previous next

PEIRAEUS or Peiraieus, Attica, Greece.

About 7-8 km SW of the upper city of Athens. The deme and harbor town occupied the spacious peninsula of Akte, the rocky hill of Mounychia to the E, the lower ground in between these two, and a small tongue of land called Eetioneia on the W. The irregularities of the coastline created three natural harbors: Kantharos, the great main harbor on the W, Zea, the small round harbor between Akte and Mounychia, and the little inlet of Mounychia below the hill to the SE.

Hippias, son of Peisistratos, had fortified Mounychia late in the 6th c. B.C., but it was Themistokles who first realized the possibilities of the site and converted it into a strongly fortified harbor town. After the defeat of the Persians at Salamis in 480 B.C., he persuaded the Athenians to complete the scheme he had inaugurated during his archonship in 493-492 B.C. (Thuc. 1.93). Thucydides implies that he even thought of making Peiraeus the main asty in place of the ancient upper town; and in fact it became a kind of duplicate city, not a mere maritime suburb. The well-known Milesian architect Hippodamos was brought in to develop the site according to a systematic plan (Arist. Pol. 2.5).

In 411 B.C. the oligarchs made an abortive attempt to build a fortress on Eetioneia (Thuc. 8.90, 92). After Athens' crushing defeat by the Peloponnesians in 404 B.C., the fortifications of Peiraeus were dismantled, together with the Long Walls which joined the harbor town to the city (Xen. Hell. 2.2.23). But a few years later they were repaired, with Persian help, through the efforts of the admiral Konon (Xen. Hell. 4.8; cf. IG II2 1656.64). The city suffered badly in the assault by the Roman general Sulla in 86 B.C. (Plut. Sulla 14) and this time the walls were not rebuilt. Strabo found the town “reduced to a small settlement round the harbors and the shrine of Zeus Soter (; ef.”

Finds here have been mainly fortuitous and sporadic; visible and accessible remains are scanty. Bits of the walls, found at many different points, show a nice variety in style of masonry, as analyzed by Scranton, and obviously belong to a number of periods. A stretch of wall on Mounychia hill, in “Lesbian” masonry, probably belongs to Hippias' fortification. The slight remains which can be assigned to the work of Themistokles do not fully bear out Thucydides' statement that this wall was built wholly of solid masonry throughout, instead of having the usual rubble filling and upper structure of brick. Inevitably the remains belong chiefly to the later phases, to Konon's reconstruction, and to later repairs attested by inscriptions, which show that the maintenance of the walls was indeed an expensive and complicated task (IG II2 244, ca. 337-336 B.C., cf. Dem. 19.125; II2 463, 307-306 B.C.; II2 834, ca. 299-298 B.C.; by this time the Long Walls seem to have been abandoned).

The general line of the fortifications is fairly clear. On the N the Themistoklean Wall included the Kophos Limen (Blind Harbor) a N extension of Kantharos, but the Kononian Wall took a line more to the S, partly on moles, and excluded this area. On Akte have been found slight traces of a cross wall running SE to NW and cutting off the SW segment of the peninsula. This probably belongs to the Themistoklean line. The Kononian Wall followed the coast of Akte closely, and impressive remains have survived in this sector. At all three harbor mouths the fortifications were continued on moles, narrowing the entrances. The wall was provided with stairways and with many projecting towers at close intervals on vulnerable stretches. The principal gate, through which the road to Athens passed, was just to the W of—i.e. outside—the point where the N Long Wall joined the city wall. Another gate was built a little farther E, within the area enclosed by the Long Walls. Similarly access was provided in the neighborhood of the junction with the S Long Wall, by means of a postern inside and a larger gate outside. Another important gate was at the N end of the Peninsula of Eetioneia, near the Shrine of Aphrodite.

The great harbor, Kantharos, was devoted mainly to commerce. On its E side was the emporion, with a line of stoas, of which slight remains have been found. Inscribed boundary stones indicate that the area between a certain street and the sea was designated as public property. It was towards the N part of this area that in 1959 a spectacular find of bronze sculpture, including a fine archaic Apollo, was made; the statues had apparently been mislaid at the time of the destruction by Sulla.

According to Demosthenes (22.76, 23.207) the shiphouses (neosoikoi) were among the glories of Athens. Fourth c. inscriptions (IG, II2, 1627-1631) tell us that there were 94 ship-sheds in Kantharos, 196 in Zea, and 82 in Mounychia. Thus Zea was the main base of the war fleet. Remains have been found at various points, especially in Zea.

An inscription of the second half of the 4th c. B.C. (IG II2 1668) found N of Zea, gives detailed specifications for the construction of a great skeuotheke or arsenal for the storage of equipment, a long rectangular structure divided into three lengthwise by colonnades. Philon is named as the architect.

The general orientation of Hippodamos' rectangular street plan was probably very close to that of the center of the modern town. The lines of two apparently important streets crossing one another have been determined near the Plateia Korais. But there are indications that in some outlying parts a different orientation was used. Various boundary-markers, in addition to those mentioned above (IG I2 887-902), bear witness to the Hippodamian process of nemesis or careful allocation of sites. Peiraeus had two agoras (Paus. 1.1.3): one near the sea and the emporion; the other, called Hippodameia after the planner, in the interior, probably to the W of Mounychia.

The great theater (Thuc. 8.93.1) was built into the W slope of Mounychia; it was used not only for dramatic performances but occasionally for meetings of the Ekklesia. Better preserved and more visible is a smaller theater built in the 2d c. B.C. a little to the W of the Zea harbor. We hear of an Old Bouleuterion (IG II2 1035.43f) and an Old Strategion (ibid., 44). Thus public buildings of the upper city were apparently duplicated in the harbor town.

Of the numerous shrines, some were duplicates of shrines in the upper city; some were peculiar to Peiraeus; several were foreign importations, notably a Shrine of Bendis, which was probably on top of the hill of Mounychia. East of Zea and at the SW foot of Mounychia remains have been found which may be assigned to the Shrine of Asklepios. On the coast to the S of this are niches in which were probably set dedications to Zeus Meilichios and Philios; and a curious bathing establishment which may perhaps be associated with a shrine called the Serangeion, belonging to a healing hero called Serangos. Slight remains at the N end of Eetioneia have been attributed to the Shrine of Aphrodite Euploia, founded by Themistokles and restored by Konon. A colonnaded enclosure whose remains came to light just N of the Plateia Korais seems to have belonged to the Dionysiastai, votaries of Dionysos. Many shrines are known from the ancient authors and from inscriptions. Artemis was worshiped on Mounychia, and Xenophon (2.4.1 1ff) indicates that a broad way led from the Hippodamian agora to the Artemision and the Bendideion. Of all he saw at Peiraeus (admittedly his account is rather sketchy) Pausanias thought the Sanctuary of Athena Soteira and Zeus Soter most worth seeing; its location is not known.


W. Judeich, Topographie von Athen2 (1931) 430-56 (with full citation of ancient authorities)M; D. Kent Hill, “Some Boundary Stones from the Peiraeus,” AJA 36 (1932) 254-59; R. L. Scranton, Greek Walls (1941) 114-20; A. W. Gomme, Commentary on Thucydides (1945)I 261-70; W. B. Dinsmoor, The Architecture of Ancient Greece (1950) 241-42 (arsenal of Philon); R. Martin, L'Urbanisme dans la Grèce Antique (1956) 105-10; id., AJA 64 (1960) 265ff; F. G. Maier, Griechische Mauerbauinschriften I (1959) 17ff; II (1961); C. T. Panagos, Le Pirée (1968); J. S. Boersma, Athenian Building Policy from 561/0 to 405/4 B. C. (1970; see Index s.v. Peiraieus).


hide References (7 total)
  • Cross-references from this page (7):
    • Demosthenes, On the False Embassy, 125
    • Pausanias, Description of Greece, 1.1.3
    • Thucydides, Histories, 1.93
    • Thucydides, Histories, 8.90
    • Thucydides, Histories, 8.93.1
    • Xenophon, Hellenica, 2.2.23
    • Xenophon, Hellenica, 4.8
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: