Mytilene, Greek Islands

Mytilene is the most important city now and in antiquity of the northeastern Aegean island of Lesbos. Since 1983 teams from UBC under the direction of Caroline and Hector Williams have been carrying out the first systematic investigation of the town which was home to the poet Sappho and the sage Pittakos. Excavations on the seaside acropolis within a sprawling Genoese castle of the 14th century have revealed a late classical/Hellenistic sanctuary to the fertility goddess Demeter as well as a burial chapel of the ruling medieval dynasty, the Gattelusi; near the North Harbour another excavation recovered a multi-period site that included a Turkish vampyre, a Roman tavern/brothel and part of the city’s classical defensive wall.

Detailed Description: Mytilene was the largest and most important city of Lesbos, one of the largest of Greece’s Aegean islands. Since 1983 teams from the University of British Columbia have been carrying out a variety of archaeological investigations of the city and its neighbourhood. Excavations inside the sprawling medieval castle on the seaward side of Mytilene have revealed remains of Ottoman Turkish houses and streets destroyed in a series of earthquakes, a sanctuary of the fertility goddess Demeter with remains of five altars for sacrifices as well as a 14th century church that was the burial chapel of the Genoese/Byzantine family of the Gattilusi who ruled the northern Aegean from 1355-1462. We recovered thousands of fragments of many different kinds of pottery from the eighth century BC to the nineteenth century, hundreds of clay oil lamps, over a thousand clay figurines offered by women worshippers to the goddess and many other small objects, including children’s toys. They reveal much about life and religion in the ancient city. A survey of reused ancient architecture in the castle walls revealed elements of at least a dozen buildings that had been demolished and recycled there.

Near the North Harbour another excavation has revealed parts of the classical city wall, a well preserved Roman house built around a marble colonnaded courtyard (it seems to have been turned into a tavern/brothel around AD 300), and an industrial dump that has revealed much about pottery and figurine making, bone and horn work, cloth making and dyeing, and bronze and iron manufacture in the 3rd and second centuries BC. Most unusual, however, were the remains of a middle aged man buried with iron spikes through his neck, pelvic area, and ankles in a special crypt hollowed out of the city wall; such was the usual treatment of a suspected vampire in the 18th and 19th centuries of our era. UBC scholars have also studied and mapped a large Roman quarry four kilometres north of Mytilene. Our work has revealed much about a neglected but important area of the ancient Greek world, that of the Aeolic Greeks who settled in northwestern Asia Minor and the nearby offshore islands.