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Perseus Encyclopedia Site Text
Laconia is the southeastern district of the Peloponnese. It is bounded
on the north by the Argolid and Arcadia, on the west by Messenia, and on the south
by the Aegean Sea. Laconia is a mountainous limestone region whose eastern portion
is defined by Mt. Parnon, which rises to nearly 1818 m near the Argive frontier,
and runs southeast towards Cape Malea. In the west is Mt. Taygetus (2364 m), which
runs north to south forming a high range overlooking the plain of Sparta. Between
barren Parnon and the dark cliffs of Taygetus is the valley of the Eurotas River
which flows into the Laconian Gulf.
Laconia possesses arable plains suitable for olives as well as land
suitable for summer pastures and forested highlands. To the east the slopes of
Mt. Parnon are barren except near the coast where woods of Mediterranean pine
face the sea and pockets of arable land produce cereals and figs.
The stormy promontories of Taenarum and Malea endanger any entry into
the Laconian Gulf, and the harbors of east Laconia are remote from the inland
plain, making Laconia primarily an agricultural area. The swampy delta of the
Eurotas provides good pasture land for horses but lacks serviceable harbors.
A Mycenaean kingdom flourished in Laconia until the twelfth century
B.C., and was the mythical seat of Menelaus and his queen, Helen. Later in the
tenth century Dorian settlements appeared. One of these settlements, Sparta annexed
the Eurotas valley down to the sea along with the adjoining coastal plain and
the fertile lands to the west. The rest of Laconia was administered by independent
perioikoi ( literally, " those who dwelled around [the Spartans]"), but the entire
region spoke the same dialect in the Classical period, Doric.
Sparta, the capital of Laconia, was a vast triangular area in the
fertile Eurotas plain between the Taygetus and Parnon mountain ranges. During
its period of supremacy the city remained unwalled because the natural strength
of its position and the bravery of its soldiers were sufficient protection. The
first defensive walls were built around the town in 200 B.C. Spartan inhabitants
dwelt in five scattered townships separated by gardens and plantations. Few public
buildings and monuments adorned Sparta, but the city did have a sixth century
B.C. temple to Athena built by Gitiadas, a Hellenistic theater altered in Roman
times, and just outside town, the sanctuary of Artemis Orthia, so named because
the cult image was found standing upright. The sanctuary, where Spartan boys were
flogged as part of their upbringing, existed as early as the tenth century B.C.
In Archaic times it was comprised of a walled enclosure with an altar on the east
side and a small temple on the west side. Farther north along the Eurotas is a
Heroon and a large stone altar. The Lakonian plain was populated by Helots, enslaved
indigenous people who took their name from the ancient city of Helos on the southern
edge of the plain.
Leaving Sparta and going westward past Mistra toward Messene one must
go through the Langadha Pass. The road is steep with hairpin turns and marvellous
views of all the mountain ranges. The village of Mistra, 7 km from Sparta, is
a Medieval city built on an outlying hill of the Taygetus range by the Franks
under Villehardouin, and it was subsequently the most important Byzantine city
after Thessaloniki and Constantinople.
Text by: Curtis Runnels
This text is cited May 2003 from
Perseus Project URL bellow, which contains interesting hyperlinks
Perseus Project index
Lacedaemon, Laconia, Lelegia
Lacedaemon, Lacedaemonian, Lacedaemonians, Laconia, Laconian, Laconians, Lakonia, Lakonian, Lakonians, Lelegia
Greek & Roman Geography (ed. William Smith)
- Dictionary of Greek and Roman Geography (1854) (ed. William Smith, LLD)
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