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The Princeton Encyclopedia of Classical Sites


  Founded after the battle of Leuktra and before Mantinea by Epaminondas as part of his Sparta-containing policy, and by the Arkadians of small villages which had heretofore been defenseless against Spartan attack. It took part in the battle of Mantinea (Xen. Hell. 7.5.5), but subsequently suffered from Spartan hostility (353-352, 331), the tendency of its inhabitants to return to their villages, and the jealousy of other Arkadian cities. Megalopolis during the 4th c. moved closer to Philip, was attacked unsuccessfully by Agis of Sparta (331) and in 318 by Polyperchon, at which time there were but 15,000 male inhabitants, free and slave, in the city. The 3d c. saw the tyrannies of Aristodemos and Lydiadas, the latter of whom joined Megalopolis to the Achaian League, of which it remained a member until 146 (Polyb. 2.44.5). Kleomenes caused great destruction there in 223 (Polyb. 2.55), but under Philopoimen (fl.223-184-183), the last of the Greeks, the city was again powerful. After 146 and until his death in 117-116 Polybios mitigated the wrath of the Romans against his native city, and indeed saw to it that needed repairs were made. In Augustan times a bridge was built (IG V 2.456), and under Domitian a stoa was constructed (IG v 2.457). In the time of Pausanias (8.27.1-16, 30.2-33) Megalopolis lay mostly in ruins.
  The ancient city lies ca. 1.6 km N of the modern town of the same name on the road to Andritsena. The walls, visible only sporadically, have been calculated by excavators, both from extant remains and from general considerations of terrain, to have been ca. 8.8 km in extent. They were formed of two parallel lines of stone with rubble in between, and were probably carried up in mudbrick. The town proper is divided by the Helisson river into two sections. To the N lay the agora, described by Pausanias, whose description has been in large part confirmed by excavation. The Sanctuary of Zeus Soter lies in the SE corner near the river, and has in part been washed away by the river. It consists of a rectangle (originally 47 x 53.5 m) with a square open court in the middle surrounded by a double colonnade. The temple was on the W, and cut through the colonnade. In the center of the court there stood a large base, identified by some as the base of the statue group mentioned by Pausanias (8.30.10): it is more likely, though massive, to have been an altar. The N side of the agora was enclosed by the massive Philippian Colonnade (155.5 m long x 20 m deep), with wings projecting on the E and W ends. The building should date from the end of the 4th c. (Paus. 8.30.3), but the style of architecture points to a later date (Frazer w. 322). The E side of the market place was marked off by a long stoa of mid 3d c. date identified usually with Myropolis (Paus. 8.30.7). Other insignificant remains include the council house (?), a gymnasium (?), and the government offices. All of the above buildings are in a ruinous state, barely discernible, and are of more archaeological and historical than aesthetic interest.
  The business of the Arkadian League took place to the S of the river, where are to be found the remains of a theater, the largest in Greece (Paus. 8.32.1), and the Thersileion, the council house of the 10,000. Of the theater there are preserved the lowest bench for dignitaries (with inscriptions) and the first several rows of seats. For the most part the theater utilizes the natural contours of the hill, but since the hill proved too small, there are retaining walls to E and W, and it is likely enough that the cavea was carried up higher than the present top of the hill. Estimates of capacity vary between 17,000 and 21,000 spectators. The ruins of the extant stage are of Roman date, and are built over the remains of an earlier foundation with sockets and grooves which originally supported either scenery or a stage, more likely scenery. There are no traces of a permanent 4th c. stage or scene building. Scenery and props were stored in the skanotheka just to the W under the W retaining wall of the theater.
  The thersileion, of which only foundations and footings for columns remain, was a large rectangular hypostyle hall, constructed in the interior in the form of a theater. The speaker's platform, though in the center on the N-S axis, was closer to the S wall, and was lower than both a platform behind it and the seats for spectators which rose gradually to the exterior walls on all sides but the S. The columns supporting the roof were so arranged that they radiated out from the center of the speaker's platform, thus affording the spectators an unimpeded view of the platform. It is unclear how the roof was constructed and the building lighted, but the assumption of a clerestory over the speaker's platform is reasonable. At some point the roof seems to have collapsed, for there is evidence of repair to the building and the addition of extra columns at the point of greatest stress, the third row of columns counting from the center. There is no evidence for a stone floor, but scholars have assumed a wooden one. The portico to the S facing the theater is almost exactly the length of the width of the orchestra, and was probably used as a backdrop for dramatic performances. At some point three additional lower steps were added in order to adjust the level of the portico to that of the orchestra. The building was destroyed by Kleomenes and never rebuilt.

W. F. Wyatt Jr., 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 13 image(s), bibliography & interesting hyperlinks.

Greek & Roman Geography (ed. William Smith)


  (he Megale polis or Megalopolis: Eth. Megalopolites: Sinanu).The Great City, one of the most recent of the Grecian cities, and the later capital of Arcadia, was founded in B.C. 370, a few months after the battle of Leuctra, and was finished in the course of three years. (Paus. viii. 27. § 1; Diod. xv. 52, 62, 72.) Arcadia had been previously divided into a number of independent political communities; and it had always been the object of Sparta to maintain them in their isolated condition, that she might the more easily exercise supremacy over them. But after the fatal blow, which the Spartans had received at the battle of Leuctra, several of the leading Arcadians, supported by Epaminondas, who was the soul of the undertaking, resolved to found a new city, which should become the capital of an Arcadian confederation. Ten oecists were appointed to carry this resolution into effect, of whom two were from Tegea, two from Mantineia. two from Cleitor, two from the district of Maenalus, and two from that of Parrhasia. The site, which they chose, was an extensive plain upon the northwest frontier of Laconia; and the city was built upon the river Helisson, a tributary of the Alpheius. Forty distinct Arcadian townships were either persuaded or compelled to contribute their inhabitants to form the new state. (Paus. viii. 27; Diod. xv. 94.) The inhabitants were furnished from seven states: 10 from Maenalus, 8 from the Parrhasii, 3 from Orchomenus, 4 from Cynuria, 6 from Eutresis, 3 from Tripolis, and probably 6 (though Pausanias mentions the names of only 5) from Aegytis. The city was 50 stadia (more than 5 miles and a half) in circumference (Polyb. ix. 21); while the territory assigned to it was more extensive than that of any other Arcadian state, extending northwards about 23 English miles from the city, being bounded on the east by the territories of Tegea, Mantineia, Orchomenus. and Caphyae, and on the west by those of Messene, Phigalia, and Heraea.
  Megalopolis was the place of meeting of the Arcadian confederation which was now formed. The council of the confederation was called the Ten Thousand (hoi Murioi), and consisted of representatives of all the Arcadian states, except Orchomenus and Heraea. The number must be regarded as an indefinite one; and it is probable that all the citizens of the separate states had the right of attending the meetings. (Xen. Hell. vi. 5. 6, vii. 1. § 38; Diod. xv. 59; Paus. viii. 32. § 1; Dem. de Fals. Leg. p. 344.) A body of troops, called Epariti (Eparitoi), was raised for the service of the confederation; their number was 5000 (Xen. Hell. vii. 4. 34, vii. 5. § 3; Diod. xi. 62, 67.) The new confederation succeeded for a time in giving a certain degree of unity of sentiment and action to the Arcadians; but its influence gradually declined; and the city of Megalopolis never attained that importance which its founders had anticipated, and which had caused it to be laid out on a scale too large for the the population collected within its walls. (Polyb ii. 55.)
  Upon the decline of the Theban power, the Spartans directed their attacks against Megalopolis; but these were easily repelled; and upon the rise of the Macedonian power the Megalopolitans formed a close alliance with Philip, and subsequently with Alexander, as their best security against their formidable neighbour. After the death of Alexander they continued faithful to the Macedonian alliance, and refused to join the other Greeks against Antipater. In the contest between Polysperchon and Cassander, Megalopolis espoused the side of the latter; in consequence of which Polysperchon laid siege to the city in B.C. 318. It was, however, bravely defended by its inhabitants, under an officer named Damis; and though Polysperchon succeeded in making a breach in its walls, he was finally repulsed with loss. (Diod. xviii. 70, 71.) We learn from Diodorus that the territory of Megalopolis possessed at this time 15,000 men capable of bearing arms, which implies a population of about 65,000 souls. After this time Megalopolis was governed by tyrants, of whom the first was Aristodemus, a Phigalian by birth, who, on account of his good qualities, was called Chrestos. During his reign the Spartans, under their king Acrotatus, the son of Areus, and grandson of Cleonymus II., attacked Megalopolis, but were defeated, and Acrotatus was slain. (Paus. viii. 27. § 11, who erroneously calls Acrotatus the son of Cleonymus.) Two generations later Lydiades, a native of Megalopolis, became tyrant of the city, but he voluntarily resigned his power in B.C. 232, and united Megalopolis to the Achaean League. (Paus. viii. 27. § 12, seq.; Polyb. ii. 44.) In B.C. 222, Cleomenes III. surprised Megalopolis; the greater part of the inhabitants succeeded in making their escape to Messene; but, after plundering the city, he laid the greater part of it in ruins. (Paus. viii. 27. § 15, seq.; Polyb. ii. 55; Plut. Philop. 5, Cleom. 25.) Soon after the defeat of Cleomenes at the battle of Sellasia (B.C. 221), the Megalopolitans began to rebuild their city; but a dispute arose among them respecting its size. One party wished the compass of the walls to be contracted, that they might be the more easily defended; and the other [p. 308] insisted upon preserving the former dimensions of the city. The former party, through the mediation of Aratus, appear to have prevailed, and the city was unfortunately rebuilt in its original magnitude. (Polyb. v. 93.) The fortifications were sufficiently strong to resist the attack of the tyrant Nabis (Plut. Philop. 13); but they were again suffered to fall into decay; and even as soon as B.C. 175, we find that Antiochus IV. Epiphanes promised the Megalopolitans to surround their city with a wall, and gave them the greater part of the necessary money. (Liv. xli. 20.) Polybius remarks (ix. 21) that the population of Megalopolis in his time was only the half of that of Sparta, although it was two stadia greater in circumference. So much was it reduced, that a comic poet, quoted by Strabo, described the Great City as a great desert (eremia megale 'stin e Megale polis, viii. p. 388). Accustomed as Pausanias was to the sight of fallen cities, the ruined condition of Megalopolis appears to have particularly impressed him, and gave rise to the reflections which he has inserted after his description of the city (viii. 33). Megalopolis was the birthplace of Philopoemen, and of the historian Polybius.
  Megalopolis was situated in the middle of a plain, and, unlike the generality of Grecian cities, possessed no height, which might be converted into an acropolis. Mantineia, which was also rebuilt about the same time, was placed in a level situation, instead of its old position upon a hill. A level situation appears to have been chosen as more convenient for a large population than the rocky heights upon which the old Greek cities were built; while the improvements which had been made in the art of fortifying cities enabled their inhabitants to dispense with natural defences. The city lay upon either bank of the Helisson, which flowed through it from east to west, and divided it into nearly two equal parts.
  The Helisson flows into the Alpheius about 2 1/2 English miles from the city. The southern half of the city was called Orestia, from an ancient settlement of the Maenalians upon this spot. (Steph. B. s. v. Megale polis. The ruins of Megalopolis are near the modern village of Sinanu; but almost all trace of the walls has disappeared, because they were probably built, like those of Mantineia (Xen. Hell. v. 2. 5; Paus. viii. 8. § 5), of unburnt bricks. Pausanias has given a particular description of the public buildings (viii. 30--32), the site of some of which may still be fixed by the existing remains. The two most important buildings were the theatre, on the left or southern side of the river, and the Agora on the right. The colossal remains of the theatre are conspicuous in the whole plain. Several of the seats remain, and a part of the wall of the cavea. It is described by Pausanias (viii. 32. § 1) as the greatest theatre in Greece, and was 480 feet in diameter. Pausanias says that in the theatre there was a perennial fountain, which Leake could not find, but which Ross noticed in the Orchestra; it is now covered with rubbish, so that it is not visible, but in dry seasons it makes the ground quite moist and slippery. On the eastern side of the theatre was the stadium, the position of which is indicated in the shape of the ground near the river. Here is a fountain of water, which Pausanias says was in the stadium, and was sacred to Dionysus. On the eastern side of the stadium was a temple of Dionysus; and below the stadium, towards the river, were a sanctuary of Aphrodite, and an altar of Ares. Ross supposes a circular foundation close to the bank of the river to be the altar of Ares, and a quadrangular foundation between this and the theatre to be the temple of Aphrodite. East of the temple of Dionysus there is another source of water, also mentioned by Pausanias, by which we can fix the position of the temple of Asclepius the Boy; above which, on a gently sloping hill, was a temple of Artemis Agrotera. West of the theatre was the Thersilium, named from the person who built it, in which the Ten Thousand were accustomed to meet; and near it was a house, built originally by the Megalopolitans for Alexander, the son of Philip. In this same locality there were a few foundations of a temple sacred to Apollo, Hermes, and the Muses.
  Opposite the western end of the theatre there are, on both sides of the river, but more especially on the northern bank, large masses of square stones. These are probably the remains of the principal bridge over the Helisson, which led from the theatre to the Agora on the northern side of the river. The Agora was built on a magnificent scale, and extended along the river close to the western walls of the city; since Pausanias, who entered Megalopolis upon this side, immediately came upon the Agora. As Pausanias has given a fuller description of the Agora of Megalopolis than of any other in Greece, the following restoration of it (taken from Curtius) may be found useful in understanding the general form and arrangement of such buildings.
  In the centre of the Agora was an inclosure sacred to Zeus Lycaeus, who was the tutelary deity of all Arcadia. It had no entrance; but the objects it contained were exposed to public view; here were seen two altars of the god, two tables, two eagles, and a statue in stone of Pan. Before the sacred inclosure of Zeus there was a statue of Apollo in brass, 12 feet high, which was brought from Bassae by the Phigalians, to adorn the new capital; it survived the destruction of the city, and is represented on coins of Septimius Severus. This colossal statue probably stood on the west side of the sanctuary of Zeus. To the right of the colossal statue was the temple of the Mother of the Gods, of which [p. 309] only the columns remained in the time of Pausanias.
  On the northern side of the Agora lay the Stoa of Philip, the son of Amyntas, which was named in honour of this king, on account of the services he had rendered to Megalopolis. Near it were the remains of the temple of Hermes Acacesius. Alongside of the Stoa of Philip, was another smaller Stoa, containing the Archives (ta archeia), and consisting of six compartments. Behind the Stoa of the Archives was a temple of Tyche (Fortune).
  The Stoa called Myropolis, where the shops of the perfumers stood, was probably on the eastern side of the Agora. It was built from the spoils of the Lacedaemonians under Acrotatus, when they were defeated by Aristodemus. Between it and the sanctuary of Zeus was the statue of Polybius. To the left of this statue was the Bouleuterium, or Senate House. In the south of the Agora may be placed the Stoa of Aristander, named after its founder. At the eastern end of this Stoa, was a Peripteral Temple of Zeus Soter, containing a statue of the god seated between the goddesses Megalopolis and Artemis Soteira. At the other, or western end of the same Stoa, was the sacred inclosure of the Great Goddesses Demeter and Core (Persephone), containing several temples. The Gymnasium stood on the western side of the Agora.
  To the north of the Agora, behind the Stoa of Philip, there were two small heights, on one of which stood the ruins of the temple of Athena Polias, and on the other those of Hera Teleia. The foundations of these temples are still visible. At the foot of the temple of Hera Teleia was the stream Bathyllus, flowing into the Helisson. Parallel to the Bathyllus is another stream; and the hill between these two streams is, perhaps, the Scoleitas mentioned by Pausanias (viii. 31. § 7), who says that it lies within the walls, and that a stream descends from it to the Helisson.
  Some excavations were made on the site of Megalopolis by Ross in 1834, but nothing of importance was found. Pausanias also gives a minute account of the principal roads leading from Megalopolis.
  Of these he mentions eight, leading respectively to Messene, Carnasium, Sparta, Methydrium, Maenalus, Phigaleia, Tegea and Heraea.

This extract 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

Harpers Dictionary of Classical Antiquities


   The most recent but the most important of the cities of Arcadia, was founded on the advice of Epaminondas after the battle of Leuctra, B.C. 371, and was formed out of the inhabitants of thirty-eight villages. It was situated in the district Maenalia, near the frontiers of Messenia, on the river Helisson, which flowed through the city. It became afterwards one of the chief cities of the Achaean League. Philopoemen and the historian Polybius were natives of Megalopolis.

This text is cited Oct 2002 from The Perseus Project URL below, which contains interesting hyperlinks

Perseus Project

Megalopolis, Megalopolitan, Megalopolitans

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