometric Period 1050-700 BC, and was excavated from the site in Old Smyrna.
Being one of the earliest examples of Ionian style, this capital is of a rarity seldom seen in any museum. Though I was not able to explore the ancient settlement at Bayrakli, I will do so in the future.  The modern city of Izmir is a tangle of highways and busy thoroughfares that make a very difficult city to navigate within, not to mention locating the numerous ancient sites.
Much mystery and debate surrounds the architecture of the Temple of Athena in Old Smyrna.  One debate has to do with the capitals, which in the illustration above (provided by the Izmir Archeological Museum) are of the Ionian type.
Further, within the same illustration, you can see that the column bases are of the Mushroom type (pictured and illustrated below). As you can see, in the museum display of one of these Mushroom type member/s, they are in fact described as a capital.
Pictured above, an Old Izmir (Smyrna) A-type Mushroom Capital/Base that dates from around 600BC, and is sculpted out of tufa stone.
Sources who have done in-depth research on the temple have described it as Aeolic, and of the Aeolic order due to its so-called capitals, which they identify as the Mushroom type, while others insist that the Mushroom type members are in fact the column bases, and not the capitals; this intern presents a dimensional problematic element (see the full explanation in the 'Other Notes' section quoted below).

Architectural Order:

Aeolic. Fragments of Aeolic capitals with vertical volutes between palmettes are interpreted as originating from the peripteros of the cella.


The reconstruction of the temple building itself is open to question. The excavators reconstruct the cella building as peripteral, but only on the south and west sides, with 6 x 11 columns. The eastern facade is reconstructed without columns. The interior of the cella may have contained one or two rows of columns, although there are no traces of column bases inside the cella (Akurgal 1983, fig. 75). This reconstruction has been questioned, however; an alternative reconstruction shows the temple with 8 x 14 columns, including columns across the east facade (Kuhn 1986, fig. 10). The northern wall of the temple appears to have been without a colonnade, resulting in a temple with a peripteros around only three of its sides. A stepped ramp approached the temple at the east. At the south, the terrace or podium upon which the cella building stood was extended in two separate sections (the so-called east and west terraces). Between these extensions, an additional entrance or propylon to the temenos was formed. Stoas are reconstructed as standing on the east and west terraces, based on the evidence of foundation walls, but there is no evidence for colonnades.

Date Description:

Related ceramic finds (Corinthian pottery) in the excavation levels; evidence of changes in masonry technique in terrace walls. Reference in Herodotus to capture of Old Smyrna by Alyattes Hdt. 1.16.2. Style of carving of tufa capitals and (?) bases.


At the beginning of the seventh century B.C., an area at the north of the city, adjacent to the city wall, was reserved as a sanctuary to the goddess Athena. Due to the slope of the land, an artificial terrace was constructed, with a curved corner at the south-west. The excavators of the site identify the following construction phases:
Phase I dates to the late geometric period (725-700 B.C.); to this phase belong a 5.5 m. long stretch of wall, and a ca. 3 m. wide ramp which may have led to the altar of the late geometric temple.
Phase II (the "sub-geometric podium"): between ca. 675-640 B.C., a monumental podium was constructed. Differences in masonry technique indicate that this phase can itself be divided into two distinct sequences.
Phase III (the "Orientalizing" phase): the excavators date the erection of the cella building, and its colonnades at west and south, to ca. 640 B.C. At about this time, the podium was enlarged at the south and west. The foundations of a rectangular structure inside the cella building are interpreted as a cult base. At ca. 620-610 B.C., two additional terraces were built at the south of the temple, to accommodate dedications (votive columns and statuary). At this time, the ramp of the late geometric period (at the south of the temple) was altered, flanked with side walls, becoming the main entrance to the temenos. In ca. 600 B.C., the Lydian king Alyattes captured Old Smyrna, and the temple, which may have been unfinished, was destroyed. Almost immediately after this destruction phase, however, the temple was restored, and the west terrace was extended even further to the west. Numerous votive deposits from the period ca. 600 - 550 B.C. indicate that the temple remained a center of cult activity. A barricade wall across the main entrance to the temenos is associated with the Persian conquest of ca. 545 B.C. The absence of any deposits or associated finds suggests that the temple was abandoned after ca. 545 B.C.
An alternative theory (Kuhn 1986) argues that there is no evidence for the existence of the cella building prior to ca. 600 B.C., or its destruction during the Lydian sack; therefore, the entire peripteral temple may date to the first quarter of the sixth century B.C., after the sack of Alyattes.

Other Notes:

The dedication of the temple to Athena seems secure, based on the evidence of a bronze votive bar found during the excavations. The bar preserves the following inscription:


A problematic feature of the temple and its architectural remains is the restoration of the tufa capitals (or bases) with a convex above a concave element, and decorated with two tiers of floral ornament of lotus buds and flowers. Once interpreted as column bases (Wesenberg 1971), it was then argued that their upper diameter was smaller than the lower diameter of the column shafts, and therefore they must have appeared at the top of the shaft. Since, however, the lower diameter of these mushroom-form capitals is greater than the upper diameter of the column shaft fragments, it is argued that they must belong to some as-yet unidentified columns and did not form part of the architecture of the cella building itself. If they did belong to free-standing votive columns located, for example, to the south of the temple, these votive columns must then have been far taller than the columns of the temple itself. In fact, there is no evidence for free-standing votive columns beyond the evidence suggested by the discovery of the mushroom-shaped capitals (or bases). Kuhn 1986, 39-80 finds this explanation unacceptable and restores the mushroom-shaped elements as column bases.

Perhaps equally problematic is the origin of the Aeolic capital type, with vertical volutes separated by a palmette. Parallels have been sought in Hittite, Egyptian, Assyrian and Syro-Palestinian architecture; it seems likely that the Ionian Aeolic capitals reflect some Near Eastern influence, although a direct prototype cannot be identified.

Sources Used:

Akurgal 1946, 55-80; Cook 1952, 104-106; Cook 1958, 1-34; Nicholls 1958, 35-137; Akurgal 1961, 182-3, 284-6; Wesenberg 1971; Betancourt 1977, 58-63; Coulton 1977, 167 n. 32; Schiering 1979, 77-108; Akurgal 1983, 63-99, figs. 37-88, pls. 49-100; Kuhn 1986, 39-80.

If I don't know from prior research, whenever I arrive in a village, town, city, etc., the first thing I ask is, 'Is there an archeological museum, or depot, or any other location where I can view antiquities?', and often, I'll be directed to a treasure-trove of antiquities.  In the past, I have been directed to city parks, municipal road and waterworks yards, schools, peoples houses, and so on.  With regard to Izmir, their Archeological Museum is well known, and that was the first place I headed.
The Roman coin pictured below shows Alexander the Great being visited by the dual goddess Nemesis as he sleeps on the slopes of Mt. Pegus.
The city found new growth during the Hellenistic and Roman periods as a major port for the movement of goods supporting the greater Anatolian interior, as well as the greater empire surrounding the Mediterranean.
The ancient bay of the city can be seen in the shape of a loop just west of the Agora (large porticoed square shape).
Pictured below, a view looking over the substructure of the Agora with the West Portico in the right of the photo.
A small channel in the floor of the substructure still flows with spring water as it did in ancient times.  Large rock-cut water channels were constructed in ancient times in order to bring water to the city (see explanation below).
The columns of the West Portico can be seen below, while on the other side can be seen the exposed arch system of the substructure.
As you can see in these photos, the Agora of Smyrna is huge, and there is an array of pieces to the puzzle that once made-up the buildings in and around the Agora including the Basillica, many of which have been laid out, numbers and categorized.
During the Roman era, the Agora was expanded upon, including new buildings and porticoes.  Compare the illustrations above and below in order to get a better idea of this expansion.
The West Portico features the Gate of Faustina, who was the wife of Marcus Aurelius, and whose relief can be viewed in the keystone of the gate (pictured below).  In 178 AD, the city was hit by an earthquake that destroyed many of the cities buildings.  Relief arrived under the emperor Marcus Aurelius, and the thankful citizenry repaid the debt through the dedication of the West Portico Gate to Faustina.
As mentioned in the description, the missing portion of the double-arched gate is believed to be buried under the road that it meets (pictured below).
While exploring the Agora substructure, there are on display a number of honorary monument bases with an assortment of inscriptions, which the museum has made an effort to translate for visitors (pictured below).
Back above the substructure of the agora, numerous antiquities await the visitor in the open-air museum.  Pictured below, a Roman period sculpture of a lion straddling a captive bull.
Now outside the Agora (pictured below), a Roman wall rises from a substructure that once supported another building that is yet to be understood.  In the distance above the wall, the West Portico can be seen; it was along this line that a road once connected the ancient harbor with the Gate of Faustina.
Back at the Izmir Archeological Museum, gaps in the puzzle that make understanding the progression and growth of the ancient city over the millennia can be filled in, which give a more well rounded insight into the lives, structures and psyche of the ancient cultures that once inhabited this land.

*All photos and content property of Jack A. Waldron (photos may not be used without written permission)

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