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LEUCAS, LEUCA´DIA (Λευκάς, Thuc., Xen., Strab.; Λευκαδία, Thuc. Liv.: Eth. Λευκάδιος, an island in the Ionian sea, separated by a narrow channel from the coast of Acarnania. It was originally part of the mainland, and as such is described by Homer, who calls it the Acte or peninsula of the mamland. (Ἀκτὴ ὴπείροιο, Od. 24.377; comp. Strab. x. pp. 451, 452.) Homer also mentions its well-fortified town NERICUS (Νήρικος, l.c.) Its earliest inhabitants were Leleges and Teleboans (Strab. vii. p.322), but it was afterwards peopled by Acarnanians, who retained possession of it till the middle of the seventh century B.C., when the Corinthians, under Cypselus, founded a new town near the isthmus, which they called Leucas, where they settled 1000 of their citizens, and to which they removed the inhabitants of the old town of Nericus. (Strab. l.c.; Scylax, p. 13; Thuc. 1.30; Plut. Them. 24; Scymn. Chius, 464.) Scylax says that the town was first called Epileucadii. The Corinthian colonists dug a canal through this isthmus, and thus converted the peninsula into an island. (Strab. l.c.) This canal, which was called Dioryctus, and was, according to Pliny, 3 stadia in length (Λιόρυκτος, Plb. 5.5; Plin. Nat. 4.1. s. 2), was after filled up by deposits of sand; and in the Peloponnesian War, it was no longer available for ships, which during that period were conveyed across the isthmus on more than one occasion. (Thuc. 3.81, 4.8.) It was in the same state in B.C. 218; for Polybius relates (5.5) that Philip, the son of Demetrius, had his galleys drawn across this isthmus in that year; and Livy, in relating the siege of Leucas by the Romans in B.C. 197, says, “Leucadia, nunc insula, et vadoso freto quod perfossum manu est, ab Acarnania divisa” (33.17). The subsequent restoration of the canal, and the construction of a stone bridge, both of which were in existence in the time of Strabo, were no doubt the work of the Romans; the canal was probably restored soon after the Roman conquest, when the Romans separated Leucas from the Acarnanian confederacy, and the bridge was perhaps constructed by order of Augustus, whose policy it was to facilitate communications throughout his dominions.

Leucadia is about 20 miles in length, and from 5 to 8 miles in breadth. It resembles the Isle of Man in shape and size. It consists of a range of limestone mountains, terminating at its north-eastern extremity in a bold and rugged headland, whence the coast runs in a south-west direction to the promontory, anciently called Leucates, which has been corrupted by the Italians into Cape Ducato. The name of the cape, as well as of the island, is of course derived from its white cliffs. The southern shore is more soft in aspect, and more sloping and cultivated than the rugged rocks of the northern coast; but the most populous and wooded district is that opposite Acarnania. The interior of the island wears everywhere a rugged aspect. There is but little cultivation, except where terraces have been planted on the mountain sides, and covered with vineyards. The highest ridge of the mountains rises about 3000 feet above the sea.

Between the northern coast of Leucadia and that of Acarnania there is at present a lagoon about 3 miles in length, while its breadth varies from 100 yards to a mile and a half. The lagoon is in most parts only about 2 feet deep. This part of the coast requires a more particular description, which will be rendered clearer by the accompanying plan. At the north-eastern extremity of Leucadia a lido, or spit, of sand, 4 miles in length, sweeps out towards Acarnania. (See Plan, A.) On an isolated point opposite the extremity of this sandbank, is the fort of Santa Maura, erected in the middle ages by one of the Latin princes, but repaired [p. 2.169]and modelled both by the Turks and Venetians. (Plan, B.) The fort was connected with the island by an aqueduct, serving also as a causeway, 1300 yards in length, and with 260 arches. (Plan, 5.) It was originally built by the Turks, but was ruined by an earthquake in 1825, and has not since been repaired. It was formerly the residence of the Venetian governor and the chief men of the island, who kept here their magazines and the cars (ἅμαξαι) on which they carried down their oil and wine from the inland districts, at the nearest point of the island. The congregation of buildings thus formed, and to which the inhabitants of the fortress gradually retired as the seas became more free from corsairs, arose by degrees to be the capital and seat of government, and is called, in memory of its origin, Amaxíchi (Ἀμαξίχιον). (Plan, C.) Hence the fort alone is properly called Santa Maura, and the capital Amaxíchi; while the island at large retains its ancient name of Leucadia. The ruins of the ancient town of Leucas are situated a mile and a half to the SE. of Amaxíchi. The site is called Kaligóni, and consists of irregular heights forming the last falls of the central ridge of the island, at the foot of which is a narrow plain between the heights and the lagoon. (Plan, D.) The ancient inclosure is almost entirely traceable, as well round the brow of the height on the northern, western, and southern sides, as from either end of the height across the plain to the lagoon, and along its shore. This, as Leake observes, illustrates Livy, who remarks (33.17) that the lower parts of Leucas were on a level close to the shore. The remains on the lower ground are of a more regular, and, therefore, more modern masonry than on the heights above. The latter are probably the remains of Nericus, which continued to be the ancient acropolis, while the Corinthians gave the name of Leucas to the town which they erected on the shore below. This is, indeed, in opposition to Strabo, who not only asserts that the name was changed by the Corinthian colony, but also that Leucas was built on a different site from that of Neritus. (x. p. 452). But, on the other hand, the town continued to be called Nericus even as late as the Peloponnesian War (Thuc. 3.7); and numerous instances occur in history of different quarters of the same city being known by distinct names. Opposite to the middle of the ancient city are the remains of the bridge and causeway which here crossed the lagoon. (Plan, 1.) The bridge was rendered necessary by a channel, which pervades the whole length of the lagoon, and admits a passage to boats drawing 5 or 6 feet of water, while the other parts of the lagoon are not more than 2 feet in depth. The great squared blocks which formed the ancient causeway are still seen above the shallow water in several places on either side of the deep channel, but particularly towards the Acarnanian shore. The bridge seems to have been kept in repair at a late period of time, there being a solid cubical fabric of masonry of more modern workmanship erected on the causeway on the western bank of the channel. Leake, from whom this description is taken, argues that Strabo could never have visited Leucadia, because he states that this isthmus, the ancient canal, the Roman bridge, and the city of Leucas were all in the same place; whereas the isthmus and the canal, according to Leake, were near the modern fort Santa Maura, at the distance of 3 miles north of the city of Leucas. But K. O. Müller, who is followed by Bowen and others, believe that the isthmus and canal were a little south of the city of Leucas, that is, between Fort Alexander (Plan, 2) on the island, and Paleocaglia on the mainland (Plan, 3). The channel is narrowest at this point, not being more than 100 yards across; and it is probable that the old capital would have been built close to the isthmus connecting the peninsula with the mainland. It has been conjectured that the long spit of sand, on which the fort Santa Maura has been built, probably did not exist in antiquity, and may have been thrown up at first by an earthquake.

Between the fort Santa Maura and the modern town Amaxíchi, the Anglo-Ionian government have constructed a canal, with a towing-path, for boats drawing not more than 4 or 5 feet of water. (Plan, 4.) A ship-canal, 16 feet deep, has also been commenced across the whole length of the lagoon from Fort Santa Maura to Fort Alexander. This work, if it is ever brought to a conclusion, will open a sheltered passage for large vessels along the Acarnanian coast, and will increase and facilitate the commerce of the island. (Bowen, p. 78.)

  • A. Spit of sand, which Leake supposes to be the isthmus.
  • B. Fort Santa Maura.
  • C. Amaxíchi.
  • D. City of Leucas.
  • E. Site of isthmus, according to K. O. Muller.
  • 1. Remains of Roman bridge.
  • 2. Fort Alexander.
  • 3. Paleocaglia.
  • 4. New canal.
  • 5. Turkish aqueduct and bridge.

Of the history of the city of Leucas we have a few details. It sent three ships to the battle of Salamis (Hdt. 8.45); and as a colony of Corinth, it sided with the Lacedaemonians in the Peloponnesian War, and was hence exposed to the hostility of Athens. (Thuc. 3.7.) In the Macedonian period Leucas was the chief town of Acarnania, and the place in which the meetings of the Acarnanian confederacy were held. In the war between Philip and the Romans, it sided with the Macedonian monarch, and was taken by the Romans after a gallant defence, B.C. 197. (Liv. 33.17.) After the conquest of Perseus, Leucas was separated by the Romans from the Acarnanian confederacy. [p. 2.170]Liv. 45.31.) It continued to be a place of importance down to a late period, as appears from the fact that the bishop of Leucas was one of the Fathers of the Council of Nice in A.D. 325. The constitution of Leucas, like that of other Dorian towns, was originally aristocratical. The large estates were in the possession of the nobles, who were not allowed to alienate them; but when this law was abolished, a certain amount of property was no longer required for the holding of public offices, by which the government became democratic. (Aristot. Pol. 2.4.4.)

Besides Leucas we have mention of two other places in the island, PHARA (Φαρά, Scylax, p. 13), and HELLOMENUM (᾿ελλόμενον, Thuc. 3.94). The latter name is preserved in that of a harbour in the southern part of the island. Pherae was also in the same direction, as it is described by Scylax as opposite to Ithaca. It is perhaps represented by some Hellenic remains, which stand at the head of the bay called Basiliké.

The celebrated promontory LEUCATAS (Λευκάτας, Scylax, p. 13; Strab. x. pp. 452, 456, 461), also called LEUCATES or LEUCATE (Plin. Nat. 4.1. s. 2; Verg. A. 3.274, 8.676; Claud. Bell. Get. 185; Liv. 26.26), forming the south-western extremity of the island, is a broken white cliff, rising on the western side perpendicularly from the sea to the height of at least 2000 feet, and sloping precipitously into it on the other. On its summit stood the temple of Apollo, hence surnamed Leucatas (Strab. x. p.452), and Leucadius (Ov. Tr. 3.1. 42, 5.2. 76; Propert. 3.11. 69). This cape was dreaded by mariners; hence the words of Virgil (Aen. 3.274):-- “Mox et Leucatae nimbosa cacumina montis,
Et formidatus nautis aperitur Apollo.

It still retains among the Greek mariners of the present day the evil fame which it bore of old in consequence of the dark water, the strong currents, and the fierce gales which they there encounter. Of the temple of Apollo nothing but the substructions now exist. At the annual festival of the god here celebrated it was the custom to throw a criminal from the cape into the sea; to break his fall, birds of all kinds were attached to him, and if he reached the sea uninjured, boats were ready to pick him up. (Strab. x. p.452; Ov. Her. 15.165, seq., Trist. 5.2. 76; Cic. Tusc. 4.18) This appears to have been an expiatory rite, and is supposed by most modern scholars to have given rise to the well-known story of Sappho's leap from this rock in order to seek relief from the pangs of love. [See Dict. of Biogr. Vol. III. p. 708.] Col. Mure, however, is disposed to consider Sappho's leap as an historical fact. (History of the Literature of Greece, vol. iii. p. 285.) Many other persons are reported to have followed Sappho's example, among whom the most celebrated was Artemisia of Halicarnassus, the ally of Xerxes, in his invasion of


Greece. (Ptolem. Heph. ap. Phot. Cod. 190. p. 153a., ed. Bekker.)

(Leake, North. Greece, vol. iii. p. 10, seq. ; Bowen, Handbook for Travellers in Greece, p. 75, seq.)

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