Old Smyrna

“In the vineyards of the hill of Bayrakli a joint Turkish-British expedition (1948-I952) at long last discovered what archaeologists had so long sought in vain-a Greek settlement reaching back to the early Iron Age, perhaps to 1000 B.C. Here on a sea-girt peninsula in the innermost corner of the Bay of Izmir lay Old Smyrna. Although only small parts of the hill were dug, the skill of the excavators retrieved the early village of scattered little oval huts, already fortified with an impressive wall. Attributed to the eighth century before Christ, “the four or five hundred family cottages,” as John M. Cook describes them, represent the earliest known example of planned urban design in ancient Greece. Streets were laid out on a north-south axis. A powerful wall with battlements was built. The excavators compare, both for the situation and major aspects of the layout, the city of the Phaeacians which Odysseus admires in the Odyssey: 'the harbors on each side and a narrow road between - there curved ships line the road ... the assembly ... constructed of blocks of stone deeply embedded ... the long walls with battlements, a marvel to behold(1).'”


“Smyrna always claimed that Homer was her native son. If he was truly an oral poet, he would have trodden her streets during the earlier, modest phase of this urbanistic development, in the eighth century; for among the finds made at Smyrna writing first appears during the early seventh century. From overall area, density, and size of houses, the population of Old Smyrna has been estimated to have been about two thousand people. What is very striking in this emergence of the Greek polis in architecturally recognizable form is the early application of a preconceived geometric pattern to city planning. Whoever planned Old Smyrna had the same love for abstract overall pattern as distinguishes early Greek thought.”

The above quotes from: Archaeology and the Origins of Greek Culture: Notes on Recent Work in Asia Minor
Author: George M. A. Hanfmann
Source: The Antioch Review, Vol. 25, 1965

google earth view of Izmir with the hill of Old Smyrna
google earth view of Izmir with the hill of Old Smyrna (click to enlarge).
contour map of Bayrakli (old Smyrna)
from "Alt Smyrna" by Ekrem Akurgal.

A contour map of the little promontory that Old Smyrna was built on. The flanks of Mount Sipylos start immediately outside the town. The dotted line is the modern coastline.

Smyrna with its two harbours

Old Smyrna by the end of the 7th century - long after Homer - when it was at its largest. In total some 500-600 houses (3000 people) may have stood here at that time. The harbour on the left is the mouth of the Meles river. Note how the houses "fill the mouth of the shore between the two headlands" (Il 14.35-). Also note that Smyrna has two harbours, like the city of the Phaeacians in the Odyssey. The view is due South from the flanks of Mt. Sipylos.

Refs: 'how the ships became a town', Il 14.30-6
Achaeans look like "a large steep rock, close by the sea" Il 15.618-21
Achilles is like "a child of the grey sea, a steep rock..." Il 16.33-5

Achilles' hut
also Achilles' hut
From 'The Greeks in Ionia and the East' by J.M. Cook

A thatched mudbrick hut like the one Achilles lived in (Il 24.448) and which supposedly replaced his ship. The oval shape is already old-fashioned in Homer's time, there was a trend toward building rectangular houses.

Smyrna and its wall
from "Geometric Greece" by J.N. Coldstream.

Smyrna's wall as it was rebuilt ca. 750 BC. Also a "tholos", a round building with a conical roof situated in the "aule" (open court) used for storage and for hanging servant-girls, as mentioned in Od 22.459-

cluster of huts in Smyrna
from "Alt Smyrna" by Ekrem Akurgal.

Archaeological remains of the "big house" in Smyrna. A cluster of huts round a courtyard, no doubt walled, where in all probability the "king" of the city must have lived with his family, servants and slaves. It is impossible to date these relative to Homer's lifetime, but his life could very well have spanned the situations between Abb. 15 and 19. I cannot judge how reliable Akurgal's dates are.
In 15 we have a cluster of round huts. Recognizable are building C: the big megaron, only partly visible, which must have been the main building. Behind this, there is a cluster d, e and f which were connected and formed the oldest multi-room building known from this area. At the left and top (not visible) there were many buildings for diverse purposes, probably servants work- and sleeping huts.
On the right-hand side there is a large walled space (XXXVIII), larger than is visible here, with a round building (j) in the middle: a tholos, see above. The walled space was not roofed over. Akurgal estimates the size of this walled area more than 100 m2. It was too small to serve as an agora but could have been used for gatherings such as the ones in Odysseus' house. It even had a small round podium (± 1m.) on the west wall.

cluster of huts in Smyrna
from "Alt Smyrna" by Ekrem Akurgal.

The same area a generation later. Now a modern megaron with an upper floor takes the place of megaron C.

Smyrna and its wall
from "Alt Smyrna" by Ekrem Akurgal.

  1. If this is true then the mouth of the river that Odysseus swims into (Od 5.445), must be the Meles. Note the "κλῦθι, ἄναξ, ὅτις ἐσσί" - "Hear me, King, whoever you may be" as he addresses the river in prayer.