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Phocaea (modern-day Foça in Turkey) was an ancient Ionian Greek city on the western coast of Anatolia. It is perhaps best known for having founded, in 600 BC, the colony of Massalia (modern Marseille).


Phocaea was the most northern of the Ionian cities. It was located near the mouth of the river Hermus (now Gediz), and situated on the coast of the peninsula separating the Gulf of Cyme to the north, named for the largest of the Aeolian cities, and the Gulf of Smyrna (Turkish - Izmir) to the south. It had two good harbors.


The ancient Greek geographer Pausanias, says that Phocaea was founded by Phocians under Athenian leadership, on land given to them by the Aeolian Cymaeans, and that they were admitted into the Ionian League, after accepting as kings the line of Codrus. Pottery remains indicate Aeolian presence as late as the 9th century BC, and Ionian presence as early as the end of the 9th century BC. From this an approximate date of settlement for Phocaea can be inferred

According to Herodotus the Phocaeans were the first Greeks to make long sea-voyages, having discovered the coasts of the Adriatic, Tyrrhenia and Spain. Herodotus relates that they so impressed, Arganthonius, king of Tartessus in Spain, that he invited them to settle there, and, when they declined, gave them a great sum of money to build a wall around their city.

Their sea travel was extensive. To the south they probably conducted trade with the Greek colony of Naucratis in Egypt, which was the colony of their fellow Ionian city Miletus. To the north, they probably helped settle Amisos on the Black Sea, and Lampsacus at the north end of the Hellespont (now Dardanelles). However Phocaea's major colonies were to the west. These included Alalia in Corsica, Massalia (Marseille) in France, and Emporion (Ampurias) in Spain.

Phocaea remained independent until the reign of the Lydian king Croesus (circa 560 - 545 BC), when they, along with the rest of mainland Ionia, first, fell under Lydian control and then, along with Lydia (who had allied itself with Sparta) were conquered by Cyrus the Great of Persia in 546 BC, in one of the opening skirmishes of the great Greco-Persian conflict.

Rather than submit to Persian rule, the Phocaeans abandoned their city. Some may have fled to Chios, others to their colonies on Corsica and elsewhere in the Mediterranean, with some eventually returning to Phocaea. Many however became the founders of Elea, around 540 BC.

In 500 BC, Phocaea joined the Ionian Revolt against Persia. Indicative of its naval prowess, Dionysis, a Phocaean was chosen to command the Ionian fleet at the decisive Battle of Lade, in 494 BC. However, indicative of its declining fortunes, Phocaea was only able to contribute three ships (out of a total of "three hundred and fifty three". The Ionian fleet was defeated and the revolt ended shortly thereafter.

After the defeat of Xerxes I by the Greeks in 480 BC and the subsequent rise of Athenian power, Phocaea joined the Delian League, paying tribute to Athens of two talents. In 412 BC, during the Peloponnesian War, with the help of Sparta, Phocaea rebelled along with the rest of Ionia.

During the Hellenistic period it fell under Seleucid, then Attalid rule.


Following the Lydians, the Phocaeans were among the first in the world to make and use coins as money. Its coins were made of electrum an alloy of silver and gold. The British Museum has a Phocaean coin containing the image of a seal ("phoca" means "seal" in Greek) dating from 600550 BC.


  • Herodotus, The Persian Wars, Translated by A. D. Godley, (Loeb Classical Library, Nos. 117-120), Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Press (1920) ISBN 0674991303 ISBN 0674991311 ISBN 0674991338 ISBN 0674991346 
  • Pausanias, Description of Greece, Books I-II, translated by Horace Leonard Jones; Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press; London, William Heinemann Ltd. (1918) ISBN 0674991044. 
  • Pliny the Elder, The Natural History (Eds. John Bostock, M.D., F.R.S. H.T. Riley, Esq., B.A.) London. Taylor and Francis, Red Lion Court, Fleet Street. (1855)  
  • Stillwell, Richard, The Princeton Encyclopedia of Classical Sites, (Editors: Richard Stillwell, William L. MacDonald and Marian Holland McAllister) (1976) ISBN 0691035423