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A locality on the S side of the Malian Gulf, named partly for the presence of a hot mineral spring. By more ancient usage it was known simply as Pylai, the Gates, a name describing its situation at the narrowest point of the mainland route from the N into central and S Greece. At some time in the post-Mycenaean period, it became the seat of the Pylaian Amphictyony, a religious assembly of representatives of the Greek-speaking tribes around the Malian Gulf. This body later became famous under the less accurate title of Delphic Amphictyony, but even in the 3d and 2d c. B.C., when its membership consisted largely of proxies for external powers situated far from the original place of assembly, the more official name, and the ostensible pattern of membership, continued to reflect the early tribal settlement of the region around the Malian Gulf.

The Pylaian Amphictyony was a natural focus for the resistance to the Persian invasion of 480 B.C., and the famous Spartan defense of the pass on the Kolonos hill, at the narrowest point of the Gates, was probably influenced by religious as well as tactical considerations. The Gates were again the site of significant military actions against the Gauls in 279, and against the Romans in 191 B.C. They continued to be important in Byzantine and even in modern military planning.

The locality has three main foci of interest: the pass itself, the Shrine of Demeter at Anthela, where the Amphictyonic council met, and the numerous fortifications associated with the defense of the pass. The pass, through which the road at this point ran W-E, lay between the steep slopes of the mountain to the S and the shore of the Malian Gulf to the N. The extensive silting of the gulf has now made this an easy passage, but in antiquity the sea came close to the mountains at three points, and Herodotos called each one a gate. The site of the Spartan defense is the farthest E; it is marked by a modern monument in a place that may well have been under water in antiquity. The monument faces the semi-isolated Kolonos hill where the Spartans stood. Inland from here are the remains of a rough zigzag, identified as the wall built by the Phokians as a defense against the Thessalians (Hdt. 7.176). A structure at the SW end of this wall, which had been identified as a polyandrion, seems rather to be a part of the defense work. Burials have been found on and around the hill, also some evidence of habitation, but the most significant discovery was a large number of bronze arrowheads that could be identified with Persian armament. Most of the finds are in the museum at Lamia.

Traces of the Pylaian Sanctuary of Demeter at Anthela (Hdt. 7.200) were discovered in the foothills S of the road, ca. 2.5 km W of the Kolonos. The only identifiable monuments are a stoa and a stadium, the latter of rough construction built into a natural depression in the limestone. Of interest is the special construction at the W end of the stadium designed to keep the winter rains from washing out the floor. No traces of the Demeter shrine itself have yet been found.


Stählin's article in RE is still the best overall source. Further details and new interpretations appear in the articles by Pritchett and MacKay, where some additions to Stählin's references may be found. Nearly all the more important 19th and early 20th c. travelers visited Thermopylai, and nearly all have something to contribute. The most significant accounts, by Leake and Grundy, are noted below, and a discussion of some of the others occurs in MacKay. Béquignon and Marinatos provide the only significant evidence from excavation.

W. M. Leake, Travels in Northern Greece II (1835) 23-65M; G. B. Grundy, The Great Persian War (1901) 257-317MI; F. Stählin, “Thermopylen,” RE 2d ser. V, 2 (1934) 2398-2423M; Y. Béquignon, “Recherches archéologiques dans la vallée du Spercheios,” RA Sér. 6, 4 (1934) 14-33MI; id., La Vallée du Spercheios, Bibl. Ec. franc. 144 (1937) 181-204 & passimMI; W. K. Pritchett, “New Light on Thermopylae,” AJA 62 (1958) 203-13I; id., Studies in Ancient Greek Topography I (1965) 71-82I; P. A. MacKay, “Procopius' De Aedificiis and the Topography of Thermopylae,” AJA 67 (1963) 241-55MI (includes unexcavated peripheral fortifications).


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