Aperlae (Ancient Greek: Ἄπερλαι) was a small town on the southern coast of ancient Lycia. It did not play any significant role in history or politics. However, its lifespan of 1,300 years is worth note. Harsh terrain made it difficult to survive, but like other towns along the coast, it thrived on the production of Tyrian dye.
Location and name
The town's position is fixed by the Stadiasmus 60 stadia west of Somena, and 64 stadia west of Andriace. Leake (Asia Minor, p. 188) supposes Somena to be the Simena of Pliny (v. 27). Aperlae, which is written in the text of Ptolemy Aperrae, and in Pliny Apyrae, is proved to be a genuine name by an inscription found by Cockerell, at the head of Hassar bay, with the ethnic name Ἀπερλειτων on it. But there are also coins of Gordian with the ethnic name Ἀπερραιτων. The confusion between the "l" and the "r" in the name of a small place is nothing remarkable.
Aperlae was founded sometime between the late 4th and early 3rd century BCE and sustained a long lifespan of about 1,300 years which was terminated at the end of the 7th century AD. When the Byzantine Empire went to pieces and the political powers began to deteriorate, security of the coast failed and Aperlae was abandoned due to the threat of pirate raids and Arab corsairs. Though with the evidence of some late repairs on a church suggest that there was possibly a small settlement of squattors or stragglers after it was left, Aperlae was never rebuilt and resettled.
Aperlae is situated near a bay and had harsh conditions all around. The sea in this region was unreliable in a storm and the bay offered near no protection from weather. It was directly between the mountains and the coast, the city's fortifications didn't encompass the arable terraced part of the mountains. There were no reliable sources of fresh water, but numerous cisterns located around the town indicated a heavy reliance on rain water. Aperlae was near a faultline leading to the seaside district of Aperlae sinking due to slow slumping over time. The most defining feature of the Aperlae landscape was the vast amount of Murex snail shells. There were two distinct parts of town where they were dumped covering altogether 1,600 square meters (at an unknown depth until the Turkish government allows archeologists to dig), they were discovered in the mortar and concrete of the buildings of the city, and they were found in large quantities dumped into the ocean.
The economy was built around the production of Tyrian dye, a deep and costly purple which is gleaned from the hypobroncial gland of the Murex trunculus (which has been reclassified as Hexaplex trunculus). It is said to have cost 20 times its weight in gold. Experiments conducted in 1909 concluded that it would take 12,000 snails to produce 1.4 grams or 0.05 oz. Three ceramic lined vats found in the sunken district are suggested to have been holding tanks for the live snails until there were enough to be processed. Evidence of the presence of other mollusks in these piles indicates that the Murex were collected using nets and not by hand. Though there was a rudimentary harbor with a jetty but not a breakwater, it is evident from the opulence presented by the city that there were more than enough resources to make one if they wanted. The city boasted four churches, a great number of tombstones, and good fortifications which indicate an affluence of that time.
Since it was in the Roman province of Lycia, the bishopric of Aperlae was a suffragan of the metropolitan see of Myra, the province's capital, and was among the most important of the suffragan sees, being mentioned in fifth place in the Notitiae Episcopatuum of Pseudo-Epiphanius, composed under Byzantine Emperor Heraclius in about 640. No name of any of its bishops was identified by Lequien in his Oriens christianus in quatuor Patriarchatus digestus.
- Heinrich Gelzer, Ungedruckte und ungenügend veröffentlichte Texte der Notitiae episcopatuum, in: Abhandlungen der philosophisch-historische classe der bayerische Akademie der Wissenschaften, 1901, p. 539, nº 258.
- Annuario Pontificio 2013 (Libreria Editrice Vaticana 2013 ISBN 978-88-209-9070-1), p. 835
Carter, R.S.. "The Submerged Seaport of Aperlae." International Journal of Nautical Archeology 7(1978): 177-85. Print.
Hohlfelder, Robert L.; Vann, Robert L. "Cabotage at Aperlae in Ancient Lycia." International Journal of Nautical Archeology 29(2000): 126-135. Print.
Hohlfelder, Robert L.; Vann, Robert L. "Uncovering the Maritime Secrets of Aperlae, a Coastal Settlement of Ancient Lycia." Near Eastern Archeology 61(1998): 26-37. Print.