Panormos in Ancient Texts

The Greek word Πάνορμος (= Latin Panormus) refers to any place where a boat could be easily landed. As a toponym, Panormos appears frequently at many ports of the ancient world.

In connection with the sanctuary of Didyma, a harbour called ‘Panormos’ is referred to a number of times in the ancient written sources. Without this, we would be unable locate the port.

Herodotus (1.157.3) accurately described the geography of Didyma-Branchidai and mentioned the existence of a harbour, Panormos, in connection with an embassy from Cyme (Aeolis), who visited the oracle of Didyma during the mid-6th century BC.

οἱ δὲ Κυμαῖοι ἔγνωσαν συμβουλῆς περὶ ἐς θεὸν ἀνοῖσαιτὸν ἐν Βραγχίδῃσι: ἦν γὰρ αὐτόθι μαντήιον ἐκ παλαιοῦ ἱδρυμένον, τῷ Ἴωνέςτε πάντες καὶ Αἰολέες ἐώθεσαν χρᾶσθαι. ὁ δὲ χῶρος οὗτος ἐστὶ τῆς Μιλησίης ὑπὲρ Πανόρμου λιμένος

The Cymaeans resolved to make the god at Branchidae their judge as to what course they should take, for there was an ancient place of divination there, Which all the Ionians and Aeolians used to consult, the the place is in the land of Miletus, above harbor of Panormus.

(Translation by A. D. Godley).

Thucydides (8.24.1) also located a Panormos in the territory of Miletus.

τοῦ δ αὐτοῦ θέρους οἵ τ ἐπὶ Μιλήτῳ Ἀθηναῖοι ταῖς εἴκοσι ναυσὶν ἐν τῇ Λάδῃ ἐφορμοῦντες ἀπόβασιν ποιησάμενοι ἐς Πάνορμον τῆς Μιλησίας Χαλκιδέα τε τὸν Λακεδαιμόνιον ἄρχοντα μετ ὀλίγων παραβοηθήσαντα ἀποκτείνουσι καὶ τροπαῖον τρίτῃ ἡμέρᾳ ὕστερον διαπλεύσαντες ἔστησαν, ὃ οἱ Μιλήσιοι ὡς οὐ μετὰ κράτους τῆς γῆς σταθὲν ἀνεῖλον:

(Thucydides. Historiae in two volumes. Oxford, Oxford University Press. 1942).

The same summer the Athenians in the twenty ships at loading Blockading Miletus, made a descent at Panormus in the Milesian territory, and killed Chalcideus the Lacedaemonian commander, who had come with a few men against them, and the third day after sailed over and set up a trophy, Which, as they were not masters of the country, which however pulled down by the Milesians.

(Translation: JM Dent, EP Dutton, 1910.).

Several centuries later, Pausanias (5.7.5) refers to the region (and to a locale named Panormos) in the context of describing the unique features of the Dead Sea:

ἡ δὲ θάλασσα ἡ Νεκρὰ πάσχει παντὶ ὕδατι ἄλλῳ τὰ ἐναντία: ἐν ᾗ γε τὰ μὲν ζῶντα πέφυκεν οὐ νηχόμενα ἐποχεῖσθαι, τὰ δὲ θνήσκοντα ἐς βυθὸν χωρεῖν. ταύτῃ ἄκαρπος καὶ ἰχθύων ἡ λίμνη: ἅτε ἀπὸ τοῦ φανερωτάτου κινδύνου ἐπὶ τὸ ὕδωρ ἀναφεύγουσιν ὀπίσω τὸ οἰκεῖον. τῷ δὲ Ἀλφειῷ τὸ αὐτὸ πάσχει καὶ ὕδωρ ἄλλο ἐν Ἰωνίᾳ: τούτου δὲ τοῦ ὕδατος πηγὴ μέν ἐστιν ἐν Μυκάλῃ τῷ ὄρει, διεξελθὸν δὲ θάλασσαν τὴν μεταξὺ ἄνεισιν αὖθις κατὰ Βραγχίδας πρὸς λιμένι ὀνομαζομένῳ Πανόρμῳ.

The Dead Sea has the opposite qualities to those of any other water. Living creatures float in it naturally without swimming, dying creatures sink to the bottom. Hence the lake is barren of fish, their danger stares them in the face, and they flee back to the water Which is their native element. The peculiarity of the Alpheius is shared by a river of Ionia. The source of it is on Mount Mycale, and having gone through the intervening sea the river rises again opposite Branchidae at the harbor called Panormus.

(Translation: WHS Jones, Litt.D., HA Ormerod).

A series of inscriptions documenting the building of the temple at Didyma, dating to the 2nd century BC, records that building materials were transported to the sanctuary from (or via) Panormos:

ἐκ Πανόρμου εἰς τὸ ἱερόν or ἐκ τῆς Πανόρμίδος εἰς τὸ ἱερὸν

(Ref A. Rehm, The inscriptions, in: Mann R. Harder, T. Wiegand Didyma Gebr.. Berlin 1958.)

In all likelihood, the port was not directly on the so-called ‘Sacred Way’ between Miletos and Didyma, but was connected to it by a side street. However, the exact course of much of the Sacred Way remains unclear, and this is true of the area which is now assumed to have been the port of Panormos. In contrast, the route seems relatively secure at two points: at the ‘nymph sanctuary’ towards Miletus, and in the opposite direction towards Didyma at the so-called village of Branchidae.

Drawing from the site of Branchidae, in the background. The windmill on top of the temple of Didyma (before its later excavation), E. Laurent 1844, publ. in AZ 1850, Taf. 13,1.

  • K. B. Gödecken, Beobachtungen und Funde an der Heiligen Straße zwischen Milet und Didyma, 1984, ZPE 66, 1986, 217–253;
  • P. Schneider, Zur Topographie der Heiligen Straße von Milet nach Didyma, AA, 1987, 101–129;
  • A. Herda, Von Milet nach Didyma. Eine griechische Prozessionsstraße in archaischer Zeit, in F. Bubenheimer et. al (eds.), Kult und Funktion griechischer Heiligtümer in archaischer und klassischer Zeit, 1. Archäologisches Studentenkolloquium, Heidelberg, 18.–20. Februar 1995 (Heidelberg 1996) 133–152.


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( A. Slawisch • 27 Mar 2018)
A. Slawisch, 2018. Project Panormos: Panormos in Ancient Texts; 27 Mar 2018. <> accessed 14 Jun 2024.