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Title: Pessinus  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
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Subject: Ankara, Eskişehir, Sivrihisar, Midas, Galli
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia


Pessinus is located in Turkey
Shown within Turkey
Location Ballıhisar, Eskişehir Province, Turkey
Region Phrygia
Type Settlement
Periods Hellenistic to Medieval
Site notes
Condition In ruins

Pessinus (Greek: Πεσσινούς or Πισσινούς) was a city in Asia Minor, a geographical area corresponding today to modern Turkey on the upper course of the river Sangarios (Sakarya River), from which the mythological King Midas (738-696 BC?) is said to have ruled a greater Phrygian realm. However, archaeological research by Ghent University (1967–1973 under the directorship of Pieter Lambrechts; 1987–2008 under the directorship of John Devreker) showed that the city developed around 400 BC at the earliest, which contradicts any historical claim of early Phrygian roots. The investigations of the temple area, which was discovered in 1834 by the French explorer Charles Texier in the south of the village along the Gallos river, were brought to a close in the PhD dissertation of Angelo Verlinde in 2012.[1]

Map of Pessinus by Charles Texier (1834).
Hypothetic map of the ruins at Pessinus by the French explorer Charles Texier (1834).

As yet, the temple area (sector B) is the only thoroughly investigated area of the city, with the exception of the so-called Acropolis (sector I) near the northern entrance of the Ballıhisar valley.[2] Since 2009, the city is being investigated by a team of the University of Melbourne, Australia, led by Gocha Tsetskhladze.

Pessinus, the present modern Turkish village of Ballıhisar is situated at 13 km from Sivrihisar a small town on the road Ankara- Eskişehir at the junction with the road to Afyon-İzmir, at 120 km SW of Ankara. The village is situated on the high Anatolian plateau at ca. 950 m altitude above sea level.It is developed in a valley, more specifically the tributary valley of the Sakarya (Sangarios) river.


According to ancient tradition, Pessinous was the principal cult centre of the cult of Cybele/Kybele. The Graeco-Phrygian Cybele is rooted in the old Anatolian goddess Koubaba whose cult spread over Anatolia during the second millennium BC. Tradition situates the cult of Cybele in the early Phrygian period (8th century BC) and associates the erection of her first "costly" temple and even the founding of the city with king Midas (738-696 BC?). However, the Phrygian past of Pessinus is still obscure, both historically as archaeologically. For example, Strabo (12.5.3) writes that the priests were potentates in "ancient times", but it is unclear whether Pessinus was already a temple state ruled by "dynastai" in the Phrygian period. According to Cicero (Har. Resp. 8.28) the Seleucid kings held deep devotion for the shrine which indicates the sanctuary was still much revered in this period.

By the 3rd century BC at the latest, Pessinus had become a temple state ruled by a clerical oligarchy consisting of Galloi, eunuch priests of the Mother Goddess. After the arrival of Celtic tribes in Asia Minor in 278/277 BC, and their defeat at the hand of Antiochos I during the so-called 'Battle of the Elephants' (likely 268 BC), the Celts settled in the north-central region of Anatolia which became known as Galatia. The tribe of the Tolistobogioi occupied the Phrygian territory between Gordium and Pessinus. It is doubtful that the temple state actually stood under Galatian control at this early stage.

Roman involvement in Pessinus however has early roots. In 205/204 BC, alarmed by a number of meteor showers during the ongoing Second Punic War, the Romans, after consulting the Sibylline Books, decided to introduce the cult of the Great Mother of Ida (Magna Mater Idaea, also known as Cybele) to the city. They sought the aid of their ally Attalus I (241-197 BC), and following his instructions, they went to Pessinus and removed the goddess' most important image, a large black stone that was said to have fallen from the sky, to Rome (Livy 10.4-11.18).

Pergamum seems to have gained some control over Pessinus by the end of the third century BC. Pessinus was bequeathed with a sanctuary by the Attalid kings, perhaps after 183 BC, when Galatia was subject to Pergamene rule. The first century BC was a very unstable period for Pessinus with many rulers reigning over central Anatolia. According to Strabo (12.5.3) the priests gradually lost their privileges. The Mithridat wars (89-85 BC; 83-81 BC; 73-63 BC) caused political and economic turmoil throughout the region. When Deiotaros, tetrarch of the Tolistobogioi and loyal vassal of Rome, became king of Galatia in 67/66 BC or 63 BC, Pessinus lost its status as an independent sacred principality. In 36 BC, rule over Galatia was transferred to king Amyntas by Marc Anthony. At the death of the monarch, under Emperor Augustus the empire of the Galatians was annexed by the Imperium Romanum as the province of Galatia. Pessinus became the administrative capital of the Galatian tribe of the Tolistobogioi and soon developed into a genuinely Graeco-Roman polis with a large number of monumental buildings, such as a colonnaded street and a Temple of the Imperial Cult.

The priest list on the left hand anta of the temple of Augustus and Roma in Ankara reveals that by the end of Tiberius' principate two citizens of Pessinus held the chief priesthood of the provincial imperial cult in Ancyra: M. Lollius in AD 31/32 and Q. Gallius Pulcher in AD 35/36. Strabo called Pessinus an 'emporion,' a trading centre, the largest west of the Halys river. It may be assumed that products from the Anatolian highlands were traded, especially grain and wool. A stamped handle of a wine amphora from Thasos, probably dating from the first quarter of the 3rd century BC, is proof of this trade and is at the same time the earliest written document discovered at Pessinus.

Very soon after 25 BC the urbanization and transformation of the Pessinuntian temple state into a Greek polis began. Constructions such as a Corinthian temple and a colonnaded street (cardo maximus) were erected with the marble from the quarries located at İstiklalbağı, ca. 6 km north of the city. The boundaries of Pessinus must have been fixed, as were those of the newly founded colony of Germakoloneia (near Babadat), which received part of the area inhabited by the Tolistobogioi. It has been argued that Pessinous and the other Galatian cities received a constitution based on that of the cities in Pontus-Bithynia, imposed by the lex Pompeia.
3D reconstruction of the 'theatre-temple' at Pessinus.
3D visualisation of the Corinthian peripteros at Pessinus (by A. Verlinde).

From the inscriptions it appears that Pessinus possessed several public buildings, including a gymnasium, a theatre, an archive, and baths. A system of water supply has been discovered through gutters and terracotta pipes. The most impressive public construction of the early Imperial period was the canalisation system,[3] the earliest part of which dates from the Augustan age. It was meant to retain and carry away the waters of the Gallos, the seasonal river which traverses Pessinus and which was the main north-south artery (cardo maximus) of the city. From the 1st to the 3rd century AD the canal was continuously expanded until it finally reached a lengt of ca. 500 m and a width of 11 to 13 m. It is not known when exactly the large theatre, of which is preserved only the emplacement of the cavea where the spectators were seated, was constructed, but it was repaired or embellished by Hadrian.

Other monumental buildings, erected under the reign of Tiberius, included the marble peripteros temple of the provincial Imperial cult, a Sebasteion, on a hill at the north-western end of the canal, a stairway combined with a theatre in front (with an orchestra where religious and other performances such as gladiator fights took place). The colonnaded square lower down the valley was reconstructed by Verlinde.[4] In the past,[5] this structure was wrongly situated in the Tiberian era, but it was shown that it was a monument of the Hellenistic age (late 2nd-early 1st century BC), and contemporary with the citadel that preceded the temple complex.[6] Christianity reached the area in the 3rd century, and at the end of the 4th century, the temple of Augustus was decommissioned.[7] Perhaps as a sign of the rise of Christianity in Pessinus, Emperor Julian the Apostate made a pilgrimage to Pessinus and wrote an angry letter concerning the disrespect shown to the sanctuary of Cybele.[8] In ca. 398, Pessinus was established as the capital of the newly established province of Galatia Salutaris, and became the seat of the a metropolitan bishop. The region later became part of the Byzantine Anatolic Theme. In late 715 AD, the city of Pessinus was destroyed by an Arab raid, along with the neighboring city Orkistos. The area remained under Byzantine control until lost to the Seljuk Turks in the latter 11th century, after which Pessinus became an inconspicuous mountain village at 900m height, gradually getting depopulated since it was fully protected.

The temple area

As yet, the temple area, which was excavated between 1967 and 1972, is the only well-studied area of Pessinus. It was studied thoroughly by M. Waelkens (current director of Sagalassos excavations) in the 1980s and between 2006 and 2012 by Verlinde (Ghent University), who built on the findings of the former to analyze and reconstruct the architecture of the Corinthian peripteral temple, of which only the massive foundations remain.[9] Investigations led to several observations, such as the Tiberian date (25-35 AD) of the cult building and its identification as a temple of the imperial cult (Sebasteion). As such, it was finally established that the excavated temple could not be identified as the Temple of Cybele, as explorer Charles Texier had done when he 'discovered' the foundations of the temple in 1834.[10] Verlinde discovered that the building was designed on the basis of a grid, and that the governing module, determining the intervals and height of the columns, was equal to the lower diameter of the columns (0.76 m). Each intercolumnar space was equal to two modules (1.52 m), which designates the temple as a 'systyle.' Furthermore, the extraordinarely large stepped podium seems to have been influenced by Hellenistic and early Imperial pseudodipteroi. Although the temple was Tiberian, the decorative sculpture was fashioned in a conservative Augustan manner, which suggests that the building may have been design in the late Augustan period (ca. 15 AD). The temple towered over the back of a theatre, which combined a central staircase with two cavea wings for spectators. It was claimed by Verlinde that this theatrical area was ritual and used for gladiatorial fights, as the theatre contained raised seats with a protective parapet, which was typical for gladiatorial theatres in the Greek east. Given that such gladiatorial combat was as a rule intertwined with the imperial cult, Verlinde argued that the epigraphically attested cult of the emperor, was once again confirmed. He also observed that there is a consistency of such theatre-temples, which were influenced by late Republican sanctuaries in Italy (e.g. the sanctuary of Hercules Victor at Tivoli), being associated with the imperial cult. The sanctuary of Augustus at Stratonicea,[11] which was a theatre-temple[12] as well, may have served as a model for the sanctuary in Pessinus.

Panorama of the temple zone.
View of the temple area from the mosque at Ballıhisar (photograph and panoramic montage by A. Verlinde).

The colonnaded square

The colonnaded square in front of the stairway-theatre was thought to have been part of the imperial complex. However, this was convincingly rejected by Verlinde who dated the complex to the late 2nd century BC.[13] The architecture of the limestone complex (covered with stucco lustro) emanates the style of Hellenistic palaestrae such as the Gymnasion of Eudemos at Miletus (late 3rd century BC). Being quite similar to the latter complex, the Pessinuntian square was reconstructed by Verlinde as a 'quadriporticus' with a Rhodian peristyle, that is with a high (Ionic) colonnade to the north, and three lower wings with Doric columns. The quadriporticus was an annex of the Hellenistic citadel on the promontory to the east, which preceded the early imperial temple.

Eastern stoa of the colonnaded square.
Eastern stoa of the colonnaded square or quadriporticus at Pessinus (Photograph by A. Verlinde).

The combination of a Hellenistic palace and a gymnasium was a typical phenomenon of the Greek world during the Hellenistic age. Carbondating and ceramological analysis indicates that the palaestra was destroyed by a fire during the late Hellenistic age, suggesting that the colonnaded square as a functional entity was short-lived. After the quadriporticus was destroyed, it was not rebuilt during the early Roman period, as the area was used as an unpaved arena for the gladiatorial fights of the temple. In the 3rd century AD, the area was monumentalized with a new ellipse-shaped theatre and a vast marble square with a monumental funerary crypt (a funerary Heroon).[14] This coincided with the further monumentalization of the cardo maximus, which received monumental city gates in the form of arches at its southern and northern extremity.


  1. ^ Verlinde, A. 2012, The Temple Complex of Pessinus. Archaeological Research on the Function, Morphology and Chronology of a Sanctuary in Asia Minor (unpublished PhD thesis, Ghent University). This dissertation is in the process of being published as a monograph (forthcoming, 2013: Monographs of Antiquity).
  2. ^ Devreker, J., Thoen, H. and Vermeulen, F. 2003, Excavations in Pessinus: the so-called acropolis. From Hellenistic and Roman cemetery to Byzantine castle, Ghent.
  3. ^ Waelkens, M. 1984, Le système d'endiguement du torrent, in Devreker, J. and Waelkens, M., Les fouilles de la Rijksuniversiteit te Gent à Pessinonte 1967-1973, 77-141.
  4. ^ Verlinde 2010, op. cit.
  5. ^ Waelkens, M. 1986, The Imperial Sanctuary at Pessinus: Epigraphical and Numismatic Evidence for its Date and Identification, EpigAnat 7, 37-72.
  6. ^ Verlinde, A. 2010, Monumental Architecture in Hellenistic and Julio-Claudian Pessinus, Babesch 85, 111-139.
  7. ^ Verlinde 2012, op. cit.
  8. ^  
  9. ^ Verlinde, A. 2012, The Temple Complex of Pessinus. Archaeological Research on the Function, Morphology and Chronology of a Sanctuary in Asia Minor (unpublished PhD thesis, Ghent University). This dissertation is in the process of being published as a monograph (forthcoming, 2013: Monographs of Antiquity).
  10. ^ Texier, C. 1839, Description de l'Asie Mineure faite par ordre du gouvernement français de 1833 à 1837: Beaux-arts, monuments historiques, plans et topographie des cités antiques I, Paris.
  11. ^ Mert, I.H. 2008, Untersuchungen zur hellenistischen und kaiserzeitlichen Bauornamentik von Stratonikea, Tübingen.
  12. ^ Hanson, J.A. 1959, Roman Theater-Temples, Princeton, N.J.
  13. ^ Verlinde, A. 2010, op. cit.
  14. ^ Verlinde 2012, op. cit.

Sources and references

  • GUPEDA (Ghent University Pessinous Excavations Digital Archive)
  • Ghent University website
  • Verlinde, A. 2010, Monumental Architecture in Julio-Claudian Pessinus, Babesch 85, 111-139.
  • Pessinus at
  • Westermann Grosser Atlas zur Weltgeschichte
  • De Standaard (Flemish newspaper, Dutch language) August 9, 2005
  • Pauly-Wissowa
  • Cambridge Ancient History, vols. VII, VIII, IX, XI, and XIII
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