1902 Encyclopedia > Smyrna

Asia Minor

SMYRNA, in ancient times one of the most important and now by far the greatest of the cities of Asia Minor (see vol. xv. Plate II.), has preserved an unbroken continuity of record and identity of name from the first dawn of history to the present time. It is said to have been a Lelegian city before the Greek colonists settled in Asia Minor. The name, which is said to be derived from an Amazon called Smyrna, is indubitably Anatolian, having been applied also to a quarter of Ephesus, and (under the cognate form Myrina) to a city of Aeolis, and to a tumulus in the Troad. The Aeolic settlers of Lesbos and Cyme, pushing eastwards by Larissa and Neonteichus and over the Hermus, seized the valley of Smyrna. It was the frontier city between Aeolis on the north and Ionia on the south, and was more accessible on the south and east than on the north and west. At the same time it was by virtue of its favourable situation necessarily a commercial city, like the Ionian colonies. It is there-fore not surprising that the Aeolic element grew weaker; strangers or refugees from the Ionian Colophon settled in the city, and finally Smyrna passed into the hands of the Colophonians and became the thirteenth of the Ionian states. The change had taken place before 688, when the Ionian Onomastus of Smyrna won the boxing prize at Olympia, but it was probably then a recent event. The Colophonian conquest is mentioned by Mimnermus (before 600 B.C.), who counts himself equally a Colophonian and a Smyrnoaan. The Aeolic form of the name, Smyna, was retained even in the Attic dialect, and the epithet "Aeolian Smyrna" remained long after the conquest. The favourable situation of Smyrna on the path of commerce between Lydia and the west raised it during the 7th century to the height of power and splendour. It lay at the eastern end of an arm of the sea, which reached far inland and admitted the Greek trading ships into the heart of Lydia. One of the great trade routes which cross Anatolia from east to west descends the Hermus valley past Sardis, and then diverging from the valley passes south of Mount Sipylus and crosses a low pass into the little valley, about 7 miles long and 2 broad, where Smyrna lies between the mountains and the sea. Miletus, and at a later time Ephesus, situated at the sea end of the other great trade route across Anatolia, competed for a time successfully with Smyrna for the conveyance of traffic from the interior; but both Ephesus and Miletus have long ago lost their harbours, and Smyrna now remains without a rival. It was of necessity in close relation with the Lydians, and when the Mermnad kings raised the Lydian power and aggressiveness it was one of the first points of attack. Gyges (687-653) was, however, defeated in a great battle on the banks of the Hermus; the situation of the battle-field shows that the power of Smyrna extended far to the east, and probably included the valley of Nymphaeum (Nif). A strong fortress, the ruins of whose ancient and massive walls are still imposing, on a hill in the pass between Smyrna and Nymphaeum, was probably built by the Smyrnaean Ionians to command the valley of Nymphaeum. According to the poet Theognis (about 500 B.C.), "pride de-stroyed Smyrna." Mimnermus laments the degeneracy of the citizens of his day, who could no longer stem the Ly-dian advance. Finally, Alyattes (610-563) conquered the city, and Smyrna for 300 years lost its place in the list of Greek cities. It did not entirely cease to exist, but the Greek life and political unity were destroyed, and the Smyrnaean state was organized on the village system (okeito komedon). It is mentioned in a fragment of Pindar, about 500 B.C., and in an in-scription of 388 B.C. A small fortification of early style, rudely but massively built, on the lowest slope of a hill behind Burnabat, is perhaps a fortified village of this period. Alexander the Great conceived the idea of restoring the Greek city; the two Nemeses who were worshipped at Smyrna are said to have suggested the idea to him in a dream. The scheme was, according to Strabo, carried out by Antigonus (316-301), and Lysi-machus enlarged and fortified the city (301-281). The acropolis of the ancient city had been on a steep peak about 1250 feet high, which overhangs the north-eastern extremity of the gulf; its ruins still exist, probably in much the same condition as they were left by Alyattes. The later city was founded on the site which it still occupies, partly on the slopes of a rounded hill called Pagus near the south-east end of the gulf, partly on the low ground between the hill and the sea. The beauty of the city when seen from the sea, clustering on the low ground and rising tier over tier on the hillside, is frequently praised by the ancients and is celebrated on its coins; the same impression still strikes the spectator, and must in ancient times have been much stronger, when magnificent buildings, an imposing acropolis, and the wide circle of massive walls combined with the natural scenery in one splendid picture.

IMAGE: Plan of Smyrna.

Smyrna is shut in on the west by a hill now called Deirmen Tepe, with the ruins of a temple on the summit. The walls of Lysimachus crossed the summit of this hill, and the acropolis occupied the top of Pagus. Between the two the road from Ephesus entered the city by the " Ephesian gate," near which was a gymnasium. Closer to the acropolis the outline of the stadium is still visible, and the theatre was situated on the northern slopes of Pagus. The line of the walls on the eastern side is unknown ; but they certainly embraced a greater area than is included by the Byzantine wall, which ascends the castle hill (Pagus) from the Basmakhane railway station. Smyrna possessed two harbours,—the outer, which was simply the gulf, and the inner, which was a small basin, with a narrow entrance closed by a rope in case of need, about the place now occupied by bazaars. The inner harbour was partially filled up by Timur in 1402, but it had not entirely disappeared till the beginning of the 19th century. The modern quay has encroached considerably on the sea, and the coast-line of the Greek time was about 90 yards farther to the south. The streets were broad, well paved, and regularly laid out at right angles; many were named after temples : the main street, called the Golden, ran across the city from west to east, beginning probably from the temple on Deirmen Tepe, and continuing towards Tepejik outside the city on the east, where prob-ably the temple of Cybele, the Metroon, stood. Cybele, worshipped under the name of Meter Sipylene, from Mount Sipylus, which bounds the Smyrna valley on the north, was the tutelar goddess of the city. The plain towards the sea was too low to be properly drained, and hence in rainy weather the streets were deep with mud and water.

The river Meles, which flowed by Smyrna, is famous in literature and was worshipped in the valley. The most common and consistent tradition connects Homer with the valley of Smyrna and the banks of the Meles; his figure was one of the stock types on Smyrnaean coins, one class of which was called Homerian; the epithet " Mele-sigenes " was applied to him ; the cave where he was wont to compose his poems was shown near the source of the river; his temple, the Homereum, stood on its banks. The steady equable flow of the Meles, alike in summer and winter, neither swollen after rain nor dry during drought, its pleasant water, its short course, beginning and ending near the city, are celebrated by Aristides and Himerius. The description applies admirably to the stream which rises from abundant fountains, now known as Diana's Bath, some way to the east of the city, and flows into the south-eastern extremity of the gulf. The common belief that the torrent, dry except after rains, which flows by Caravan Bridge is the ancient Meles flatly contradicts the ancient descriptions.

In the Roman period Smyrna was the seat of a conventus which included southern Aeolis and great part of the Hermus valley. It vied with Ephesus and Pergamum for the title "First (city) of Asia." A Christian church existed here from a very early time, having its origin in the considerable Jewish colony. POLYCARP (q.v.) was bishop of Smyrna. The bishops of Smyrna were originally subject to the metropolitan of Ephesus; afterwards they became independent (autocephaloi), and finally were honoured with metropolitan rank, having under them the bishops of Phocaea, Magnesia ad Sipylum, Clazomenae, Sosandrus (Nymphaeum?), Archangelus (Temnos?), and Petra (Menemen?).

When Constantinople became the seat of government the trade between Anatolia and the west lost in import- ance, and Smyrna declined apace. A Turkish freebooter named Tsacha seized Smyrna in 1084 and maintained himself there for some time, but it was recovered by the generals of Alexius Comnenus. The city was several times afterwards ravaged by the Turks, and had become quite ruinous when the emperor John Ducas Vatatzes about 1222 rebuilt it. The famous chieftain Aidin conquered it about 1330 and made his son Amur governor. Soon after- wards the knights of Saint John established themselves in the town, but failed to conquer the citadel. In 1402 Timur stormed the town and massacred almost all the in- habitants. The Mongol conquest was only temporary, but Smyrna has remained till the present day in Moham- medan hands. It is now the greatest commercial city in the Levant; its population is about 200,000, of whom nearly half are Greeks. It is the terminus of the railway system which is gradually spreading over Anatolia. Two lines start from Smyrna : one ascends the Hermus valley by Magnesia and Sardis to Alashehr (Philadelphia), about 110 miles; the other goes south by Ephesus to the Maeander valley beside Magnesia on the Mseander and then ascends the valley to the neighbourhood of Laodicea on the Lycus, 143 miles. Since the revival of the Levant trade by the Genoese and Venetians Smyrna has been the emporium for the whole produce of Anatolia; the chief raw products exported are valonea, figs, raisins, opium, madder, liquorice, cotton, sponges, emery, &c.; almost the only articles of native manufacture which are exported from Smyrna are the carpets woven at Geurdiz, Coula, Ushak, and other places in the interior. Smyrna has frequently been partially destroyed by earthquakes; that of 178 A.D. is the most famous, and in 1688, 1768, and 1880 the town suffered severely. (W. M. RA.)

The above article was written by: Prof. W. M. Ramsay.

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