29686901911 Encyclopædia Britannica, Volume 18 — MegalopolisErnest Arthur Gardner

MEGALOPOLIS, an ancient city of Arcadia, Greece, situated in a plain about 20 m. S.W. of Tegea, on both banks of the Helisson, about 21/2 m. above its junction with the Alpheus. Like Messene, it owed its origin to the Theban general Epaminondas, and was founded in 370 B.C., the year after the battle of Leuctra, as a bulwark for the southern Arcadians against Sparta, and as the seat of the Arcadian Federal Diet, which consisted of ten thousand men. The builders were protected by a Theban force, and directed by ten native oecists (official “founders”), who likewise attended to the peopling of the new city, which apparently drew inhabitants from all parts of Arcadia, but especially from the neighbouring districts of Maenalia and Parrhasia. Forty townships are mentioned by Pausanias (viii. 27, 3–5) as having been incorporated in it. It was 50 stadia in circumference, and was surrounded with strong walls. Its territory was the largest in Arcadia, extending northward 24 m. The city was built on a magnificent scale, and adorned with many handsome buildings, both public and private. Its temples contained many ancient statues brought from the towns incorporated in it. After the departure of Epaminondas, Lycomedes of Mantineia succeeded in drawing the Arcadian federation away from its alliance with Thebes, and it was consequently obliged to make common cause with Athens. An attempt on the part of the federation to use the treasures of the temple of Zeus at Olympia led to internal dissensions, so that in the battle of Mantineia (362) one half of the Arcadians fought on the side of the Spartans, the other on that of the Thebans. After this battle many of the inhabitants of Megalopolis sought to return to their former homes, and it was only by the assistance of three thousand Thebans under Pammenes that the authorities were able to prevent them from doing so. In 353, when Thebes had her hands full with the so-called Sacred War, the Spartans made an attempt to reduce Megalopolis; but the Thebans sent assistance and the city was rescued. Not sure of this assistance, the Megalopolitans had appealed to Athens, an appeal which gave occasion to the oration of Demosthenes, Περὶ Μέγαλοπολιτῶν. The Spartans were now obliged to conclude peace with Megalopolis and acknowledge her autonomy. Nevertheless their feeling of hostility did not cease, and Megalopolis consequently entered into friendly relations with Philip of Macedon. Twenty years later, when the Spartans and their allies rebelled against the power of Macedon, Megalopolis remained firm in its allegiance, and was subjected to a long siege. After the death of Alexander, Megalopolis was governed by native tyrants. In the war between Cassander and Polyperchon it took part with the former and was besieged by the latter. On this occasion it was able to send into the field an army of fifteen thousand. In 234 B.C. Lydiades, the last tyrant of Megalopolis, voluntarily resigned his power, and the city joined the Achaean League. In consequence of this it was again exposed to the hatred of Sparta. In 222 Cleomenes plundered it and killed or dispersed its inhabitants, but in the year following it was restored and its inhabitants reinstated by Philopoemen, a native of the city. After this, however, it gradually sank into insignificance. The only great men whom it produced were Philopoemen and Polybius the historian. Lycortas, the father of the latter, may be accounted a third. In the time of Pausanias the city was mostly in ruins.

The site of Megalopolis was excavated by members of the British School at Athens in the years 1890–1892. The description of Pausanias is so clear that it enabled Curtius, in his Peloponnesos, to give a conjectural plan that was found to tally in most respects with the reality. The town was divided into two approximately equal parts by the river Helisson, which flows through it from east to west. The line of the walls may be traced, partly by remains, partly by the contours it must have followed, and confirms the estimate of Polybius that they had a circuit of 50 stades, or about 51/2 m. It is difficult to see how the river bed, now a broad and shingly waste, was dealt with in ancient times; it must have been embanked in some way, but there are no remains to show whether the fortification wall was carried across the river at either end or along the parallel embankments so as to make two separate enclosures. There must have been, in all probability, a bridge to connect the two halves of the city, but the foundations seen by Leake and others, and commonly supposed to belong to such a bridge, proved to be only the substructures of the precinct of Zeus Soter. The buildings north of the river were municipal and were grouped round the square agora. One, of which the complete plan has been recovered, is the portico of Philip, a splendid building, which bounded the agora on the north; it was 300 ft. long, with three rows of columns running its whole length, three in the outer line to each one in the two inner lines; it had a slightly projecting wing at either end. At the south-west of the agora was found the precinct of Zeus Soter: it consists of a square court surrounded by a double colonnade, and faced on the west side by a small temple; on the east side was an entrance or propylaeum approached by a ramp. In the midst of the court was a substructure which has been variously interpreted as an altar or as the base of the great group of Zeus and Megalopolis, which is recorded to have stood here. North of this was the Stoa Myropolis, forming the east boundary of the agora, and, between this and the Stoa of Philip, the Archeia or municipal offices. These buildings were of various dates, but seem all to fit into an harmonious plan. The buildings on the south and west of the agora have been almost entirely destroyed by the Helisson and a tributary brook. On the south bank of the river were the chief federal buildings, the theatre (noted by Pausanias as the largest in Greece), and the Thersilion or parliament hall of the ten thousand Arcadians. These two buildings form part of a common design, the great portico of the Thersilion facing the orchestra of the theatre. As a consequence of this arrangement, the plan of the theatre is abnormal. The auditorium has as its lowest row of seats a set of “thrones” or ornamental benches, which, as well as the gutter in front, were dedicated by a certain Antiochus; the orchestra is about 100 ft. in diameter; and in place of the western parados is a closed room called the Scanotheca. The chief peculiarity, however, lies in the great portico already mentioned, which has its base about 4 ft. 6 in. above the level of the orchestra. It was much too lofty to serve as a proscenium; yet, if a proscenium of the ordinary Greek type were erected in front, it would hide the lower part of the columns. Such a proscenium was actually erected in later times; and beneath it were the foundations for an earlier wooden proscenium, which was probably erected only when required. In later times steps were added, leading from the base of the portico to the level of the orchestra. The theatre was probably used, like the theatre at Athens, for political assemblies; but the adjoining Thersilion provided covered accommodation for the Arcadian ten thousand in wet weather. It is a building unique in plan, sloping up from the centre towards all sides like a theatre. The roof was supported by columns that were placed in lines radiating from the centre, so as to obscure as little as possible the view of an orator in this position from all parts of the building; there were two entrances in each side.

See Excavations at Megalopolis (E. A. Gardner, W. Loring, G. C. Richards, W. J. Woodhouse; Architecture, by R. W. Schultz); Supplementary Paper issued by the Society for the Promotion of Hellenic Studies, 1892; Journal of Hellenic Studies, xiii. 328, A. G. Bather; p. 319, E. F. Benson (“Thersilion”); 1898, p. 15, J. B. Bury (“Double City”); W. Dörpfeld (“Das griechische Theater”); O. Puchstein, “Griechische Bühne” (Theatre).  (E. Gr.)