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SELLA´SIA (Σελλασία, Xen. Polyb. Diod.; Σελασία, Steph. B. sub voce Hesych. sub voce the latter is perhaps the correct form, and may come from σέλας; the name is connected by Hesychius with Artemis Selasia: Eth.Σελλασιεύς, Eth. Σελασιεύς), a town of Laconia, situated in the valley of the Oenus, on the road leading from Tegea and Argos, and one of the bulwarks of Sparta against an invading army. Its distance from Sparta is nowhere mentioned; but from the description which Polybius gives of the celebrated battle fought in its neighbourhood between Antigonus and Cleomenes, it is probable that the plain of Krevatá was the site of the battle. We learn from Polybius that this battle took place in a narrow opening of the vale of the Oenus, between two hills named Evas and Olympus, and that the river Gorgylus flowed across the plain into the Evenus. South of the Khan of Krevatá is a small plain, the only one in the valley of the Oenus, about ten minutes in width and a quarter of an hour in length, at the end of which the rocks again approach so close as barely to leave room for the passage of the river. The mountain, which bounds this plain on the east, is Olympus, a continuation of the mountain of Vresthéna: it rises very steep on the left bank of the Oenus. The mountain on the western side is Evas, now Túrlaes, which, though not so steep, is still inaccessible to cavalry. Towards the north the plain is shut in by a mountain, over which the road leads to Tegea, and towards the south by a still higher mountain. The Oenus, which flows near the eastern edge of the plain, can be crossed at any point without difficulty. It receives on its right side a small brook, the Gorgylus, which descends from a ravine on the northern side of Mt. Evas. On the summit of the hill, more than 2800 feet above the sea, which shuts in the plain on the south, and over which the road leads to Sparta, are the ruins of Sellasia, described below.

The battle of Sellasia, of which Polybius gives a detailed account, requires a few words of explanation. In B.C. 221, Cleomenes, the Spartan king, expecting that Antigonus, the Macedonian king, and the Achaeans, would invade Laconia, fortified the other passes which led into the country, and took up his own position with the main body of his forces in the plain of Sellasia, since the roads to Sparta from Argos and Tegea united at this point. His army amounted to 20,000 men, and consisted of Lacedaemonians, Perioeci, allies, and mercenaries. His left wing, containing the Perioeci and allies, was stationed on Mt. Evas under the command of his brother Eucleidas; his right wing, consisting of the Lacedaemonians and mercenaries, encamped upon Mt. Olympus under his own command; while his cavalry and a part of the mercenaries occupied the small plain between the hills. The whole line was protected by a ditch and a palisade. Antigonus marched into Laconia from Argos with an army of 30,000 men, but found Cleomenes so strongly intrenched in this position. that he did not venture to attack him, but encamped behind the small stream Gorgylus. At length, after several days' hesitation, both sides determined to join battle. Antigonus placed 5000 Macedonian peltasts, with the greater part of his auxiliary troops, on his right wing to oppose Eucleidas; his cavalry with 1000 Achaeans and the same number of Megalopolitans in the small plain; while he himself with the Macedonian phalanx and 3000 mercenaries occupied the left wing, in order to attack Cleomenes and the Lacedaemonians on Mt. Olympus. The battle began on the side of Mt. Evas. Eucleidas committed the error of awaiting the attack of the enemy upon the brow of the hill, instead of availing himself of his superior position to charge down upon them; but while they were climbing the hill they were attacked upon the rear by some light troops of Cleomenes, who were stationed in the centre with the Lacedaemonian cavalry. At this critical moment, Philopoemen, who was in the centre with the Megalopolitan horse, diverted the attack of the light infantry by charging without orders the Lacedaemonian centre. The right wing of the Macedonians then renewed their attack, defeated the left wing of the Lacedaemonians, and drove them over the steep precipices on the opposite side of Mt. Evas. Cleomenes, perceiving that the only hope of retrieving the day was by the defeat [p. 2.960]of the Macedonians opposed to him, led his men out of the intrenchments and charged the Macedonian phalanx. The Lacedaemonians fought with great bravery; but after many vain attempts to break through the impenetrable mass of the phalanx, they were entirely defeated, and of 6000 men only 200 are said to have escaped from the field of battle. Cleomenes, perceiving all was lost, escaped with a few horsemen to Sparta, and from thence proceeded to Gythium, where he embarked for Aegypt. Antigonus, thus master of the passes, marched directly to Sellasia, which he plundered and destroyed, and then to Sparta, which submitted to him after a slight resistance. (Plb. 2.65-70; Plut. Cleom. 27, 28, Philop. 6; Paus. 2.9.2, 3.10.7, 4.29.9, 7.7.4, 8.49.5.)


b b b. Troops of Antigonus.

A A. Road to Tegea.

B B. Road to Argos.

C C. Road to Megalopolis.

D D. Road to Sparta.

In the preceding account of the battle we have followed the excellent description of Ross. (Reisen im Peloponnes, p. 181.) The French Commission had previously supposed the plain of Krevatá to be the site of the battle of Sellasia (Boblaye, Recherches, &c. p. 73); and the same opinion has been adopted by Curtius. (Peloponnesos, vol. ii. p, 260.) Leake, however, places Sellasia to the SE., near the monastery of the Forty Saints (Ἅγιοι Σαράντα), and supposes the battle to have been fought in the pass to the eastward of the monastery. The ruins near the Khan of Krevatá he maintains to be those of Caryae. (Leake, Morea, vol. ii. p. 529, Peloponnesiaca, p. 341, seq.) But Ross informs us that in the narrow pass NE. of the monastery of the Forty Saints there is barely room for a loaded mule to pass; and we know moreover that Sellasia was situated on the high road from Sparta to Tegea and Argos, which must have led through the plain of Krevatá. (κατὰ τὴν λεωφόρον, Paus. 3.10.7; Plut. Cleom. 23; Xen. Hell. 6.5. 27; Diod. 15.64; Liv. 34.28.)

On leaving the plain of Krevatá, the road southwards ascends the mountain, and at the distance of a quarter of an hour leaves a small ruin on the left, called by the peasants Palaeogúla ( Παλαιογοῦλα). The remains of the walls are Hellenic, but they are of very small extent, and the place was probably either a dependency of Sellasia or one to which the inhabitants of the latter fled for refuge at one of the periods when their city was destroyed.

The ruins of Sellasia lie 1 1/2 miles beyond Palaeogúla upon the summit of the mountain. The city was about 1 1/2 miles in circumference, as appears [p. 2.961]from the foundation of the walls. The latter were from 10 to 11 feet thick, and consist of irregular but very small stones. The northern and smaller half of the city was separated by a wall from the southern half, which was on lower ground.

From its position Sellasia was always exposed to the attacks of an invading army. On the first invasion of Laconia by the Thebans in B.C. 369, Sellasia was plundered and burnt (Xen. Hell. 6.5. 27); and because the inhabitants at that time, together with several others of the Perioeci, went over to the enemy, the town was again taken and destroyed four years later by the Lacedaemonians themselves, assisted by some auxiliaries sent by the younger Dionysius. (Xen. Hell. 7.4. 12) It suffered the same fate a third time after the defeat of Cleomenes, as has been already related. It appears to have been never rebuilt, and was in ruins in the time of Pausanias (3.10.7).

hide References (14 total)
  • Cross-references from this page (14):
    • Diodorus, Historical Library, 15.64
    • Pausanias, Description of Greece, 3.10.7
    • Pausanias, Description of Greece, 4.29.9
    • Pausanias, Description of Greece, 7.7.4
    • Pausanias, Description of Greece, 8.49.5
    • Pausanias, Description of Greece, 2.9.2
    • Xenophon, Hellenica, 6.5.27
    • Xenophon, Hellenica, 7.4.12
    • Polybius, Histories, 2.65
    • Polybius, Histories, 2.70
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 34, 28
    • Plutarch, Cleomenes, 27
    • Plutarch, Cleomenes, 28
    • Plutarch, Cleomenes, 23
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