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POLYRRHENIA (Polyrrhinia, formerly Epano Paleokastro) Kisamos district, Crete.

Hill-top site 5.5 km S of Kastelli Kisamou. It was more important than surviving sources make clear. Literary references to the site are few except by the geographers: e.g. Skylax 47; Strabo 10.4.13. Polybios (4.53, 55, 61) provides details of several historical incidents. Inscriptions add a little.

According to tradition (Strabo, loc. cit.), Achaean and Laconian immigrants settled in one city the existing population, which lived in villages. This could refer to a foundation at the end of the 2d millennium or as late as the 8th c. Apart from possible slight traces of LM III occupation (cf. the tradition of Agamemnon's visit on his voyage home from Troy), the earliest pottery found so far is archaic. In the Classical period the city was a major power in W Crete, a city of tough mountain warriors, hunters, and herdsmen. It used the ports of Kisamos and Phalasarna, 30 and 60 stades away (Strabo, correctly). Phalasama remained independent throughout, but Kisamos probably became independent only in the 3d c. A.D. Polyrrhenia allied itself with Phalasarna in the early 3d c. B.C. with Spartan mediation, honored a Spartan king ca. 273, and probably supported Sparta in the Chremonidean war (267/6-261). It supported Lyttos against Knossos and Gortyn in 220-219 and after the destruction of Lyttos continued the struggle with Macedonian and Achaean help, successfully detaching other W Cretan cities from alliance with Knossos (Polyb. loc. cit.). By 201 it seems to have ceased to support Macedon, and soon showed pro-Roman feeling, honoring Scipio Hispallus (189), clearly as a result of a visit, and joining the alliance with Eumenes (183). It remained prosperous in the 2d c., but lost to Kydonia its preeminence in W Crete. It therefore supported the Roman conquest of Crete and was favorably treated: it continued to strike coins and gained (or perhaps regained) control of the Diktynnaion. In the Imperial period it seems to have declined in importance; Kisamos seems to have been still dependent in the 2d c. but independent from the 3d. Polyrrhenia is not heard of after the 3d c.; the site was reoccupied probably early in the second Byzantine period (late 10th c.). Coins were struck from the 4th c. B.C. to the Roman period; the most distinctive feature is the city symbol—the bucranium. The city's territory was extensive in W Crete, “from the north to the south (coast)” ([Scylax] 47), though it only certainly controlled the S part of the W coast and a stretch of the N coast.

The city lay in a naturally fortified position—on an isolated steep hill surrounded by ravines, dominating the valley approach from Kisamos. The ancient city covered the whole lower (SW) part of the hill, which slopes up NE to a steep summit, the ancient acropolis (418 m), with a lower spur beyond to the N. The visible fortifications around the hill and acropolis have clearly been much repaired and rebuilt in the second Byzantine and Venetian periods and the wall round the N spur and that along the S side of the acropolis (facing the city) seem to be entirely of those periods. But the ancient wall line can be traced on the N and NW sides of the acropolis and the NW side (with two towers) and SE side (with a gate) of the city; the line is totally lost on the SW side. These walls probably date from Early Hellenistic times, with repairs and additions in antiquity (e.g. the tower W of the village). The city was provided with water through at least two rock-cut aqueducts terminating on the W side of the modern village, with a cave nearby containing evidence of a cult of the Nymphs. A number of cisterns (perhaps all Byzantine or later) are visible in the acropolis or lower city; apart from these, few remains survive within the acropolis. On the N spur remains of a sanctuary may lie under the later chapel.

In the city area the main concentration of ancient remains lies on a terrace near the center, by the ruined chapel of the 99 Saints. Excavations in 1938 revealed a building of good Early Hellenistic construction (60.65 x 6.73 m), a stoa or perhaps a monumental altar bordering on the N a structure that was possibly a temple, not yet proved but indicated by the many inscribed blocks reused in the chapel: these include some honorific inscriptions and statue bases, and a large number of blocks bearing a mass of personal names, clearly inscribed by individuals (almost all Polyrrhenians) coming to the temple (3d-1st c. B.C.). Few remains have been found of houses: only some rock-cut foundations. Sherds from the site cover the archaic to Roman periods, and the second Byzantine period on (especially on the acropolis).

In the valley below to the E, at Sto Yero Kolymbo, are the poorly preserved remains of a small two-roomed building, probably a temple of the 3d c. B.C., with a bench across the rear wall of the cella. Inscribed blocks from a round structure reportedly found at Kappadoki probably derive from another sanctuary. None of the temples can be identified. The main necropolis lay on the lower W slopes of the hill at Ston Kharaka, with built tombs, and rock-cut graves and chamber tombs beyond. Another necropolis lay between the city and Kisamos. In both necropoleis all the tombs have been looted: none appears to have been earlier than 4th c. B.C.


R. Pashley, Travels in Crete (1837; repr. 1970) I.48-49, 53-56, II.44-50; T.A.B. Spratt, Travels and Researches in Crete II (1865) 211-15I; L. Thenon, “Fragments d'une description de l'Ile de Crète, III: Polyrrhénie,” RA (NS) 15 (1867) 416-27; J.-N. Svoronos, Numismatique de la Crète ancienne (1890; repr. 1972) 274-84 and Suppl. p. 373; L. Savignoni, MonAnt 11 (1901) 314-48MPI; G. de Sanctis, ibid., 474-94; M. Guarducci, ICr II (1939) 237-67; V. D. Theophanidis, ArchEph 81-83 (1942-44) Chronika 17-31; H. van Effenterre, La Crète et le monde grec de Platon à polybe (1948); E. Kirsten, “Polyrrhenia,” RE XXI (1952) 2530-48; R. F. Willetts, Aristocratic Society in Ancient Crete (1955).


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