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MEGALOPOLIS Arkadia, Greece.

Founded after the battle of Leuktra and before Mantinea by Epaminondas as part of his Sparta-containing policy, and by the Arkadians of small villages which had heretofore been defenseless against Spartan attack. It took part in the battle of Mantinea (Xen. Hell. 7.5.5), but subsequently suffered from Spartan hostility (353-352, 331), the tendency of its inhabitants to return to their villages, and the jealousy of other Arkadian cities. Megalopolis during the 4th c. moved closer to Philip, was attacked unsuccessfully by Agis of Sparta (331) and in 318 by Polyperchon, at which time there were but 15,000 male inhabitants, free and slave, in the city. The 3d c. saw the tyrannies of Aristodemos and Lydiadas, the latter of whom joined Megalopolis to the Achaian League, of which it remained a member until 146 (Polyb. 2.44.5). Kleomenes caused great destruction there in 223 (Polyb. 2.55), but under Philopoimen (fl.223–184-183), the “last of the Greeks,” the city was again powerful. After 146 and until his death in 117-116 Polybios mitigated the wrath of the Romans against his native city, and indeed saw to it that needed repairs were made. In Augustan times a bridge was built (IG V 2.456), and under Domitian a stoa was constructed (IG v 2.457). In the time of Pausanias (8.27.1-16, 30.2-33) Megalopolis lay mostly in ruins.

The ancient city lies ca. 1.6 km N of the modern town of the same name on the road to Andritsena. The walls, visible only sporadically, have been calculated by excavators, both from extant remains and from general considerations of terrain, to have been ca. 8.8 km in extent. They were formed of two parallel lines of stone with rubble in between, and were probably carried up in mudbrick. The town proper is divided by the Helisson river into two sections. To the N lay the agora, described by Pausanias, whose description has been in large part confirmed by excavation. The Sanctuary of Zeus Soter lies in the SE corner near the river, and has in part been washed away by the river. It consists of a rectangle (originally 47 x 53.5 m) with a square open court in the middle surrounded by a double colonnade. The temple was on the W, and cut through the colonnade. In the center of the court there stood a large base, identified by some as the base of the statue group mentioned by Pausanias (8.30.10): it is more likely, though massive, to have been an altar. The N side of the agora was enclosed by the massive Philippian Colonnade (155.5 m long x 20 m deep), with wings projecting on the E and W ends. The building should date from the end of the 4th c. (Paus. 8.30.3), but the style of architecture points to a later date (Frazer w. 322). The E side of the market place was marked off by a long stoa of mid 3d c. date identified usually with Myropolis (Paus. 8.30.7). Other insignificant remains include the council house (?), a gymnasium (?), and the government offices. All of the above buildings are in a ruinous state, barely discernible, and are of more archaeological and historical than aesthetic interest.

The business of the Arkadian League took place to the S of the river, where are to be found the remains of a theater, the largest in Greece (Paus. 8.32.1), and the Thersileion, the council house of the 10,000. Of the theater there are preserved the lowest bench for dignitaries (with inscriptions) and the first several rows of seats. For the most part the theater utilizes the natural contours of the hill, but since the hill proved too small, there are retaining walls to E and W, and it is likely enough that the cavea was carried up higher than the present top of the hill. Estimates of capacity vary between 17,000 and 21,000 spectators. The ruins of the extant stage are of Roman date, and are built over the remains of an earlier foundation with sockets and grooves which originally supported either scenery or a stage, more likely scenery. There are no traces of a permanent 4th c. stage or scene building. Scenery and props were stored in the skanotheka just to the W under the W retaining wall of the theater.

The thersileion, of which only foundations and footings for columns remain, was a large rectangular hypostyle hall, constructed in the interior in the form of a theater. The speaker's platform, though in the center on the N-S axis, was closer to the S wall, and was lower than both a platform behind it and the seats for spectators which rose gradually to the exterior walls on all sides but the S. The columns supporting the roof were so arranged that they radiated out from the center of the speaker's platform, thus affording the spectators an unimpeded view of the platform. It is unclear how the roof was constructed and the building lighted, but the assumption of a clerestory over the speaker's platform is reasonable. At some point the roof seems to have collapsed, for there is evidence of repair to the building and the addition of extra columns at the point of greatest stress, the third row of columns counting from the center. There is no evidence for a stone floor, but scholars have assumed a wooden one. The portico to the S facing the theater is almost exactly the length of the width of the orchestra, and was probably used as a backdrop for dramatic performances. At some point three additional lower steps were added in order to adjust the level of the portico to that of the orchestra. The building was destroyed by Kleomenes and never rebuilt.


E. A. Gardner et al., Excavations at Megalopolis 1890-1891 (1892)MPI; E. Benson & A. Bather in JHS 13 (1892-93) 319-37 (thersilion)P, 356-58 (theater); J. G. Frazer, Paus. Des. Gr. (1898) IV 317-49; RE v (1931) 127-40; O. Walter in AA (1942) 148-49 (Zeus sanctuary); O. Dilke in BSA 45 (1950) 47-48, with references (theater); R. Martin, Recherches sur l'agora grecque (1951) passim (see index, s.v.). F. E. Winter, Greek Fortifications (1971) passim (see index, s.v.).


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