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a t E r y t h r a e
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The Temple of Athena Polias at Erythrae
Excavations here have shown that the site has been settled since the early bronze age, and as a result the area around the village of Ildiri has been declared a national heritage site.
At Erythrae, Homer fortunately met with a person who had known him in Phocaea, by whose assistance he at length, after some difficulty, reached the little hamlet of Pithys. Besides the satisfaction of driving the impostor Thestorides from the island, Homer enjoyed considerable success as a teacher. In the town of Chios he established a school, where he taught the precepts of poetry.
Lydians and Persians
The Sibyl of whom we hear most is the Erythraean, generally identified with the Cumaean, whom Aeneas consulted before his descent to the lower world (Aeneid 6.10); it was she who sold to Tarquin the Proud (534ó510 BCE) the Sibylline books. She first offered him nine; when he refused them, she burned three and offered him the remaining six at the same price; when he again refused them, she burned three more and offered him the remaining three still at the same price. Tarquin then bought them (Dion. Halic. 4.62). The books were thereafter kept in the Temple of Jupiter on the Capitoline Hill, Rome, to be consulted only on emergencies.
About 453 BCE Erythrae, refusing to pay tribute, seceded from the Delian League. A garrison and a new government restored the union, but late in the Peloponnesian War (412 BCE) it revolted again with Chios and Clazomenae.
Later it was allied alternately with Athens and Persia. About the middle of the 4th c. BCE the city became friendly with Mausolus: in an inscription found on the site he is called a benefactor of Erythrae. About the same time the city signed a treaty with Hermias, Tyrant of Assus and Atarneus, based on reciprocal aid in the event of war.
Erythrae was the birthplace of two prophetesses - one of whom, Sibylla, is mentioned by Straboas living in the early period of the city; the other, Athenais, lived in the time of Alexander the Great.
When Alexander returned to Memphis in April 331 BCE, envoys from Greece were waiting for him, saying that the oracles at Didyma and Erythrae, which had been silent for a long time, had suddenly spoken and confirmed that Alexander was the son of Zeus. The timing proves that Alexander was already thinking that he was of a more than human nature when he entered Greece: after all, the people of Didyma and Erythrae can never have known that Alexander was recognized as the son of Ra and wanted to be called 'son of Zeus'.
In the Roman period the city was plundered and its importance fainted after the earthquakes of that region in the 1st c. CE.
Sanctuary of Hercules and Temple of Athena Polias
... The land of the Ionians has the finest possible climate, and Sanctuaries such as are to be found nowhere else. First because of its size and wealth is that of the Ephesian Goddess, and then come two unfinished Sanctuaries of Apollo, the one in Branchidae, in Milesian territory, and the one at Clarus in the land of the Colophonians. Besides these, two Temples in Ionia were burnt down by the Persians, the one of Hera in Samos and that of Athena at Phocaea. Damaged though they are by fire, I found them a wonder.
 At last a man of Erythrae (his name was Phormio) who gained a living by the sea and by catching fish, but had lost his sight through disease, saw a vision in a dream to the effect that the women of Erythrae must cut off their locks, and in this way the men would, with a rope woven from the hair, tow the raft to their shores. The women of the citizens absolutely refused to obey the dream;
 but the Thracian women, both the slaves and the free who lived there, offered themselves to be shorn. And so the men of Erythrae towed the raft ashore. Accordingly no women except Thracian women are allowed within the Sanctuary of Hercules, and the hair rope is still kept by the natives. The same people say that the fisherman recovered his sight and retained it for the rest of his life.
 There is also in Erythrae a Temple of Athena Polias and a huge wooden image of her sitting on a throne; she holds a distaff ('ÍlakatÍ') in either hand and wears a firmament ('polon', head-dress worn by Goddesses) on her head. That this image is the work of Endoeus we inferred, among other signs, from the workmanship, and especially from the white marble images of Graces and Seasons that stand in the open before the entrance.
Pausanias, Description of Greece (fl.c.160 CE)
The Archeological Excavations
Today, Erythrae remains partially unearthed; the last official excavation having place in 1978. Prior to that there were four more excavation campaigns beginning in 1964, thanks to Akurgal. Due to the lack of funding, however, the excavation of Erythrae has been indefinitely postponed and its remaining relics, buried for as long as 2-and-a-half millennia, lie waiting for archaeological teams to secure enough funding.
What past excavations have yielded, however, reveal the utter abundance of valuable artifacts in this region. Important structures that have been unearthed in Erythrae include a 3rd c. BCE amphitheater, a Megaran hall, which was the residence of the king of Erythrae (725-675 BCE), a Byzantine aqueduct and a terrace wall, dating back to the first half of the 6th c. BCE and which is believed to be the podium on which stood the Temple of Athena Polias.
The impressive city wall, with 4 kilometers (2.5 miles) long is still well preserved; it is of fine ashlar masonry 4-5m (13-16ft) thick, with several gateways. Three inscriptions found on the site indicate that the city wall was built either at the end of the 4th or the beginning of the 3rd c. BCE.
Near the coffee-house in the village, part of a Hellenistic pebble mosaic of griffins is still in situ.
The theater, cut into the north slope of the Acropolis hill is in a very bad condition today.
Herophile, the prophetic sibyl of Erythrae, enjoyed a great reputation in the ancient world, second only to the sibyl of Cumae in Italy. A building claimed to be her Sanctuary was discovered at Ildiri, a structure resembling a Nymphaeum with a number of inscriptions, one of which records the Erythraean origin of Herophile. This building, however, has not yet been identified.
The official Agora (market) is to be found west of the Acropolis near the houses of the village. There is thought to be the home of the statue of the golden wreathed Artemis.
Erythrae, like any other proper BCE-city, had a main square, a school and a military post, all located in what today would be called the central business district. To the northeast of the district lies a cluster of 4th or 5th c. BCE Greek houses, and in 1977, the essential parts of a 2nd c. CE Roman villa were unearthed just north of the houses.
On a spur running northwest of the Acropolis, looking westwards and dominating the view of the sea, a 2nd c. BCE Hellenistic villa was excavated in 1977-78. This villa was made up of two sections: the Gynaeceum (women's section) and the Andronitis (men's section). Among the gynaeceum's features were a large courtyard, triclinium, slave quarters, bedrooms and a kitchen. The andronitis also contained a courtyard, as well as a megaron, two workrooms and an altar.
Izmir and Cesme Museums
According to a graffito on a bowl from early 6th c. BCE, the offerings belonged to the Temple of Athena Polias (Paus. 7.5.8). The small lion figurines in bronze, from the first half of the 6th c. BCE, strongly resemble the lion statue from Bayindir now in the Izmir Museum; they are the earliest Ionian examples of a lion type which served as a model for Etruscan artists. From the same trench on top of the Acropolis came a monumental archaic statue of a woman (also in the Izmir Museum); the head is missing, but the folds on the chiton recall such Samian sculptures as the Hera of Cheramyes in the Louvre and the statues by Geneleos. The Erythraean statue is the work of an Anatolian artist of ca. 560-550 BCE.
The Cesme Archeology Museum is located in the Cesme Fort. It has been arranged and used for the exhibition of works obtained from the rescue excavations made in Erythrae. Sculptures of Gods and Goddesses made of cooked earth, busts, marble sculptures, silver and bronze coins, golden frames and amphora are being exhibited.
Those who climb up to the Acropolis at dusk are rewarded with beautiful views as the sun sinks over the bay and islands.
Copyright ©1998-2003 Roy George