ARCADIA, a district of Greece, forming the central plateau of Peloponnesus. Shut off from the coast lands on all sides by mountain barriers, which rise in the northernpeaks of Erymanthus (mod. Olonos) to 7400, of Cyllene (Ziria) to 7900, in the southern corner buttresses of Parthenium and Lycaeum to more than 5000 ft., this inland plateau is again divided by numerous subsidiary ranges. In eastern or “locked” Arcadia these heights run in parallel courses intersected by cross-ridges, enclosing a series of upland plains whose waters have no egress save by underground channels or zerethra. The western country is more open, with isolated mountain-groups and winding valleys, where the Alpheus with its tributaries the Ladon and Erymanthus drains off in a complex river-system the overflow from all Arcadia. The ancient inhabitants were a nation of shepherds and huntsmen, worshipping Pan, Hermes and Artemis, primitive nature-deities. The difficulties of communication and especially the lack of a seaboard seriously hindered intercourse with the rest of Greece. Consequently the same population, whose origins Greek tradition removed back into the world’s earliest days, held the land throughout historic times, without even an admixture of Dorian immigrants. Their customs and dialect persisted, the latter maintaining a peculiar resemblance to that of the equally conservative Cypriotes. Thus Arcadia lagged behind the general development of Greece, and its political importance was small owing to chronic feuds between the townships (notably between Mantineia and Tegea) and the readiness of its youth for mercenary service abroad.
The importance of Arcadia in Greek history was due to its position between Sparta and the Isthmus. Unable to force their way through Argolis, the Lacedaemonians early set themselves to secure the passage through the central plateau. The resistance of single cities, and the temporary union of the Arcadians during the second Messenian war, did not defer the complete subjugation of the land beyond the 6th century. In later times revolts were easily stirred up among individual cities, but a united national movement was rarely concerted. Most of these rebellions were easily quelled by Sparta, though in 469 and again in 420 the disaffected cities, backed by Argos, formed a dangerous coalition and came near to establishing their independence. A more whole-hearted attempt at union in 371 after the battle of Leuctra resulted in the formation of a political league out of an old religious synod, and the foundation of a federal capital in a commanding strategic position (see Megalopolis). But a severe defeat at the hands of Sparta in 368 (the “tearless battle”) and the recrudescence of internal discord soon paralysed this movement. The new fortress of Megalopolis, instead of supplying a centre of national life, merely accentuated the mutual jealousy of the cities. During the Hellenistic age Megalopolis stood staunchly by Macedonia; the rest of Arcadia rebelled against Antipater (330, 323) and Antigonus Gonatas (266). Similarly the various cities were divided in their allegiance between the Achaean and the Aetolian leagues, with the result that Arcadia became the battleground of these confederacies, or fell a prey to Sparta and Macedonia. These conflicts seem to have worn out the land, which already in Roman times had fallen into decay. An influx of Slavonic settlers in the 8th century A.D. checked the depopulation for a while, but Arcadia suffered severely from the constant quarrels of its Frankish barons (1205–1460). The succeeding centuries of Turkish rule, combined with an Albanian immigration, raised the prosperity of the land, but in the Wars of Independence the strategic importance of Arcadia once more made it a centre of conflict. In modern times the population remains sparse, and pending the complete restoration of the water conduits the soil is unproductive. The modern department of Arcadia extends to the Gulf of Nauplia with a sea-coast of about 40 m.
Authorities.—Strabo pp. 388 sq.; Pausanias viii.; W. M. Leake, Travels in the Morea (London, 1830), chs. iii., iv., xi.-xviii., xxiii.-xxvi.; E. Curtius, Peloponnesos (Gotha, 1851), i. 153-178; H. F. Tozer, Geography of Greece (London, 1873), pp. 287-292; E. A. Freeman, Federal Government (ed. 1893, London), ch. iv. § 3; B. V. Head, Historia Numorum (Oxford, 1887), pp. 372-373; B. Niese in Hermes (1899), pp. 520 f. (M. O. B. C.)