1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Laconia

LACONIA (Gr. Λακωνική), the ancient name of the south-eastern district of the Peloponnese, of which Sparta was the capital. It has an area of some 1,048,000 acres, slightly greater than that of Somersetshire, and consists of three well-marked zones running N. and S. The valley of the Eurotas, which occupies the centre, is bounded W. by the chain of Taygetus (mod. Pentedaktylon, 7900 ft.), which starts from the Arcadian mountains on the N., and at its southern extremity forms the promontory of Taenarum (Cape Matapan). The eastern portion of Laconia consists of a far more broken range of hill country, rising in Mt. Parnon to a height of 6365 ft. and terminating in the headland of Malea. The range of Taygetus is well watered and was in ancient times covered with forests which afforded excellent hunting to the Spartans, while it had also large iron mines and quarries of an inferior bluish marble, as well as of the famous rosso antico of Taenarum. Far poorer are the slopes of Parnon, consisting for the most part of barren limestone uplands scantily watered. The Eurotas valley, however, is fertile, and produces at the present day maize, olives, oranges and mulberries in great abundance. Laconia has no rivers of importance except the Eurotas and its largest tributary the Oenus (mod. Kelefína). The coast, especially on the east, is rugged and dangerous. Laconia has few good harbours, nor are there any islands lying off its shores with the exception of Cythera (Cerigo), S. of Cape Malea. The most important towns, besides Sparta and Gythium, were Bryseae, Amyclae and Pharis in the Eurotas plain, Pellana and Belbina on the upper Eurotas, Sellasia on the Oenus, Caryae on the Arcadian frontier, Prasiae, Zarax and Epidaurus Limera on the east coast, Geronthrae on the slopes of Parnon, Boeae, Asopus, Helos, Las and Teuthrone on the Laconian Gulf, and Hippola, Messa and Oetylus on the Messenian Gulf.

The earliest inhabitants of Laconia, according to tradition, were the autochthonous Leleges (q.v.). Minyan immigrants then settled at various places on the coast and even appear to have penetrated into the interior and to have founded Amyclae. Phoenician traders, too, visited the shores of the Laconian Gulf, and there are indications of trade at a very early period between Laconia and Crete, e.g. a number of blocks of green Laconian porphyry from the quarries at Croceae have been found in the palace of Minos at Cnossus. In the Homeric poems Laconia appears as the realm of an Achaean prince, Menelaus, whose capital was perhaps Therapne on the left bank of the Eurotas, S.E. of Sparta; the Achaean conquerors, however, probably contented themselves with a suzerainty over Laconia and part of Messenia (q.v.) and were too few to occupy the whole land. The Achaean kingdom fell before the incoming Dorians, and throughout the classical period the history of Laconia is that of its capital Sparta (q.v.). In 195 B.C. the Laconian coast towns were freed from Spartan rule by the Roman general T. Quinctius Flamininus, and became members of the Achaean League. When this was dissolved in 146 B.C., they remained independent under the title of the “Confederation of the Lacedaemonians” or “of the Free-Laconians” (κοινὸν τῶν Λακεδαιμονίων or Ἐλευθερολακώνων), the supreme officer of which was a στρατηγός (general) assisted by a ταμίας (treasurer). Augustus seems to have reorganized the league in some way, for Pausanias (iii. 21, 6) speaks of him as its founder. Of the twenty-four cities which originally composed the league, only eighteen remained as members by the reign of Hadrian (see Achaean League). In A.D. 395 a Gothic horde under Alaric devastated Laconia, and subsequently it was overrun by large bands of Slavic immigrants. Throughout the middle ages it was the scene of vigorous struggles between Slavs, Byzantines, Franks, Turks and Venetians, the chief memorials of which are the ruined strongholds of Mistra near Sparta, Geráki (anc. Geronthrae) and Monemvasia, “the Gibraltar of Greece,” on the east coast, and Passava near Gythium. A prominent part in the War of Independence was played by the Maniates or Mainotes, the inhabitants of the rugged peninsula formed by the southern part of Taygetus. They had all along maintained a virtual independence of the Turks and until quite recently retained their medieval customs, living in fortified towers and practising the vendetta or blood-feud.

The district has been divided into two departments (nomes), Lacedaemon and Laconia, with their capitals at Sparta and Gythium respectively. Pop. of Laconia (1907) 61,522.

Archaeology.—Until 1904 archaeological research in Laconia was carried on only sporadically. Besides the excavations undertaken at Sparta, Gythium and Vaphio (q.v.), the most important were those at the Apollo sanctuary of Amyclae carried out by C. Tsountas in 1890 (Ἐφημ. ἀρχαιολ. 1892, 1 ff.) and in 1904 by A. Furtwängler. At Kampos, on the western side of Taygetus, a small domed tomb of the “Mycenean” age was excavated in 1890 and yielded two leaden statuettes of great interest, while at Arkina a similar tomb of poor construction was unearthed in the previous year. Important inscriptions were found at Geronthrae (Geráki), notably five long fragments of the Edictum Diocletiani, and elsewhere. In 1904 the British Archaeological school at Athens undertook a systematic investigation of the ancient and medieval remains in Laconia. The results, of which the most important are summarized in the article Sparta, are published in the British School Annual, x. ff. The acropolis of Geronthrae, a hero-shrine at Angelona in the south-eastern highlands, and the sanctuary of Ino-Pasiphae at Thalamae have also been investigated.

Bibliography.—Besides the Greek histories and many of the works cited under Sparta, see W. M. Leake, Travels in the Morea (London, 1830), cc. iv.-viii., xxii., xxiii.; E. Curtius, Peloponnesos (Gotha, 1852), ii. 203 ff.; C. Bursian, Geographie von Griechenland (Leipzig, 1868), ii. 102 ff.; Strabo viii. 5; Pausanias iii. and the commentary in J. G. Frazer, Pausanias’s Description of Greece (London, 1898), vol. iii.; W. G. Clark, Peloponnesus (London, 1858), 155 ff.; E. P. Boblaye, Recherches géographiques sur les ruines de la Morée (Paris, 1835), 65 ff.; L. Ross, Reisen im Peloponnes (Berlin, 1841), 158 ff.; W. Vischer, Erinnerungen u. Eindrücke aus Griechenland (Basel, 1857), 360 ff.; J. B. G. M. Bory de Saint-Vincent, Relation du voyage de l’expédition scientifique de Morée (Paris, 1836), cc. 9, 10; G. A. Blouet, Expédition scientifique de Morée (Paris, 1831–1838), ii. 58 ff.; A. Philippson, Der Peloponnes (Berlin, 1892), 155 ff.; Annual of British School at Athens, 1907–8.

Inscriptions: Le Bas-Foucart, Voyage archéologique: Inscriptions, Nos. 160-290; Inscriptiones Graecae, v.; Corpus Inscriptionum Graecarum (Berlin, 1828), Nos. 1237-1510; Collitz-Bechtel, Sammlung der griech. Dialektinschriften, iii. 2 (Göttingen, 1898), Nos. 4400-4613. Coins: Catalogue of Greek Coins in the British Museum: Peloponnesus (London, 1887), xlvi. ff., 121 ff.; B. V. Head, Historia Numorum (Oxford, 1887), 363 ff. Cults: S. Wide, Lakonische Kulte (Leipzig, 1893). Ancient roads: W. Loring, “Some Ancient Routes in the Peloponnese” in Journal of Hellenic Studies, xv. 25 ff.  (M. N. T.)