See the great Loryma Fortress overlooking the 13 mile wide Rhodian Straits

catapault

Heavy artillery catapault of the type probably mounted by Demetrius on his mighty siege engines used in his attack on Rhodes, which is thought to have been launched from Loryma Sound.

Loryma Sound is a large inlet of water between two steep hills, with mountains at the end.

A magnificent natural harbour in a beautiful setting, it can only be reached by a gulet cruise as there are no access roads, and is hard to sail into because of the angle of the prevailing wind.

Consequently it was easy to defend, and was much used in ancient times by merchant ships and triremes, and probably by Alexander, Caesar, Pompey and Cassius (one of the assassins of Julius Caesar) who attacked Rhodes.

The island of Rhodes, which can easily be seen across the 13 mile Straits, provides a virtual gateway into the Aegean Sea from the Mediterranean.  In Hellenistic and Roman times Rhodes’s prowess as a naval power gave it the wide independence to control taxes and trade in all the major Mediterranean shipping routes from Egypt, Cyprus and Phoenicia to the Aegean and the Black Sea as well as Italy and North Africa.

It was particularly well placed to act as an entrepot for shipping grain and wine. Rhodes tended to side with Egypt in the wars of succession after Alexander, when Ptolemy was put in charge of Egypt, the main producer of the grain required by the Roman Empire. This meant that Antigonus, one of Alexander’s generals, and his son Demetrius were natural enemies of Rhodes.

In 306BC, Demetrius gathered a huge invasion fleet, very probably at Loryma Sound, together with some of his 120ft high siege towers (helepolis). Demetrius was known as ‘Poliorcetes’ (‘the besieger’) and he would have had to cross the Straits to attack Rhodes. Surprisingly he failed and had to leave his towers behind at Rhodes and these were salvaged by the Rhodians to help build the famous Colossus of Rhodes, one of the Seven Wonders of the World, which fell down in the earthquake of 227 BC.

The shock of this invasion probably caused the Rhodians to build the enormous and costly Loryma Fortress on the hill overlooking the Sound to prevent further enemies using this magnificent harbour to assemble another invasion fleet.  While Rhodes always tried to be independent but sometimes an ally for Sparta, it was often an enemy of Rome but sometimes acted as a client when Rome needed the support of Rhodes’s naval power.

When you are there, do climb the hill to inspect the magnificent walls of huge Hellenistic masonry to see the nine self-contained bastions for catapult artillery – probably, to judge by the limited width of the bastions, large arrow-firers – and the two round signal towers one at each end of the fortress. From here it was possible to signal, with fire, to Rhodes and to the commander’s castle.  The views are well worth the climb.

Subsequently Rhodes controlled the whole area of this wonderful limestone country, known as the Rhodian Peraea including the lost city of Phoenix.  On the top of the tall hill at the end of the Sound it is possible to see from the fortress the castle of the commander-in-chief who had an excellent 340 degree view of the surrounding sea and the peninsula.

Refs:

Plutarch, ‘The Age of Alexander’, Penguin Classics. (Chapter 8, Demetrius).
Duncan Campbell, ‘Greek and Romans Artillery 399BC – 363 AD’, Osprey Publishing.

Posted by Dargan Bullivant, Partner, Odysseus Cruising

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