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The Princeton Encyclopedia of Classical Sites

Thermopylai

  A locality on the S side of the Malian Gulf, named partly for the presence of a hot mineral spring. By more ancient usage it was known simply as Pylai, the Gates, a name describing its situation at the narrowest point of the mainland route from the N into central and S Greece. At some time in the post-Mycenaean period, it became the seat of the Pylaian Amphictyony, a religious assembly of representatives of the Greek-speaking tribes around the Malian Gulf. This body later became famous under the less accurate title of Delphic Amphictyony, but even in the 3d and 2d c. B.C., when its membership consisted largely of proxies for external powers situated far from the original place of assembly, the more official name, and the ostensible pattern of membership, continued to reflect the early tribal settlement of the region around the Malian Gulf.
   The Pylaian Amphictyony was a natural focus for the resistance to the Persian invasion of 480 B.C., and the famous Spartan defense of the pass on the Kolonos hill, at the narrowest point of the Gates, was probably influenced by religious as well as tactical considerations. The Gates were again the site of significant military actions against the Gauls in 279, and against the Romans in 191 B.C. They continued to be important in Byzantine and even in modern military planning.
   The locality has three main foci of interest: the pass itself, the Shrine of Demeter at Anthela, where the Amphictyonic council met, and the numerous fortifications associated with the defense of the pass. The pass, through which the road at this point ran W-E, lay between the steep slopes of the mountain to the S and the shore of the Malian Gulf to the N. The extensive silting of the gulf has now made this an easy passage, but in antiquity the sea came close to the mountains at three points, and Herodotos called each one a gate. The site of the Spartan defense is the farthest E; it is marked by a modern monument in a place that may well have been under water in antiquity. The monument faces the semi-isolated Kolonos hill where the Spartans stood. Inland from here are the remains of a rough zigzag, identified as the wall built by the Phokians as a defense against the Thessalians (Hdt. 7.176). A structure at the SW end of this wall, which had been identified as a polyandrion, seems rather to be a part of the defense work. Burials have been found on and around the hill, also some evidence of habitation, but the most significant discovery was a large number of bronze arrowheads that could be identified with Persian armament. Most of the finds are in the museum at Lamia.
   Traces of the Pylaian Sanctuary of Demeter at Anthela (Hdt. 7.200) were discovered in the foothills S of the road, ca. 2.5 km W of the Kolonos. The only identifiable monuments are a stoa and a stadium, the latter of rough construction built into a natural depression in the limestone. Of interest is the special construction at the W end of the stadium designed to keep the winter rains from washing out the floor. No traces of the Demeter shrine itself have yet been found.

P. A. MacKay, ed.
This text is from: The Princeton encyclopedia of classical sites, Princeton University Press 1976. Cited Sep 2002 from Perseus Project URL below, which contains bibliography & interesting hyperlinks.


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Pylae

Perseus Encyclopedia

The Catholic Encyclopedia

Thermopylae

  A titular see and suffragan of Athens. It is the name of a defile about 4 miles long, whose principal passage was barred by a wall, which the Phocidians erected against the Thessalians in the sixth century B.C. It receives its name from two hot springs called today Loutra (the baths).
  There in the month of July, 480 B.C., Leonidas, King of Sparta, with 1300 Spartan soldiers and allies fell with his men while bravely opposing the enormous army of Xerxes. In 279 B.C. Brennus with 170,000 Gauls penetrated into Greece by this pass; it was there also that Antiochus III, King of Syria, was defeated by the Romans in 191 B.C., and where in A.D. 395 Alaric, King of the Goths, passed on his way to devastate Greece. In the sixth century Justinian restored the fortifications.
  After the Latins in 1204 had overthrown the Byzantine Empire, Thermopylae was made a Latin diocese. Today it is known as Lycostomos on the bank of the Maliac Gulf in the district of Phthiotis.

S. Vailhe, ed.
Transcribed by: John D. Beetham
This extract is cited June 2003 from The Catholic Encyclopedia, New Advent online edition URL below.


Harpers Dictionary of Classical Antiquities

Thermopylae

   (Thermopulai), or simply Pylae (Pulai). "The Hot Gates," or "The Gates." A celebrated pass leading from Thessaly into Locris. It lay between Mount Oeta and an inaccessible morass, forming the edge of the Malic Gulf. At one end of the pass, close to Anthela, the mountain approaches so close to the morass as to leave room for only a single carriage between; this narrow entrance formed the western gate of Thermopylae. About a mile to the east the mountain again approached close to the sea, near the Locrian town of Alpeni, thus forming the eastern gate of Thermopylae. The space between these two gates was wider and more open, and was distinguished by its abundant flow of hot springs, which were sacred to Heracles: hence the name of the place. Thermopylae was the only pass by which an enemy could penetrate from northern into southern Greece; whence its great importance in Grecian history. It is especially celebrated on account of the heroic defence of Leonidas and the 300 Spartans against the mighty host of Xerxes in B.C. 480; and they only fell through the Persians having discovered a path over the mountains, and thus being enabled to attack the Greeks in the rear. This mountain path commenced from the neighbourhood of Trachis, ascended the gorge of the river Asopus and the hill called Anopaea, then crossed the crest of Oeta, and descended in the rear of Thermopylae near the town of Alpeni.

This text is cited Sep 2002 from The Perseus Project URL below, which contains interesting hyperlinks


Greek & Roman Geography (ed. William Smith)

Thermopulae

  Thermopulai, or simply Pylae (Pulai). That is, the Hot Gates or the Gates, a celebrated narrow pass, leading from Thessaly into Locris, and the only road by which an enemy can penetrate from northern into southern Greece. It lay between Mount Oeta and an inaccessible morass, forming the edge of the Maliac gulf. In consequence of the change in the course of the rivers, and in the configuration of the coast, this pass is now very different from its condition in ancient times; and it is therefore necessary first to give the statement of Herodotus and other ancient writers respecting the locality, and then to compare it with its present state. In the time of Herodotus the river Spercheius flowed into the sea in an easterly direction at the town of Anticyra, considerably W. of the pass. Twenty stadia E. of the Spercheius was another river, called Dyras, and again, 20 stadia further, a third river, named Melas, 5 stadia from which was the city Trachis. Between the mountains where Trachis stands and the sea the plain is widest. Still further E. was the Asopus, issuing from a rocky gorge (diasphaz), and E. again is a small stream, named Phoenix, flowing into the Asopus. From the Phoenix to Thermopylae the distance, Herodotus says, is 15 stadia. (Herod. vii. 198 - 200.) Near the united streams of the Phoenix and the Asopus, Mt. Oeta approached so close to the morass of the gulf as to leave space for only a single carriage. In the immediate vicinity of the pass is the town of Anthela, celebrated for the temples of Amphictyon and of the Amphictyonic Demeter, containing seats for the members of the Amphicytonic council, who held here their autumnal meetings. At Anthela Mount Oeta recedes a little from the sea, leaving a plain a little more than half a mile in breadth, but again contracts near Alpeni, the first town of the Locrians, where the space is again only sufficient for a single carriage. At this pass were some hot springs, which were consecrated to Hercules (Strab. ix. p. 428), and were called by the natives Chytri or the Pans, on account of the cells here prepared for the bathers. Across this pass the Phocians had in ancient times built a wall to defend their country against the attacks of the Thessalians, and had let. loose the hot water, so as to render the pass impracticable. (Herod. vii. 200, 176.) It appears from this description that the proper Thermopylae was the narrow pass near the Locrian town of Alpeni; but the name was also applied in general to the whole passage from the mouth of the Asopus to Alpeni. Taking the term in this acceptation, Thermopylae consisted of the two narrow openings, with a plain between them rather more than a mile in length and about half a mile in breadth. That portion of Mt. Oeta, which rises immediately above Thermopylae is called Callidromon by Livy and Strabo, but both writers are mistaken in describing it as the highest part of the range. Livy says that the pass is 60 stadia in breadth. (Liv. xxxvi. 15; Strab. ix. p. 428.)
  In consequence of the accumulation of soil brought down by the Spercheius and the other rivers, three or four miles of new land have been formed, and the mountain forming the gates of Thermopylae is no longer close to the sea. Moreover, the Spercheius, instead of flowing into the sea in an easterly direction, considerably W. of Thermopylae, now continues its course parallel to the pass and at the distance of a mile from it, falling into the sea lower down, to the E. of the pass. The rivers Dyras, Melas, and Asopus, which formerly reached the sea by different mouths, now discharge their waters into the Spercheius. In addition to this there has been a copious deposit from the warm springs, and a consequent formation of new soil in the pass itself. The present condition of the pass has been described by Colonel Leake with his usual clearness and accuracy. Upon entering the western opening, Leake crossed a stream of warm mineral water, running with great rapidity towards the Spercheius, and leaving a great quantity of red deposit. This is undoubtedly the Phoenix, which probably derived its name from the colour of the sediment. After crossing a second salt-spring, which is the source of the Phoenix, and a stream of cold salt water, Leake entered upon that which Herodotus calls the plain of Anthela, which is a long triangular slope, formed of a hard gravelly soil, and covered with shrubs. There is an easy descent into this plain over the mountains, so that the western opening was of no importance in a military point of view. Upon reaching the eastern pass, situated at the end of the plain of Anthela, the traveller reaches a white elevated soil formed by the deposit of the salt-springs of the proper Thermopylae. There are two principal sources of these springs, the upper or western being immediately at the foot of the highest part of the cliffs, and the lower or eastern being 200 yards distant. From the lower source the water is conducted in an artificial canal for a distance of 400 yards to a mill. This water emits a strong sulphureous vapour, and, as it issues from the mill, it pours out a great volume of smoke. Beyond the hill are conical heights, and in their neighbourhood are two salt ponds, containing cold water; but as this water is of the same composition as the hot springs, it is probably also hot at its issue. Leake observes that the water of these pools, like that of the principal hot source, is of a dark blue colour, thus illustrating the remark of Pausanias, that the bluest water he ever saw was in one of the baths at Thermopylae. (Paus. iv. 35. ยง 9.) The springs at this pass are much hotter, and have left a far greater deposit than those at the other end of the plain, at the opening which may be called the false Thermopylae. Issuing from the pass are foundations of a Hellenic wall, doubtless the remains of works by which the pass was at one time fortified; and to the left is a tumulus and the foundations of a circular monument. Upwards of a mile further is a deep ravine, in which the torrents descending from Mt. Callidromon, are collected into one bed, and which afford the easiest and most direct passage to the summit of the mountain. This is probably the mountain path by which the Persians, under Hydarnes, descended in the rear of Leonidas and his companions. This path, as well as the mountain over which it leads, is called Anopaea (he Anopaia) by Herodotus, who does not use the name of Callidromon. He describes the path as beginning at the gorge of the Asopus, passing over the crest of the mountain, and terminating near Alpeni and the rock called Melampygus, and the seats of the Cercopes, where the road is narrowest. (Herod. vii. 216.) The history of the defence of Thermopylae by Leonidas is too well known to require to be related here. The wall of the Phocians, which Leonidas repaired, was probably built a little eastward of the western salt-spring. When the Spartan king learnt that Hydarnes was descending in his rear, he advanced beyond the wall into the widest part of the pass, resolved to sell his life as dearly as possible. Upon the arrival of Hydarnes, the Greeks retired behind the wall, and took up their position upon a hill in the pass (kolonos en tei eisodoi), where a stone lion was afterwards erected in honour of Leonidas. This hill Leake identifies with the western of the two small heights already described, as nearest to the position of the Phocian wall, and the narrowest part of the pass. The other height is probably the rock Melampygus.
  Thermopylae is immortalised by the heroic defence of Leonidas; but it was also the scene of some important struggles in later times. In B.C. 279 an allied army of the Greeks assembled in the pass to oppose the Gauls under Brennus, who were marching into southern Greece with the view of pillaging the temple of Delphi. The Greeks held their ground for several days against the attacks of the Gauls, till at length the Heracleotae and Aenianes conducted the invaders across Mount Callidromon by the same path which Hydarnes had followed two centuries before. The Greeks, finding their position no longer tenable, embarked on board their ships and retired without further loss. (Paus. x. 19 - 22.) In B.C. 207, when the Romans were carrying on war in Greece against Philip, king of Macedonia, the Aetolians, who were then in alliance with the Romans, fortified Thermopylae with a ditch and a rampart, but Philip shortly afterwards forced his way through the pass. (Liv. xxviii. 5, 7; Polyb. x. 41.) In B.C. 181, Antiochus, who was then at war with the Romans, took up his position at Thermopylae, which he fortified with a double rampart, a ditch, and a wall; and, in order to prevent the Romans from crossing the mountains and descending upon his rear, he garrisoned with 2000 Aetolians the three summits, named Callidromum, Teichius, and Rhoduntia. The consul Acilius sent some troops against these fortresses and at the same time attacked the army of Antiochus in the pass. While the battle was going on in the pass, the Roman detachment, which had succeeded in taking Callidromum, appeared upon the heights, threatening the king's rear, in consequence of which Antiochus immediately took to flight. (Liv. xxxvi. 15 - 19.) There are still. remains of three Hellenic fortresses upon the heights above Thermopylae, which probably represent the three places mentioned by Livy. Appian (Syr. 17) speaks only of Callidromum and Teichius, but Strabo (ix. p. 428) mentions Rhoduntia also. Procopius relates that the fortifications of Thermopylae. were restored by Justinian (de Aed. iv. 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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