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Piraeus


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The great harbour complex of Athens, is a rocky limestone peninsula some 7 km. (4–5 mi.) SW of Athens, which Themistocles began to fortify in 493/2 as a base for Athens' rapidly expanding fleet in preference to the open roadstead of Phaleron. It has three harbours, Zea and Munichia on the east, used exclusively by naval shipping. Zea possessed 196 shipsheds and Philon's Arsenal. The biggest harbour, Kantharos (Goblet) or Megas Limēn (Great Harbour), lies to the west and accommodated, in addition to warships, a thriving emporium (see emporion) on its north and east shoreline comprising ‘five stoas round about the harbour’, of which some traces remain. Its urban development dates to c.450 bc when Hippodamus of Miletus ‘cut up Piraeus’ by laying it out on an orthogonal plan. The presence of numerous metics led to the establishment of many foreign cults here, including the Thracian Great Goddess Bendis, Isis, and Mother of the Gods (see cybele). In 458/7 Piraeus was joined to Athens by Long Walls, and in c.446 the building of the Middle Wall eliminated Phaleron from the fortified area. In 429 moles were constructed on either side of each harbour's mouth which could be closed by chains in time of war. The fortifications were destroyed by the Spartans in 404 but rebuilt by Conon 1 in 393. Though the port revived in the mid‐4th cent. bc, it never became more than the ghost of its former Periclean self. During the Macedonian occupation (322–229) it rapidly lost its pre‐eminence as the trading capital of the eastern Mediterranean and its population dwindled. To this period, however, dates the well‐preserved theatre in Zea. Sulla's destruction of the town in 86 was so ruthless that little was visible to Pausanias 3. Several important bronze statues, including those of Apollo, Artemis, and Athena, which were buried at the time to escape destruction, came to light in 1959. As headquarters of the fleet, Piraeus constituted the heartland of Athenian democracy and was the focus of the resistance to the Thirty Tyrants, thereby justifying Aristotle's claim that its population was ‘more democratic’ than that of Athens'.

Subjects: Classical Studies.


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