Skip to main content
SearchLoginLogin or Signup

Chapter 5: Greek Cities of the Fourth Century B.C. and in the Hellenistic Era

Published onApr 22, 2021
Chapter 5: Greek Cities of the Fourth Century B.C. and in the Hellenistic Era


The use of the grid plan, with emphasis of the per strigas subdivision, continues after the fifth century B.C. The blocks of Cnidus,1 dating perhaps from the fourth century B.C., measure the same as those of Miletus, calculated at 29.50 by 51.60 meters.


Priene,2 founded during the second half of the fourth century, has blocks that are more nearly square (35.40 by 47.20 meters or 120 by 160 ft, a ratio of 3:4). The major axes run east-west.


In a regularly patterned sector of Palairos3 dating from the fourth century one finds rectangular blocks with sides in a ratio of 1:2, contained between two wide decumani oriented almost exactly east-west, with a series of narrow transverse streets.


Kos,4 except for the western sector, is regularly patterned and uniformly subdivided. The center of the city is divided by a decumanus 10.50 meters wide, running perfectly east-west. A pattern of cardines can be reconstructed from the excavations or from the surviving topography. To the north, in particular, rectangular blocks averaging 100 feet across (25, 31, 35 m) have been excavated, with the long axis running north-south. They are over 52 meters long. The streets measure 4.20, 4.20, 3.40, 8.80, and 3.00 meters in width. We thus have a major cardine and four minor ones, or rather a πλατεῖα and four στενωποί, as at Pompeii and supposedly at Thurii. The master plan of Kos, according to Morricone, dates from 366 B.C.


Magnesia on the Maeander River5 (fourth century B.C.) is patterned on blocks of 42.40 by 98.50 meters, a ratio of 4:9, with streets 5 meters wide.


Soluntum (Fig. 27) is among the better known and more diversely interpreted examples of uniform planning. The city is usually assigned to the Roman era (Cultrera et al.). More precisely, Ferri6 proposes a date between the end of the second century and the beginning of the first century B.C., based on information from archeological findings. Cavallari and Pace observe that the present layout probably follows the plan of the ancient city, since no differing orientation from an earlier time has been found.7 Especially because of their common Punic origin, Soluntum and Selinus have been considered to be of a single type, while the Carthaginians are often thought to be the bridge carrying over the uniform planning of the East. Because of this, the plan of Soluntum takes on a particular interest, but there is really no reason to consider it apart from the other regular-plan cities of the Greek world. Here too there is a basic longitudinal axis about 8 meters wide, and rectangular blocks approximately 32 meters wide are marked by the usual series of cardines. As at Olynthus, the blocks are bisected lengthwise by an ambitus (0.80 to 1.00 m across) which carries a drainage canal.8 Instead of being Phoenician or Roman in origin, Soluntum probably should be considered as part of the Greek world, at least until new excavations bring greater certainty.9

Figure 27 Solunto (Cavallari).

Figure 28 Numantia (Schulten).

Figure 29 Tripoli (Aurigemma).


The same form, a major decumanus intersected by a series of cardines, is followed in the layout of Tindari.10 The original plan dates back to the fourth and third centuries B.C.


The city recently excavated on the island of Lipari is from the Hellenistic period.11 It is patterned on a grid of cardines about 30 meters apart.


This scheme is found in Spain and Sardinia as well. The hypothetical plan, based on the present layout, shows Olbia (Sardinia),12 dating to the Punic period of the fourth century, to have developed along three strips of rectangular blocks, much elongated, separated by two roads.


Numantia, first thought to be a Roman city and later ascertained to be of Iberic origin, has rectangular blocks 23 meters (80 feet) wide whose length is between 2½ and 4 times the width (Fig. 28). Schulten13 thinks it was built no earlier than 400 B.C. He notes that other Iberian cities, such as Vega de Arienzo and Citania de Briteiros in Portugal follow similar plans.


Two large parallel decumani 300 meters apart14 are still apparent in present-day Oea (Tripoli).15 Though Oea is thought to date from the fourth or third century, the exact date of its founding is unknown (Fig. 29).


The same scheme is continued throughout the Hellenistic era. The character and extent of the plan of Alexandria16 are in doubt, though the city was probably patterned along three major longitudinal axes parallel to the coast. The land parcels thus created were in turn subdivided into rectangular blocks by perpendicular streets. Some of the streets are very close together, thus creating much-elongated blocks.


The twelfth-dynasty Egyptian city of Tebtunis (Fig. 30) was reconstructed in 300 B.C., with rectangular blocks on a north–south axis, with also a major east-west street.17 The irregularity of several of the central sections is due to the merging of the new plan with the old, as at Pompeii.


Smyrna, in the new plan attributed to Antigonus and later to Lysimachus, was laid out on an orthogonal grid (Strabo, XIV, 646: Ἔστι δ’ ἡ ῥυμοτομία διάφορος ἐπ’ εὐθειῶν εἰς δύναμιν (The division into streets is excellent, in straight lines as far as possible), taking διάφορος to mean “excellent” and not “different”).18


It is hard to know whether Thessalonica should be included in this category. As shown by Tafrali’s reconstruction,19 the Byzantine city is divided into three wide sectors by two roads, Via Egnazia and Via S. Demetrius (420 meters or 12 actus apart). In the present city there are several streets at right angles to these. It cannot be ascertained whether the subdivision was per strigas or based upon square plots, nor whether the Byzantine city dates back to the original plan of the city’s foundation in 316 or 315 b.c.20


In this context of uniform grid plans, Nicaea is an exception, this city is divided in the middle by two central axes, decumanus and cardine, and thus is more Roman than Greek. (The first recorded example is Ostia.) First erected by Antigonus in 316 B.C. and later refounded by Lysimachus, Nicaea of Bithynia is described by Strabo XII, 565: Ἔστι δὲ τῆς πόλεως ἑκκαιδεκαστάδιος ό περίβολος ἐν τετραγώνῳ σχήματι· ἔστι δὲ καὶ τετράπυλος ἐν πεδίῳ κείμενος ἐρρυμοτομημένος πρὸς ὀρθὰς γωνίας, ὥστ’ ἀφ’ ἑνὸς λíθου κατὰ μέσον ἱδρυμένου τὸ γυμνάσιον τὰς τέτταρας ὁρᾶσθαι πύλας. (The city is sixteen stadia in circuit and quadrangular in shape; it is situated in a plain, and has four gates; and its streets are cut at right angles, so that the four gates can be seen from one stone which is set up in the middle of the gymnasium.)

Figure 30 Tebtunis (Anti).

From this passage the following characteristics emerge: a square perimeter, four gates, rectilinear streets and visibility of these gates from one point (either inside or outside the gymnasium).21 Thus there must have been a central intersection of the two major axes. To exclude the influence of a Roman plan, as von Gerkan has done, appears too labored.22 However, as Fabricius23 has noted, some doubt remains whether Strabo saw the original plan or only a later reconstruction of the city under Roman influence.


At Hieropolis of Phrygia24 (second century B.C.) the blocks measure 44 by 59 meters (150 by 200 feet), a ratio of 3:4.

Syrian Cities

The regular plan was employed in the layout of the new Seleucid towns of Syria,25 as Sauvaget has shown through various reconstructions of the ancient plans as traced in the modern cities. The probability that these plans belong to the original foundation of the cities and not to the later Roman rebuilding is borne out by the fact that the Seleucid cities are not only similar among themselves but also similar to other Hellenistic cities. The plan of Dura Europos (Fig. 31), from the first Seleucid period, is known through its ruins. Antioch on the Orontes (Fig. 32), Seleucia of Priene, Apamea on the Orontes, and Laodicea on the sea (Fig. 33) were founded by Seleucos I (312–281 B.C.). The enlargement of Aleppo (Beroea) dates from the same period (Fig. 34). Damascus (Fig. 35) was probably rebuilt in the third century B.C.

Figure 31 Dura Europos (Excavations at Dura Europos).

Figure 32 Antioch.

Figure 33 Laodicea on the Sea.

These cities are marked by a central decumanus (that in Dura Europos is 12.67 meters wide)26 or by several parallel decumani (two in Damascus, three in Laodicea) running east–west27 (Laodicea, Aleppo) or nearly so (Damascus, Dura Europos. Antioch is an exception). These roads are cut by cardines, some of which may be wider than others. The short side of the blocks faces the arteries. Roughly equal dimensions occur in all the cities: 58 by 112 meters (almost 200 by 400 feet) at Laodicea and Antioch, about 45 by 119 meters (150 by 400 feet) at Aleppo, 45 by 100 meters at Damascus, and 35.20 by 70.40 meters (120 by 240 feet)28 at Dura Europos.29

H. Lacoste in a personal communication writes that Apamea is patterned on three east-west decumani 1500 feet apart. Between these and parallel to them run three minor decumani. A major cardine 72 feet wide divides the city in a north-south direction, 180 by 360 feet, with their long axes almost invariably perpendicular to the decumanus.

Figure 34 Beroea.

Gerasa30 follows the typical layout, however: two decumani cut by one cardine. Although it was founded in the first half of the second century, we do not know whether the present plan dates from that time.

One of the last echoes of the city patterned per strigas is Taxila (Fig. 36),31 founded by the Bactrian Greeks in the early years of the second century B.C. between the Indus and the Jhelum rivers.

Figure 35 Damascus (Sauvaget).

Figure 36 Taxila (Marshall).


No comments here
Why not start the discussion?