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The Princeton Encyclopedia of Classical Sites


  Town and port at the back of the Gulf of Lakonia. It is to the W of the mouth of the Eurotas and some 45 km from Sparta (Strab. 8.5.2; Paus. 3.21.6). Legend says it was founded jointly by Herakles and Apollo, reconciled after their quarrel over the Delphic tripod. It is on the small island of Kranai, ca. 100 m from the shore and to the S of the ancient city, that Paris is supposed to have first united with Helen (Il. 3.445). And in fact, it is there that the most ancient archaeological remains have been found (Mycenaean sherds, obsidian laminae). Nothing is known of the town in the archaic period. Protogeometric vases, doubtless from a necropolis, have been found on the Mavrovouni mound 3 km to the SW. A text of a religious prohibition was cut into the rock in the 6th c. (IG v.1, 1155). Gythion must have been used by Sparta from a rather early time as both a port and arsenal. It is mentioned as such in all the conflicts in which Sparta was involved. It was ravaged in 456-455 by the Athenian admiral Tolmides (Thuc. 1108.5; Diod. 11.84; Paus. 1.27.5), closely watched by Alkibiades in 408 (Xen. Hell. 1.4.11), and having been taken in 369 by the Thebans of Epaminondas (ibid. 6.5.32) after a three day siege, it was recaptured by the Spartans shortly before 362 (Polyaen. 2.9). In 218, Philip V of Macedon devastated the surrounding countryside but did not attack the city itself (Polyb. 5.19.6). In 195, Nabis concentrated his fleet there and made the town a point of strategic support. But attacked by Flamininus, the garrison surrendered in exchange for permission to withdraw to Sparta (Livy 34.29). In the treaty concluded shortly afterwards the city was given autonomy, and the title of savior was consequently conferred on Flamininus (IG v.1, 1165), Nabis attacked the city again in 193, and took it in 192. After his death it appears to have been under Achaian control until 146 B.C. Then it was a member of the Eleutheriolakonian League. In 72-71 M. Antonius Creticus taxed it heavily for his campaign against the pirates (IG v.1, 1146). Under the Empire it instituted a festival in which divine honors were rendered to Augustus, Livia, Flamininus, and Tiberius, despite the fact that the latter at first refused them. Gytheion struck bronze coinage under Septimius Severus, Caracalla, and Geta, and appears to have been prosperous up to the 4th c. A.D.
  The only excavations--and these have been only very summarily published--have been of the theater and its surroundings, where a Kaisareion must have been located. The tiers of the theater are well preserved. The modern town has covered the ancient one, and certain monuments visible in the 19th c. are no longer so today, as, for example, the great niche cut into the rock and bearing an inscription mentioning Zeus Terastios (IG v.1, 1154). A few remains of Roman buildings are to be seen on the hill to the N of the theater. Walls can be made out under the sea at the point where the shore turns to the NE. A small museum has been installed in the local college, but several important pieces disappeared shortly before 1939, and others have been taken to the museum at Sparta.

C. Le Roy, 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.

Harpers Dictionary of Classical Antiquities


An ancient seaport town of Laconia, situated near the head of the Laconian Gulf, southwest of the mouth of the river Eurotas. In the Second Persian War, the Spartan fleet was stationed here, and here the Athenians under Tolmides burned the Spartan arsenal in B.C. 455.

Perseus Project index

Greek & Roman Geography (ed. William Smith)


  Guthion, Gythium, Gutheion, Gytheum, Eth. Gutheates. An ancient Achaean town in Laconia, situated near the head of the Laconian gulf, south-west of the mouth of the Eurotas, at the distance of 240 stadia from Sparta according to Strabo, and 30 Roman miles according to the Table. This distance agrees with the 43 kilometres which the French commission found to be the distance by the road from the ruins of Gythium to the theatre of Sparta. In Polybius Gythium is said to be 30 stadia from Sparta; but this number is evidently corrupt. and for peri triakonta we ought to read with Muller peri triakosia. (Polyb. v. 19.) Gythium stood upon the small stream Gythius (Mela, ii. 3), in a fertile and well-cultivated plain. (Polyb. v. 19.) Its cheeses are celebrated in one of Lucian's dialogues. (Dial. Meretsr. 14.) After the Dorian conquest it became the chief maritime town in Laconia, and was therefore regarded as the port of Sparta. It was also the ordinary station of their ships of war. Accordingly, when war broke out between Athens and Sparta, Gythium was one of the first places which the Athenians attacked with their superior fleet; and in B.C. 455 it was burnt by Tolmidas, the Athenian commander. (Thuc. i. 102; Diod. xi. 84.) On the invasion of Laconia by Epaminondas in B.C. 370, after the battle of Leuctra, he advanced as far south as Gythium, but was unable to take it, though he laid siege to it for three days. (Xen. Hell. vi. 5. 32) Even then it must have been well fortified, but its fortifications appear to have been still further increased by the tyrant Nabis; and when it was taken by the Romans in 195 it is described by Livy as valida urbs, et multitudine civium incolarumque et omni bellico apparatu instructa (xxxiv. 29). Augustus made it one of the Eleuthero-Laconian towns; and under the Roman empire it again became a place of importance, as is shown by its ruins, which belong almost exclusively to the Roman period. Its port, according to the information received by Strabo, was artificial (echei d, hos phasi, to naustathmon orukton, Strab. viii).
  Pausanias saw in the market-place of Gythium statues of Apollo and Hercules, who were reputed to be the founders of the city; near them a statue of Dionysus; and on the other side of the market-place a statue of Apollo Carneius, a temple of Ammon, a brazen statue of Asclepius, the temple of which had no roof, a fountain sacred to this god, a sanctuary of Demeter, and a statue of Poseidon Gaeaochus. A fountain still flowing between the shore and the Acropolis seems to have been the above-mentioned fountain of Asclepius, and thus indicates the site of the Agora. On the Acropolis was a temple of Athena; and the gates of Castor mentioned by Pausanias appear to have led from the lower city to the citadel. (Paus. iii. 21. § § 8, 9.) Opposite Gythium was the island Crania, whither Paris was said to have carried off Helen from Sparta.
  The coast on the mainland south of Gythium was said to have derived its name of Migonium (Milonion from the union of Paris and Helen on the opposite island. On this coast was a temple of Aphrodite Migonitis. and above it a mountain sacred to Dionysus called Larysium (Larusion), where a festival was celebrated to this god in the beginning of spring. (Paus. iii. 22. § 1.) Pausanias further describes, at the distance of three stadia from Gythium, a stone on which Orestes is said to have been relieved from his madness. This stone was called Zeus (according to Sylburg, leus) kappotas, i. e. katapautes, the Reliever. The town Marathonisi, which was built at the beginning of the present century, and is the chief port of the district Mani, occupies the site of Migonium; and the hill above it, called Kumaro, is the ancient Larysium. The remains of Gythium, called Paleopoli, are situated a little north of Marathonisi. They lie upon the slope of some small hills, and in the plain between them and the sea. These remains, which are considerable, belong chiefly to the Roman period, as has been already stated. Near the edge of the shore are the remains of two large buildings, probably Roman baths, consisting of several small rooms and divisions. The foundations of buildings may also be seen under water. Ninety yards inland from the shore, on the slope of the larger hill, are the remains of the theatre, built of white marble. Some of the marble seats still remain in their places, but most of them have disappeared, as the space enclosed by the theatre has been converted into a vineyard. The diameter appears to have been about 150 feet. From 50 to 100 feet from the theatre, in a slight hollow between the hills, are the ruins of a Roman building of considerable size. The Acropolis was on the top of the hill above the theatre, but of its walls there are only a few fragments. All round the town, and especially on the hills, are twenty or thirty ruins of small buildings of tiles and mortar, in the Roman style, containing niches in the walls. These were Roman sepulchres: one of them was excavated by Ross, who found there some sepulchral lamps.
  On the left of the road from Paleodpoli to Marathonisi is an inscription on the rock, which has not yet been deciphered; and close to it, hewn in the rock, is a chair with a foot-step, which appears to be the spot where Orestes was said to have been relieved from his madness. Most of the inscriptions found at Palepoli are of the Roman period.

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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