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Apollonia in Illyria (modern Albania), known as Apollonia (κατ' Εριδαμνον or προς Εριδαμνω), was located on the right bank of the Aous, the ruins of which are situated in the Fier region, near the village of Pojan (Pojani), geographically located at 40°43′N 19°28′E. It was founded in 588 BCE by Greek colonists from Kerkyra (Corfu) and Corinth, and was perhaps the most important of the several classical towns known as Apollonia. The site was already used by Corinthian traders and the Taulantii, an Illyrian tribe, who remained closely involved with the settlement for centuries and lived alongside the Greek colonists. The city was said to have originally been named Gylaceia after Glyax, its founder, but the name was later changed to honour the god Apollo.
About eight miles outside the city of Fier are the ruins of the ancient city of Apollonia ... uncovered from a 1000-year nap.
Founded in 588 BC by Greeks from Corinth, the city quickly grew to 50,000 residents by the second century BC. Apollonia later became a free Roman city after it sided with Julius Caesar during the war against Pompey. It developed into a cultural center of the arts until the 3rd century AD when an earthquake rerouted a river and lead to the city's decline.
The Austrians started escavating the site during W.W.I and the French later continued the work through the 1920s and 30s. While Albanian archaeologists have made some progress over the last few decades, much of this ancient city still remains buried in the hill.
Aristoteles considered Apollonia an important example of an oligarchic system, as the descendants of the Greek colonists controlled the city and prevailed over a large serf population of majority Illyrian origin. The city grew rich on the slave trade and local agriculture, as well as its large harbour, said to have been able to hold a hundred ships at a time. Apollonia, like Dyrrachium further north, was an important port on the Illyrian coast as the most convenient link between Brundusium and northern Greece, and as one of the western starting points of the Via Egnatia leading east to Thessaloniki and Byzantium in Thrace. It had its own mint, stamping coins that have been found as far away as the basin of the Danube.
The city was for a time included among the dominions of Pyrrhus of Epirus. In 229 BC it came under the control of the Roman Republic, to which it was firmly loyal; it was rewarded in 168 BC with booty seized from Gentius, the defeated king of Illyria. In 148 BC Apollonia became part of the Roman province of Macedonia, later being incorporated into the province of Epirus. In the civil war between Pompey and Julius Caesar it supported the latter, but fell to Marcus Iunius Brutus in 48 BC. The later Roman emperor Augustus studied in Apollonia in 44 BC under the tutelage of Athenodorus of Tarsus; it was there that he received news of Caesar's murder.
Apollonia flourished under Roman rule and was noted by Cicero in his Philippics as magna urbs et gravis, a great and important city. Its decline began in the 3rd century AD, when an earthquake changed the path of the Vjosa river, causing the harbour to silt up and the inland area to become a malaria-ridden swamp. Christianity was established in the city at an early stage, and bishops from Apollonia were present during the Council of Ephesus (431) and the Council of Chalcedon (451). However, the city became increasingly uninhabitable as the inland swamp expanded and the nearby settlement of Vlora became dominant. By the end of antiquity the city was largely depopulated, hosting a small Christian community which built the 13th century Monastery and Church of Shën Mëri (the Virgin Mary).
Monastery and Church of Shën Mëri, ApolloniaThe city seems to have sunk with the rise of Vlora. It city was "rediscovered" by European classicists in the 18th century, though it was not until the Austrian occupation of 1916-1918 that the site was investigated by archaologists. Their work was continued by a French team between 1924-1938. Parts of the site were damaged during the Second World War. After the war, an Albanian team undertook further work from 1948 onwards, although much of the site remains unexcavated to this day. Some of the team's archeological discoveries are on display within the monastery, and other artefacts from Apollonia are in the capital Tirana. Unfortunately, during the anarchy that followed the collapse of the communist regime in 1990, the archeological collection was plundered. The ruins were also frequently dug up by plunderers for relics to be sold to collectors abroad.
The monastery of Pollina stands on a hill which probably is part of the site of the old city.
Italians urged to reprieve Apollonia
By Norman Hammond, Archaeology Correspondent
ALBANIA’S forthcoming elections are proving perilous for the great Classical city of Apollonia, which lies near the country’s Adriatic coastline not far from the city of Fier.
A new road — intended to speed access to still pristine beaches for an electorate rapidly becoming used to Western leisure activities after half a century of drab communism — threatens to destroy important and unexplored parts of Apollonia even as Albania starts to promote archaeo-tourism as a euro-earner.
Today, Apollonia lies several miles inland from the Adriatic, but when it was founded as a colony of Corinth in the sixth century BC it was a major port, competing with Dyrrhachium (modern Durrës) for trade.
“Its zenith was in Hellenistic and perhaps Republican times, when this prominent walled hilltop was packed with monumental buildings and, in the valleys to the south, a great cemetery of tumuli was created,” says Professor Richard Hodges of the University of East Anglia.
Professor Hodges has been working at Butrint, probably Albania’s most famed Classical site and one of its first archaeological parks, and is concerned that establishment of a similar park at Apollonia, promulgated in the 2003 National Heritage Act, will be spoilt by the threatened road. Italian government funds have been promised, and their scheme would put the hitherto isolated site and the proposed park right beside the highway as it leads to the Adriatic coast at Vlorë.
“The proposed line, it is fairly certain, passes directly through the waterside limits of the ancient city as well as one of its Roman cemeteries,” he says in Current World Archaeology.
The International Centre for Albanian Archaeology, headed by Lorenc Bejko, has fielded survey teams to make a detailed study of the proposed route, and some Albanian government officials are anxious to help, but the aid funds are insufficient to divert the road a kilometre or more away from the ancient city.
“Everyone reckons the road should be diverted. No one truly believes the cumbersome state bureaucracy can be moved to achieve this,” Professor Hodges says. “The Apollonia crisis will come to a head this summer: I predict that we will get caught up in a protracted rescue excavation that could have been avoided. The Italians are not indifferent . . . but are tied to their funding, which has been slow to materialise.”
The Albanian Ministry of Culture wants to avoid a conflict engendering bad electoral publicity, but infrastructure development is needed to underpin Albania’s case for EU candidacy.
Given that money, provided soon, seems to be the only way to resolve the impending crisis, Professor Hodges hopes that Italy may both enhance and speed up its provision and thus help to save the city where Octavian, Julius Caesar’s nephew and later to become Augustus, the first Roman emperor, took a “gap year” to study in Apollonia’s noted library.
Since 1998, American and Albanian archaeologists have collaborated in a large, international, interdisciplinary field project at the site of Apollonia. Apollonia was a colony established in 588 BC by the Greeks in the territory of the indigenous Illyrian peoples. The primary goal of the Mallakastra Regional Archaeological Project (MRAP) is to better understand how and to what extent the Greeks and Illyrians might have interacted.
To this end, more than 30 square kilometers have been surveyed in the vicinity of Apollonia and several sites have been test excavated. To learn more about the results of the Mallakastra Regional Archaeological Project, read the field reports available at the project's website.
Each summer since 1999, Millsaps College students have accompanied Dr. Michael Galaty, MRAP's field director, to Albania. Typically, these students have first completed one of the College's archaeological field schools.
For more information, contact Michael Galaty.
A little history
Archaeological investigations have revealed that for hunderds of years the Illyrian and Greek inhabitants of the site appear to have lived in separate communities.Aristotel took Apollonia as a model in his analysis of oligarchy.
The ancient philosopher being unable to find any element of democracy whatsoever in its political organisation,with descendants of the original Greek colonists controlling the very large Illyrian serf population.
The economic prosperity of apollonia grew on the basis of tradein slaves ,and the local pastoral agriculture ,with coins having been found as far as the Danube basin.
In the years from 214 BC onwards the city was involved in the war between the Illyrian Taulanti and Casander,the King of Macedonia; and in 229 BC came under Roman control.
In 148 BC it was integrated into the province of Macedonia.For 200 years it was of central importance in the Roman effort to colonise the east and may have been an originalterminus of the Egnatian Way.
In the civil war between Pompey and Julius Caesar it was a vital stronghold for Caesar.In 45 and 44 BC, Octavian ,later to become the Emperor Augustus studied for six months in Apollonia.
It was in Apollonia that Octavian heard the news of Julius Caesar´s death, in 44 BC it was noted by Cicero, in the Philipics,as magna urbs et gravis, a great and important city.
Strabo mentions a Fountain of Cephissus near the gymnasium at Apollonia.Under the Roman Empire it remained a prosperous centre,but began to decline as the Vjosa silted up and the coastline changed after the earthquake.
Apollonia was an early centre of Christianity in the region,with a bishop attending the Counsil of Ephesus in 431, and the Counsil of Chalkis in 451.
Entering the site through the small iron gate,you walk towards the central group of ancient religious and mercantile buildings.
In spring,this part of the site is particulary beautiful thanks to profusion of wild flowers here. Tortoises are also wery common.
Passing the foundations of Roman houses to the left of the path you see the bouleuterion,an elegant and compact building from the Hellenism period whose facade with six marble Corinthian columns was restored in the 1960s.
Most of the marble architrave is original.The building measures 15m by 20m and the columns stand 9m high.The interior behind the columns is a U-shaped room surrounded by marble-faced brick walls.
A Greek inscription on the architrave states that the building was constructed by Quintus Villius Crispinus Furius Proculus,in honour of his deceased brother.His identity is unknown.
Excavation in the interior of the building has revealed that it was used as the office of the imperial administration in the city,in particular for the official concerned with administration of the imperial cult ceremonies.
The date of the inscription is also unknown,but the bulding as a whole is thought to date from the second quarter of the 2C AD.Immediately beyond the bouleuterion is the odeon,a small Roman building dating from the 2C AD.
It seats about 600 spectators,and thesteps have been restored to allow it to be used for modern concert performances. The two buildings are thought to have formed the edges of a small square.
The remains of buildings on either side of the odeon were probably used in connection with the imperial cult,of some other religious function.