1902 Encyclopedia > Paestum


PAESTUM (_____, Posidonia, mod. Pesto), a Greek city in Lucania, Magna Grsecia, near the sea, and about 5 miles south of the river Silarus (Salso). It is said by Strabo (v. p. 251) to have been founded by Troezenian and Achsean colonists from the still older colony of Sybaris, on the Gulf of Tarentum; this probably happened not later than about 600 B.C. Herodotus (i. 167) speaks of it as being already a flourishing city in about 540 B.C., when the neighbouring city of Velia was founded. The name Posidonia was derived from Poseidon, the deity principally worshipped by the Troezenians. For many years the city maintained its independence, though sur-rounded by the hostile native inhabitants of Lucania. Autonomous coins were struck, of which many specimens now exist.

Fig. 1 shows a didrachm of the 6th century B.C., an interesting example of archaic Greek art. It is struck on a broad thin flan, with guilloche pattern round the border. The obverse has a figure of Poseidon wielding his trident, with the chla-mys hung across his shoulders. The reverse has the same figure in-cuse. Both sides have the legend (retrograde) in relief, MOP (n.02). Archaic forms of 2 and n are used. Later sil-ver coins (see fig. 1) have the same figure of Poseidon on the ob-verse, and a bull on the reverse, both in relief, with the legend _____ (I_____), in which the archaic M for 2 and S for I occur. Bronze coins of the Roman period have the legend ____ (____).

After long struggles for independence the city fell into the hands of the native Lucanians (who nevertheless did not expel the Greek colonists), and in 273 B.C. it became a municipal town under the Roman rule, the name being changed to the Latin form Psastum. The neighbourhood was then healthy, highly cultivated, and celebrated for its flowers ; the " twice blooming roses of Psestum " are mentioned by Virgil (Geor., iv. 118), Ovid (Met., xv. 708), Martial (iv. 41, 10; vi. 80, 6), and other Latin poets. Its present deserted and malarious state is probably owing to the silting up of the mouth of the Silarus, which has overflowed its bed, and converted the plain into unproduc-tive marshy ground. Herds of buffaloes, and the few peasants who watch them, are now the only occupants of this once thickly populated and garden-like region. In the 9th century Psestum was sacked and partly destroyed by Arab invaders; in the 11th century it was further dis-mantled by Robert Guiscard, and in the 16th century was finally deserted. The ruins of Posidonia are, however, among the most interesting of the Hellenic world. Remains of the city wall, sufficient to indicate the whole circuit (an irregular polygon about 3 miles round), still exist. The lower part of one of the gates, a fine specimen of Greek masonry, is still fairly perfect. This is a large square tower with inner and outer doorways, and on each side a projecting bastion, semicircular in plan; the whole is skilfully arranged so as to thoroughly command the door-ways. A ditch, about 40 feet outside the wall, gave additional security. The main wall is 16 feet 6 inches thick. The general design of this fortification much resembles the very perfectly preserved walls and towers of Messene in the Peloponnesus. For plan and description of this gate see a paper by T. L. Donaldson, Museum of Classical Antiquities, vol. i. p. 35, 1851. Outside the north gate there is a long street of tombs, some of which have been excavated, and have yielded a number of interesting arms, vases, and mural paintings, mostly now in the museum at Naples. The chief glory of Posidonia is its wonderful group of three well-preserved Doric temples.

jectural; the only serious loss is the absence of the greater part of the cella wall, and some of the upper range of interior columns ; the seven columns of this upper order which still remain in situ are specially valuable, as no other temple still possesses any of them. The peristyle columns are 6 feet 10 inches in diameter at the base.

The largest of these, conjecturally called the "Temple of Poseidon," is on the whole the most complete Greek temple now existing, and, judging from other specimens of the Doric style, can hardly be later than 500 B.C. The characteristics which point to its remote age are the shortness (comparatively speaking) of the columns, their rapid diminution, the complete absence of entasis, the great projec-tion of the capitals, and the massiveness of the entablature. Another peculiarity is that the columns have twenty-four flutes, while other Doric examples rarely exceed twenty. The columns on the flanks are fourteen in all, about an average number for a Doric hexastyle temple. Fig. 2 gives the plan, in which there is nothing


except those at the angles, which measure 7 feet. The inter-eolumniation at the angles is closer than elsewhere, after the usual Doric rule. The height of the columns, including capitals, is 29 feet. The stylobate consists of three steps, and the cella floor is four steps above the peristyle pavement, i.e., nearly 5 feet, an un-usual height. Indications still exist of the stairs leading to the roof or to the, upper floor, which probably formed the internal ceil-ing over the aisles. The main dimensions of the building are, on the top step of the stylobate, nearly 196 feet in length by 79 feet wide, more than double the length of the celebrated temple of iEgina, though not quite double the width.

The material of which this and the other temples are built is a coarse calcareous stone from the neighbouring hills, formed by water deposit. None of this stone was, however, left exposed. The whole building, inside and out, like that at iEgina and other places, was carefully covered with a line hard stucco formed of lime and pounded white marble, which took a high polish, and could hardly have been distinguished from real marble. On this was painted the usual coloured ornaments with which all important Greek buildings appear to have been decorated.

Archaisms of style, like those in this temple, are also to be found in the scanty remains still existing of the temples at Corinth and Ortygia (Syracuse), the latter probably an even earlier example of the Doric style. The other temples, though fine and well-pre-served, are inferior both in size and interest. Though Greek in their general outline, and of the Doric order, yet the details, such as cornices, shafts, and capitals, are debased in style, and can hardly belong to the autonomous period of Posidonia ; more probably they were built under the native Lucanian or Roman domination, while Hellenic traditions still lingered among the people. The larger of these, popularly called "the Basilica," is quite unique in plan (see fig. 3). It has nine columns (an unequal number) on its front, and a range of columns down the centre of the cella. It is pseudo-dipteral, and has eighteen columns on the flanks ; all that is black in the plan still remains. The columns are very ungraceful in shape, with an extravagant amount of entasis, and a curious circlet of leaves immediately under the echinus. The most probable explanation of the strange arrange-ment of the cella is that the temple was dedicated to two deities— each half containing one statue.

The third temple, popularly called that of Ceres, is hexast3de peripteral, about 108 feet by 48 on the top of the stylobate, with thirteen columns on the flanks. In plan it is abnormal in having an open vestibule within the peristyle. There is an opisthodomos behind the cella. Its details throughout are very debased and un-Hellenic.

Both these latter buildings offer a striking contrast to the pure and severe Doric of the great temple. Ruins and traces of several other buildings within the city wall still exist, all apparently of the Roman period. Part of an amphitheatre, and of what may have been a circus, can be distinguished, as well as ruins of an aqueduct outside the city. Various mounds and other inequalities in the ground suggest that much still remains hidden, and that Paestum would probably afford a rich harvest to the careful explorer, while a very simple system of drainage might again restore to this once fertile plain its long-lost wholesomeness of air and richness of soil.

See Strabo, v. and vi.; Wilkins, Magna Graecia, 1807; Piranesi, Ville de Pestum, Rome, 1778 ; Major, Ruins of Pxstum, 1768; La Gardette, Ruines de Paestum, 1779; Botticher, Die Tektonik der Hellenen, 1844-52, vol. ii. p. 325, and plates; Fergusson, The Parthenon, 1883, p. 82; Labrouste, Les Temples de Paestum, 1877. This last work has the best and most accurate drawings, specially executed for the Paris Ecole des Beaux Arts. (J. H. M.)

The above article was written by: J. H. Middleton, F.S.A.

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