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Pharology - Lighthouses of Antiquity - Sigeum

A22: Sigeum (Sigeon or Sigeion)

There is a possibility that the first lightstructure was at a place known by its Roman name as Sigeum. It is situated about 34 km from Çanakkale and is in the region of Yeniköy. At the time, the sea was covering the low-lying land next to this point northwest of Troy and on the southern side of the Hellespont. Sigeum would have been a promontory and a natural place for a daymark or lightstructure. It is also the supposed location for the tomb of Achilles and was of significant strategic importance.

One structure built here was known as the Sigeum Pillar. It is said that the Greek poet, Lesches, wrote in 660 BC that there was a guiding light for mariners at Sigeum in the Troad. Other writers merely report a lighthouse at Hellespont, but this is a vague description. The well-respected pharologist Kenneth Sutton-Jones is without doubt on the matter. He states [18], “The first (lighthouse) was almost certainly on the promontory of Sigeum, on the Hellespont”. Sutton-Jones does not reference his source for this last statement, which we must question, of necessity. Another eminent pharologist, David Alan Stevenson, is adamant that this is not true. He wrote,

“The Sigeum story is based on an account by Montfaucon in 1721 of a tablet dating from about 50 B.C. which was discovered in Rome in the 17th century. It depicted a pillar, with a squat conical top, which he illustrated. An inscription on the tablet explained that the outline accorded with a description by Lesches, a poet of about 1200 B.C. whose writings have long been lost. Montfaucon, who wrote in French, called the pillar a phare but as he used the word phare to indicate not only a lighthouse or beacon carrying fire but also the unlighted stone-and-timber beacon shown in his representation of an early port, it is clear that he did not intend to give the impression that the Sigeum tower carried a light: he concluded from its proximity to the coast that it served as a navigation beacon. More recently the pillar has been explained as a symbol for the tomb of Achilles, certainly not as supporting the idea of an early lighthouse having been established at Sigeum.”

Perhaps siding with Stevenson, Hague wrote nothing about this location. Stevenson’s argument appears superficially valid, but is based on the idea of a misinterpretation by Montfaucon. However, there is other evidence that Montfaucon’s interpretation is the correct one, even if the illustration he used is a poor representation of the lightstructure that was actually built here. Indeed, if this were the site of the tomb of Achilles, it is very likely that the spot would have been marked with a continuously burning flame, which would have constituted a lightstructure. Thus, the last sentence of Stevenson’s argument seems illogical. The author believes there is a strong argument for the presence of a lighthouse at this strategic position.