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APTERA or Aptara (Palaiokastro, near Megala Choraphia) Apokoronas district, Crete.

On a steep-sided plateau (231 m) just inland from Kalami on the S side of entrance to Suda Bay. Various attempts were made in antiquity to explain the name: e.g., that this was the site of the song contest of the Muses and Sirens; the latter lost their wings when defeated (Steph. Byz. s.v. Aptera; ‘aptera’ = ‘wingless’); another legend has an eponymous hero Apteros. The city's name may in fact derive from the epithet of Artemis there (see below). The foundation of the city is variously ascribed to Glaukos of Cyrene or Pteras of Delphi.

There are few literary references to the city's history: archers from A. fought for Sparta in the second Messenian war (late 7th c.; Paus. 4.20.8); in 220 B.C. the city was forced by Polyrrhenia to desert its alliance with Knossos (Polyb. 4.55.4). A little can be gleaned from inscriptions: A. probably supported Sparta against Pyrrhos (272) and in the Chremonidean war (267/6-1); at this time it had links with Ptolemaic Egypt but was strangely absent from the alliances with Miletos (mid 3d c.); Scipios and their staff were honored there (189) as well as pro-Roman Achaeans (early 2d c.), Attalus I or II, and Prusias II. The city joined the treaty with Eumenes (183).

Impressive city walls indicate prosperity in the Early Hellenistic period, and wide commercial and political contacts are attested by a series of proxeny decrees (mainly 2d c.); the city's position at the mouth of the safest anchorage in Crete was of benefit. However, Aptera seems to have declined before the Roman Conquest, perhaps becoming dependent on its powerful neighbor Kydonia. Archaeological evidence of continued settlement through the Early Byzantine period is confirmed by a mention in Hierokles (650.11) and references to bishops of Aptera (Notitiae 8.227; 9.136). Geographical sources refer to it, usually as an inland city, without much detail: [Scylax] 47; Strab. 10.4.13, p. 479; Dion. Call. 122f.; Plin. HN 4.12.59 (Minoium Apteron are two separate sites); Ptol. Geogr. 3.5.7; Stad. 344 (confusion with Minoa?); Rav. Cosm. V.21; Steph. Byz. s.v. The form Aptara was apparently the usual one in Crete, and Aptera outside: coins have Aptara, inscriptions both, literary texts mostly Aptera. Coins portray a number of deities, especially Artemis Aptera, who seems to have been the chief deity (related to Diktynna and associated with initiation rites: see Willetts). Coins also commonly depict an armed man, Ptolioikos (the hero Apteros?), a bee, a torch, and a bow. Coinage started ca. 330 and ceased well before the Roman Conquest; there was none under Roman rule.

Pashley first correctly identified the site, previously thought to be Minoa or Amphimalla. Considerable remains survive, though nowhere to full height, of the city walls which are 4 km long, probably of 3d c. date, and all of one period despite differences in style. They surround the entire plateau, some of which was probably not built on even at times of maximum population. The work is particularly solid (2.4-2.8 m thick) on the W side, the normal approach at least from the Hellenistic period and the easiest route of access. The main gate is set at an oblique angle and flanked by towers; farther S is another tower shielding a sally port. Only traces survive of the wall line along the S and central N side, and on the NW side the work is rougher (with a steep drop outside). On the E side the terrain is rougher and the plateau edge irregular; the wall course is correspondingly irregular. The E gate (now Sideroporta) lay where the wall crossed a deep gully running into the site from the NE. Earlier the city may have been more clearly oriented towards the plain to the E, and there are possible traces of early defenses farther up the gully and around a low hill near the E side of the city, S of the gully, which seems to have been the acropolis; only rock cuttings survive on its top.

Apart from the city walls, the most striking ancient remains are the two great cisterns in the center of the site on the S side of the main gully (since these, like the walls, remained in use for centuries, they escaped demolition in the Early Byzantine period when all other ancient buildings were stripped of reusable building material; the walls suffered more during Venetian and Turkish fortification of Suda Bay). Both cisterns were built of concrete faced with brick and then mortar. One (W of the monastery of St. John of Patmos) has one aisle and turns at a right angle (6.3 m clear width). The other (NE of the monastery) has three barrel-vaulted aisles divided by two rows of four longitudinal arched piers (overall size 24.7 x 18.5 x 8.2 m high); it is of Roman date, at least in its final form (with barrel vaults). To the SW of the monastery is a small double-cella temple (cf. Sta. Lenika) of careful, heavily clamped ashlar (5th-4th c.); later, graves were put inside and a mediaeval building over it. Behind is a terrace wall (associated with Protogeometric-Geometric sherds?). Nearby to the SE, a wall containing a number of (mainly proxeny) inscriptions was seen by Pococke and Pashley and excavated by Wescher (1862-64) but largely demolished in the 1890s; three more inscriptions were found in 1928. They may be in situ, not reused, and perhaps associated with the prytaneion. The wall has now entirely disappeared, but nearby is a 7th-8th c. church. To the E of this is a Roman apsidal building (bouleuterion?), with W wall, of poor concrete work with three niches, partly surviving. To the S of this, Early Byzantine houses have been excavated, and others of this period N of the cisterns.

The small theater lay inside the S city wall; the cavea (diam. 55 m) and orchestra (diam. 18 m) are now a simple hollow covered with stone. Diazoma, some seats and the paraskenia are still visible, but little of the stage building (25 x 6 m). Remains of brick walls attest alterations in the Roman period. To the E of the theater are traces of a small Doric temple (of Dionysos?). Between the acropolis (?) and E city wall is a small, poorly preserved temple of the Early Roman period: distyle in antis, with two statue bases in front; it was perhaps a Temple of Demeter and Kore (excavated 1958). The earlier attribution to it of bull statues is probably wrong. The existence of a temple under the Turkish Fort Izzedin at the NE corner of the site is uncertain.

Sherds of all periods from Classical (a few) to Early Byzantine and later cover the site. The main area of occupation in earlier periods was in the larger part S of the gully; remains in the N part seem to be mostly Byzantine or later. Buildings were probably never closely crowded. In the Roman period the city probably became rather agricultural in character. The site was destroyed in the Arab conquest and probably not reoccupied until Venetian times.

The necropolis lay on the saddle to the W near Megala Choraphia and contained rock-cut graves as well as chamber tombs of Late Classical-Roman times and an earlier pithos burial. Some rock-cut graves found within the city walls (S side) indicate lack of habitation there. The port was at Kisamos; Aptera is thought by some to have controlled Minoa across the bay entrance. To the W is Mt. Malaxa (ancient Berekynthos), where the Idaean Daktyloi lived, legendary inventors of metallurgy (Diod. 5.64.5).


R. Pashley, Travels in Crete (1837, repr. 1970) 36-60, II.1; C. Wescher, “Fouilles d'Aptère. Découvertes d'inscriptions crétoises,” RA NS 10 (1864) 75-78; id., Archives des missions scientifiques et littéraires 2d ser. 1 (1865) 433, 439-43; T.A.B. Spratt, Travels and Researches in Crete II (1865) 127-30; L. Mariani, MonAnt 6 (1895) 208-10I; Hirschfeld, “Aptera (1),” RE II (1896) 286-87; L. Savignoni, MonAnt 11 (1901) 289-95I; G. de Sanctis, ibid., 525-28; M. Guarducci, RivFC NS 14 (1936) 158-62; id. ICr II (1939) 9-38; H. van Effenterre, La Crète et le monde grec de Platon à Polybe (1948); H. Drerup, “Paläokastro-Aptara,” in F. Matz, ed., Forschungen auf Kreta, 1942 (1951) 89-98MI; id., “Zweizelliges Heiligtum in Aptara,” ibid., 99-105PI; BCH 83 (1959) 749-53; R. F. Willetts, Aristocratic Society in Ancient Crete (1955); id., Cretan Cults and Festivals (1962); S. G. Spanakis, Kriti, II (n.d.) 64-70 (in Greek)M.


hide References (3 total)
  • Cross-references from this page (3):
    • Pausanias, Description of Greece, 4.20.8
    • Strabo, Geography, 10.4.13
    • Diodorus, Historical Library, 5.64.5
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