Side: Greek colony in Pamphylia, important port in the Roman Empire.

Early History

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 Side is Anatolian ("pomegranate"). Being an isolated colony, 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.

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.note The outer city wall dates to this period.

Roman City

Colonnaded Street

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

Inner Gate

In 42 BCE, after Mark Antony and Octavian had defeated the murderers of Caesar, the first-mentioned reorganized Asia Minor and offered Side and the other Pamphylian ports to Amyntas of Galatia, a kingdom in central Anatolia.note When this king died in 25 BCE, the Roman emperor Augustus finally added the city to the Roman Empire,note adding it to the province of Cilicia. The city remained important as a center of the interregional slave trade

The emperors Claudius (r.41-54) and Vespasian (r.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 that age. In Side, the theater (which could accomodate 15,000 people) 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.note

Late Antiquity

Inner wall

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.

This page was created in 2004; last modified on 18 August 2020.