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Doric Temple of Athena in Assus, the island of Lesbos is visible in the background. [Source]

Assus or Assos [mod. Behram] was an ancient Greek city of the Troad, on the Adramyttian Gulf. The situation is one of the most magnificent in all the Greek lands. The natural cleavage of the trachyte into joint planes had already scarped out shelves which it was comparatively easy for human labour to shape; and so, high up this cone of trachyte, the Greek town of Assus was built, tier above tier, the summit of the crag being crowned with a Doric temple of Athena.

The view from the summit is very beautiful and of great historical interest. In front is Lesbos, one of whose towns, Methymna, is said to have sent forth the founders of Assus, as early, perhaps, as 800 or 900 B.C. The whole south coast-line of the Troad is seen, and in the south-east the ancient territory of Pergamum, from whose masters the possession of Assus passed to Rome by the bequest of Attalus III (133 BC). The great heights of Ida rise in the east. Northward the Tuzla is seen winding through a rich valley. This valley was traversed by the road which St Paul must have followed when he came overland from Alexandria Troas to Assus, leaving his fellow-travellers to proceed by sea.

The north-west gateway, to which this road led, is still flanked by two massive towers, of Hellenic work. On the shore below, the ancient mole can still be traced by large blocks under the clear water. Assus affords the only harbour on the 50 M. of coast between Cape Lectum and the east end of the Adramyttian Gulf; hence it must always have been the chief shipping-place for the exports of the southern Troad. The great natural strength of the site protected it against petty assailants; but, like other towns in that region, it has known many masters: Lydians, Persians, the kings of Pergamum, Romans and Ottoman Turks. From the Persian wars to about 350 BC Assus enjoyed at least partial independence.

It was about 347-345 BC that Aristotle spent three years at Assus with Hermeas, an ex-slave who had succeeded his former master Eubulus as despot of Assus and Atameus. Aristotle has left some verses from an invocation to Arete (Virtue), commemorating the worth of Hermeas, who had been seized by Persian treachery and put to death.

Under its Turkish name of Behram, Assus is still the commercial port of the southern Troad, being the place to which loads of valonia are conveyed by camels from all parts of the country.

The acropolis of Assos, view from the sea

Centauromachy, Relief from Assus

Explorations were conducted at Assus in 1881-1883 by Mr J. T. Clarke for the Archaeological Institute of America. The main object was to clear the Doric temple of Athena, built about 470 B.C. This temple is remarkable for a sculptured architrave which took the place of the ordinary frieze. The scenes are partly mythological (labours of Heracles), partly purely heraldic. Eighteen panels were transported to the Louvre in 1838; other fragments rewarded the Americans, and a scientific ground-plan was drawn. The well-preserved Hellenistic walls were also studied.

See J. T. Clarke, Assos, 2 vols., 1882 and 1898 (Papers of Arch. Inst. of America, i. ii.).


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