Butrint, Albania

Butrint (Definite Albanian form: Butrinti; Ancient Greek: Βουθρωτόν, Vouthrotón; Latin: Buthrōtum) was an ancient Greek and later Roman city in Epirus. In modern times it is an archeological site in Sarandë District, Albania, some 14 kilometres south of Sarandë and close to the Greek border.

It was known in antiquity as Βουθρωτόν Bouthroton or Βουθρώτιος Bouthrotios in Ancient Greek and Buthrotum in Latin. It is located on a hill overlooking the Vivari Channel and part of the Butrint National Park. Inhabited since prehistoric times, Butrint has been the site of an Epirote city, a Roman colony and a bishopric.

History

Ancient

Bouthroton was originally a town within the ancient region of Epirus. It was one of the major centres of the Ancient Greek tribe of Chaonians, with close contacts to the Corinthian colony on Corfu. According to the Roman writer Virgil its legendary founder was the seer Helenus, a son of the king Priam of Troy, who had married Andromache and moved West after the fall of Troy. The Greek historian Dionysius of Halicarnassus, as does the Latin poet Virgil, wrote that Aeneas visited Bouthroton after his own escape from the destruction of Troy.

First archaeological evidence of settled occupation dates to between 10th and 8th centuries BC, although some claim that there is earlier evidence of habitation in the 12th century BC. Excavation at Bouthroton has yielded Proto-Corinthian pottery of the 7th century and then Corinthian and Attic pottery of the 6th century, however there are no indications of a prehistoric settlement. The original settlement probably sold food to Corfu and had a fort and sanctuary. Bouthroton was in a strategically important position due its access to the Straits of Corfu. By the 4th century BC it had grown in importance and included a theatre, a sanctuary to Asclepius and an agora. Around 380 BC, the settlement was fortified with a new 870 metres long wall, with five gates, enclosing an area of four hectares.

In 228 BC Buthrotum became a Roman protectorate alongside Corfu and Romans increasingly dominated Buthrotum after 167 BC. In the next century, it became a part of a province of Macedonia. In 44 BC, Caesar designated Buthrotum as a colony to reward soldiers that had fought on his side against Pompey. The local landholder Titus Pomponius Atticus objected to his correspondent Cicero who lobbied against the plan in the Senate. As a result, Buthrotum received only small numbers of colonists.

In 31 BC, Emperor Augustus fresh from his victory over Mark Antony and Cleopatra at the battle of Actium renewed the plan to make Buthrotum a veterans’ colony. New residents expanded the city and the construction included an aqueduct, a Roman bath, houses, a forum complex, and a nymphaeum. During that era the size of the town was doubled.

In the 3rd century AD, an earthquake destroyed a large part of the town, levelling buildings in the suburbs on the Vrina Plain and in the forum of the city centre. Excavations have revealed that city had already been in decline. However, the settlement survived into the late antique era, becoming a major port in the province of Old Epirus. The town of late antiquity included the grand Triconch Palace, the house of a major local notable that was built around 425.

In the early 6th century AD, Buthrotum became the seat of a bishop and new construction included a large baptistry, one of the largest such Paleochristian buildings of its type, and a basilica. The walls of the city were extensively rebuilt, most probably at the end of the 5th century AD, perhaps by Emperor Anastasius. The Ostrogoths under King Totila raided the Ionian coast in 550 and may have attacked Butrint. Evidence from the excavations shows that importation of commodities, wine and oil from the Eastern Mediterranean continued into the early years of the 7th century when the early Byzantine Empire lost these provinces. In this, it follows the historical pattern seen in other Balkan cities, with the 6th to 7th century being a watershed for the transformaiton of the Roman World into the Early Middle Ages.

By the 7th century, following the model of classical cities throughout the Mediterranean, Buthrotum had shrunk to a much smaller fortified post and with the collapse of Roman power was briefly controlled by First Bulgarian Empire before being regained by the Byzantine Empire in the 9th century.

Medieval

It remained an outpost of the empire fending off assaults from the Normans until 1204 when following the Fourth Crusade, the Byzantine Empire fragmented, Butrint falling to the breakaway Despotate of Epirus. In the following centuries, the area was a site of conflict between the Byzantines, the Angevins of southern Italy, and the Venetians, and the city changed hands many times. In 1267, Charles of Anjou took control of both Buthrotum and Corfu leading to further restorations of the walls and the Great Basilica.

The Republic of Venice purchased the area including Corfu from the Angevins in 1386; however, the Venetian merchants were principally interested in Corfu and Buthrotum once again declined. By 1572 the wars between Venice and the Ottoman Empire had left Butrint ruinous and at the order of Domenico Foscarini, the Venetian commander of Corfu, the administration of Butirnt and its environs was shifted to a small triangular fortress associated with the extensive fish weirs. The area was lightly settled afterwards, occasionally being seized by the Ottoman Turks, in 1655 and 1718, before being recaptured by the Venetians. Its fisheries were a vital contributor to the supply of Corfu, and olive growing together with cattle and timber were the principal economic activities.

Modern

In 1797, Butrint came under French control when Venice ceded it to Napoleon as a part of the Treaty of Campo Formio. In 1799, the local Ottoman governor Ali Pasha Tepelena conquered it, and it became a part of the empire until Albanian independence in 1912. By that time, the site of the original city had been unoccupied for centuries and was surrounded by malarial marshes.

Archaeological Excavations

The first modern archaeological excavations began in 1928 when the Fascist government of Benito Mussolini’s Italy sent an expedition to Buthrotum. The aim was geopolitical rather than scientific, aiming to extend Italian hegemony in the area. The leader was an Italian archaeologist, Luigi Maria Ugolini who despite the political aims of his mission was a good archaeologist. Ugolini died in 1936, but the excavations continued until 1943 and the Second World War. They uncovered the Hellenistic and Roman part of the city including the “Lion Gate” and the “Scaean Gate” (named by Ugolini for the famous gate at Troy mentioned in the Homeric Iliad).

After the communist government of Enver Hoxha took Albania over in 1944, foreign archaeological missions were banned. Albanian archaeologists including Hasan Ceka continued the work. Nikita Khrushchev visited the ruins in 1959 and suggested that Hoxha should turn the area into a submarine base. The Albanian Institute of Archaeology began larger scale excavations in the 1970s. Since 1993 further major excavations have taken place led by the Butrint Foundation in collaboration with the Albanian Institute of Archaeology. Recent excavations in the western defences of the city have revealed evidence of the continued use of the walls, implying the continuation of life in the town. The walls themselves certainly seem to have burnt down in the 9th century, but were subsequently repaired.

After the collapse of the communist regime in 1992, the new democratic government planned various major developments at the site. The same year remains of Butrint were included in the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites. A major political and economic crisis in 1997 and lobbying stopped the airport plan and UNESCO placed it on the List of World Heritage in Danger because of looting, lack of protection, management and conservation. Archaeological missions during 1994-9 uncovered further Roman villas and an early Christian church.

The Albanian Government established the Butrint National Park in 2000. Its First Director was Auron Tare, followed by Raimond Kola. Butrint became an important center of cultural management and a great example how to manage this Heritage. With the support of Albanian institutions, The Butrint Foundation, The World Bank and UNESCO the situation was improved to the point that UNESCO removed the site from the danger list by 2005. The National Park was also made a UNESCO World Heritage Site during these years as well as a Ramsar Site.

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