1700-Year-Old Trident Found in Assos Reveals A Maritime Legacy
In the ancient Greek city of Assos, located in modern-day northwestern Turkey, archaeologists have unearthed a 1,700-year-old iron trident. This 3rd or 4th century relic from the ancient Aegean coastal resort town was found while excavating the Nymphaion, an ‘ornate fountain’ from the ancient city’s eastern center. The trident was discovered amidst the debris of the Nymphaion's collapsed vault, and its size and distinctive shape identified it as the functional tip of a handheld fishing harpoon.
Archaeological excavations in the ancient city are being conducted by a team led by Nurettin Arslan, a professor specializing in humanities and social sciences at Canakkale Onsekiz Mart University. This venture is receiving support from both the Culture and Tourism Ministry and the Turkish Historical Society to facilitate the excavation work.
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Ironing out the Details
“This is the first time we find such materials in Assos, because tools made of iron are the materials decaying most rapidly in ancient cities. Although we know that such tools were widely used in ancient times, we can say that it is an important work since the examples that have survived so far are very rare. As far as we know, it is said or we see in descriptions that such tools were used in ancient times to catch big fish at sea in small boats by lighting them with a torch at night,” explained Arslan to Anadolu Agency.
As of now, Arslan is cautious about determining the place of production of the iron used in the trident. By this point in history, iron was widely available across geographical zones. It is therefore equally possible that it was locally sourced iron or iron slagging, and forging had been carried out elsewhere, reports The Heritage Daily. For now, the artifact has undergone a preservation process, involving the removal of soil and oxidized sections. Subsequently, protective materials will be applied to prevent further oxidation of the iron.
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The Temple of Athena, Assos. (Carl Cambell/CC BY 2.0 DEED)
Assos and the Trident: A Storied History
Situated in the Ayvacik district of Canakkale, Assos, also known as Behramkale, illuminates history through its ancient ruins above ground and the Roman and Byzantine-era artifacts unearthed during excavations. Dating back to the 8th century BC, Assos was originally settled by Greeks from the island of Lesbos, and it played a significant role in antiquity.
Assos thrived due to its strategic location, serving as the sole deep natural harbor for 50 miles (80.46 km) along the Biga Peninsula. This unique feature made it an immensely coveted prize for various ancient powers and local rulers over the centuries. The Lydian Kingdom, the Persian Empire, the Athenian Confederacy, and intriguing figures like the former slave turned philosopher-king Hermias, all sought to control this valuable city, reports The History Blog.
In 334 BC, Alexander claimed Assos as part of his conquests, and in 133 BC, it came under Roman rule. Throughout these transitions, the harbor remained a vital hub, retaining its significance during the Byzantine and Ottoman eras. Only in the 18th century did it gradually fall into disuse, marking the end of its long and storied maritime history.
The city was home to prominent philosophers, including Aristotle, who taught and lived there. Its archaeological site boasts remarkably well-preserved ruins, such as the Temple of Athena, an ancient city wall, a theater, an agora, and a necropolis.
Tridents served various purposes, including spearfishing, and have a rich historical legacy as polearms. In classical mythology, the trident is closely linked with Poseidon in Greek mythology and Neptune in Roman mythology, symbolizing their mastery over the sea. In Greek mythology, Poseidon was the god of the sea, earthquakes, and horses. The trident was his divine weapon and symbol of authority. It represented his dominion over the seas and his ability to control and create storms and earthquakes. Neptune was the Roman parallel of this.
The trident's symbolism extended to Greco-Roman maritime culture and was a common motif on coins, ships, and naval insignia. Its significance thus was a protective and guiding force on the seas, at a time when the sea and the oceans were relatively uncharted, and the fear of the unknown was greater.
Top image: Trident found in Assos, Turkey. Source: Çiğdem Münibe Alyanak/Anadolu Agency
By Sahir Pandey
Kayra, O. 2023. A 1,700-year-old trident discovered in Assos ancient city in Türkiye. Available at: https://arkeonews.net/a-1700-year-old-trident-discovered-in-assos-ancient-city-in-turkiye/.
Milligan, M. 2023. Archaeologists find 1700-year-old trident. Available at: https://www.heritagedaily.com/2023/10/archaeologists-find-1700-year-old-trident/148826.