Uncovering the Lands of the Ancient Mediterranean!
Incredible Ancient Mediterranean
What if all the fairytales, fables, and stories we had ever heard were all TRUE?! When it comes to the mysterious cities of the ancient Mediterranean, archeologists to a certain extent have uncovered what would infer just that! You may very well have heard of the famous cities of Troy, and stories of historic Trojan wars; but have you ever heard of Akrotiri- a land incredibly preserved underneath ashes of volcanos? Or Delos; the birthplace of god Apollo and sister Artemis? Lets explore these incredible ancient cities of the Mediterranean and more!
To start our journey of the ancient Mediterranean, we shall begin at the city of Troy! Of course we can’t mention Troy, without bringing it back to nostalgic memories of high school English class; reading Homer’s famous poems: the “Iliad” and the “Odyssey“. In addition, the poet Virgil wrote the Aeneid; portraying a 10-year war between Greeks and Trojans; also based on historic events that potentially occurred in the city of Troy. But whether or not Troy was intact the actual location of the Trojan war, is a question archeologists still debate over! But what we do know, is that Troy is also known as, Hisarlik! Hisarlik refers to land located on the northwest coast of modern day Turkey.
Due Credit: Frank Calvert
In the mid 1800’s British archeologist Frank Calvert had acquired thousands of acres of land throughout the region. By 1864, he had even obtained part of the hill at Hissarlik. It is here, he started yet another excavation, and through his findings was convinced he had found the land of Troy! Unfortunately, Calvert did not possess the financial resources necessary to fully excavate the hill, but did indeed tell new fellow archeologist Heinrich Schliemann about his hypothesis. Schliemann on the other hand, did in fact have the financial means. Although it is said that at one point the two agreed to work together, multiple occurrences after prove a rocky relationship of both discrediting proof of findings, and withholding due credit for what was actually found. All in all, it was through Frank Calvert’s advice and hunch that Schliemann embarked on his own excavation of the mound at Hissarlik.
Finding 9 Troys!
By the 19th-century, Schliemann and others on the quest for Troy began to dig through the 100 foot mound of Hissarlik. (Daniels; p.48) They must have been pleased when they found not only one but NINE cities of Troy! (Daniels; p.48) The different layers of the city were all rebuilt versions of the town on top of one another. The city was guarded with watchtowers overlooking five entry gates. In addition, limestone walls surrounded Troy VI; the main settlement, while smaller buildings were strategically located outside of them; offering a place of refuge, in the case of invaders. (Daniels; p.48) While on the topic, of protective proper planning, one of the watchtowers guarding the city, also included a cistern that could provide water to the town if the city was attacked. (Daniels; p.48)
Falling of Troy
Troy VI fell roughly around 1300 B.C. most likely due to an earthquake, while Troy VIIa was destructively burned to the ground. This leads researchers to believe it was the city destroyed by Agamemnon, and referred to in Virgil’s Aeneid.
“The rains arise, and fires their warmth dispense,
And fix’d and erring stars dispose their influence;
What shakes the solid earth; what cause delays
The summer nights and shortens winter days.” –Virgil
Next on our exciting journey throughout the ancient Mediterranean, is an ancient city found preserved underneath volcanic ash! Now entering, Akrotiri! During the 1960’s archeologists found two to three story colorful buildings with painted walls; beautifully preserved. The buildings are believed to have been the homes of merchants in which the first floor housed food and oils, while the second floor was designated for family rooms. (Daniels; p.52) They even had bathrooms and indoor pluming that connected to sewers outside – extremely impressive for a time like that if you ask me! Although the town has been uncovered, remains of jewelry, bones or bodies have not been! This leads archeologists to believe the townspeople had fled the lands before any catastrophic eruptions occurred; a fate Pompeiians weren’t as lucky to experience.
Pompeii : Destroyed in a Day!
Have you heard of Pompeii, and their unfortunate history of being completely wiped out in a day? By the middle of A.D. 79, Emperor Titus held power, and the Roman Empire was dominating the ancient mediterranean. (Daniels; p. 58) Pompeii is an ancient Roman city in Campania, Italy. Furthermore, the city lies dangerously close, on the southeastern base of Mount Vesuvius. A typical day for romans during these times would include observing chariot races, drinking, eating, and what we would refer to these days as, “living their best lives”. But that unfortunately all came to a sudden devastating halt.
Mount Vesuvius Erupts!
On August 24, 79 CE, Italy experienced a day that will live on throughout history forever; Mount Vesuvius erupted. Around noon of that day volcanic debris showed over the town of Pompeii. This was only followed the next day by flooding clouds of viciously hot gases. Pompeii as Roman’s knew it was destroyed. The town had been buried underneath a blanket of 19 feet of pumice and ashes made from its own remains. (Daniels; p. 59) An estimated one-third of Pompeii has yet to be uncovered still to this day; even after multiple centuries of excavation! (Daniels; p.60)
Last on our tour to the ancient Mediterranean, let’s dive into Delos! Delos, known now in Greece as Dílos, was a small rocky, barren island in the Aegean Sea; famous for a myth involving Zeus, and being the birthplace to god/goddess Apollo and sister Artemis. According to the legend, goddess Leto had fled to the island to hide from Zeus’s enraged wife. Reasonably enraged might I add- for Leto had been pregnant with Zeus’s children – Apollo and Artemis. (Daniels; p.53) Leto promised the island that if they were loyal to Apollo and build him a temple, that despite the barren land the island offered, men would come inhabit it anyway. (Daniels; p.53) And so it was done!
Spiting the Odds
During the 6th-century B.C. three temples were constructed in dedication to Apollo. Furthermore, a sanctuary for Goddess Artemis was also fittingly built. Included on the island is the “Hymn to Delian Apollo” as a continued reminder:
“The long robed Ionians gather in your honor with their children and shy wives: with boxing and dancing and song.” (Daniels; p.53)
Later the island was declared a free port by the second century B.C.(Daniels; p.53) Due to this, traders and travelers sailed in from every direction of the ancient Mediterranean; fulfilling goddess Leto’s prophecy as she had promised!
Included in Delos’s most notable discovered artifacts, are pieces of an enormous statue of Apollo, and 9 marble lions!
UNESCO World Heritage Site
Though the island was independent, their positive relationship with Rome led to an attack led by Roman enemy, king of Pontus. (Daniels; p. 57) Following these attacks were pirate raids, that were only further met by quarrelers of limestone. But the future wasn’t all grim for Delos. Today, the entire island of Delos is an archeological site, protected by UNESCO World Heritage.
The Continuous Uncovering of History
It’s pretty incredible to think that history can somehow still be preserved after all this time. Even when some of its sitting in the ashes of its own violent and catastrophic destruction. From earthquakes to exploding volcanos, the ancient Mediterranean certainly doesn’t disappoint on the excitement scale! Where would you see yourself during those times? Battling as a gladiator, painting wall murals that will last centuries? Or perhaps sculpting an epic tribute to a god? Maybe you’d be next to me- potentially writing the next famous words like those written by Homer and Vigil themselves! And hopefully, next to that, is an amazing smelling cup of warm Italian coffee…Salute!
Daniels, Patricia. “Lost Cities: Treasures of the Ancient World Revealed.” National Geographic (2021)