previous next


LACO´NIA, LACO´NICA, or LACEDAEMON, the south-easterly district of Peloponnesus.


Its most ancient name was Lacedaemon (Λακεδαίμων), which is the only form, found in Homer,, who applies this name as well to the country, as to its capital. (Il. 2.581, 3.239, 244, &c.) The usual name in the Greek writers was Laconica ( Λακωνική, sc. γῆ), though the form Lacedaemon still continued to be used. (Hdt. 6.58.) The Romans called the country LACONICA (Plin. Nat. 25.8. s. 53 ; Laconice, Mela, 2.3) or LACONIA (Plin. Nat. 6.34. s. 39, 17.18. s. 30), the latter of which is the form usually employed by modern writers. Mela (l.c.) also uses LACONIS, which is borrowed from the Greek ( Λακωνὶς γαῖα Hom. Hymn. in Apoll. 410.) The Ethnic names are Eth. Λάκων,--ωνος, Λακεδαιμόνιος, Lat. Laco or Eth. Lacon--nis, Eth. Lacedaemonius; fem. Eth. Λάκαινα, Λακωνίς, Eth. Laconis. Adj. Λακωνικός. These names are applied to the whole free population of Laconia, both to the Spartan citizens and to the Perioeci, spoken of below (for authorities, see Clinton, F. H. vol. ii. pp. 405, 406). They are usually derived from a mythical hero, Lacon or Lacedaemon; but some modern writers think that the root LAC is connected with λάκος, λάκκος, lacus, lacuna, and was given originally to the central district from its being deeply sunk between mountains. (Curtius, Peloponnesos, vol. ii. p. 309.)


The natural features of Laconia are strongly marked, and exercised a powerful influence upon the history of the people. It is a long valley, surrounded on three sides by mountains, and open only on the fourth to the sea. On the north it is bounded by the southern barrier of the Arcadian mountains, from which run in a parallel direction towards the south, the two lofty mountain ranges of Taÿgetus and Parnon,--the former dividing Laconia and Messenia, and terminating in the promontory of Taenarum, now C. Matapan, the southernmost extremity of Greece and of Europe, the latter stretching along the eastern coast, and terminating in the promontory of Malea. The river Eurotas flows through the entire length of the valley lying between these mountain masses, and falls into the sea, which was called the Laconian gulf. Laconia is well described by Euripides as a country “hollow, surrounded by mountains, rugged, and difficult of access to an enemy” (ap. Strab. viii. p.366); and the difficulty of invading it made even Epaminondas hesitate to enter it with his army. (Xen. Hell. 5.5. 10) On the northern side there are only two natural passes by which the plain of Sparta can be invaded. (See below.) On the western side the lofty masses of Taÿgetus form an almost insurmountable barrier; and the pass across them, which leads into the plain of Sparta, is so difficult as scarcely to be practicable for an army. On the eastern side the rocky character of the coast protects it from invasion by sea.


Mount Taygetus

MOUNT TAŸGETUS (Ταΰγετον, τὸ Τηΰγετον ὄρος, the common forms; Τα̈́γετος, Lucian, Icarom. 19; τὰ Ταΰγετα, Polyaen. 7.49; Taÿgeta, Verg. G. 2.487: the first half of this word is said by Hesychius to signify great). This mountain is the loftiest in Peloponnesus, and extends in an almost unbroken line for the space of 70 miles from Leondari in Arcadia to C. Matapan. Its vast height, unbroken length, and majestic form, have been celebrated by both ancient and modern writers. Homer gives it the epithet of περιμήκετον (Od. 6.103), and a modern traveller remarks that, “whether from its real height, from the grandeur of its outline, or the abruptness, of its rise from the plain, it created in his mind a stronger impression of stupendous bulk and loftiness than any mountain he had seen in Greece, or perhaps in any other part of Europe.” (Mure, Tour in Greece, vol. ii. p. 221.) Taÿgetus rises to its greatest height immediately above Sparta. Its principal summit was called TALETUM (Ταλετόν) in antiquity: it was sacred to the Sun, and horses and other victims were here sacrificed to this god. (Paus. 3.20.4.) It is now called S. Elias, to whose chapel on the summit an annual pilgrimage is made in the middle of the summer. Its height has been ascertained by the French Commission to be 2409 metres, or 7902 English feet. Another summit near Taletum was called EVORAS (Εὐόρας, Belvedere, Paus. l.c.), which Leake identifies with Mt. Paximádhi, the highest summit next to St. Elias, from which it is distant 5 1/2 geographical miles. The ancient names of none of the other heights are mentioned.


By the Byzantine writers Taÿgetus was called PENTEDACTYLUM (τὸ Πεντεδάκτυλον), or the “Five Fingers,” on account of its various summits above the Spartan plain. (Constant. Porphyr. de Adm. Imp. 100.50.) In the 13th century it bore the name of Melingús ( ζυγὸς τοῦ Μελιγγοῦ, see Leake, Peloponnesiaca, p. 138). At the base of Taÿgetus, immediately above the Spartan plain, there is a lower ridge running parallel to the higher summits. This lower ridge consists of huge projecting masses of precipitous rocks, some of which are more than 2000 feet high, though they appear insignificant when compared with the lofty barrier of Taÿgetus behind them. After attaining its greatest elevation, Mt. Taÿgetus sinks gradually down towards the south, and sends forth a long and lofty counterfork towards the Eurotas, now called Lykobüni (Λυκοβοῦνι, Wolfs-mountain), which bounds the Spartan plain on the south. It there contracts again, and runs down, as the backbone of a small peninsula, to the southernmost extremity [p. 2.109]of Greece. This mountainous district between the Laconian and Messenian gulfs is now called Mani, and is inhabited by the Maniátes, who always maintained their independence, while the rest of Greece was subject to the Turks: the southern part of the peninsula, as well as the promontory, bore the name of Taenarum in antiquity. [TAENARUM] Although there is no trace of any volcanic action in Mt. Taÿgetus, many of its chasms and the rent forms of its rocks have been produced by the numerous and violent earthquakes to which the district has been subjected. Hence Laconia is called by Homer “full of hollows” (κητώεσσα, Il. 2.581, Od. 4.1), and Strabo describes it as a country easily shaken by earthquakes (Strab. viii. p.367). In the fearful earthquake, which laid Sparta in ruins in B.C. 464, and killed more than 20,000 Lacedaemonians, huge masses of rocks were rolled down from the highest peaks of Taÿgetus. (Plut. Cim. 16.)

On the sides of Mt. Taÿgetus are forests of deep green pine, which abounded in ancient times with game and wild animals, among which Pausanias mentions wild goats, wild boars, stags, and bears. The district between the summits of Taletum and Evoras was called THERAS (Θήρας), or the hunting ground. (Paus. 3.20. § § 4, 5.) Hence Taÿgetus was one of the favourite haunts of the huntress Artemis (Od. 6.103), and the excellence of the Laconian dogs was proverbial in antiquity. (Aristot. Hist. An. 6.20; Xen. de Ven. 10 § 1; Verg. G. 3.405; Hor. Epod. 6.5.) Modern travellers tell us that the dogs of the country still support their ancient character for ferocity and courage. (Mure, vol. ii. p. 231.)


The southern part of Mount Taÿgetus is rich in marble and iron. Near Croceae there were quarries of green porphyry, which was extensively employed by the Romans. [CROCEAE] There was also another kind of marble obtained from quarries more to the south, called by the Romans Taenarian marble. The whetstones of Mount Taÿgetus were likewise in much request. (Strab. viii. p.367; “Taenarius lapis,” Plin. Nat. 36.22. s. 43; “cotes Laconicae ex Taygeto monte,” Plin. Nat. 36.22. s. 47.,) The iron found in the mountain was considered very good, and was much used in the manufacture of warlike weapons and agricultural instruments. (Steph. B. sub voce Λακεδαίμων; Xen. Hell. 3.3. 7; Plin. Nat. 7.57; Eustath. ad Il. p. 298, ed. Rom.)

Mount Parnon

MOUNT PARNON ( Πάρνων, Paus. 2.38.7) is of an entirely different character from the opposite range of Taÿgetus. It does not form one uninterrupted line of mountains, but is broken up into various detached masses of less elevation, which form a striking contrast to the unbroken and majestic barrier of Taÿgetus. The mass to which the name of Parnon was more especially applied was the range of mountains, now called Malevö, forming the natural boundary between Arcadia, Laconia, and Argolis. It is 6355 feet high, and its summit is nearly equidistant from the Eurotas and the eastern coast. This mountain is continued in a general south-easterly direction, but how far south-wards it continued to bear the name of Parnon is unknown. Its eastern declivities, which extend as far as the coast at a considerable elevation, contain the district now called Tzakonía, a corruption of the word Laconia, the inhabitants of which speak a dialect closely resembling the ancient Greek: of this an account has been given elsewhere. [Vol. I. p. 728.] On its western side Mt. Parnon sinks down more rapidly, and divides itself into separate hills, which bear the names of BARBOSTHENES OLYMPUS, OSSA, THORNAX, and MENELAIUM; the two last are opposite Sparta, and a modern observer describes Menelaium as not remarkable either for height or variety of outline, but rising gradually in a succession of gentle ridges. (Mure, vol. ii. p. 223.) In its southern continuation, Mt. Parnon still continues of moderate height till near the commencement of the peninsula between the Myrtoan and Laconian gulfs, where it rises under the name of Mount ZARAX (Ζάραξ) to a height of 3500 feet, and runs along the eastern coast at a considerable elevation, till it reaches the promontory of Malea.

Eurotas River

The EUROTAS (Εὐρώτας) flows, as already observed, throughout the entire length of the valley between the ranges of Taÿgetus and Parnon. Its more ancient names were BOMYCAS (Βωμύκας, Etym. M. s. v.) and HIMERUS (Ἵμερος, Plut. de Fluv. 17): it is now called Iris and Niris in its upper and middle course, and Basíli-potamó from the time it leaves the Spartan plain till it reaches the sea. In its course three districts may be distinguished;--the vale of the upper Eurotas; the vale of the middle Eurotas, or the plain of Sparta; and the vale of the lower Eurotas, or the maritime plain.

1. The Vale of the Upper Eurotas.

The river Eurotas rises in the mountains which form the southern boundary of the Arcadian plains of Asea and Megalopolis. It was believed by both Pausanias and Strabo that the Alpheius and the Eurotas had a common origin, and that, after flowing together for a short distance, they sank under ground; the Alpheius reappearing at Pegae, in the territory of Megalopolis in Arcadia, and the Eurotas in the Bleminatis in Laconia; but for a fuller account of their statements upon this subject the reader is referred to the article ALPHEIUS All that we know for certain is that the Eurotas is formed by the union of several copious springs rising on the southern side of the mountain above mentioned, and that it flows from a narrow glen, which gradually opens towards the SSW. On the eastern side it keeps close to the mountains, while on the western side there is a little level ground and some mountain slopes between the river and the heights of Taÿgetus. At the distance of little more than a mile from Sparta, the Eurotas receives the OENUS (Οἰνοῦς, Plb. 2.65, 66; Athen. 1.31; Liv. 34.28), now called Kelefína, which rises in the watershed of Mt. Parnon, and flows in a general south-westerly direction: the principal tributary of the Oenus was the GORGYLUS (Γόργυλος, Plb. 2.66), probably the river of Vrestená. (Leake, Peloponnesiaca, p. 347.) Nearly opposite the union of the Oenus and the Eurotas, the mountains of Taÿgetus press close upon the river, but again almost immediately withdraw to a greater distance than before, and the river emerges into the Spartan plain.

The Vale of the Middle Eurotas.

Sparta is situated at the commencement of this vale on the right bank of the Eurotas. Between the river and Mt. Taÿgetus the plain is of considerable extent. Its soil is particularly adapted for the growth of olives, which are in the present day preferred to those of Athens; and the silk of the Spartan plain is superior to the silk of every other district of Greece. (Mure, vol. ii. p. 224.) The soil, however, cannot be compared with that of the rich Messenian [p. 2.110]plain, and hence Euripides, in contrasting the two countries, describes Laconia as a poor land, in which there is a large tract of arable, but of laborious tillage (ap. Strab. viii. p.366). This is in accordance with the account of Leake, who says that the soil of the plain is in general a poor mixture of white clay and stones, difficult to plough, and better suited to olives than corn. (Morea, vol. i. p. 148.) The vale, however, possesses a genial climate, being sheltered on every side by mountains, and the scenery is of the most beautiful description. Hence Lacedaemon has been aptly characterised by Homer as “a hollow pleasant valley” (κοίλη ἐρατεινή, Il. 2.581, 3.443, Od. 4.1). The climate is favourable to beauty; and the women of the Spartan plain are at present taller and more robust than the other Greeks, have more colour in general, and look healthier; which agrees also with Homer's Λακεδαίμονα καλλιγύναικα (Leake, Morea, vol. iii. p. 149). The security of the Spartan plain against hostile attacks has been briefly alluded to. There were only two roads practicable for an invading army; one by the upper Eurotas, leading from southern Arcadia and Stenyclarus; the other by the long and narrow valley of the Oenus, in which the roads from Tegea and Argos united near Sellasia;

3. Vale of the Lower Eurotas.

At the southern extremity of the Spartan plain, the mountains again approach so close, as to leave scarcely space for the passage of the Eurotas. The mountains on the western side are the long and lofty counterfork of Mt. Taÿgetus, called Lykobúni, which has been already mentioned. This gorge, through which the Eurotas issues from the vale of Sparta into the maritime plain, is mentioned by Strabo ( Εὐρώταςδιεξιὼν αὐλῶνά τινα μακρὸν, viii. p. 343). It is about 12 miles in length. The maritime plain, which is sometimes called the plain of Helos, from the town of this name upon the coast, is fertile and of some extent. In the lower part of it the Eurotas flows through marshes and sandbanks into the Laconian gulf.

The banks of the Eurotas and the dry parts of its bed are overgrown with a profusion of reeds. Hence the epithets of δονακοτρόφος and δονακόεις are frequently given to it by the poets. (Theogn. 785; Eurip. Iphig. in Aul. 179, Helen. 207.)

Other rivers and streams: Tiasa, Phellia, Smenus, Scyras

The only tributary of the Eurotas, which possesses an independent valley, is the Oenus already mentioned. The other tributaries are mere mountain torrents, of which the two following names have been preserved, both descending from Mt. Taÿgetus through the Spartan plain: TIASA (Τίασα, Paus. 3.18.6; Athen. 4.139), placed by Pausanias on the road from Amyclae to Sparta, and hence identified by Leake with the Pandeleímona ; PHELLIA (Φέλλια, 3.20.3), the river between Amyclae and Pharis. The CNACION (Κνακίων), mentioned in one of the ordinances of Lycurgus, was identified by later writers with the Oenus. (Plut. Lyc. 6.)

The streams SMENUS and SCYRAS flowing into the sea on the western side of the Laconian gulf, are spoken of below. [See p. 114b.]

Before leaving the rivers of Laconia, a few words must be said respecting an ancient Laconian bridge still existing, which has been assigned to the remotest antiquity. This is the bridge of Xerókampo, built over a tributary of the Eurotas, about three hours' ride to the south of Sparta, just where the stream issues from one of the deepest and darkest gorges of Taÿgetus. It was first discovered by Ross, and has been described by Mure, who supposes it to belong to the same period as the monuments of Mycenae. Even if it does not belong to so early a date, but is a genuine Hellenic work, it would establish the fact that the Greeks were acquainted with the use of the concentric arch at a very early period; whereas it has been usually supposed that it was not known to them till the time of Alexander the Great. The general appearance and character of this structure will be best seen from the annexed drawing taken from Mure. The masonry is of the polygonal species: the largest stones are those of the arch, some of which are from four to five feet long, from two to three in breadth, and between one and two in thickness. From the character of the structure, and from its remote situation, Mure concludes that it cannot be a Roman work; and there are strong reasons for believing that the Greeks were acquainted with the use of the arch at a much earlier period than has been usually supposed. (Mure, vol. ii. p. 247, seq.; comp. Leake, Peloponnesiaca, p. 116, seq.)


There are no other plains in Laconia except the three above mentioned in the valley of the Eurotas; but on the slopes of the mountains, especially on those of Parnon, there is a considerable quantity of arable as well as pasture ground. The whole area of Laconia is computed to contain 1896 English square miles.


The political history of the country forms a prominent part of Grecian history, and cannot be narrated in this place at sufficient length to be of value to the student. But as the boundaries of Laconia differed considerably at various periods, it is necessary to mention briefly those facts in the history of the country which produced those changes.

It will be seen from the preceding description of the physical features of Laconia, that the plain of Sparta forms the very kernel and heart of the country. Accordingly, it was at all times the seat of the ruling class; and from it the whole country received its appellation. This place is said to have been originally inhabited by the Leleges, the most ancient inhabitants of the country. According to tradition, Lelex, the first king, was succeeded by his son Myles, and the latter by his son Eurotas, who collected into a channel the waters which were spread over the plain, and gave his own name to the river which he had thus formed. He died without male offspring, and was succeeded by Lacedaemon, the son of Zeus and Taÿgeta, who married Sparta, [p. 2.111]the daughter of his predecessor. Lacedaemon gave to the people and the country his own name, and to the city which he founded the name of his wife. Amyclas, the son of Lacedaemon, founded the city called after him Amyclae. (Paus. 3.1.) Subsequently Lacedaemon was ruled by Achaean princes, and Sparta was the residence of Menelaus, the brother of Agamemnon. Menelaus was succeeded by Orestes, who married his daughter Hermione, and Orestes by his son Tisamenus, who was reigning when the Dorians invaded the country under the guidance of the Heracleidae. In the threefold division of Peloponnesus among the descendants of Hercules, Lacedaemon fell to the share of Eurysthenes and Procles, the twin sons of Aristodemus. According to the common legend, the Dorians conquered the Peloponnesus at once; but there is sufficient evidence that they only slowly became masters of the countries in which we afterwards find them settled; and in Laconia it was some time before they obtained possession even of all the places in the plain of Sparta. According to a statement in Ephorus, the Dorian conquerors divided Laconia into six districts; Sparta they kept for themselves; Amyclae was given to the Achaean Philonomus, who betrayed the country to them; while Las, Pharis, Aegys, and a sixth town the name of which is lost, were governed by viceroys, and were allowed to receive new citizens. (Ephor. ap. Strab. viii. p.364; on this corrupt passage, which has been happily restored, see Müller, Dorians, vol. i. p. 110, transl.; Niebuhr, Ethnograph. vol. i. p. 56, transl.; Kramer, ad Strab. l.c.) It is probable that this division of Laconia into six provinces was not actually made till a much later period; but we have sufficient evidence to show that, for a long time after the Dorian conquest, the Dorians possessed only a small portion of Laconia. Of this the most striking proof is that the Achaean city of Amyclae, distant only 2 1/2 miles from Sparta, maintained its independence for nearly three centuries after the Dorian conquest, for it was only subdued shortly before the First Messenian War by the Spartan king Teleclus. The same king took Pharis and Geronthrae, both Achaean cities; and his son and successor, Alcamenes, conquered the town of Helos, upon the coast near the mouth of the Eurotas. (Paus. 3.2. § § 6, 7.) Of the subjugation of the other Achaean towns we have no accounts; but there can be little doubt that they were mainly owing to the military organisation and martial spirit which the Spartans had acquired by the institutions of Lycurgus.

By the middle of the eighth century the Dorians of Sparta had become undisputed masters of the whole of Laconia. They now began to extend their dominions at the expense of their neighbours. Originally Argos was the chief Dorian power in the Peloponnesus, and Sparta only the second. In ancient times the Argives possessed the whole eastern coast of Laconia down to Cape Malea, and also the island of Cythera (Hdt. 1.82); and although we have no record of the time at which this part of Laconia was conquered by the Spartans, we may safely conclude that it was before the Messenian wars. The Dorians in Messenia possessed a much more fertile territory than the Spartans in Laconia, and the latter now began to cast longing eyes upon the richer fields of their neighbours. A pretext for war soon arose; and, by two long protracted and obstinate contests, usually called the First and Second Messenian wars (the first from B.C. 743 to 724, and the second from B.C. 685 to 668), the Spartans conquered the whole of Messenia, expelled or reduced to the condition of Helots the inhabitants, and annexed their country to Laconia. The name of Messenia now disappears from history; and, for a period of three centuries, from the close of the Second Messenian War to the restoration of the independence of Messenia by Epaminondas, the whole of the southern part of Peloponnesus, from the western to the eastern sea, bore the appellation of Laconia.

The upper parts of the valleys of the Eurotas and the Oenus, the districts of Sciritis, Beleminatis, Maleatis, and Caryatis, originally belonged to the Arcadians, but they were all conquered by the Spartans and annexed to their territory before B.C. 600. (Grote, Hist. of Greece, vol. ii. p. 588.) They thus extended their territories on the north to what may be regarded as the natural boundaries of Laconia, the mountains forming the watershed between the Eurotas and the Alpheius; but when they crossed these limits, and attempted to obtain possession of the plain of Tegea, they met with the most determined opposition, and were at last obliged to be content with the recognition of their supremacy by the Tegeatans, and to leave the latter in the independent enjoyment of their territory.

The history of the early struggles between the Spartans and Argives is unknown. The district on the coast between the territories of the two states, and of which the plain of Thyreatis was the most important part, inhabited by the Cynurians, a Pelasgic people, was a frequent object of contention between them, and was in possession, sometimes of the one, and sometimes of the other power. At length, in B.C. 547, the Spartans obtained permanent possession of it by the celebrated battle fought by the 300 champions from either nation. CYNURIA] The dominions of the Spartans now extended on the other side of Mount Parnon, as far as the pass of Anigraea.

The population of Sparta was divided into the three classes of Spartans, Perioeci, and Helots. Of the condition of these classes a more particular account is given in the Dictionary of Antiquities; and it is only necessary to remark here that the Spartans lived in Sparta itself, and were the ruling Dorian class; that the Perioeci lived in the different townships in Laconia, and, though freemen, had no share in the government, but received all their orders from the ruling class at Sparta; and that the Helots were serfs bound to the soil, who cultivated it for the benefit of the Spartan proprietors, and perhaps of the Perioeci also. After the extension of the Spartan dominions by the conquest of Messenia and Cynuria, Laconia was said to possess 100 townships (Strab. viii. p.362), among which we find mentioned Anthana in the Cynurian Thyreatis, and Aulon in Messenia, near the frontiers of Elis. (Steph. B. sub voce s. vv. Ἀνθάνα, Αὐλών.

According to the common story, Lycurgus divided the territory of Laconia into a number of equal lots, of which 9000 were assigned to the Spartans, and 30,000 to the Perioeci. (Plut. Lyc. 8.) Some ancient critics, however, while believing that Lycurgus made an equal division of the Laconian lands, supposed that the above numbers referred to the distribution of the Lacedaemonian territory after the incorporation of Messenia. And even with respect to the latter opinion, there were two different statements some maintained that 6000 lots had been [p. 2.112]given by Lycurgus, and that 3000 were added by king Polydorus at the end of the First Messenian War; others supposed that the original number of 4500 was doubled by Polydorus. (Plut. l.c.) From these statements attempts have been made by modern writers to calculate the population of Laconia, and the relative numbers of the Spartans and the Perioeci; but Mr. Grote has brought forward strong reasons for believing that no such division of the landed property of Laconia was ever made by Lycurgus, and that the belief of his having done so arose in the third century before the Christian era, when Agis attempted to make a fresh division of the land of Laconia. (Grote, Hist. of Greece, vol. ii. p. 521.) In any case, it is impossible to determine, as some writers have attempted, the lands which belonged respectively to the Spartans and the Perioeci. All that we know is, that, in the law proposed by Agis, the land bound by the four limits of Pellene, Sellasia, Malea, and Taÿgetus, was divided into 4500 lots, one for each Spartan; and that the remainder of Laconia was divided into 15,000 lots, one for each Perioecus (Plut. Agis 8.)

With respect to the population of Laconia, we have a few isolated statements in the ancient writers. Of these the most important is that of Herodotus, who says that the citizens of Sparta at the time of the Persian wars was about 8000 (7.234). The number of the Perioeci is nowhere stated ; but we know from Herodotus that there were 10,000 of them present at the battle of Plataea, 5000 heavy-armed, and 5000 light-armed (9.11, 29); and, as there were 5000 Spartans at this battle, that is five-eighths of the whole number of citizens, we may venture to assume as an approximate number, that the Perioeci at the battle may have been also five-eighths of their whole number, which would give 16,000 for the males of full age. After the time of the Persian wars the number of the Spartan citizens gradually but steadily declined; and Clinton is probably right in his supposition that at the time of the invasion of Laconia, in B.C. 369, the total number of Spartans did not exceed 2000; and that Isocrates, in describing the original Dorian conquerors of Laconia as only 2000, has probably adapted to the description the number of Spartans in his own time. (Isocr. Panath. p. 286c.) About 50 years after that event, in the time of Aristotle, they were scarcely 1000 (Aristot. Pol. 2.6.11); and eighty years still later, in the reign of Agis, B.C. 244, their number was reduced to only 700 (Plut. Agis 5.) The number of Helots was very large. At the battle of Plataea there were 35,000 light-armed Helots, that is seven for every single Spartan (Hdt. 9.28.) On the population of Laconia, see Clinton, F. H. vol. ii. p. 407, seq.

From B.C. 547 to B.C. 371, the boundaries of Laconia continued to be the same as we have mentioned above. But after the overthrow of her supremacy by the fatal battle of Leuctra, the Spartans were successively stripped of the dominions they had acquired at the expense of the Messenians, Arcadians, and Argives. Epaminondas, by establishing the independent state of Messenia, confined the Spartans to the country east of Mount Taÿgetus; and the Arcadian city of Megalopolis, which was founded by the same statesman, encroached upon the Spartan territory in the upper vale of the Eurotas. While the Thebans were engaged in the Sacred War, the Spartans endeavoured to recover some of their territory which they had thus lost; but it was still further circumscribed by Philip, the father of Alexander the Great, who deprived the Spartans of several districts, which he assigned to the Argives, Arcadians, and Messenians. (Plb. 9.28; Paus. 4.28.2.) After the establishment of the Achaean League their influence in the Peloponnesus sank lower and lower. For a short time they showed unwonted vigour, under their king Cleomenes, whose resolution had given new life to the state. They defeated the Achaeans in several battles, and seemed to be regaining a portion at least of their former power, when they were checked in their progress by Antigonus Doson, whom the Achaeans called in to their assistance, and were at length completely humbled by the fatal battle of Sellasia, B.C. 221. (Dict. of Biogr. art. Cleomenes.) Soon afterwards Sparta fell into the hands of a succession of usurpers; and of these Nabis, one of the most sanguinary, was compelled by T. Quinctius Flamininus, to surrender Gythium and the other maritime towns, which had sided with the Romans, and were now severed from the Spartan dominion and placed under the protection of the Achaean League, B.C. 195. (Strab. viii. p.366; Thirlwall, Hist. of Greece, vol. viii. p. 326.) The Spartans were thus confined almost to the valley in which their Dorian ancestors had first settled, and, like them, were surrounded by a number of hostile places. Seven years afterwards, B.C. 188, Sparta itself was taken by Philopoemen, and annexed to the Achaean League (Plut. Phil. 16; Liv. 38.32-34); but this step was displeasing to the Romans, who viewed with apprehension the further increase of the Achaean League, and accordingly encouraged the party at Sparta opposed to the interests of the Achaeans. But the Roman conquest of Greece, which soon followed, put an end to these disputes, and placed Laconia, together with the rest of Greece, under the immediate government of Rome. Whether the Lacedaemonian towns to which Flamininus had granted independence were placed again under the dominion of Sparta, is not recorded; but we know that Augustus guaranteed to them their independence, and they are henceforth mentioned under the name of Eleuthero-Lacones. Pausanias says there were originally 24 towns of the Eleuthero-Lacones, and in his time there were still 18, of which the names were Gythium, Teuthrone, Las, Pyrrhicus, Caenepolis, Oetylus, Leuctra, Thalamae, Alagonia, Gerenia, Asopus, Acriae, Boeae, Zarax, Epidaurus Limera, Brasiae, Geronthrae, Marios. (Paus. 3.21.7.) Augustus showed favour to the Spartans as well as to the Lacedaemonians in general; he gave to Sparta the Messenian town of Cardamyle (Paus. 3.26.7); he also annexed to Laconia the Messenian town of Pharae (Paus. 4.30.2), and gave to the Lacedaemonians the island of Cythera. (D. C. 54.7.)

At the end of the fourth century of the Christian era, Laconia was devastated by the Goths under Alaric, who took Sparta (Zosim. 5.6). Subsequently Slavonians settled in the country, and retained possession of it for a long time; but towards the end of the eighth century, in the reign of the empress Irene, the Byzantine court made an effort to recover their dominions in Peloponnesus, and finally succeeded in reducing to subjection the Slavonians in the plains, while those in Laconia who would not submit were obliged to take refuge in the fastnesses of Mt. Taÿgetus. When the Franks became masters of Laconia in the 13th century, they found upon [p. 2.113]the site of ancient Sparta a town still called Lacedaimonia; but in A.D. 1248, William Villehardoin built a fortress on one of the rocky hills at the foot of Mt. Taÿgetus, about three miles from the city of Lacedaemonia. Here he took up his residence; and on this rock, called Misithra, usually pronounced Mistrá, a new town arose, which became the capital of Laconia, and continued to be so till Sparta began to be rebuilt on its ancient site by order of the present Greek government. (Finlay, Medieval Greece, p. 230; Curtius, Peloponnesos, vol. ii. p. 214.)


1. In the Spartan Plain.

The three chief towns were SPARTA, AMYCLAE, and PHARIS, all situated near one another, and upon some of the lower heights close to the Eurotas. Their proximity would seem to show that they did not arise at the same time. Amyclae lay only 2 1/2 miles south of Sparta, and appears to have been the chief place in the country before the Dorian invasion. South of Amyclae, and on the road from this town to the sea, was Pharis, also an Achaean town in existence before the Dorian conquest. THERAPNE may be regarded as almost a part of Sparta. [SPARTA] On the slopes of Mt. Taÿgetus, above the plain, there were several places. They were visited by Pausanias (3.20. § § 3--7), but it is difficult to determine the road which he took. After crossing the river Phellia, beyond Amyclae, he turned to the right towards the mountain. In the plain was a sanctuary of Zeus Messapeus, belonging, as we learn from Stephanus, to a village called MESSAPEAE (Μεσσαπέαι), and beyond it, at the entrance into the mountains, the Homeric city of BRYSEAE In the mountains was a sanctuary of Demeter Eleusinia, and 15 stadia from the latter LAPITHAEUM near which was DERRHIUM where was a fountain called Anonus. Twenty stadia from Derrhium was HARPLEIA which borders upon the plain. Pausanias gives no information of the direction in which he proceeded from the Eleusiniumr to Harpleia. Leake supposes that he turned to the south, and accordingly places Harpleia at the entrance into the plain by the bridge of Xerókampo; while Curtius, on the contrary, imagines that he turned to the north, and came into the plain at Mistrá, which he therefore identifies with Harpleia. It is impossible to determine which of these views is the more correct. The antiquities and inscriptions discovered at Mistrá prove that it was the site of an ancient town, and Leake conjectures that it represents the Homeric MESSE.

2. In the Vale of the Upper Eurotas.

The road from Sparta to Megalopolis followed the vale of the Eurotas. On this road Pausanias mentions first several monuments, the position of one of which, the tomb of Ladas, may still be identified. This tomb is described as distant 50 stadia from Sparta, and as situated above the road, which here passes very near to the river Eurotas. At about this distance from Sparta, Leake perceived a cavern in the rocks, with two openings, one of which appeared to have been fashioned by art, and a little beyond a semicircular sepulchral niche: the place is called by the peasants στοὺς Φούρνους. (Leake, Morea, vol. iii. p. 13.) Further on was the Characoma (Χαράκωμα), a fortification, probably, in the narrow part of the valley; above it the town PELLANA the frontier-fortress of Sparta in the vale of the Eurotas; and 100 stadia from Pellana, BELEMLNA. (Paus. 3.20.8-21.3.) In the neighbourhood of Belemina was AEGYS originally an Arcadian town, which was conquered at an early period by the Spartans, and its territory annexed to Laconia. In the upper vale of the Eurotas was the Lacedaemonian TRIPOLIS (Liv. 35.27.) Pellana was one of the three cities (Plb. 4.81); Belemina was undoubtedly another; and the third was either Aegys or Carystus.

The road to Tegea and Argos ran along the vale of the Oenus. (Paus. 3.10. § § 6-8.) After crossing the bridge over the Eurotas, the traveller saw on his right hand Mount Thornax, upon which stood a colossal statue of Apollo Pythaeus, guarding the city of Sparta, which lay at his feet. (Comp. Hdt. 1.69; Xen. Hell. 6.5. 27) A little further on in the vale of the Oenus, was SELLASIA which was the bulwark of Sparta in the vale of the Oenus, as Pellana was in that of the Eurotas. Above Sellasia was a small plain, the only one in the vale of the Oenus, bounded on the east by Mt. Olympus and on the west by Mt. Evas: a small stream, called Gorgylus, flowed through the western side of the plain into the Oenus. This was the site of the celebrated battle in which Cleomenes was defeated by Antigonus. [SELLASIA] In this plain the road divided into two, one leading to Argos and the other to Tegea. The road to Argos followed the Oenus; and to the west of the road, about an hour distant from the modern Arákhova, lay CARYAE From this place to the confines of the Thyreatis in Argolis, was a forest of oaks, called SCOTITAS (Σκοτίτας), which derived its name from a temple of Zeus Scotitas, about 10 stadia west of the road. (Paus. 3.10.6; Plb. 16.37.) On the ridge of Mt. Parnon the boundaries of Argolis and Laconia were marked by Hermae, of which, three heaps of stones, called οἱ Φονευμένοι (the slain), may perhaps be the remains. (Ross, Reisen im Peloponnes, p. 173.) There was also a town OENUS from which the river derived its name.

The road to Tegea, which is the same as the present road from Sparta to Tripolitzá, after leaving the plain of Sellasia, passes over a high and mountainous district, called SCIRITIS in antiquity. The territory of Laconia extended beyond the highest ridge of the mountain; and the chief source of the Alpheius, called Sarantopótamos, formed the boundary between Laconia and the Tegeatis. Before reaching the Arcadian frontier, the road went through a narrow and rugged pass, now called Klisúra. The two towns in Sciritis were SCIRUS and OEUM called Ium by Xenophon.

3. In the southern part of Laconia.

On the road from Sparta to Gythium, the chief port of the country, Pausanias (3.21.4) first mentions CROCEAE distant about 135 stadia from Sparta, and celebrated for its quarries. GYTHIUM was 30 stadia beyond Croceae. Above Gythium, in the interior, was AEGIAE to which a road also led from Croceae. Opposite Gythium was the island CRANAE After giving an account of Gythium, Pausanias divides the rest of Laconia, for the purposes of his description, into what lies left and what lies right of Gythium (ἐν ἀριστερἇ Γυθίου, 3.22.3---H τὰ ἐν δεξιἇ Γυθίου, 3.24.6).

Following the order of Pausanias, we will first mention the towns to the left or east of Gythium. Thirty stadia above Gythium was TRINASUS situated upon a promontory, which formed the NE. extremity of the peninsula terminating in Cape [p. 2.114]Taenarum. Eighty stadia beyond Trinasus was HELOS also upon the coast. The road from Sparta to Helos followed the Eurotas the greater part of the way; and Leake noticed in several parts of the rock ruts of chariot wheels, evidently the vestiges of the ancient carriage-road. (Leake, Morea, vol. i. p. 194.) Thirty stadia south of Helos on the coast was ACRIAE; and sixty stadia south of Acriae, ASOPUS the later name of CYPARISSIA Between Acriae and Asopus, Ptolemy mentions a town BIANDINA (Βιάνδινα,, 3.16.9), the name of which occurs in an inscription in the form of Biadinupolis (Βιαδ[ιν]ουπολείταν, Böckh, Insc. No. 1336). Between Asopus and Acriae was an inland plain, called LEUCE containing in the interior a town of this name, and in the same neighbourhood was PLEIAE Returning to the coast, 50 stadia south of Asopus, was a temple of Asclepius, in a spot called HYPERTELEATUM Two hundred stadia south of Asopus was the promontory and peninsula ONUGNATHUS connected with the mainland by a narrow isthmus, which is, however, generally covered with water. Between Onugnathus and Malea is a considerable bay, called Boeaticus Sinus, from the town of BOEAE situated at its head. In this neighbourhood were three ancient towns, called ETIS, APHRODISIAS, and SIDE which were founded by the Dorians; the two former on the Boeaticus Sinus, and the other on the eastern sea north of Cape Malea. Between Boeae and Malea was NYMPHAEUM (Νύμφαιον or Νύμβαιον with a cave near the sea, in which was a fountain of sweet water. Pausanias (3.23.2) calls Nymphaeum a λίμνη, but, as there is no lake in this neighbourhood, Boblaye conjectures (Recherches, &c. p. 99) that we should read λιμήν,, and places Nymphaeum at the harbour of Santa Marina, where a fountain of water issues from a grotto. The promontory MALEA (Μαλέα, Steph. B. sub voce et alii; Μαλέαι, Hdt. 1.82; Strab. viii. p.368), still called Maliá, the most southerly point in Greece with the exception of Taenarum, was much dreaded by the ancient sailors on account of the winds and waves of the two seas, which here meet together. Hence arose the proverb, “after doubling Malea, forget your country” (Strab. viii. p.378), and the epithet of Statius, “formidatum Maleae caput” (Theb. 2.33). On the promontory there was a statue of Apollo. (Steph. B. sub voce Λιθήσιος; Ἀπόλλων Μαλεάτης, Paus. 3.12.8.) South of Malea was the island CYTHERA Following the eastern coast we first come to SIDE already mentioned; then to EPIDELIUM 100 stadia from Malea; next to EPIDAURUS LIMERA and successively to ZARAX, CYPHANTA, and PRASIAE or Brasiae, of which the last is near the confines of Argolis. The numbers in Pausanias, giving the distances of these places from one another, are corrupt: see CYPHANTA In the interior, between the Eurotas and the south-western slopes of Parnon, Pausanias mentions GERONTHRAE situated 120 stadia north of Acriae; MARIUS 100 stadia east of Geronthrae; GLYPPIA also called Glympia, north of Marius; and SELINUS 20 stadia from Geronthrae.

Returning now to Gythium, we proceed to enumerate the towns to the right, that is, west and south, of this place, according to the plan of Pausanias (3.24.6, seq.); in other words, the towns in the peninsula through which Mount Taÿgetus runs. Forty stadia south of Gythium was LAS upon the coast, which some writers call Asine. Thirty stadia from a hill near Las was HYPSI, in the interior; and a little below Las was the river Smenus (Σμῆνος), rising in Mt. Taÿgetus, which Pausanias praises for the excellence of its water, now the river of Passavá. Immediately south of this river was the temple of Artemis Dictynna, on a promontory now called Aghéranos; and in the same neighbourhood was a village called by Pausanias Araenus or Araenum, where Las, the founder of the city of Las, was said to have been buried. South of the promontory of Aghéranos is a stream, now called the river of Dhíkova, the SCYRAS (Σκύρας) of Pausanias (3.25.1), beyond which were an altar and temple of Zeus: there are still some ancient remains on the right side of the river near its mouth. Further south is the peninsula of Siutári, inclosing a bay of the same name, which is conjectured to be the Sinus Aegilodes of Pliny (4.5. s. 8); if so, we must place here Aegila, which is mentioned incidentally by Pausanias (4.17.1) as a town of Laconia. Inland 40 stadia from the river Scyras lay PYRRHICHUS SE. of Pyrrhichus on the coast was TEUTHRONE Between Teuthrone and the Taenarian peninsula no town is mentioned, but at a place on the coast called Kikonia there are considerable remains of two temples. The Taenarian peninsula is connected with that of Taÿgetus by an isthmus half a mile across, and contains two harbours, named PSAMATHUS and ACHILLEIUS PORTUS [see TAENARUM] : the extremity of the peninsula is C. Matapán. Rounding the latter point, and ascending southwards, we come to the town of TAENARUM afterwards called CAENEPOLIS 40 stadia above the Taenarian isthmus. Thirty stadia N. of Caenepolis was the commencement of the promontory THYRIDES nearly as large as the Taenarian peninsula, but connected with the mainland by a much wider isthmus. On this promontory were the towns of HIPPOLA and MESSA North of Messa was OETYLUS; but the distance of 150 stadia, assigned by Pausanias between the two places, is too much. [OETYLUS] Eighty stadia north of Oetylus was THALAMAE situated inland, and 20 stadia from Thalamae was PEPHNUS upon the coast. Both these towns were upon the lesser PAMISUS now called the Miléa, which the Messenians said was originally the boundary of their territory. (Strab. viii. p.361; Paus. 3.26.3.) The districts north of this river were taken away from the Lacedaemonians by Philip in B.C. 338, and granted to the Messenians; but it is probable that the latter did not long retain possession of them. In the time of the Roman empire they formed part of Eleuthero-Laconia. (Leake, Peloponnesiaca, p. 179.) Twenty stadia north of Pephnus, upon the coast, was LEUCTRA or LEUCTRUM; and 60 stadia north of the latter, CARDAMYLE at the distance of 8 stadia from the sea. North of Cardamyle was GERENIA the most northerly of the Eleuthero-Laconian towns. Thirty stadia from Gerenia, in the interior, was ALAGONLA.

(On the geography of Laconia, see Leake, Morea and Peloponnesiaca ; Boblaye, Réckerches, &c.; Ross, Reisen im Peloponnes and Wanderungen in Griechenland; Curtius, Peloponnesos.

hide References (60 total)
  • Cross-references from this page (60):
    • Aristotle, Politics, 2.1270a
    • Herodotus, Histories, 1.69
    • Herodotus, Histories, 1.82
    • Herodotus, Histories, 6.58
    • Herodotus, Histories, 9.28
    • Homer, Iliad, 2.581
    • Homer, Iliad, 3.239
    • Homer, Iliad, 3.244
    • Homer, Iliad, 3.443
    • Homer, Odyssey, 6.103
    • Pausanias, Description of Greece, 2.38.7
    • Pausanias, Description of Greece, 3.1
    • Pausanias, Description of Greece, 3.12.8
    • Pausanias, Description of Greece, 3.18.6
    • Pausanias, Description of Greece, 3.2
    • Pausanias, Description of Greece, 3.20.4
    • Pausanias, Description of Greece, 3.20.8
    • Pausanias, Description of Greece, 3.21.3
    • Pausanias, Description of Greece, 4.28.2
    • Pausanias, Description of Greece, 4.30.2
    • Pausanias, Description of Greece, 3.10
    • Pausanias, Description of Greece, 3.10.6
    • Pausanias, Description of Greece, 3.20
    • Pausanias, Description of Greece, 3.21.4
    • Pausanias, Description of Greece, 3.21.7
    • Pausanias, Description of Greece, 3.23.2
    • Pausanias, Description of Greece, 3.24.6
    • Pausanias, Description of Greece, 3.25.1
    • Pausanias, Description of Greece, 3.26.3
    • Pausanias, Description of Greece, 3.26.7
    • Pausanias, Description of Greece, 4.17.1
    • Xenophon, Hellenica, 6.5.27
    • Xenophon, Hellenica, 3.3.7
    • Xenophon, On Hunting, 10
    • Homer, Odyssey, 4.1
    • Polybius, Histories, 4.81
    • Polybius, Histories, 16.37
    • Polybius, Histories, 2.65
    • Polybius, Histories, 2.66
    • Polybius, Histories, 9.28
    • Vergil, Georgics, 2.487
    • Vergil, Georgics, 3.405
    • Pliny the Elder, Naturalis Historia, 6.34
    • Pliny the Elder, Naturalis Historia, 25.8
    • Pliny the Elder, Naturalis Historia, 36.22
    • Pliny the Elder, Naturalis Historia, 4.5
    • Pliny the Elder, Naturalis Historia, 6.17
    • Pliny the Elder, Naturalis Historia, 7.57
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 38, 34
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 34, 28
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 35, 27
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 38, 32
    • Plutarch, Agis, 5
    • Plutarch, Cimon, 16
    • Plutarch, Philopoemen, 16
    • Plutarch, Agis, 8
    • Plutarch, Lycurgus, 6
    • Plutarch, Lycurgus, 8
    • Athenaeus, of Naucratis, Deipnosophistae, 1.31
    • Athenaeus, of Naucratis, Deipnosophistae, 4
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: