History is often more complicated than it appears to be at first glance. The famous city of Cnidos, boasting about its unique statue of the first naked woman ever created in the shape of Aphrodite is located at the end of the Dorian peninsula near today’s Turkish town of Tekir. The lizard-like peninsula is approximately forty miles long but at no point more than eight miles wide and its name “Dorian” refers to the origin of its first settlers who came from the Greek city of Sparta according to Herodotus. Being built shortly after 360 BC, it would have looked pretty new if Alexander the Great had visited Cnidos. We must imagine shining white stones and polished marbles enhanced with the bright colours on the pediments and the friezes of the many temples. This is one of those moments in life I wish I could travel back in time …
Among the Carians, the Cnidians were renowned sailors who traded with cities all over the eastern Mediterranean and who, together with other Greeks, established several colonies, even as far as Sicily in the early 6th century BC. The best known settlement however is that of
Naucratis established as early as 610 BC in the Nile Delta roughly 70 km away from the later city of . Alexandria
Exceptionally, the Egyptian pharaoh granted it the rank of city and named it Hellenium. Here a good half dozen states including Cnidos and Halicarnassus were allowed to trade, the only place in Egypt where Greeks were allowed to do so. The Cnidian entrepreneurship made them one of the most prosperous people in the Greek world and it is not surprising to see typical Cnidian amphora at the Archaeological Museum in Bodrum. I personally think that business was so flourishing that they could afford their own amphora factory and their own design with a cone shaped base that served as a third handle - a funny looking little knob. Cnidos had some sort of monopoly of the wine from Chios which was distributed all over the Mediterranean and the Aegean, reaching its peak between the 3rd and 1st century BC. This inexpensive rather sweet wine called “protopon” was especially appreciated by the soldiers posted in Alexandria and Athens, it seems.
Yet the city of Cnidos was not always located near modern Tekir which I visited (see: Was Alexander the Great aware of Cnidos?) but until about 360 BC was lying halfway the Dorian peninsula, near the pleasant harbour of modern Datça. Except for a few coastal patches, this peninsula had not much arable land between the mountains and the sea - most of the eastern end is truly bare. For that reason the few villages settled near fertile land around the middle of the peninsula, exactly where I find Datça when sailing into its busy harbour. I don’t have the opportunity to investigate the scarce remains of this first settlement of Cnidos but traces of a well-defended city wall dating to around 400 BC have been found. All we know of this city is based on the few stretches of walls, lose blocks and solid foundations of a large building near the river-mouth for most of it is now buried at considerable depth. It seems that the old city at Datça was not abandoned when the new Cnidos was built at the western tip of the peninsula, but since commerce was centred on this new efficient double harbour at Cape Crio, it is evident that the old location became less attractive. Looking at the overall landscape, I try to find the acropolis and the outlines of the ancient harbour. This is not easy for the entire bay is crowded with ships and boats tied to the concrete shoreline where scores of cafés and restaurants compete for the tourist’s attention. In an effort to escape the crowds, the noise and the invading music, I seem to walk around in circles and I’m glad that we soon heave the anchor to rest in a more peaceful cove for our own meal on board.
Famous artists flocked to the new city of Cnidos. I mentioned Praxiteles earlier as the sculptor of the beautiful Aphrodite, but there were others, like Bryaxis who made a statue of Dionysus; Skopas who created another Dionysus and an Athena; the unknown creator of the famous head of Demeter that Newton found in the area; and finally Sostratos who eventually built the lighthouse of Alexandria in Egypt. As early as the 5th century BC, Cnidos knew many good doctors, like for instance Euryphon who developed a new method to examine his patients. And there was Ctesias, in fact a historian whose excellent medical skills promoted him to become the personal physician of the Great Persian King. The most famous citizen of Cnidos is in my eyes the scientist, Eudoxus, a many-sided scholar, who is said to have built an observatory on top of the hill in Cnidos (the new city near Tekir, of course), but no trace has been found so far. Besides being an astronomer, he also was a mathematician, physician, geographer and philosopher. Some say that he was the one who wrote the code of laws for the new city – it would be interesting to find that out, wouldn’t it? He is known to have died about 355 BC (when Alexander was only one year old …).
The prosperity of Cnidos must not have gone unnoticed by the Persians who were ever pushing further westwards. After taking Lydia in 546 BC, they gradually moved further south and took possession of Caria by 353 BC. Yet their rule was a pretty loose one and the Carians were happy with the way the Hecatomids treated them. When Alexander the Great arrived there in 334 BC, he found a Persian satrap governing the region while the Carian Queen Ada, the true successor to the throne of King Mausolus was living in exile in Alinda. How and what Alexander decided to do with Cnidos is not documented. It probably was simply included in
Ada’s Caria till she died as well as Alexander. After that, Cnidos became the scene of the unfortunate wars of Alexander’s successors.
Click on the label Caria 2012 to read the full story