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Greece to Raise Turkey’s Provocations in Biden-Mitsotakis Meeting

Biden Mitsotakis
Greece says that PM Mitsotakis will raise the issue of Turkish provocations when he meets President Biden on Monday. Credit: AMNA

Greece said Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis will raise the issue of Turkey’s provocations in the Aegean with President Biden at the meeting of the two leaders in the White House on Monday.

Government spokesperson Yiannis Economou noted that the “issue of Turkish provocations will be raised; after all, Kyriakos Mitsotakis has already raised the issue of Turkish overflights above Greek territory as an issue that undermines and endangers the cohesion of NATO, at a time when stability is required.”

Mitsotakis briefed NATO in April on the recent upsurge in overflight violations by Turkey of its airspace in the eastern Aegean.

The Greek Premier announced that he spoke to NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg and briefed him on Turkey’s provocative behavior.

Mitsotakis, in his second visit to Washington as prime minister, will meet the U.S. President on Monday. On Tuesday, he is due to address the U.S. Congress.

Mitsotakis to address the U.S. Congress

“Such an honorary invitation is extended to foreign leaders extremely rarely,” Economou said.

“The leaders of countries that are strategic partners of the United States—such as Israel, Australia, India and the United Kingdom—or prominent personalities, such as Nelson Mandela or Lech Walesa, have so far addressed the US Congress,” he added.

The spokesman added that bilateral issues will also be discussed in the framework of the Greece-US strategic partnership, including the cooperation of the 3 + 1 scheme.

Ukraine and energy in the Biden-Mitsotakis agenda of talks

The Russian invasion of Ukraine is expected to also dominate talks in Washington said Economou. Economou said that “Greece has taken a clear and unequivocal stance from the beginning, demonstrating in practice its solidarity with the Ukrainian people and its support for international law by participating in the European and Allied response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine.”

He added that there will be a discussion on energy, as Greece can become a hub for gas and clean energy transport from the Middle East and the Eastern Mediterranean to the Balkans and SE Europe.

“It can actively contribute to Europe’s independence from Russian fossil fuels, but also to the diversification of energy routes and to Europe’s energy security,” he said.

The government spokesperson stressed that the prime minister will meet with Biden and address Congress not only on behalf of Greece but as a representative of Hellenism.

“He will speak as the prime minister of a confident country that is a reliable ally and a factor of security and stability in the Balkans, the Mediterranean, and southeastern Europe,” Economou said.

Economou also referred to the agreement on mutual defense cooperation between Greece and the United States, which was ratified on Thursday in Parliament.

He commented that “An agreement with a huge international impact. This is, as the prime minister stressed, an agreement which constitutes a vote of confidence in Greece as a stable factor of stability in the Balkans, the Mediterranean, and southeastern Europe.”

Best Beaches on Chios, Greece’s Island of a Thousand Faces

Chios
Credit: Cllueca – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0

Surrounded by the sparkling, deep sapphire waters of the Aegean Sea, Chios is the fifth-largest island in Greece; it is a hidden gem full of stunning beaches awaiting to be unveiled to you.

Along with the smaller islands of Psara and Oinousses, Chios offers almost endless experiences and stunning vistas, and it is hospitable to visitors all year long.

Chios is famous for its mastic, a gum resin from a tree related to the cashew tree. However, this magical flavoring from nature is not the only magic one can find on this magnificent, mountainous island.

The island boasts some of the best organized beaches available anywhere, as well as secluded coves for those who treasure their privacy.

Whether you like deserted coves, long sandy beaches, or colorful pebbled beaches, Chios is a feast for visitors which can satisfy a wide range of even the most demanding tastes.

You will undoubtedly feel as if you are on a different island every day while visiting Chios.

We have compiled a list of the top ten beaches on Chios, according to TripAdvisor, the well-respected travel and accommodations rating company, but feel free to visit and judge for yourself.

1. Mavros Gialos (Mavra Volia)

Mavros Gialos, literally meaning “Black Beach,” is found on the southern part of the island, at a distance of 28 km (17 miles) west of Chios Town. The beach acquired its iconic black pebbles and sand thanks to an eruption of a volcano, which is now extinct.

There are no tourist facilities around but it is rarely crowded and is surrounded by greenery and rocky hills, providing a backdrop of relaxing scenery as you swim.

2. Agia Dynami—Full of History and Perfect for Relaxing

Agia Dynami Beach, which also lies in southern Chios, mesmerizes visitors with its turquoise waters and white sands, offering tranquility and relaxation. While you are there, you can visit the imposing Olympoi Cave. Guided tours of the cave are available from early May into late September.

It is advisable that you bring along your own snacks and refreshments as there are no restaurants in close proximity.

3. Vroulidia Beach

Vroulidia Beach is located 35 km (22 miles) southwest of Chios Town, and it is also close to the aforementioned Mavros Gialos, or “Mavra Volia,” beach. Since Vroulidia lies on the very southernmost edge of the island, it is quite secluded.

Its crystal clear waters and pink sands are a true delight, providing a mesmerizing and exotic look to the whole area.

4. Komi Beach Offers Lively Option for Chios Visitors

Komi Beach is located on the southeast part of Chios and just thirty minutes from the town. It is amongst the loveliest beaches of the island with expansive sands and facilities, such as deck chairs and umbrellas, and suitable for beach games.

The area has many tavernas, hotels, rooms, and apartments to let, as well as bars. It is also possible to rent bikes, canoes, and equipment for water sports.

5. Karfas Beach

Karfas Beach is located 5 km (3 miles) south of the island’s main town, near the seaside village. The beach there offers clean waters, fine sand and facilities such as umbrellas, sun beds, and water sports equipment for rent.

The area is surrounded by hotels, rooms to let, restaurants, cafes, bars, and nightclubs. It is the largest tourist resort of the island with many vacationers visiting every summer.

6. Agia Fotini Beach

A beautiful coastal village, Agia Fotini is 15 km (9 miles) south of Chios Town. Situated next to a bay with a pebbled shore and crystal-clear waters, it is one of the most beautiful beaches of the island. The natural green landscape which surrounds it offers leisure and relaxation.

The beach is partially organized with sundecks and umbrellas. You will also find tavernas and all types of accommodations there.

7. Limnos Beach

Limnos Beach
Credit: Alessandro Arzilli – Own work, CC BY 3.0

Limnos Beach can be found 42 km (926 miles) northwest of Chios Town close to Volissos, an ancient village.

It is sandy with small gleaming pebbles and deep crystal-clear waters. Surrounded by a steep cliff and tall pine trees, it is a peaceful environment removed from the noise of the bustling town.

The beach is in its original, natural state and has no umbrellas, but the area does have hotels, apartments, and two tavernas with splendid sea views.

8. Agia Irini Beach

Agia Irini Beach lies on the southwestern coast of Chios, 30 km (19 miles) southwest of the island’s main town.

This is a secluded and sheltered bay with no facilities of any kind. It is distinguished by its small white pebbles and the crystal-clear waters which offer a peaceful environment for swimming and sunbathing.

Agia Irini is located between the medieval villages of Mesta and Elata, providing visitors with opportunities for sightseeing.

9. Lithi Beach

The lovely beach of Lithi is found in a cove west of Chios Town on the western coast of the island. The waters are so clean, they are mirror-like with soft, golden sand on the beach.

The small seaside village behind the beach is popular for its high-quality fresh fish and seafood brought in on a daily basis by local fishermen. Lastly, Lithi offers magical and thus truly unforgettable sunrises.

10. Giosonas Beach

Giosonas Beach is located on the northeast of the island of Chios only 5 kilometers (3 miles) away from Kardamyla village.

This is a huge crescent beach with beautiful natural surroundings and smooth white pebbles; its turquoise waters are cold and crystal clear.

Giosonas Beach is an ideal destination for families and those who prefer privacy and a natural environment for swimming and sunbathing.

Windmills of Mykonos: The History of a Landmark

Mykonos windmills
A local at the Windmills of the Greek island of Mykonos. Credit: Greek Reporter

In Mykonos, the wind blows all year long. This is the reason why bushes are more abundant than trees; this is why yards are surrounded by high walls; and this is also the reason why windmills in Mykonos have become landmarks of the island.

There is no more iconic postcard of Greece than the magnificent windmills from Mykonos. However, windmills are on almost every Cycladic island.

They’re not just tourist landmarks either. Windmills on the island of Mykonos were active and functioning until the early 20th century.

The anatomy of the windmill

Tradition calls for the windmill from the Cycladic islands to be a heavy three-story building, circular in shape and made of stone.

Many of them have very small windows and a pointed roof, often made of wood.

The windmills’ tops are traditionally made of twelve wooden fan blades each with a triangular-shaped wing made from a very strong fabric—usually the same cotton canvas used for sails in boats.

When the wind blows, the windmill carries the movement to a central axis inside the building, forcing the grindstones below into a rotational movement.

In order to take advantage of the force of that movement at its strongest, the grinding mechanism used to be on the top floor while the flour was gathered on the second floor.

The ground floor was used to store raw grain and processed flour.

Mykonian Icons

On the Aegean islands, windmills took advantage of the northern wind, called the Meltemi, to grind barley, wheat, and other locally produced cereals.

On Mykonos, the resulting flour was either given back to the farmers, who baked their own bread, or sold to local bakers.

Some of that resulting flour was also shipped to other areas of Greece and, oftentimes, abroad.

History tells us that there were over 25 windmills on Mykonos; ten of these were part of the complex called Kato Mili, which means the lower mills.

These mills were located across from the harbor of Alefkandra, and this strategic location was key to the island’s economic growth.

The harbor was a necessary stop for sailing boats passing through the Cyclades, so the flour coming from those windmills was used to produce rusks, or paximadi, a kind of dried bread that can be preserved for months which was the main source of carbohydrates for sailors.

The Pano Mili, or upper mills, served the same purpose, but the flour produced was mostly consumed locally.

Electricity brought new advances, and traditional flour production consequently ceased. There are still sixteen old windmills standing on the island, however, most of them renovated and repurposed into stores or even homes.

Some are still visible near the old town, and ones by the sea are visited by thousands of tourists every year.

A few have been renovated and turned into modern houses or exclusive lodging. All of them remain proof of the island’s agricultural past.

Visit the windmills of Mykonos

Only two of the standing windmills of Mykonos can currently be visited. Geronymos Mill, which dates back to 1700, is the oldest windmill on the island, and it produced flour until the 1960s.

It has been renovated and most of its original grinding machinery is still intact. The second windmill open to the public is Bonis Mill, and it is part of Mykonos’ Agricultural Museum.

This mill has been restored with great respect shown to its original condition.

Here, it’s possible to access all three levels and learn everything about the whole process of flour making, from grinding the grains to weighing and storing the resulting flour.

Thucydides’ History of the Peloponnesian War

A statue of Thucydides in front of the Austrian Parliament
A statue of Thucydides in front of the Austrian Parliament Building. Credit: Walter Maderbacher/CC BY-NC-SA 3.0

Thucydides’s historical account, History of the Peloponnesian War, is considered a classic, as well as being one of the earliest known history books.

By Julia Kindt*

Thucydides’s History of the Peloponnesian War breaks off before the story is over. After detailing the armed conflict between the Athenians and the Spartans (and their respective allies) between 431 and 404 BCE, the eight-book text ends abruptly in the middle of a chapter as if, one day, the writer simply dropped his pen and left his desk, never to return.

What required such urgent and final attention? And why did Thucydides never return to complete the manuscript? Whatever the answers, the book’s incompleteness adds a human touch to a work that is otherwise an accomplished and polished piece of writing.

The Peloponnesian War Thucydides recounts culminated in Sparta’s surprisingly late victory over the Athenians and ended a power dynamic that had shaped the ancient Aegean world for decades.

Everything changed in its aftermath. Both major powers came out of the war considerably weakened, opening the door for the later annexation of Greece by Philip of Macedon, his son Alexander the Great, and, finally, the Romans.

In Thucydides, the war found an author of meticulous standard and dedication who created a work that still resonates in the disciplines of history, international relations, and political science. His thoroughness, sharpness, and matter-of-fact analysis have led some people to believe that he, and not fellow historian Herodotus, deserves the title “father of history.”

Thucydides would have agreed. His history includes several direct and indirect attacks on his immediate predecessors, most notably on Homer and Herodotus. While never once referring to him by name, Thucydides accused Herodotus of fabulation, storytelling, and a writing style that pandered to his immediate audience.

Needless to say, Thucydides was convinced that he himself offered a far superior product. He set the bar and set it high:

And the results, by avoiding patriotic storytelling, will perhaps seem the less enjoyable for listening. Yet if they are judged useful by any who wish to look at the plain truth about both past events and those that at some future time, in accordance to human nature, will recur in similar or comparable ways, that will suffice.

As a high-ranking Athenian military commander (or “strategos”), Thucydides brought to the project firsthand experience of the war, as well as an acute understanding of the complex power politics behind events on the battlefield. His analysis of the immediate and underlying causes of the war and his insight into the considerations and motivations of those fighting it remain one of the most brilliant pieces of political history to date.

His sharp analysis of the kind of forces that stir popular sentiments and drive collective decision making still resonates in the modern world. It fulfills its author’s own—somewhat preposterous—proclamation about the nature of his work:

It is a possession for all time (“ktema eis aei”), not a competition piece to be heard for the moment, that has been composed.

No self-esteem issues here.

Nonetheless, his programmatic prediction proved right. More than 2500 years later, Thucydides’ History still stands among the foundational texts in the classical canon due to its enduring analytical sharpness and the acuteness of his observations.

My war is bigger than yours

When Thucydides set out to compose his work, the writing of warfare was already a notable tradition launched with a bang by the legendary Homer about three centuries earlier. In his epic poem Iliad, Homer related the story of the Trojan War as an epic battle involving gods and humans alike. He was followed 300 years later by Herodotus who gave an account of the Persian Wars, similarly rich in iconic battles and larger-than-life personalities on both sides of the conflict.

With Thucydides, the writing of war took a new direction. In contrast to the wars of Homer and Herodotus, the armed conflict that concerned Thucydides was fought primarily among Greeks. It also involved events that occurred within the author’s lifetime, which introduced a contemporary dimension to the genre.

Thucydides focused on offering a strong and authoritative account of the war, its causes, and behind the scenes negotiations. To this end, he largely left out the gods and religious explanations more generally—although there is still more religion in Thucydides than one may think.

Instead, he offered a deep analysis of human factors and motivations. Although Thucydides was aware that all authors exaggerate the importance of their topic, he still felt inclined to make a case for his:

And this war—even though men always consider the war on hand the most important while they are fighting but once they have ended it are more impressed by ancient ones—will nevertheless stand out clearly as greater than the others for anyone who examines it from the facts themselves. 

The reasons he gave were three-fold: the Peloponnesian War was fought between two cities at the height of their power; these powers went into conflict prepared; and most of the Greek world (and beyond) was subsequently drawn into the fighting.

The so-called “archaeology” of his work—a succession of observations laid out in the beginning—sets out his method: eyewitness accounts; the critical evaluation of sources and informants; and, finally, his own experience and insight.

What stands out throughout is the sharpness with which Thucydides reports. In contrast to Herodotus, he no longer includes alternative viewpoints and traditions but offers a strong, singular explanation of events. Yet, the authorial voice Thucydides created in the History should not belie the fact that he engaged in his very own forms of make–believe.

Through the speeches, in particular, Thucydides offers evaluations of events and situations in a voice other than his own. Interspersed throughout the History, they provide a commentary on the events from the perspective of the historical actors.

A battle of words, Thucydides’ Pericles

Some modern critics decry the speeches in Thucydides’ History as the failure of an otherwise truthful and authoritative narrator. Yet, Thucydides himself apparently saw no problem; there was no conflict between his aim to tell what really happened and his use of speeches, although he did find the subject important enough to warrant an explanation:

Insofar as these facts involve what the various participants said both before and during the actual conflict, recalling the exact words was difficult for me regarding speeches I heard myself and for my informants about speeches made elsewhere; in the way I thought each would have said what was especially required in the given situation, I have stated accordingly, with the closest possible fidelity on my part to the overall sense of what was actually said. 

Among the speeches, the so-called “Funeral Oration” stands out. Allegedly delivered by the famous Athenian statesman and orator Pericles’ after the first year of the Peloponnesian war, the speech was intended to celebrate those who had fallen, and offers an appraisal of Athenian culture, identity, and ideology.

Thucydides' History of the Peloponnesian War
Pericles’s Funeral Oration, (a famous speech from Thucydides’ History of the Peloponnesian War) Public Domain.

Thucydides’ Pericles makes an emphatic appeal to the very foundations of Athens’ power and supremacy. His appraisal of Athenian greatness includes references to bravery, military strength, democracy, freedom, and the rule of law, as well as to “soft” values, such as the love of beauty, education, and the arts.

However, a different picture of life in Athens follows this oration: Thucydides’ detailed account of the plague that broke out shortly afterwards. Thucydides, who was also afflicted, reports in detail on the plague’s impact on the human body, the city, and its people. Lawlessness, disregard for custom, egotism, and a general lack of order in the face of death took hold of Athens.

The strong contrast between the high-minded “Funeral Oration” and the ravages of the plague provides a powerful insight into the principles that guide Thucydidean enquiry. This author is not afraid to point out that ideological premise and historical practice don’t always mesh. Time and again, he shows that in extreme situations, it is human nature to diverge from ideals that are otherwise firmly held.

In these moments, the anthropologist and humanist in Thucydides comes to the fore. Recent scholarship has highlighted this dimension of his work. Even though the main focus in his History remains on warfare and the geo-political deliberations that inform it, there is more on human nature and culture in this work than one may think. And, more frequently than not, Thucydides extends his sharp analysis from politics and warfare to the human and cultural factors driving human history.

The tragedy of power politics

The same sharp analysis runs throughout the work. It cuts to the core of the hidden forces, motivations, and considerations at stake in various historical situations, and informs such diverse accounts as the so-called “Mytilenean Debate” and the “Melian Dialogue.”

The Mytilenean Debate revolves around whether the Athenians should revoke their decision to annihilate the entire western Ionian city of Mytilene in retaliation for a revolt.

Thucydides has two main speakers set out the case. Both speakers make a series of complex arguments revolving around questions of justice, fairness, good governance, and the nature of hegemonic rule. Cleon (a General during the Peloponnesian War) argues for harsh treatment: doing otherwise would set a dangerous precedent for other allies. Diodotus (his opponent), on the other hand, takes up this point and insists that a more lenient response is the superior strategy: it would not corner those rebelling but provides them with a viable alternative that secures a future source of revenue for Athens.

Diodotus’s argument, in particular, invokes the principles and practices of these aforementioned “soft powers” successfully. As such, the Athenians choose to overturn the decision. A trireme is dispatched just in time to prevent major bloodshed.

However, a very different side of Athens emerges in the Melian Dialogue. This is the only section in the History that’s set out like a dramatic fast-paced sequence of direct speech—a dialogue like an Athenian tragedy. Importantly, this conceit allowed both the Athenians and the Melians to present their views directly and as a collective voice.

Should the Melians (a Spartan colony) be allowed to remain neutral? Or should the Athenians insist they submit and pay tribute? The Melians make a passionate plea for justice and the right to remain neutral. The Athenians counter by pointing out that “the standard of justice depends on the equality of power to compel and that…the strong do what they have the power to do and the weak accept what they have to accept.”

Allowing the Melians to remain neutral would set a dangerous precedent and threaten Athenian hegemony.

Over two millennia later, this line of reasoning still resonates. Particularly now, as populism reemerges, insights into the power of words to influence public sentiments and decision-making remain acutely (and painfully) up-to-date.

In a modern context, the American political theorist Robert Mearsheimer calls the dynamics of such considerations which revolve around national self-interest “the tragedy of great power politics.” In his book of the same name, he describes the constant struggle of nation states to maintain and optimize power and hegemony in order to prevent other states from dominating them.

And a tragedy it is. Both the Athenians and the Melians remain steadfast. Melos (an Aegean island inhabited by Dorians) refuses to submit. Athens ends up murdering all men of military age and selling their wives and children into slavery.

Enduring sharp political realism

It is such resonances which make the History stand out and endure. The voice of the characters within the story reverberate with the voice of Thucydides as its author.

Despite his penchant for long-winded sentences—truthfully and painstakingly rendered into English in most translations—Thucydides’ History of the Peloponnesian War has become a classic by virtue of the sharp political realism at its core.

It remains a must-read for all who want to understand how power politics manifest and learn about its effect on the psychology of humankind, both individual and collective.

All translations are from M. I. Finley and R. Warner’s translation of Thucydides: History of the Peloponnesian War (New York, 1972).

*Julia Kindt is an Associate Professor and Chair of the Department of Classics and Ancient History, University of Sydney. The article was first published at The Conversation and is republished under a Creative Commons License.

Bactria: The Ancient Greek State in Afghanistan

Bactria - The ancient Greek State of Afghanistan
Gold stater of the Greco-Bactrian king Eucratides. Credit: Public Domain, illustration by Greek Reporter

Bactria, a huge area in todays’ Afghanistan, was the eastern edge of the ancient Greek empire, established by Alexander the Great.

Alexander and his army began a massive military campaign in 334 B.C. which resulted in Macedonians establishing many Greek cities across a wide swath of Southeast Asia. His rule, and that of his successors, would eventually reach all the way to the Indian subcontinent.

Alexander and his army conquered great tracts of land between Greece and India. However, in the ancient state of Bactria, the Greek presence became much more prominent than in areas that were far closer to Greece.

The Kingdom of Bactria was located north of the Hindu Kush mountain range and south of the Amu Darya river on the plateau where Afghanistan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan are today.

After the death of Alexander, his empire was divided up among the generals in his army. Bactria became a part of the Seleucid Empire, named after its founder, General Seleucus.

Seleucus I and his son Antiochus I went on to establish a great many Greek towns. The Greek presence was so overpowering that the Greek language remained prominent in the region for some time.

Bactria the eastern edge of the Greek empire

However, one of the lesser-known reasons for the overwhelming Greek cultural influence in the region was the mass deportations of Greeks to Bactria. During the reign of Darius I, every single one of the inhabitants of the Greek city of Barca in Cyrenaica were deported to Bactria for refusing to surrender suspected assassins to authorities.

The Persian King Xerxes also sent prisoners to the area. The “Branchidae” were the descendants of Greek priests who had once lived near Didyma and had surrendered the temple to him. The Greek historian Herodotus also records a Persian commander threatening to enslave daughters of the revolting Ionians and send them to Bactria.

Diodotus I, the satrap, or ruler, of Bactria declared independence from the Seleucid kings in the year 245 B.C., conquering Sogdia and becoming the founder of the great Greco-Bactrian Kingdom. Diodotus and his successors resisted continued attacks from the Seleucids, particularly from Antiochus III the Great, who was ultimately defeated by the Romans in 190 BC.

Bactria Greek stateThe Greco-Bactrians became very powerful militarily and succeeded in expanding their territory as far as present-day India.

The Greeks who had instigated the Bactrian revolt had become extremely wealthy, partially due to the great fertility of their country. Their great wealth enabled them to become masters not only of Bactria but also of India.

Greek language for administrative purposes

The Greco-Bactrians used the Greek language for administrative purposes, and the local languages were also influenced by Hellenism, as suggested by their adoption of the Greek alphabet and Greek words.

Bactrian King Euthydemus I and his son Demetrius I crossed the Hindu Kush mountains and began their conquest of the Indus valley. Within a short time, they were so powerful that a Greek empire seemed to be on the rise in the East.

However, corruption and internal feuds tore the nascent empire apart. When Demetrius advanced far east of the Indus River, one of his generals, Eucratides, pronounced himself king of Bactria.

Usurpers suddenly arose in every province. All of them desired to be kings, and they fought bitterly against each other.

Many of them did become kings, as evidenced by the many gold coins found centuries later in Afghanistan, but they were kings only within their own provinces. The internecine wars between them had taken a great and irreversible toll, destroying much of what had made their societies progressive and diminishing the Hellenic element.

After Demetrius and Eucratides, the kings abandoned the Attic standard of coinage and introduced a native one to attract support from non-Greeks.

In the Indus Valley, the Indo-Greek king Menander I converted to Buddhism. The last known Indo-Greek ruler, King Strato II, ruled in the Punjab region until around 55 B.C., according to some sources. Others place the end of Strato II’s reign as late as 10 A.D.

With information from Wikipedia

The Battle of Thermopylae: When the Greeks Fought to Defend Western Civilization

Battle of Thermopylae Spartans Leonidas
Credit: Wikimedia Commons/CC-BY-SA-3.0

The great Battle of Thermopylae and the valiant fight of 300 fearless Spartans under the command of warrior King Leonidas against 10,000 elite Persian soldiers is one of the most brilliant moments in ancient Greece’s history.

And in retrospect, it proved to be no less than a fight for the defense of Western Civilization itself. Although the battle itself was lost, the war was won.

The Battle of Thermopylae also provided great tales of bravery and patriotism for many Greek generations to come — tales which will never be forgotten.

Most historians believe that the epic battle took place in August, 480 BC. Thermopylae (“Hot Gates” in English) was a mountain pass with great strategic importance for those traveling south from Thessaly into central Greece.

This is where the 7,100 men of the allied Greek forces lay in wait for the invading forces.
The quarter-million strong Persian army, under King Xerxes, was advancing in central Greece with the aim of reaching Athens and taking over the city.

Spartans held strong under Leonidas at the Battle of Thermopylae

Xerxes was certain that conquering Greece would be easy, given the sheer numbers of his vast army.

The invaders camped for five days near Thermopylae because they had no idea how many foot soldiers (“hoplites” in Greek) were waiting on the other side of the pass.

They were also waiting for the Persian fleet, which had suffered damage to its ships and was delayed by bad weather off the coast of Magnesia.

When the Persian army finally did attack, the battle went entirely according to plan for the Greeks — at first.

The narrowness of the pass at the middle gate negated the advantage of numbers for the imperial troops. Moreover, the Greek hoplites were better equipped, with long thrusting spears, heavy bronze and wood shields, and body armor.

The Persians had shorter spears, wicker shields, and only thick linen corselets for “armor.” For two days, the Spartans held off the lesser elements of the imperial army; the Medes and Cissians were succeeded by “The Immortals,” the elite troops of King Xerxes, to little avail.

The two opposing armies were essentially representative of the two different approaches to Classical warfare.

Spartan vs Persian warfare

The Persians favored long-range assault using archers, followed up by a cavalry charge, while the Greeks favored heavily-armored infantrymen, arranged in a densely-packed formation called a phalanx, with each man carrying a heavy, round bronze shield and fighting at close quarters using spears and swords.

Although the Persian tactic of rapidly firing vast numbers of arrows into the massed enemy must have been an awesome sight, the lightness of the arrows meant that they were largely ineffective against the bronze-armored hoplites.

Indeed, Spartan indifference to this part of the attack was epitomized by Dieneces, who, when told that the Persian arrows would be so dense in the sky as to darken the sun, replied that, in that case, the Spartans would have the pleasure of fighting in the shade.

At close quarters, the longer spears, heavier swords, better armor, and rigid discipline of the phalanx formation meant that the Greek hoplites would hold a clear advantage, and in the narrow confines of the mountain pass, the Persians would struggle to make their vastly superior numbers have any military effect.

But the tide turned when a local man, Ephialtes of Trachis, in exchange for money and favors offered to show the Persians a way around the back of the defending force. Called the “Anopaia Path,” this was a way to skirt the mountain and attack the Greek forces from behind.

Xerxes accepted the traitor’s offer, sending off what was left of his 10,000 “Immortals” at dusk.

According to Herodotus, Leonidas had been aware from the beginning of the existence of the Anopaia Path and had even stationed 1,000 Phokians there to stop any attempt to surround his forces.

However, the Phokians were taken by surprise and put up little resistance. Word somehow got through to Leonidas that the position had been outflanked, and there seems to have been time to abandon the position and withdraw to the south before the Immortals arrived.

Leonidas fought alongside 300 soldiers at Battle of Thermopylae

Yet Leonidas steadfastly refused to retreat. Allowing everyone else to leave, he kept his 300 Spartans with him, knowing they would fight against the Persians to the last man.

Throughout history there have been innumerable interpretations of his decision to stay and fight until death.

Herodotus represents it as an act of deliberate self-sacrifice carried out in accordance with an oracle, which had said that the death of a Spartan king would save Sparta from destruction.

Other historians took the military approach and argued that Leonidas simply wanted to give the allied contingents time to get away.

After the battle, Xerxes ordered that Leonidas’ head be put on a stake and displayed on the battlefield.

As Herodotus claims in his account of the battle in book VII of The Histories, the Oracle at Delphi had been proven right when she had proclaimed that either Sparta or one of her kings must fall.

Nevertheless, the Battle of Thermopylae and the heroism of Leonidas and his brave hoplites have written one of the most brilliant pages of Greece’s long and rich history.

As for Ephialtes, the greedy traitor, his name eventually became the modern Greek word for “nightmare.”

The significance of the battle for Western Civilization

While the Battle of Thermopylae was technically a defeat for the Greeks, it was also a victory in the long run because it marked the beginning of several important Greek victories against the Persians and boosted the morale of all the Greek city-states.

Encouraged by the incredible bravery of the Spartan action, the surviving allied Greek forces fought with renewed fury against the Persians.

There is no doubt that the drive to fight and win in the two camps was sparked by completely different forces. Herodotus recounted how the Persian King Xerxes had driven his men into battle with whips — while the Greeks fought of their own free will: “(The Spartans) did not have to be whipped to make them fight with all their might… Whips were only for slaves, not free men.”

Although the Aristotelian concept of freedom was only formulated a century later by the great philosopher, the men who were citizens of the Greek city-states felt they were fighting to defend their freedom and autonomy.

This notion of freedom could only even begin to develop in a state free of coercion, so very unlike the world of the East.

Had the Spartans at Thermopylae, and later Greek armies, fled in fear, it is likely that a Persian victory would have had the effect of promoting imperial hegemony over the concept of a free city state, coercion over free will, and authoritarianism over any remote notion of freedom.

Compared to the ancient Greek civilization of the time, the Persians, from a completely militaristic society, behaved as ruthless barbarians.

Xerxes was seen as a merciless monarch and would surely have shown no quarter upon a conquered Greece. There is no doubt that, had his army won, ancient Greece as we know it would have been obliterated and history would have taken a totally different turn.

It was also clearly a battle of two cultures which could not have been more entirely different. If Athens had been taken over by the Persians, there would be no Parthenon, no Aristotle, no Pericles, no Socrates, no Phidias, no Olympic Games, no Hippocrates… and the list goes on.

Seen with the longest of historical views, we can say that if the Greeks had not finally succeeded in driving out the Persian forces, ultimately there would have been no Enlightenment in Europe, nor the development of democracy or the concepts of individual freedom and human rights.

Naxos, Greece’s Island of the Gods

naxos island greek greece
The Greek island of Naxos. Credit: Dronepicr/Wikimedia Commons/ CC BY 2.0

Naxos is the largest island of the Cyclades island group, and although it is comparatively unknown relative to Greece’s many other idylls, it is one of the most enchanting places for any visitor.

Despite flying somewhat under the radar, the island is one of the most interesting places in Greece. It boasts a magnificent history with influences from the Franks and the Venetians, who are responsible for numerous monuments from the Middle Ages. The island is completely overtaken by history.

Apart from boasting a fascinating past, Naxos possesses a lovely natural landscape since it is the greenest island in the Cyclades archipelago. In addition to having beautiful beaches, its rural villages are set into a backdrop of green valleys and mountains.

The island is also unique because it incorporates four smaller islets, Koufonissia, Iraklia, Donoussa, and Schinoussa, which actually belong to the municipality of Naxos and the Small Cyclades. Travelers here have the unique opportunity of experiencing five islands in one destination.

This gives added value to the island since it offers the chance to hop on over to these smaller islets and experience their almost completely untouched, romantic beauty.

With captivating legends, myths and history, stunning landscapes, and gastronomic specialties, Naxos is definitely worth exploring.

The fabled history of the Greek island Naxos

In Greek mythology, the island of Naxos was where Zeus, the king of the gods, grew up, hiding from his father Cronus’ violence. This is also where the god planned to win his Olympian throne.

According to myth, Zeus Eubouleus, the protector of the Naxians, fell in love with Semele, who was the daughter of King Cadmus of Thebes. From their union, Dionysus, the god of wine and revelry, was born.

Hera had urged Semele to ask Zeus to appear in all his divine form.

Since Semele was a mortal, she was unable to withstand the volley of thunderbolts that emanated from Zeus, and this resulted in her death. She died before giving birth whereupon Zeus took the fetus and placed it in his thigh.

When the time came for him to be born, Dionysus emerged from Zeus, and he was brought up on Naxos by the local nymphs.

Dionysus understandably grew to love the island, and used his power to make the land fertile, filled with vineyards which produced the finest wines. The local people built a temple on the island in honor of Dionysus.

Naxos is also where Theseus took Ariadne, the daughter of Minos, the King of Crete, after killing the Minotaur. According to myth, Theseus saw the Greek god Dionysus in a dream, and the god told him to leave Naxos without Ariadne, since she was meant to stay there and become his wife.

Dionysus and Ariadne had three children, Oinopion (“Wine Drinker”), Staphylos (“Grape”), and Evanthi (“Lovely Flower”).

The Venetian Conquest of Naxos

The rule of the Venetians marked an important period in the history of Naxos. When Marco Sanudo took over the Cyclades in the year 120,  he created a dukedom, which he named the Duchy of the Aegean, establishing the beginning of a long line of such rulers on Naxos.

Sanudo also constructed the beautiful castle which still exists at the very top of Naxos Town. The Jesuit Commercial School was also founded there and flourished inside the castle.

For the next several centuries, the island was divided into 56 provinces, each of which were ruled over by numerous Venetian nobles. The rule of the Venetian dukes lasted till 1564, when the Turks took over the entire nation of Greece.

Essential sightseeing on the Greek island of Naxos

The Naxos Portara:

naxos greek island
The Portara of the Greek island of Naxos. Credit: Olaf Tausch/ Wikimedia Commons/ CC BY 3.0

The Portara, or the Great Door, is essentially a massive marble doorway. It is located close to the port on the tiny islet of Palatia, which was once a hill.

At one point, the tyrant Lygdamis began to build a temple on the tiny islet. He had grand ideas of creating a temple even larger than that of Zeus in Athens.

After the tyrant’s fall, the temple remained unfinished, leaving only its foundation and part of its gate, or Portara.

Later, under Venetian rule, the marble was used to build the Castle of Naxos, as well as other monuments and buildings.

Kastro (the Castle of Naxos)

Along with the Tower of Glezos, the Kastro serves as a protective shield to the fortress built by Sanoudos in the Chora, or Old Town, of Naxos.

Sanoudo constructed the castle on a hill which rises approximately 30 meters (90 feet) above sea level over the remains of an ancient acropolis, which he considered a suitable place for the original establishment of the city.

The most remarkable feature of his castle is that its walls are actually made up of the outer walls of the houses of the city, which were erected along its perimeter.

The Temple of Dionysus

Dionysus was especially beloved and honored by the ancient Greeks since he was the god of fun, wine, and celebration, who also bestowed fertility on the land, including its many vineyards.

It was believed that he was a denizen of the island’s forests and was constantly drunk on wine.

The residents built a large temple in honor of their god, but sadly, only part of it survives today. From the pieces that remain, it was established that the temple was built at some point in the sixth century BC.

The Romans reconstructed the temple to Dionysus in the first century BC, and in the fifth century AD, the temple was turned into a Christian church.

The Cave of Zas

According to myth, Zeus grew up here, finding refuge in the cave while being hunted by his father, Cronus.

It was here that Zeus became ruler of Olympus after being given the power over lightning, and, to honor him, the residents of Naxos named the cave, as well as the mountain, after him.

Remains from various historical periods including Roman, Neolithic, and many others, were found in archaeological research carried out in this Naxos cave in 1962. It is also known to have been used as a refuge during the Ottoman Occupation.

Two different paths lead to the cave. One begins near the village of Danakos, and the other near Filoti. While exploring near the cave, you will also find the fountain of Aries, which still has potable water today.

Mount Zas

Mount Zas, the tallest mountain on the island, is also the tallest mountain in the Cyclades. The peak of Mount Zas, with an altitude of about 1,000 meters, or 3,000 feet, above sea level, is a popular destination for mountain climbers and hikers on Naxos.

Trekking from Danakos, one passes the small chapel of St. Marina, as well as the Cave of Zas and an inscription on a piece of ancient marble which translates as “Mount Zas, protector of the sheep.” This shows the great importance placed on stockbreeding on the island since ancient times.

Trekkers can experience enchanting panoramic views of the Aegean sea, as well as the neighboring islands of the Cyclades, from the top of Mt. Zas.

Bazeos Tower

This stout castle, which also functioned as a monastery, was built in the seventeenth century to offer refuge to the residents of the island due to constant pirate attacks.

By the end of the nineteenth century, the Bazeos family owned the castle, and it was used as their summer residence until their last descendant recently chose to turn the castle into a space suitable for hosting cultural events.

The “Naxos Festival at Bazeos Tower” has taken place every summer since 2001, offering events of cultural interest, as well as exhibitions of contemporary works of art.

Sunbathing on Naxos, Greece

Agios Prokopios

Located 5 kilometers (3 miles) from Naxos Town, the beach of Agios Prokopios is considered one of the most spectacular beaches not just in Greece but in the entirety of Europe.

Its wide sand beaches extend over 1.5 kilometers (one mile) and its crystal clear waters, which alternate from hues of light to deep blue and turquoise, are the most prominent feature of this sheltered bay, making it a must-visit for all vacationers on Naxos.

One part of the beach is an organized resort, but the other part is left completely unspoiled, providing a peaceful, idyllic haven on its western side, where a chapel of the same name also stands.

Meanwhile, water sport lovers can get their fill, thanks to the wealth of activities on offer there, including beach volleyball, windsurfing, sea bicycling, and snorkeling.

Since Agios Prokopios served as the main port of Naxos during the Middle Ages, a picturesque old shipwreck can also be found at the end of the beach.

Shops can be found in a nearby small village along with mini markets, cafes, bars, tavernas, and car and motorbike rental agencies. Everything vacationers could possibly need is located here, on the beach’s eastern side.

Agia Anna

Once a fishing village, the 6-kilometer (four-mile) long Agia Anna Beach is actually a continuation of Agios Prokopis Beach. This seemingly endless sandy beach is interrupted only by its picturesque harbor, which serves as an anchorage for area fishermen.

Agia Anna Beach, considered one of the best organized beaches on Naxos, features umbrellas and sunbeds all along its length.

Numerous types of accommodation are available, such as beach front hotels, as well as apartments and rooms to let. You can find a great selection of beachfront restaurants, fish tavernas, beach bars, and cafes offering both stunning views of the sea and the surrounding landscape.

At times, the waters of the northern part of the beach are choppy, but the small port is protected by winds and is usually very calm, making it ideal for a nice, relaxing swim even with the strongest winds.

Agia Anna and Agios Prokopis are connected to Chora by buses which pass by every twenty minutes to half an hour from the early morning hours to late at night.

The Sound of Hagia Sophia, Recreated Centuries Later

Hagia Sophia sound
Hagia Sophia is now a mosque. Credit: Arild Vågen, CC BY-SA 3.0/Wikipedia

The sound of Hagia Sophia was recreated recently by two scholars from California’s Stanford University by simply popping a balloon.

Bissera Pentcheva, a professor of art history, has published a book on the subject titled Hagia Sophia: Sound, Space, and Spirit in Byzantium.

Pentcheva’s work is focused on the appreciation of medieval art and architecture, and to truly understand the mystical transcendence worshippers must have felt when attending a service in the great cathedral, she made it her mission to recreate the sound of a 13th-century liturgy there.

Jonathan Abel is a consulting professor at the Center for Computer Research in Music and Acoustics at Stanford. Abel’s specialties lie in audio mapping and acoustics, and it was a specific process he perfected, called “convolution,” which made the recreation of this historic sound possible.

It was this that allowed the professors to finally understand the workings behind the stellar acoustics of the famous Cathedral and recreate these sonic masterpieces to share with the world.

After Pentcheva received special permission from the authorities to record after hours, she set up a number of microphones around Hagia Sophia and proceeded to pop the balloon her team had brought with them.

The tiny explosion created an “impulse sound,“ a short, sharp noise that, when recorded, allowed her team to map out the acoustics of the vast Cathedral and thus create a digital filter. Pentcheva and Abel were then able to use that filter and make anything sound as if it had been sung in what was for centuries Christendom’s greatest cathedral.

The recording you can hear by accessing the link in this article was made by “Cappella Romana,” a choir from Portland, Oregon. The first clip you hear is the choir singing in a studio without the Hagia Sophia digital filter while the second is with the filter applied.

Sound of Hagia Sophia liturgy

The difference is remarkable, transporting listeners back centuries in time and sending chills down their spines. Pentcheva and Abel have achieved something truly unique and everlasting with their ingenuity, bringing the ancient church’s legendary  “icons of sound” back to life once more.

The choir has now released an entire album using Pentcheva and Abel’s newly created digital filter called “The Lost Voices of Hagia Sophia.”

You can hear the remarkable sound of a Hagia Sophia liturgy here.

The magnificent edifice of Hagia Sophia, which was constructed in the 6th century and served as a cathedral for almost one thousand years, has now been turned into a mosque in Istanbul.

Built in the great city of Constantinople, it was once by far the largest building in the world and the greatest engineering marvel of its time. It is still instantly recognizable to this day because of its famed massive dome.

The unique acoustics of Hagia Sophia inspired ten centuries of glorious Byzantine religious music, but since the Ottomans invaded the city in 1453 and converted the building into a mosque, music has not been heard within its hallowed walls.

 

Lady Hamilton: The 18th-Century Beauty who Revived Ancient Greek Fashion

Lady Hamilton Greek fashion
Lady Hamilton as Ariadne by Élisabeth Vigée-Lebrun, 1790. Public Domain

Lady Hamilton, a woman who became famous in Europe for her astonishing beauty as well as her political influence, also spread Ancient Greek-inspired fashion across the continent for the first time.

Born into poverty and working as a scullery maid in her teenage years, she was scorned by her first two lovers who took advantage of her youthful beauty and then left her. Her third lover, however, was Sir William Hamilton, the English ambassador to Naples, who, against all social norms, then made her his wife.

Lady Hamilton soon became a fashion icon and started trends, such as draping herself in simple garments which were inspired by classical times and ancient Greece, in particular. She called this Greek-inspired theme “Attitudes” and was known to have used her many shawls during her public performances based on Ancient Greek symposia.

Goethe famously wrote of Lady Hamilton: “She wears a Greek garb, becoming to her to perfection. She then merely loosens her locks, takes a pair of shawls, and effects changes of postures, moods, gestures, mien, and appearance that make one really feel as if one were in some dream…”

“Successively standing, kneeling, seated, reclining, grave, sad, sportive, teasing, abandoned, penitent, alluring, threatening, agonized…one follows the other, and grows out of it. She knows how to choose and shift the simple folds of her single kerchief for every expression, and to adjust it into a hundred kinds of headgear,” he wrote.

Hamilton makes ancient Greek fashion a must-have

Her “a la grec” clothing soon became a must-have item in those days. Her new wardrobe resembled that of a Greek goddess with modern and simple robing so different from the fashion of the time, which involved stacking countless layers of fabric upon each other.

Lady Hamilton chose loose-fitting gowns with waistlines set just below the bosom. Her hairstyle, soon to be copied by nearly all ladies of fashion of the day, was also inspired by Greek statues, and even the French tossed out their massive wigs to achieve Lady Hamilton’s new look.

In Naples, the young maid who had married money was adored by the Italian gentry who closely followed her every fashion move. They appreciated her beauty, cleverness, independence, and high spirit at a time when she was scorned in her own country for being Sir William’s lover before marrying him.

Before long, dukes and princes were throwing banquets in her honor and even the king himself sought out her company.

Italian peasants saw her as one of their own who had made good. Kneeling at her feet, they asked Lady Hamilton for favors, and artists sought to draw her portrait.

Soon, her sphere of influence had spread across Europe. She had singlehandedly done so much for the revival of ancient Greek culture, but unfortunately, her liberal-mindedness soon made her the victim of malicious gossip.

She quickly fell out of favor with the general public after she became the mistress of Admiral Nelson, the beloved British naval hero. Nelson was said to have entered into a menage-a-trois with Lady Hamilton and her husband.

After both her lover and her husband died, Lady Hamilton fell into destitution and became an object of ridicule and a byword for loose behavior. But during those first radiant years of her marriage to Lord Hamilton, she reigned over society and brought some of the eternal beauty of Greece to Western European life.

The Magnificent Ancient Greek Theaters of Messene and Sicyon

Ancient theater Messene in Peloponnesian
Ancient Greek theater of Messene in the Peloponnese. Credit: AMNA

The ancient Greek theaters at Messene and Sicyon in the Peloponnese were centers for drama and culture in both ancient times and during the Roman period of Greek history.

The ancient Greek theater at Sicyon (present-day Kiato) was built between 303 and 251 BC, but was renovated and altered at least twice by the Romans.

The scene building was expanded in the first century, and the stage was altered in the late Roman period. With a seating area estimated at 122 meters (400 feet) wide and 58 meters (190 feet) deep, it is one of the largest theaters in the Peloponnese.

The present day ruins at Sicyon are a faint reminder of the Romanized theater the historian Pausanias visited in the second century AD.

The restoration effort to preserve Sicyon

However, in February of 2013, the monument underwent a restoration program so that it could be protected once and for all and could once more be recognized for the cultural landmark that it is.

The regional unit of Corinth and Sicyon donated 200,000 euros toward this ambitious effort. The Diazoma Association, a network of archaeologists, curators, and conservators along with Greek artists, intellectuals and local mayors, and regional administrations and citizens, donated 10,000 euros to the gigantic task.

The Diazoma group, whose mission is to create synergies in order to protect and promote ancient theaters, took the lead in the enhancement and restoration of the ancient site. Tasking themselves with reconnecting the Greek people with their ancient past through the wonders of their ancient theaters, they hope to restore and reopen many more such theaters all over the country.

In his day, the historian Pausanias recorded the scene at Sicyon thus: “On the stage of the theater built under the citadel is a statue of a man with a shield, who they say is Aratus, the son of Cleinias. After the theater is a temple of Dionysus.”

Sicyon Ancient Theater
The ancient theater of Sicyon. Credit: Public domain

Today, the exposed remnants of the partially-excavated theater stand in mute testimony of its former grandeur. The American School of Classical Studies at Athens undertook the most major excavations there in modern times; however, their work is incomplete.

The outlines of the amphitheater are clearly visible, with several rows of stone seats, a horseshoe-shaped orchestra area showing evidence of drainage ditches or other depressions and remains of an ancient scene are still visible, as well.

The foundations of a proskenion stage, as well as the remains of stone proskenion access ramps, are there, along with two imposing arched passageways leading through the hill to the cavea.

Visitors to the site will surely note the picturesque view of the Corinthian Gulf just two kilometers away. Sadly, the “statue of Aratus,” as noted by Pausanias, has long since vanished, as have the columns and carved marble ornaments that once graced the theatre’s façade.

What remains, however, are the foundations of a late 4th century Hellenistic theater with evidence of successive Roman alterations to the skene and proskenion stage.

Excavations Sicyon Theater Athens
Photo showing excavation workers at Sicyon, part of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens, 1883. Public domain

The koilon, or bowl-shaped seating area, is carved for the most part out of the bedrock in the side of a hill. Initial excavations in the late 19th century by the American School of Classical Studies under the successive directorships of M.L. D’Ooge, A.C. Merrim, and M.L. Earle, unearthed portions of the lower four rows of seats.

Successive excavations exposed portions of the lower nine rows and included a row of prohedriai benches (stone seats of honor with backrests) which borders the orchestra. The remainder of the koilon remains buried beneath several feet of earth.

The Theater itself is a two-story structure with a one-story forebuilding facing the orchestra, or proskenion, with a colonnade supporting a long, narrow stage. Stairs or ramps running parallel to the parodoi, like others at Eretria and Epidaurus, at the far ends of the stage provided access to the stage from the orchestra level.

Access from the rear was provided through large openings that pierced the second-story wall. These 3rd and 2nd century BC constructions would have made the theater resemble a two-story palatial house with a one-story terrace supported by a colonnade.

In total, the audience seating measures 122 meters (400 feet) wide by 58.41 meters (192 feet) deep. The number of seating rows is estimated at forty to sixty but no approximate seating capacity is known for sure.

The front row of seating consists of thirteen prohedriai, or the ancient version of VIP seats. Their wide benches have arms, as well as backs. The prohedriai at Sicyon are carved from the same native rock as most of the ordinary rows of seats. Like their counterparts in Athens, however, ornamental scroll work can still be observed on the benches’ exterior arms and bases.

A pair of vaulted passages on the east and west side of the koilon provided audience access. The 2.55-meter (8.4 feet) wide tunnels are important examples of true Greek arches.

The vaults at Sicyon predate Roman influence and are contemporary to the original construction of the theater, according to archaeologists.

The orchestra area at Sicyon has a diameter of 24.3 meters (about 80 feet). Composed of packed earth, it comprises somewhat more than half the circumference of a circle. A wide drainage channel surrounds the orchestra and separates it from the prohedriai in the first row. Stone slabs cover the channel in front of each stairway, acting as a bridge.

An elaborate network of subterranean channels extends from the center of the orchestra to the perimeter of the prohedriai and to the rear of the skene, and it is tempting to compare these covered tunnels to the underground passageways for actors at the Hellenistic theatres at Eretria, Corinth and Argos, archeologists say.

These passageways led to stairs, or “Charonian steps,” which allowed for the mysterious entrances of performers during plays. Some archaeologists have argued that the channels served performance purposes along with drainage needs; others contend that they are nothing more than large drains suitable for an orchestra with a clay floor and a coastal city which sometimes experiences heavy rains.

The excavations at Sicyon revealed a scene building 24.5 meters (80 feet) wide and 12.11 meters (40 feet) deep with ramps carved out of the bedrock on either side. These ruins represent both Greek and Roman constructions. The stage was about 3.3 meters (10.7 feet) high and 2.8 meters (9 feet) wide.

The ruins indicate Roman renovations in the 1st century BC and in the late Roman period. Initial alterations extended the scene building away from the audience and included a Doric portico at the rear. A late Roman renovation replaced the Hellenistic proskenion with a deeper Roman stage that extended forward to the edge of the koilon.

The Hellenistic proskenion wall was replaced with a Roman wall and had three openings: a double set of doors in the center flanked by two single doors. However, sadly, little of this wall remains.

Excavations at Sicyon by the American School of Classical Studies ran from 1886 to 1891, and the Archaeological Society at Athens conducted further excavations in 1920 and 1984. The 4th Ephorate of Prehistoric and Classical Archaeology is responsible for all city excavations, as well as those in the surrounding area. Movable objects which were found at the site are now housed in the onsite Sicyon museum, which reopened in 2007.

The Theater of Messene, Ancient Treasure of Peloponnese

Messene Theater Greece
Messene, one of the most important ancient Greek theaters in the Peloponnese. Credit: AMNA

For more than 600 years, the ancient theater of Messene was an important center for not only drama but events in the political sphere, as well. Great men of the past once strode its stage, including Philip V, the king of Macedonia, and the general of the Achaean League, Philopoemen from Megalopolis.

The theater was used for entertainment events and as a gathering place for political purposes. It was where Philip V, the king of Macedonia, and Aratus of Sicyon met in 214 BC one day after the uprising of the people and the slaughter of the city’s officials along with 200 wealthy citizens had taken place.

According to Livius, a great many citizens of Messene had gathered at the theater, demanding that general Philopoemen from Megalopolis be brought before them there in plain sight after being captured by the Messeneans in 183 BC.

After operating for six centuries, the theater was tragically abandoned. Characteristic of the apathy of the residents of the area regarding its fate during the Byzantine era, local people removed many of the seats and used them as building material for temples and houses.

After 1,700 years of neglect, and the silencing of the many voices which had once resounded there, the ancient theater of Messene finally re-opened its doors to the public in the summer of 2013.

The restored theater was reopened in August of that year with an opera gala, organized as part of the Greek Festival performed by the Athens State Orchestra and conducted by Giorgos Kouroupos. Soloists Dimitris Platanias and Tselia Kostea performed at the event, which was organized in cooperation with the “Diazoma” Association.

First Performance in One Thousand Years

The gala marked the very first time performances had been held there since 300 AD, when it closed.

During the 2013 gala, the theater accommodated 2,500 spectators. After the completion of restoration works, its capacity is estimated to reach 5,000 attendants, or exactly half the capacity it had in antiquity.

“When we first started the excavations, we found ourselves discouraged,” says Petros Themelis, head of the excavations. “The theater was practically non-existent; the only things left were some barrier walls and the olive groves surrounding it. Huge deposits of earth covered the orchestra and the koilon.”

The restoration of the ancient theater lasted ofr more than twenty years. With great effort, archaeologists managed to reunite the scattered stone slabs and put back more than 2,000 of these seats back into place.

Asked if the presence of spectators in this priceless ancient theater would be damaging, Themelis demurred. “The only damage is caused by women’s high heels,” the archaeologist replied. He stated that he believes the purpose of a theater is to be used rather than remain closed off to the public.

“The risk of damage comes through time—not people,” he explains.
Themelis’ vision is that the theater and ancient city host many public events going forward. He argues that if a monument isn’t going to be revived as a public venue, there is no point in excavating it.

“We want the theater to operate for events, schools, conferences. We want all areas of ancient Messene to operate in a multifaceted manner,” he notes. “We want the whole city to [come] alive, to be related to society and the institutions.”

The ancient Greek theater of Messene is located at the northwest of the archaeological site of Messene. Its first building phase is dated back to the 3rd century BC. The walls of the scene, the proscenium, and the orchestra were repaired during the 1st and 2nd century AD.

The high pointed posterns and the staircases mounting to the highest levels of the grand theater give the impression of a fortress. These elements, along with the fact that the retaining wall was visible and accessible from outside, render the theater of Messene unique in its kind and a precursor of the colossal theaters and amphitheaters of the Roman era.