1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Messene

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11942771911 Encyclopædia Britannica, Volume 18 — MesseneMarcus Niebuhr Tod

MESSENE, an ancient Greek city, the capital of Messenia, founded by Epaminondas in 369 B.C., after the battle of Leuctra and the first Theban invasion of the Peloponnese. The town was built by the combined Theban and Argive armies and the exiled Messenians who had been invited to return and found a state which should be independent of Spartan rule. The site was chosen by Epaminondas and lay on the western slope of the mountain which dominates the Messenian plain and culminates in the two peaks of Ithome and Eua. The former of these (2630 ft.) served as the acropolis, and was included within the same system of fortifications as the lower city. Messene remained a place of some importance under the Romans, but we hear nothing of it in medieval times and now the hamlet of Mavromati occupies a small part of the site.

Pausanias has left us a description of the city (iv. 31–33), its chief temples and statues, its springs, its market-place and gymnasium, its place of sacrifice (ἱεροθύσιον), the tomb of the hero Aristomenes (q.v.) and the temple of Zeus Ithomatas on the summit of the acropolis with a statue by the famous Argive sculptor Ageladas, originally made for the Messenian helots who had settled at Naupactus at the close of the third Messenian War. But what chiefly excited his wonder was the strength of its fortifications, which excelled all those of the Greek world. Of the wall, some 51/2 m. in extent, considerable portions yet remain, especially on the north and north-west, and almost the entire circuit can still be traced, affording the finest extant example of Greek fortification. The wall is flanked by towers about 31 ft. high set at irregular intervals: these have two storeys with loopholes in the lower and windows in the upper, and are entered by doors on a level with the top of the wall which is reached by flights of steps. Of the gates only two can be located, the eastern or Laconian, situated on the eastern side of the saddle uniting Ithome and Eua, and the northern or Arcadian gate. Of the former but little remains: the latter, however, is excellently preserved and consists of a circular court about 20 yds. in diameter with inner and outer gates, the latter flanked by square towers some 11 yds. apart. The lintel of the inner gate was formed by a single stone 18 ft. 8 in. in length, and the masonry of the circular court is of astonishing beauty and accuracy. The other buildings which can be identified are the theatre, the stadium, the council chamber or Bouleuterion, and the propylaeum of the market, while on the shoulder of the mountain are the foundations of a small temple, probably that of Artemis Laphria.

See E. Curtius, Peloponnesos, ii. 138 sqq.; W. M. Leake, Travels in the Morea, i. 366 sqq.; J. G. Frazer, Pausanias’s Description of Greece, iii. 429 sqq.; W. G. Clark, Peloponnese, 232 sqq.; A. Blouet, Expéd. scient. de Morée: Architecture, i. 37–42, Plates 38–47; E. P. Boblaye, Recherches géogr. sur les ruines de la Morée, 107 sqq.; C. Bursian, Geographie von Griechenland, ii. 165 sqq. (M. N. T.)