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MYTILE´NE or MITYLE´NE (Μυτιλήνη or Μιτυλήνη: Eth.Μυτιληναῖος or Eth. Μιτυληναῖος), the most important city in the island of Lesbos. There is some uncertainty about the orthography of the name. Coins are unanimous in favour of Μυτιλήνη. Inscriptions vary. Greek manuscripts have generally, but not universally, Μιτυλήνη. Latin manuscripts have generally Mitylene; but Velleius Paterculus, Pomponius Mela, and sometimes Pliny, have Mytilene. In some cases we find the Latin plural form Mitylenae. (Suet. Jul. 2, Tib. 10; Liv. Epit. 89.) Tacitus has the adjective Mytilenensis (Ann. 14.53). It is generally agreed now that the word ought to be written Mytilene; but it does not seem necessary to alter those passages where the evidence of MSS. preponderates the other way. A full discussion of this subject may be seen in Plehn (Lesbiacorum Liber). The modern city is called Mitylen, and sometimes Castro.

The chief interest of the history of LESBOS is concentrated in Mytilene. Its eminence is evident from its long series of coins, not only in the autonomous period, when they often bore the legend ΠΡΩΤΗ ΑΕΞΒΟΥ ΜΥΤΙΑΗΝΗ, but in the imperial period down to the reign of Gallienus. Lesbos, from the earliest to the latest times, has been the most distinguished city of the island, whether we consider the history of poetry or politics, or the annals of naval warfare and commercial enterprise.

One reason of the continued pre-eminence of Mytilene is to be found in its situation, which (in common with that of METHYMNA) was favourable to the coasting trade. Its harbours, too, appear to have been excellent. Originally it was built upon a small island; and thus (whether the small island were united to the main island by a causeway or not) two harbours were formed, one on the north and the other on the south. The former of these was the harbour for ships of war, and was capable of being closed, and of containing fifty triremes, the latter was the mercantile harbour, and was larger and deeper, and defended by a mole. (Strab. xiii. p.617; Paus. 8.30.) The best elucidation of its situation in reference to the sea will be found in the narratives contained in the 3rd book of Thucydides and the 1st book of Xenophon's Hellenics. The northern harbour seems to have been called Μαλόεις [MALEA]. This harmonises with what we find in Thucydides, and with what Aristotle says concerning the action of the NE. wind (καικίας) on Mytilene. The statements of Xenophon are far from clear, unless, with Mr. Grote (Hist. of Greece, vol. viii. p. 230), we suppose the Euripus of Mytilene to be that arm of the sea which we have mentioned, in the article LESBOS under the name of Portus Hieraeus, and which runs up into the interior of the island, to the very neighbourhood of Mytilene. A rude plan is given by Tournefort; but for accurate information the English Admiralty charts must be consulted. The beauty of the ancient city, and the strength of its fortifications, are celebrated both by Greek and Roman writers. (See especially Cic. c. Rull. 2.1. 6) Plutarch mentions a theatre (Pomp. 42), and Athenaeus a Prytaneium (x. p. 425). Vitruvius says (1.6) that the winds were very troublesome in the harbour and in the streets, and that the changes of weather were injurious to health. The products of the soil near Mytilene do not seem to have been distinguished by any very remarkable peculiarities. Theophrastus and Pliny make mention of its mushrooms: Galen says that its wine was inferior to that of Methymna. In illustration of the appearance of Mytilene, as seen from the sea, we may refer to a view in Choiseul-Gouffier; and to another, which shows the fine forms of the mountains immediately behind, in Conybeare and Howson's Life and Epp. of St. Paul. [p. 2.391]

The first passage in which the history of Mytilene comes prominently into view is in the struggle between the Aeolians and Athenians for Sigeum (B.C. 606), at the NW. corner of Asia Minor. The place and the time are both remarkable, as illustrating the early vigour with which Mytilene was exercising its maritime and political power. We see it already grasping considerable possessions on the mainland. It was in this conflict, too, that Pittacus, the sage and lawgiver of Mytilene, acted so noble a part, and that Alcaeus, her great poet, lost his shield. The mention of these two names reminds us that this time of rivalry with Athens coincides with the famous internal contests of the nobles and commons in Mytilene. For the history and results of this struggle, see the lives of ALCAEUS, PITTACUS, and SAPPHO, in the Dict. of Biography.

It may be difficult to disentangle the history of the Mytilenaeans from that of the Aeolians in general, during the period of the Persian ascendancy on these coasts. But we have a proof of their mercantile enterprise in the fact that they alone of the Aeolians took part in the building of the Hellenium at Naucratis (Hdt. 2.178); and we find them taking a prominent part in the invasion of Egypt by Cambyses. (Ib. 3.13, 14.) They supplied a contingent to Darius in his Scythian expedition (Ib. 4.97). They were closely connected with the affairs of Histiaeus (Ib. 6.5); and doubtless, though they are not separately mentioned, they were the best portion of those Aeolians who supplied sixty ships to Xerxes in his invasion of Greece. (Ib. 7.95.)

The period of the Athenian supremacy and the Peloponnesian War is full of the fame of Mytilene. The alliance of its citizens with those of Athens began soon after the final repulse of Persia. They held a very distinguished position among the allies which formed the Athenian confederacy; but their revolt from Athens in the fourth year of the Peloponnesian War brought upon them the most terrible ruin. Though the first dreadful decision of the Athenian assembly was overruled (Thuc. 3.36), the walls of Mytilene were pulled down, and her fleet given up; her territory was divided among Athenian shareholders, and she was deprived of her possessions and forts on the mainland. (Ib. 3.50.)

Towards the close of the Peloponnesian War, Conon was defeated by Callicratidas off Mytilene, and blockaded in the harbour. (Xen. Hell. 1.6) We pass now to the period of Alexander, with whose campaigns this city was conspicuously connected. The Lesbians made a treaty with Macedonia. Memnon reduced the other cities of the island ; and his death, which inflicted the last blow on the Persian power in the Aegean, took place in the moment of victory against Mytilene. It was retaken by Hegesilochus, in the course of his general reduction of the islands, and received a large accession of territory. Two Mytilenaeans, Laomedon and Erigyius, the sons of Larichus, were distinguished members of Alexander's staff. The latter fell in action against the Bactrians ; the former was governor of Syria even after Alexander's death.

The first experience of the Roman power in the Aegean was disastrous to Mytilene. Having espoused the cause of Mithridates, and having held out to the last, it was sacked by M. Thermus, on which occasion J. Caesar honourably distinguished himself. Pompey's friendship with Theophanes led to the recognition of Mytilene as a free city. (Plin. Nat. 5.31.) After the defeat of Pharsalia, Pompey touched there for the last time to take Cornelia on board. His son Sextus met with a friendly reception there, after his defeat at sea, by Agrippa. (D. C. 49.17; App. BC 5.133.) Agrippa himself resided there for some time in retirement, ostensibly on account of his health, but really through mortification caused by the preference shown to M. Marcellus (Tac. Ann. 14.53; Suet. Aug. 66, Tib. 10); and this residence is commemorated by an inscription still extant. (See Pococke.) The last event which we need mention in the imperial period is the crossing over of Germanicus with Agrippina from Euboea to Lesbos, and the birth of Julia. (Tac. Ann. 2.54.) This event, also, was commemorated both by coins and inscriptions. (See Eckhel and Pococke.) It appears that the privilege of freedom was taken away by Vespasian, but restored by Hadrian. (Plehn, Lesbiac. p. 83.)

Mytilene is one of the few cities of the Aegean, which have continued without intermission to flourish till the present day. In the course of the middle ages it gradually gave its name to the whole island. Thus, in the Synecdemus of Hierocles, Μιτυλήνη and Μεθύμνα are both mentioned under the Province of the Islands; but in the later Byzantine division, Mytilene is spoken of as an island, like Lemnos and Chios, in the Theme of the Aegean Sea. (Const. Porphyrog. de Them. i. pp. 42, 43, ed. Bonn.) The fortunes of Mytilene during the first advances of the Mahomedans in the Levant, and during the ascendancy of the Venetians at a later period, are noticed in Finlay's History of the Byzantine and Greek Empires, vol. ii. pp. 72, 171, 223. The island of Lesbos was not actually part of the Mahomedan empire till nearly ten years after the fall of Constantinople.

With the exception of the early struggles of the time of Alcaeus and Pittacus, there is little to be said of the internal constitutional history of Mytilene. It shared, with all Greek cities, the results of the struggles of the oligarchical and democratical parties. We find a commonalty (δᾶμος) and a council (βόλλα) mentioned on coins of the period of Alexander ; and the title of magistrates, called στρατηγός (praetor), appears on coins of Lucius Verus. In connection with this part of the subject we may allude to two creditable laws; one which enacted (doubtless in consequence of the great quantity of wine in the island) that offences committed by the drunk should be more severely punished than those committed by the sober (Arist. Pol. 2.9. 9); the other making a singular provision for the punishment of faithlessness in tributary allies, by depriving them of the privilege of educating their children. (Aelian, Ael. VH 7.15.)



hide References (12 total)
  • Cross-references from this page (12):
    • Herodotus, Histories, 2.178
    • Pausanias, Description of Greece, 8.30
    • Thucydides, Histories, 3.36
    • Xenophon, Hellenica, 1.6
    • Appian, Civil Wars, 5.14.133
    • Cicero, On the Agrarian Law, 2.1.6
    • Suetonius, Divus Augustus, 66
    • Tacitus, Annales, 2.54
    • Tacitus, Annales, 14.53
    • Suetonius, Divus Julius, 2
    • Pliny the Elder, Naturalis Historia, 5.31
    • Aelian, Varia Historia, 7.15
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