Issa (Vis), Croatia

Vis (Ancient Greek: Ἴσσα; Latin: Issa, Italian: Lissa) is a small Croatian island in the Adriatic Sea. The farthest inhabited island off the Croatian mainland, Vis had a population of 3,617 in 2011. Vis has an area of 90.26 square kilometres (34.85 square miles). The highest point of the island is Hum which is 587 metres (1,926 feet) above sea level.

The island's two largest settlements are the town of Vis on the eastern side of the island (the settlement after which the island was originally named), and Komiža, on its western coast.

Once known for its thriving fishing industry in the late 19th and early 20th century, the main present-day industries on the island are agriculture and tourism. Vis town and Komiža are also seats of separate administrative municipalities which cover the entire island and nearby islets, which are both part of Split-Dalmatia County.
Collection of amphoras on Island of Vis, ancient Greek colony Issa, today Croatia

In the 4th century BC, the Greek tyrant of Syracuse, Dionysius the Elder, founded the colony Issa on the island. Later, it became an independent polis, and even minted its own money and founded its own colonies, the most notable of which was Aspálathos (the modern-day city of Split). 

During the 3rd century Issa founded the emporia Tragurion (Traù, now Trogir) and Epetion (Stobreč) on the Illynan mainland.

The town, situated on a slope on the W side of a large bay, was defended by strong Hellenistic walls, still visible in an irregular quadrangle (265 x 360 m) that enclosed an area of 9.8 ha. The street grid and foundations of houses have been found. The necropolis has yielded many pieces of pottery, including some from S Italy.

In the 1st century BC, the island was held by the Liburnians.  Its importance in the region ended with the first Illyro-Roman war (29-219 BC). Having sided with Pompeus during the period of civil struggles in Rome, became an "oppidum civium Romanorum" in 47 BC.

Until 1797, the island was under the rule of the Republic of Venice. During this time large settlements developed along the coastline (Comisa (now Komiža) and Lissa (now Vis)). Administratively, the island of Lissa was for centuries bound to the island of Lesina, now named Hvar. 

The Venetian influence is still recognizable in architecture found on the island, and some vocabulary of the Croatian dialect spoken locally are Venetian in origin.

After the short-lived Napoleonic Kingdom of Italy, with Italian as the official language, the island was ruled by the Austrian Empire since 1814. It maintained its Italian name of Lissa. After the end of World War I, it was under Italian rule again in the period from 1918 to 1921, according to the provisions of the 1915 Treaty of London, before it was ceded to Kingdom of Yugoslavia as part of the 1920 Treaty of Rapallo.

The Greek city of Issa is situated on the island of Vis1in Central Dalmatiain southern Croatia . Its foundation is associated with activities of Dionysius the Elder of Syracuse at the beginning of the 4th c. BC. 
Before the establishment of the Greek colony, in the Archaic and Classical periods, an indigenouscommunity on the island of Vis had commercial contact with the Greeks, as the findings from theseperiods confirm (see: KIRIGIN 2008 and literature cited there). The Corinthian aryballoi and Black-fig-ured vessels were, unfortunately, found without archaeological context, but it is believed that they werepart of a tomb near Gradina in Vis. This could indicate the existence of indigenous settlements onGradina before the foundation of the Greek colony of Issa, but archaeological excavations have notyet confirmed this. During the Adriatic Island Project (KIRIGIN –VUJNOVIC´– CˇACˇE– GAFFNEY –PODOBNIKAR – STANCˇIC´–BURMAZ 2006) an intensive survey of the island was conducted, and most ofthe finds on the island can be dated to the Hellenistic period, indicating that during that period the is-land was densely populated (KIRIGIN – KATUNARIC´–ŠESˇELJ 2005, 7-21).
There are stillsome disagreements among scholars on the date of Issa’s foundation due to dif-ferent interpretations of Diodorus Siculus’s description of a conflict between Greeks from the island of Paros in the Aegean and indigenous people when es-tablishing the colony on the neighbouring island of Hvar. 

According to Diodorus Siculus, Dionysius the Elder established the colony Lissos, from which he assist-ed the Parians in establishing the colony of Pharos on Hvar (Diod. XV 13, 4; XV14, 2). Diodorus denoted Dionysius colony as Lissos and not Issa, which hascaused disagreement. Some scholars believe that the name of the founded colonywas incorrectly written as Lissos, instead of Issa, and that Dionysius the Elderfounded a colony on the island of Vis before the Parians established the colonyof Pharos. 

To confirm this thesis they refer to the great distance between Pharosand Lissos (today’s Lezhë) in Albania, a three-to-four days voyage that wouldprevent Dionysius coming quickly to assist. The counter argument is that, so far,archaeological excavations in Issa have not yet revealed any material evidencefrom the beginning of the 4th c. BC. 

Unfortunately, archaeological evidence from Lissos is not helping either, since the oldest material that has been so far foundin Lezhë is dated to the last third of the 4th c. BC. So, the date of the foundationof the Greek colony of Issa still remains open. However, Ps. Skylax wrote in themid-4th c. BC that Issa was a Greek city (Ps. Skylax Periplous 23). 

Another liter-ary source from the 1st c. BC refers to Issa as Syracusan colony (Ps. SkymnosPeriegesis 405-414)2. The Greek colony of Issa is located on the western side of Vis bay, on the terracedslopes of the hill Gradina. The position of the city was chosen because of maritimecharacteristics, as the small peninsula Prirovo protects the harbour from the northwind that is in this area the most dangerous, especially during the winter.
A grave stele (or tombstone) from Vis, Greek Issa, in the Archaeological Museum at Split. The inscription, from the 3rd or 2nd century BC, names the deceased as Dionysios, son of Thrasymachos, and Teimasion, son of Dionysios.

The city is spread over about 8.5 km2and was protected by walls that rise fromthe sea at the Prirovo peninsula and stretch to the top of the hill Gradina. Alongthe eastern and western walls of the city are two necropoleis; in the southwest, inthe valley between the two hills of Bandirica and Gradina is the Martvilo necropo-lis, and on the east is the Vlaška njiva necropolis. 

Both necropoleis were excavated, but unfortunately not entirely published4. Remains of the port can be tracedover a length of more than one kilometre, from the southern part of the town,around the Prirovo peninsula to the bay of Stonca on the east of Vis bay.

For the last six years excavations have been conducted within the walls (intramuros) in the east part of ancient Issa. The results are impressive; following the lineof east town walls, two blocks of houses oriented northwest-southeast were exca-vated with a narrow street between them. 

The remains of pottery waste (poorlyfired potsherd of amphorae and terracotta figurines) and moulds near the necrop-olis at Vlaška njiva and remains of two pottery kilns on the Martvilo necropolishave been found. This archaeological evidence clearly indicates potters’ activity inIssa during Hellenistic and Roman period.

Although the exact date of foundation is still unknown and much speculated,archaeological evidence (and some literary sources) can offer us a good insight in-to Issa’s economic and political development during the Hellenistic period. Beingon the periphery of the Mediterranean world, Issa was vividly engaged in theHellenistic  koine through commercial trade and cultural exchanges. 

As already mentioned, so far archaeological evidence from both necropoleis and excavations conducted within the town walls (intra muros) can not offer us a closer look at Issa at the beginning of the 4th c. BC. However, from the mid-4th c. BC on the islandof Vis, and on the Dalmatian coast, an increase of imported pottery material canbe noticed.

There is no doubt that the established colonies of Issa and Pharos im-ported and distributed Hellenistic goods to indigenous communities in the hinter-land of the eastern Adriatic, especially from the Greek colony of Taras (todayTaranto) in South Italy. Apulian red figured vessels such as hydriai, lebetesgamikoi and lekanai, dated to the mid-4th c. BC, were found, unfortunately with-out archaeological context, but it is believed that they were part of an assemblageof early tombs in the necropolis at Martvilo. 

Beside imports of red figured ves-sels, vessels of Apulian Gnathia pottery had found a wide market not only in Issa,but along the East Adriatic coast, where they have been documented in numeroussites. 

From Taras workshops vessels of the Dunedin and Alexandrian groups ofGnathia pottery were found, but most of the imported Gnathia  vessels in Issa came from a workshop in Canosa in north Apulia9which was established around 330 BC. 

Because of strong resemblance between Canosan and local IssaeanGnathia vessels, Green and Kirigin assumed that Canosan potters moved to Issaaround the mid-3rd c. BC and established a pottery workshop. 

The connections with South Italian colonies (mainly Taras and less Metapontum or others) and set-tlements (Canosa) at the beginning of the Hellenistic period were encouraged bycommercial trade. Issa based its economy on wine production and trade. 

According to theAlexandrian historian and geographer Agatharchides, who flourished in the 2nd c.BC, wine from Issa was «superior to every other wine whatsoever». His testimony is important given that he was born in Cnidus: the city established a colony onthe island of Korkyra Melaina near to Issa14, or he might have tasted Issaean winein Alexandria. 

The large quantities of amphorae found on the island of Vis weremainly concentrated around the fertile fields in the inland and near the port16. Inaddition, fragments of poorly fired amphorae found near Vlaška njiva indicate thatIssa produced amphorae – containers for the exportation of wines. 

Issa’s econom-ic rise was accompanied by political expansion to the neighbouring islands andcoast. It is believed that Issa established some kind of political alliances with indige-nous settlements in Tragyrion/Tragurion – Τραγύριον/Τραγούριον (today Trogir 20 km west from Split) and Epetion – Ἐπέτιον (today Stobrecˇ, east suburb of Split). 

These two cities are situated by fertile fields in Kaštela bay, and nearthe saddle of Klis, a natural communication with hinterland and therefore a goodtrade route with indigenous communities. 

This commercial route had its beginningin Salonae, as Strabo mentions it as a port of the Dalmatians, an indigenous com-munity that inhabited inland of today’s Central Dalmatia.

According to the inscription on the psephisma found on the small hill ofKoludrt in Lumbarda on the island of Korcˇula, ancient Κέρĸυρα Μέλαινα, it isbelieved that Issa founded a colony there to control a maritime route through the Pelješac channe. 

The Issaean population established at Lumbarda belonged to three Dorian tribes, Dymanes, Pamphyloi and Hylleis, found only inthe Peloponnesus and their colonies. The names of the Issaeans settled in Lumbarda, attested on the psephisma, were of typical Greek origin (mainly fromSicily and South Italy and some from Corinthian colonies).Since maritime trade was of vital economic importance for Issa, the piracy clearly was a large issue for Issaean tradesmen. 

So, in order to end the pillagesof their trade ships, Issaeans turned to the Roman Senate for assistance. During the3rd c. BC the Roman Republic was widely engaged in military operations in SouthItaly, but had an interest in the East Adriatic as well. By the end of the 3rd c. BC,the Romans began military actions in Central Dalmatia – the Illyrian wars, in 229 and 219 BC – and Issa became a Roman ally. 

With the increasingly powerful Rome on its side, Issa could expand its economic and political influence on theneighbouring islands and coast. In the neighbouring colony of Pharos, the political and economic situation was different. During the 4th and 3rd c. BC Pharos developed economically, but after the second Illyrian war in 219 BC, when Roman troops defeated the army of Demetrius of Pharos and destroyed the town walls, Pharos was no longer an important town. Although Issa had enjoyed the protection of powerful Rome, it looks as if the situation by the end of the 3rd c. BC in Apulia did affect Issaean trade. 

From that time, imports of Apulian pottery de-creased, which can be understood given that in that period pottery production in Apulia and Taranto underwent a period of crisis due to the political situation andthe Roman conquest of South Italy. 

One historical event played probably the crucial role in the development of Issaean economy: in 216 BC Hannibal’ s conquest of the Canosan port of Cana caused the cessation of imports of Canosan merchandise in the East Adriatic and in Issa. Potters were no longer relying on the imitation of Apulian pottery – primarily Gnathia vessels –, but they had developed their own type of pottery in Gnathia tradition and they began to export it to neighbouring islands and the coast of Central Dalmatia. Issaean Gnathia vessels have been found in Tragurion, Epetion, in the Hellenistic port of Resnik, on Cape Ploca (Promunturium Diomedis), and, unfortunately without archaeological context, in Lumbarda.

On the east side of the Vis bay and on the east of Issa’s town wall and the necropolis at Vlaška njiva is a small bay called Stonca. During the clearing of the field for setting up electricity pylons in 1960, workers discovered a tomb completely overgrown with vegetation. 

Since the tomb was located about 1 kmfrom the necropolis at Vlaška njiva and was found isolated, or at least other graveswere not found in its vicinity, we cannot associate it with the burials in the necrop-olis at Vlaška njiva. 

The tomb laid in the northeast-southwest, although it shouldbe noted that such an orientation was most likely due to the geological structure ofthe slope where the tomb was found. It was covered with several large stone slabsand a number of small irregularly shaped stones. The dry-walled trapezoid shapeof the tomb measured 0.70 to 0.77 m wide, and 1.65 to 1.70 m long. At the time ofopening, the tomb was filled with layers of washed earth, pieces of stones from thecover, jumbled bones and 18 pottery vessels. 

Among the bones three skulls werefound, indicating burial of three adults. The bones, as well as the grave goods, werelocated predominantly on one side of the tomb, probably due to water penetratingthrough the rock on one side. Despite the relatively large number of pottery vessels that are well-preserved, noother object was found. 

The pottery inventory of the tomb consists of sevenunguentaria, three oinochoai, one Black glazed pyxis, one pyxis with lid, one smallpelike, one askos, one double cruet, one bottle, one plate, one filter jug,and a fragment of the lid of one spherical vessel. Željko Rapanic´, former curatorof the Greek and Hellenistic Collection at Archaeological Museum in Split, pub-lished the tomb in Stonca bay in 1960 and dated it to the first half of the 3rd c. BC.

He actually described the tomb and the vessels and provided one parallel for eachof the three shapes of vessels, the plate, the askos and the unguentaria. Regarding the provenance of the vessels, he attributed the double cruet and the plate to workshops from Greece, while the pelike, the piriform oinochoe, the guttusaskos and the trefoil bell-shaped oinochoe to Gnathia produc-tion. 

Since that time, surprisingly the tomb has not attracted much attention from scholars, although new data on pottery material from Issa, as well as from other sites in the Mediterranean, especially in mainland Greece, has emerged. 

New data allows detailed analysis of pottery materials and sheds a new light on the interpre-tation of the tomb in Stonca bay. A different date is proposed for the tomb whilethe vessels are attributed to various workshops.

Description - Monument
Unfortunately, lots of remains were destroyed due to lack of experts’ supervision, wars or just ignorance (carelessness). An interesting example is that the Allied British Army used that area for military parking space. Nevertheless, all left and preserved of heritage witnesses about the life of that time. Archeologists still work hard on excavating an Issaic Street and other findings. You can visit Martvilo, the only ancient Greek cemetery in Croatia (located above the sports playgrounds). Most of objects are kept in the Archeological Museum in Vis and Split. In fact, the best preserved Issa ruins are those from the Roman times. 

Town Walls
As well as other Greek towns, Issa was also surrounded by walls which partially saved it on the western, northern and eastern parts of the former town located on the Gradina (Fortress) slopes.
As far as the town wall on the southern side is concerned, we are not certain it actually existed. Probably the walls were located some ten metres from the current coast line but – as it seems – after Issa lost its independence, these were destroyed, so that in the Roman period the town was completely open and free in the direction of the port and the sea.
View of the ruins of the walls of Issa (4th/3rd cc. B.C.)

The Issa town walls were preserved mostly in the lower layers of their construction. The walls were 2.4 m wide and the construction technique used was the "emplecton" method where the external and internal façade were constructed of larger stone blocks whilst the interior was filled with rough stones.

The remains of the town's streets
Apart from the lowest part of the town – which can seen in the description of the large town thermae – up until today have the exact material remains of ancient Issa streets have not been discovered nor have any other elements (town doors, squares and other such things) which would represent a solid base for conclusions with regard to the urban town scheme. However, there are a number of clues from which a hypothesis with regard to the hypodamic system of creating the urban space could be set up, that is, the hypothesis that Issa had a regular layout of town streets that crossed amongst themselves at right angles.
With regard to the circumstances that ancient Issa emerged on the terrace configuration of the southern slopes of present day Gradina, the traversal town roads, leading from east to west, passed through a single terrace whose antique supporting masonry has partially been preserved until the present. As far as the streets leading from south to north are concerned, that is, those leading from the town port to the peak of the settlement, the problems with terraced levels were certainly resolved with steps. In the same way as current problems, occurring in settlements constructed on steep terrain are resolved. One of the typical examples today is the town of Vis itself.

Supporting Masonry of terraces in the southern part of the town
Issa was built on the slopes of a hill that climbs down on terraces towards the sea. The supporting walls of these terraces have, in some places, been preserved until today. The best preserved parts are the ones of the lowest terrace located around fifty metres from the present coastline. Here of particular interest are the important remains of supporting walls in the eastern part, from the left side of today's field path which – when coming from Prirovo – climb towards the upper part of Gradina. The already mentioned 60 metre long remains can be seen here and these are the exact dimensions of the gap in the two town streets it is presumed were here originally.

Amongst the architectural curiosities located between the illustrated supporting masonry and the sea shore are the remains of the large public thermae whose several metres high walls were destroyed completely at the end of the Second World War, in 1944. In 1963, archaeologists found - although still incomplete – the eastern part of this facility which as regards Issa spatial conditions were of very impressive dimensions. A pavement was also discovered on the northern part of the thermae.

Part of it was discovered on the north-eastern side as well but it would appear that this could also be the pavement to an open courtyard within the thermal baths themselves as there is a direct entrance to the room which once served as a dressing room (apodyterium). This can be seen in the traces of constructed benches and in the holes used for leaving clothes and footwear. From the dressing room onwards was the entrance to a large room whose borders have not been defined and whose floor was covered with geometric motive mosaic. Precisely in the passage to the north-eastern part of this large hall in mosaic are four blue dolphins on a white background.

The remains of residential architecture
Issa's residential building is still not recognizable enough, but in this kind of polis most probably the type of one-floor building with modest ground plan dimensions prevailed. This conclusion is drawn from the traces of house foundations which can still be seen in several places in the area of Gradina.

From the Issa's former theatre, built on the small peninsula of Prirovo, only a few details can still be seen today, such as those from the 16th century, where a church and Franciscan monastery was built above its remains. At the end of 19th century the Vis amateur-archaeologist, Apolonije Zanella did some research on the theatre area and as a result of his research made the plan of the facility public.
Issa's theatre, as with all antique theatres, had an auditorium, an orchestra area, a proscenium and a main stage. The auditorium (theatron, cavea) in Issa's theatre had 20 rows of stone seats which were set concentrically one above the other. The total length of the rows was 1,100 metres which means that it was able to accommodate around three thousand spectators.
The semicircular area was used as the orchestra pit on which firstly the choir performed but then lost that function during the Roman period. The dimensions of the area were reduced and turned from a horse-shoe into a semi-circle form which was also the case in Issa. Spectators entered the theatre through the hall (parodoi) at the edge of the orchestra pit and then from there they climbed up the steps to their seats.
Behind the orchestra was the proscenium in which actors played their roles and the theatre building, the so called scene which from the decorations on its facade represented the architectonically articulated and, very often, luxuriously decorated stage. On the scene façade were three doors through which actors came out to the proscenium stage.

The necropolis of Issa
The Necropolis, that is, ancient Issa's cemetery, was located outside the western town walls; in the area which was given the Slavic name Martvilo precisely because during the intense digging, graves were found.
A large part of Issa's tombs were searched and destroyed without archaeological control and records. The exceptions are a number of tombs researched by the Split Archaeological Museum in 1955 which represent the main source for the recognition of the funerary praxis of the Hellenistic period in Issa.

The tomb in Stonca bay
The tomb in Stonca bay near ancient Issa (today the town of Vis) on the island of Vis in mid-Dalmatia, on southern Croatia, was published by Željko Rapanic´ in 1960 when he was curator of the Greek and Hellenistic Collection at Archaeological Museum in Split. Since that time the tomb in Stonca has not attracted much attention from scholars. This was mainly because there was not enough data to make a comparative analysis of tomb’s assemblage, and because the tomb in Stonca, although located nearby, was not part of the necropolis at Vlaška njiva that was excavated in 1981. The distance between the tomb and Vlaška njiva necropolis is almost 1 km. Now, 45 years later, we are able to give more detailed analysis of the tomb assemblage and offer a new interpretation of the tomb.


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