previous next

PHALASARNA (Cape Kutri, near Azoyires) Kisamos district, Crete.

Barely mentioned by ancient authors except geographers, who refer to it as the westernmost city of Crete and mention its enclosed harbor ([Scylax] 47; Dion. Call. 119ff). The city served also as one port of Polyrrhenia, 60 stades inland across a range of hills, but it was never dependent on Polyrrhenia.

The city is mentioned only once by a historical source (Polyb. 22.55), when Appius Claudius made Kydonia restore its independence (184 B.C.). Very little can be gleaned from inscriptions. With Spartan mediation, the city made a treaty with Polyrrhenia in the early 3d c., when Spartan influence was strong in W Crete. It reached the zenith of its prosperity in that century, the period when the city walls were probably constructed. There is evidence of good relations with Egypt later in the century. The city is not mentioned after the 2d c., when Kydonia became the predominant power in the area; it may well have been a pirate base in the 2d-1st c. It is not listed in the Notitiae Dignitatum and by the later Roman period the site may have been uninhabited. It seems to have had a temple of Diktynna (Dion. Call. loc. cit.), and perhaps one of Apollo by the harbor (Stad. 336). Coins were struck in the 4th-3d c., showing a trident or dolphin and female head (Diktynna, Aphrodite, or the eponymous nymph Phalasarne).

The earliest remains found so far are 6th c., the latest are Roman; they were first fully described by Pashley. The city lies on a high, rocky cape projecting W, and settlement later extended onto the isthmus (some 500 m wide) below to the E. The acropolis falls away sheer into the sea on the N and W sides, and slopes steeply on the landward (E) side, up which runs one difficult path. The top, some 100 m high, is divided into a smaller N and larger S knoll by a deep cleft and saddle, where Spratt thought he could see a temple. On top there are remains of towers and other poorly preserved buildings; some walls appear to belong to temples. There is no spring on the acropolis but several cisterns on its slopes. On the E slope are retaining walls of terraces with house foundations, some rock-cut. At the foot of this slope the city wall ran across the isthmus, with projecting rectangular towers and perhaps a second wall line 5 m inside to the W. The wall also ran round the harbor and SE to the coast; SW of the harbor it is poorly preserved.

Spratt first made comprehensible the ruins of the lower city, by establishing that this part of the coast has been uplifted 6-7 m since the Classical period (and herein may lie the cause of the city's decline or abandonment in the later Roman period, perhaps the 4th and/or 6th c.). Thus he first identified the enclosed harbor (now some 100 m inland from the S side of the isthmus), which with its entrance channel and the bare rock on either side lies now well above sea level, with a solution notch clearly visible across the rocks marking the ancient shoreline. (For the same reason the city wall at its N end stops well short of the modern coastline.) The harbor basin, established in the shelter of the acropolis, is now filled in; it formed an irregular hexagon (ca. 60 x 70 m) with its entrance on the SW side, and was surrounded by walls with towers projecting inwards and outwards. The rock-cut entrance channel is an enlarged natural fissure, irregular in course and 10 m wide, now filled with earth and stones. West of this and just above the ancient shoreline is a rock cutting, perhaps a small dock or water channel. The bays on either side of the isthmus are too exposed to be good harbors.

Other remains of the city E of the wall are still poorly understood (much less is visible now than when Spratt visited the site). No temple sites can be clearly identified. The most striking features are the large rectangular chambers cut in the sandstone, probably used as basements of houses or storerooms after quarrying. Southeast of the city, behind the coastal dunes, lies a necropolis with rock-cut and cist graves; most have been looted, but some produced 4th c. and Hellenistic pottery. Three rock-cut thrones are also visible, perhaps intended for the dead. East of the city another necropolis has recently been found, with pithos burials (early 6th to early 5th c.) and Early Hellenistic cist graves. In the plain S of the city Roman cisterns, walls, and graves have been found.


R. Pashley, Travels in Crete II (1837; repr. 1970) 61-73; T.A.B. Spratt, Travels and Researches in Crete II (1865) 227-35MPI; J.-N. Svoronos, Numismatique de la Crète ancienne (1890; repr. 1972) 268-71; L. Savignoni, MonAnt 11 (1901) 348-85MPI; K. Lehmann-Hartleben, Die antiken Hafenanlagen des Mittelmeeres (Klio, Beih. 14) 80-82 (1923; repr. 1963); E. Kirsten, “Phalasarna,” RE XIX. 2 (1938) 1653-58; M. Guarducci, ICr II (1939) 218-25; H. van Effenterre, La Crète et le monde grec de Platon à Polybe (1948); G. Daux, BCH 85 (1961) 896; J. Tzedakis, Deltion 24 (1969) Chronika 2, 432-34; N. C. Flemming, ed., Science Diving International (1973) 51-54.


hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: