Patras' history according to written tradition
Patras' history was known until recently only by written tradition. According to it, Patras was founded by the Achaeans of Sparta who, headed by Preugenes and his son Patreus, came here after being forced out by the Dorians. But similarly the Achaeans of Argos, also forced out by the Dorians, headed by Tisamenos, occupied the eastern Achaia, after besieging Eliki. Up to then, the whole of Achaia was named after the Ions and was called Ionia but was also called Aegialos, either because it was named after the king of Sikyona, Aegialus, either because the whole region spread all along the coast (aegialos). The Ions first reached Athens and from there went to Asia Minor where they founded twelve cities, the Ionian Dodecapolis, in remembrance of the twelve cities they had left behind.
Preugenes and Patreus made three Ionian market towns into one. Those three were Aroe, Mesati and Antheia and having as center Aroe they founded a new city that they called Patres, after Patreus. The city' s name was in the plural because of the unification of many settlements. The oldest of these three market towns was Aroe. Its founder was Eumelos who, helped by Triptolemos of Eleusina, introduced the cultivation of grains. Eumelos and Triptolemos later founded Antheia, which was named after Eumelos' son, Antheias. Finally, at the market town of Mesati, they worshiped god Dionysus.
According to another tradition, Eurepelus, Euemonos' son, king of the Thessalie, heading the Thessales after the Trojan War, he founded a colony at Aroe.
After the Mycenean period and as Patras geographical position was at the periphery of Greece and quite far from the big urban centers of that period, such as Athens, Sparta, Corinth, Chalkide etc., this city does not play an important role in the significant events and the political evolutions that occur in the rest of the country. It does not found colonies, neither is it active in the Persian wars, the Peloponnesian war and the conflicts of the 4th century BC. The initiative of all movements of that era belongs exclusively to Eastern Achaia. On the contrary, after 280 BC, Patras plays a significant role in the foundation of the second Achaian League together with the cities Dyme, Triteia and Pharai and the initiative of the political movements is transferred for the first time at the western Achaia. Later on and after the roman occupation of Greece, in 146 BC, Patras plays the main role and Augustus founds here a roman colony.
Patras' inactivity in the political field up to 146 BC seems to be the cause for which only those events linked to other big cities are referred by great ancient historians and not those events of local importance. So, we know that even Patras did not take part in the Peloponnesian war (431-404 BC), Alkibiades proposed to the inhabitants of this city to construct the Long Wall to link the city around the acropolis to the port.
Patras' history after the excavations
By means of excavations, mainly the redeeming ones in building grounds, many gaps of the city's history are now filled and many of the elements referred to by ancient writers are now refuted.
From the elements known so far, it is obvious that Patras is firstly inhabited in the 3rd millenium BC and not at the end of the 2nd, as we used to believe. These very ancient traces of the city are located at the region where Aroe is situated today. During the next middle-Hellenistic period, in the first half of the 2nd millenium BC, another settlement is founded at the region. But Patras starts flourishing for its first time during the post-Hellenistic or Mycenean period (1580-1100 BC). The plethora of mycenean graves that were found at the city (street Germanou) as well as at the surroundings, Voudeni, Aroe, Samakia, Girokomio, Petroto (Achaia Clauss), Krini, Saravali, Kallithea and elsewhere, prove not only that the population is significantly risen by then but that there are also relations developed among the regions.
At the end of the Mycenean period, Patras' synoecism is nothing more than a religious unification and a foundation of a common worship of goddess Artemis and it was called Triklaria after the three settlements (klaros) that initially existed in the area and participated in the festivities. The temple of Artemis is located at Velvitsi where three precious sculptures from a gable of a classic temple were found. Recent discovery of an inscription gives signs that Mesati was situated at the region of Sichena and Voudeni. If we consider true the testimony of ancient sources that Patras was founded at Aroe, then we have to look for it at the place where the mediaeval fortress and today's Aroe are. The identification of Antheia remains to be found but most probably it was at the hill of Mygdalia at Petroto. Patras' acropolis, both mycanean and classic, is located under the medieval fortress, at a depth of at least 20 meters and its excavation presents various problems.
From the two periods that followed, Geometric and Archaic, only few elements have seen the light and it seems that Patras had gradually started to decline. On the contrary, during the classic period (5th and 4th century BC), it seems that the political settlement of Patras gets organized and becomes a city, because at some point in the middle of 5th century the most ancient cemetery of the city, known as the Northern cemetery, is founded. Consequently, it seems that the tradition about Patreus is possibly a more recent creation, maybe of the Hellenistic period, when most of the cities in Greece invented settlers in order to interpret the origin of their names.
The tradition that refers to Alcebiades' Long Wall seems to be based on a real event as traces of the wall have been found during remedying excavations.
During the Hellenistic period, 323-146 BC, the town is extended to the sea and a second cemetery, the South, is established. However, Patras reaches its highest peak during the roman period when its port, because of the destruction of Corinth's port, it plays the first role in the communication of Greece with Italy. Moreover, the foundation of a roman colony in 14 BC by August promotes Patras even more. A cadastral map is drawn up, privileges are given, crafts are created, and the most important was that of earthen oil lamps which were exported almost to the whole world of that time, two industrial zones are created, temples are built, roads that render Patras a communication center are opened, streets are paved with flagstones, foreign worships are introduced etc. The city is extended up to the sea and the population rises to the point that another two cemeteries are founded, the Eastern and the Southeastern. The land is reorganized and its exploitation is now done through the farmhouses. Roman Emperors gave to Patras the privilege to mint its own coins on which are inscribed the initials CAAP, previously transcript as Colonia Augusta Aroe Patrensis, meaning Colony of August at Aroe of Patras. Recently though, a coin with fully written the abbreviation was found and so we read: Colonia Augusta Aroe Patrensis, meaning Colony of August at Patras of Achaia.
But the roman emperors also created public buildings and offered other benefactions such as the roman amphitheater, the roman aqueduct, the roman Odeon. All these are proved by the dedicatory inscriptions found at those places where emperors are characterized as benefactors. Patras is by then a cosmopolitan city. But at the end of the 3rd century AD it falls into decline, most possibly because of a strong earthquake that hit the whole of NE Peloponnese in 300 AD.
Medieval and Modern period
Nonetheless, there are still some little flashes, like in the old-Christian and the first Byzantine period (4th-6th century AD), when new crafts are created. It is assumed that during this period, the Byzantine castle that exists until nowadays with some reparations and other accretions done by the Franks and the Turks, is built by Justinian at the place of the ancient acropolis. The city is extended around the fortress. In the middle of the 9th century AD, as we learn from the tradition of the rich lady Daniilida, Patras flourishes. Then, it starts following the track of the Byzantine State. Since the 13th century, it belongs sometimes to the Franks, sometimes to the Byzantine, sometimes to the Venetians and some other times to the Turks. The most important points of this track are: the period from 1266 to 1430 with the occupation of the Franks, then the Byzantium and in 1458 the occupation from the Turks. From 1687 to 1715, Patras was once more occupied by the Venetians and then again from the Turks up the Liberation in 1821.
After the liberation from the Turks, Patras develops fast thanks to its port and the commerce that takes place through it. Beautiful neo-classic buildings embellish the city whose roads all end up to the sea so that its bracing force is not cut. Artistic and spiritual life is very intense. Gradually the heavy industry develops, which has as a result the rise of the population. Today, Patras is one of the most significant cities in Greece and its port is still playing the important role that it had during all its long history.
Text by Michalis Petropoulos, archaeologist, ST' EPKA
This text is cited December 2004 from the West Greece Region General Secretariat URL below, which contains image.
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