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MESSENE or Ithome (Mavromati) Messenia, Greece.

The name Messene anciently referred to the area of Messenia (Hom. Od. 21.15), and only gradually came to denote the city founded after the battle of Leuktra. The city was in ancient times as it is today called Ithome, and lies in and around the modern town of Mavromati. The building of the city was begun in early 379 (Paus. 4.27.9), and Messene was stable enough to take part in the battle of Mantinea in 362 on the Theban side (Xen. Hell. 7.5.5). Never strong enough by itself to withstand Spartan hostility, it later sided with Philip (Paus. 4.28.2), who increased Messenian territory by adding Denthaliatis and the area from Pherai to Leuktron (Polyb. 9.28.7, Strab. 8.4.6). Messene remained more or less allied to Macedon into the 3d c. About 244 the city formed an alliance with the Aitolian League, but fear of Kleomenes brought it closer to the Achaian League (223-222), which in turn brought about plundering by the Aitolians in 220 (Polyb. 4.3.5-6.12). Civil unrest in 215-214 brought the intervention of Philip V (Polyb. 7.10-14) and a return to the Aitolian League (Polyb. 9.30.6). It was attacked by Nabis of Sparta in 201 (Polyb. 16.13.3, 16.16-17), then allied itself with Antiochos in 192 against the Achaian League and Rome. After the defeat of Antiochos Messene was compelled to join the Achaian League (Livy 36.3 1.1-9) from which it revolted in 183/182 (Polyb. 23.12). Forced to rejoin the league it nonetheless sent no troops to the war against Rome in 146 (Polyb. 38.16.3). Prosperous but not powerful thereafter (IG V 1.1432-33), the last emperor it honored inscriptionally was Constantine (IG V 1.1420), though sculptural finds date even from the 5th c. Pausanias (4.31.4-33.4) visited the area in the 2d c. A.D.

The glory of Messene is its walls, the best preserved in Greece, and the strongest of antiquity (Paus. 4.31.5). They enclose an area of 9 km, including the summit of Mt. Ithome, are constructed entirely of stone, and consist of a curtain wall (2-2.5 m thick) and towers, square for the most part, at various intervals. They are best preserved in the N and W sides. Four gates are known, of which the Arkadian on the N is the best preserved and the architecturally most remarkable. It consists of an outer gate (5.32 m wide) flanked by towers (6.5 m wide) opening into a nearly circular area (19.7 m wide) which could be controlled by soldiers standing on the walls above. There are two niches on the N side of the court, one recording repairs by Q. Plotius Euphemion. Some scholars have felt that the gate may be later than the rest of the walls, though there is dispute even as to whether the main part of the wall was constructed in the early 4th c. or later, perhaps in the late 3d.

The acropolis, i.e. the peaks of Mt. Ithome, contains remains of earlier walls dating either from the third Messenian War or from the foundation of the city in the 4th c. The Sanctuary of Zeus Ithomatas is now covered by the abandoned Vourkano monastery. On the slopes of Ithome are the remains of the Temple of Artemis Limnatis of the Ionic order (17.2 x 10 m) and a spring, identified by some with the Klepsydra. Others identify the Klepsydra with the spring in the center of Mavromati.

Below the modern village there is to be found a Sanctuary of Asklepios (epigraphically assured), a site which was for many years identified with the agora: the agora remains to be located. The Aesklepieion consists of a large court surrounded on all four sides by stoas with an internal colonnade (dimensions: 66.8 x 71.8 m measuring from the rear wall of the stoa). In the middle of the court on the N-S axis, and facing due east, there are the foundations of a Hellenistic temple of Doric order (13.6 x 27.9 m) of excellent workmanship which replaces an earlier, 4th c. temple. The altar, constructed in two chronological phases, lies to the E. The rear walls of the stoa are pierced in a number of places to allow access to rooms connected with the worship of Asklepios. The E wall is bisected by propylaea, to the N of which is a small theater; to the S, entrance is gained to a square room with benches running around three sides, formerly identified with the synedrion, but more likely to have been a library. On the W side there are five small rooms, all apparently devoted to religious purposes, the northern-most of which was a small Temple of Artemis Orthia. It is divided into three sections by two sets of two columns on either side of the entrance. The N wall of the court contains three stairways, the middle one of rather monumental proportions, leading to an upper level, on which was the sebasteion, the area in which the worship of the Roman emperors took place. In the NE corner of the stoa there is a small room, perhaps originally designed as a fountain-house, but in Imperial times used for the display of a large statue. Outside the S wall, and not integrally connected with the interior, are to be found a small heroon (with four graves) and a house with a peristyle court. Excavation in the area of the Asklepieion continues. Other insignificant remains in the vicinity include a stadium and a theater.


Reports in Praktika (1909) 201-5; (1925-26) 55-66; (1957) 121-25; (1958) 177-83; (1959) 162-73; (1963) 122-29; (1964) 96-101; (1969) 98-120; (1970) 125-41PI; M. N. Valmin, Études topographiques sur la Messénie ancienne (1930); C. A. Roebuck, A History of Messenia from 369 to 146 B.C. (1941); Reports in Ergon (1963) 88-102; (1964) 102-12; (1969) 97-132; (1970) 100-131; (1971) 144-73; E. Kirsten & W. Kraiker, Griechenlandkunde (5th ed. 1967) 422-28; F. E. Winter, Greek Fortifications (1971) passim.


hide References (7 total)
  • Cross-references from this page (7):
    • Pausanias, Description of Greece, 4.27.9
    • Pausanias, Description of Greece, 4.28.2
    • Pausanias, Description of Greece, 4.31.4
    • Pausanias, Description of Greece, 4.31.5
    • Strabo, Geography, 8.4.6
    • Xenophon, Hellenica, 7.5.5
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 36, 3
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