The Greek town

The Greek town at Paestum 

There are two outstanding features of the Greek town – which we should call by its Greek name of Poseidonia. The first is a strange rectangular enclosure to be seen immediately after leaving the Temple of Athena as one walks down the main road to the other two temples at the other end of the town. This is interpreted as a Heroon, that is the shrine to the hero who originally founded the Greek colony at Poseidonia.

Heroon - the Founder's tomb at Paestum

This originally appeared as a non-descript mound but when it was excavated by Pellegrino Sestieri in 1954, he found that it covered a limestone cist as seen here above.

Bronze urns from the founder's tomb (the oikists's tomb) at Paestum

The bronze urns on display in the museum

Inside there was a marvellous array of objects mainly bronze urns, six water jars and two amphorae, most of them with elaborate decorations on their handles.

 

 

Hydria, or water storage jar from the founder's tomb at Paestum

Hydria, or water storage jar from the founder’s tomb at Paestum

One of the Water urns: note the handles with their magnificent decoration.

There is considerable controversy over where they were made. It has been thought that they were the products of a Spartan workshop, but the latest suggestion is that they should be compared to the urns at Trebenische in the Jugoslavian part of Macedonia.

 

 

 

Greek Bronze urn with handle showing ram's heads

Detail of the hand of one of the urns

One of the fine handles: Click on this picture to enlarge it.

 

 

Lion handle from urn from heroon at Paestum

Lion’s head handle to one of the urns

One of the handles to the water jars,  in the form of a lion.

The urns were originally filled with a brown sticky substance like honey, and now form one of the great treasures of the Paestum Museum.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Black figure vase showing apotheosis of Hercules from the heroon at Paestum

Black figure vase

There was also a fine black figure amphora from Athens which could be dated to between 520 and 500 BC.

The scene shows the apotheosis of Hercules who is being received by the Olympian gods.

 

The interpretation of this treasure house is controversial, but many archaeologists now accept the explanation that this was a heroon, that is a shrine dedicated to the legendary founder of Poseidonia, no doubt erected a century or more after his death.

 

 The Council chamber

 

Bouleuterion or Greek council chamber at Paestum

The council chamber

The other major feature of the Greek is the Council chamber or Bouleuterion. This is a circular structure with seats in tiers and would be ideal for holding a Council: councils in Greek towns normally consisted of around 500 men who would fit nicely into the space given. If however there were further tiers which have been removed, it could have held even more and could therefore have been the ecclesiasterion, that is a meeting place for the entire male population of Poseidonia. In the Roman period however, in the 2nd century BC, it was no longer needed, so it was backfilled with rubbish and therefore lost.

There was also the Greek agora or marketplace, the forerunner of the Roman Forum. It was long thought that the agora underlay the forum, but the discovery of the Council chamber made it clear that it must lie adjacent to the Council chamber. The area of the agora underlies the late Roman structures, and can no longer be seen.

 

On to The Roman  town

 14th November 2015

 

 

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