N of Mt. Helikon and 7 km NW of Thespiai, the site is on the N bank
of the Permessos, the stream that runs through the Valley of the Muses. Legend
has it that Askra was founded by Oikles and the sons of Poseidon, Otos and Ephialtes;
it is the birthplace of the poet Hesiod. At some unknown date the Thespians were
said to have destroyed the city, which thereafter became merely a kome of Thespiai,
uninhabited in Plutarch's time. Pausanias saw there nothing but the tower that
still stands on top of the rocky peak called Pyrgaki (cf. Keressos).
Some travelers have placed Askra near the village of Neochori, 4 km W of Thespiai, on the slopes of Mt. Marandali (Pouqueville, Dodwell), others at Xironomi, a village 10 km SW of Thespiai (Kirsten). The limestone peak of Pyrgaki (633 m) dominates the Sanctuary of the Muses to the S from a height of 250 m; to the E the Haghios Christos valley separates it from the chain of hills running to Thespiai and Thebes; to the N it descends abruptly to the Kopaic basin, and to the W a narrow pass links it to Mt. Koursara (900 m). Exposed to the N wind and barred from the sea breezes by Mt. Helikon, Askra was, in Hesiod's words, a wretched village, bad in winter, disagreeable in summer, good at no time (Works and Days, 639-40). Where was the village? The slopes of this mountain are steep on all sides, its summit narrow and windswept and completely taken up by a small fort. Perhaps we should look for it toward the base of the slope, near cultivable land, on the S or SE flank. At the spot known as Episkopi, near the confluence of the Permessos and the Haghios Christos stream, are some ruins of mediaeval houses containing many ancient stones; nearby are a great quantity of archaic, Classical, and Hellenistic potsherds. However, up to now this area has never been dug.
The little fort on the mountain top consists of an elliptical surrounding wall (approximately 150 x 30 m) that links the Tower of Askra, mentioned by Pausanias. To the E a postern gate 1.45 m wide opened onto the old pathway. The wall is of rough polygonal rubblework; 4.5 m thick, it very probably was topped with a palisade of stakes. At the highest point is a 7.7 m square tower, still with its 13 courses, very carefully built in isodomic masonry. The blocks, which were quarried on the spot, have a convex surface. The four corners of the tower are carefully grooved. To the E is a gate, 2 x 0.88 m, that leads to a narrow guard house (2 x 6 m), from which a stairway runs to the upper floor. The rest of the surface is filled with large blocks of stone divided into two lots by a cross-wall. A floor covered the whole surface (6 sq. m). In spite of the differences in masonry, the surrounding wall and tower may have been built together in the 4th c. B.C., either shortly before the battle of Leuktra (371) with the aid of the Spartans, or in the second half of the century.
P. Roesch, ed.
This text is from: The Princeton encyclopedia of classical sites, Princeton University Press 1976. Cited Nov 2002 from Perseus Project URL below, which contains bibliography & interesting hyperlinks.
Ascra (Askra: Eth. Askraios). A town of Boeotia on Mount Helicon, and in the territory of Thespiae, from which it was 40 stadia distant. (Strab. ix. p. 409.) It is celebrated as the residence of Hesiod, whose father settled here after leaving Cyme in Aeolis. Hesiod complains of it as a disagreeable residence both in summer and winter. (Hes. Op. 638, seq.); and Eudoxus found still more fault with it. (Strab. ix. p. 413.) But other writers speak of it as abounding in corn (poluleios, Paus. ix. 38. § 4), and in wine. (Zenod. ap. Strab. p. 413.) According to the poet Hegesinus, who is quoted by Pausanias, Ascra was founded by Ephialtes and Otus, the sons of Aloeus. In the time of Pausanias a single tower was all that remained of the town. (Paus. ix. 29. § § 1, 2.) The remains of Ascra are found on the summit of a high conical hill, or rather rock, which is connected to the NW. with Mount Zagara, and more to the westward with the proper Helicon. The distance of these ruins from Lefka corresponds exactly to the 40 stades which Strabo places between Thespiae and Ascra; and it is further remarkable, that a single tower is the only portion of the ruins conspicuously preserved, just as Pausanias describes Ascra in his time, though there are also some vestiges of the walls surrounding the summit of the hill, and inclosing a space of no great extent. The place is now called Pyrgaki from the tower, which is formed of equal and regular layers of masonry, and is uncommonly large. (Leake, Northern Greece, vol. ii. p. 491.) The Roman poets frequently use the adjective Ascraeus in the sense of Hesiodic. Hence we find Ascraeum carmen (Virg. Georg. ii. 176), and similar phrases.
This text is from: Dictionary of Greek and Roman Geography (1854) (ed. William Smith, LLD). Cited May 2004 from The Perseus Project URL below, which contains interesting hyperlinks
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