First city in Europe

View of the excavations of the ancient city of Poliochni

Ancient civilization. In our cycle of acquaintance with ancient culture, several materials have already appeared: “Croatian Apoxyomenus from under the water. Ancient Civilization “,” Homer’s Poems as a Historical Source. Ancient civilization ”,“ Gold for war, the fourth wonder of the world and Ephesian marble ”and“ Ancient ceramics and weapons ”, and now also“ Minoan Pompeii: a mysterious city on a mysterious island ”. But have we told about everything that preceded the formation of ancient civilization? Far from it, so much is buried there in the past! And if in the previous article we were talking about “Minoan Pompeii”, then today our story will be devoted to an equally interesting topic: the very first city (or urban-type settlement, to be more precise) in Europe! And what is this city, you ask? Rome? No-no! “Gold-rich Mycenae” or Orchomenes? Also not … Choirokitia on the island of Cyprus? Already “hot”, but still wrong!

Today we go there!


One of the earliest urban-type settlements in Europe (and the Greeks generally consider it to be the first, while in Asia there is Chaionu, Chatal Huyuk, and Jericho) is a city on the island of Lemnos in the Aegean Sea. This city was founded much earlier than the legendary Troy, and it is called Poliochni – after the hill of the same name, located next to the excavations.

Looking at the map of the island, we will see that its outlines are very whimsical, and the many bays and coves sheltered from the wind make it downright a real hotel for sailors. And people appreciated this feature already in the distant past.

Island map. Needless to say, nature has already tried so hard over him that it is hardly possible to come up with something more whimsical …


It all began with the fact that in 1923 the Italian archaeologist Alessandro Della Seta decided to search on the island for the remains of the culture of one of the peoples of the sea – the Tyrrhenians or Pelasgians, who, according to Herodotus, lived on Lemnos until 500 BC. AD it was not captured by the Athenians. Digging began in August 1925, but the most interesting discoveries were made in 1934, when the remains of the fortress walls and a place for public meetings (“bouleuterii”) were found here, and then, already in 1956, a treasure of gold items was found here. very similar to “Priam’s treasure”.

A mountain rises above Mirina, the capital of the island, and a fortress on the mountain. The bottom is beautiful, but there is nothing inside. One dry herb


In 1964, the Mirina Museum was opened in Mirina, the main city of the island, where finds from Poliochnia were exhibited. It is interesting that archaeologists marked different periods in the development of this city on their plans with flowers, and since then these “colored names” have been fixed behind them: Red, Black, Yellow, Green, Blue …

There is a fort below … But there is nothing interesting in it either. In general, this island is such a quiet, sleepy place that it is difficult to imagine those who come there to rest. Well, at least a little “life” and civilization in the worst sense of the word …


It was possible to find out that the first settlers arrived here and on the neighboring islands of the Aegean Sea in the 4th millennium BC. The buildings were completely urban in nature: walls that protected the settlement from enemies, public wells, paved streets, sewers, gravel roads leading out of the city, that is, everything that distinguishes an urban-type settlement from a rural one. And, of course, there are traces of the division of labor: the workshops of potters, blacksmiths, spinners, tanners. A lot of metal objects were found made of copper, bronze, gold, silver and even lead, from which they made clips (!) For broken ceramic vessels.

This is the excavations of Poliochnia … Everything is like we have in Gorgippi in Anapa or in Hermonassa in Taman. By the way, you don’t need to go far …


When in 1953 a jug with several dozen gold objects was found under the floor of one of the dwellings, their resemblance to the items from the Priam’s Treasure was so obvious that one might think that they came from the same workshop. The chain earrings with idol figurines at the ends looked especially impressive. Obviously, there was one culture in this area, within which craftsmen worked and created similar products. And since the island of Lemnos was located directly opposite the entrance to the Dardanelles, it was through it that Greece traded with the Asia Minor coast of the Black Sea and ancient Colchis, as well as the western coast of Asia Minor. And in the same Troy from Greece the best way was through Lemnos!

Treasures from Poliochnia, approx. 2400-2000 BC. National Archaeological Museum, Athens


It turns out that Lemnos was, as it were, a transit point between the world of Asia, where the urban revolution had already taken place, and Europe, where there were no proto-cities yet. So it would not be an exaggeration to consider Poliochni to be the earliest known European city. And in addition, it was a large metalworking center.

Model of the city excavation. Mirina Museum, Lemnos


By the way, the very structure of the city was somewhat reminiscent of the already known cities of the East. First of all, there is a very close building of houses, often with common walls. Although according to a single plan, which indicates a high social organization and a clear plan for the work. Dwellings differ in size, but all have a small open courtyard around which all other premises, both residential and utility ones, are grouped. The houses of Poliochni had sewerage and drainage systems, and in the city itself, wells up to nine meters deep, lined with stone, and water cisterns were arranged.

This is a golden hairpin with birds from the same hoard and is also on display in a museum in Athens. No wonder it is said: “Greece has everything!”


The most ancient period in the history of the city – Black, “pre-urban”, 3700-3200. BC. This was followed by the Blue Period of the “first city” with rectangular houses – 3200-2700. BC. Green period – 2700-2400 BC, then Red, 2400-2200 BC. and Yellow – 2200-2100. BC. But, as a result, excavations have revealed seven cultural layers, successively located one above the other settlements belonging to the Neolithic and Early Bronze Age. In terms of the occupied area, the city was almost twice the area of ​​Troy II and during the Red period occupied an area of ​​about 13,900 square meters m. The population of the city could consist of 1300-1400 inhabitants. At the same time, it was all surrounded by a wall, which indicates that there was no peace in this region at that time and its inhabitants were constantly threatened with attacks from the sea.

Absolutely cute ceramic pig of the 3rd millennium BC. from Poliochnia. National Archaeological Museum, Athens


As noted above, each of the architectural stages of Poliochnia was marked by archaeologists in a different color. During the Neolithic period (Black period, 3700-3200 BC) it was a small village of oval huts, occupying the very center of the hill. In the Early Bronze Age (periods from Blue to Yellow), the settlement was most developed. Moreover, the settlement of the Blue Period was probably founded even before Troy I, and covered the entire cape. The population numbered approximately 800 to 1000 people. The village continued to grow during the Green Period, when its population reached almost 1,500. However, in the subsequent Red Period (2400-2200 BC), the population declined and the city was completely abandoned in the Yellow Period (2200-2100 BC), after a devastating earthquake that struck the region at the end third millennium.

At one time I found this pig on the site of the Athens Museum of Archeology, and it was in the year of the pig. I looked at it, took four balloons, covered them with wet toilet paper, then put a couple more layers on PVA glue, and made all the other parts from paper bags. The dried pigs were covered with something modern for decorating the walls “under ceramics”, and four “ceramic” and even “antique” pigs came out, inside which were put gifts for his wife, daughter and granddaughter. They really liked it. Here it is – a direct benefit from the ancient artifacts of the Bronze Age!


Strong fortifications, public buildings, squares, paved roads with sewers, wells, mansions and small stone houses – all this is Poliochni, and the early Bronze Age. This is what is amazing. The emergence of new forms is well traced in pottery: its own painting for the Sulfur period, characteristic pots of the Blue period and cups of the Yellow period, which are also found in the later layers of Troy II. The people of Poliochni were engaged in agriculture, fishing, textile production, and the manufacture of stone tools and weapons. There are indications of metalworking and the use of lost shape casting techniques as early as the Green Period, as well as increased commercial activity during the Red Period. Life in Poliochni resumed during the Gray and Violet periods, but the resources of those surrounding it were clearly limited, and the hill was abandoned by the end of the Late Bronze Age and right up to the Middle Ages.

Trojan pottery. They also find her on Lemnos. So … there were contacts between Lemnos and Troy! National Museum of Archeology, Athens


On the other hand, its inhabitants were not only afraid of the newcomers, but also actively traded with them, as evidenced by the abundance of imported ceramics at the level of the Blue Period. Pottery is clearly from mainland Greece, which means that the islanders traded with it and exported something there, and, accordingly, imported something. If traces of intensive metalworking were found on the island, then where did the inhabitants of the city get the metal from? They could receive gold from Colchis, but copper – only from Cyprus, which means that they maintained trade relations with this rather remote island. They had to buy tin for the production of bronze from the Phoenicians, since only they knew the way to the “Tin Islands” at that time.

The city, however, did not grow, but gradually shrank in size. Why? Maybe the inhabitants of the island cut down all the trees and burned them on coal to melt the metal, like the ancient Cypriots, who staged an ecological disaster on their island? It is not known exactly! But the fact that the area of ​​the city by 2100 has significantly decreased is a proven fact. Well, about this year Poliochni was completely empty. An earthquake may have been the cause, as archaeologists found two human skeletons under the ruins of a large building (maybe a temple). But this is all that remains to us of its many inhabitants. Apparently, after that they left this place and settled somewhere else. Maybe first on the neighboring islands. In general, what exactly happened then, today we can only guess. But the remains of the ancient city and the artifacts found in it unequivocally say that once upon a time at the very dawn of civilization, in general, quite civilized people lived here!

Tools and weapons from the Poliochnia excavations. Everything is ancient, bronze and very characteristic. Typical of the time and place, one might say! National Museum of Archeology, Athens


Interestingly, during 1994-1997, joint excavations of the Greek Archaeological Service and the Academy of Athens, led by Christos Bulotis, revealed another Bronze Age settlement on the tiny uninhabited island of Kukkonisi, in the harbor of Mudros, west of Poliochni, dating back to the Red Period. … And there is a lot of Mycenaean ceramics, which suggests that the Greeks could have lived on Kukkonisi already in the era of the Trojan War, that they could have a permanent settlement here and that they clearly understood the importance of the straits connecting the Aegean and Black Sea.

Recent excavations at Mirin on the southwestern coast of the island, at Ephorat, have revealed two more settlements; found settlements in Vriokastro, Trohalia, Kastelli and Axia, but they were much less significant.

Chronology of the main stages of the settlement of Poliochni:

4500 BC – 3200/3100 BC
3200/3100 BC – 2100/2000 BC
2100/2000 BC – 1700/1600 BC
1700/1600 BC – 1200 BC

It was a long time ago – it only remains to say!

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