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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: Harry Thurston Peck, Harpers Dictionary of Classical Antiquities (1898)
Perseus Project index
Gytheion, Gythion, Gythium, Gytheiun
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
- Dictionary of Greek and Roman Geography (1854) (ed. William Smith, LLD)