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Columbia Encyclopedia

Greek & Roman Geography (ed. William Smith)


  Plataeae (Plataia, Plataiai, Eth. Plataieus, Plataeensis). An ancient city of Boeotia, was situated upon the frontiers of Attica at the foot of Mt. Cithaeron, and between that mountain and the river Asopus, which divided its territory from that of Thebes. (Strab. ix. p. 411.) The two cities were about 6 1/2 miles apart by the road, but the direct distance was little more than 5 geographical miles. According to the Thebans Plataea was founded by them (Thuc. iii. 61); but Pausanias represents the Plataeans as indigenous, and according to their own account they derived their name from Plataea, a daughter of Asopus. (Paus. ix. 1. § 1.) Plataea is mentioned in Homer among the other Boeotian cities. (Il. ii. 504.) In B.C. 519 Plataea, unwilling to submit to the supremacy of Thebes, and unable to resist her powerful neighbour with her own unaided resources, formed a close alliance with Athens, to which she continued faithful during the whole of her subsequent history. (Herod. vi. 108; Thuc. iii. 68.) She sent 1000 men to the assistance of Athens at Marathon, and shared in the glories of that victory. (Herod, l. c.) The Plataeans also fought at Artemisium, but were not present at Salamis, as they had to leave the fleet in order to remove their families and property from the city, in consequence of the approach of the Persian army. (Herod. viii. 44.) Upon the arrival of the Persians shortly afterwards their city was burnt to the ground. (Herod. viii. 50.) In the following year (B.C. 479) their territory was the scene of the memorable battle, which delivered Greece from the Persian invaders. The history of this battle illustrates so completely the topography of the Plataean territory, that it is necessary to give an account of the different positions taken by the contending forces (See accompanying Map). Mardonius proceeded from Attica into Boeotia across Mount Parnes by the pass of Deceleia, and took up a position on the bank of the Asopus, where he caused a fortified camp to be constructed of 10 stadia square. The situation was well selected, since he had the friendly city of Thebes in his rear, and was thus in no danger of falling short of provisions. (Herod. ix. 15.) The Grecian army crossed over from Attica by Mt. Cithaeron; but as Pausanias did not choose to expose his troops to the attacks of the Persian cavalry on the plain, he stationed them on the slopes of the mountain, near Erythrae, where the ground was rugged and uneven. This position did not, however, altogether preserve them; but, in an attack made by the Persian cavalry, a body of 300 Athenians repulsed them, and killed their leader Masistius. This success encouraged Pausanias to descend into the territory of Plataea, more especially as it was better supplied with water than his present position. Marching from Erythrae in a westerly position along the roots of Mt. Cithaeron, and passing by Hysiae, he drew up his army along the right bank of the Asopus, partly upon hills of no great height and partly upon a lofty plain, the right wing being near the fountain Gargaphia, and the left near the chapel of the Plataean hero Androcrates. (Herod. ix. 25 - 30.) Mardonius drew up his army opposite to them on the other side of the Asopus. The two armies remained in this position for some days, neither party being willing to begin the attack. The Persians assailed the Greeks at a distance with their missiles, and prevented them altogether from watering at the Asopus. Meantime the Persian cavalry intercepted the convoys of provisions proceeding to the Grecian camp, and on one occasion drove away the Lacedaemonians, who occupied the right wing from the fountain Gargaphia, and succeeded in choking it up. This fountain had been of late the only watering-place of the Greeks; and as their ground was now untenable, Pausanias resolved to retreat in the night to a place called the Island (nesos), about 10 stadia in the rear of their present position, and halfway between the latter and the town of Plataea. The spot selected, improperly called an island, was, in fact, a level meadow, comprised between two branches of the river Oeroe, which, rising from distinct sources in Mt. Cithaeron, and running for some space nearly parallel with one another, at length unite and flow in a westerly direction into the gulf of Corinth. (Herod. ix. 51.) The nature of the ground would thus afford to the Greeks abundance of water, and protection from the enemy's cavalry. The retreat, however, though for so short a distance, was effected in disorder and confusion. The Greek centre, chiefly composed of Megarians and Corinthians, probably fearing that the island would not afford them sufficient protection against the enemy's cavalry, did not halt till they reached the temple of Hera, which was in front of the town of Plataea. The Lacedaemonians on the right wing were delayed till the day began to dawn, by the obstinacy of Amompharetus, and then began to march across the hills which separated them from the island. The Athenians on the left wing began their march at the same time, and got round the hills to the plain on the other side on their way to the island. After marching 10 stadia, Pausanias halted on the bank of the Moloeis, at a place called Agriopius, where stood a temple of the Eleusinian Demeter. Here he was joined by Amompharetus, and here he had to sustain the attack of the Persians, who had rushed across the Asopus and up the hill after the retreating foe. As soon as Pausanias was overtaken by the Persians, he sent to the Athenians to entreat them to hasten to his aid; but the coming up of the Boeotians prevented them from doing so. Accordingly the Lacedaemonians and Tegeatans had to encounter the Persians alone without any assistance from the other Greeks, and to them alone belongs the glory of the victory. The Persians were defeated with great slaughter, nor did they stop in their flight till they had again crossed the Asopus and reached their fortified camp. The Thebans also were repulsed by the Athenians, but they retreated in good order to Thebes, being covered by their cavalry from the pursuit of the Athenians. The Greek centre, which was nearly 10 stadia distant, had no share in the battle; but hearing that the Lacedaemonians were gaining the victory, they hastened to the scene of action, and, coining up in confusion, as many as 600 were cut to pieces by the Theban force. Meantime the Lacedaemonians pursued the Persians to the fortified camp, which, however, they were unable to take until the Athenians, more skilled in that species of warfare, came to their assistance. The barricades were then carried, and a dreadful carnage ensued. With the exception of 40,000 who retreated with Artabazus, only 3000 of the original 300,000 are said to have escaped. (Herod. ix. 50 - 70.)
  As this signal victory had been gained on the soil of Plataea, its citizens received especial honour and rewards from the confederate Greeks. Not only was the large sum of 80 talents granted to them, which they employed in erecting a temple to Athena, but they were charged with the duty of rendering every year religious honours to the tombs of the warriors who had fallen in the battle, and of celebrating every five years the festival of the Eleutheria in commemoration of the deliverance of the Greeks from the Persian yoke. The festival was sacred to Zeus Eleutherius, to whom a temple was now erected at Plataea. In return for these services Pausanias and the other Greeks swore to guarantee the independence and inviolability of the city and its territory (Thuc. ii. 71; Plut. Arist. c. 19 - 21; Strab. ix. p. 412; Paus. ix. 2. § 4.)
  Plataea was of course now rebuilt, and its in.. habitants continued unmolested till the commencement of the Peloponnesian War. In the spring of B.C. 431, before any actual declaration of war, a party of 300 Thebans attempted to surprise Plataea. They were admitted within the walls in the night time by an oligarchical party of the citizens; but the Plataeans soon recovered from their surprise, and put to death 180 of the assailants. (Thuc. ii. 1, seq.) In the third year of the war (B.C. 429) the Peloponnesian army under the command of Archidamus laid siege to Plataea. This siege is one of the most memorable in the annals of Grecian warfare, and has been narrated at great length by Thucydides. The Plataeans had previously deposited at Athens their old men, women, and children; and the garrison of the city consisted of only 400 citizens and 80 Athenians, together with 110 women to manage their household affairs. Yet this small force set at defiance the whole army of the Peloponnesians, who, after many fruitless attempts to take the city by assault, converted the siege into a blockade, and raised a circumvallation round the city, consisting of two parallel walls, 16 feet asunder, with a ditch on either side. In the second year of the blockade 212 of the besieged during a tempestuous winter's night succeeded in scaling the walls of circumvallation and reaching Athens in safety. In the course of the ensuing summer (B.C. 427) the remainder of the garrison were obliged, through failure of provisions, to surrender to the Peloponnesians. They were all put to death; and all the private buildings rased to the ground by the Thebans, who with the materials erected a sort of vast barrack round the temple of Hera, both for the accommodation of visitors, and to serve as an abode for those to whom they let out the land. A new temple, of 100 feet in length (neos hekatompedos), was also built by the Thebans in honour of Hera. (Thuc. ii. 71, seq., iii. 20, seq., 52, seq., 68.)
  The surviving Plataeans were kindly received by the Athenians. They would appear even before this time to have enjoyed the right of citizenship at Athens (Athenaion xummachoi kai politai, Thuc. iii. 63). The exact nature of this citizenship is uncertain ; but that it was not the full citizenship, possessed by Athenian citizens, appears from a line of Aristophanes, who speaks of certain slaves, who had been engaged in sea-fights, being made Plataeans (kai Plataias euthus einai kanai doulon despotas, Ran. 706; comp. Schol. ad Aristoph. Ran. 33; Bockh, Public Econ. of Athens, p. 262, 2nd ed.). Diodorus, in relating their return to Athens at a subsequent time, says (xv. 46) that they received the isopoliteia; but that some of them at any rate enjoyed nearly the full privileges of Athenian citizens appears from the decree of the people quoted by Demosthenes (c. Neaer. p. 1380).
  In B.C. 420 the Athenians gave the Plataeans the town of Scione as a residence. (Thuc. v. 32 ; Isocr. Paneg. § 109; Diodor. xii. 76.) At the close of the Peloponnesian War, they were compelled to evacuate Scione (Plut. Lysand. 14), and again found a hospitable welcome at Athens. Here they were living at the time of the peace of Antalcidas (B.C. 387), which guaranteed the autonomy of the Grecian cities; and the Lacedaemonians, who were now anxious to humble the power of Thebes, took advantage of it to restore the Plataeans to their native city. (Paus. ix. 1. § 4; Isocrat. Plataic. § 13, seq.) But the Plataeans did not long retain possession of their city, for in B.C. 372 it was surprised by the Thebans and again destroyed. The Plataeans were compelled once more to seek refuge at Athens. (Paus. ix. 1. § § 5 - 8; Diodor. xv. 46.) The wrongs done to the Plataeans by Thebes are set forth in a speech of Isocrates, entitled Plataicus, which was perhaps actually delivered at this time by a Plataean speaker before the public assembly at Athens. (Grote's Greece, vol. x. p. 220.) After the battle of Chaeroneia (B.C. 338) the Plataeans were once more restored to their city by Philip. (Paus. ix. 1. § 8, iv. 27. § 11.) It was shortly after this time that Plataea was visited by Dicaearchus, who calls the Plataeans Athenaioi Boiotoi, and remarks that they have nothing to say for themselves, except that they are colonists of the Athenians, and that the battle between the Greeks and the Persians took place near their town. (Descript. Graec. p. 14, Hudson.)
  After its restoration by Philip, the city continued to be inhabited till the latest times. It was visited by Pausanias, who mentions three temples, one of Hera, another of Athena Areia, and a third of Demeter Eleusinia. Pausanias speaks of only one temple of Hera, which he describes as situated within the city, and worthy of admiration on account of its magnitude and of the offerings with which it was adorned (ix. 2. § 7). This was apparently the temple built by the Thebans after the destruction of Plataea. (Thuc. iii. 68.) It is probable that the old temple of Hera mentioned by Herodotus, and which he describes as outside the city (ix. 52), was no longer repaired after the erection of the new one, and had disappeared before the visit of Pausanias. The temple of Athena Areia was built according to Pausanias (ix. 4. § 1) out of a share of the spoils of Marathon, but according to Plutarch (Arist. 20) with the 80 talents out of the spoils of Plataea, as mentioned above. The temple was adorned with pictures by Polygnotus and Onatas, and with a statue of the goddess by Pheidias. Of the temple of Demeter Eleusinia we have no details, but it was probably erected in consequence of the battle having been fought near a temple of Demeter Eleusinia at Argiopius. (Herod. ix. 57.) The temple of Zeus Eleutherius (Strab. ix. p. 412) seems to have been reduced in the time of Pausanias to an altar and a statue. It was situated outside the city. (Paus. ix. 2. § § 5 - 7.)
  Plataea is mentioned in the sixth century by Hierocles (p. 645, Wesseling) among the cities of Boeotia; and its walls were restored by Justinian. (Procop. de Aedif. iv. 2.)
  The ruins of Plataea are situated near the small village of Kokela. The circuit of the walls may still be traced in great part. They are about two miles and a half in circumference; but this was the size of the city restored by Philip, for not only is the earlier city, before its destruction by the Thebans, described by Thucydides (ii. 77) as small, but we find at the southern extremity of the existing remains more ancient masonry than in any other part of the ruins. Hence Leake supposes that the ancient city was confined to this part. He observes that the masonry in general, both of the Acropolis and of the town, has the appearance of not being so old as the time of the battle. The greater part is of the fourth order, but mixed with portions of a less regular kind, and with some pieces of polygonal masonry. The Acropolis, if an interior inclosure can be so called, which is not on the highest part of the site, is constructed in part of stones which have evidently been taken from earlier buildings. The towers of this citadel are so formed as to present flanks to the inner as well as to the outer face of the intermediate walls, whereas the town walls have towers, like those of the Turks, open to the interior. Above the southern wall of the city are foundations of a third inclosure; which is evidently more ancient than the rest, and is probably the only part as old as the Persian War, when it may have been the Acropolis of the Plataea of that age. It surrounds a rocky height, and terminates to the S. in an acute angle, which is only separated by a level of a few yards from the foot of the great rocky slope of Cithaeron. This inclosure is in a situation higher than any other part of the ancient site, and higher than the village of Kokela, from which it is 500 yards distant to the E. Its walls are traceable on the eastern side along a torrent, a branch of the Oeroe, nearly as far as the south-eastern angle of the main inclosure of the city. In a church within this upper inclosure are some fragments of an inscribed marble. (Northern Greece, vol. ii. p. 325.)

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

Harpers Dictionary of Classical Antiquities


   (Plataia), more commonly Plataeae (Plataiai). An ancient city of Boeotia, on the northern slope of Mount Cithaeron, not far from the sources of the Asopus, and on the frontiers of Attica. It was said to have derived its name from Plataea, a daughter of Asopus. At an early period the Plataeans deserted the Boeotian Confederacy and placed themselves under the protection of Athens; and when the Persians invaded Attica, B.C. 490, they sent 1000 men to the assistance of the Athenians, and fought on their side at the battle of Marathon. Ten years afterward (480) their city was destroyed by the Persian army under Xerxes at the instigation of the Thebans; and the place was still in ruins in the following year (479), when the memorable battle was fought in their territory in which Mardonius was defeated, and the independence of Greece secured. In consequence of this victory, the territory of Plataea was declared inviolable. It now enjoyed a prosperity of fifty years; but in the third year of the Peloponnesian War (429) the Thebans persuaded the Spartans to attack the town, and after a siege of two years at length succeeded in obtaining possession of the place (427). Plataea was now razed to the ground, but was again rebuilt after the peace of Antalcidas (387). It was destroyed the third time by its inveterate enemies the Thebans in 374. It was once more restored under the Macedonian supremacy, and continued in existence till a very late period.

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

Perseus Project

The Princeton Encyclopedia of Classical Sites


  This Boiotian city is situated near the boundary of Attica, between the last slopes of Mt. Kithairon and the Asopos (Ptol. Geog. 3.15.20; Plin. HN 4.2.6). It was also mentioned by Homer (Il. 2.504).
  In 519 B.C. the city obtained the protection of Athens against Thebes, which was trying to annex it. It remained allied with Athens in the battles of Marathon, Artemision, and Salamis, and was sacked by the Persians in 479. For its strenuous resistance to the Persians and for its fidelity to Athens, Plataiai was honored with a gift of 80 talents for the Temple of Athena Areia. Phidias executed the cult statue and Polygnotos painted the walls of the pronaos for the temple. In 431 the Thebans again tried to take over the city. In 429 it was besieged by Archidamos, but its meager forces finally succeeded in forcing the blockade and reached refuge in Athens. In 427 it was occupied and rased to the ground although the temple of Hera was saved and a shelter for visitors was built near it. The Plataians returned to their city only to have it sacked by the Thebans; they retook it with the aid of Sparta, but were attacked again in 372 and the Thebans destroyed the city a second time. From this period until 338 the citizens of Plataiai enjoyed the hospitality of the Athenians. Philip led them home after Chaironeia, and the city was rebuilt under Alexander. During the Roman occupation Plataiai was not molested, in fact Justinian restored its walls. From the end of the 6th c. on Plataiai was a flourishing cult center of Hera (Paus. 9.3.8), of Demeter (Paus. 9.4.3), of Athena (Paus. 10.4.1), of Zeus Eleutherios (Paus., of Artemis (Paus. 1.15.4), and of other minor cults as attested by inscriptions and coins.
  Few vestiges of the city before 338 are preserved although near the internal NE corner of the Hellenistic walls there are a few remains of prehistoric walls, and excavation has brought to light fragments of prehistoric pottery and Mycenaean vases. The walls are rather complex. The enclosure built after 338 resembles a bulky polygon with the higher part to the S, where the extremity is defended by a tower. Behind this spur is a second curtain wall with numerous square towers. Circular towers protect the NW and NE corners; and two other extensions of the wall, NW-S and W-E, cross the site of the city. The maximum axes of the circuit are 1500 by 750 m. The 5th c. walls are rather rude work with a tendency toward polygonal technique; the 385 B.C. walls is isodomic work with a squared face; the 338 B.C. walls, restored under Philip, is isodomic trapezoidal work with a rounded face; later repairs and partial rebuilding under Alexander (?) are in isodomic technique with a squared and partly chiseled face.
  The temple of Hera (49.9 x 16.7 m), was identified in 1891 on a terrace inside the city wall. To the N of the temple was found the Katagogion, a large hostel with a square plan and rooms on two stories, erected by the Thebans after the destruction of the city in 427 B.C. on a site that was later occupied by the Roman agora (Thuc. Hist. 2.69). Outside the walls to the W and NE are the necropoleis. Not even the site of the temple of Athena Areia has been identified.

N. Bonacasa, 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.

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