Overall view of site from SW, Priene

Overall view of site from SW, Priene

View of modern town of Kushadasi, from S, Priene, Kushadasi

Overall view of the site, from S, Priene

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Wash basins in the Ephebeion in the gymnasium complex, Priene.

Summary: Grid-planned city at the foot of Mt. Mykale.
Type: Fortified city
Region: Ionia







The city of Priene lies on the southern slopes of Mt. Mykale overlooking the Maeander river. The city largely excavated by the Germans in the late 19th century is planned on a strict grid, defying the steeply sloping topography of the site and imposing a rational human order on the landscape. Its well-preserved remains, with its temple of Athena, well-planned agora, theater, stadium, gymnasium, fortification walls and many excavated houses, form one of the best examples of a small Greek polis.

The city was laid out on a rectangular grid, with blocks measuring about 120 x 160 feet (35.40 x 47.20 m), a proportion of 3:4. These blocks were originally divided into 8 rather long and narrow houses, although later rebuilding has obscured much of the original scheme (see Hoepfner & Schwandner 1986, 153, 169-75, fig. 147, etc.; this original grid is included in the Perseus site plans in lighter lines, together with the excavated sections of walls which conform to this grid, in heavier lines). The plan was applied rather ruthlessly to the landscape, requiring extensive terracing, with some streets transformed to steep flights of stairs. Some of the flatter areas of the city were reserved for the major public buildings: the Temple of Athena Polias, among the first structures to be built in the newly-moved city, and the agora, an open area surrounded by stoas. The theater was set into the side of the hill above the agora. The streets vary in width depending on their position in the city and the traffic they were intended to bear: thus the main east-west street (the "Westtorstrasse") is 5.55-5.60 m wide, about 19 Ionic feet; the street east of the Prytaneion 4.30 m (almost 15 feet), other streets average about 3.45 m wide, about 12 feet. Hoepfner and Schwandner restore an original scheme in which the north-south streets widen progressively towards the center of the city, from 12 feet at the gates to 16 and then 20 feet at the agora.

The impressive fortification walls also included the acropolis above the city. This was a relatively empty area, though, without much occupation other than defenses and barracks. The walls enclosed some 37 ha., of which the built-up lower city covered some 15 ha.


The remains of the city on Mt. Mykale are positively identified as Priene by inscriptions and coins. Practically no remains dating to earlier than the mid-fourth century were found at the site, however, despite its extensive excavation. The Germans concluded from this and from the layout of the city that Priene had moved to this site in the mid-fourth century from an earlier, yet undiscovered spot. They attributed the move to the silting of the Maeander river, which also engulfed Myus, Miletus and other nearby cities, as well, later, as Priene itself (Strabo 12.8.17); other scholars have suggested that Mausolus, Athens or other agencies were also involved. Such a move is not attested in the literary sources, and in fact, as Demand has pointed out, some sources seem to imply that Priene was always located in the same place (e.g. Strabo 14.1.12; Paus. 7.2.10; see Demand 1990, 139-146; Phoenix 40 (1986) 36-44). However, the archaeological evidence, including the lack of earlier coins and pottery, earlier architecture or architectural fragments, and the layout of the city, of which the mid-fourth century temple of Athena forms an integral part, seem to show conclusively that there was no earlier occupation at this site.

The end of the city is also problematic. Most of the houses seem to have been destroyed by fire in the second half of the second century BC, and never reoccupied. The bulk of the finds from the excavation come from this destruction level. Parts of the city, including many of the major public buildings, were occupied into the Roman period, though, and a Byzantine chapel attests occupation in that era.


The Society of Dilettanti sent three missions to Priene, in 1764-6, 1811-12 and 1868-9; excavations conducted during the last mission, by Richard Popplewell Pullan, uncovered the Temple and Temenos of Athena Polias. In 1895-1989 a German expedition led by Th. Wiegand and H. Schrader excavated much of the rest of the city, including the agora, further sanctuaries, and houses. Recent research by the German Archaeological Institute has refined their findings.

Sources Used:

Wiegand & Schrader 1904; Hoepfner & Schwandner 1986, 141-186; Demand 1990, 139-146; Raeder 1984; Carter 1983; von Gaertringen 1906.

Other Bibliography:

R. Chandler et al., Antiquities of Ionia I and IV (1769 and 1881); M. Schede, Die Ruinen von Priene (2nd ed. 1964); G.E. Bean, Aegean Turkey (1966) 197-216; E. Akurgal, Ancient Civilizations and Ruins of Turkey (1970) 185-206.