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MUNICIPALITY OF FARSALA

SHORT HISTORIC AND ARCHAEOLOGICAL

APPROACHMENT

 

VASSO NOULA

ARCHAEOLOGIST

SPECIAL MAYOR’S ASSISTANT 

 

The ancient town of Pharsalus was extending to the northern slopes and foothills of Prophet Elias hill, which traverses to the North-West of the village called Narthaki, in a strategic location due to the road connecting northern and southern Greece. Today, its most part is covered by the modern city. The fertile plain that stretches out in front of this location is being crossed by the rivers Enipeas and Apidanos, being also surrounded by the mountains Fylliio and Chalkedonio to the north, Narthakion to the south, reaching all the way into the western Thessaly plain. Conclusively, ancient Pharsalus constitutes, both in ancient and modern times, a source of economic prosperity.

The earliest attested archaeological habitation dates back to the Neolithic period and particularly in the 4th millennium BC, a fact that makes this region one of the oldest cradles of uninterrupted occupation in Europe. The settlement of that period is located on the rocky hill of Saint Paraskevi, just above the headwaters of Apidanos river. Unfortunately, up to date, no architectural ruins of that period have been found, but only excavation layers (often disturbed by the consecutive use of space), with pottery findings.

The center of the settlement during the Bronze Age (3rd millennium BC and the 2nd millennium BC) remains the hill of Saint Paraskevi, however, archaeological evidence is still poor.  The oldest architectural habitation evidences are from that period as well, and they include two cist graves dating back to the start of the 2nd millennium BC.

The settlement of the Mycenaean period (the second half of the 2nd millennium BC) was identified by older and younger researchers, based on mythological and literary evidence, as well as topographic data, with the Homeric city Phthia, the birthplace of the hero Achilles, who campaigned across Troy as the leader of Myrmidons, along with fifty ships. From this period we also lack basic architectural remains, however we do have excavated layers with various findings (pottery and small objects), with the exception of the discovery of Mycenaean tombs in the western area of the historical times city’s cemetery.

xarths arxaias thessalias

MAP OF ANCIENT THESSALY

 

 

In the late 12th century BC the Thessalians, a greek tribe that was settled on the periphery of the Mycenaean world, invade the region. They force older people, the Pelasgians, either to emigrate or, mainly, to capitulate as Penestes (slaves), turning them into cultivators of the Thessalian rulers’ land. This particular time period is perfect for someone seeking the origins of the city in historical times, although the evidence is scanty, as both archaeological and written sources are hard to come by.

 


MAP OF ANCIENT THESSALY

xarths arxaias thessalias axrwmos

(drawing by P. Xrysostomos based on Stahlin's map)

 

The Thessalians divide their territory into tetrarchies: Pelasgiotis, Fthiotis, Thessaliotis and Estiaiotis.[1].

 

[1]

 

Pharsalus - the city’s new name [2]- becomes the capital of the "Fthiotis tetrarchy" and "Perioikida of Achaia Fthiotis" as well as, one of the most powerful Thessalian cities.

diairesh thessalias

DIVISION OF ANCIENT THESSALY - TETRARCHIES

[2]

 

 

 

pelasgiotis

 

Recently, part of the Protogeometric and Geometric period (11th-8th century BC) village cemetery came to light.

Those archaeological findings show that the city had already prospered during the late Archaic period (in the second half of the 6th century BC). Major findings of that particular period include: a) Tholos tomb with a path, not later than the beginning of the 5th  century BC, used by the late Archaic to the Hellenistic period (a chamber, Mycenaean-time tomb had also been found, exactly North-West of the dome at a deeper level). Tholos tomb  offerings include one famous calyx crater depicting the battle between Greeks and Trojans over the body of the dead Patroclus, attributed to the workshop of the famous painter of black-figure technique, Exekias (Athens - National Archaeological Museum).

 

tafos2


tafos3

 

tafos4

              

 

tafos6


 

 
b) The famous funerary anaglyph "L 'exaltation de la fleur", in the first half of the 5th century BC, which was randomly found in the Panagia Church territory in the 19th century (Paris - Louvre Museum).
 
epitumvio anaglufo
The funerary anaglyph “ L’ EXALTATION DE LA FLEUR”, first half of the 5th century BC
 
 
poreia arxaiou teixous
 
During this period, the city begins to get fortified by massive walls, reinforced with towers and gates. The construction of the wall continued until the 4th century BC. The fortification was constructed with native limestone and graystone, thus being entirely stone-made. The highlight of the wall construction system is ashlar trapezoid. A small part of it is built according to the polygonal system, influenced by lesbian masonry, but also with the engager technique. The total circumference of it is no more than 5 km and its thickness ranges from 1.50 to 2.80 meters. Across the perimeter were twenty-three quadrilateral-rectangular towers, of which only nineteen remain now clearly visible. In addition, four main gates and one smaller one have been identified, built onto the axes of the roads leading to the city.
 
 
akropolis farsalwn
 

 

Possibly at that time the citadel of the city was formed, which is walled separately, occupies the Prophet Elias hilltop and seems to have served purely military-defense purposes. It is located in the southernmost and highest part of the city and its shape is elongated in the east-west direction. It consists of two peaks, flattened at the ends, with a narrow saddle between them. Its length is 500 meters and its maximum width is just 60 meters. The citadel’s current picture is a result of modifications from the Byzantine period. On the citadel’s water saving and supply system lies a bottle-shaped tank, dug into the rock and its expeller part is built based on the ecforic system, with rectangular blocks. One could access the citadel through two gates, located north and south of the narrow saddle-shaped mountain pass. The north gate served mainly as a means of internal communication with the city, while the south gate was the direct exit from it.

nomisma 4 5


nomisma

ΝΟΜΙΣΜΑ ΤΗΣ ΦΑΡΣΑΛΟΥ ΤΟΥ 4ου(; )ΑΙΩΝΑ π.Χ

 

Immediately after the Persian wars, the city begins to mint its own coins. The obverse of the silver and copper coins depicted the head of the city's patron goddess Athena, in Attic or Corinthian helmet. In reverse it depicted a horse or a rider, a theme particularly popular in aristocratic societies like the Thessalian as well as that of Pharsalus, the cavalry of which was  (as was the cavalry of the whole Thessaly region), the most famous in ancient times. Generally, the coinage of Pharsalus was considered as one of the earliest in Thessaly.

 

arguro nomisma

 

The constitution of the town was traditionally oligarchic, but the rulers were so well- known for their honesty that Aristotle himself praised them as an example of good administration: «ἔστιν οὐν παράδειγμα οἱ ἐν Φαρσάλῳ ὀλιγαρχία. Ἐκείνοι, ὁλίγοι ὂντες, διά τό καλῶς διοικεῑν, πολλών κύριοι εἰσίν» Aristotle's Politics).

The great cultural development of the city is documented during the 5th and the 4th century BC. The city becomes a strong protagonist concerning Thessaly issues and highlights major political leaders from the family of Echekratides. The Echekratides, during the Persian wars, allied with the Athenians, while it is worth to notice that the army of Xerxes passed through the city. The most important of them was Daochos, son of Agias, who ruled the Thessalians in the second half of the 5th century BC for 27 consecutive years " ο? βί? ?λλά νόμ?" (whitout violence but with law) An important and prudent ruler was Polydamas who ruled the city in the critical years of the civil wars that shook Thessaly in the late 5th and early 4th century BC. Thessaly finally submitted peacefully, around 374 BC, to the tyrant Jason of Pherae.

Twenty years earlier, in 394 BC, just further south of Pharsalus, near Mount Narthakion, took place the famous battle between the Thessalians and the Persian army, with Greeks being led by the Spartan king Agesilaus. It is the period of Spartan hegemony in Greece immediately after the Peloponnesian War. Agesilaus finally defeated the Thessalian cavalry and in commemoration of his victory he erected a magnificent monument.

The city prospered again during the Macedonian domination period in Thessaly, that is from the middle of 4th century and afterwards, as its leaders, Daochos B and Thrasydaios, helped Philip II of Macedonia conquer the entire kingdom of Thessaly. So, they managed to ensure the Macedonian king's favor toward their country and they even managed to outflank the competitor city, Larissa, from 346 until 323 BC, taking the political and military leadership of Thessaly. The ever increasing strength of Pharsalus is depicted through urban expansion and the numerous references from authors and inscriptions. A sample of its force is still the fact that Daochos B', ruler of the city and a worshipped figure in Delphi, instructs during the third quarter of the fourth century BC the construction, from the Sanctuary of Apollo, of a marble constitution, composed of nine statues depicting his politician, martial and athlete ancestors and the god Apollo. The constitution is considered an Argo-Sikyon lab work, a member of which was the leading sculptor Lysippus, to whom some statues, like Agias, are attributed.

anathhma diadoxou

 

 

agalmata apo suntagma

 

 

During the Lamian war (323 - 322 BC), Pharsalus deviated from the Macedonian policy, downgraded into the second region category and had much to suffer during the 3rd century BC, as it was the apple of discord between the Macedonian Pelasgiotis and the  Aetolian  Achaia, and was ultimately claimed by the Aetolians as a fixture of Achaia.

During the Second and Third Macedonian War (200 - 197 BC and 171 to 168 BC, respectively), the area of Pharsalus became the naval battle field between Philip V of Macedonia and the Romans. In 197 BC , near Pharsalus, the famous battle of "Kynos Kefales" took place, where the Roman general Titus Quintus Flaminius defeated King Philip V.
After the overthrow of the Macedonian Kingdom in 148 BC, Pharsalus passed from the Roman Republic into the Roman domination.

After the overthrow of the Macedonian Kingdom in 148 BC, Pharsalus passed from the Roman Republic into the Roman domination.

 

rwmaiko nomisma

 

Under Roman domination, the city suffered again, as it became the epicenter of the civil wars between Roman contenders for power. The only event that will bring the city back to the forefront of history, is the battle that took place in its open plain, in 48 BC, between Pompey and Julius Caesar.

From the ancient city, especially that of the Hellenistic period, a large number of private houses, some of which being rich villas, have been excavated and their appliances in situ has been revealed. They have varied floor plans, walls with stone foundations and an upper structure of raw bricks, which in some cases were lined with colored mortar. The floors are either made simply from beaten clay, or from more neat and elaborate, pebbled mosaics. The tiling, often found intact, is laconic. The city streets are usually from gravel, being paved and traversed by a system of sewers.

The city developed its cemeteries outside its walls. The western cemetery is more extensive and has been adequately investigated, spanning across the road leading to southern Greece.  It contains tombs from the Mycenaean to the Hellenistic period. The tombs belong to different categories: cist-shaped with built, or lined with plaques walls, sometimes covered with tumuli, burial buildings with limestone urns, circular and oval built tombs, tile and cinerary urns.

Concerning worship, it is attested by findings, mostly dedicatory inscriptions, the worship of many deities, beyond the city's patron goddess Athena. Based on the inscriptions, the sanctuary of Zeus Thavliou is placed on the hill of Saint Paraskevi and the sanctuary of Asclepius on the hill of Saint Nicholas. Also reported is the worship of the Olympian Zeus, Hermes Aguiata, Artemis, Aphrodite's Persuasion and Thetis. Two  Demeter’s sanctuary pits, dating from the late 4th - early 3rd century BC, have been found at "Platoma" and "Eikonismataki", on top of Prophet Elias Hill, from which a large number of clay figurines and votive vessels have been salvaged.

Unfortunately, today most of the excavated remains of Pharsalus, which, apart from private homes, graves, road segments and sections of the fortifications, there were also relics and buildings of public use, such as galleries, small temples, warehouses and shops, which together give us a clear knowledge of the urban fabric of the ancient city, have been buried without a chance of salvation. Only parts of the walls and tombs visible in expropriated land have been reserved. Also, parts of the fortifications of the citadel and the city are preserved in various places, on the top and the north slope of Prophet Elias Hill.

 

 

BIBLIOGRAPGY

 

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Οικονόμου Κ.Α., Η Λάρισα και η Θεσσαλική Ιστορία, Τόμος Β', "Από τις απαρχές της προϊστορίας, στην Τετραρχία και τη Ρωμαιοκρατία" (8000–197 π.Χ.), Λάρισα 2007
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http://el.wikipedia.org/wiki/Φάρσαλα
www.farsala.gr / διαδικτυακές πύλες- δήμος Φαρσάλων- ιστορία
www.achilles.gr/old.farsalos.htm
http://odysseus.culture.gr/ Ακρόπολη Φαρσάλων
http://odysseus.culture.gr/ Θολωτός Τάφος Φαρσάλων
http://www.polidamantas.gov.gr (Διαδικτυακές Πύλες – Δήμος Πολυδάμαντα - Ιστορία)
http://www.hellinon.net/NeesSelides/Fthia.htm
http://el.wikipedia.org/wiki/Φθία
www.e-istoria.com/t4.html


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