How an ancient plant inspired Phaselis ships
For the sailors of Phaselis, an ancient city on Turkey’s southern coast, the inspiration for their watercraft didn’t come from the sea but something far more unique on land.
“We think that the shape of [the local bitter vetch] fruit influenced the form of ships unique to the ancient city,” said Gökhan Deniz, an academic with Akdeniz University’s Education Faculty.
The bitter vetch is a bean-shaped fruit that only grew around Phaselis, a 2,700-year-old ancient city that was an important trade center in Lycia and Pamphylia.
“We know that there are no similar ships in other parts of the region. They are specific to Phaselis. Latin writers used the word ‘Phaselos’ to name a ship type. We can say that the Phaselis’ bitter vetch was a source of inspiration for the ship named Phaselos that was built in the ancient city at that time,” said Deniz.
“These ships stand out with their long spur structure at the front and a curved character at the back. They were used both as a trade ship and a warship,” he said.
Protecting ‘ancient beans’
Deniz is part of the project “Ancient Cities, Endemic Flowers from Apollo to Athena,” which aims to protect five endemic plants that are found only in five ancient cities of Antalya and its vicinity.
The project is supported by a fund from the European Union as part of Civil Society Dialogue V Program.
“One of the important parts of the project is the efforts to compare plant motifs in the ancient period with today’s flora,” he said, “In this context, we work with archaeologists conducting archaeological studies in the field about which plant figures on ancient artifacts belong to which plant species.”
Deniz said the project also aims to extend protection to Phaselis’ bitter vetch, Perge’s true indigo, Side’s broomrap, Aspendos’ orchids and Termessos’ crocuses, all of which are endemic.
Phaselis’ bitter vetch, known as an “ancient bean” and “Lathyrus phaselitanus” in Latin, is one of 250 plant species that grows only in Antalya, Deniz said, noting that it was endangered.
The plant blossoms between May and July, Deniz said, noting that they had transferred seeds to sheltered areas to protect the species.
“In this way, we aim to contribute to ecotourism by promoting it in controlled places in the ancient city as this species is a sustainable tourism element,” he said.
Phaselis was founded between the sixth and seventh centuries B.C., when the ancient bitter vetch also began to spread in the region.