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AEGI´NA (Αἴγινα: Eth. Αἰγινήτης, Eth. Aegineta, Eth. Aeginensis, fem. Αἰγινῆτις: Adj. Αἰγιναῖος, Αἰγινητικός, Aegineticus: Eghina), an island in the Saronic gulf, surrounded by Attica, Megaris, and Epidaurus, from each of which it was distant about 100 stadia. (Strab. p. 375) It contains about 41 square English miles, and is said by Strabo (l.c.) to be 180 stadia in circumference. In shape it is an irregular triangle. Its western half consists of a plain, which, though [p. 1.33]stony, is well cultivated with corn, but the remainder of the island is mountainous and unproductive. A magnificent conical hill now called Mt. St. Elias, or Oros (ὄρος, i. e. the mountain), occupies the whole of the southern part of the island, and is the most remarkable among the natural features of Aegina. There is another mountain, much inferior in size, on the north-eastern side. It is surrounded by numerous rocks and shallows, which render it difficult and hazardous of approach, as Pausanias (2.29.6) has correctly observed.

Notwithstanding its small extent Aegina was one of the most celebrated islands in Greece, both in the mythical and historical period. It is said to have been originally called Oenone or Oenopia, and to have received the name of Aegina from Aegina, the daughter of the river-god Asopus, who was carried to the island by Zeus, and there bore him a son Aeacus. It was further related that at this time Aegina was uninhabited, and that Zeus changed the ants (μύρμηκες) of the island into men, the Myrmidones, over whom Aeacus ruled (Paus.2.29.2.; Apollod.3.12.6; Ov. Met. 7.472, seq.) Some modern writers suppose that this legend contains a mythical account of the colonization of the island, and that the latter received colonists from Phlius on the Asopus and from Phthia in Thessaly, the seat of the Myrmidons. Aeacus was regarded as the tutelary deity of Aegina, but his sons abandoned the island, Telamon going to Salamis, and Peleus to Phthia. All that we can safely infer from these legends is that the original inhabitants of Aegina were Achaeans. It was after-wards taken possession of by Dorians from Epidaurus, who introduced into the island the Doric customs and dialect. (Hdt. 8.46; Paus. 2.29.5.) Together with Epidaurus and other cities on the mainland it became subject to Pheidon, tyrant of Argos, about B.C. 748. It is usually stated on the authority of Ephorus (Strab. p. 376), that silver money was first coined in Aegina by Pheidon, and we know that the name of Aeginetan was given to one of the two scales of weights and measures current throughout Greece, the other being the Euboic. There seems, however, good reason for believing with Mr. Grote that what Pheidon did was done in Argos and nowhere else; and that the name of Aeginetan was given to his coinage and scale, not from the place where they first originated, but from the people whose commercial activity tended to make them most generally known. (Grote, Hist. of Greece, vol. ii. p. 432.) At an early period Aegina became a place of great commercial importance, and gradually acquired a powerful navy. As early as B.C. 563, in the reign of Amasis, the Aeginetans established a footing for its merchants at Naucratis in Egypt, and there erected a temple of Zeus. (Hdt. 2.178.) With the increase of power came the desire of political independence; and they renounced the authority of the Epidaurians, to whom they had hitherto been subject. (Hdt. 5.83.) So powerful did they become that about the year 500 they held the empire of the sea. According to the testimony of Aristotle (Athen. p. 272), the island contained 470,000 slaves; but this number is quite incredible, although we may admit that Aegina contained a great population. At the time of their prosperity the Aeginetans founded various colonies, such as Cydonia in Crete, and another in Umbria. (Strab. p. 376.) The government was in the hands of an aristocracy. Its citizens became wealthy by commerce, and gave great encouragement to the arts. In fact, for the half century before the Persian wars and for a few years afterwards, Aegina was the chief seat of Greek art, and gave its name to a school, the most eminent artists of which were Callon, Anaxagoras, Glaucias, Simon, and Onatas, of whom an account is given in the Dict. of Biogr.

The Aeginetans were at the height of their power when the Thebans applied to them for aid in their war against the Athenians about B.C. 505. Their request was readily granted, since there had been an ancient feud between the Aeginetans and Athenians. The Aeginetans sent their powerful fleet to ravage the coast of Attica, and did great damage to the latter country, since the Athenians had not yet any fleet to resist them. This war was continued with some interruptions down to the invasion of Greece by Xerxes. (Hdt. 5.81, seq., 6.86, seq.; Thuc. 1.41.) The Aeginetans fought with 30 ships at the battle of Salamis (B.C. 480), and were admitted to have distinguished themselves above all the other Greeks by their bravery. (Hdt. 8.46, 93.) From this time their power declined. In 460 the Athenians defeated them in a great naval battle, and laid siege to their principal town, which after a long defence surrendered in 456. The Aeginetans now became a part of the Athenian empire, and were compelled to destroy their walls, deliver up their ships of war, and pay an annual tribute. (Thuc. 1.105, 108.) This humiliation of their ancient enemies did not, however, satisfy the Athenians, who feared the proximity of such discontented subjects. Pericles was accustomed to call Aegina the eye-sore of the Peiraeus ( λήμη τοῦ Πειραιέως, Arist. Rhet. 3.10.; comp. Cic. de Off. 3.1. 1); and accordingly on the breaking out of the Peloponnesian war in 431, the Athenians expelled the whole population from the island, and filled their place with Athenian settlers. The expelled inhabitants were settled by the Lacedaemonians at Thyrea. They were subsequently collected by Lysander after the battle of Aegospotami (404), and restored to their own country, but they never recovered their former state of prosperity. (Thuc. 2.27; Plut. Per. 34; Xen. Hell. 2.2. 9; Strab. p. 375.) Sulpicius, in his celebrated letter to Cicero, enumerates Aegina among the examples of fallen greatness (ad Fam. 4.5).

The chief town in the island was also called Aegina, and was situated on the north-western side. A description of the public buildings of the city is given by Pausanias (2.29, 30). Of these the most important was the Aeaceium (Αἰάκειον), or shrine of Aeacus, a quadrangular inclosure built of white marble, in the most conspicuous part of the city. There was a theatre near the shore as large as that of Epidaurus, behind it a stadium, and likewise numerous temples. The city contained two harbours: the principal one was near the temple of Aphrodite; the other, called the secret harbour, was near the theatre. The site of the ancient city is marked by numerous remains, though consisting for the most part only of foundations of walls and scattered blocks of stone. Near the shore are two Doric columns of the most elegant form. To the S. of these columns is an oval port, sheltered by two ancient moles, which leave only a narrow passage in the middle, between the remains of towers, which stood on either side of the entrance. In the same direction we find another oval port, twice as large as the former, the entrance of which is protected in the same manner by ancient walls or moles, 15 or 20 feet thick. The latter of these ports seems to have been the large harbour, [p. 1.34]and the former the secret harbour, mentioned by Pausanias. The walls of the city are still traced through their whole extent on the land side. They were about 10 feet thick, and constructed with towers at intervals not always equal. There appear to have been three principal entrances.

On the hill in the north-eastern extremity of the island are the remains of a magnificent temple of the Doric order, many of the columns of which are still


standing. It stood near the sea in a sequestered and lonely spot, commanding a view of the Athenian coast and of the acropolis at Athens. The beautiful sculptures, which occupied the tympana of the pediment, were discovered in 1811, buried under the ruins of the temple. They are now preserved at Munich, and there are casts from them in the British Museum. The subject of the eastern pediment appears to be the expedition of the Aeacidae or Aeginetan heroes against Troy under the guidance of Athena: that of the western probably represents the contest of the Greeks and Trojans over the body of Patroclus. Till comparatively a late period it was considered that this temple was that of Zeus Panhellenius, which Aeacus was said to have dedicated to this god. (Paus. 2.30. § § 3, 4.) But in 1826 Stackelberg, in his work on the temple of Phigalia, started the hypothesis, that the temple, of which we have been speaking, was in reality the temple of Athena, mentioned by Herodotus (3.59); and that the temple of Zeus Panhellenius was situated on the lofty mountain in the S. of the island. (Stackelberg, Der Apollotempel zu Bassae in Arcadien, Rom, 1826.) This opinion has been adopted by several German writers, and also by Dr. Wordsworth, but has been ably combated by Leake. It would require more space than our limits will allow to enter into this controversy; and we must therefore content ourselves with referring our readers, who wish for information on the subject, to the works of Wordsworth and Leake quoted at the end of this article. This temple was probably erected in the sixth century B.C., and apparently before B.C. 563, since we have already seen that about this time the Aeginetans built at Naucratis a temple to Zeus, which we may reasonably conclude was in imitation of the great temple in their own island.


In the interior of the island was a town called OEA (Οἴη), at the distance of 20 stadia from the city of Aegina. It contained statues of Damia and Auxesia. (Hdt. 5.83; Paus. 2.30.4.) The position of Oea has not yet been determined, but its name suggests a connection with Oenone, the ancient name of the island. Hence it has been conjectured that it was originally the chief place of the island, when safety required an inland situation for the capital, and when the commerce and naval power which drew population to the maritime site had not yet commenced. On this supposition Leake supposes that Oea occupied the site of Paleá--Khora, which has been the capital in modern times whenever safety has required an inland situation. Pausanias (3.30.3) mentions a temple of Aphaea, situated on the road to the temple of Zeus Panhellenius. The Heracleum, or temple of Hercules, and Tripyrgia [p. 1.35]Τριπυργία), apparently a mountain, at the distance of 17 stadia from the former, are both mentioned by Xenophon (Xenoph. Hell. 5.1.10), but their position is uncertain. (Dodwell, Tour through Greece, vol. i. p. 558, seq.; Leake, Morea, vol. ii. p. 431, seq., Peloponnesiaca, p. 270, seq.; Wordsworth, Athens and Attica, p. 262, seq.; Boblaye, Recherches Géographiques, p. 64; Prokesch, Denkwürdigkeiten, vol. ii. p. 460, seq.; Muller, Aegineticorum Liber, Berol. 1817.)


hide References (21 total)
  • Cross-references from this page (21):
    • Herodotus, Histories, 3.59
    • Herodotus, Histories, 5.81
    • Herodotus, Histories, 5.83
    • Herodotus, Histories, 8.93
    • Herodotus, Histories, 2.178
    • Herodotus, Histories, 8.46
    • Pausanias, Description of Greece, 2.30
    • Pausanias, Description of Greece, 2.30.4
    • Pausanias, Description of Greece, 2.29
    • Pausanias, Description of Greece, 2.29.5
    • Pausanias, Description of Greece, 2.29.6
    • Thucydides, Histories, 1.105
    • Thucydides, Histories, 1.41
    • Xenophon, Hellenica, 2.2.9
    • Xenophon, Hellenica, 5.1.10
    • Thucydides, Histories, 1.108
    • Ovid, Metamorphoses, 7.472
    • Thucydides, Histories, 2.27
    • Cicero, De Officiis, 3.1
    • Plutarch, Pericles, 34
    • Athenaeus, of Naucratis, Deipnosophistae, 6
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