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  District of southwestern Peloponnese, west of Sparta, around the city of Messene.
  Messenia had been conquered by Sparta during the VIIIth century B. C., and most of its population had become slaves of Sparta, under the name “Helots”. It was freed of Spartan dominion by Epaminondas, the Theban general, following his victory over Sparta at Leuctra in 371.

Bernard Suzanne (page last updated 1998), ed.
This text is cited July 2003 from the Plato and his dialogues URL below, which contains interesting hyperlinks.

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Prehistoric Age

  Because of its Mediterranean and mild climate Messinia was first inhabited by people from the «Early Palaeolithic years» (26000-9000 B.C)   The first inhabitants of «Messini» as the country was first called, were the Leleges from Lelegia (Lakonia) who were brought by Polykaon and his wife, Messini and settled in the country, according to Pausanias.
  We don't have sufficient information on the physical appearance of this race, but the human skeletons which were found in the areas of Kokora Troupa of Velika as well as in the cave; 'Apinema' of Inner Mani which is close to Itylo and Alepotripa at Diro could be attributed to people belonging to this race.
  According to the archaelogical findings during the Neolithic Age there was a civilization in the areas of Chora, Epano Eglianou, Malthi, where there is a neolithic acropolis on a hill, Handrinou and Koryfasio.
  The Protohellenic period (2600-2200 B.C) is represented in the areas of Koryfasio, Epano Eglianos, Malthi, Kalamata in the area of Akovitika, where an extensive building complex and a manor house were recently discovered as well as in ancient Thouria and Finikounda.
  In Malthi, Kyparissia, Koryfasio, Epano Egliano, Pappoulia and Tragana there was life in the Mesohellenic period (2200-15580 B.C).
  In about 2700 B.C, at the end of the Neolithic and the beginning of the Protohellenic era, according to recent academic research, the Achaei (Greeks) came and settled Messinia.
  They were from Thessalia and later made Messinia the most densely populated area of the Peloponnese.
  Their settlement covered the entire land of Messinia from Alfios to Methoni and from Kardamili to Nomia, as the scattered domed and chamber tombs of the rulers and their subjects, where human skeletons, signs of ceramic pottery, vases and ostraka were found prove.   During the Trojan war and at the foot of Taygetos there were the seven homeric cities which were under the ruling of Agamemnon and among these was the most important one, the city of Firon (today: Kalamata).
  Homer preserved names of its rulers as well; Ortilohos and Dioklis. But the most important homeric city was in western Messinia and dominated the area of the Ionian coast from Alfios to Methoni.
  It was the «Emathoes Pylos» of Neleas, Nestoras and their successors until 1200 B.C approximately, when the palace was burnt down by arsonists. Some invaders, may be the «Races of the sea» suppressed the military forces of Pylos and generally the Mycaeneans and crushed their power.
  Taking advantage of the annihilation of the military force of the Kings of the Peloponnese, the hellenic race of the Dories descended from the Greek Mainland (Sterea Ellada) and invaded almost all the Peloponnese in 1120 B.C.
  The results of the Descent of the Dories or Iraklidon to Messinia were a lot of generations (families) of Pylion, who belonged to the dynasty of Neledon, who abandoned Pylos and settled Attica.
  They took there the worship of goddess-glafkas of Athena, they renamed the well-known mountain of Attica «Egaleo» after the mountain in Pylos, the contemporary Agia, and Melanthos, father of the Athenian King Kodros, became the first Athenian king of messinian descent.   Many other eminent personalities at Athens like Kleisthenes, Pericles, Solon, Plato as well as Aristotle were of Pylian descent, too.

This text is cited May 2003 from the Messenia Prefecture Tourism Promotion Commission URL below.

Classical period

  After the Descent of the Dories in 1120 B.C. Kresfondis his wife Meropi and the men of their military force settled in Upper Messinia, at «Steniclaro», while Lower Messinia, «Makaria» remained free until about 740 B.C. as the cities of southwestern and western Messinia did. These were in the hands of the Pylians which is a sign of the peaceful co-existence of Achaei and Dories.
  In about 740 B.C, the Dories from Lakonia, believing that the valley of the river Evrotas was not enough to sustain them, laid eyes on the land of the Messinian people who were of the same race as them.
  On the pretext of a boundary dispute by the temple of Limnatidos Artemidos, on Taygetos, they took military action which is well-known as the (four) Messinian wars; that is, the first war (740-720 B.C approximately) and the three revolutions which occasionally followed until 460 B.C when the conquest of the region was completed.
  Better-known is the Third Messinian war (500-489 B.C) , the «war of Aristomenis», in which that heroic general with his men and the castle of Era as a base for attack, led. His base was by the borders with Arkadia, the contemporary Kakaletris and the Arkades were its allies. He was, however, defeated and was forced to leave Messinia and find shelter in Rhodes where he got ill and died without realizing this dream; to free his homeland.
  One of the painful consequences of the Messinian Wars was the scattering of some Messinians, who were made to abandon their country either willingly or unwillingly and settle Regio and Metapondio in Italy and Zagli in Sicily where they went after the Third Messinian war (500-489), and renamed it «Messini»(today, Messina). Finally, after the fourth one, they scattered to Nafpaktos, Kefallinia and to Messini of Sicily, as the previous Messinians had done.
  The Messinians remained enslaved to the Spartans and refugees away from their homeland until 371 B.C. when the Theban general Epaminondas crushed the military forces of the Spartans at Lefktra in Boetia and realized with the Argae and the Arkades the rebuilding in 369 B.C of the city of «Ithomi» which was in the south part of the feet of the mountain bearing the same name. The fact that the refugee Messinians who returned, named their new city «Ithomi» can be attributed to the fact that before the conquest by the Spartans it bore the aforementioned name.
  After 369 B.C., Messini, or «Messana» in the dialect of its Doric inhabitants, started to prosper both financially and culturally and reached its cultural peak in the period from 338 to 191 B.C. It was the capital of the federation of the rest of the messinian cities, a fact that offered Messini financial prosperity until 191 B.C. when the cities that participated in the federation detached from it and joined the Achaic federation of Aegeo.
  Finally, due to its interference into the affairs of Messini and those of the Achaic federation, the Macedonians and the Romans, Messini surrendered to the Romans in 146 B.C. having succeeded in Keeping the magnificent fortification it had because of a temporary alliance with the Romans in 205 B.C. Its fortification was the strongest in Greece and equal to those of Rhodes and Byzantio.
About the modern history of Messinia see Messinia, prefecture

This text is cited June 2003 from the Messenia Prefecture Tourism Promotion Commission URL below, which contains image.



  The earliest inhabitants of Messenia are said to have been Leleges. Polycaon, the younger son of Lelex, the king of Laconia, married the Argive Messene, and took possession of the country, which he named after his wife. He built several towns, and among others Andania, where he took up his residence. (Paus. i. 1.) At the end of five generations Aeolians came into the country under Perieres, a son of Aeolus. He was succeeded by his son Aphareus, who founded Arene, and received the Aeolian Neleus, a fugitive from Thessaly. Neleus founded Pylus, and his descendants reigned here over the western coast. (Paus. i. 2.) On the extinction of the family of Aphareus, the eastern half of Messenia was united with Laconia, and came under the sovereignty of the Atridae; while the western half continued to belong to the kings of Pylus. (Paus. iv. 3. § 1.) Hence Euripides, in referring to the mythic times, makes the Pamisus the boundary of Laconia and Messenia ; for which he is reproved by Strabo, because this was not the case in the time of the geographer. (Strab. viii. p. 366.) Of the seven cities which Agamemnon in the Iliad (ix. 149) offers to Achilles, some were undoubtedly in Messenia; but as only two, Pherae and Cardamyle, retained their Homeric names in the historical age, it is difficult to identify the other five. (Strab. viii. p. 359; Diod. xv. 66.)
  With the conquest of Peloponnesus by the Dorians a new epoch commences in the history of Messenia. This country fell to the lot of Cresphontes, who is represented as driving the Neleidae out of Pylus and making himself master of the whole country. According to the statement of Ephorus (ap. Strab. viii. p. 361), Cresphontes divided Messenia into five parts, of which he made Stenyclerus the royal residence.1 In the other four towns he appointed viceroys, and bestowed upon the former inhabitants the same rights and privileges as the Dorian conquerors. But this gave offence to the Dorians; and he was obliged to collect them all in Stenyclerus, and to declare this the only city of Messenia. Notwithstanding these concessions, the Dorians put Cresphontes and all his children to death, with the exception of Aepytus, who was then very young, and was living with his grandfather Cypselus in Arcadia. When this youth had grown up, he was restored to his kingdom by the help of the Arcadians, Spartans, and Argives. From Aepytus the Messenian kings were called Aepytidae, in preference to Heracleidae, and continued to reign in Stenyclerus till the sixth generation, -their names being Aepytus, Glaucus, Isthmius, Dotadas, Sybotas, Phintas, -when the first Messenian war with Sparta began. (Paus. iv. 3.) According to the common legend, which represents the Dorian invaders as conquering Peloponnesus at one stroke, Cresphontes immediately became master of the whole of Messenia. But, as in the case of Laconia, there is good reason for believing this to be the invention of a later age, and that the Dorians in Messenia were at first confined to the plain of Stenyclerus. They appear to have penetrated into this plain from Arcadia, and their whole legendary history points to their close connection with the latter country. Cresphontes himself married the daughter of the Arcadian king Cypselus; and the name of his son Aepytus, from whom the line of the Messenian kings was called, was that of an ancient Arcadian hero. (Hom. Il. ii. 604, Schol. ad loc.; comp. Grote, Hist. of Greece, vol. ii. p. 437, seq.)
  The Messenian wars with Sparta are related in every history of Greece, and need not be repeated here. According to the common chronology, the first war lasted from B.C. 743 to 724, and the second from B.C. 685 to 668; but both of these dates are probably too early. It is necessary, however, to glance at the origin of the first war, because it is connected with a disputed topographical question, which has only recently received a satisfactory solution. Mt. Taygetus rises abruptly and almost precipitously above the valley of the Eurotas, but descends more gradually, and in many terraces, on the other side. The Spartans had at a very early period taken possession of the western slopes, but how far their territory extended on this side has been a matter of dispute. The confines of the two countries was marked by a temple of Artemis Limnatis, at a place called Limnae, where the Messenians and Laconians offered sacrifices in common and it was the murder of the Spartan king Teleclus at this place which gave occasion to the First Messenian War. (Paus. iii. 2. § 6, iv. 4. §2, iv. 31. §3; comp. Strab. vi. p. 257, viii. p. 362.) The exact site of Limnae is not indicated by Pausanias; and accordingly Leake, led chiefly by the name, supposes it to have been situated in the plain upon the left bank of the Pamisus, at the marshes near the confluence of the Aris and Pamisus, and not far from the site of the modern town of Nisi (Nesi, island), which derives that appellation from the similar circumstance of its position. (Leake, Morea, vol. i. p. 361.) But Ross has discovered the ruins of the temple of Artemis Limnatis on the western slope of Mt. Taygetus, on a part of the mountains called Volimnos (Bolimnos), and amidst the ruins of the church of Panaghia Volimniatissa (Panagia Bolimniatissa). Volimnos is the name of of a hollow in the mountains near a mountain torrent flowing into the Nedon, and situated between the villages of Sitzova and Poliani, of which the latter is about 7 miles NE. of Kalamata, the ancient Pherae. The fact of the similarity of the names, Bolimnos and Limnai, and also of Panagia Bolimniatissa and Artemis Limnatis, as well as the ruins of a temple in this secluded spot, would alone make it probable that these are the remains of the celebrated temple of Artemis Limnatis; but this is rendered certain by the inscriptions found by Ross upon the spot, in which this goddess is mentioned by name. It is also confirmed by the discovery of two boundary stones to the eastward of the ruins, upon the highest ridge of Taygetus, upon which are inscribed Horos Lakedaimoni pros Messenen. These pillars, therefore, show that the boundaries of Messenia and Laconia must at one period have been at no great distance from this temple, which is always represented as standing near the confines of the two countries. This district was a frequent subject of dispute between the Messenians and Lacedaemonians even in the times of the Roman Empire, as we shall see presently. Tacitus calls it the Dentheliates Ager (Hist. iv. 43); and that this name, or something similar, was the proper appellation of the district, appears from other authorities. Stephanus B. speaks of a town Denthalii (Denthalioi, s. v.: others read Delthanioi), which was a subject of contention between the Messenians and Lacedaemonians. Alcman also (ap. Athen. i. p. 31), in enumerating the different kinds of Laconian wine, mentions also a Denthian wine (Denbis oinos), which came from a fortress Denthiades (ek Denthiadon erumatos tinos), as particularly good. Ross conjectures that this fortress may have stood upon the mountain of St. George, a little S. of Sitzova, where a few ancient remains are said to exist. The wine of this mountain is still celebrated. The position of the above-mentioned places will be best shown by the accompanying map.
  But to return to the history of Messenia. In each of the two wars with Sparta, the Messenians, after being defeated in the open plain, took refuge in a strong fortress, in Ithome in the first war, and in Eira or Ira in the second, where they maintained themselves for several years. At the conclusion of the Second Messenian War, many of the Messenians left their country, and settled in various parts of Greece, where their descendants continued to dwell as exiles, hoping for their restoration to their native land. A large number of them, under the two sons of Aristomenes, sailed to Rhegium in Italy, and afterwards crossed over to the opposite coast of Sicily, where they obtained possession of Zancle, to which they gave their own name, which the city has retained down to the present day. Those who remained were reduced to the condition of Helots, and the whole of Messenia was incorporated with Sparta. From this time (B.C. 668) to the battle of Leuctra (B.C. 371), a period of nearly 300 years, the name of Messenia was blotted out of history, and their country bore the name of Laconia, a fact which it is important to recollect in reading the history of that period. Once only the Messenians attempted to recover their independence. The great earthquake of B.C. 464, which reduced Sparta to a heap of ruins, encouraged the Messenians and other Helots to rise against their oppressors. They took refuge in their ancient stronghold of Ithome; and the Spartans, after besieging the place in vain for ten years, at length obtained possession of it, by allowing the Messenians to retire unmolested from Peloponnesus. The Athenians settled the exiles at Naupactus, which they had lately taken from the Locri Ozolae; and in the Peloponnesian War they were among the most active of the allies of Athens. (Thuc. i. 101-103; Paus. iv. 24. § 5, seq.) The capture of Athens by the Lacedaemonians compelled the Messenians to quit Naupactus. Many of them took refuge in Sicily and Rhegium, where some of their countrymen were settled; but the greater part sailed to Africa, and obtained settlements among the Euesperitae, a Libyan people. (Paus. iv. 26. § 2.) After the power of Sparta had been broken by the battle of Leuctra (B.C. 371), Epaminondas, in order to prevent her from regaining her former influence in the Peloponnesus, resolved upon forming an Arcadian confederation, of which Megalopolis was to be the capital, and at the same time of restoring the Messenian state. To accomplish the latter object, he not only converted the Helots into free Messenians, but he despatched messengers to Italy, Sicily, and Africa, where the exiled Messenians had settled, inviting them to return to their native land. His summons was gladly responded to, and in B.C. 369 the new town of Messene was built. Its citadel or acropolis was placed upon the summit of Mt. Ithome, while the town itself was situated lower down on the slope, though connected with its acropolis by a continuous wall. (Diod. xv. 66; Paus. iv. 27.) During the 300 years of exile, the Messenians retained their ancient customs and Doric dialect; and even in the time of Pausanias they spoke the purest Doric in Peloponnesus. (Paus. iv. 27. § 11; comp. Muller, Door. vol. ii. p. 421, transl.) Other towns were also rebuilt, but a great part of the land still continued uncultivated and deserted. (Strab. viii. p. 362.) Under the protection of Thebes, and in close alliance with the Arcadians (comp. Polyb. iv. 32), Messene maintained its independence, and the Lacedaemonians lost Messenia for ever. On the downfall of the Theban supremacy, the Messenians courted the alliance of Philip of Macedon, and consequently took no part with the other Greeks at the battle of Chaeroneia, B.C. 388. (Paus. iv. 28. § 2.) Philip rewarded them by compelling the Lacedaemonians to cede to them Limnae and certain districts. (Polyb. ix. 28; Tac. Anns. [p. 345] iv. 43.) That these districts were those of Alagonia, Gerenia, Cardamyle, and Leuctra, situated northward of the smaller Pamisus, which flows into the Messenian gulf just below Leuctra, we may conclude from the statement of Strabo (viii. p. 361) that this river had been the subject of dispute between the Messenians and Lacedaemonians before Philip. The Messenians appear to have maintained that their territory extended even further south in the most ancient times, since they alleged that the island of Pephnus had once belonged to them. (Paus. iv. 26. § 3.) At a later time the Messenians joined the Achaean League, and fought along with the Achaeans and Antigonus Doson at the battle of Sellasia, B.C. 222. (Paus. iv. 29. § 9.) Long before this the Lacedaemonians appear to have recovered the districts assigned to the Messenians by Philip; for after the battle of Sellasia the boundaries of the two people were again settled by Antigonus. (Tac. Ann. l. c.) Shortly afterwards Philip V. sent Demetrius of Pharus, who was then living at his court, on an expedition to surprise Messene; but the attempt was unsuccessful, and Demetrius himself was slain. (Polyb. iii. 19; Paus. iv. 29. §§ 1-5, where this attempt is erroneously ascribed to Demetrius II., king of Macedonia.) Demetrius of Pharus had observed to Philip that Mt. Ithome and the Acrocorinthus were the two horns of Peloponnesus, and that whoever held these horns was master of the bull. (Strab. viii. p. 361.) Afterwards Nabis, tyrant of Lacedaemon, also made an attempt upon Messene, and had even entered within the walls, when he was driven back by Philopoemen, who came with succours from Megalopolis. (Paus. iv. 29. § 10.) In the treaty made between Nabis and the Romans in B.C. 195, T. Quintius Flamininus compelled him to restore all the property he had taken from the Messenians. (Liv. xxxiv. 35 ; Plut. Flamin 13.) A quarrel afterwards arose between the Messenians and the Achaean League, which ended in open war. At first the Achaeans were unsuccessful. Their general Philopoemen was taken prisoner and put to death by the Messenians, B.C. 183; but Lycortas, who succeeded to the command, not only defeated the Messenians in battle, but captured their city, and executed all who had taken part in the death of Philopoemen. Messene again joined the Achaean League, but Abia, Thuria, and Pharae now separated themselves from Messene, and became each a distinct member of the league. (Paus. iv. 30. §§ 11, 12; Liv. xxxix. 49; Polyb. xxiv. 9, seq., xxv. 1.) By the loss of these states the territory of Messene did not extend further eastward than the Pamisus; but on the settlement of the affairs of Greece by Mummius, they not only recovered their cities, but also the Dentheliates Ager, which the Lacedaemonians had taken possession of. (Tac. Ann. iv. 43.) This district continued to be a subject of dispute between the two states. It was again assigned to the Messenians by the Milesians, to whose arbitration the question had been submitted, and also by Atidius Geminus, praetor of Achaia. (Tac. l. c.) But after the battle of Actium, Augustus, in order to punish the Messenians for having espoused the side of Antony, assigned Thuria and Pharae to the Lacedaemonians, and consequently the Dentheliates Ager, which lay east of these states. (Paus. iv. 31. § 2, comp. iv. 30. § 2.) Tacitus agrees with Pausanias, that the Dentheliates Ager belonged to the Lacedaemonians in the reign of Tiberius; but he differs from the latter writer in assigning the possession of the Lacedaemonians to a decision of C. Caesar add M. Antonius ( post C. Caesaris et Marci Antonii sententia redditum ). In such a matter, however, the authority of Pausanias deserves the preference. We learn, however, from Tacitus (l. c.), that Tiberius reversed the decision of Augustus, and restored the disputed district to the Messenians, who continued to keep possession of it in the time of Pausanias; for this writer mentions the woody hollow called Choerius, 20 stadia south of Abia, as the boundary between the two states in his time (iv. 1. § 1, iv. 30. § 1). It is a curious fact that the district, which had been such a frequent subject of dispute in antiquity, was in the year 1835 taken from the government of Misthra (Sparta), to which it had always belonged in modern times, and given to that of Kalamata. (Ross, Reisen im Peloponnnes, p. 2.)

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

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