, Thuc.; Ἀμβρακία
, Xen. and subsequent writers; Eth. Ἀμπρακιώτης
, Hdt. 8.45
, Thuc. 2.80
; Ionic Ἀμπρακιήτης
, Hdt. 9.28
, Xen. Anab
. 1.7.18, et alii; Ἀυβρακιεύς
, Apollon. 4.1228
, Steph. B. sub voce
: Eth. Ambraciensis
, Liv. 38.43
; Eth. Ambraciota
, Cic. Tusc
. 1.34: Arta
) an important city to the north of the Ambraciot gulf, which derived its name from this place.
It was situated on the eastern bank of the river Arachthus or Arethon, at the distance of 80 stadia from the gulf, according to ancient authorities, or 7 English miles, according to a modern traveller.
It stood on the western side of a rugged hill called Perranthes, and the acropolis occupied one of the summits of this hill towards the east.
It was rather more than three miles in circumference, and, in addition to its strong walls, it was well protected by the river and the heights which surrounded it.
It is generally described as a town of Epirus, of which it was the capital under Pyrrhus and the subsequent monarchs; but in earlier times it was an independent state, with a considerable territory, which extended along the coast for 120 stadia. How far the territory extended northward we are not informed; but that portion of it between the city itself and the coast was an extremely fertile plain, traversed by the Arachthus, and producing excellent corn in abundance. Ambracia is called by Dicaearchus and Scylax the first town in Hellas proper. (Strab. p. 325; Dicaearch. 31, p. 460, ed. Fuhr; Scyl. p. 12; Plb. 22.9
; Liv. 38.4
According to tradition, Ambracia was originally a Thesprotian town, founded by Ambrax, son of Thesprotus, or by Ambracia, daughter of Augeas; but it was made a Greek city by a colony of Corinthians, who settled here in the time of Cypselus, about B.C. 635.
The colony is said tom have been led by Gorgus (also called Torgus or Tolgus), the son or brother of Cypselus. Gorgus was succeeded in the tyranny by his son Periander, who was deposed by the people, probably after the death of the Corinthian tyrant of the same name. (Strab. pp. 325, 452; Scymn. 454
; Ant. Lib. 4
; Aristot. Pol. 5.3.6
; Ael. VH 12.35
; D. L. 1.98
.) Ambracia soon became a flourishing city, and the most important of all the Corinthian colonies on the Ambraciot gulf.
It contributed seven ships to the Greek navy in the war against Xerxes, B.C. 480, and twenty-seven to the Corinthians in their war against Corcyra, B.C. 432. (Hdt. 8.45
; Thuc. 1.46
,) The Ambraciots, as colonists and allies of Corinth, espoused the Lacedaemonian cause in the Peloponnesian war.
It was about this time that they reached the maximum of their power. They had extended their dominions over the whole of Amphilochia, and had taken possession of the important town of Argos in this district, from which they had driven out the original inhabitants.
The expelled Amphilochians, supported by the Acarnanians, applied for aid to Athens. The Athenians accordingly sent a force under Phormion, who took Argos, sold the Ambraciots as slaves, and restored the town to the Amphilochians and Acarnanians, B.C. 432. Anxious to recover the lost town, the Ambraciots, two years afterwards (430), marched against Argos, but were unable to take it, and retired after laying waste its territory. Not disheartened by this repulse, they [p. 1.120]
concerted a plan in the following year (429), with the Peloponnesians, for the complete subjugation of Acarnania. They had extensive relations with the Chaonians and other tribes in the interior of Epirus, and were thus enabled to collect a formidable army of Epirots, with which they joined the Lacedaemonian commander, Cnemus.
The united forces advanced into Acarnania as far as Stratus, but under the walls of this city the Epirots were defeated by the Acarnanians, and the expedition came to an end. Notwithstanding this second misfortune, the Ambraciots marched against Argos again in B.C. 426.
The history of this expedition, and of their two terrible defeats by Demosthenes and the Acarnanians, is related elsewhere. [ARGOS AMPHILOCHICUM
] It appears that nearly the whole adult military population of the city was destroyed, and Thucydides considers their calamity to have been the greatest that befel any Grecian city during the earlier part of the war. Demosthenes was anxious to march straightway against Ambracia, which would have surrendered without a blow; but the Acarnanians refused to undertake the enterprize, fearing that the Athenians at Ambracia would be more troublesome neighbours to them than the Ambraciots. The Acarnanians and Amphilochians now concluded a peace and alliance with the Ambraciots for 100 years. Ambracia had become so helpless that the Corinthians shortly afterwards sent 300 hoplites to the city for its defence. (Thuc. 2.68
The severe blow which Ambracia had received prevented it from taking any active part in the remainder of the war.
It sent, however, some troops to the assistance of Syracuse, when besieged by the Athenians. (Thuc. 7.58
.) Ambracia was subsequently conquered by Philip II., king of Macedonia. On the accession of Alexander the Great (B.C. 336) it expelled the Macedonian garrison, but soon after-wards submitted to Alexander. (Diod. 17.3
At a later time it became subject to Pyrrhus, who made it the capital of his dominions, and his usual place of residence, and who also adorned it with numerous works of art. (Pol. 22.13; Liv. 38.9
; Strab. p. 325.) Pyrrhus built here a strongly fortified palace, which was called after him Pyrrhēum Πύρρειον
). (Pol. 22.10; Liv. 38.5
.) Ambracia afterwards fell into the hands of the Aetolians, and the possession of this powerful city was one of the chief sources of the Aetolian power in this part of Greece. When the Romans declared war against the Aetolians, Ambracia was besieged by the Roman consul M. Fulvius Nobilior, B.C. 189.
This siege is one of the most memorable in ancient warfare for the bravery displayed in the defence of the town.
In the course of the siege the Aetolians concluded a peace with Fulvius, whereupon Ambracia opened its gates to the besiegers.
The consul, however, stripped it of its valuable works of art, and removed them to Rome. (Pol. 22.9-13; Liv. 38.3
.) From this time Ambracia rapidly declined, and its ruin was completed by Augustus, who removed its inhabitants to Nicopolis, which he founded in commemoration of his victory at Actium. (Strab. p. 325; Paus. 5.23.3
There is no longer any doubt that Arta
is the site of Ambracia, the position of which was for a long time a subject of dispute.
The remains of the walls of Ambracia confirm the statements of the ancient writers respecting the strength of its fortifications.
The walls were built of immense quadrangular blocks of stone. Lieut. Wolfe measured one 18 ft. by 5.
The foundations of the acropolis may still be traced, but there are no other remains of Hellenic date.
The general form of the city is given in the following plan taken from Leake.
|PLAN OF AMBRACIA.
[The dotted line shows the ancient walls, where the foundations only remain.
The entire line, where the remains are more considerable.]
- 1. The Acropolis.
- 2. Mt. Perranthes.
- 3. Bridge over the Arachthus.
How long Ambracia continued deserted after the removal of its inhabitants to Nicopolis, we do not know; but it was re-occupied under the Byzantine Empire, and became again a place of importance. Its modern name of Arta
is evidently a corruption of the river Arachthus, upon which it stood; and we find this name in the Byzantine writers as early as the eleventh century.
In the fourteenth century Arta
was reckoned the chief town in Acarnania, whence it was frequently called by the name of Acarnania
simply. Cyriacus calls it sometimes Arechthea Acarnana.
(Böckh, Corpus Inscr.
It is still the principal town in this part of Greece, and, like the ancient city, has given its name to the neighbouring gulf.
The population of Arta
was reckoned to be about 7000 in the year 1830. (Leake, Northern Greece,
vol. i. p. 206, seq.; Wolfe, Journal of Geographical Society,
vol. iii. p.82, seq.)
There were three other places in the territory of Ambracia mentioned by ancient writers: 1. Ambracus. 2.
The port of Ambracia. 3. Craneia.
) is described by Polybius as a place well fortified by ramparts and outworks, and as surrounded by marshes, through which there was only one narrow causeway leading to the place.
It was taken by Philip V., king of Macedonia, in B.C. 219, as a preliminary to an attack upon Ambracia. (Pol. 4.61, 63.) Scylax probably alludes to this place, when he says (p. 12) that Ambracia had a fortress near its harbour; for near the western shore of the old mouth of the river Arachthus (Arta)
some ruins have been discovered, whose topographical situation accords with the description of Polybius. They are situated on a swampy island, in a marshy lake near the sea. They inclosed an area of about a quarter of a mile in extent, and appeared to be [p. 1.121]
merely a military post, which was all that the swampy nature of the ground would admit of. (Wolfe, Ibid.
This fortress commanded the harbour, which is described by Scylax and Dicaearchus (ll. cc.
) as a κλειστὸς λιμήν,
or a port with a narrow entrance, which might be shut with a chain.
The harbour must have been an artificial one; for the present mouth of the Arta is so obstructed by swamps and shoals as scarcely to be accessible even to boats.
In ancient times its navigation was also esteemed dangerous, whence Lucan (5.651
) speaks of “orae malignos Ambraciae portus.”
) was a small village situated on a mountain of the same name, which Leake supposes to have been the high mountain now called Kelberini,
which rises from the right bank of the river Arta,
immediately opposite to the town.
Between the territory of Ambracia and Amphiochia, Dicaearchus (45) mentions a people called Oreitae (Ὀρεῖται
), who appear to have been inhabitants of the mountains named Makrinoro,
beginning at the NW. corner of the Ambraciot gulf.
|COIN OF AMBRACIA.|