Strabo, Geography Book VIII:

Temple of Artemis at Limnai

iv (9) The Temple of Artemis at Limnai, at which the Messenians are reputed to have outraged (hybrisai) the maidens who had come there to sacrifice, is on the boundaries between Lakonia and Messenia, where both peoples held assemblies (panêgurin) and offered sacrifices in common; and they say that it was after the outraging of the maidens, when the Messenians refused to give satisfaction for the act, that the war took place. And it is after this Limnai, also, that the Limnaion, the temple of Artemis in Sparta, has been named.

The Messenian Wars

iv (10) Often, however, they went to war on account of the revolts of the Messenians. Tyrtaeus says in his poems that the first conquest of Messenia took place in the time of his fathers' fathers; the second, at the time when the Messenians chose the Argives, Eleians, Pisatans, and Arcadians as allies and revolted–the Arcadians frunishing Aristocrates the King of Orchomenos as general and the Pisatae furnishing Pantaleon the son of Omphalion; at this time, he says, he himself was the Lacedaemonian general in the war, for in his elegy entitled Eunomia he says that he came from there:

"For the son of Kronos, spouse of Hera of the beautiful crown,
Zeus himself, hath given the city to the Heracleidae,
in company with whom I left windy Erineus,
and came to the broad island of Pelops."

Therefore either these verses of the elegy must be denied authority or we must discredit Philochoros, who says that Tyrtaeus was an Athenian from the deme of Aphidnai, and also Callisthenes and several other writers, who say that he came from Athens when the Lacedaemonians asked for him in accordance with an oracle which bade them to get a commander from the Athenians. So the Second War was in the time of Tyrtaeus. But also a Third War and a Fourth War took place, they say, in which the Messenians were defeated. The voyage around the coast of Messenia, following the sinuosities of the gulfs, is, all told, about eight hundred stadia in length.

Population of Sparta (Augustan times)

iv (11) However, I am overstepping the bounds of moderation in recounting the numerous stories told about a country the most of which is now deserted. In fact, Lakonia too is now short of population as compared with its large population in olden times, for outside of Sparta the remaining towns are only about thirty in number, whereas in olden times it was called, they say, 'the country of the hundred cities'; and it was on this account, they say, that they held annual festivals in which one hundred cattle were sacrificed.

Mt. Taÿgetus and Sparta town

v (1) Be this as it may, after the Messenian Gulf comes the Lakonian Gulf, lying between Taenarum and Maleae, which bends slightly from the south towards the east; and Thyrides, a precipitous rock exposed to the currents of the sea, is in the Messenian Gulf at a distance of one hundred and thirty stadia from Taenarum. Above Thyrides lies Taÿgetus; it is a lofty and steep mountain, only a short distance from the sea, and it connects in its northerly parts with the foothills of the Arcadian mountains in such a way that a glen is left in between, where Messenia borders on Lakonia. Below Taÿgetus, in the interior lies Sparta, and also Amyclae, where is the temple of Apollo, and Pharis. Now the site of Sparta is in a rather hollow district, although it includes mountains within its limits; yet no part of it is marshy, though in olden times the surburban part was marshy, and this part they called Limnai. And the Temple of Dionysos in Limnai stood on wet ground, though now its foundations rest on dry ground.

Taenarum and Cythera

In the bend of the seaboard one comes, first, to a headland that projects into the sea, Taenarum, with its Temple of Poseidon situated in a grove; and secondly, near by, to the cavern through which, according to the myth-writers, Cerberus was brought up from Hades by Heracles. From there the passage towards the south across the sea to Phycus, a cape in Cyrenaea, is three thousand stadia; and the passage towards the west to Pachynus, the promontory of Sicily, is four thousand six hundred, though some say four thousand; and towards the east to Maleae, following the sinuosities of the gulfs, six hundred and seventy: and to Onugnathus and opposite it, at a distance of forty stadia, lies Cythera, an island with a good harbor, containing a city of the same name, which Eurycles, the ruler of the Lacedaemonians in our times, seized as his private property; and round it lie several small islands, some near it and others slightly farther away; and to Corycus, a cape in Crete, the shortest voyage is seven hundred stadia.

Gythium and Helos

v (2) After Taenarum, on the voyage to Onugnathus and Maleae, one comes to the city Psamathus; then to Asine and to Gythium, the seaport of Sparta, situated at a distance of two hundred and forty stadia from Sparta. The roadstead of the seaport was dug by the hand of man, so it is said. Then one comes to the Eurotas, which empties between Gythium and Acraea. Now for a time the voyage is along the shore, for about two hundred and forty stadia; then comes a marshy district situated above the gulf, and also a village called Helos; in earlier times Helos was a city, just as Homer says (Iliad II. 584):

And they that held Amyclae, and Helos,
a city by the sea...

It is said to have been founded by Helios, a son of Perseus. And one comes also to a plain called Leuke, then to a city called Cyparissia, which is situated on a peninsula and has a harbor; then to Onugnathus, which has a harbor; then to the city Boea; and then to Maleae. And the distance from Onugnathus to Maleae is one hundred and fifty stadia; and there is also a city Asopus in Lakonia. . . . .


v (4) According to Ephorus, Eurysthenes and Procles, the Heracleidae, took possession of Lakonia, divided the country into six parts, and founded cities; now one of the divisions, Amyclae, they selected and gave to the man who had betrayed Lakonia to them and who had persuaded the ruler who was in possession of it to accept their terms and emigrate with the Achaeans to Ionia; Sparta they designated as a royal residence for themselves; to the other divisions they sent kings, and because of the sparsity of the population gave them permission to receive as fellow inhabitants any strangers who wished the privilege; and they used Las as a naval station because of its good harbor, and Aegys as a base of operations against their enemies (for its territory bordered on those of the surrounding peoples) and Pharis as a treasury, because it afforded security against outsiders . . . but though the neighboring peoples, one and all, were subject to the Spartiatai, still they had equal rights, sharing both in the rights of citizenship and in the offices of state, and they were called Helots; but Agis, the son of Eurysthenes, deprived them of the equality of rights and ordered them to pay tribute to Sparta; now all obeyed them except the Heleians, the occupants of Helos, who, because they revolted, were forcibly reduced in a war, and were condemned to slavery, with the express reservation that no slaveholder should be permitted either to set them free or to sell them outside the borders of the country; and this war was called the War against the Helots. One may almost say that it was Agis and his associates who introduced the whole system of Helot-slavery that persisted until the supremacy of the Romans; for the Lakedaemonians held the Helots as state-slaves in a way, having assigned to them certain settlements to live in and special services to perform

Late Sparta

(5) . . . Now the new possessors of Lakonia restrained themselves at first, but after they turned over the government to Lycurgus they so far surpassed the rest that they alone of the Greeks ruled over both land and sea, and they continued ruling the Greeks until they were deprived of their hegemony, first by the Thebans, and immediately after them by the Macedonians. However, they did not wholly yield even to the Macedonians, but, preserving their autonomy, always kept up a struggle for the prinacy both with the rest of the Greeks and with the kings of the Maccedonians. And when the Macedonians had been overthrown by the Romans, the Lacedaemonians committed some slight offences against the praetors who were sent by the Romans, because at that time they were under the rule of tyrants and had a wretched government; but when they hd recovered themselves, they were held in particular honor, and remained free, contributing to Rome nothing else but friendly services. But recently Eurycles has stirred up trouble among them, having apparently abused the friendship of Caesar unduly in order to maintain his authority over his subjects; but the trouble quickly came to an end, Eurycles retiring to his fate, and his son being averse to any friendship of this kind. And it also came to pass that the Eleuthero-Lakones got a kind of constitution, since the Perioikoi and also the Helots, at the time when Sparta waws under the rule of tyrants, were the first to attach themselves to the Romans.

Early Spartan Constitution

Now Hellanikos says that Eurysthenes and Prokles drew up the consitution [of Sparta]; but Ephoros censured Hellanikos, saying that he has nowhere mentioned Lycurgus and that he ascribes the work of Lycurgus to persons who had nothing to do with it. At any rate, Ephoros continues, it is to Lycurgus alone that a temple has been erected and that annual sacrifices are offered, whereas Eurysthenes and Prokles, although they were the founders, have not even been accorded the honor of having their respective descendants called Eurysthenidai and Prokleidai; instead, the respective descendants are called Agidai, after Agis the son of Eurysthenes, and Eurypontidai, after Eurypon the son of Prokles; for Agis and Eurypon reigned in an honorable way, whereas Eurysthenes and Prokles welcomed foreigners and through these maintained their overlordship; and hence they were not even honored with the title archagetai, an honor which is always paid to founders; and further [King] Pausanias [408-394], after he was banished because of the hatred of the Eurypontidai, the other royal house, and when he was in exile, prepared a discourse on the laws of Lycurgus, who belonged to the house that banished him, in which he also tells the oracles that were given out to Lycurgus concerning most of the laws.

adapted from Strabo Geography (Loeb Classical Library Vol. IV, 1927 tr. H. L. Jones), pp. 121-140.

© 8/10/2002
January 26, 2010 1:57 PM

John Paul Adams, CSUN

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