1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Argos
ARGOS, the name of several ancient Greek cities or districts, but specially appropriated in historic times to the chief town in eastern Peloponnese, whence the peninsula of Argolis derives its name. The Argeia, or territory of Argos proper, consisted of a shelving plain at the head of the Gulf of Argolis, enclosed between the eastern wall of the Arcadian plateau and the central highlands of Argolis. The waters of this valley (Inachus, Charadrus, Erasinus), when properly regulated, favoured the growth of excellent crops, and the capital standing only 3 m. from the sea was well placed for Levantine trade. Hence Argos was perhaps the earliest town of importance in Greece; the legends indicate its high antiquity and its early intercourse with foreign countries (Egypt, Lycia, &c.). Though eclipsed in the Homeric age, when it appears as the seat of Diomedes, by the later foundation of Mycenae, it regained its predominance after the invasion of the Dorians (q.v.), who seem to have occupied this site in considerable force. In accordance with the tradition which assigned the portion to the eldest-born of the Heracleid conquerors, Argos was for some centuries the leading power in Peloponnesus. There is good evidence that its sway extended originally over the entire Argolis peninsula, the land east of Parnon, Cythera, Aegina and Sicyon. Under King Pheidon the Argive empire embraced all eastern Peloponnesus, and its influence spread even to the western districts.
This supremacy was first challenged about the 8th century by Sparta. Though organized on similar lines, with a citizen population divided into three Dorian tribes (and one containing other elements), with a class of Perioeci (neighbouring dependents) and of serfs, the Argives had no more constant foe than their Lacedaemonian kinsmen. In a protracted struggle for the possession of the eastern seaboard of Laconia in spite of the victory at Hysiae (apparently in 669), they were gradually driven back, until by 550 they had lost the whole coast strip of Cynuria. A later attempt to retrieve this loss resulted in a crushing defeat near Tiryns at the hands of King Cleomenes I. (probably in 495), which so weakened the Argives that they had to open the franchise to their Perioeci. By this time they had also lost control over the other cities of Argolis, which they never succeeded in recovering. Partly in consequence of its defeat, partly out of jealousy against Sparta, Argos took no part in the war against Xerxes. Indeed on this, as on later occasions, its relations with Persia seem to have been friendly. About 470 the conflict with Sparta was renewed in concert with the Arcadians, but all that the Argives could achieve was to destroy their revolted dependencies of Mycenae and Tiryns (468 or 464). In 461 they contracted an alliance with Athens, thus renewing a connexion established by Peisistratus (q.v.). In spite of this league Argos made no headway against Sparta, and in 451 consented to a truce. A more important result of Athenian intervention was the substitution of the democratic government for the oligarchy which had succeeded the early monarchy; at any rate forty years later we find that Argos possessed complete democratic institutions.
During the early Peloponnesian War Argos remained neutral; after the break-up of the Spartan confederacy consequent upon the peace of Nicias the alliance of this state, with its unimpaired resources and flourishing commerce, was courted on all sides. By throwing in her lot with the Peloponnesian democracies and Athens, Argos seriously endangered Sparta’s supremacy, but the defeat of Mantineia (418) and a successful rising of the Argive oligarchs spoilt this chance. The speedily restored democracy put little heart into the conflict, and beyond sending mercenary detachments, lent Athens no further help in the war (see Peloponnesian War).
At the outset of the 4th century, Argos, with a population and resources equalling those of Athens, took a prominent part in the Corinthian League against Sparta. In 394 the Argives helped to garrison Corinth, and the latter state seems for a while to have been annexed by them. But the peace of Antalcidas (q.v.) dissolved this connexion, and barred Argive pretensions to control all Argolis. After the battle of Leuctra Argos experienced a political crisis; the oligarchs attempted a revolution, but were put down by their opponents with such vindictiveness that 1200 of them are said to have been executed (370). The democracy consistently supported the victorious Thebans against Sparta, figuring with a large contingent on the decisive field of Mantineia (362). When pressed in turn by their old foes the Argives were among the first to call in Philip of Macedon, who reinstated them in Cynuria after becoming master of Greece. In the Lamian War Argos was induced to side with the patriots against Macedonia; after its capture by Cassander from Polyperchon (317) it fell in 303 into the hands of Demetrius Poliorcetes. In 272 the Argives joined Sparta in resisting the ambition of King Pyrrhus of Epirus, whose death ensued in an unsuccessful night attack upon the city. They passed instead into the power of Antigonus Gonatas of Macedonia, who maintained his control by means of tyrants. After several unavailing attempts Aratus (q.v.) contrived to win Argos for the Achaean League (229), in which it remained save during a brief occupation by the Spartans Cleomenes III. (q.v.) and Nabis (224 and 196).
The Roman conquest of Achaea enhanced the prosperity of Argos by removing the trade competition of Corinth. Under the Empire, Argos was the headquarters of the Achaean synod, and continued to be a resort of Roman merchants. Though plundered by the Goths in A.D. 267 and 395 it retained some of its commerce and culture in Byzantine days. The town was captured by the Franks in 1210; after 1246 it was held in fief by the rulers of Athens. In later centuries it became the scene of frequent conflicts between the Venetians and the Turks, and on two occasions (1397 and 1500) its population was massacred by the latter. Repeopled with Albanian settlers, Argos was chosen as seat of the Greek national assembly in the wars of independence. Its citadel was courageously defended by the patriots (1822); in 1825 the city was burnt to the ground by Ibrahim Pasha. The present town of 10,000 inhabitants is a purely agricultural settlement. The Argive plain, though not yet sufficiently reclaimed, yields good crops of corn, rice and tobacco.
In the early days of Greece the Argives enjoyed high repute for their musical talent. Their school of bronze sculpture, whose first famous exponent was Ageladas (Hagelaidas), the reputed master of Pheidias, reached its climax towards the end of the 5th century in the atelier of Polyclitus (q.v.) and his pupils. To this period also belongs the new Heraeum (see below), one of the most splendid temples of Greece.
Remains of the early city are still visible on the Larissa acropolis, which towers 900 ft. high to the north-west of the town. A few courses of the ancient ramparts appear under the double enceinte of the surviving medieval fortress. An aqueduct of Greek times is represented by some fragments on the south-western edge. In the slope above the town was hewn a theatre equalling that of Athens in size. The Aspis or smaller citadel to the north-east has revealed traces of an early Mycenaean settlement; the Deiras or ridge connecting the two heights contains a prehistoric cemetery.
The Argive Heraeum.—Since 1892 investigation has added considerably to our knowledge concerning the Argive Heraeum or Heraion, the temple of Hera, which stood, according to Pausanias, “on one of the lower slopes of Euboea.” The term Euboea did not designate the eminence upon which the Heraeum is placed, or the mountain-top behind the Heraeum only, but, as Pausanias distinctly indicates, the group of foothills of the hilly district adjoining the mountain. When once we admit that this designated not only the mountain, which is 1730 ft. high, but also the hilly district adjoining it, the general scale of distance for this site grows larger. The territory of the Heraeum was divided into three parts, namely Euboea, Acraea and Prosymna. Pausanias tells us that the Heraeum is 15 stadia from Mycenae. Strabo, on the other hand, says that the Heraeum was 40 stadia from Argos and 10 from Mycenae. Both authors underestimate the distance from Mycenae, which is about 25 stadia, or a little more than 3 m., while the distance from Argos is 45 stadia, or a little more than 5 m. The distance from the Heraeum to the ancient Midea is slightly greater than to Mycenae, while that from the Heraeum to Tiryns is about 6 m. The Argive Heraeum was the most important centre of Hera and Juno worship in the ancient world; it always remained the chief sanctuary of the Argive district, and was in all probability the earliest site of civilized life in the country inhabited by the Argive people. In fact, whereas the site of Hissarlik, the ancient Troy, is not in Greece proper, but in Asia Minor, and can thus not furnish the most direct evidence for the earliest Hellenic civilization as such; and whereas Tiryns, Mycenae, and the city of Argos, each represent only one definite period in the successive stages of civilization, the Argive Heraeum, holding the central site of early civilization in Greece proper, not only retained its importance during the three periods marked by the supremacy of Tiryns, Mycenae and the city of Argos, but in all probability antedated them as a centre of civilized Argive life. These conditions alone account for the extreme archaeological importance of this ancient sanctuary.
According to tradition the Heraeum was founded by Phoroneus at least thirteen generations before Agamemnon and the Achaeans ruled. It is highly probable that before it became important merely as a temple, it was the fortified centre uniting the Argive people dwelling in the plain, the citadel which was superseded in this function by Tiryns. There is ample evidence to show that it was the chief sanctuary during the Tirynthian period. When Mycenae was built under the Perseïds it was still the chief sanctuary for that centre, which superseded Tiryns in its dominance over the district, and which this temple clearly antedated in construction. According to the Dictys Cretensis, it was at this Heraeum that Agamemnon assembled the leaders before setting out for Troy. In the period of Dorian supremacy, in spite of the new cults which were introduced by these people, the Heraeum maintained its supreme importance: it was here that the tablets recording the succession of priestesses were kept which served as a chronological standard for the Argive people, and even far beyond their borders; and it was here that Pheidon deposited the ὀβελίσκοι when he introduced coinage into Greece.
We learn from Strabo that the Heraeum was the joint sanctuary for Mycenae and Argos. But in the 5th century the city of Argos vanquished the Mycenaeans, and from that time onwards the city of Argos becomes the political centre of the district, while the Heraeum remains the religious centre. And when in the year 423 B.C., through the negligence of the priestess Chryseis, the old temple was burnt down, the Argives erected a splendid new temple, built by Eupolemos, in which was placed the great gold and ivory statue of Hera, by the sculptor Polyclitus, the contemporary and rival of Pheidias, which was one of the most perfect works of sculpture in antiquity. Pausanias describes the temple and its contents (ii. 17), and in his time he still saw the ruins of the older burnt temple above the temple of Eupolemos.
|I. Old Temple.||IV. East Building.||VII. West Building.||X. Lower Stoa.|
|II. Stoa.||V. 5th-Century Temple.||VIII. North-West Building.||XI. Phylakeion.|
|III. Stoa.||VI. South Stoa.||IX. Roman Building.||A, B, C, D, E, F, Cisterns.|
All these facts have been verified and illustrated by the excavations of the American Archaeological Institute and School of Athens, which were carried on from 1892 to 1895. In 1854 A. R. Rhangabé made tentative excavations on this site, digging a trench along the north and east sides of the second temple. Of these excavations no trace was to be seen when those of 1892 were begun. The excavations have shown that the sanctuary, instead of consisting of but one temple with the ruins of the older one above it, contained at least eleven separate buildings, occupying an area of about 975 ft. by 325.
On the uppermost terrace, defined by the great Cyclopean supporting wall, exactly as described by Pausanias, the excavations revealed a layer of ashes and charred wood, below which were found numerous objects of earliest date, together with some remains of the walls resting on a polygonal platform—all forming part of the earliest temple. Immediately adjoining the Cyclopean wall and below it were found traces of small houses of the rudest, earliest masonry which are pre-Mycenaean, if not pre-Cyclopean.
We then descend to the second terrace, in the centre of which the substructure of the great second temple was revealed, together with so much of the walls, as well as the several architectural members forming the superstructure, that it has been possible for E. L. Tilton to design a complete restoration of the temple. On the northern side of this terrace, between the second temple and the Cyclopean supporting wall, a long stoa or colonnade runs from east to west abutting at the west end in structures which evidently contained a well-house and waterworks; while at the eastern end of this stoa a number of chambers were erected against the hill, in front of which were placed statues and inscriptions, the bases for which are still extant. At the eastern-most end of this second terrace a large hall with three rows of columns in the interior, with a porch and entrance at the west end facing the temple, is built upon elaborate supporting walls of good masonry.
Below the second terrace at the south-west end a large and complicated building, with an open courtyard surrounded on three sides by a colonnade and with chambers opening out towards the north, may have served as a gymnasium or a sanatorium. It is of good early Greek architecture, earlier than the second temple. A curious, ruder building to the north of this and to the west of the second terrace is probably of much earlier date, perhaps of the Mycenaean period, and may have served as propylaea.
Immediately below the second temple at the foot of the elevation on which this temple stands, towards the south, and thus facing the city of Argos, a splendid stoa or colonnade, to which large flights of steps lead, was erected about the time of the building of the second temple. It is a part of the great plan to give worthy access to the temple from the city of Argos. To the east of this large flights of steps lead up to the temple proper.
At the western extremity of the whole site, immediately beside the river-bed, we again have a huge stoa running round two sides of a square, which was no doubt connected with the functions of this sanctuary as a health resort, especially for women, the goddess Hera presiding over and protecting married life and child-birth. Finally, immediately to the north of this western stoa there is an extensive house of Roman times also connected with baths.
While the buildings give archaeological evidence for every period of Greek life and history from the pre-Mycenaean period down to Roman times, the topography itself shows that the Heraeum must have been constructed before Mycenae and without any regard to it. The foothills which it occupies form the western boundary to the Argive plain as it stretches down towards the sea in the Gulf of Nauplia. While it was thus probably chosen as the earliest site for a citadel facing the sea, its second period points towards Tiryns and Midea. It could not have been built as the sanctuary of Mycenae, which was placed farther up towards the north-west in the hills, and could not be seen from the Heraeum, its inhabitants again not being able to see their sanctuary. The west building, the traces of bridges and roads, show that at one time it did hold some relation to Mycenae; but this was long after its foundation or the building of the huge Cyclopean supporting wall which is coeval with the walls of Tiryns, these again being earlier than those of Mycenae. There are, moreover, traces of still more primitive walls, built of rude small stones placed one upon the other without mortar, which are in character earlier than those of Tiryns, and have their parallel in the lowest layers of Hissarlik.
Bearing out the evidence of tradition as well as architecture, the numerous finds of individual objects in terra-cotta figurines, vases, bronzes, engraved stones, &c., point to organized civilized life on this site many generations before Mycenae was built, a fortiori before the life as depicted by Homer flourished—nay, before, as tradition has it, under Proetus the walls of Tiryns were erected. We are aided in forming some estimate of the chronological sequence preceding the Mycenaean age, as suggested by the finds of the Heraeum, in the new distribution which Dörpfeld has been led to make of the chronological stratification of Hissarlik. For the layer, which he now assigns to the Mycenaean period, is the sixth stratum from below. Now, as some of the remains at the Heraeum correspond to the two lowest layers of Hissarlik, the evidence of the Argive temple leads us far beyond the date assigned to the Mycenaean age, and at least into the second millennium B.C. (see also Aegean Civilization). As to its chronological relation to the Cretan sites—Cnossus, Phaestus, &c., and the “Minoan” civilization as determined by Dr A. Evans, see the discussion under Crete.
This sanctuary still holds a position of central importance as illustrating the art of the highest period in Greek history, namely, the art of the 5th century B.C. under the great sculptor Polyclitus. Though the excavations in the second temple have clearly revealed the outlines of the base upon which the great gold and ivory statue of Hera stood, it is needless to say that no trace of the statue itself has been found. From Pausanias we learn that “the image of Hera is seated and is of colossal size: it is made of gold and ivory, and is the work of Polyclitus.” Based on the computations made by the architect of the American excavations, E. L. Tilton, on the ground of the height of the nave, the total height of the image, including the base and the top of the throne, would be about 26 ft., the seated figure of the goddess herself about 18 ft. It is probable that the face, neck, arms and feet were of ivory, while the rest of the figure was draped in gold. Like the Olympian Zeus of Pheidias, Hera was seated on an elaborately decorated throne, holding in her left hand the sceptre, surmounted in her case by the cuckoo (as that of Zeus had an eagle), and in her right, instead of an elaborate figure of Victory (such as the Athena Parthenos and the Olympian Zeus held), simply a pomegranate. The crown was adorned with figures of Graces and the Seasons. A Roman imperial coin of Antoninus Pius shows us on a reduced scale the general composition of the figure; while contemporary Argive coins of the 5th century give a fairly adequate rendering of the head. A further attempt has been made to identify the head in a beautiful marble bust in the British Museum hitherto known as Bacchus (Waldstein, Journal of Hellenic Studies, vol. xxi., 1901, pp. 30 seq.)
We also learn from Pausanias that the temple was decorated with “sculptures over the columns, representing some the birth of Zeus and the battle of the gods and giants, others the Trojan War and the taking of Ilium.” It was formerly supposed that the phrase “over the columns” pointed to the existence of sculptured metopes, but no pedimental groups. Finds made in the excavations, however, have shown that the temple also had pedimental groups. Besides numerous fragments of nude and draped figures belonging to pedimental statues, a well-preserved and very beautiful head of a female divinity, probably Hera, as well as a draped female torso of excellent workmanship, both belonging to the pediments, have been discovered. Of the metopes also a great number of fragments have been found, together with two almost complete metopes, the one containing the torso of a nude warrior in perfect preservation, as well as ten well-preserved heads. These statues bear the same relation to the sculptor Polyclitus which the Parthenon marbles hold to Pheidias; and the excavations have thus yielded most important material for the illustration of the Argive art of Polyclitus in the 5th century B.C.