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The Princeton Encyclopedia of Classical Sites
The ancient city is partially covered by the modern village of the
same name, some 18 km SE of Chalkis on the S-central coast of the island. The
site is dominated by a prominent acropolis at the N and extends over an area of
more than 80 ha, roughly delimited by the course of the ancient city walls. The
archaeological remains are the most extensive in Euboia.
First mentioned in the Homeric Catalogue of Ships (Il. 2.537: Eretria),
there is a growing body of evidence to indicate that the site was occupied throughout
most of the Bronze Age. Problems related to the location of Strabo's Old Eretria
(9.2.6)--now thought by some to be at the nearby site of Lefkandi--still remain
unsettled. With the dawn of the historical period, Eretria--along with its neighbor,
Chalkis--appears among the leading cities of Greece in establishing colonies abroad.
This contributed to a bitter rivalry between Chalkis and Eretria, manifested at
home in a war over the control of the fertile coastal strip centering upon the
Lelantine plain. The Lelantine War, which seems to have taken place at or near
the end of the 8th c. B.C., may have resulted in a certain decline in the status
of Eretria. But recent excavations have brought to light considerable evidence
of occupation on the site in the 7th and 6th c. Near the end of the 6th c., Eretria
supported the revolt of the Ionian Greek cities from Persian subjugation. This
resulted in the destruction of the city at the hands of the vengeful Persians
in 490 (Hdt. 6.43-44). Herodotos (6.99-101, 119) tells us that the temples were
plundered and burned and many of the inhabitants taken captive and carried off
to Persia. The city seems to have recovered somewhat for it managed to contribute
both ships and men to the Greek forces in 480-479. After the Persian Wars, Eretria
became a member of the Delian Confederacy and generally remained loyal to Athens
until 411. At that time the Euboian cities revolted, and there is some evidence
to indicate that they formed a league with Eretria at its head. Eretria supported
Sparta through the balance of the Peloponnesian War but was back on good terms
with Athens by the early 4th c. Thereafter its allegiance vacillated between Athens
and Thebes until--by the end of the 4th c.--it had come under the thumb of the
Macedonians and was to remain so for the next 100 years or more. Eretria came
to be the most important city in Euboia in the late 4th and early 3d c., by which
time its influence extended over most of S Euboia. The city flourished in the
3d c. and was the home of a well-known school of philosophy under the direction
of Menedemos. But the great days of Eretria came to an end with a major destruction
at the hands of a Roman-Pergamene coalition in 198 B.C. (Livy 32.16). Although
the city was rebuilt and the site continued to be occupied for some time thereafter,
no major monuments can be assigned to this period and it does not seem to have
regained its old importance.
Sporadic excavation has been carried out since the later 19th c. These
investigations have uncovered the remains of numerous graves (including a well-built
tomb of the Macedonian period a short distance to the W of the ancient town),
large stretches of the city wall, a theater, a gymnasium, a Thesmophorion, a bathing
establishment, a fountain-house, a tholos, a number of houses, and several temples
or shrines (dedicated to Apollo Daphnephoros, Dionysos, and Isis), as well as
lesser monuments. No clear-cut remains of the agora have yet been reported.
The current excavations have been largely confined to the areas of
the temple of Apollo Daphnephoros near the center of the ancient town and a major
gate in the NW sector of the city. The Temple of Apollo--now visible only in its
foundations--was first exposed around the turn of the century, but recent investigations
have clarified its chronology and many details of construction. A peripteral temple
of the Doric order, it seems to have been erected in the late archaic period (530-520
B.C.) but was razed shortly thereafter in the Persian destruction of 490. It is
to this structure that the well-known pedimental group of Theseus and Antiope
in the Chalkis Museum belongs. Recent excavation has shown that the 6th c. temple
had several precursors including an early archaic hecatompedon of the Ionic order
(670-650 B.C.), and a small apsidal shrine of the 8th c. The latter is the earliest
building yet found at Eretria. All of the structures in this sequence are thought
to have served in the worship of Apollo Daphnephoros.
One of the most striking monuments at Eretria is the ancient theater,
lying at the SW foot of the acropolis. A noteworthy feature of the complex is
a subterranean vaulted passage which led by means of a stairway from the center
of the orchestra to the stage building. It is thought that such an arrangement
facilitated the sudden appearance of actors from the underworld. This structure
seems to have been erected in the late 4th c. and serves as one of the best examples
of the Greek theater during the Hellenistic period. The remains of a small temple
and altar of Dionysos lie a short distance to the S of the theater.
The site is dominated by the acropolis, from which the visitor gains
a magnificent view of the S Euboian Gulf and the mainland beyond. Of particular
interest here are the walls and towers which represent some of the best preserved
examples of Classical Greek masonry. Although there is some evidence of the use
of the acropolis during the Mycenaean period, the fortifications probably range
in date from no earlier than the archaic period through Hellenistic times.
A line of fortification can be traced intermittently from the acropolis
along the W side of the city to a point just SW of the theater. Here lies a major
gateway (W Gate) through which the ancient road to Chalkis and the Lelantine plain
must have passed. The most recent excavators have concentrated much of their efforts
upon the investigation of the W Gate and its environs. These investigations have
shown that the major gate of the early Classical period (ca. 480 B.C.) overlay
a gate and fortifications of the 7th c., which are among the earliest known fortifications
of post-Bronze Age Greece. To the S of the W Gate, a complex of burials (both
inhumation and cremation) within a modest architectural setting has been identified
as a heroon. The rich finds from this area, whose foundation goes back to the
8th c., testify to the far-flung commercial activities of Eretria at that time.
The heroon seems to have been incorporated into a Hellenistic structure of palatial
proportions (Palace I), which may have belonged to the descendants of those who
were buried in the heroon. An even larger and more impressive complex (Palace
II), probably of the 4th c. B.C., has been exposed farther to the S.
Apart from the pedimental sculpture from the Temple of Apollo Daphnephoros
in the Chalkis Museum, all of the finds from the excavations at Eretria are now
housed in a small museum on the site.
T. W. Jacobsen, 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 32 image(s), bibliography & interesting hyperlinks.
Harpers Dictionary of Classical Antiquities
A town of the island of Euboea, situated on the coast of the
Euripus southeast of Chalcis. It was said by some to have been founded by a colony
from Triphylia in Peloponnesus; by others its origin was ascribed to a party of
Athenians belonging to the deme of Eretria. The latter opinion is far more probable,
as this city was doubtless of Ionic origin. We learn from Strabo that Eretria
was formerly called Melaneis and Arotria, and that at an early period it had attained
to a considerable degree of prosperity and power. The Eretrians conquered the
islands of Ceos, Teos, Tenos, and others; and in their festival of Artemis, which
was celebrated with great splendour, three thousand soldiers on foot, with six
hundred cavalry and sixty chariots, were often employed to attend the procession.
Eretria, at this period, was frequently engaged in war with Chalcis, and Thucydides
reports that on one occasion most of the Grecian States took part in the contest.
The assistance which Eretria then received from the Milesians induced that city
to cooperate with the Athenians in sending a fleet and troops to the support of
the Ionians, who had revolted from Persia at the instigation of Aristagoras, by
which measure it became exposed, in conjunction with Athens, to the vengeance
of Darius. That monarch accordingly gave orders to his commanders, Datis and Artaphernes,
to subdue both Eretria and Athens and bring the inhabitants captive before him.
Eretria was taken after six days' siege, and the captive inhabitants brought to
Asia. Darius treated the prisoners kindly, and settled them in the district of
Cissia. Eretria recovered from the effects of this disaster and was rebuilt soon
after. We find it mentioned by Thucydides, towards the close of his history, as
revolting from Athens on the approach of a Spartan fleet under Hegesandridas,
and mainly contributing to the success obtained by that commander. After the death
of Alexander, this city surrendered to Ptolemy, a general in the service of Antigonus;
and in the Macedonian War, to the combined fleets of the Romans, the Rhodians,
and Attalus. It was subsequently declared free by order of the Roman Senate. This
place, as we learn from Athenaeus, was noted for the excellence of its flour and
bread. At one time it possessed a distinguished school of philosophy and dialectics.
The ruins of Eretria are still to be observed close to a headland which lies opposite
to the mouth of the Asopus in Boeotia.
This text is cited Oct 2002 from The Perseus Project URL below, which contains interesting hyperlinks
- Perseus: Harry Thurston Peck, Harpers Dictionary of Classical Antiquities (1898)
Greek & Roman Geography (ed. William Smith)
Eth. Erteieus, fem. Epetpis, Eretrias: Adj. Eretrikos, Eretriakos.
One of the most ancient, and next to Chalcis the most powerful city in Euboea,
was situated upon the western coast of the island, a little south of Chalcis,
and at the south-western extremity of the extensive and fertile plain of Lelantum.
The Eretrians are represented as Ionians (Herod. viii. 46), and were supposed
to have come from Eretria in Attica. (Strab. viii.) It seems, however, that the
population was not purely Ionic, and, accordingly, some writers related that it
had been colonised from the Triphylian Macistus in Elis. (Strab. l. c.) Strabo
relates that it was formerly called Melaneis and Arotria.
At an early period Eretria was one of the chief maritime states in
Greece, and attained a high degree of prosperity and power. Andros, Tenos, and
Ceos, as well as other islands, were at one time subject to Eretria. (Strab. viii.)
According to some accounts, they took part in the colonisation of Cromae, and
they founded some colonies upon the peninsula of Chalcidice. Eretria is mentioned
by Homer. (Il. ii. 537.). The military strength of the state was attested by an
inscription, preserved in the temple of the Amarynthian Artemis, about a mile
from the city, recording that in the procession to that temple the Eretrians had
been accustomed to march with 3000 hoplites, 600 horsemen, and 60 chariots. (Strab.
Eretria and Chalcis were early engaged in war with each other. These
wars seem to have been occasioned by disputes respecting the division of the plain
of Lelantum, which lay between the two cities. (Strab. l. c.) In one of these
early wars some of the most powerful states of Greece, such as Miletus and Samos,
took part. (Thuc. i. 15; Herod. v. 99; Spanheim, ad Callim. Del. 289.) In gratitude
for the assistance which the Eretrians had received on this occasion from Miletus,
they sent five ships to the Athenian fleet which sailed to support Miletus and
the other Ionic cities in their revolt from Persia, B.C. 500. (Herod. l. c.) But
this step caused their ruin; for, in B.C. 490, a Persian force, under Datis and
Artaphernes, sent to punish the Athenians and Eretrians, laid siege to Eretria,
which was betrayed to the Persians after they had invested the place for six days.
The town was razed to the ground, and the inhabitants carried away to Persia;
but their lives were spared by Darius, who allowed them to settle in the Cissian
territory. (Herod. vi. 125.) The old town continued in ruins, but a new town was
rebuilt a little more to the south, which soon became a place of considerable
importance. In B.C. 411, the Athenians were defeated by the Spartans in a sea-fight
off the harbour of Eretria; and those of the Athenians who took refuge in Eretria,
as a city in alliance with them, were put to death by the Eretrians, who therefore
joined the rest of the Euboeans in their revolt from Athens. (Thuc. viii. 95.)
After the Peloponnesian War we find Eretria in the hands of tyrants.
One of these, named Themison, assisted the exiles of Oropus in recovering possession
of their native city from the Athenians in B.C. 366. (Diod. xv. 76; comp. Dem.
de Cor. p. 256; Xen. Hell. vii. 4. 1) Themison appears to have been succeeded
in the tyranny by Plutarchus, who applied to the Athenians in B.C. 354 for aid
against his rival, Callias of Chalcis, who had allied himself with Philip of Macedon.
The Athenians sent a force to his assistance under the command of Phocion, who
defeated Callias at Tamynae; but Phocion, suspecting Plutarchus of treachery,
expelled him from Eretria. Popular government was then established; but shortly
afterwards Philip sent a force, which destroyed Porthmus, the harbour of Eretria,
and made Cleitarchus tyrant of the city. Cleitarchus governed the city in Philip's
interests till B.C. 341, when Cleitarchus was expelled by Phocion, who had been
sent into Euboea on the proposition of Demosthenes for the purpose of putting
down the Macedonian interest in the island. Eretria was subsequently subject to
Macedonia; but in the war with Philip V. it was taken by the combined fleets of
the Romans, Attalus, and Rhodians, upon which occasion a great number of paintings,
statues, and other works of art fell into the hands of the victors. (Liv. xxxii.
16.) After the battle of Cynoscephalae, Eretria was de. clared free by the Roman
senate. (Polyb. xviii. 30.) Eretria was the seat of a celebrated school of philosophy
founded by Menedemus, a native of this city, and a disciple of Plato. The philosophers
of this school were called Eretrici (Eretrikoi, Strab. x. p. 448; Diog. Laert.
i. 17, ii. 126; Athen. ii. p. 55, d.; Cic. Acad. ii. 4. 2, de Orat. iii. 17, Tusc.
v. 39.) The tragic poet Achaeus, a contemporary of Aeschylus, was a native of
Eretria. It appears from the comic poet Sopater that Eretria was celebrated for
the excellence of its flour (ap. Athen. iv. p. 160).
Strabo says that Old Eretria was opposite Oropus, and the passage
across the strait 60 stadia; and that New Eretria was opposite Delphinium, and
the passage across 40 stadia (ix.). Thucydides makes the passage from Oropus to
New Eretria 60 stadia (viii. 95). New Eretria stood at Kastri, and Old Eretria
in the neighbourhood of Vathy. There are considerable remains of New Eretria.
The entire circuit of the ruined walls and towers of the Acropolis still subsist
on a rocky height, which is separated from the shore by a marshy plain. At the
foot of the hill are remains of the theatre, and in the plain a large portion
of the town walls, with many foundations of buildings in the inclosed place. The
situation was defended to the west by a river, and on the opposite side by a marsh.
The territory of Eretria extended from sea to sea.: Between Old Eretria
and New Eretria was Amaynthus; south of Old Eretria, Tamynae; and further south,
Porthmus. In the interior were Dystus and Oechalia.
The annexed coin represents on the obverse the head of Artemis, who
was worshipped in the neighbouring town of Amarynthus: the bull on the. reverse
probably has reference to the brazen bull which the Eretrians dedicated at Olympia.
(Paus. v. 27. § 9)
This text is from: Dictionary of Greek and Roman Geography (1854) (ed. William Smith, LLD). Cited May 2004 from The Perseus Project URL below, which contains interesting hyperlinks
- Dictionary of Greek and Roman Geography (1854) (ed. William Smith, LLD)
- Eretria: Perseus Lookup Tool, text search
- Eretrians: Perseus Lookup Tool, text search
- Eretria: Perseus Lookup Tool
Names of the place
In earlier times Eretria was called Melaneis and Arotria.
- Perseus: Strabo, Geography
Beazley Archive Dictionary