Theirs was a tranquil land. They engaged in no great battles that changed the course of history, boasted of no marvelous achievements, nor put up heroic stands against conquering armies that became the stuff of legend. Instead, they busied themselves in their fields and produced olive oil. Compared to their neighbors, the enterprising Ionians, they led unassuming lives, but no one could surpass their goat hair fabrics, or their poet Sappho of Lesbos (7th – 6th century BC) who wrote, ‘For you, I will bring a white goat to the altar.’ About 500 years later the celebrated historian and geographer Strabo declared in his Geographika, ‘I know of no other woman who could even pretend to rival Sappho as a poet.’ And other enchanting voice echoed from this quiet country: Pittakos, one of the seven wise men of ancient times, the poet Alkaios, Terpandros, creator of the septonic scale, Arkesilaos of Pitane (the modern Candarli) who became head of Plato’s Academy in Athens, Hesiod of Kyme (the modern Aliaga) whose Theogonia (The Creation) is one of the masterpieces of ancient literature, and Homer, the greatest poet of all time. All once breathed the air of the country known as Aeolis. They were descendants of the Aeolians, the first tribe to migrate from mainland Greece to the western shores of Asia Minor. Their ancestors from Thessaly and Boeotia crossed the Aegean Sea in ships approximately 3100 years ago, establishing colonies all along the coast from the Gulf of Edremit to Izmir, and on the Aegean islands. They were the vanguards of Hellenic civilization, which would begin to shine out in the 9th and 8th centuries BC. The Aeolians attributed their legendary origin to Agamemnon, king of kings and commander of the Greek forces in the Trojan wars, and a connection with the Amazons was asserted by some. But the most important legend was that explaining the origin of the word Aegean, which derives from the ancient Greek words Aegaios and Aega meaning goat. Myth relates that Aegeus, king of the Athens, sent his son Theseus as a sacrifice to the Minotaur, a monster half bull and half human, which lived in a labyrinth in Crete. If his son came alive out of the labyrinth his ship was to hoist a white sail. With the help of the king of Crete’s daughter, Theseus slaughtered the Minotaur, so putting an end to the annual human sacrifice which the monster demanded. But upon his return, he forgot to raise the white sail, and his father Aegeus threw himself into the sea in grief, supposing his son dead. From that time on the sea became known after him as Aegaios Pontus. This legend spread far and wide, crossing the Aegean Sea to a city on the slopes of Yunt Dagi, a mountain between Candarli and Manisa. Its name was Aegai, that is ‘the people of the goats’. One of the oldest of the Greek settlements in Anatolia, the site of this Aeolian settlement is known today as Nemrud Kalesi and lies close to the village of Koseler. The ruins of Aegai, amidst terebinth and oak trees, are still able to impress us with the former magnificence of this ancient city. Despite their great age, the high city walls with their finely crafted masonry are in a remarkable state of preservation. These alone make Aegai one of the most important ancient sites in Turkey. The sections dating from different periods carry us on a journey through time.
The earliest sections dating from the archaic period (7th and 6th centuries BC), remains of which are extremely rare, provide the best evidence of the city’s great age. Other sections date from the Hellenistic period, and the latest from the Roman period. The 80-meter long three-storey agora building, with its walls still rising to over 10 meters in height, is an astonishing sight, contrasting as it does with the tumbled ruins around it. The ground storey of this building opens onto the street, and the top second storey onto the agora. Here you can see a rare fragment of a mushroom-shaped column capital of the type unique to Aeolian architecture. On the upper terrace of the theatre are two temples thought to have been dedicated to Zeus and his warrior daughter Athena. A third small temple at the western end of the Acropolis was dedicated to Demeter, goddess of fertility, and her daughter Kore. Below, in the Kocacay Valley, you come across another temple, that of Apollo, to whom despairing kings, nobles, peasants, and slaves applied for knowledge of their future fate. The Aegaeians lived a peaceful, untroubled life, at a safe distance from the Persians whom they regarded as barbarians and who ruled much of the region between the 6th and 4th centuries BC. They never joined forces with Lydia, which threatened the Greek colonies and held them to tribute or became members of the Maritime League of Delos, originally established in opposition to the Persians, and which subsequently became a powerful political force and trade monopoly. Instead of sinking into obscurity like most Aeolian cities, Aegai enjoyed a new period of renown after becoming part of the Kingdom of Pergamum in 218 BC, in the wake of Alexander the Great’s conquests. The Aegaians quietly submitted to whatever power happened to be enjoying supremacy at the time, and with the stubborn determination of goats succeeded in preserving their identity for longer than any of the other twelve major cities of the Aeolian League.