Atarneus is one of the ancient Greek cities which unlike many others, is not known for political, commercial or architectural reasons. Its significance lies in its people, of whom most notable was Aristotle. Aristotle’s influence on science and philosophical studies through ages up to today’s modern world is impossible to overestimate. His teachings have contributed greatly to almost every subject of knowledge in the West.
Atarneus had remained elusive to us until a few days ago. We had been looking for it earlier but couldn’t find it. This time we were lucky. Although there were no sign posts and google maps only gave an approximate location, we persisted and were rewarded. We arrived at the end of the dirt track by a farm house. Nothing there suggested that we were looking straight at the historical site. Just hills with goat and sheep trails and creeks running down the slopes after days of heavy rains and thunderstorms. We decided to start walking up the nearest hillside anyway. If we couldn’t find a city, at least we would have a nice walk in the nature.
However, while climbing, we were trying to look for some signs of civilisation amongst the trees and rocks. And there, up the hill, We spotted a structure like a wall of some sort. We decided to go and investigate. The hill was really quite steep to climb, lots of loose rocks on the way. But I noticed something else. Indeed, the signs of human activity started to appear, more and more different shapes of pieces of ancient pottery scattered allover the hillside. And we were right – there really was an ancient stone wall halfway up the hill. It looked like a thick outer wall of a city. Encouraged by this find, we continued climbing upwards. At the top of the hill we could see more pieces of walls, steps, shapes of buildings, but mostly piles of square-cut stones. It looked like this place had not been visited by many people in modern times. Atarneus seemed like a site holding a lot of secrets still undiscovered underneath the earth and stone rubble.
The people who lived there long time ago enjoyed a 360 degree views far into the distance, excellent position to spot the possible invaders. The Aegean sea at the West, with the seaside town of Dikili visible on the shore. Lesbos island can be seen across the sea. The other sides of the hill were surrounded by low fertile plains and mountains in the distance. In ancient times this region was called Aeolis of Asia Minor. According to Herodotus Atarneus was given To Chians by Cyrus the Great in exchange for the Lydian king Pactyes.
Atarneus flourished in the 4th century BCE when it was ruled by Hermias who was a friend of Aristotle. After his father died, Aristotle was taken care of and educated by Proxenus of Atarneus, who may have been his uncle. Proxenus married Aristotle’s older sister Arimneste and they had a daughter Hero and a son Nicanor. Nicanor later married Aristotle’s daughter Pythias. Heros’s son Callisthenes became a student of his great-uncle Aristotle. Callisthenes became a well-known Greek historian who accompanied Alexander the Great during his Asiatic expedition.
Aristotle and Hermias
Aristotle studied at the famous Plato’s Academy in Athens for nearly twenty years and it is there where he became friends with Hermias who was sent to study there for several years when he was young. Hermias was a slave to Eubulus, a Bithynian banker who got Atarneus as a guarantee for lending money to a Persian official. After Hermias won his freedom, he became the ruler of Atarneus and Assos.
Plato’s philosophy has been instrumental in Western thought and Aristotle’s philosophy even more so. After Plato’s death Aristotle together with Xenocrates travelled to Atarneus. Aristotle stayed with Hermias in Atarneus for two years. During his stay there, Hermias became quite influenced by Aristotle and his ruling methods became less tyrannical and more according to Aristotle’s teachings. Aristotle married Hermias’s niece or daughter Pythia. After Hermias died, Aristotle travelled to Lesbos together with his pupil Theophrastus to study botany and zoology of the island. He dedicated a statue in Delphi and wrote a hymn in honour of Hermias who was betrayed, captured and tortured to death by Persian king’s order as Hermias remained loyal to Macedonian king Philip II and wouldn’t divulge his secrets. Later Aristotle went on to be a teacher of Philip’s son Alexander the Great.
Fate of Atarneus
By the 1st century BCE Atarneus was deserted probably as a result of the rioting against Romans. It is found that most towns around Pergamon area were deserted at the 1st century BC. It is thought they were involved in the riots against Romans and their inhabitants fled their homes from Romans’ punishments. It is likely that at that time the people of Atarneus also left their homes and later went to live in Pergamon as it was the most powerful city in the area.
What I really liked about Atarneus was its beautiful and peaceful setting. This is not a site that many people visit. Time has stood still there for over two thousand years. It is not hard to imagine Aristotle and his contemporaries sitting at the terrace of a villa there, admiring the sun setting behind the mountains of Lesbos island, contemplating about life…