Histria (ancient city)
Ἰστρίη (Ancient Greek)
The Roman main gate to Histria
|Location||Istria, Constanța, Romania|
|Founded||7th century BC|
|Abandoned||7th century AD|
|Excavation dates||1868, 1914, 1928–1943, 1949–1970|
|Archaeologists||Ernest Desjardins, Vasile Pârvan, Scarlat, Marcelle Lambrino, Emil Condurachi, Dionisie Pippidi, Petre Alexandrescu, Alexandru Suceveanu|
Histria or Istros (Ancient Greek: Ἰστρίη, Thracian river god, Danube), was a Greek colony or polis (πόλις, city) near the mouths of the Danube, on the western coast of the Black Sea. Established by Milesian settlers in order to facilitate trade with the native Getae, it is considered the oldest urban settlement on Romanian territory. Scymnus of Chios (ca 110 BC), dated its founding to 630 BC, while Eusebius of Caesarea set it during the time of the 33rd Olympic Games (657 – 656 BC). The earliest documented currency on Romanian territory was an 8-gram silver drachma, issued by the city around 480 BC.
Archaeological evidence seems to confirm that all trade with the interior followed the foundation of Histria. Traders reached the interior via Histria and the Danube valley, demonstrated by finds of Attic black-figure pottery, coins, ornamental objects, an Ionian lebes and many fragments of amphoras. Amphoras have been found in great quantity at Histria, some imported but some local. Local pottery was produced following establishment of the colony and certainly before mid-6th century. During the archaic and classical periods, when Histria flourished, it was situated near fertile arable land. It served as a port of trade soon after its establishment, with fishing and agriculture as additional sources of income. By 100 AD, however, fishing had become the main source of Istrian revenue.
Around 30 AD, Histria came under Roman domination. During the Roman period from the 1st to 3rd centuries AD, temples were built for the Roman gods, besides a public bath and houses for the wealthy. Altogether, it was in continuous existence for some 14 centuries, starting with the Greek period up to the Roman-Byzantine period. The Halmyris bay where was the city founded was closed by sand deposits and access to the Black Sea gradually was cut. Trade continued until the 6th century AD. The invasion of the Avars and the Slavs in the 7th century AD almost entirely destroyed the fortress, and the Istrians dispersed; the name and the city disappeared.
- 1 Geographic setting
- 2 Archaeology
- 3 Archaic Greek layers
- 4 Classical Greek layers
- 5 Hellenistic layers
- 6 Roman layers
- 7 Gallery
- 8 External links
- 9 Ancient references
- 10 See also
Ancient Histria was situated on a peninsula, about 5 kilometres (3 mi) east of the modern Romanian commune of Istria, on the Dobruja coast. The ancient seashore has since been transformed into the western shore of Sinoe Lake, as the Danube's silt deposits formed a shoal which closed off the ancient coastline. The current Sinoe Lake was at the time the open northern bay, while another bay on the southern shore served as the port. The acropolis with sanctuaries was established on the highest point of the coastal plain. The settlement itself, erected in the 6th century, was 1/2 mile (800 meters) to the west of the acropolis. The settlement had stone paved streets and was protected by strong wall. Water was collected along 12.5 mile (20 km) long aqueducts.
The ruins of the settlement were first identified in 1868 by French archaeologist Ernest Desjardins. Archaeological excavations were started by Vasile Pârvan in 1914, and continued after his death in 1927 by teams of archaeologists led successively by Scarlat and Marcelle Lambrino (1928–1943), Emil Condurachi (1949–1970), Dionisie Pippidi, Petre Alexandrescu and Alexandru Suceveanu. The Histria Museum, founded in 1982, exhibits some of these finds. The excavation project and site also features prominently in the film The Ister.
Archeological research in Histria managed to identify and classify several layers on site. The layer stratification can be divided primarily between the Archaic and Classical periods:
Archaic Greek layers
The ancient Greek city covered around 60 hectares. There are very few written references to the archaic city and archeological research provides the main historical resource. The main deity was Apollo Ietros (The Healer). Zeus (Gr. Polieus) was the protector deity of the city and Aphrodita was also confirmed by archeological research. Historians believe all six Milesian tribes (Greek: phylai) were represented in the colony, yet only four tribes are attested to: the Aigikoreis, Argadeis, Boreis and Geleontes. The only clue concerning the government of the city was given by Aristotle in Politica. Thanks to his comment, it is clear that the first government of Histria was an oligarchy. From an economic point of view, the town was developed around port-related activities.
Archaic Greek layer I (630–600 BC)
In around 600 BC, Histria suffered its first destruction.
Archaic Greek layer II (600–550 BC)
During this period a new city wall was built around the city, probably in connection with the frequent raids of the scythians. Probably the Acropolis started to be defended by a wall.
Archaic Greek layer III (550–500 BC)
Another destruction of the city has taken place, probably in 512 BC, when Darius I undertook a war against the Scythians. It is still unclear if this fact is connected to the Persian expedition led by Darius or to the Scythians followers of the Persian army during the retreat.
Classical Greek layers
During the classical period, there was continuity in the cults of Apollo Ietros; Zeus (Gr. Polieus) and Aphrodita. A new wall with a single tower was erected. During the classical period many written sources describe the political organisation of the area. The Odrysian kingdom was involved in fighting with the Scythians ruled by Ariapeithes and Histria was situated between the two kingdoms. Due to that, most probably, Histria town was forced to join the Delian League. In the 5th century BC, these colonies were under the influence of the Delian League, passing in this period from oligarchy to democracy. From an economic point of view it was during this era that the first Histrian coins were minted: a didrachma, oboli and bronze coins.
Classical Greek layer I (500–425 BC)
The town was flourishing in the period of Athens's Peloponnesian Wars when the Athenian fleet came to the Greek colonnies placed on the shores of the Pontos Euxeinos (Black Sea) to collect the contributions for the Delian Treasure (Thucydides). A new wall that was defending the histrian Acropolis was erected, probably in connection with the democratic "revolution" that Aristotle is speaking about in The Politics (cap. 5), relating about the change of the histrian Constitution, evolving from oligarhy to democracy.
Classical Greek layer II (425–350 BC)
During the Hellenistic period, there was continuity in the cult of Apollo Ietros, Zeus (Gr. Polieus) and Aphrodita. A new temple for a grand deity was built. There is also evidence of the cult of Athena, Poseidon, Helikonios, Taurios, Demetra, Hermes Agoraios, Heracles, Asclepios, Dioscurii and others. A new wall also appears, protecting a 10 ha area. During the Hellenistic period Histria had become an important supplier of grain for Greece. However, the economic power of Histria was represented by trade. In the Hellenistic period, the gymnasium and the theater were erected.
Hellenistic layer I (350–300 BC)
The town was once again destroyed around 339 BC. During the period 313–309 BC, a rebellion of Pontic towns took place. Miletus however awarded Histrians equal political rights, or so-called isopoliteia.
Hellenistic layer II (300–175 BC)
Around 260 BC, Byzantium was involved in a dispute with Histria and Callatis (modern Mangalia) over Tomis emporion (Εμπόριον, market) (i.e. modern Constanţa). Another destruction of the city, somewhere around 175 BC, was most probably wreaked by Bastarni passing through after being called upon by Macedonian king Philip V or Perseus to reinforce the army.
Hellenistic layer III (175–100 BC)
Hellenistic layer IV (100–20 BC)
Burebista arrived in Dobruja.
(Gaius Antonius Hybrida)...while governor of Macedonia, had inflicted many injuries upon the subject territory as well as upon that which was in alliance with Rome, and had suffered many disasters in return. 2 For after ravaging the possessions of the Dardanians and their neighbours, he did not dare to await their attack, but pretending to retire with his cavalry for some other purpose, took to flight; in this way the enemy surrounded his infantry and forcibly drove them out of the country, even taking away their plunder from them. 3 When he tried the same tactics on the allies in Moesia, he was defeated near the city of the Istrians by the Bastarnian Scythians who came to their aid; and thereupon he ran away...
Early Roman layer IA (30–100 AD)
Continuous with the Hellenistic period. A new thermae (Thermae I) was built. This period is considered by historians, thanks to two inscribed artifacts, as the second founding of the city.
Early Roman layer IB (100–170 AD)
In around 170 AD, a part of the town was destroyed.
Early Roman layer IC (170–250 AD)
The town suffered serious destruction from which it never recovered. The main theory is that it was destroyed by a Gothic invasion. Another theory presumes that the town was destroyed in an earthquake.
Late Roman layers IIA (after 250 AD)
- Late Roman layer IIB
- Late Roman layer IIIA
- Late Roman layer IIIB
- Late Roman layer IVA
- Late Roman layer IVB
- Late Roman layer VA
- Late Roman layer VB
Dobruja's ancient towns and colonies (against modern coastline)
- The Histria Archaeological Site
- Histria's New Look - A 3D Model
- History Microregion Sinoe - by Doctor Archaeologist Catalin Dobrinescu
- The Ister - Official Site.
- Herodotus, Works by Herodotus at Project Gutenberg.
- Aristotle, (V,6).
- Trogus Pompeius, History.
- Demosthenes, Contra Leptinem, 466, 31: the grain supply from Pont is larger than all other ports.
- Polybios, 4,38,4: With respect to goods for living, the Pontic region supplies cattle and slaves, in large numbers and of a proven quality. With respect to luxury goods, they supply us with honey, wax and salted fish. In exchange they receive from our regions the commodities of oil and all kinds of wines. With grain we trade, when in need they supply us, at other times we supply them.
- Dio Cassius XVIII 10.2
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