|Author: Laxman Burdak, IFS (R).|
Pessinus (Greek: Πεσσινούς or Πισσινούς) was an Ancient city in Asia Minor, a geographical area roughly covering modern Anatolia (Asian Turkey) on the upper course of the river Sangarios (Sakarya River). Pessinus is the present modern Turkish village of Ballıhisar, Eskişehir Province of Turkey.
Variants of name
- Ballıhisar - present modern Turkish village of Ballıhisar, Eskişehir Province of Turkey
Pessinus, the present modern Turkish village of Ballıhisar, is centred 13 km from Sivrihisar a small town on the Ankara-Eskişehir road at the junction with the Afyon-İzmir road, 120 km southwest of Ankara. The village is on the high Anatolian plateau at ca. 950 m above sea level. Its clustered centre is in a tributary valley of the Sakarya.
The mythological King Midas (738-696 BC?) is said to have ruled a greater Phrygian realm from Pessinus, but archaeological research since 1967 showed that the city developed around 400 BC at the earliest, which contradicts any historical claim of early Phrygian roots.
According to ancient tradition, Pessinous was the principal cult centre of the cult of Cybele/Kybele. The Graeco-Phrygian Cybele is rooted in the old Anatolian goddess Kubaba, whose cult spread over Anatolia during the second millennium BC. Tradition situates the cult of Cybele in the early Phrygian period (8th century BC) and associates the erection of her first "costly" temple and even the founding of the city with king Midas (738-696 BC?). However, the Phrygian past of Pessinus is still obscure, both historically as archaeologically. For example, the geographer Strabo (12.5.3) writes that the priests were potentates in "ancient times", but it is unclear whether Pessinus was already a temple state ruled by "dynastai" in the Phrygian period. According to Cicero (Har. Resp. 8.28) the Seleucid kings held deep devotion for the shrine, which indicates the sanctuary was still much revered in this period.
By the 3rd century BC at the latest, Pessinus had become a temple state ruled by a clerical oligarchy consisting of Galloi, eunuch priests of the Mother Goddess. After the arrival of Celtic tribes in Asia Minor in 278/277 BC, and their defeat at the hand of Antiochus I during the so-called 'Battle of the Elephants' (likely 268 BC), the Celts settled in the north-central region of Anatolia which became known as Galatia. The tribe of the Tolistobogi occupied the Phrygian territory between Gordium and Pessinus. It is doubtful that the temple state actually stood under Galatian control at this early stage.
Roman involvement in Pessinus however has early roots. In 205/204 BC, alarmed by a number of meteor showers during the ongoing Second Punic War, the Romans, after consulting the Sibylline Books, decided to introduce the cult of the Great Mother of Ida (Magna Mater Idaea, also known as Cybele) to the city. They sought the aid of their ally Attalus I (241-197 BC), and following his instructions, they went to Pessinus and removed the goddess' most important image, a large black stone that was said to have fallen from the sky, to Rome (Livy 10.4-11.18).
Pergamum seems to have gained some control over Pessinus by the end of the third century BC. Pessinus was bequeathed a sanctuary by the Attalid kings, perhaps after 183 BC, when Galatia was subject to Pergamene rule. The first century BC was a very unstable period for Pessinus with many rulers reigning over central Anatolia. According to Strabo (12.5.3) the priests gradually lost their privileges. The Mithridatic Wars (89-85 BC; 83-81 BC; 73-63 BC) caused political and economic turmoil throughout the region. When Deiotaros, tetrarch of the Tolistobogi and loyal vassal of Rome, became king of Galatia in 67/66 BC or 63 BC, Pessinus lost its status as an independent sacred principality.
In 36 BC, rule over Galatia was transferred to king Amyntas by Marc Anthony. At the death of the monarch, under Emperor Augustus the empire of the Galatians was annexed by the Imperium Romanum as the province of Galatia. Pessinus became the administrative capital of the Galatian tribe of the Tolistobogi and soon developed into a genuinely Graeco-Roman polis with a large number of monumental buildings, such as a colonnaded street and a Temple of the Imperial Cult.
The priest list on the left hand anta of the temple of Augustus and Roma in Ankara reveals that by the end of Tiberius' principate two citizens of Pessinus held the chief priesthood of the provincial imperial cult in Ancyra: M. Lollius in AD 31/32 and Q. Gallius Pulcher in AD 35/36. Strabo called Pessinus an 'emporion,' a trading centre, the largest west of the Halys river. It may be assumed that products from the Anatolian highlands were traded, especially grain and wool. A stamped handle of a wine amphora from Thasos, probably dating from the first quarter of the 3rd century BC, is proof of this trade and is at the same time the earliest written document discovered at Pessinus.
Very soon after 25 BC the urbanization and transformation of the Pessinuntian temple state into a Greek polis began. Constructions such as a Corinthian temple and a colonnaded street (cardo maximus) were erected with the marble from the quarries located at İstiklalbağı, ca. 6 km north of the city. The boundaries of Pessinus must have been fixed, as were those of the newly founded colony of Germakoloneia (near Babadat), which received part of the area inhabited by the Tolistobogioi. It has been argued that Pessinous and the other Galatian cities received a constitution based on that of the cities in Pontus-Bithynia, imposed by the lex Pompeia.
From the inscriptions it appears that Pessinus possessed several public buildings, including a gymnasium, a theatre, an archive, and baths. A system of water supply has been discovered through gutters and terracotta pipes. The most impressive public construction of the early Imperial period was the canalisation system, the earliest part of which dates from the Augustan age. It was meant to retain and carry away the waters of the Gallos, the seasonal river which traverses Pessinus and which was the main north-south artery (cardo maximus) of the city. From the 1st to the 3rd century AD the canal was continuously expanded until it finally reached a length of ca. 500 m and a width of 11 to 13 m. It is not known when exactly the large theatre, of which is preserved only the emplacement of the cavea where the spectators were seated, was constructed, but it was repaired or embellished by Hadrian.
Other monumental buildings, erected under the reign of Tiberius, included the marble peripteros temple of the provincial Imperial cult, a Sebasteion, on a hill at the north-western end of the canal, a stairway combined with a theatre in front (with an orchestra where religious and other performances such as gladiator fights took place). The colonnaded square lower down the valley was reconstructed by Verlinde. In the past, this structure was wrongly situated in the Tiberian era, but it was shown that it was a monument of the Hellenistic age (late 2nd-early 1st century BC), and contemporary with the citadel that preceded the temple complex. Christianity reached the area in the 3rd century, and at the end of the 4th century, the temple of Augustus was decommissioned. Perhaps as a sign of the rise of Christianity in Pessinus, Emperor Julian the Apostate made a pilgrimage to Pessinus and wrote an angry letter concerning the disrespect shown to the sanctuary of Cybele. In ca. 398, Pessinus was established as the capital of the newly established province of Galatia Salutaris (in the civil Diocese of Pontus), and became the seat of a Metropolitan Archbishop. The region later became part of the Byzantine Anatolic Theme.
In late 715 AD, the city of Pessinus was destroyed by an Arab raid, along with the neighboring city Orkistos. The area remained under Byzantine control until lost to the Seljuk Turks in the latter 11th century, after which Pessinus became an inconspicuous mountain village at 900m height, gradually getting depopulated since it was fully protected.
- Verlinde 2010, op. cit.
- Waelkens, M. 1986, The Imperial Sanctuary at Pessinus: Epigraphical and Numismatic Evidence for its Date and Identification, EpigAnat 7, 37-72.
- Verlinde, A. 2010, Monumental Architecture in Hellenistic and Julio-Claudian Pessinus, Babesch 85, 111-139.
- Verlinde 2012, op. cit.
- Herbermann, Charles, ed. (1913). "Pessinus". Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company.
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