15. Mithymna: the Fortress on the Hill

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Roman ruins at the north end, facing Turkey.

There is something breathtaking about the shores, mountains and harbours around Lesbos. Mithymna is a gem of a town, with all the fine features you hope for as a tourist destination, but a significant amount of history is embedded in every corner.  928 (2)As one of the largest Greek islands, and the nearest to Turkey, there is a remarkable amount of cultural fusion and warmth that shaped my experience of living in Mithymna (Μήθυμνα / Molyvos) for several months, some years ago.

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Taking a libation at the Mithymna castle.

While being housed during the spring months in Mithymna, I explored the winding cobblestone streets, photographed dangling flowering plants and occasionally sampled the vibrant restaurant scene at the harbour.

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Mithymna harbour

These elements, along with adorable roaming stray cats and dogs (some of whom we adopted), formed idyllic scenes that made it a beautiful and tranquil location to study some Byzantine History and Reception Studies (in effect, the study of modern interpretations of the ancient world) during my undergraduate degree.

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A charming painting in the old schoolhouse where we took lessons.

What a draw for a historian!Greece 608Like many ancient city centres, Mithymna has a foundation story whose characters possessed the very names of the location – in this case, Mithymna (daughter of a mythical son of the god Helios) who was married to the personification of Lesbos. Hard to prove, so I’ll take the Oxford Dictionary of the Classical World’s word for it.

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Mithymna Castle

The history of Mithymna is actually the stuff of legends, literally. The Bronze Age warrior Achilles was said to have breached the fortifications of Mithymna due to the amorous machinations of King Peisidikis’s daughter.

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View from Mithymna castle of Efthalou.

The city fell to the Achaeans, as the events of the Illiad take place not far away across the water (you can see Turkey from the shores of Mithymna).

Mithymna had been an important location in the Classical period as it was caught  between the Athenians, their ally, and the Spartans throughout the Peloponnesian War (431 – 404 BCE). To and fro, the balance of power shifted from Athens to Sparta, and back again throughout the war; and smaller allied cities were caught in the fight, or served as proxies for the conflict. 957 (2)Mithymna and Mytilene had a solid rivalry throughout this conflict and beyond, which I will go into when I post about Mytilene. But for the time being, some dark business went down during this three decades long war, and Mithymna and Mytilene had some serious issues to work out afterwards.

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Splendid isolation on the beach

Remaining significant throughout the Hellenistic period, Mithymna played politics as it was captured by Macedonian forces and Persians, with tyrants ousting and aligning themselves with the conflicting superpowers when they gained control of the island cities. With the division of Alexander’s brief empire by his successors, King Lysimachus and later Ptolemy would control the island. With the influence of the Ptolemaic ruler, my academic obsession, the cults of Isis and Sarapis were introduced and worshiped.

Which brings us neatly to the Roman period.

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A bit of Roman road and tomb.

Sprinting through so much history, I can barely touch on how many fascinating moments in ancient history in which Mithymna has played a part, but one of the elements which leaves a physical trace, which I was thrilled to see, was the Roman archaeological remains dispersed throughout the city.Roman Tombs Molyvos 3The formal alliance between Rome and Mithymna was dated by an epigraphic source to 129 BCE. The Roman poets and writers spent many words to describe the quality and superiority of Mithymnian wines.

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While staying in Mithymna, I was fortunate enough to meet a local archaeologist who gave us a small tour of the closed excavation.

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Finds from this trench were rich in pottery and sea shells.

At that point, they had a great deal of pottery and many interesting rubbish dumps from the Roman period. It appeared that they were producing pottery, and likely distributing the wines in vessels made at this centre.Roman Tombs MolyvosWith the political upheaval in the 5th century AD of the western half of the Roman empire, Lesbos fell into the orbit of political authority from the Byzantine power-base of the eastern empire. This orientation affected the flavour and practices on the island as Christianity became the prevalent belief system and religious power throughout the empire. Greece 012Thank you for reading my blog!

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1. Introduction

Inspiration and Memory

1. Introduction

Over the last ten years I have had a multitude of moments where I stood atop a mountain, under arches, lay among ruins, swam in seas and stood face to face with some of the most impressive pieces of art ever made. In these quiet and exhilarating moments, I have often been alone.

I have sketched and photographed these incredible places but often wished I could have shared the experience, the history and the spirit of those moments.

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Isis and Nepthys art commission. 2017

I did not have this hunger to explore until my mid-twenties. Toiling away in employment that offered little reward, I put all of my effort into my education for many years. It was during this time that I seized on an opportunity to study abroad in Greece for 9 months. That decision changed my life, my journey and grew a love of archaeology and travel within that burns brighter every day.
I am now rich in time as I work towards getting myself a professional position within the archaeological community of the United Kingdom, and there is no better time than the present!
I will start this blog non-chronologically, and as time progresses I will hopefully catch up with me!

IMG_20151116_114208299_HDR (2).jpgAqueduct in Rome. 2014

One of the many facets of my studies and travels that has been enriching and interesting to me has been the ability to teach strangers, friends and loved ones along the way about the incredible things I have learned and seen. Beauty for beauty’s sake certainly, but contextualizing and adding the depth of history to a striking vista…well that is a more remarkable thing.

1. Introduction
Aviemore -Scotland. 2014

I will also endeavor to add in the ‘WHY DOES THIS MATTER’, as nothing is more infuriating to audiences when they have no idea why they should care about some dry piece of history or some stodgy/smutty statue.

IMG_7166Sketch of ‘Dama de Elche’ – Madrid. 2014

Trust me.

There is so much more going on than you can imagine!

So, if your interest is peaked, feel free to check out my blog and explore some little known gems alongside some of the biggest, most spectacular sites of the ancient world!

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