The city of Magnesia was founded in the eighth century BC on the banks of the Maiandros river by Greek colonists from Magnesia in Thessaly. They sought a new life in Ionia away from the overpopulation and poverty that ran rampant in mainland Greece at this time. In the seventh century the city was refounded as a trading colony of Miletos.

The city, which commanded the resources of a rich river valley, was normally under the domination of foreign powers from the late seventh century on. The Magnesians were subject to Lydian and Persian kings during the seventh and sixth centuries BC. In 464 the city was even handed over by Artaxerxes I to Themistokles in order to provide economic support for the Athenian exile. Themistokles also had female relatives who served in Magnesia's great temple of Artemis Leukophryene.

This large religious structure was redesigned in the third century BC by the Greek architect, Hermogenes. The temple was highly praised in the ancient world and had a profound impact on Roman architecture. It provided some of the laws of proportion for Ionic buildings that Vitruvius outlines in his architectural manual. Unfortunately, very little of this influential temple remains intact.

The cult of Artemis in Magnesia was highly regarded and civic officials frequently lobbied to have her penteteric festival recognized as equal to the famous Pythian Games of mainland Greece. In 221/0 BC the Magnesians received an oracle from Delphi which supported them in this cause, but the recognition of the festival did not come to pass until fourteen years later when kings like Antiochos III and Ptolemy IV warmed to the request. At this time Magnesia also gained the status of a sanctuary "holy and inviolate".

Under Seleukid hegemony Magnesians could be found in the royal army and were even involved in some of the new settlements established in the far reaches of the empire. According to an inscription, the Magnesians helped Antiochos I Soter to found Antioch-in-Persis by voluntarily sending colonists drawn from their own citizen body.

After the Peace of Apameia (189/8 BC), which removed Asia Minor west of the Tauros Mountains from Seleukid control, Magnesia became an independent city although in practice it was necessary for her to recognize the power of Attalid Pergamon. In 133 Attalos III bequeathed the Attalid kingdom to Rome which was governed as the province of Asia. At this time Magnesia claimed the full rights of a free Greek city.

During the First Mithridatic War (88-85 BC) between Mithridates VI of Pontos and the Roman Republic, the people of Magnesia sided with the Romans at great personal risk. Mithridates was known to treat his opponents with great ruthlessness. Thanks to the bravery of the Magnesians, when the province of Asia was reorganized by Sulla in 85 BC their city was officially made a civitas libera ('free city').

See a coin of Magnesia-on-the-Maiandros. All coins are shown actual size and are fully described. For an enlargement and a brief discussion of each coin's historical and iconographic importance please click on the appropriate coin picture.

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