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Harpers Dictionary of Classical Antiquities


   A country in Peloponnesus, bounded on the east by Laconia, from which it was separated by Mount Taygetus, on the north by Elis and Arcadia, and on the south and west by the sea. In the Homeric times the western part of the country belonged to the Neleid princes of Pylos, of whom Nestor was the most celebrated; and the eastern to the Lacedaemonian monarchy. On the conquest of Peloponnesus by the Dorians, Messenia fell to the share of Cresphontes, who became king of the whole country. Messenia was more fertile than Laconia; and the Spartans soon coveted the territory of their brother-Dorians; and thus war broke out between the two people. The First Messenian War lasted twenty years, B.C. 743-723; and notwithstanding the gallant resistance of the Messenian king, Aristodemus, the Messenians were obliged to submit to the Spartans after the capture of their fortress Ithome. After bearing the yoke thirtyeight years, the Messenians again took up arms under their heroic leader, Aristomenes. The Second Messenian War lasted seventeen years, B.C. 685-668, and terminated with the conquest of Ira and the complete subjugation of the country. Most of the Messenians emigrated to foreign countries, and those who remained behind were reduced to the condition of Helots or serfs. In this state they remained till 464, when the Messenians and other Helots took advantage of the devastation occasioned by the great earthquake at Sparta to rise against their oppressors. This Third Messenian War lasted ten years (464- 455), and ended by the Messenians surrendering Ithome to the Spartans on condition of being allowed a free departure from Peloponnesus. When the supremacy of Sparta was overthrown by the battle of Leuctra, Epaminondas collected the Messenian exiles, and founded the town of Messene (B.C. 369), at the foot of Mount Ithome, which formed the acropolis of the city. Messene was made the capital of the country. Messenia was never again subdued by the Spartans, and it maintained its independence till the conquest of the Achaeans and the rest of Greece by the Romans (B.C. 146).

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Greek & Roman Geography (ed. William Smith)


  Messenia (Messenia, Herod., Thuc.; in older writers, Messene, Hom. Od. xxi. 15; Messaa, Pind. Pyth. iv. 126; shortened Messe, Mese, Steph. B. s. v. Messenia; Messenis ge, Thuc. iv. 41: Eth. and Adj. Messenios: Adj. Messeniakos), the south-westerly district of Peloponnesus, bounded on the east by Laconia, on the north by Elis and Arcadia, and on the south and west by the sea. It was separated from Laconia by Mt. Taygetus, but part of the western slope of this mountain belonged to Laconia, and the exact boundary between the two states, which varied at different times, will be mentioned presently. Its southern frontier was the knot of mountains, which form the watershed of the rivers Neda, Pamisus and Alpheius. On the south it was washed by the Messenian gulf (ho Messeniakos kolpos, Strab. viii. p. 335), called also the Coronaean or Asinaean gulf, from the towns of Corone or Asine, on its western shore, now the Gulf of Koroni. On the east it was bounded by the Sicilian or Ionian sea. The area of Messenia, as calculated by Clinton, from Arrowsmith's map is 1162 square miles.
I. GENERAL DESCRIPTION OF THE COUNTRY. Messenia, in its general features, resembles Laconia. The Pamisus in Messenia, like the Eurotas in Laconia, flows through the entire length of the country, from north to south, and forms its most cultivated and fertile plains. But these plains are much larger than those in Laconia, and constitute a considerable portion of the whole country ; while the mountains on the western coast of Messenia are much less rugged than on the eastern coast of Laconia, and contain a larger proportion of fertile land. Hence the rich plains of Messenia are often contrasted with the sterile and rugged soil of Laconia; and the climate of the former country is praised by the ancients, as temperate and soft, in comparison with that of the latter. The basin of the Pamisus is divided into two distinct parts, which are separated from each other on the east by a ridge of mountains extending from Mt. Taygetus to the Pamisus, and on the west by Mrt. Ithome. The upper part, called the plain of Stenyclerus or Stenyclarus (to Stenuklerikon pedion), is of small extent and moderate fertility, and is entirely shut in by mountains. The lower plain, which opens to the Messenian gulf, is much more extensive, and was sometimes called Macaria (Makaria), or the Blessed, on account of its surprising fertility. (Strab. viii. p. 361.) It was, doubtless, to this district that Euripides referred, when he described the excellence of the Messenian soil as too great for words to explain, and the land as watered by innumerable streams, abounding in fruits and flocks; neither too hot in summer, nor too cold in winter. (Eurip. ap. Strab. viii. p. 366.) Even in the present day, although a part of the plain has become marshy by neglecting the embankments of the Pamisus, it is described by travellers as the most fertile district in the Peloponnesus. It now produces oil, silk, figs, wheat, maize, cotton, wine, and honey, and presents as rich a cultivation as can well be imagined. (Leake, Morea, vol. i. pp. 347, 352.) Besides the Pamisus, numerous other streams and copious perennial springs gush in all directions from the base of the mountains. The most remarkable feature on the western coast is the deep bay of Pylos, now called Navarino, which is the best, and indeed the only really good harbour in the Peloponnesus.
1. Mountains.-The upper plain, in which are the. sources of the Pamisus, was the original abode of the Messenians, and the stronghold of the nation. Here was Andania, the capital of the most ancient Messenian kings. Thither the Messenians retreated, as often as they were overpowered by their enemies in the lower plains, for here were their two great natural fortresses, Ithome and Eira, the former commanding the entrance to the lower plain, and the latter situated in the mountains, which rise in the northern part of the upper plain. These mountains, now called Tetrazi, form, as has been already said, the watershed of the rivers Neda, Pamisus, and Alpheius. From this central ridge, which is 4554 feet high, a chain extends towards the west, along the banks of the Neda, and is also prolonged towards the south, forming the mountains of the western peninsula, and terminating at the promontory Acritas. From the same central ridge of Tetrazi, another chain extends towards the east, dividing the Messenian plain from the upper basin of the Alpheius, and then uniting with Mount Taygetus, and forming the harrier between the basins of the lower Pamisus and the Eurotas. These two mountain chains, which, issuing from the same point, almost meet about half-way between Mount Tatrazi and the sea, leave only a narrow defile through which the waters of the Pamisus force their way from the upper to the lower plain. South of this defile the mountains again retire to the east and west, leaving a wide opening for the lower plain, which has been already described.
  Scarcely in any part of Greece have the names of the ancient mountains been so little preserved as in Messenia. Tetrazi was perhaps the mountains of Eira. The eastern continuation of Tetrazi, now named Makryplai, formed part of the ancient Mt. Nomia. (Nomia ore, Paus. viii. 38. § 11.) The western prolongation of Tetrazi along the banks of the Neda was called Elaeum (Elaion), now Kuvela, and was partly in the territories of Phigalia. (Paus. viii. 41. § 7.) The mountains Ithome and Evan are so closely connected with the city of Messene that they are described under that head. In the southern chain extending down the western peninsula, the names only of Aegaleum, Buphras, Tomeus or Mathia, and Temathia have been preserved. Aegaleum (Aigaleon) appears to have been the name of the long and lofty ridge, running parallel to the western shore between Cyparissia and Coryphasium (Pylos); since Strabo places the Messenian Pylos at the foot of Mt. Aegaleum (viii. p. 359; Leake, Morea, vol. i. pp. 426, 427). Buphras (he Bouphras) and Tomeus (ho Tomeus) are mentioned by Thucydides (iv. 118) as points near Coryphasium (Pylos), beyond which the Lacedaemonian garrison in the latter place were not to pass. That they were mountains we may conclude from the statement of Stephanus B., who speaks of the Tomaion oros near Coryphasium. (Steph. B. s. v. Tomeus.) Temathia (Temathia), or Mathia (Mathia, the reading is doubtful), was situated, according to Pausanias (iv. 34. § 4), at the foot of Corone, and must therefore correspond to Lykodimo, which rises to the height of 3140 feet, and is prolonged southward in a gradually falling ridge till it terminates in the promontory Acritas.
2. Promontories. Of these only four are mentioned by name,--Acritas (Akritas), now C. Gallo, the most southerly point of Messenia; and on the west coast Coryphasium forming the entrance to the bay of Pylus; PLLatamodes (Platamodes, Strab. viii. p. 348), called by Pliny (iv. 5. s. 6) Platanodes, distant, according to Strabo (l. c.), 120 stadia N. of Coryphasium, and therefore not far from Aia Kyriake (Leake, vol. i. p. 427); and lastly Cyparissium [Cyparissia], a little further north, so called from the town Cyparissia
3. Rivers. The Pamisus (Pamisos) is described by Strabo as the greatest of the rivers within the Isthmus (viii. p. 361); but this name is only given by the ancient writers to the river in the lower plain, though the moderns, to facilitate the description of the geography of the country, apply this name to the whole course of the waters from their sources in the upper plain till they fall into the Messenian gulf. The principal river in the upper plain was called Balyra (Balira). It rises near the village of Sulima, and flows along the western side of the plain: two of the streams composing is were the Electra (Elektra) and the Coeus (Koios). Near Ithome the Balyra receives the united waters of the Leucasia (Leukasia) and the Amphitus (Amphitos), of which the former flows from the valley of Bogasi, in a direction from N. to E., while the latter rises in Mt. Makryplai, and flows through the plain from E. to W. This river (the Amplitus), which maybe regarded as the principal one, is formed out of two streams, of which the northern is the Charadrus (Karadros). (On the Balyra and its tributaries, see Paus. iv. 33. §§ 3-6.) The Balyra above the junction of the Amphitus and Leucasia is called Vasiliko, and below it Mavrozumeno, though the latter name is sometimes given to the river in its upper course also. At the junction of the Balyra and the Amphitus is a celebrated triangular bridge, known by the name of the bridge of Mavrozumeno. It consists of three branches or arms meeting in a common centre, and corresponding to the three principal roads through the plain of Stenyclerus. The arm, running from north to south passes over no river, but only over the low swampy ground between the two streams. At the southern end of this arm, the two others branch off, one to the SW. over the Balyra, and the other to the SE. over the Amphitus, the former leading to Messene and the other to Thuria. The foundations of this bridge and the upper parts of the piers are ancient; and from the resemblance of their masonry to that of the neighboring Messene, they may be presumed to belong to the same period. The arches are entirely modern. The distance of this bridge from the Megalopolitan gate of Messene agrees with the 30 stadia which Pausanias (iv. 33. § 3) assigns as the interval between that gate and the Balyra; and as he says immediately afterwards that the Leucasia and Amphitus there fall into the Balyra, there can be little doubt that the bridge is the point to which Pausanias proceeded from the gate. (Leake, Morea, vol. i. pp. 480, 481.)
  The Mavrozumeno, shortly after entering the lower plain, received on its left or western side a considerable stream, which the ancients regarded as the genuine Pamisus. The sources of this river are at a north-eastern corner of the plain near the chapel of St. Floro, and at the foot of the ridge of Skala. The position of these sources agrees sufficiently with the distances of Pausanias (iv. 31. § 4) and Strabo (viii. p. 361), of whom the former writer describes them as 40 stadia from Messene, while the latter assigns to the Pamisus a course of only 100 stadia. Between two and three miles south of the sources of the Pamisus there rises another river called Pidhima, which flows SW. and falls into the Mavrozumeno, lower down in the plain below Nisi, and at no great distance from the sea. Aris was the ancient name of the Pidhima. (Paus. iv. 31. § 2.)
  The Mavrozumeno, after the junction of the Pidhima, assumes the name of Dhipotamo, or the double river, and is navigable by small boats. Pausanias describes it as navigable 10 stadia from the sea. He further says that seafish ascend it, especially in the spring, and that the mouth of the river is 80 stadia from Messene (iv. 34. § 1). The other rivers of Messenia, with the exception of the Neda, which belongs to Arcadia also, are little more than mountain torrents. Of these the most important is the Nedon, not to be confounded with the above-mentioned Neda, flowing into the Messenian gulf, east of the Pamisus, at Pherae. It rises in the mountains on the frontiers of Laconia and Messenia, and is now called the river of Kalamata: on it there was a town of the same name, and also a temple of Athena Nedusia. (Strab. viii. pp. 353, 360; Leake, Morea, vol. i. pp. 344, 345; Ross, Reisen im Peloponnes p. 1.) The other mountain torrents mentioned by name are the Bias, flowing into the western side of the Messenian gulf, a little above Corone (Paus. iv. 34. § 4); and on the coast of the Sicilian or Ionian sea, the Selas (Selas, Ptol. iii. 16. § 7), now the Longovardho, a little S. of the island Prote, and the Cyparissus (Kuparissos), or river of Arkhadhia.
4. Islands. Theganussa (Theganoussa), now Venetiko, distant 3700 feet from the southern point of the promontory Acritas, is called by Pausanias a desert island ; but it appears to have been inhabited at some period, as graves have been found there, and ruins near a fountain. (Paus. iv. 34. § 12; Thenagousa or Thinagousa, Ptol. iii. 16. § 23; Plin. iv. 12. s. 19. § 56; Curtius, Peloponnesos, vol. ii. p. 172.) West of Theganussa is a group of islands called Oenussae (Oinoussai), of which the two largest are now called Cabrera (by the Greeks Schixa) and Sapienza. They are valuable for the pasture which they afford to cattle and horses in the spring. On the eastern side of Sapienza there is a well protected harbour; and here are found cisterns and other remains of an ancient settlement. (Paus. iv. 34. § 12; Plin. iv. 12. s. 19. § 55; Leake, vol. i. p. 433; Curtius, vol. ii. p. 172.) On the western coast was the island of Sphacteria opposite the harbour of Pylus; and further north the small island of Prote (Prote), which still retains its ancient name. (Thuc. iv. 13; Plin. iv. 12. s. 19. § 55; Mela, ii. 7; Steph. B. s. v.)

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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