MENU

History Of Assos

ASSOS:  The city was founded from 1000-900 BC by Aeolian colonists from Lesbos, who specifically are said to have come from Methymna. The settlers built a Doric Temple to Athena on top of the crag in 530 BC. From this temple Hermias of Atarneus, a student of Plato, ruled Assos, the Troad and Lesbos for a period of time, under which the city experienced its greatest prosperity. (Strangely, Hermias was actually the slave of the ruler of Atarneus.) Under his rule, he encouraged philosophers to move to the city. As part of this, in 348 BC Aristotle came here and married King Hermeias's niece, Pythia, before leaving for Lesbos three years later in 345 BC. This 'golden period' of Assos ended several years later when the Persians arrived, and subsequently tortured Hermias to death.
The Persians were driven out by Alexander the Great in 334 BC. Between 241 and 133 BC, the city was ruled by the Kings of Pergamon. However, in 133 BC, the Pergamons lost control of the city as it was absorbed by the Roman empire.
St. Paul also visited the city during his third missionary journey through Asia Minor, which was between 53-57 AD, on his way to Lesbos. From this period onwards, Assos shrunk to a small village, as it has remained ever since. Ruins around Assos continue to be excavated.
The pillars from the ancient port lay in the harbor for over a millennia. Eventually they were probably sold.
In the early 1900s an attempt was made to move the contents of the Temple of Athena. Much of the art has been moved to museums like the Louvre. The art found includes pictures both of mythical creatures and heraldic events.

Temple of Athena: The temple crowning the acropolis of Assos is the only Archaic temple in the Doric Order known so far in Asia Minor. According to an inscription on a capital, the temple was dedicated to the goddess Athena. Erected between 540 and 530 BC, the building was in use into the Hellenistic Age. The dimensions of the temple are 30.31 by 14.30 meters; the long sides have 13 columns each, the short sides 6 columns each. Except for the roof, the entire building was constructed from local andesite. A unique feature of the temple of Athena at Assos is its architrave frieze decorated with figures, since none of the temples in the Doric Order found in Greece and Italy are decorated in this place. The friezes consist of 5 blocks and show mythological scenes of gods, heroes, and animal battles. Their fragments are now in museums at Çanakkale, Istanbul, Boston and the Louvre in Paris.

The sanctuary, the cella, which was considered to be the residence of the goddess, was only accessible to priests and priestesses. The cella contained the statue of the goddess; gifts donated to her were also kept here. Festivals in honour of the goddess were celebrated outside, the area in front of the temple entrance in the east served as festival grounds.

The acropolis during the Byzantine Age: In the late Byzantine phase, the acropolis was expanded to function as a fortified refuge. For this purpose, the still existing antique ring wall was strengthened and received four round and four rectangular towers. The interior of the complex was enhanced with several cisterns and living quarters and
storage buildings were constructed, part of which are still visible today. The construction material consisted of
blocks from the temple of Athena, which was dismantled for this purpose.


Necropolis: The necropolis of Assos stretches from east of the city to the west, however, only the area outside the western gate has been excavated and studied. The oldest graves in the necropolis are pithos (large clay vessels) burials. The dead were placed inside the pithos in a fetal position, and usually such vessels were laid on bedrock on their sides, with the opening oriented towards the east and closed with a stone. The oldest graves of this type date to the middle of the 7th century BC. In the 6th century BC the first cist graves appear, in the 5th century BC the first sarcophagi. Burial in sarcophagi continued uninterrupted into the Byzantine era. Until the Roman age, the sarcophagi were unadorned, lacked inscriptions and had a flat cover. The names of the buried were carved onto cubic stone blocks placed on top of the sarcophagus. Beginning in Roman times, the sarcophagi were decorated and received inscriptions along one of the long sides to indicate their owners. Now people also began to enclose the sarcophagi with walls to create family tombs. The tomb of the Lorichos family is an example of such an enclosure. The Assos necropolis is characterized by its large number of monumental Roman tombs. One of the best preserved examples of such tombs is the monument of Publius Varus, constructed around the end of the 1st century BC. The oldest paved road of the necropolis, leading towards the western gate of the city, was constructed in the 6th century BC. During the Roman age, two further roads seem to have been built west of it.

In antiquity the deceased were cremated or buried. Children were generally not cremated. It seems that especially during the Archaic age, the ashes of female deceased were filled into small vessels after cremation, while the men were buried uncremated in large pithoi. For religious reasons, the deceased received gifts (so-called grave goods)

Agora: The most important space of an ancient city was a public area where people could meet to conduct economic and political transactions. This area was called the “agora”. The agora required only an open space in which the population could convene. The Assos agora was located between the eastern and western living quarters, immediately adjoining the theater. The agora is situated on an important street intersection where the streets running from east, west and from the harbour join. The main entrance to the stoa is located to the west of this intersection. On the south side, a small temple was constructed which later on, during the 5th or 6th centuries, was remodeled as a church. On the east side of the agora stood the bouleuterion (city hall). Two stoae stretched along the north and south sides of the agora. On the terrace immediately below the south stoa, a bath was constructed in Roman times.

Bouleuterion: The city hall of Assos has a square ground plan. The roof was carried by four columns standing inside the building. The entrance to the building is situated on the west towards the agora, where the space between the columns was closed off by a balustrade. The other three walls have no openings. The interior was most likely furnished with wooden tiered seats along the three side walls. The columns used in this building were plain, without vertical fluting, and belong to the Doric Order. According to an inscription found in the building, the bouleuterion was built in the 4th century BC.

Stoa: The stoae, two corridors with columns, located to the south and north of the agora, were constructed to protect people from rain and sun and served as meeting points for traders, merchants and the wealthy. To construct the northern stoa, the existing rock (a conglomerate) was cut down. This stoa had two storeys and was 111.52 m long and 12.42 m wide.
Steps ran along the entire front of it. The interior columns of its hall, erected in the Doric Order, were unfluted, the exterior columns along the front, however, were fluted. The upper storey was carried by strong wooden beams. In front of the northern stoa, a cistern had been cut into the rock and covered; it was already in place during the stoa construction. This cistern secured the city's water supply. The stoae of Assos were built around the middle of the 2nd century BC.

Theatre: The theatre lying to the south of and below the agora was built entirely from local andesite rock. Typical for a construction in the Greek age is the union of a location on a natural slope with the orientation towards a panoramic view. In Roman times, the horseshoe-shaped building received a two-storey stage ("scene"). The rows of seats are divided by steep stairs and narrow passages. To the east and west, two vaulted entrance passages lead to the seats. The orchestra at the base is surrounded by a channel to drain off rain water. In the Roman age, the first row of seats was removed so a balustrade could be installed which was probably meant to protect the audience during gladiator battles. On the seats of the theater four inscriptions were identified, three of them are connected to the guilds of smiths, tanners and stone masons. The fourth inscription refers to members of the cult of Sarapis. These inscriptions indicate that these seats were reserved for such groups and guilds. Holes along the outer edge of the seat ranges served to receive posts for a sunshade. The theater was constructed between the 4th and 3rd century BC, and its use continued in Roman times following a few modifications.

The first excavations of the theater were conducted by American archaeologists from 1881 to 1883. A Turkish excavation team led by Ümit Serdaroğlu uncovered the theater in its entirety in the 1980s, and also conducted comprehensive conservation work.

Ayazma Church: Another church has been identified on Ayazma Hill about 400 m. southwest of the Western Gate which takes its name from the hill on which it is situated. The word “Hagiasma” means “fountain of holy water” in Greek. The area of Ayazma Hill was evidently used as a cemetery in the Roman period, since remains of numerous sarcophagi and monumental tombs have been found here. This church came to light during the excavations of Ümit Serdaroğlu. Archaeological excavations and clearing works were resumed in 2007 in this area to obtain additional information about the church, which appears to have been constructed over the terrace of a monumental Roman tomb erected at this locality. The church has a long nave with aisles placed at each side. Walls separating the naos from the aisles are preserved to a height of 1.7 m. They were built of ancient architectural remains. The interior of the church is covered with plaques made from Roman sarcophagi, whereas the floor of the bema is covered with marble plaques. A synthronon was also placed in the apse.

In later architectural phases of the church, the naos was separated from the bema with a templon and benches were added in front of the walls of the naos. A narrow passage with a marble-covered floor connects the bema with the ambon standing in front of the naos. This stepped ambon was made out of Roman sarcophagi. The aisles seem to have been sub-divided into small rooms, which were apparently used as chambers for burials. A narthex was also added in front of the naos and the southern aisle (burial chamber). Entry to the church is by an entrance at the southern, narrow side of the narthex.

Soundings have been conducted on the western side of the narthex since 2007. These soundings yielded evidence of additional small building activities around the western side of the church in later architectural phases. The floors of some of these small rooms were carefully covered with plaques gathered from nearby ancient structures. There is evidence that these rooms were also used as burial chambers, like parts of sarcophagi.

In this later architectural phase, a small chapel was added to the southern corner of the church. This chapel, with its own apse, has a
marble-covered floor.

The Ayazma Church, built in the later 9th or 10th century, witnessed some additions during the following centuries. Although it has all
the elements of a typical church, it is of very simple appearance and the building might have served as a grave church.

Western Church: The Western Church is situated on the same terrace as the theater to the south. In the 1880s, this church was also excavated by Clarke and Bacon who introduced it with a brief published report containing a plan and drawings of the mosaics. The church was re-excavated in 1990. The church has a central nave with an apse at one end and one aisle on each side of the nave. A two-sectioned narthex must be added to the church’s ground plan drawn by Bacon. The narthex and the rooms at its front were divided by buttresses. Two of these pillars preserve the original covering of marble plaques in situ. The original threshold of the entrance to the central nave is also intact. The floor of the narthex was covered with square plaques and a parapet remaining from older periods. Lozenge-shaped spaces carved on this parapet were inlaid with various-colored marble pieces to obtain the appearance of an opus sectile-technique floor pavement.

The ground plan of the aisle to the north of the central nave is covered with stone plaques and the wall behind is divided by small arched niches. This unit might have been part of an existing Roman building. The floor of the northern aisle has a higher elevation than the central nave. The aisle on the south side of the central nave is narrower than the one on the north side and its floor level is lower than that of the central nave. This might have been dictated by the sloping topography of the area on which this church was built. There is no doubt that various-sized tone blocks observed in the walls of the church and the column capitals lying on the ground were taken from already existing Roman buildings. The columns lying on the floor of the aisles are of marble and andesite. One of these columns has a cross motif incised on it. Most of the cut-stones forming the arches were found within the building during excavations. One row of regular large stones can easily be noted within the wall of the semi-circular apse, though the interior of the apse was built of rubble.

The floors of the naos and bema are covered with mosaics and inscriptions. One of the mosaics is framed with a border containing ivy, floral and volute motifs. The central part of the mosaic is decorated with various-sized squares and lozenges, floral motifs,
and birds. According to the two lines of inscription on it, this mosaic was made by someone named Alypius. A motif formed
of medallions and lozenges joins the mosaics of the naos and bema together. According to the second inscription at the west of naos, Satarnilus constructed this mosaic.

This large church also belongs to the 5th / 6th centuries AD on the basis of its architectural style.

Gymnasion: This complex consists of a large courtyard surrounded by several buildings and shady roofs. Before the 4th century BC, the site where boys were trained in sports, music, literature and philosophy had been located in a wooded area. According to an inscription, the gymnasion of Assos was built in the 2nd century. Underneath the courtyard a cistern was dug to secure the water supply for the boys. During the early Byzantine age, the northern part of the complex was converted to a large church with a mosaic floor. Of this, the apse and parts of the south aisle are still visible today. The church was uncovered in 1881 by the first excavators.