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ASKRA Boiotia, Greece.

N of Mt. Helikon and 7 km NW of Thespiai, the site is on the N bank of the Permessos, the stream that runs through the Valley of the Muses. Legend has it that Askra was founded by Oikles and the sons of Poseidon, Otos and Ephialtes; it is the birthplace of the poet Hesiod. At some unknown date the Thespians were said to have destroyed the city, which thereafter became merely a kome of Thespiai, uninhabited in Plutarch's time. Pausanias saw there nothing but the tower that still stands on top of the rocky peak called Pyrgaki (cf. Keressos).

Some travelers have placed Askra near the village of Neochori, 4 km W of Thespiai, on the slopes of Mt. Marandali (Pouqueville, Dodwell), others at Xironomi, a village 10 km SW of Thespiai (Kirsten). The limestone peak of Pyrgaki (633 m) dominates the Sanctuary of the Muses to the S from a height of 250 m; to the E the Haghios Christos valley separates it from the chain of hills running to Thespiai and Thebes; to the N it descends abruptly to the Kopaic basin, and to the W a narrow pass links it to Mt. Koursara (900 m). Exposed to the N wind and barred from the sea breezes by Mt. Helikon, Askra was, in Hesiod's words, “a wretched village, bad in winter, disagreeable in summer, good at no time” (Works and Days, 639-40). Where was the village? The slopes of this mountain are steep on all sides, its summit narrow and windswept and completely taken up by a small fort. Perhaps we should look for it toward the base of the slope, near cultivable land, on the S or SE flank. At the spot known as Episkopi, near the confluence of the Permessos and the Haghios Christos stream, are some ruins of mediaeval houses containing many ancient stones; nearby are a great quantity of archaic, Classical, and Hellenistic potsherds. However, up to now this area has never been dug.

The little fort on the mountain top consists of an elliptical surrounding wall (approximately 150 x 30 m) that links the “Tower of Askra,” mentioned by Pausanias. To the E a postern gate 1.45 m wide opened onto the old pathway. The wall is of rough polygonal rubblework; 4.5 m thick, it very probably was topped with a palisade of stakes. At the highest point is a 7.7 m square tower, still with its 13 courses, very carefully built in isodomic masonry. The blocks, which were quarried on the spot, have a convex surface. The four corners of the tower are carefully grooved. To the E is a gate, 2 x 0.88 m, that leads to a narrow guard house (2 x 6 m), from which a stairway runs to the upper floor. The rest of the surface is filled with large blocks of stone divided into two lots by a cross-wall. A floor covered the whole surface (6 sq. m). In spite of the differences in masonry, the surrounding wall and tower may have been built together in the 4th c. B.C., either shortly before the battle of Leuktra (371) with the aid of the Spartans, or in the second half of the century.


E. Dodwell, A Classical and Topographical Tour through Greece I (1819) 255-56; Pouqueville, Voyage de la Grèce IV (1826) 198; W. M. Leake, Nor. Gr. (1835) II 491; A. Conze, Philol., 19 (1863) 181-82; I. G. Frazer, Paus. Des. Gr. V (1898) 149-50; A. Philippson-Kirsten, GL I (1951) 452; 672; 718, n. 82; G. Roux, “La tour d'Ascra,” BCH 78 (1954) 45-48PI; N. Papahadjis, Pausaniou Hellados Periegesis V (1969) 95, 172-77.


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