The Greeks who were travelling to the Near East with these objects did not encounter a single unchanging eastern culture. On Cyprus their first ports of call were ruled by kings: Homer represents Cyprus as under kingly rule, naming a king with a fictitious Greek name and once naming Cinyras at Paphos, whose name perhaps derived from a non-Greek root.1 In his epics Homer does not show knowledge of how many separate kings there were on the island. From Assyrian texts, however, we know that by the later eighth century Cyprus was already divided into at least seven kingdoms, the innovations, archaeology suggests, of the twelfth to eleventh centuries.2
On the south coast, Amathus had grown to need several cemeteries and by the mid-eighth century there was a palace for the king on its acropolis. The site had a fine hill and a natural harbour but it had no older Bronze Age past: it was settled only in the eleventh century. When Greeks from Euboea arrived in the tenth century, Amathus already had a multi-cultural tone. It was home to speakers of the distinctive non-Greek Cypriot language and it also had contacts with Phoenicians from the Levant.3 By the later eighth century a burial ground by the coast contained a significant proportion of babies and very young children laid there by Phoenicians. Notoriously, Phoenicians would offer infants and young children to their gods, a practice which Greeks tried to explain but never imitated: we find them in the special burial grounds, or tophets, of Phoenician settlements.4 Further east beyond Amathus, however, the history of Kition (Larnaca) was different. It had been resettled as a ‘new’ Phoenician foundation, although its growth after the Bronze Age went back at least into the tenth century, when its population was already distributed beside its harbour. There was presumably a tophet here too, but surprisingly we have not yet found it. A Greek’s first impressions would include the brilliant glare from the site’s salt flats, the assets which so often accompanied Phoenician settlements, whether in Sicily or southern Spain. Kition was a distinctive Salt Lake City to Greek eyes, with good access to the sea and a network of cults and shrines at either end of the salt plain.5
Back on Euboea, Lefkandi’s main age of eastern imports ends c. 820 BC when the cemeteries decline, on our present evidence, without the settlement being wholly abandoned. However, other Euboean towns continued to look eastwards and the growth of a ‘new Eretria’ east of Lefkandi from c. 800 BC ensured that the Euboean Gulf’s involvement in overseas contacts did not fade out. By c. 770 Greek goods were also reaching Salamis on Cyprus’s east coast. Salamis, too, was on a site first occupied in the eleventh century: it was placed there because the silting of the nearby river had caused an older Bronze Age town to be re-sited. Our best idea of what Greek visitors saw here comes from the impressive tombs in which Salamis’s kings and nobles were buried during the eighth century. Even though their main chambers had been looted by tomb-robbers before their rediscovery, the traces of their splendour are most remarkable, above all the tomb in whose entrance-corridor was found a silver-studded sword and a fine chariot. Horses, even, had been brought to the tomb with the chariot and killed in its corridor. When it was excavated after some 2,700 years, their bodies were found in contorted positions just as they had fallen in a great equine slaughter, one after the other.
At first the tomb’s skilful excavator, Vassos Karageorghis, saw another Greek import at work here: the poems of Homer, with which some of the fine objects and parts of the funerary rite, including the horses, could be matched. Had the court at Salamis heard Homer’s poems from Greek visitors and then imitated his heroes’ magnificent funerals? On closer study this fine possibility has faded: better parallels for the burials and their objects lie in the real non-Homeric world of north Syria and the Levant and even in the funerals of Assyrian kings.6 Although an export of Homer is not in evidence, the royal tombs included Greek exports of a more everyday type: the earliest Greek pottery to be found on the site. Its most impressive items are plates, drinking-vessels and a big mixing-bowl which make up a dining and drinking set. The big bowl and twenty of the cups were made in Attica, matching those in the graves of contemporary Athenians. As scenes of seafaring were painted on grand Athenians’ pottery, perhaps Athenian sailors took to sea and brought these wares eastwards to this one royal site on Cyprus. However, all the plates and three of the cups have designs in the Euboean style. Their clay suggests that they originated in the Cycladic islands, also within the Euboeans’ orbit. Connections between Lefkandi and Attica had been strong and like almost all other Greek pottery which was imported into Cyprus, this part of what became an exceptional set was perhaps brought by Euboeans instead. It has even been interpreted as a very special gift, a wedding present sent with a royal bride.7 Its size and elaborate decor are impressive but pottery dowries are unattested in the eighth century, as are wedding lists. As elsewhere, the bowl may have arrived as a gift to an important guest-friend without an accompanying bride. Some of the items with it may have arrived as gifts too, whereas others may have been acquired separately through trade. All the pottery may then have been included in the tomb not for its value but once again as a symbol of the dead man’s foreign contacts. Phoenician pottery was found with it, perhaps for the same reason.8
Throughout the eighth century the Greek pottery which reached Cyprus is our basic evidence for Greeks visiting the island. Almost all of it has been found in or near the capital sites of kingdoms on the island, although we still know it mainly from tombs rather than from the accompanying settlements, which have been much less excavated.9 For our trail, it is significant that by origin this pottery is overwhelmingly Euboean. Its supreme monument is a tall mixing-bowl discovered in a royal tomb at Kourion and bought from its excavator in the 1870s by the Metropolitan Museum in New York, where it is prominently displayed. Its painter was probably a Euboean, perhaps from Chalcis, who excelled in depictions of horses, water-birds and a tree, probably a ‘tree of life’, flanked by goats on their hind legs.10 His geometric patterns and these symbols of the natural world found imitators in and near Euboea, but the piece for Cyprus, perhaps a gift for a king, is his masterpiece. In the eighth century such Euboeans intensified the contacts begun in the long ‘Lefkandi century’ (c. 950–825). The total, however, of Greek pottery on eighth-century Cyprus is still very small and remains a tiny proportion of all the pottery found on the island in the same period. The reason is that Cypriots had their own styles of painted pottery and showed minimal interest in copying the designs of Greek imports, even the best Greek pieces. At first the Euboean imports were decorated only with simple ‘geometric’ designs: not until c. 760 BC do we have a Greek piece with figured decoration, from Kition, and even then it is simple, imitative work.11 There is no evidence of Greek craftsmen settling on Cyprus and supplying other newly resident Greek immigrants. The dominance of Euboean pottery is an important support for the idea of a Euboean trail, but there is no evidence for a Euboean settlement on the island. They visited and moved on.
3. Cyprus, Cilicia and the Levant
From Cyprus, two ‘eastern’ coastlines were directly accessible, making the island one cardinal point on an interconnected triangle, the heartland of the landscapes and myths whose impact and travels we shall follow in Greek company. One of these coasts, to the east, is north Syria’s, which becomes to the south the coast of the Phoenician city-kingdoms along the Levant. The other is the Cilician coast of southern Asia Minor (modern Turkey), which is even closer to Cyprus’s northern shoreline. In Homer’s stories of eastern travel, we have met a different ‘triangle’ based on Cyprus, Egypt and Crete. Homer never mentions travel from Cyprus to Cilicia, and when looking eastwards modern historians, too, have said much less about this Cilician point of contact. However, its sites, topography and underlying cultures are crucial to the contacts from which Greek travellers made the mental leaps which will concern us. Contact with Cilicia was encouraged by the sea-routes and currents which ships used when coming up from the Levant, as the later Crusaders’ texts remind us. Sometimes they would prefer to put in on Cilicia’s coast and only then go across to Cyprus or Rhodes. Southern Cilicia was not an out-of-the-way oddity.
This Cilician coastline is made up of two distinct sections, a well-watered plain and then, to the west, rough wooded mountain-territory. The plain is an appendage to mountains which surround it on its north-east and west, and it is only entered by narrow passes which the Greeks called ‘gates’. Down from its northerly mountain barrier run three great rivers which account for its exceptional fertility. Far into antiquity the ‘abundance’ of this area was personified and recognized in Greek (its euthēnia): it was best described by Xenophon when marching with the Ten Thousand into Asia.12 In 401 BC he came down through the mountains’ northern gates and found a ‘large and beautiful plain, well watered and full of all sorts of trees and vines: it produces lots of sesame and millet…’ Its wetlands made several valuable crops possible, including flax, which needs particularly damp soil.13 In the plain and its defining mountains there were many localized varieties of scented and medicinal plants, as precious as silver-dust for the ancients, many of which were noted in later centuries by the botanical author Dioscorides, who was himself a man from the north-east edge of the plain.14 Where the wetlands became marsh there were even some buffaloes and everywhere the lush pasturage sustained excellent horses. They are unmentioned by the passing horseman Xenophon, but in the Hebrew Scriptures King Solomon (c. 965–930 BC), we are told, imported horses from the Cilician plain into Israel for his chariots: horses continued to be paid as tribute to the later kings of Persia (c. 530–333 BC);the plain is still one of the few places in modern Turkey where worthwhile horses can be seen grazing.15
In Homer’s Iliad this plain is mentioned once, and then only as the ‘Aleian plain’, site of the distressed hero Bellerophon’s aimless wanderings.16 Perhaps the name ‘Aleian’ derived from the salt marshes (hals, meaning salt in Greek) along the southern shore. Homer does not even place Cilicians here: instead, they are one of the peoples his epic transposes northwards near Troy, on whose side they fight in the war. In the Troad, his ‘Cilicians’ lived in cities with significant women whom the Greek heroes had captured or made widows and orphans. Poignant though Homer’s use of these places is, they set a major puzzle for subsequent Greek travellers and geographers, who were inclined, like Alexander’s personal historian, to site them in or near the real Cilician territory on Asia Minor’s southern coast.17 Nonetheless they are a striking anomaly in Homer’s geographical consistency, and simply from our epics’ text we would have to conclude that the poet and his teachers knew nothing of the details of the real Cilicia in their ninth- or eighth-century world.
It is not, then, so surprising that Homer never mentions the region’s ancient cities whose pre-Greek names are known from our non-Greek texts, places like Tarzu (Tarsus, the future home of St Paul), Ingira (Anchiale, near modern Mersin), Danuna–Adana (whose name is still in modern use), Pahri (perhaps modern Misis) and the sheer cliff of Kundu (plainly the Greeks’ Cyinda, site of a royal treasury even after Alexander’s conquests: it then became Anazarbus, and is now Anavarza).18 These cities and strongholds had local rulers whose names are known from some of our surviving Near Eastern texts but never from Greek ones. They were not always divided and at war with each other. From contemporary local texts we know of a single dynastic family which ruled the plain, its cities and its north-eastern mountainous fringe in the eighth century. As we shall see, this dynasty (the ‘house of Muksas’) may even have extended its control further westwards through the rough wooded coastline and into the next coastal plain beyond, the region which was later known to the Greeks as Pamphylia.19 If so, a single big power had ruled far along the coastline before the 830s when Assyrian troops first attacked the Cilician plain and conquered it. Parts, at least, of its kingdom then reappeared (or survived) before Assyrian troops returned to the area in the later eighth century BC. At that date the royal ‘house of Muksas’ was based in Adana. In the ninth and eighth centuries Greeks who visited the Cilician plain and coastline were not entering lands without rulers who were trying to keep the peace. These local rulers’ continuing impact was to be important for discoveries which Greeks made here.
West of the plain’s Lamos river, the flat coastal lands narrow and the rough mountains extend much closer to the sea. Assyrian kings distinguished between the plain (Que) and this Rough Cilicia (Hilakku) which proved so hard for them to control: its reputation for piracy was to last throughout antiquity. Visitors from Cyprus were better advised to avoid it and to head north-eastwards for the mouths of the big rivers in the plain. Connections between Cyprus and this fertile area were evident in the local styles of pottery and were presupposed by later Greek stories of the ancestry of several local families.20 Greek objects reached the plain too in the eighth century: a small quantity of Greek pottery is known from excavations at Tarsus, including Euboean pottery of the early to mid-century. Then imports arrived c. 720–700 from the nearby Greek island of Rhodes and other east Aegean Greek sources.
Any Greeks, including Euboeans, who travelled to the Cilician coast with these Greek items found themselves in a humid land which had a multi-lingual, multi-cultural texture. It is evident partly in its few known items of sculpture, partly in the scripts, cults and personal names attested by its surviving inscriptions. During the Bronze Age (until c. 1200 BC) Cilicia and its plain had been known as ‘Kizzuwatna’, an important southern part of the empire of the Hittite kings of central Asia Minor. When this big empire broke up, a ‘neo-Hittite’ cultural style evolved from the past and remained important for its impression on Greek visitors here. The local inhabitants’ gods and personal names still reflected their Hittite past far into the second century AD, names like ‘Rondas’ or ‘Tarkombios’ and gods like the important Storm God ‘Tarhunta’ or the god ‘Santa’ who was prominently worshipped in Tarsus and later called ‘Sandon’ by Greek-speakers.21 Above all, texts were inscribed in a hieroglyphic ‘neo-Hittite’ script whose origins trace back to the imperial Hittite era. In Cilicia, as in north Syria, this script was used to write down the ‘Luwian’ language, Indo–European by origin and probably the language which most people spoke in the Cilician plain.22 In the ninth and eighth centuries BC some of the local rulers put up big bilingual inscriptions which used Phoenician too, the West Semitic language of the cities down the coast of the Levant. This second written language may not say so much about most people’s everyday speech in the region, but it too was presumably spoken sometimes as well as written. Significant examples of it have been found in inscriptions on the north-east edge of the plain, where the steep range of the Amanus mountains defines its edge.23 One was found by the Beylan pass through this range, the ancient ‘Syrian Gates’, where it presumably marked the boundary-limit of ‘Que’ under eighth-century Assyrian rule.24 Another cluster of inscriptions lies up the most easterly of the plain’s three rivers, the Pyramus (now the Ceyhan), where the fortified site of Karatepe displayed Phoenician texts about the deeds of its ruler, probably a man of the later eighth century BC.25 They show the site’s significance for Phoenician visitors, who would arrive by sea and follow the Pyramus river north into the mountains beyond. This river-route gave access to sources of metals in the interior. Karatepe and its sister-fortress Domuztepe were guard-points on this major trade-route which brought Phoenicians directly up from the Levantine coastline.26
At Karatepe, the surviving sculptures give us our best idea of the culture of an eighth-century Cilician court when Greek pottery and its Greek carriers were arriving in the plain round Adana which the rulers also controlled.27 On the main gateways and some of the buildings we see scenes of drink and food being brought to the ruler, who is seated and attended by a cupbearer. A cow is being pulled towards his presence and a rabbit approaches too. There are frequent scenes of hunting involving lions or even a bear and the shooting of arrows into a deer. The gods are honoured and female dancers and musicians play their various instruments: there is even a scene of boxing. The most important occupant of the place is the Storm God who is sitting there, carved from a huge block of grey-black basalt.28 Inscriptions proclaim the mortal ruler’s self-image: ‘In those places which were formerly feared, where a man fears…to go on the road, in my days even women walked with spindles. In my day there was feasting, luxury and good-living.’ On carved funerary reliefs from adjacent north Syria we see this same imagery in art, men holding their cups as if feasting and women seated safely opposite them with their spindles.29
The date of Karatepe’s founding ruler and its various sculptures is still controversial. A late eighth- to early seventh-century date for the ruler is most likely, although he might perhaps belong fifty years or so earlier, c. 760 BC. For our purposes it is important that he refers to the dynastic ‘house of Muksas’ as an earlier existing entity. It was significant, then, in the earlier eighth century: we even have a hint of its span, because the surviving sculptures are in two distinct styles, one of which is older than the other, ‘so heterogeneous that one wonders how the king of Karatepe could bear looking at them in their present arrangement. One suspects that he was rather parvenuish in his building programme…’30 It is also significant that the sculptures include scenes with an obvious Phoenician influence. The ruler’s inscriptions were bilingual too, using hieroglyphic Luwian and Phoenician, suggesting that Phoenicians were indeed active in his service.
It is unlikely that any Greek came up to Karatepe itself because nothing Greek has ever been found there. However, a similar court-style surely existed in the other cities under its ruler’s control, though they are as yet unexcavated in the Cilician plain. Later Greek writers place actual Greek settlements here and even claim that mythical Greek heroes in the legendary past once founded the important towns. False claims to a Greek origin became notorious in the plain in later centuries, arising when non-Greeks wished to compete for status in the later Greek-speaking age.31 There is, then, no truth in these particular foundation-stories, but off the main plain three sites were more plausibly connected to Greek settlers. They lie on its western edge and on the narrow coastal strip of Rough Cilicia beyond it. Here Greeks from Rhodes were said to have settled the coastal site of Soloi, while to the west of them Greeks from the island of Samos were credited with settlements at Nagidos and Celenderis.32
These latter sites already had non-Greek names and excavations at them have not yet confirmed an early Greek presence. However, they have not refuted one either, and archaeologically, the role of Greek settlers at them is still open.33 Historically, a Samian and a Rhodian initiative on this stretch of the coast is not unlikely, even c. 720–700 BC: it would link up with the Rhodian and east Greek pottery of this date which has been found elsewhere in the Cilician plain. There were assets nearby to attract them to these places. Soloi lay close to Ingira, which the Greeks called Anchiale, an established site which it could serve as a coastal trading post. Soloi’s name was later explained as meaning ‘metal ingots’ and may allude to the silver and iron which were mined in the mountains inland. Iron was accessible, too, just to the west of Celenderis, but we should not think only of metals.34 In the eighth and seventh centuries Rhodians were noted for their decorated pottery flasks which held precious scents and oils, small items which were carried as far west as Italy. Not only was the rose the symbol and namesake of their island: rose oil was a prized scent in the Greek world, having a funerary role too, as Homer reminds us in his account of the gods’ protection of Hector’s dead body.35 The Aegean world already had roses, but this south Cilician coast has a particular variety, the white-flowered rose we know as Rosa phoenicea, characterized by its ability to flower twice in a season.36 Twice-flowering roses doubled the scent-makers’ trade: they became known in antiquity and it may be from contact with their Cilician source that growers first grafted them onto the once-flowering varieties and made this important breakthrough. In Cilicia, Rhodians had access to a specially productive source of rose oil, perhaps the oil which was then carried far and wide in their little decorated flasks.37
One particular Greek ‘founder’ has proved more of a problem. On the east side of the plain, a short way up the Pyramus river, the important town of Mallos in due course traced its origins to a legendary Argive Greek hero, Amphilochus. The town is most unlikely to have been a Greek foundation, but the claim is known to us quite early and was enough, as we shall see, to convince the conquering Alexander the Great in 333 BC.38 Perhaps Mallos had indeed had an early Greek enclave, Rhodians perhaps who claimed a special kinship with Argos and might possibly have introduced Amphilochus here. Most importantly, this Argive Amphilochus was said in some versions of his story to have gone on east and founded a second site called ‘Posideion’.39 It has become a major battleground for excavators and historians.
Anyone who stands on the lower course of the Pyramus river and looks out across the sea will readily appreciate the eastward ‘travels’ of the legendary hero Amphilochus. The landscape connects regions which our texts and history books preserve in separate compartments. On the near horizon, the ancients’ north Syria, our Middle East, looms large across the waters. The sea, meanwhile, forms a gulf at the eastern head of the Mediterranean, the ancient Bay of Issus. From the Cilician plain, by land or sea, the coastline of the bay was wide open for potential settlers. At modern Kinet Hüyük, on the bay’s coastline, recent excavations have revealed a settlement with local pottery, copious Phoenician pottery and a smaller proportion of Greek wares, including Euboean pottery of the mid- to late eighth century.40 In antiquity the site was probably called Issus, from which the bay took its name, but the Greek finds here are few in proportion to the non-Greek and do not imply an actual Greek settlement. To locate one we must follow the shore of the bay on south through the defensible mountain-pass just north of Sariseki, a narrow point which has served as the border ‘gate’ of several kingdoms throughout history. In antiquity this place became the border between Cilicia and Syria, a role in which it was witnessed by Xenophon and by the troops with Alexander the Great.41 It allows us to place the site first described by Herodotus in the mid- to late fifth century BC. He gives a detailed list, on sound authority, of the tributes paid by peoples and districts of the contemporary Persian empire. The fifth of those districts, he tells us, began at Posideion, ‘founded by Amphilochus’ on the Cilician–Syrian border: he implies that this Greek town was the first settlement on the Syrian side.42
The name Posideion has caused frequent confusion. Greeks gave it to many places where they encountered a significant cape or an accessible beach and connected it with their sea-god Poseidon. We know of one Posideion on the coast of Rough Cilicia, while another was sited in due course on the Syrian coast just north of modern Lattakieh.43 Herodotus’ Posideion is neither of them. Unlike them it lay by the Cilician–Syrian border near modern Iskenderun (Alexandretta), whose own little bay is an important anchorage and a safe haven from storms, especially in autumn, on the open sea. A short way down this same coast lay the separate settlement of Myriandros which was frequented by Phoenician ships and traders, at least when seen by Xenophon in 401 BC.44We do not know when Myriandros was founded but there was a good reason why two settlements lay so close to each other on this one short stretch of coast. Immediately inland behind Iskenderun a land-route runs to the south-east up the range of the Amanus mountains, over the pass which the ancients called the Syrian Gates and down into the great plain which stretches east to Aleppo and on to the Euphrates river.45 This was the recognized land-route into Asia. The armies of Xenophon and of Alexander the Great both headed inland by this very route. Before them, Greeks had settled Posideion on the coast, positioning themselves brilliantly for a safe haven on the difficult surrounding sea and for an easy access to the direct route into Asia’s interior.
There are still big mounds near modern Iskenderun but the coastline has been heavily developed, its line has altered and an excavation of Posideion is probably now impossible. Even without it, the site must return to our histories of direct Greek contact with the Near East, a storm-centre of archaeological scholarship. Herodotus located it in a list which he based on serious evidence, although without excavation we cannot know which Greeks first settled it. By c. 450 BC it was being traced back to the legendary Amphilochus the Argive, but Argives are most unlikely to have played any part as founders: should we think here too of Rhodians as originators of this legend, people who claimed a kinship with Argos?46 As for other participants in the settlement, there is an obvious guess: Euboean Greek pottery of eighth-century date has been found at nearby Kinet Hüyük (surely the ancient Issus): in the eighth century ‘Posideion’ was a name well known to Euboeans; there was a Posideion on their home island and they had sited another in their coastal settlement of Mende in northern Greece.47 Euboean pottery had been reaching sites on the north Syrian plain from the tenth century onwards and some of it may have arrived by the inland route from the Bay of Issus which began by the future site of Posideion and crossed the Amanus mountains. Euboeans, therefore, may have founded, or co-founded, Posideion here, perhaps in the early eighth century: Rhodians may have joined them later in the century and then, in the seventh century BC, when the Euboean presence at Posideion declined as elsewhere in the Near East, Rhodians on the site may have claimed a grand Greek hero as its founder, the Argive Amphilochus, the hero who was also claimed by Mallos on the other side of the bay.
From a few pieces of Greek pottery elsewhere, Near Eastern archaeologists are reluctant to accept a Greek settlement in southern Asia, let alone a ‘colony’. But Herodotus’ Posideion is attested in a well-founded text and obliges them to accept such a place. The problem is simply that we have not yet found or excavated it. Its ancient existence, however, is certain, although its origins in the eighth century are necessarily a guess. They are a compelling guess because we have primary Assyrian texts which connect the Cilician coast with an established Greek presence in this century’s later decades. We have seen how texts of King Sargon (721–705 BC) refer to Ionian Greeks who were bothering the coast from Que (Cilicia) as far as Tyre: Posideion, near Alexandretta, fits well as one of their bases. Assyrian texts contain evidence for yet another rebellion which troubled the plain of Que and Rough Cilicia in 696 BC.48 At that time, one ‘Kirua’ gathered troops from his strongholds, including his base at ‘Illubru’ north of the main plain. Assyrian horses, chariots and infantry were sent against him and defeated him after heavy fighting. Kirua had been an Assyrian dependant, or ‘slave’, and so he was taken off to Nineveh and skinned alive by order of the king. In the plain the cities of Tarsus and ‘Ingira’ (the Greeks’ Anchiale near the coast) were captured because they had helped the revolt.
So much we know from surviving Assyrian texts written at the court of King Sennacherib. We also have two excerpts from Berossus, a later Babylonian historian writing in Greek (c. 270 BC), who used old Mesopotamian records which are now lost to us. His account was then abbreviated by two later Greek authors (one using the other): their versions are preserved by a third, the Christian Eusebius, c. AD 320, although his account is known to us only in an Armenian translation of his original Greek.49 The merits of the information under these multiple layers have long been recognized, but the excerpts have not been fully exploited. They refer not to one and the same battle but to two separate battles in the same campaign, fought between Assyrian troops of Sennacherib and opposing Greeks. One battle was by land, the other by sea. These two separate battles belong to the Assyrians’ Cilician campaign of 696 BC. By land, they help us to see, the Assyrians won a victory against an army of (Ionian) Greeks who ‘marched against Cilicia’, although the Assyrians lost ‘many men’. Sennacherib himself was not present, but we are told in our Greek source that he caused a ‘statue’ of himself to be put up on the battlefield and inscribed it in ‘Chaldean script’ (actually, wedge-shaped cuneiform) as a memorial of his ‘bravery and heroic deeds’. We know independently of this monument, because it was seen and described by Alexander the Great and his historians when they passed later through the Cilician plain.50 They came upon it at Anchiale, the Assyrians’ ‘Ingira’, which had participated in the revolt in 696 BC and had been punished for its role. It stood exactly on the site of the land-battle.
The Assyrians, we learn, also ‘defeated a group of Ionian warships on the coast of Cilicia’. This sea-battle was a separate engagement with a separate location, but it is said to have been marked by another memorial: Sennacherib built a ‘temple of the Athenians’, put up ‘bronze pillars’ and ‘caused, he said, his great deeds to be inscribed truthfully’.51 As he himself was absent, the truth here was questionable. ‘Bronze pillars’, however, are exactly right for a memorial put up by Sennacherib as he is the one and only Assyrian king who claims to have used pillars of bronze elsewhere as monuments.52 The problem is the ‘temple of the Athenians’, self-evident nonsense as Athenians had no role in this area until nearly three centuries later. The Armenian translator may have slightly misunderstood the underlying Greek. If the temple was a ‘temple of Athena’ (not ‘the Athenians’) in the original Greek, it makes excellent local sense.53
At the mouth of the Pyramus river lay the ancient site of Magarsos (modern Karatas). The site was long famous for its temple, which was dedicated, in the Greeks’ view of it, to none other than the goddess Athena. This Greek interpretation of the goddess is first known to us by chance in the 330s BC but it remained central to the site’s civic history during the next two centuries.54 Magarsos issued coins then, on which we see the statue of its goddess represented in the new Greek age after Alexander’s conquests. Her pose and surrounding attributes, however, have been diagnosed as being non-Greek with clear connections to Mesopotamian culture.55 We can now see why: her cult and temple owed their origin to an Assyrian king, to King Sennacherib who had instituted the shrine in 696 BC for the martial goddess Anat (or Ishtar), whom he credited with helping his army’s victory over the Greeks. Sea-battles were not an Assyrian speciality, but his ships had beaten the Greek ships just off Magarsos, by the mouth of the Pyramus river, with the aid of the goddess whom he rewarded with a temple.
This battle of the Pyramus is thus the first full battle-encounter between the ships of Ionian Greeks and the ships of an Oriental monarch. It occurred in 696 BC off the Cilician plain, which had been receiving Greek pottery for nearly a century, and within sight of the Greek base at Posideion near Iskenderun. Like this Posideion, it deserves to return in honour to our modern histories: its monument has a further military history.
In autumn 333 BC Alexander the Great and his army passed along this same stretch of coast.56 At Anchiale they saw Sennacherib’s monument and inscription in honour of his troops’ land-victory but as we shall see, they misunderstood it. They then marched to Magarsos at the mouth of the Pyramus river and sacrificed to a goddess there whom they identified as Athena. They went up the river and stopped next at the town of Mallos, which persuaded their king that it had been founded by a legendary travelling Argive, none other than the hero Amphilochus. They then marched south in late October, quite unaware that the Persian king Darius and his huge army were marching northwards and were passing them, unseen, on the other side of the Amanus mountain-chain. They halted inland by the old coastal site of Posideion, perhaps now greatly diminished as its identity escaped mention in our brief surviving summaries of their route. On hearing the news of Darius’ positioning they turned round, thanks to Alexander’s genius, and confronted the Persian army in the narrows south of Issus, where they won a stupendous victory in early November.
The Cilician plain was a multi-cultural area whose layers of history overlapped in its various cults and settlements. It was exactly the place for creative misunderstandings, as the Greeks on our trail of travel and myths will exemplify. Alexander the Great was mistaken there too, about Sennacherib’s monument, perhaps about Mallos’ ‘Argive’ origins and certainly about the whereabouts of an entire Persian army. Before marching back to his eventual victory he had sacrificed to ‘Athena of Magarsos’. Even here he was mistaken. The goddess, we now realize, had first been honoured here by the Assyrian king Sennacherib. Alexander was hoping for victory in Asia, but the temple was Sennacherib’s thanks for the first ever naval victory of an Oriental fleet against bothersome Greeks.
Compared with Cyprus, southern Cilicia has so far produced sparse evidence of travelling Greek objects in the eighth century BC. It implies, however, that a Greek trail extended here and when we move on to the separate evidence of Greeks’ local discoveries of myths and place names, it too will confirm an actual Euboean presence. First, the routes south of Posideion need to be followed. They take us again into sites where Homer’s poems are not a guide.