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Side


The inner gate and nymphaeum (fountain house). Photo Marco Prins.
Inner gate and nymphaeum
Side: Greek colony in Pamphylia, important port in the Roman Empire.

In the late seventh century BCE, Greek settlers from Cyme built Side on a rocky promontory on the Pamphylian shore, about ten kilometers west of the mouth of the river Melas. There must have been an older settlement because the word Sideis Anatolian ("pomegranate"). Being an isolated settlement, the town soon lost its Greek nature and the inhabitants started to speak a language that was related to Luwian. They were subsequently part of the Lydian and Persian Empires.

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The outer wall of Side. Photo Jona Lendering.
The outer walls

After the conquests of Alexander the Great, who reached the city in 334/333, Side was hellenized again and became part of the Ptolemaean and Seleucid Empires. The presence of both a good sea harbor and a river port was a stimulus for economic expansion, and Side became an important town. One of the Seleucid kings, Antiochus VII Sidetes (r.138-129), took his surname from Side. By then, it had already become an independent city, which had allied itself to Rome in 169, and actively supported the new masters of the Mediterranean in, for example, the Third Punic War (Appian, Punic Wars, 123). The outer city wall dates to this period.

The state agora. Photo Marco Prins.
The marketplace

In the early first century, it was involved in piracy; the marketplace was well-known for its slave trade (Strabo, Geography, 14.3.2). The Romans, who had until then refused to get involved in Sidetan politics, intervened in 78 BCE, and started to use the port in their struggle against the pirates. They were defeated in 67 BCE by the Roman general Pompey the Great. Slave trade, however, continued.

Monumental building on the state agora. Photo Marco Prins.
Monumental building on the state agora

In 42, after Marc Antony and Octavian had defeated the murderers of Caesar, the first-mentioned reorganized Asia Minor and offered Side and the other Pamphylian ports to king Amyntas of Galatia in central Anatolia (Cassius Dio, Roman History, 49.32.3). When this man died in 25 BCE, the emperor Augustus finally added the city to the Roman empire (id., 53.26.3), adding it to the province of Cilicia. The city remained important as a center of the interregional slave trade.

The great or Roman baths. Photo Marco Prins.
Roman baths

The emperors Claudius (41-54) and Vespasian (69-79) seem to have spend money in Side, and another wave of investment took place in the mid-second century, as was common in this age. In Side, the theater and the temples of Athena and Apollo were built. There were at least three temples dedicated to the emperor, a symbol of the prosperity of Side.

The city was also of some strategic importance: the port was necessary to transport soldiers to the east during the wars against the Parthians or Sasanian Persians. In the third century, it received the honorific titel Nauarchis, "the city of the admiral", and, more importantly, a new wall, to make sure that the city would not be captured by Persian or Gothic raiders. In the next century, the walls protected Side against the Isaurians (Ammianus Marcellinus, Roman History, 14.2.10).

The inner wall of Side. Photo Marco Prins.
The inner walls of Side

Christianity has been attested as early as the third century; Side had the rank of metropolis before the Diocletianic Persecution. The fifth century bishops of Side were among the greatest builders of their age: at least three basilicas were constructed, many older monuments were restored, and the Little Baths were built (now in use as a museum).

The city walls were also rebuilt (the "inner walls"), but they did not prevent that the crises provoked by the war against the Sasanians at the beginning of the seventh century and the rise of Islam in the second quarter of that century, marked the beginning of the end of Side, like it did for so many ancient towns in Anatolia and the Levant.

Temple of Athena. Photo Marco Prins. Temple of Apollo. Photo Marco Prins. Cornice of the temple of Apollo. Photo Marco Prins. Decoration of the temple of Apollo. Photo Marco Prins.
Temple of Athena Temple of Apollo Cornice of the temple of Apollo Decoration of the temple of Apollo
The monumental road of Side. Photo Marco Prins. The great or Roman baths. Photo Marco Prins. The great or Roman baths. Photo Marco Prins. The theater. Photo Jona Lendering.
The Colonnaded Road The Great or Roman Baths Seats in the great or Roman baths. According to a local tradition, you are allowed to do a wish when you sit on this bench. The theater of Side, built in the second century CE. About 15,000 people could be seated.
The museum of Side, in an ancient bath house. Photo Marco Prins.
The museum in the Little Baths
The "treasure" of Side. Archaeological museum of Antalya (Turkey). Photo Jona Lendering.
"Treasure" of Side: 129 tetradrachms of the late second century BCE (Archaeological museum of Antalya)
An eagle on a column base. Photo Marco Prins. Sarcophagus showing a cat. Photo Jona Lendering. Aphrodite. Photo Marco Prins.
An eagle on a column base Sarcophagus showing a cat The birth of the goddess Aphrodite
Head of Hermes. Photo Marco Prins. Ixion on the fiery wheel. Relief from Side (Turkey). Photo Marco Prins. Gladiators. Photo Marco Prins.
Head of the god Hermes The punishment of Ixion Gladiators
Late Roman sarcophagus. Archaeological museum of Antalya (Turkey). Photo Jona Lendering.

Late Roman sarcophagus (Archaeological museum of Antalya)


A satellite photo of Side can be seen here.
Jona Lendering for
Livius.Org, 2003
Revision: 22 May 2010
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