Metapontum

Metapontum was an ancient Greek city founded by Achaeans in the late 8th or 7th century BC along the Gulf of Tarentum near the mouth of the Bradano River. It is located in modern Metaponto on the southern coast of the Basilicata region of Italy, 50 kilometres to the west of Taranto. Renowned for the fertility of its farmland, Metapontum thrived on agriculture and trade, and the city became one of the most prosperous colonies in Magna Graecia. Today, the best surviving evidence of Metapontum’s prosperity is an elegant Doric temple of the 6th century BC dedicated to Hera. An archaeological park has remains of temples and buildings which stood in the central sanctuary complex, while the nearby National Museum of Metaponto contains the rich heritage of archaeological materials found in the Greek colony.

Coordinates: 40° 23′ 0″ N, 16° 49′ 28″ E

Founded by an Achaean colony from Sybaris and Croton around 700 BC, Metapontum was part of the wave of Greek colonization from the 8th century BC onwards that spread up along the coast of southern Italy. Fertile farmlands surrounded the ancient coastal city and thus became a prosperous trading colony exporting wheat in exchange for olive oil and wine. The earliest coins from Metapontum were stamped with an ear of wheat and the Metapontines sent to the temple at Delphi an offering of a golden harvest. Metapontum was the last home and burial place of the philosopher Pythagoras.

Silver coin from Metapontum, Lucania, 340-330 BC.
Obverse: Head of Leukippos wearing Corinthian helmet
Reverse: Barley ear of seven grains

In is prime, Metapontum had at least 20,000 inhabitants as well as 10,000 neighbouring farmers. It covered an area of about 150 hectares and was protected by an encircling fortification wall. The city had a rectangular plan and consisted of the sanctuary and the Agora, situated beside each other at the southern extremity of the urban space. The sacred area had some of the city’s most important buildings, including five Archaic temples dedicated to Hera, Artemis, Apollo and Athena, and an ekklesiasterion (assembly place) located in the north-east of the agora. The ekklesiasterion was later transformed into a theatre with a cavea, a semi-circular orchestra, and a free-standing stage building that could seat ca. 7500-8000 people.

3D reconstruction of Metapontum sanctuary.
Gabellone, Francesco. (2015).

The finest surviving temple, however, lies outside the city limits. Known today as the Palatine Tables (Tavole Palatine), this is an elegant Doric temple erected in the late 6th century BC and dedicated to Hera (as indicated by the votive deposits). Fithteen columns of the colonnade (6 x 12 columns) are still standing.

The city declined after 207 BC when its inhabitants, who had supported Hannibal following his victory at the Battle of Cannae, followed the defeated Carthaginian general in his retreat. Spartacus marched on Metapontum with his army in the winter of 73-72 BC and wrecked the city. Archaeology has shown that a stoa (portico) was destroyed during this period. Metapontum was considerably deserted by the end of the 3rd century BC. By Pausanias’ time in the 2nd century AD, the city was in a state of ruin, with little more than its damaged theatre and walls surviving.

Since 1964 Metapontum has been the subject of intensive archaeological research. Excavations and extensive studies have allowed archaeologists to identify and outline the ancient town planning, from its foundation in the 7th century BC until the Roman conquest and the subsequent gradual abandonment in the late imperial age. However, only 2% of the site has been excavated.

PORTFOLIO

View of the southern part of the excavated area with the temenos in the foreground and the ekklesiasterion in the background.
The Ekklesiasterion/theatre, was a monumental building complex intended to host the political and religious assemblies. A primary phase, datable to the final decades of the 7th century BC and composed of simple wooden tribunals, has been documented in the deepest layers.
The remains of the earlier Ekklesiasterion, ca. 625 BC. The ekklesiasterion was a free-standing circular structure which dominated the Agora. It had an estimated seating capacity of ca. 7500-8000 people.

 

After the Ekklesiasterion had been abandoned for some time, a theatre was built on the same location. The theatre had a small semi-circular orchestra, six row of seats in the lower level, and five in the upper.
Access to the upper part of the cavea was provided by six ramps between the retaining wall and the facade. Part of the external walls of the threatre has been reconstructed.
The outer wall was decorated with columns and frieze of triglyphs and metopes.
View of the cavea, orchestra and stage building of theatre.
Remains of Ionic capitals from the Temple of Artemis (Temple D) situated at the north-east border of the religious sanctuary of the city. The building was constructed towards the end of the 1st quarter of the 5th century BC.
The foundations of the Temple of Artemis (Temple D). The temple was peripteral and was extremely long and narrow with the unusual number of 8 x 20 columns.
The foundations of the Temple of Apollo (Temple B) built in two phases between 570 BC and 530 BC.
The foundations of the Temple of Hera (Temple A). This temple belongs to an early archaic building with an exterior colonnade (8 x 17 columns). The order was Doric.
The foundations of Temple C, the oldest temple in the sanctuary. ca. 600 BC – ca. 475 BC. The name of the divinity to whom the Temple was dedicated is uncertain. It may have been dedicated to Athena, on the basis of an archaic inscription referring to Athena.
A Roman tomb.
The remains of the Doric Temple of Hera at Tavole Palatine. Extramural sanctuary, located ca. 3 km. outside the site, on the right bank of the Bradano River.
The Temple of Hera is dated to ca. 520 B.C. due to the style and profile of the column capitals, and the date of the ceramic and terracotta votive objects from the votive deposit inside the cella.
In plan, the temple is peripteral with 6 x 12 columns surrounding a cella building containing pronaos, naos and adyton, with no propteron.

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