Thursday, 20 March 2014

Ancient Lemnos

Ancient Lemnos

Dragons and Dinosaurs?

The island of Lemnos was constructed during a period of intense volcanic activity many thousands of years ago. In some rocks on the island you can find fossilized sea creatures. At that time the weather was different too and in some places you can find fossilized semi-tropical trees such as cedars, palms and cinnamon trees.

From a letter to our Grandchildren

How are you my dears? 

All stories begin ‘once upon a time’ and in these letters I will tell you some stories that also begin with a ‘once upon a time’, for it was many, many, years ago that the island of Lemnos began to grow. At that time continents and seas looked very different from today, and when this island began to grow it came up out of the sea; a volcano spouting fire and rocks. 
Can you imagine back this long ago? If you can you might perhaps wonder if there were dragons and dinosaurs roaming around the world at that time. If you have wondered that I think you might be right. 
It is easier to imagine such things as dinosaurs and dragons when you are in Lemnos as the island is full of rocks strange shaped rocks. For instance when I take an early morning swim, and I look up at the rocks around the bay, I can see rocks in the shape of a dragon. I like to go for a swim very early in morning as there are not many people in the sea at this time of the day. I lie on my back looking at the nearby rocks and I imagine a dragon up on the cliffs. Today I took a photo of this dragon to send to you. Here it is. 

A Sunken Bronze Age Town: Pavlopetri

By Dr Jon Henderson on BBC

 ‘Covering an area of about eight football pitches, Pavlopetri appears as a series of large areas of stones indicating building complexes, among which a network of walls can be traced. It is a city of well-built roads lined by detached and semi-detached two-storey houses. There are larger apparently public buildings and evidence of a complex water management system involving channels and guttering.

Semi-detached houses with gardens, clothes drying in the courtyards, walls and well-made streets - Pavlopetri epitomises the suburban way of life. Except that it's a Bronze Age port, submerged for millennia off the south-east coast of Greece.’

A image of what Pavlopetri might have looked like

Pavlopetri was part of the birth of a new type of city in Europe. Not one based around a god-like king or sacred palatial structure, but rather one based on trade and economics.
All of the world's major modern coastal cities owe their success to their relationship with the sea. All had at their heart a gateway to the sea and the rest of the world. Pavlopetri can perhaps be seen as one of the first links in this chain which continues to this day.

Lemnos, A Port of Call for Many Tribes

Because of its position, guarding the waters leading to the Bosporus and the Black Sea, many tribes have come and built guardposts on Lemnos or have even taken over the whole island.

Early visitors and cultural influences came from the Cycladic and the Minoan civilizations. Later other tribes arrived; Spartans, Macedonians, Persians, Athenians, Venetians, Turks, Germans, these have all played a part in forming the culture of the island. However though it has often been conquered Lemnos has also benefited from the various arrivals and invasions and at times it has been one of the richest of the Aegean islands.

The First Town: Poliochni (on the eastern shores)

There have been people living in Lemnos since 5,000 BC. The first peoples to come to Lemnos may have originally come from central Anatolia as there were towns there where people cultivated olives, pistachios, almonds and cherry trees.

A late Neolithic settler, on the coast of the Mediterranean, would have been able to see a chain of nearby islands and would have been tempted to sail from one to the next. Most islands were only up to twenty miles away and a boatful of men could easily row from one to the next in half a day. 

While there were probably Neolithic people living on the island since 5.000 BC the first real village was built by the Sinties who arrived around 3700BC. There were about a hundred of them who came over from Asia Minor with their sheep, cattle and pigs, and settled in the bay of Poliochni on the eastern shores of Lemnos. 

The town of Poliochni was established on the island around 3700BC though at this time the ‘town’ was little more than a small village, with a few houses surrounding two squares and two wells. There were also two large storage pits in which wheat was kept for winter. On the whole the people here, the Sinties, were an agricultural people but they also had iron and gold workshops. It was probably a major stopover for seafarers who were on their way to the coasts of the Black Sea where could be found many goods not available in the Aegean islands.

The Sinties planted olive trees and grapes on the hills of Lemnos. Olive trees did well on the dry hills of the Aegean islands. Harvesting olive oil meant that the people had to develop ways to store the oil, and so they also began to make large clay pots. Harvesting grapes led farmers to find ways of preserving the juice as wine. This then led to them making jugs and cups. Having oil and wine meant that the people also developed more interesting recipes. And finally, all of this led to more trading with other islands as the villagers bartered their surplus oil, wine and pottery.

Later the people of Lemnos also made metal objects, which they traded with the big cities of the time, Troy and Knossos, bartered these goods for products they did not have on the island.

A Second Town: Myrina ( on the western shores)

About 6000BC the Minoans settled in Crete and began to trade with other nearby islands. Around 4000BC there were sail-propelled boats on Euphrates and it is probable that traders soon after used sails out on the seas. 

For many years the Minoans controlled the seas trading with other islands from their palaces in Crete. When a large earthquake destroyed the nearby island of Thera (Santorini) in 1450 BC the Minoan city of Knossos, which was just 70 miles away, was also affected. 

The effects of the earthquake were catastrophic for the Minoans, their palaces and large fleets of ships were destroyed. This contributed to the destruction of the whole Minoan civilization, but meanwhile they had established towns in other parts of the Mediterranean, one being on the western shores of Lemnos.
Myrina Today

From a letter to our grandchildren.

Dear all,
I went down to the old town of Myrina today. It is not easy to shop in the main street (the Agora) at the moment as they have been digging up the old cobbles stones to put down new pipes. This work has been going on for a long time as every time the workers make a hole they find some very ancient pipes or stone. That means that they have to call for an archaeologist to come, and then the archaeologist says that the stones and pipes are very old, perhaps Byzantine or Ottoman, an then everyone has to stop work while the archaeologists take pictures and make drawings. 

This town was built first by King Thoas and QueenMyrina. They came here with their servants from the island of Crete. There they had been living in a great palace with Minoan and kings and queens. They were asked to go to Lemnos to set up a trading post and when they landed in the bay of Riha Nera they decided to build a town here for themselves and their servants. They became the first king and the queen of Lemnos, and the town they built was named after Queen, Myrina.

Ancient Aegean People

Mythic Heroes and Heroines.

Helen of Troy

Paris, Helen, Agamemnon, Jason and the Argonauts, Odysseus, Philoctetes, Thoas, Myrina, Hypsipili

There are always men called heroes...For Homer’s heroes everything pivoted on a single element of honour and virtue: strength, bravery, physical courage, prowess...there was no weakness, no unheroic trait, but one and that was cowardice, and the consequent failure to pursue heroic goals.
 M. I. Finley The World of Odysseus

The world that Homer described was an aristocratic world... It was a world with unique views of hospitality; it was a world whose gods were more like men than gods have ever been before or since. Mark Van Doren in the forward to The World of Odysseus

From a letter to our Grandchildren.

Dear All, 
The boys and girls of Lemnos do not find all their heroes on TV, they find their heroes in their own ancient stories. For instance teachers will tell them stories about Jason and the Argonauts, and also about Odysseus and Agamemnon. Jason, you will remember, set out in his boat The Argo to find gold. He stopped off on the way and married Hypsipili on the island of Lemnos. 

One story told about Odysseus and this war tells about the time Philoctetes, a famous archer, got bitten by a snake and was left behind on Lemnos. Odysseus realised they needed him to win the war so he came back for him. It was Philoctetes in the end who helped Agamemnon by shooting the arrow that killed the Trojan’s king’s son. I’m sure you will read more about these old heroes one day too. 

In 3000 Troy was a fortified city at the mouth of the river Scamander, it had a controlling influence over the entrance of the straits of the Hellespont. It was destroyed by fire several times, the last time by the troops of Agamemnon in 1184 BC. The story is that Agamemnon built a large wooden horse and hid some of his soldiers inside. At night, when the Trojans wheeled the horse inside their city, these men climbed out and opened up the city gates to let the rest of Agamemnon’s army in.

From another letter.

Dear All,
You know, at the corners of our roof in Lemnos we have tiles shaped like serpents, with tongues sticking out of their open mouths. I think this is because snakes were honoured on the island when the Minoans were here. Minoan queens, who were often also priestesses, used to be able to hold snakes in their hands. 
Once, when I saw a snake in our garden climbing the back wall, I remembered this story and thought, ‘This must be a good sign. Perhaps a snake visiting our house means that the old priestesses have blessed our house’. 
The Minoans were also clever acrobats. They would let a bull charge at them, and then jump up and grab the bull’s horns and somersault over its back. 

Perhaps Queen Myrina was a snake priestess, or perhaps she was an Amazon woman. I wonder this because she must have taught her daughter how to shoot and fight, for when the hero Jason arrived with a group of his friends Myrina’s daughter, Hypsipili, led a group of women archers down to the beach to try and stop them landing.
 (Jason’s friends were called the Argonauts because they had sailed with him in his boat called the Argo).

But when the women saw that the sailors were friendly they didn’t shoot, instead they invited them home. Later Hypsipili married Jason and they had two sons. Jason went on to have more adventures but he often returned to Lemnos.

With much love and many kisses, Grandma. xxx

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