25757321911 Encyclopædia Britannica, Volume 18 — MegaraMaximilian Otto Bismarck Caspari

MEGARA, an ancient Greek town on the road from Attica to Corinth. The country which belonged to the city was called Μέγαρίς or ἡ Μέγαρική; it occupied the broader part of the isthmus between Attica, Boeotia, Corinth, and the two gulfs, and its whole area is estimated by Clinton at 143 sq. m. The range of Mount Geraneia extends across the country from east to west, forming a barrier between continental Greece and the Peloponnesus. The shortest road across this range passes along the eastern side of the mountains, and the most difficult part is the celebrated Scironian rocks, the mythic home of the robber Sciron. The only plain in the rugged little country was the White Plain, in which was situated the only important town, Megara. The modern town of Megara is situated on two low hills which formed part of the ancient site; it is the chief town of the eparchy of Megaris; pop. about 6400. It contains few remains of antiquity, except of the aqueduct and basin, said to have been made by the architect Eupalinus for the tyrant Theagenes.  (E. Gr.) 

From the somewhat conflicting evidence of mythology it may be gathered that in prehistoric days Megara had maritime intercourse with the southern Aegean. The early inhabitants, whose race is unknown, were extirpated or absorbed in the Dorian migration, for in historic times the city had a homogeneous Dorian population. Favoured by its proximity to two great waterways and by its two ports, Nisaea on the Saronic and Pegae on the Corinthian Gulf, Megara took a prominent part in the commercial expansion of Greece from the 8th century onwards, and for two hundred years enjoyed prosperity out of proportion to the slight resources of its narrow territory. Its trade was mainly directed towards Sicily, where Megarian colonies were established at Hybla (Megara Hyblaea) and Selinus, and towards the Black Sea, in which region the Megarians were probably pioneers of Greek commerce. In the Sea of Marmora they had to face the competition of the Samians, with whom they waged a war concerning the town of Perinthus, and of Miletus; but on the Bosporus they established themselves by means of settlements at Chalcedon and, above all, Byzantium (founded, according to tradition, 675 and 658 respectively). In the Black Sea they exploited the shores of Pontus and Scythia, whose products they exchanged for textiles spun from the wool of their own country. Their chief colonies in this sea were Astacus and Heraclea in Bithynia, and another Heraclea in the Crimea. In the later 7th century this current of trade dwindled in face of the great commercial and colonizing activity of Miletus; it probably received further injury through the subsequent interference of Athens on the Hellespont. Simultaneously Megarian commerce in Sicily began to be supplanted by Corinth and Corcyra.

Megara’s economic development entailed a change in the distribution of wealth, and consequently of political power, which is commented upon in the elegies of Theognis (q.v.). The original land-holding aristocracy, which had probably initiated and for a time monopolized commerce, was partly supplanted by prosperous upstarts, and with the general increase of prosperity began to lose its hold upon the community of artisans. In the ensuing party struggles the city passed under a tyrant, Theagenes (about 640), whose rule was too brief to produce great changes. The power of the nobles would seem to have been more effectively broken in a war with Athens, in which Megara ultimately lost the island of Salamis (about 570, see Solon), for shortly afterwards the constitution was changed to a democracy, and eventually was fixed as an oligarchy of a moderate type.

During the Persian wars the state, which had recently joined the Peloponnesian League, could still muster 3000 hoplites. But the subsequent expansion of Athens ruined the commerce of Megara, and the town itself was threatened with absorption by some powerful neighbour. In 459 an attack by Corinth, which had always coveted Megara’s territory, induced the people to summon the aid of the Athenians, who secured Megara in battle and by the construction of long walls between the capital and its port Nisaea. In 445 a revulsion of feeling led the Megarians to massacre their Athenian garrison. The Athenians retaliated by placing an embargo upon Megarian trade throughout their empire (432), and in the Peloponnesian War, which the Megarians had consequently striven to hasten on, reduced their neighbours to misery by blockade and devastations. In 424 they nearly captured Megara, in collusion with a democratic party within the town, and succeeded in securing Nisaea, which they held till 410. In the 4th century Megara recovered some measure of prosperity, but played an insignificant part in politics, its only notable move being the participation in the final conflict against Philip II. of Macedon (338). During the Macedonian supremacy the town passed in turn from Cassander and Demetrius Poliorcetes to Antigonus Gonatas, and finally was incorporated in the Achaean League. Megara suffered severely during the Civil War of 48 B.C., but seems at some later period to have received new settlers. It maintained itself as a place of some size in subsequent centuries, but was depopulated by the Venetians in A.D. 1500. The inhabitants of the modern village are mostly of Albanian origin.

In literature Megara figures as the reputed home of the comedian Susarion, and in the 4th century gave its name to a school of philosophy founded by Euclid.

See Strabo ix. 391–395; Theognis; Thucydides i.–iv.; Aristophanes, Acharnians, 729–835; F. Cauer, Parteien und Politiker in Megara und Athen (Stuttgart, 1890), pp. 1–44; B. V. Head, Historia numorum (Oxford, 1887), pp. 329–330; R. Delbrück and K. G. Vollmöller, “Das Brunnenhaus des Theagenes,” in Mitteil. d. deutsch. Inst. Athen. XXV. (1900).  (M. O. B. C.)