1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Gythium
GYTHIUM, the harbour and arsenal of Sparta, from which it was some 30 m. distant. The town lay at the N.W. extremity of the Laconian Gulf, in a small but fertile plain at the mouth of the Gythius. Its reputed founders were Heracles and Apollo, who frequently appear on its coins: the former of these names may point to the influence of Phoenician traders, who, we know, visited the Laconian shores at a very early period. In classical times it was a community of perioeci, politically dependent on Sparta, though doubtless with a municipal life of its own. In 455 B.C., during the first Peloponnesian War, it was burned by the Athenian admiral Tolmides. In 370 B.C. Epaminondas besieged it unsuccessfully for three days. Its fortifications were strengthened by the tyrant Nabis, but in 195 B.C. it was invested and taken by Titus and Lucius Quintius Flamininus, and, though recovered by Nabis two or three years later, was recaptured immediately after his murder (192 B.C.) by Philopoemen and Aulus Atilius and remained in the Acheaen League until its dissolution in 146 B.C. Subsequently it formed the most important of the Eleutherolaconian towns, a group of twenty-four, later eighteen, communities leagued together to maintain their autonomy against Sparta and declared free by Augustus. The highest officer of the confederacy was the general (στρατηγός), who was assisted by a treasurer (ταμίας), while the chief magistrates of the several communities bore the title of ephors (ἔφοροι).
Pausanias (iii. 21 f.) has left us a description of the town as it existed in the reign of Marcus Aurelius, the agora, the Acropolis, the island of Cranae (Marathonisi) where Paris celebrated his nuptials with Helen, the Migonium or precinct of Aphrodite Migonitis (occupied by the modern town of Marathonisi or Gythium), and the hill Larysium (Koumaro) rising above it. The numerous remains extant, of which the theatre and the buildings partially submerged by the sea are the most noteworthy, all belong to the Roman period.
The modern town is a busy and flourishing port with a good harbour protected by Cranae, now connected by a mole with the mainland: it is the capital of the prefecture (νόμος) of Λακωνική with a population in 1907 of 61,522.
See G. Weber, De Gytheo et Lacedaemoniorum rebus navalibus (Heidelburg, 1833); W. M. Leake, Travels in the Morea, i. 244 foll.; E. Curtius, Pelopennosos, ii. 267 foll. Inscriptions: Le Bas-Foucart, Voyage archéologique, ii. Nos. 238–248 f.; Collitz-Bechtel, Sammlung d. griech. Dialekt-Inschriften, iii. Nos. 4562–4573; British School Annual, x. 179 foll. Excavations: Ἀ. Σκιᾶς, Πρακτικὰ τῆς Ἀρχ. Ἐταιρείας, 1891, 69 foll.(M. N. T.)