Mytilene (pron. mit-l-ee-nee) is the capital city of the Greek Island, Lesvos, in the north eastern Aegean Sea and was established in the south-eastern part of the isle.

In the first century AD Mytilene was a small islet just off the coast of its larger neighbour Lesvos. Both were connected by two bridges made of white stone, thus creating northern and southern harbours protected by artificial breakwaters. The channel between Lesvos and Mytilene was wide enough to allow triremes (war- ships with three rows of oars) to pass by.

In modern times the channel has filled with silt and no longer exists, although the remains of the ancient breakwaters are still present just below the surface. New breakwaters have been built allowing both harbours to continue operating.

Whilst Mytilene is the city, the name is often used to refer to the whole island and is used interchangeably with the name Lesvos.

The island of Lesvos is 70km wide by 46km long and is the third largest island in Greece, after Crete and Evia (also spelt Euboea). On what was once the islet of Mytilene stands a Byzantine castle which, despite sustaining earthquake damage through the ages, still occupies a prominent position. On the opposite shore can be seen the remains of an ancient amphitheatre.

According to Mytilene had an established Jewish population on the island in ancient times.

Mytilene is mentioned once in the Bible in Acts 20:14, where Luke describes Paul’s journey from Greece to Jerusalem in these terms: “And we went before to ship, and sailed unto Assos, there intending to take in Paul: for so had he appointed, minding himself to go afoot. And when he met with us at Assos, we took him in, and came to Mytilene. And we sailed thence, and came the next day over against Chios”. The record suggests that the small company of believers briefly stopped in Mytilene before sailing the next day to Chios.

Just recently a temple of Nemesis was discovered under the ancient theatre of Mytilene. The remains of the temple were found in the south entry passage under a series of large limestone blocks. The temple itself dates to the first century AD and was identified by a stone altar for offerings and a series of dedicatory inscriptions by priests and prominent personalities.

Nemesis was the ancient Greek goddess of divine retribution and revenge, especially for hubris or excessive pride committed against the gods. She was a punishing deity who sought balance in life. While she was fine with a certain amount of happiness being dealt out to a person, she didn’t agree with anyone getting too much. When happiness was deemed too excessive by Nemesis she was quick to intervene and cause loss and suffering.Temples dedicated to Nemesis accompanied gladiator spectacles because their contests had to conclude with the serving of justice and the awarding of victory to the best gladiator.

What would Paul have thought about as he sailed into the harbour gazing on this newly constructed pagan temple and the associated world of violent gladiator combat? We may never know but perhaps he would be thinking about the folly and cruelty of Greek idolatry in contrast to the goodness and blessings of the God of Israel. Greek mythology punished excessive blessings. The Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, on the other hand, is our exceeding great reward (Gen 15:1) and “is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think” (Eph 3:20).