Aigina. A mountainous and volcanic island in the Saronic gulf, halfway
between Attica and the Peloponnesos. Its geographic position explains its importance
in the commerce between the Greek states and around the Mediterranean basin
from the most remote periods of history. The island had commercial relations
with the Cyclades, with the cities along the coast of Anatolia, and with Egypt.
Archaeological remains indicate that the most ancient inhabitants of the island came from the Near East. The first settlement, however, must have been the result of a migration by Peloponnesian peoples around the end of the 4th millennium B.C. Remains testify to uninterrupted occupation and to a definite cultural unity with the centers of population in the Peloponnesos, as well as close ties with the Cyclades and S Greece.
Two great periods about which little is known can be identified: one ca. 2000 B.C. with the appearance of peoples who used Minoan ware, the other ca. 1400 B.C. when another people, of Achaian stock, brought Mycenaean ware.
The historic period begins around 950 B.C., probably after a brief abandonment by the population in the 12th-10th c. Classical sources indicate that the colonizers probably came from the Peloponnese, perhaps from Epidauros (Herod. 8.46; Paus. 2.29.9). During the 7th and 6th c. B.C., Aigina became a maritime power of the first order. There is no evidence of strong land ownership, unlike the mainland where feudal concentration could provoke serious social disturbances. Aigina had a stable and developed mercantile aristocracy which spread the fame of its products, particularly pottery and bronze ware, throughout the Mediterranean basin. In this connection, it is significant that the oldest system of weights in the Classical world was developed on Aigina between 656 and 650 B.C., and the spread of Aiginetan money shows clearly her absolute supremacy.
At the beginning of the 6th c. B.C., Athens began to oppose the supremacy of Aigina, and Solon passed special laws to limit the spread of Aiginetan commerce, thereby causing the island to ally itself first with Sparta, then with Thebes, and finally with Persia to oppose the rising Athenian power. In 488 B.C. the Aiginetan navy routed the Athenian ships, but 30 years later Athens defeated the combined naval forces of Aigina and of Corinth, and in the following years forced the island to surrender. In 431 B.C. Athens expelled the last of the native population and apportioned the land among Athenians. After the Pergamene conquest the island enjoyed a new period of prosperity (210 B.C.).
The most important archaeological sites on the island are near Cape Colonna (named for the remains of a single column of a temple), on Mt. St. Elia, and in the area of Mesagro. In the zone of Cape Colonna, the most important and the oldest area, the remains of the stereobate of the temple mentioned above are still visible, as well as some pedimental decorations of Parian marble.
The building was constructed of a yellowish, shell-bearing limestone (a local poros), with a portico of Doric columns (6 x 12). In front of the cella was a pronaos and behind the cella an opisthodomos from which the surviving column comes. The date of the temple must be 520-500 B.C. At a lower level traces of an older temple were discovered, dating from between the end of the 8th and the beginning of the 6th c. A semicircular antefix from this temple has been preserved. The archaic temple was dedicated to Apollo (to whom some inscriptions refer) or to Poseidon. In the Late Roman period the temple was destroyed and replaced by a building of huge proportions, similar to a fortress. Its cistern has been found between the temple and the sea.
There are remains, SE of the temple, of an archaic propylon with reliefs on the walls and an altar in the center, dating from the 6th c. It was probably the Aiakeion. North of the archaic temple are traces of two small naiskoi and of a round structure which was probably the tomb of Phokos (Paus. 2.29.9). Farther W is a Pergamene building, perhaps the Attaleion. At the foot of the hill, to the E, are a theater and a stadium. The outer wall of this sacred area is partially preserved.
Excavations on the slopes of Mt. St. Elia have brought to light a Thessalian settlement of ca. the 13th c. B.C. The site was abandoned at the same time as the destruction of the Late Mycenaean centers of the area and was reoccupied in the Geometric period; it took on a monumental character only in the Pergamene era. In the Byzantine period a sanctuary, resembling a monastery in structure, was built on the mountain; its remains can still be seen. With regard to Mesagro, there are some Mycenaean ex-voto offerings, the oldest indications of a religious practice. Around the middle of the 7th c., when the thalassocracy of Aigina developed, a primitive sanctuary was built. Its sacred precinct included a small altar, of which there are a few remains, and perhaps a small structure for the image of Aphaia (Paus. 3.14.2), a divinity worshiped on the island in this period who had a priestly service.
In the 6th c., when the thalassocracy of Aigina had reached its greatest development, the sanctuary underwent modifications of a more monumental character. The first temple (distyle in antis with a cella of three naves and an adyton in two sections) was built; a second altar was set behind the first; to the S, the monumental entrance to the sanctuary was constructed with an appropriate propylon. To this building phase (the second) we may attribute a large inscription which refers to the construction of an oikos of Aphaia during the hiereia of a Kleoita or of a Dreoita.
The great building phase (the third) came at the beginning of the 5th c. The temple was enlarged and reoriented and the sacred area was tripled. A large ramp was built from the temple to the altar, which was also enlarged and made more imposing by a double staircase. The new temple was built on a krepidoma of three steps. It was hexastyle, distyle in antis, with twelve columns on the side; the cella had three naves with a double colonnade of five columns; the limestone of the walls was covered by fine stucco. The pediment was painted and the roof had marble tiles on the more visible portions and terracotta tiles elsewhere. The acroterion consisted of an architectural motif with palmettes flanked by two female figures. The first propylon gave access to the sacred area and a second led to an inner division, on the S, for the priests.
The identity of the divinity to whom the sanctuary was dedicated has been much discussed. The sculptures on the front clearly refer to Athena, but an important dedicatory inscription mentions the building of an oikos of Aphaia, a divinity named on numerous other inscriptions cut into the rock. Probably the temple was dedicated to Athena but the local populace, assimilating this divinity to their own autochthonous Aphaia, continued to use the name of the old goddess to whom the archaic temple must have belonged.
The most important sculptures from Aigina are those of the front of the temple of Aphaia, discovered in 1811. Seventeen statues from the pedimental decoration are now in the Munich Glyptothek; they represent the first European contact with archaic Greek art. Ten fairly well-preserved statues come from the W pediment and five in less good condition from the E pediment; numerous fragments come from at least two other statues, but it is impossible to establish their positions.
The subject on both pediments is nearly the same: the struggle between the heroes of Aigina and Troy in the presence of Athena. Comparison of the two pediments reveals stylistic differences which raise the problem of contemporaneous or successive production. The figures on the E side appear freer and less exact in superficial detail, and present a more mature study of masses and of volumes. The so-called archaic smile, obvious on the W side, is no longer present on the E. A different date for the two pediments has therefore been proposed by many scholars, but cannot be established with certainty, given the poor preservation of the figures from the E side. If one accepts different dates, the W pediment was probably completed just before the Persian wars and the E pediment after the battle of Marathon.
Recent restorations of the groups in the Munich Glyptothek, carried out by Italian experts under supervision of the museum staff, have fundamentally changed their external appearance. Both the groupings and the positions of individual statues against the background of the pediments have been altered.
Fragments of a third pediment group, now in the National Museum at Athens, seem to complicate the problem of style. These fragments show obvious stylistic affinities with the sculptures of the W pediment, so that we may reasonably suppose this third group to be the original decoration of the E side of the temple of Aphaia which was replaced by the new decoration mentioned above. This would explain the obvious superiority shown by the W pediment grouping compared to the E side. The first pediment probably remained on view inside the sacred precinct, where it suffered badly from the weather. It is impossible, however, to substantiate this conjecture as to the problem of the differences in style between the two pediments; the problem remains open to discussion.
B. Conticello, ed.
This text is from: The Princeton encyclopedia of classical sites, Princeton University Press 1976. Cited Oct 2002 from Perseus Project URL below, which contains bibliography & interesting hyperlinks.
An island in the Sinus Saronicus, near the coast of Argolis.
The earliest accounts given by the Greeks make it to have been originally uninhabited,
and to have been called, while in this state, by the name of Oenone; for such
is evidently the meaning of the fable, which states that Zeus, in order to gratify
Aeacus, who was alone there, changed a swarm of ants into men, and thus peopled
the island. It afterwards took the name of Aegina, from the daughter of the Asopus.
But, whoever may have been the earliest settlers on the island, it is evident
that its stony and unproductive soil must have driven them at an early period
to engage in maritime affairs. Hence they are said to have been the first who
coined money for the purpose of commerce, used regular measures, a tradition which,
though no doubt untrue, still points very clearly to their early commercial habits.
It is more than probable that their commercial relations caused the people of
Aegina to be increased by colonies from abroad, and Strabo expressly mentions
Cretans among the foreign inhabitants who had settled there. After the return
of the Heraclidae, this island received a Dorian colony from Epidaurus and from
this period the Dorians gradually gained the ascendency in it, until at last it
became entirely Doric, both in language and form of government. Aegina, for a
time, was the maritime rival of Athens, and the competition eventually terminated
in open hostilities, in which the Athenians were only able to obtain advantages
by the aid of the Corinthians, and by means of intestine divisions among their
opponents. When Darius sent deputies into Greece to demand earth and water, the
people of Aegina, partly from hatred towards the Athenians, and partly from a
wish to protect their extensive commerce along the coasts of the Persian monarchy,
gave these tokens of submission. For this conduct they were punished by the Spartans.
In the war with Xerxes, therefore, they sided with their countrymen, and acted
so brave a part in the battle of Salamis as to be able to contest the prize of
valour with the Athenians themselves, and to bear it off, as well by the universal
suffrages of the confederate Greeks as by the declaration of the Pythian oracle.
After the termination of the Persian war, however, the strength of Athens proved
too great for them. Their fleet of seventy sail was annihilated in a sea-fight
by Pericles, and many of the inhabitants were driven from the island, while the
remainder were reduced to the condition of tributaries. The fugitives settled
at Thyrea in Cynuria, under the protection of Sparta, and it was not until after
the battle of Aegos-Potamos, and the fall of Athens, that they were able to regain
possession of their native island. They never attained, however, to their former
The situation of Aegina made it subsequently a prize for each succeeding conqueror, until at last it totally disappeared from history. In modern times the island nearly retains its ancient name, being called Aegina or, with a slight corruption, Engia, and is often visited by travellers, being beautiful, fertile, and well cultivated. As far back as the time of Pausanias, the ancient city would appear to have been in ruins. That writer makes mention of some temples that were standing, and of the large theatre built after the model of that in Epidaurus. The most remarkable remnant of antiquity which this island can boast of at the present day is the Temple of Pallas Athene, situated on a mount of the same name, about four hours' distance from the port, and which is supposed to be one of the most ancient temples in Greece, and one of the oldest specimens of the Doric style of architecture.
This text is cited Oct 2002 from The Perseus Project URL below, which contains interesting hyperlinks
Aegina (Aigina: Eth. Aiginhetes, Aegineta, Aeginensis, fem. Aiginetis: Adj. Aiginaios,
Aiginetikhos, Aegineticus: Eghina), an island in the Saronic gulf, surrounded
by Attica, Megaris, and Epidaurus, from each of which it was distant about 100
stadia. (Strab. p. 375) It contains about 41 square English miles, and is said
by Strabo (l. c.) to be 180 stadia in circumference. In shape it is an irregular
triangle. Its western half consists of a plain, which, though [p. 33] stony, is
well cultivated with corn, but the remainder of the island is mountainous and
unproductive. A magnificent conical hill now called Mt. St. Elias, or Oros (oros,
i. e. the mountain), occupies the whole of the southern part of the island, and
is the most remarkable among the natural features of Aegina. There is another
mountain, much inferior in size, on the north-eastern side. It is surrounded by
numerous rocks and shallows, which render it difficult and hazardous of approach,
as Pausanias (ii. 29. § 6) has correctly observed.
Notwithstanding its small extent Aegina was one of the most celebrated islands in Greece, both in the mythical and historical period. It is said to have been originally called Oenone or Oenopia, and to have received the name of Aegina from Aegina, the daughter of the river-god Asopus, who was carried to the island by Zeus, and there bore him a son Aeacus. It was further related that at this time Aegina was uninhabited, and that Zeus changed the ants (mnruekes) of the island into men, the Myrmidones, over whom Aeacus ruled (Paus.ii. 29. §2.; Apollod.iii. 12. § 6; Ov. Met. vii. 472, seq.) Some modern writers suppose that this legend contains a mythical account of the colonization of the island, and that the latter received colonists from Phlius on the Asopus and from Phthia in Thessaly, the seat of the Myrmidons. Aeacus was regarded as the tutelary deity of Aegina, but his sons abandoned the island, Telamon going to Salamis, and Peleus to Phthia. All that we can safely infer from these legends is that the original inhabitants of Aegina were Achaeans. It was after-wards taken possession of by Dorians from Epidaurus, who introduced into the island the Doric customs and dialect. (Herod. viii. 46; Paus. ii. 29. § 5.) Together with Epidaurus and other cities on the mainland it became subject to Pheidon, tyrant of Argos, about B.C. 748. It is usually stated on the authority of Ephorus (Strab. p. 376), that silver money was first coined in Aegina by Pheidon, and we know that the name of Aeginetan was given to one of the two scales of weights and measures current throughout Greece, the other being the Euboic. There seems, however, good reason for believing with Mr. Grote that what Pheidon did was done in Argos and nowhere else; and that the name of Aeginetan was given to his coinage and scale, not from the place where they first originated, but from the people whose commercial activity tended to make them most generally known. (Grote, Hist. of Greece, vol. ii. p. 432.) At an early period Aegina became a place of great commercial importance, and gradually acquired a powerful navy. As early as B.C. 563, in the reign of Amasis, the Aeginetans established a footing for its merchants at Naucratis in Egypt, and there erected a temple of Zeus. (Herod. ii. 178.) With the increase of power came the desire of political independence; and they renounced the authority of the Epidaurians, to whom they had hitherto been subject. (Herod. v. 83.) So powerful did they become that about the year 500 they held the empire of the sea. According to the testimony of Aristotle (Athen. p. 272), the island contained 470,000 slaves; but this number is quite incredible, although we may admit that Aegina contained a great population. At the time of their prosperity the Aeginetans founded various colonies, such as Cydonia in Crete, and another in Umbria. (Strab. p. 376.) The government was in the hands of an aristocracy. Its citizens became wealthy by commerce, and gave great encouragement to the arts. In fact, for the half century before the Persian wars and for a few years afterwards, Aegina was the chief seat of Greek art, and gave its name to a school, the most eminent artists of which were Callon, Anaxagoras, Glaucias, Simon, and Onatas, of whom an account is given in the Dict. of Biogr.
The Aeginetans were at the height of their power when the Thebans applied to them for aid in their war against the Athenians about B.C. 505. Their request was readily granted, since there had been an ancient feud between the Aeginetans and Athenians. The Aeginetans sent their powerful fleet to ravage the coast of Attica, and did great damage to the latter country, since the Athenians had not yet any fleet to resist them. This war was continued with some interruptions down to the invasion of Greece by Xerxes. (Herod. v.81, seq., vi. 86, seq.; Thuc. i. 41.) The Aeginetans fought with 30 ships at the battle of Salamis (B.C. 480), and were admitted to have distinguished themselves above all the other Greeks by their bravery. (Herod. viii. 46, 93.) From this time their power declined. In 460 the Athenians defeated them in a great naval battle, and laid siege to their principal town, which after a long defence surrendered in 456. The Aeginetans now became a part of the Athenian empire, and were compelled to destroy their walls, deliver up their ships of war, and pay an annual tribute. (Thuc. i. 105, 108.) This humiliation of their ancient enemies did not, however, satisfy the Athenians, who feared the proximity of such discontented subjects. Pericles was accustomed to call Aegina the eye-sore of the Peiraeus (he lheue ton Peirhaieos, Arist. Rhet. iii. 10.; comp. Cic. de Off. iii. 1. 1); and accordingly on the breaking out of the Peloponnesian war in 431, the Athenians expelled the whole population from the island, and filled their place with Athenian settlers. The expelled inhabitants were settled by the Lacedaemonians at Thyrea. They were subsequently collected by Lysander after the battle of Aegospotami (404), and restored to their own country, but they never recovered their former state of prosperity. (Thuc. ii. 27; Plut. Per. 34; Xen. Hell. ii. 2. 9; Strab. p. 375.) Sulpicius, in his celebrated letter to Cicero, enumerates Aegina among the examples of fallen greatness (ad Fam. iv. 5).
The chief town in the island was also called Aegina, and was situated on the north-western side. A description of the public buildings of the city is given by Pausanias (ii. 29, 30). Of these the most important was the Aeaceium (Aihakeion), or shrine of Aeacus, a quadrangular inclosure built of white marble, in the most conspicuous part of the city. There was a theatre near the shore as large as that of Epidaurus, behind it a stadium, and likewise numerous temples. The city contained two harbours: the principal one was near the temple of Aphrodite; the other, called the secret harbour, was near the theatre. The site of the ancient city is marked by numerous remains, though consisting for the most part only of foundations of walls and scattered blocks of stone. Near the shore are two Doric columns of the most elegant form. To the S. of these columns is an oval port, sheltered by two ancient moles, which leave only a narrow passage in the middle, between the remains of towers, which stood on either side of the entrance. In the same direction we find another oval port, twice as large as the former, the entrance of which is protected in the same manner by ancient walls or moles, 15 or 20 feet thick. The latter of these ports seems to have been the large harbour, [p. 34] and the former the secret harbour, mentioned by Pausanias. The walls of the city are still traced through their whole extent on the land side. They were about 10 feet thick, and constructed with towers at intervals not always equal. There appear to have been three principal entrances.
On the hill in the north-eastern extremity of the island are the remains of a magnificent temple of the Doric order, many of the columns of which are still standing. It stood near the sea in a sequestered and lonely spot, commanding a view of the Athenian coast and of the acropolis at Athens. The beautiful sculptures, which occupied the tympana of the pediment, were discovered in 1811, buried under the ruins of the temple. They are now preserved at Munich, and there are casts from them in the British Museum. The subject of the eastern pediment appears to be the expedition of the Aeacidae or Aeginetan heroes against Troy under the guidance of Athena: that of the western probably represents the contest of the Greeks and Trojans over the body of Patroclus. Till comparatively a late period it was considered that this temple was that of Zeus Panhellenius, which Aeacus was said to have dedicated to this god. (Paus. ii. 30. § § 3, 4.) But in 1826 Stackelberg, in his work on the temple of Phigalia, started the hypothesis, that the temple, of which we have been speaking, was in reality the temple of Athena, mentioned by Herodotus (iii. 59); and that the temple of Zeus Panhellenius was situated on the lofty mountain in the S. of the island. (Stackelberg, Der Apollotempel zu Bassae in Arcadien, Rom, 1826.) This opinion has been adopted by several German writers, and also by Dr. Wordsworth, but has been ably combated by Leake. It would require more space than our limits will allow to enter into this controversy; and we must therefore content ourselves with referring our readers, who wish for information on the subject, to the works of Wordsworth and Leake quoted at the end of this article. This temple was probably erected in the sixth century B.C., and apparently before B.C. 563, since we have already seen that about this time the Aeginetans built at Naucratis a temple to Zeus, which we may reasonably conclude was in imitation of the great temple in their own island.
In the interior of the island was a town called Oea (Oie), at the distance of 20 stadia from the city of Aegina. It contained statues of Damia and Auxesia. (Herod. v. 83; Pans. ii. 30. § 4.) The position of Oea has not yet been determined, but its name suggests a connection with Oenone, the ancient name of the island. Hence it has been conjectured that it was originally the chief place of the island, when safety required an inland situation for the capital, and when the commerce and naval power which drew population to the maritime site had not yet commenced. On this supposition Leake supposes that Oea occupied the site of Palea--Khora, which has been the capital in modern times whenever safety has required an inland situation. Pausanias (iii. 30. § 3) mentions a temple of Aphaea, situated on the road to the temple of Zeus Panhellenius. The Heracleum, or temple of Hercules, and Tripyrgia (Tripyrghia), apparently a mountain, at the distance of 17 stadia from the former, are both mentioned by Xenophon (Hell. v. 1. § 10), but their position is uncertain. (Dodwell, Tour through Greece, vol. i. p. 558, seq.; Leake, Morea, vol. ii. p. 431, seq., Peloponnesiaca, p. 270, seq.; Wordsworth, Athens and Attica, p. 262, seq.; Boblaye, Recherches Geographiques, p. 64; Prokesch, Denkwurdigkeiten, vol. ii. p. 460, seq.; Muller, Aegineticorum Liber, Berol. 1817.)
This text is from: Dictionary of Greek and Roman Geography (1854) (ed. William Smith, LLD). Cited June 2004 from The Perseus Project URL below, which contains interesting hyperlinks
Ephorus says that silver was first coined in Aegina, by Pheidon; for the island, he adds, became a merchant center, since, on account of the poverty of the soil, the people employed themselves at sea as merchants, and hence, he adds, petty wares were called Aeginetan merchandise.
Aegina was apparently the first Greek city state to adopt coinage and its system of weights became one of the earliest standards for trade in the Greek historical period.
...Herodotus states that it was Pheidon, king of Argos, who regulated the measures
of the Peloponnese (Herod. vi. 127); and Ephorus, quoted by Strabo (viii. pp.
358 and 376), says that he struck nomisma to te allo kai to arguroun at the island
of Aegina. Certainly some of the earliest of the coins of Greece proper were the
electrum and silver money of Aegina, bearing the type of a tortoise. According
to Herodotus (vi. 127), Pheidon's son was one of the suitors of Agariste, daughter
of Cleisthenes of Sicyon. If this be true, his date must be brought down to that
of Cleisthenes, about 600-580 B.C.; and we agree with Unger, who has discussed
the whole question of the date of Pheidon in the Philologus (vols. 28, 29), that
there is good reason to believe that there was a Pheidon ruling in Argos at that
period. The testimony of Herodotus is too clear and explicit to be rejected. And
this king it must certainly have been who introduced coins into Greece. It is
contrary to all evidence to place that introduction at so early a period as the
Whether it was this Pheidon who also regulated the measures of the Peloponnese may be considered more doubtful. That the same ruler regulated the weights also is not stated by Herodotus, but is probable. That there was an earlier Pheidon is proved by a mass of testimony; and the explicit statement of Pausanias (vi. 22, 2) that he presided at the eighth Olympic festival appears too definite to be disputed. The conjecture of Weissenborn, who wishes to substitute twenty-eighth for eighth, is rightly rejected by Unger, and has indeed nothing in its favour, besides being quite inconsistent with the testimony of Herodotus; and it may be this earlier Pheidon who regulated Peloponnesian weights and measures.
In any case we may allow the truth of the tradition that silver coin was first struck in Hellas proper in the island of Aegina. Of this very primitive coinage we possess many specimens. Their type is a turtle, the emblem of the Phoenician goddess of trade. One specimen in the British Museum weighs 211 grains, but few weigh more than 200 grains. It is difficult to determine whence the Aeginetans or Argives derived this standard, which is called the Aeginetan. It is possible that it is merely a slightly degraded form of the Phoenician. Argos had been from early times in constant commercial intercourse with the Phoenicians, and long before the invention of coinage the Argives must have been in the habit of using bars of metal of fixed weight. It is possible that Pheidon, in regulating the weight of the Aeginetan stater, thought best to adapt it to the Babylonic gold standard, which was already in use, as we shall see, in some parts of Greece for silver. The Babylonic stater weighing 130 grains, he may have lowered the standard of Phoenicia (supposing that to have been in use at Argos) so that his new staters should weigh 195 grains, and two of them exchange for three of the Babylonic staters. Of late years attempts have been made to deduce the Aeginetic mina from the water-weight of the cube of the Olympic foot, and so to connect it with Hellenic systems of metrology.
These, however, are speculations; what is. certain is, that the scale of the
coins with the tortoise on them, a scale henceforward called Aeginetan, spread
with great rapidity over Greece. It was in the sixth century used everywhere
in Peloponnesus except at Corinth, and was the customary standard in the Cyclades;
in Thessaly, Boeotia, and the whole of Northern Greece, except Euboea; and some
parts of Macedon. Its weights are as follows:
Talent 37,800 585,000
Mina 630 9,750
Stater (didrachm) 12.60 195
Drachm 6.30 97
Obol 1.05 16
This extract is from: A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities (1890) (eds. William Smith, LLD, William Wayte, G. E. Marindin). Cited Aug 2005 from The Perseus Project URL below, which contains interesting hyperlinks
Receive our daily Newsletter with all the latest updates on the Greek Travel industry.Subscribe now!