Territorial, political and architectural organisation of koina during the Hellenistic period in Southern Illyria. The example of Byllis
The thesis project is an attempt to examine the main features of urbanisations’ process in the ancient region of Southern Illyria between 5th-1st centuries BC, based upon the example of the city of Byllis (in present Albania). The city held control over the southern boundary of Illyria, where cultural exchanges with Epirus, Macedonia and Greek civilisation, contributed to an early and complex development of a social and urban structure.
Byllis was built ex novo on a hill 524m over the sea level, with a dominant view over the south-eastern Adriatic coast and the hinterland, which was the richest Illyrian region on urban settlements.
Due to seven decades of excavations in the region Byllis represents the clearest model of organization which was best materialized in the principal urban centres such as the Greek colonies of Apollonia and Oricum, or Illyrian towns of Amantia, Dimale, Klos, Margëlliç and Mashkjeza, where the first archaic and proto-urban settlements are observed.
Archaeological excavations lead in the site since the 70’s have brought to light a large number of inscriptions, local coins and other objects that give ample information about the political and social organization of a community attested under the name of Bylliones and at a later stage as Koinon of Bylliones. The community makes its first appearance ca. 360-340 BC on a lead oracular lamella set down at the Sanctuary of Zeus in Dodona, asking to which god to sacrifice in order to have maximal success with their collective possessions. The foundation of Byllis is set around this time and probably the tribal community was renamed after the town became their principal political centre. The planning of a new and larger town that reached at its fullest stage 30ha requested the crucial role of the nearby city of Klos (Nikaia?) built in the 5th century BC.
The rampart extended over 2250m and was provided with five towers and six gates in order to facilitate the circulation of the habitants and visitors toward the residential area or the agora. It has been constructed with ashlar limestone in isodomic technique, measuring 3,50m large and with a maximal height that reached 9m in the exterior side. The beginning of the construction is set around the middle of 4th century BC, according to the oracular lamella found in Dodona and to the construction techniques. Latter in 2nd century BC, the rampart was provided with a fortified triangular courtyard at the northern slope, where the access was easier for chariots. An inscription reemployed on the exterior side of the wall after a reconstruction attests that it was built with the spoils taken to the enemy.
The inner plan was organised on an orthogonal grid, divided in three areas: the agora in south-west, the residential area extended in the west and east sides, and the euchorion in the south-east. The agora is located on one of the highest levels of the hill and divided by the residential area by the intermediary of a wall (diatechisma). After the middle of 3rd century BC it was provided with public buildings for the habitants of Byllis and territory. The main buildings are the theatre with a capacity of 7500 spectators, a great building nearby partly excavated that might have served to host visitors (katagogeion), the stadium, two stoas of Doric-Ionic order, prytaneum, gymnasium, a great cistern, an arsenal and other uncovered structures on the western terrace.
The subject is concerned with three main aspects:
The emergence of urban settlements which seems aligned to the integration of the Illyrian regions in economic and social processes of the Mediterranean world, similarly to Epirus and Macedonia. The strongest urban influence in the region around Byllis was exercised initially by Corinth that founded colonies on the Adriatic coast at the end of 8th century BC, and later by Athens and the towns of Magna Grecia. This was a pre-colonial period of Illyrian-Greek exchanges, followed by the development of local proto-urban centres during 7th-5th centuries in the hinterland of the colonies of Apollonia and Epidamnos. In this area which includes the South Illyrian coastal plain and its hinterland, emerges a first phase of urban centres during 5th century BC in Amantia, Klos, Dorzi, etc. Nevertheless, these cities have been so far identified only on the basis of their fortification features, while a clear definition of the emergence of urban settlements in Southern Illyria is still incomplete.
The city as a political structure from its early involvement in the territorial struggles of the Illyrian state during 5th century BC with Macedonia and in the conflict the Peloponnesian War. The emergence of well articulated koina during 4th-3rd centuries appoints certain South Illyrian towns as the principal political factor. Byllis represents a recognized example among these principal centres, based on the considerable public monuments, inscriptions and coins related to the whole territory, officially referred as the Koinon Byllionon. These koina are federal states constituted by urban centres, boundary fortifications and rural settlements liable to political and territorial transformation during political events. Besides, an interesting point is the coexistence between the republican system of the koina and the monarchic superstructure of the Illyrian state.
The city from the architectural point of view according to the model of Byllis, from the construction of the fortification in the middle of 4th century to the accomplishment of the orthogonal systems in the middle of the 3rd century. The structure of the differentiated agora is the clearest feature of organisation of urban planning in Byllis, as well as in other Illyrian cities. The town planning of Byllis, the fortification and public architecture reveal similarities also with Epirus and Acarnania, which extend also to the political organization based on koina. Meanwhile the rectangular plan of the agora resembles those in Magna Grecia.