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 Athena Review, Vol. 4, No. 2


Panionion Sanctuary Discovered in Southwest Turkey


         Researchers of the Institute for Archaeological Sciences at Ruhr University in Germany have succeeded in achieving what many archaeologists can only dream of - discovering a previously unlocated historic site mentioned by ancient authors such as Herodotos and Diodorus. Late in 2004, Professor Hans Lohmann and his colleagues, Dr. Georg Kalaitzoglu and Dr. Gundula Lüdorf, announced the discovery of the common sanctuary of the Ionian Confederacy, the so-called Panionion (figs.1,2), described by these ancient writers.

          The site was discovered some 15 km north of the ancient town of Priene (fig.2) in the Mycale mountain range of the west Turkish Dilek Daglari. On the highest slopes of the Mycale mountains, at about 750 m elevation, the scattered remains of a 7th century BC fortified Karian settlement known as Melia (fig.2) was found along with a 6th century BC archaic temple of the Ionians.

[Fig.1: Location of the ruins of the Melia/Panionion site in the Mycale Mountains (photo: Hans Lohmann, Ruhr-University Bochum)].

          The Ionians, who migrated from the Greek mainland to the coasts of Asia Minor after the 12th century BC, there encountered the Karians, whom Homer in his Iliad describes as a 'barbaric' tribe. The 20th book of this epic (verse 403-404) mentions the religious cult of the Karians, who worshiped Poseidon Helikonios, the god of land and sea:

...He [Hippodamas] blew his life away, bellowing, as when a bull bellows as he is dragged for Poseideon, lord of Helike, ... In such bulls the earth shaker glories.

          Young men would drive bulls to the sanctuary in honor of Poseidon, who was ingratiated by the bulls bellowing. This cult was closely connected with the Karian site of Melia, whose extensive remains have now been discovered by Lohmann's team (fig.1). Founded in the early 7th century BC, it was surrounded by a triangular-shaped fortification pointing to the north, with walls up to 3 m thick.

          In the mid 7th century, Melia was destroyed by the Greek Ionians during the Melian War (Meliakos Polemos), followed by a division of the Karian territories among the Ionians. The Ionian league, made up of twelve cities including Priene, Chios, Ephesus, and Miletus,  (fig.2) was then created to meet the rising threat of Persian invasions from the east. The still extant Karian cult of Poseidon Helikonios at Melia provided a focus, about a hundred years later, for the erection of a new temple known as the Panionion, where the league's political and religious ceremonies were held each year.

          Although the remains of the Panionion are scattered and damaged, with much of the remote site disturbed by modern looters, researchers have determined a preliminary date for the temple's erection at around 540 BC, based on several preserved pieces of datable architecture. The actual duration of the Panionion temple, however, was rather short. About forty years after its erection it seems to have burned down, probably during the war of the Ionians with the Persians under Darius I (521-486 BC), who destroyed Miletus in 494 BC. This led to the end of the old Ionian League and the Panionion cult.

[Fig.2: Map showing the Panionion site near Priene. The twelve cities of the Ionion league are listed on the map (after Hans Lohmann, Ruhr-University Bochum)].

          Structural remains from the temple cover an area about 38 m long by 18 m wide, indicating that it could have been a temple of the hekatompedos type, usually 100 Greek feet in length. Architectural remains show that the columns of the archaic temple measured about 52 cm in diameter, and were probably originally 6 m high. As with many Greek Archaic temples, the gutter of the roof was decorated with painted brick antefixes showing reliefs of lion heads.

          When, in the late 1960s, Professor Lohmann first visited the current site 15 km north of Priene, he had his doubts that these relatively sparse remains could have once been the center of the Ionian League. Formerly it was generally believed that the Panionion lay in the northern Mycale mountains a few km northwest of this site at Güzelçamli. In AD 1673 an inscription from the second half of the 4th century BC was, however, discovered here, which mentioned the name of the Panionion. In 1900, classical archaeologist Ulrich von Wilamowitz-Moellendorf concluded, based on ancient literary sources, that the Ionian Panionion most probably stood at the Karian site, Melia. Then, in 1904, Theodor Wiegand (the first excavator of Miletus and Priene) discovered an altar and a semicircular stepped structure at Otomatik Tepe east of Güzelçamli, which he believed represented the remains of the legendary Ionian sanctuary. In the 1950s, a second investigation took place under Gerhard Kleiner and Peter Hommel. Unable to find any Karian or Archaic (7th-6th century BC) Ionian remains, they still believed that Güzelçamli represented the Panionion site and Melia.

          When Lohmann started his recent investigation in 2001, he and his team soon realized that the ruins at Güzelçamli actually stemmed from a group of structures not erected until around 400 BC. This much later, unfinished group obviously could not be identified with the archaic Panionion site. The 1st century BC historian Diodorus, however, mentioned that the Ionians had wanted to reinstall the cult of the Panionion long after the archaic sanctuary had been destroyed. The Güzelçamli ruins probably represent the remains of this younger, unfinished replacement sanctuary.

[Fig.3: One of the three Late Archaic antefixes from Ionia in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York (Metropolitan Museum of Art; photos: Athena Review)].

          The team's survey of the surrounding Mycale mountains finally led, in September 2004, to the discovery of the actual remains of Melia and the Panionion (fig.2). Although little information is provided by ancient sources about the site's geographical location, they appear to correspond well with the cur rent findings. The ancient Greek historian Herodotos of Halikarnassos (ca. 484-425 BC) described in the first book of his Histories that the Panionion was a holy place "in the Mycale, which stretched to the north," while Diodorus mentioned that it was situated at a "lonely place."

          The site's remote location on the Mycale mountains makes its protection from looters nearly impossible, and a rescue excavation has been planned for late 2005. Some looted artifacts from the site may have already found their way into the antiquities market. Resemblances have been noted by Professor Lohmann (pers. comm.) between three terracotta antefixes (fig.3) donated in 1992 to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, and two recently found at the Turkish site by the University of Ruhr team. (fig.4). According to Professor Lohmann, a particular antefix design was always produced exclusively for a specific temple.

[Fig.4: One of the two antefixes found at the Panionion site (photo: Hans Lohmann, Ruhr-University Bochum)].

          Such lion-headed tile antefixes, however, typical of 6th century BC temple roofs from Turkey to Italy, were often mass-produced. As noted by Dr. Carlos A. Picon, Curator of Greek and Roman Art at the Metropolitan Museum, this type of East Greek antefix has been known for many decades, with other examples published in 1925 from the Temple of Athena at Kalbaktepe in Ionia (von Gerkan 1925).

[Lohmann, H. 2004. pers. comm; Picon, C.A., 2005. pers. comm.; Wo der Stier brüllte. Press release of Ruhr-University Bochum, 20 Oct. 2004; Forscher entdecken das Panionion. SPIEGEL online, 20 Oct. 2004; Die Ruinen der Macht. Die ZEIT, 21 Oct. 2004; "Melia, das Panionion und der Kult des Poseidon Helikonios." In: Schwertheim E. and E. Winter (eds.) Neue Forschungen zu Ionien. Kolloquium 01.03.-03.03.2004 Landhaus Rothenberge /Münster. Asia Minor Studien (in press); Von Gerkan, 1925]


This article appears on pages 10-11 in the Recent Finds in Archaeology of Vol.4 No.2 of Athena Review. The complete text may be obtained in the printed version of the magazine.


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