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The Princeton Encyclopedia of Classical Sites


  A city of (Tetras) Phthiotis. It lies in the E corner of Thessaly's W plain, on and at the foot of a N spur of Mt. Narthakion (Kassidhiaris), about 4 km S of the Enipeus River. Modern Pharsala (or Pharsalos) occupies the site of the lower city. The main road from the S via Thaumakoi to Larissa, etc., goes by Pharsalos. A road follows E up the river and then over a low pass to Pherai, or directly E to the gulf of Pagasni. Two more difficult roads lead to Phthiotic Thebes and Halos.
  Pharsalos was the home of the aristocratic Echecratidai, allies of Athens after the Persian wars. In an attempt to restore one of the family the Athenians besieged the city in the mid 5th c. B.C., but failed to take it (Thuc. 1.111; Diod. Sic. 2.83). It issued coinage in the 5th c. and resisted the tyrants of Pherai from 400 B.C. although in 374 it was forced into an alliance with Jason (Xen. Hell. 6.1). It was an important member of the Thessalian League opposed to Pherai, and strong supporter of Philip II of Macedon. Before 346 B.C. with the help of Philip, it obtained the territory of Halos (Dem. 19.39, 334). After Alexander of Macedon's death, Pharsalos under Meno joined the anti-Macedonian revolt (Lamian war: Diod. Sic. 18.11-iS) but was taken by the Macedonians under Antipater in 322 B.C. (Plut. Mor. 846E). It seems to have dwindled in importance thereafter. Justinian renewed the walls (Procop. De aed. 4.3.5) and it was the site of a bishopric.
  The walls of the ancient city are the most conspicuous remains. The wall surrounded the acropolis, two rocky, flat-topped peaks at E and W joined by a narrow saddle. From each end of the acropolis walls run N down the hill to the plain, where few traces are preserved. The wall ran a long tongue into the plain where the modern road to the railroad station runs directly N from the city. It included the hill directly above the spring of the ancient Apidanos stream (now called Apidanos, formerly Tabachana). A wall dividing the lower and upper city connects the E end of the acropolis with an isolated hill (301 m) just N of the W peak of the acropolis. Hill 301 and the W peak are joined by a double wall. The total wall circuit is ca. 6 km. Traces of polygonal masonry can be seen in the walls surrounding the acropolis, down the hill from the acropolis' E peak to the plain, connecting the W peak of the acropolis with Hill 301 and in the cross wall which runs from that hill to the E peak of the acropolis. There is no trace of the polygonal E city wall which must have connected the acropolis or Hill 301 with the W wall. The polygonal wall is probably that of the late 6th or 5th c. It was improved and overbuilt by a double-faced wall of rectangular and trapezoidal blocks, and the circuit was apparently then enlarged to include part of the plain, and a wide swing up the hill to the W peak of the acropolis. This wall was strengthened by towers at weak points. It is in places preserved to 8 courses in height. The enlargement and rebuilding of the city wall was very likely made in the time of greatest Pharsalian prosperity and power around the middle of the 4th c. B.C. The acropolis wall and the cross wall from it to Hill 301 were improved and strengthened in Byzantine times.
  Very few ancient remains are to be seen in the city. Just above and to the S of the Apidanos spring, at the W side of the city is a mound on which is a Church of Haghios Paraskevi (earlier Fetiye Cami). The city wall runs along the edge of this mound, and traces of a square tower could be seen (1914). Test trenches here in 1964 turned up prehistoric sherds from the Neolithic period on, and through archaic to Roman, and some ancient remains including a poros capital of Early Classical times. Here or nearby was a Temple of Zeus Thaulios, to whom an inscription has been found. In the center of the modern town in the main plateia were found the foundations of a square building (13 x 13 m) with an inner peristyle court, of the 4th-3d c. B.C. Doric and Ionic architectural fragments from it are in the Volo Museum. In the Kurcunli Cami N of the plateia were to be seen (1914) some remains of an ancient temple. In the Varusi quarter, just above the plain by the E wall, inscriptions to and a head of Asklepios have been found, and a Hellenistic water channel. On the hill in 1966 fragments of 5th c. B.C. terracotta protomes turned up, probably of Demeter and Kore. Twenty minutes W of the city a Hellenic wall (neither end visible), perhaps part of a temple peribolos, was seen in 1952.
  In recent years the most notable discoveries have been in the necropolis. To the W of Sourla hill (ca. 3 km E of Pharsalos) is a necropolis largely of the 4th c. B.C. In a block hollowed to receive it was a handsome 4th c. bronze hydria with Boreas and Oreithuia in relief under the horizontal handle (now in the Volo Museum). Just W of the city, on the road to Dhomoko, was another necropolis. Most notable among other Mycenaean and Classical tombs found here was the bottom part of a tholos tomb with dromos, of stones and earth with a facing of good polygonal masonry, containing two sarcophagi. The mound over it was surrounded with a handsome polygonal terrace wall. The tomb was built in archaic times directly over and as a successor to a Mycenaean shaft grave, and was used until the Hellenistic period. Near this in a hollowed block was a 4th c. bronze hydria with a Nike under the handle (National Museum of Athens).
  To the SW of the city on the slope of the Karabla (Karafla?) is a cave of Pan and the nymph which was investigated in 1922. Votive statuettes and inscriptions dating from the 6th c. B.C. to the Hellenistic period were found.
  In the territory was the Thetideion (Polyb. 18.20.6; Strab. 9.431; Plut. Pel. 31-32) possibly to be found N of the Enipeus on a hill between Orman Magoula and Dasolophos (Bekides) where a Church of Haghios Athanasios incorporates Hellenic and Byzantine remains.

T. S. Mackay, 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 5 image(s), bibliography & interesting hyperlinks.

Perseus Project index

Harpers Dictionary of Classical Antiquities


(Pharsalos). A town in Τhessaly, in the district Thessaliotis, west of the river Enipeus. Near Pharsalus was fought the decisive battle between Caesar and Pompey, B.C. 48, which made Caesar master of the Roman world. It is frequently called the battle of Pharsalia, which was the name of the territory of the town.

The Catholic Encyclopedia


  Titular see and suffragan of Larissa in Thessaly. The city is mentioned for the first time after the Persian war. In 445 B.C. it was unsuccessfully besieged by the Athenian Myronides, in 395 it was seized by Midias, tyrant of Larissa and it was finally forced to submit to Jason of Pherae; in 191 the consul Acilius Glabrio made it over to Antiochus, King of Syria. It is especially famous for the victory of 9 August, 48 B.C., won by Caesar from Pompey, after the latter had killed 15,000 men. At the time of Pliny it was a free city. In the sixth century A.D. it was made a port of Thessaly: in the time of Constantine Porphyrogenetus, it belonged to the theme of Macedonia. In 1881 it was ceded by Turkey with Thessaly to Greece.
  At the beginning of the tenth century Pharsalus still remained suffragan of Larissa; about 970 it became an autocephalous archbishopric; in 1300 it was elevated by Andronicus II to metropolitan dignity; at the close of the fifteenth century it was again suffragan of Larissa. Later it was united to the Diocese of Phanarion, and was suppressed only to be replaced (1900) by the Sees of Phanarus and Thessaliotides.

S. Vailhe, ed.
Transcribed by: Joseph C. Meyer
This text is cited June 2003 from The Catholic Encyclopedia, New Advent online edition URL below.

Greek & Roman Geography (ed. William Smith)


  Pharsalos: Eth. Pharsalios: the territory is Pharsalia, (Strab. ix.), one of the most important cities of Thessaly, situated in the district Thessaliotis near the confines of Phthiotis, upon the left bank of the Enipeus, and at the foot of Mt. Narthacium. The town is first mentioned after the Persian wars; but it is probable that it existed much earlier, since there is no other locality in this part of Thessaly to be compared to it for a combination of strength, resources, and convenience. Hence it has been supposed that the city was probably named Phthia at a remote period, and was the capital of Phthiotis. Among its ruins there are some remains which belong apparently to the most ancient times. On one side of the northern gateway of the acropolis are the remnants of Cyclopian walls; and in the middle of the acropolis is a subterraneous construction, built in the same manner as the treasury of Atreus at Mycenae. Leake observes that Pharsalus is one of the most important military positions in Greece, as standing at the entrance of the most direct and central of the passes which lead from the plains of Thessaly to the vale of the Spercheius and Thermopylae. With a view to ancient warfare, the place had all the best attributes of a Hellenic polis or fortified town: a hill rising gradually to the height of 600 or 700 feet above the adjacent plain, defended on three sides by precipices, crowned with a small level for an acropolis, watered in every part of the declivity by subterraneous springs, and still more abundantly at the foot by sources so copious as to form a perennial stream. With these local advantages, and one of the most fertile plains in Greece for its territory, Pharsalus inevitably attained to the highest rank among the states of Thessaly, and became one of the largest cities of Greece, as its ruined walls still attest. The city was nearly 4 miles in circuit, and of the form or an irregular triangle. The acropolis consisted of two rocky tabular summits, united by a lower ridge. It was about 500 yards long, and from 100 to 50 broad, but still narrower in the connecting ridge. Livy speaks of Palaepharsalus (xliv. 1), and Strabo distinguishes between Old and New Pharsalus. (Strab. ix.) It is probable that at the time of these writers the acropolis and the upper part of the town were known by the name of Palaepharsalus, and that it was only the lower part of the town which was then inhabited.
  Pharsalus is mentioned by Scylax among the towns of Thessaly. In B.C. 455 it was besieged by the Athenian commander Myronides, after his victory in Boeotia, but without success. (Thuc. i. 111.) At the commencement of the Peloponnesian War, Pharsalus was one of the Thessalian towns that sent succour to the Athenians. (Thuc. ii. 22.) Medius, tyrant of Larissa, took Pharsalus by force, about B.C. 395. (Diod. xiv. 82.) Pharsalus, under the conduct of Polydamas, resisted Jason for a time, but subsequently formed an alliance with him. (Xen. Hell. vi. 1. 2, seq.) In the war between Antiochus and the Romans, Pharsalus was for a time in the possession of the Syrian monarch; but on the retreat of the latter, it surrendered to the consul Acilius Glabrio, B.C. 191. (Liv. xxxvi. 14.)
  Pharsalus, however, is chiefly celebrated for the memorable battle fought in its neighbourhood between Caesar and Pompey, B.C. 48. It is a curious fact that Caesar has not mentioned the place where he gained his great victory; and we are indebted for the name to other authorities. The exact site of the battle has been pointed out by Leake with his usual clearness. Merivale, in his narrative of the battle, has raised some difficulties in the interpretation of Caesar's description, which have been commented upon by Leake in an essay printed in the Transactions of the Royal Society of Literature, from which the following account is taken.
  A few days previous to the battle Caesar had taken possession of Metropolis, a city westward of Pharsalus, and had encamped in the plain between these two cities. Meantime Pompey arrived at Larissa, and from thence advanced southwards towards Pharsalus; he crossed the Enipeus, and encamped at the foot of the heights, which are adjacent to the modern Fersala on the east. Caesar's camp, or rather his last position before the battle, was in the plain between Pharsalus and the Enipeus, at the distance of about 3 miles from the still extant north-western angle of the walls of Pharsalus. There was a distance of 30 stadia, or about 4 Roman miles, from the two camps. (Appian, B.C. ii. 65.) Appian adds that the army of Pompey, when drawn up for battle, extended from the city of Pharsalus to the Enipeus, and that Caesar drew up his forces opposite to him. (B.C. ii. 75.) The battle was fought in the plain immediately below the city of Pharsalus to the north. There is a level of about 2 1/2 miles in breadth between the Enipeus and the elevation or bank upon which stood the northern walls of Pharsalus. Merivale is mistaken in saying that the plain of Pharsalus, 5 or 6 miles in breadth, extends along the left bank of the Enipeus. It is true that 5 or 6 miles is about the breadth of the plain, but this breadth is equally divided between the two sides of the river; nor is there anything to support Merivale's conjecture that the course of the river may have changed since the time of the battle. Leake observes that the plain of 2 1/2 miles in breadth was amply sufficient for 45,000 men drawn up in the usual manner of three orders, each ten in depth, and that there would be still space enough for the 10,000 cavalry, upon which Pompey founded chiefly his hopes of victory; for the breadth of the plain being too great for Caesar's numbers, he thought himself sure of being able, by his commanding force of cavalry, to turn the enemy's right.
  At first Pompey drew up his forces at the foot of the hills; but when Caesar refused to fight in this position, and began to move towards Scotussa, Pompey descended into the plain, and arranged his army in the position already described. His right wing being protected by the Enipeus, which has precipitous banks, he placed his cavalry, as well as all his archers and slingers, on the left. Caesar's left wing was in like manner protected by the Enipeus; and in the rear of his right wing, behind his small body of horse, he stationed six cohorts, in order to sustain the anticipated attack of the enemy's cavalry. Pompey resolved to await the charge. Caesar's line advanced running, halted midway to recover their breath, and then charged the enemy. While the two lines were thus occupied, Pompey's cavalry on the left began to execute the movement upon which he placed his hopes of victory; but after driving back Caesar's small body of horse, they were unexpectedly assailed by the six cohorts and put to flight. These cohorts now advanced against the rear of Pompey's left; while Caesar at the same time brought up to his front the third line, which had been kept in reserve. Pompey's troops now gave way in every direction. Caesar then advanced to attack the fortified camp of the enemy, which was defended for some time by the cohorts left in charge of it; but at length they fled to the mountains at the back of the camp. Pompey proceeded straightway to Larissa, and from thence by night to the sea-coast. The hill where the Pompeians had taken refuge being without water, they soon quitted it and took the road towards Larissa. Caesar followed them with four legions, and, by taking a shorter road, came up with them at the distance of 6 miles. The fugitives now retired into another mountain, at the foot of which there was a river; but Caesar having cut off their approach to the water before nightfall, they descended from their position in the morning and laid down their arms. Caesar proceeded on the same day to Larissa. Leake observes that the mountain towards Larissa to which the Pompeians retired was probably near Scotussa, since in that direction alone is any mountain to be found with a river at the foot of it.
  In the time of Pliny, Pharsalus was a free state (iv. 8. s. 15). It is also mentioned by Hierocles in the sixth century. It is now named Fersala (ta Phersala), and the modern town lies at the foot of the ancient Acropolis.

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

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