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A short visit to the ancient Priapos.

We visited the ruins of the ancient Priapos in the southern coast of Marmara sea in December 2015. It was a very brief visit, almost fleeting, since the evening was about to become night. However the place attracted our attention so we wanted to know more about it. This is the result of our modest visit and subsequent investigation.

Priapos, Karabiga

Photo 1.- The beautiful bay of Karabiga, seen from the vicinity of the ancient city of Priapos, in the light of the sunset. Photo courtesy of El Prisma de Lara.

Priapos ancient site is located next to the small Turkish town of Karabiga, inside a wide bay with beautiful views (photo 1). The last rays of sun are perching on the rickety walls when we finally reach them, dyeing them with an intense orange hue. These walls belong to an urban city wall flanked by square towers which, although nowadays is very badly damaged, once had to be really powerful judging by the great size of the towers (photo 2) and the enormous thickness of the masonry works (photos 3 and 4). We cross a part of the perimeter of the city wall, which is closest to us. We know that there are remains of housing structures inside the site but the night is falling on us and no longer gives more time. It has been a lightning visit but very interesting. It's time to find out a bit about the history of this ancient city.

Priapos - Ruis of a tower belonging to the Late-Byzantine wall of Pegai

Photo 2.- Ruins of a tower belonging to the Late-Byzantine wall of Pegai / Priapos.

The city of Priapos was founded on the southern shore of the Sea of Marmara, the ancient Propontis of the classic texts, at the end of the fourth century BC. by settlers of Cyzicus or Miletus. Its name comes directly from the god Priapus, protector of the fertility, the crops and the animals, whose cult began at a remote time in this area of the Hellespont, extending later to all the Hellenic east. Alexander the Great defeated the Persian army for the first time very close to this city of Priapos, in the banks of the Granicus river (May, 334 BC). Once the outcome of the battle was known, Priapos immediately opened the doors to the macedonian conqueror without opposing the least resistance.

Late-Byzantine city wall fragment in good condition.

Photo 3.- Late-Byzantine city wall fragment in good condition.

Priapos struck abundant bronze coin during the 3rd century BC, with Apollo on the obverse and marine crustaceans on the reverse such as crabs and lobsters: a clear indication of its fishing vocation. In the following figure we can see two exemplars of these coinage:

Bronzes of small size minted in Priapos in 3rd century BC.

Figure 1.- Bronzes of small size minted in Priapos in 3rd century BC.

In Roman times it was a city of moderate importance within the region of Mysia, whose territories made border with those of Cyzicus, much more extensive. During the Byzantine period Priapos would be known by the name of Pegai (also Pegae). Its strategic value will be greatly enhanced after 1302 when the Byzantine defeat at the Battle of Bapheus allows the Turks to reach the asian shore of the Bosphorus and to surround the key cities of Nicomedia, Nicaea and Prousa (Bursa), isolating them from the rest of the Imperial territory so that their loss was only a mere matter of time. From that moment the only imperial possession in Asia Minor relatively free of the Ottoman threat is reduced to the coastal strip of the Marmara sea headed by the cities of Cyzicus, Lopadion, Achyraios and our Pegai / Priapos. Naturally, Constantinople will rush to ensure such crucial beachheads. It is understandable that the bulk of the Byzantine resources were concentrated in Pegai, since Cyzicus, his coastal partner, was practically abandoned at the time. It is in this scenario where perfectly fits the construction of the powerful city wall of Pegai / Priapos whose remains we can contemplate today: obviously late-medieval Byzantine, perfectly agree with the dating that we have just proposed. Pegai would endure in Byzantine hands until the 1370s: no doubt its formidable city walls had something to do with this significant success.

Photo 4.- Very deteriorated fragments of the late-Byzantine city wall in which you can appreciate its enormous thickness.


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