Paestum

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Paestum was an important ancient Greek city situated along the Tyrrhenian Sea in southern Italy. Today mostly in ruins it is renowned for its relatively well-preserved architecutre. Notably, the ruins include three ancient Greek temples in the Doric order that date back to around 550 to 450 BCE. Paestum formed part of the Magna Graecia.

Overview

According to Solinus, the city was founded by the Dorians. It was established as Poseidonia (Ancient Greek: Ποσειδωνία) by Greek settlers and later came under the rule of local Lucanians and subsequently the Romans. The Lucanians renamed it Paistos, and the Romans gave it its present name of Paestum. As Pesto or Paestum, it became a bishopric, although it was ultimately abandoned during the Early Middle Ages. The town was left untouched and mostly forgotten until the 18th century CE.

Notable Structures

circa 550 BCE

First Temple of Hera
Constructed approximately 550 BCE by the Greek settlers, the "First Temple of Hera" is the southern most and oldest surviving temple in ancient Paestum. Despite its historical significance, it was mistakenly called "the Basilica" by archaeologists in the eighteenth century CE, who believed it to be a Roman building. It should be noted that the original Roman basilica served a civic function and was only later adopted by Early Christians as a church plan.

The discovery of inscriptions and terracotta figurines indicated that the deity venerated at this temple was Hera. A subsequent excavation unearthed an altar positioned in front of the temple, in a manner typical of Greek altars located in open-air spaces. This allowed worshippers to participate in rituals and offerings without entering the cella, or inner sanctum of the temple.

The columns of the temple exhibit a pronounced entasis, or curvature, along their length, suggesting an early construction date. Some of the capitals on the columns still show traces of their original paint. The temple is wider than most other Greek temples, potentially due to the presence of two doors and a central row of seven columns within the cella, a distinctive feature. This may indicate a dual dedication of the temple. Furthermore, the use of nine columns along the shorter sides of the temple, and eighteen along the longer sides, is highly uncommon. This was likely due to the need to accommodate the two doors and ensure that neither of them was obstructed by a column.

circa 550 BCE

Agora
Right from the moment of the foundation of the city of Poseidonia, an enormous space (approx. 330 x 300 meters) was set aside between the two large urban sanctuaries for public and civic functions; the agora. A slight difference in height distinguished the two areas which had different functions. Political and religious activities took place in the northern area while the southern area, subsequently incorporated by the Romans in to the Forum, was reserved for commercial activities. It was an extremely large space closely associated with the city's identity, the Agora was the core of Life in the Greek city, it provided the setting for political life with citizens who debated matters and took decisions about the issues facing the city. Here there were cults of gods and heroes, with parts of the Agora devoted to figures who represented the identity and the autonomy of the city. Beyond there were traders and orators while bankers sat in the most crowded areas. Slaves also wandered around the square running errands for their masters. The Agora was off limits for people who had committed a serious crime or had been banned.

circa 500 BCE

Temple of Athena
The Temple of Athena is situated at the highest point of the ancient town of Paestum, a distance from the Hera Temples and north of the center of the ancient settlement. The temple, constructed around 500 BCE, was initially misidentified as being dedicated to Ceres. Its architecture is considered transitional, featuring a combination of early Doric and partially Ionic styles. The presence of three Christian tombs in the floor of the temple suggests that it was repurposed as a Christian church during medieval times.

circa 475 BCE

Ekklesiasterion
Also called bouleuterion, it was built circa 480-470 BCE in the eastern sector of the Agora, and was used to hold political meetings (ekklesiai) in the Greek city of Poseidonia. After the Lucanians seized control, the monument retained a similar function. This is evident from the discovery of a stele from circa 300 BCE bearing an inscription in Lucan by a local magistrate, Statis Statilies, dedicated to Jupiter in gratitude for the granting of a wish. After the city was settledby a Roman colony, the ekklesiasterion no longer had a role in the new political order and was therefore abandoned. Later on a temple was built in its place.

circa 450 BCE

Second Temple of Hera
The second Temple of Hera, built between 460-450 BCE, was situated to the north of the original Hera Temple, and it was originally believed to be dedicated to Poseidon. The columns of the temple are distinctive in that they have 24 flutes instead of the typical 20, and they are wider with smaller intervals between them. Although Hera was the primary deity worshipped at the temple, Zeus was also revered alongside an unknown deity. On the eastern side of the temple, there are two remaining altars, with the smaller one being a later Roman addition created when a road was constructed through the larger altar leading to a Roman forum. There is a possibility that the temple was initially dedicated to both Hera and Poseidon, as shown by the presence of offertory statues found around the larger altar.

circa 50 BCE

Amphitheatre
The Roman amphitheater of Paestum is a historical structure that was constructed around 50 BCE using local sandstone, today mostly in ruins it forms part of the archaeological site of ancient city of Paestum. The amphitheater was a significant part of the Roman city and played an important role in entertainment, hosting events such as gladiator fights and animal hunts. The amphitheater originally had a circular shape with a seating capacity of around 2,800 people. Towards the end of the first century CE, an outer ring was added to the structure to accommodate a larger audience of around 5,000 spectators. Although the amphitheater is still partially visible today, a section of it is located under a nearby road. The amphitheater is an important testament to the architectural and engineering skills of the ancient Romans.

circa 275 BCE

Comitium
It is probable that the Comitium was constructed in the initial phases of Roman control and can be regarded as the most significant public structure of that time. The comitium, where public meetings were held and civic events took place, had a similar function to that of the comitium in the Forum Romanum. During the second century CE, also at the expense of a part of the Comitium’s cavea, the Temple of Bona Mens, also known as the Temple of Peace, was built.

circa 250 BCE

Public Pool
The public pool (Piscina Publica) was a large rectangular pool, enclosed by a wall. Recent studies have identified the structure as the Temple of Fortuna Virilis, a deity from the Roman pantheon associated with Venus. With the demise of the cult during the Imperial Period, the pool was filled in and a new building surrounded by a portico was built over it. The new building, connected to the structure in the western apse, was devoted to the Imperial Cult.

circa

Curia
The Curia of ancient Paestum was the place where the magistrates dispensed justice and maintained their records. The curia was located on the centre of the northern side of the Roman Forum. The curia situated north of the comitium formed a single complex, a rectangular building that housed the magistrates’ archives and where the magistrates themselves administered justice. As can be observed today, the extension of the Curia caused the demolition of the northern section of the Comitium’s cavea.

Frescoed Tombs

circa 450 BCE

Tomb of the Diver
The Tomb of the Diver, located in Paestum, is renowned for the enigmatic frescoes that adorn its walls. The origins of this tomb are also somewhat unclear, with scholars debating whether it was built by a Greek settlement occupying Poseidonia or by an ancient Italic tribe from a more southerly region of Italy. The tomb comprises five significant stone slabs, each of which features a fresco attributed to one of two artists. The four walls are decorated with scenes of a symposium, which is unusual for a burial context. The ceiling of the tomb is the primary mystery and gives the tomb its name: it depicts a solitary diver plunging into a pool of water. This image is unique to this tomb, and no other ancient Mediterranean artwork has similar imagery to the diver.

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See Also

References

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