Kynouria through the centuries

From the Neolithic to the Archaic period

The present province of Kynouria is not exactly the same as the ancient one, but it is not very different from it. It is probable that the area has known human presence and activity since the Neolithic period and then the Early Helladic period, so that pre-Hellenic tribes must have settled in Kynouria.

In the Early Helladic period (2800 - 2000 BC) the Early Hellenic Danaans appeared in Greece and, after crossing the Aegean, settled in Argolid. The BA area of Kynouria, Thyreatida, must have a direct link with the Danaans. Plutarch informs us that before arriving in Argolid, Danaanos settled and lived in a coastal part of Thyria, Pyramia. Pausanias informs us that Danaus, before he passed through Argolis, landed at Apovothemus. Therefore the Danaans before settling in Argolis, according to the above writers, inhabited some coastal area of the Thyreatean land, Pyramia or Apovathamus.

In the Middle Helladic period (2000-1980 BC) and specifically from 1900 BC onwards, the Ionians arrived in Greece. A branch of the Ionians were the Kynurians who settled in the province of Kynouria and gave it their name.

The word Kynouria, according to the opinion of K. Roman, is a shorter form of the word kynosoura (canine tail) and means any kind of shore, beach, bare place, scopelos. The Argives' tradition, however, attributes the name of the province to Perseus' son Kynuros, who was its founder and settler.

Kynouria, a border area between Argos and Sparta, became the theatre of many conflicts between the two Peloponnesian Cities - Cratons for about a thousand years due to its important strategic position.

At the end of the 11th century BC the Spartans, when their king was Echestratus, invaded Kynouria under the pretext of punishing bandits who, taking the area as their base, were causing destruction to their relatives, the Argives. As Pausanias informs us, there was a war, because the invasion met with the opposition of the Cynurians. The Spartans managed to squeeze out all the Canurians of conscript age and, of course, as the strongest, they prevailed.

The Argives lost Kynouria with the invasion of Echestratus, but they did not cease to regard it as Argolic land, so they made moves to regain it. The Lacedaemonians, when their kings were Labotas and Prytanis, a few years after the invasion of Eschestratus, always at the end of the 11th century BC, clashed for the first time with the Argives. Apparently neither of the rivals emerged victorious. But this conflict marked the beginning of great hatred and endless wars between Sparta and Argos.

In 720 BC, when Theopompos was king of Sparta, we have a new conflict between the Lacedaemonians and the Argives. The result of this battle, which according to the historian Eusebius was fought at Thyria, is not known to us. It seems, however, that the situation did not change and that Thyreata was independent but lived permanently under the threat of a new conflict.

The new armed confrontation between Lacedaemonians and Argives, the third in the series, took place in 669 BC near Ysieh, a small town in Argolis on the road leading from Argolis to Arcadia. The Argive king Pheidius led the Argives to victory for the first time, and they now became rulers of Cynoria for at least a hundred years.

But the most important battle between Lacedaemonians and Argives for the domination of Cynuria took place in 546 BC. Herodotus recounts in detail the events of that battle, portraying the characters of the protagonists and the heroic war customs of the time. The two armies chose 300 loras (men of distinction), who were agreed to fight to the death and the territory would fall to the victor. The many armies of the two opponents agreed to leave and go to their own country. So the two armies arose and fled, while their chosen men on both sides began to fight. The battle went on, and the two opponents were drawn evenly. Of the 600 men only three remained, two Argives and Lacedaemonian Othriades, who was wounded. The two Argives, as victors, ran to Argos to announce the joyful event to their leaders. Othriades, though wounded, bowed to the dead of the Argives, drew their weapons to his own camp and stayed in his place. When the next day dawned, the two armies came to learn the result. At first each insisted on his own account that he was the victor. Finally, after there was a disagreement, the two armies clashed again. Sparta emerged victorious and won the land of Cynouria. Sparta's suzerainty in Cynuria lasted until the battle of Chaeronea and, at the Panhellenic Congress held at the Isthmus of Corinth under the presidency of Philip II, Cynuria was given to the Argives.

Kynouria in the Peloponnesian War

The most important events concerning Kynouria during the Peloponnesian War are the following:

  • In 431 BC, during the first year of the Peloponnesian War, the Athenians took decisions that were devastating for Aegina because they considered that the Aeginites were largely responsible for the declaration of war. So they expelled the Aeginetan men, women and children from their island and their allies the Lacedaemonians settled them in the Thyrean land.
  • In 430 BC the Athenian fleet, in order to create a diversion for the Lacedaemonians who were besieging Athens, raids the coastal cities of the Spartan Alliance. The Athenian force is led by Pericles himself with 130 triremes, 4000 hoplites and 300 horsemen. Among the destruction and looting of the coastal cities of the Spartan Alliance is the destruction of the fortress of Prasias, the city built near Leonidium above the present-day port of Plaka.
  • In 424 BC, in the eighth year of the Peloponnesian War, eight years after the Aeginites had settled in Thyria, the Athenians led by Nicias attacked the Aeginites. According to Thucydides, the Athenians burned the entire city of Thyria and took everything in the city by force. Those Aeginites who were not killed in the hand-to-hand battle were taken away with them, only to be killed later because of their long-standing enmity against them.

Cities of Ancient Kynouria

Ancient Kynuria consisted of two regions. The Thyroiditis (northern Kynuria) and the Prasias or Brasias (southern Kynuria).

Thyria - Eve. In the land of Thyreates, from the written sources that exist and from various findings, we know that there were four cities. Thyria, Niris, Anthena and Eva, 'the largest of the Thyrean towns' as the traveller Pausanias characteristically calls it. Eva is built near the I.M. of Lucus, where in antiquity there was a sanctuary of the Warlord.In Eva, the famous sophist and politician Herod Atticus bought land in the 2nd century AD and built his famous villa. The villa of Herod Atticus proved to be the most important and richest monument in Greece during the Roman Empire and especially during the 2nd century A.D. The villa was first located in 1809 by the English traveller Leake and identified in 1809 by K. Roman. The villa of Herod in Eua consists of a central atrium (courtyard), a huge artificial river (imitating the Egyptian doapo and the facilities of Hadrian's villa at Tivoli in Rome), galleries and corridors with a total area of over 1000sqm decorated with unique mosaic compositions. In the northern part the palace of Herod Atticus had been built, while in the southern part a bath complex and a monumental Mausoleum or Heron in honour of Antinous, whose supernaturally sized seated statue was found in 1991.

Herod Atticus was a wealthy man, a lover of ancient art, a creator and collector, and so his villa in Eua, despite the damage it suffered, proved to be a unique museum of ancient sculpture and mosaic art. In 1995 the Hellenistic complexes of Menelaus with Pasquino and Achilles with Penthesilea, supernatural masterpieces of the Parchment School, were discovered there. Another original masterpiece is the famous Nereid of Xanthus, a work of the 5th century BC, the relief of the Muses and Apollo, an original Hellenistic work of the 2nd century BC. as well as countless other sculptures and portraits from the time of Herod Atticus, such as the Tondo depicting Hercules and Augustus, the archaic relief with the pair of the Maccarines and the flutes, the votive relief of the gods Apollo and Pan watching a bull sacrifice scene in a grove, the stelae of victorious athletes and the copies of famous classical works such as the Capitoline Effrodite and the Hermes Columns.

On the platform that closed the western side of the palace there was a whole gallery of iconic busts of Roman emperors, philosophers, Herod Atticus' orators and their families. All these sculptures now form one of the largest collections of 2nd century AD sculptures in the world.

From the mosaic compositions, we recall the famous hunt of Dido and Aeneas described by Virgil in the Aeneid, the Muses with their symbols, the personifications of various deities, philosophical concepts and mythological creatures such as Ktisis, Apolaisis, Medusa, Potamos and Arethusa.

The south side of the mansion was decorated with the twelve Labours of Hercules, a unique theme of ancient mosaic art, while in front of the pedestals of the sculptural complexes of the Parchment School, these famous works were reproduced in mosaics, which helps in their correct interpretation and restoration.

The excavator Theodoros Spyropoulos argues that the villa of Herodes Atticus in Eyia is not only a unique museum of ancient art, but also an active artistic, scientific and educational centre of late Hellenism, similar to the great institutions of the Hellenistic period, such as the Alexandria Museum, the Library of Pergamum, the University of Athens, etc.


The most important centre of southern Kynouria in antiquity was the city of Prasi or Vrasia. Prasias is situated above the port of Plaka Leonidi on the hill of Agios Athanasios. The city of Prasias had an important geographical position and in combination with the fertile valley, the present valley of Leonidios, it was an important centre for both the surrounding area and Sparta, since it enabled it to communicate by sea with the Argosaronikos and other distant cities. The city was destroyed by Pericles and the Athenians during the Peloponnesian War.

Around Prasia there were smaller mountain settlements, the "Oriates", located in Vaskina, Paleochora and the plain of Karya. Other settlements that had Prasias as their centre were - according to the findings so far - in the place of Sovala Prasto, in Polichni (today's Poulithra), in Tyros (in the place of Kastro), in the place of Tyrita Apollo (in Prophet Elias Melana), in Paleochori and finally Glyppia (between the villages of Agios Vasileios and Platanaki).

Kynuria and Byzantium

The information we have about Kynouria during the period of the Byzantine Empire is relatively scarce and does not allow us to form a clear picture of the situation of the province at that time.

Constantine Porphyrogenitus informs us in his book "On the Basilian Order" that the Chacons were recruited in the period 912-959 as guards of fortresses. From various sources we learn that Slavs settled in the Peloponnese in the 6th century AD. Two Slavic tribes, the Miligians and the Ezerites, inhabited the inaccessible areas of the Taygetos and Parnonas and often rebelled, causing problems for the Greeks of the region. The Byzantine emperors were forced to send troops to suppress their rebellions. The Melinggians (mainly inhabitants of Parnon) left some place names in the area such as 'Zygos tou Melingos', 'Dromos tou Melingos', 'Melingitika Kalyvia' and, near St John, 'Melingos' or 'Melingoun', as the historian of the Fall of Constantinople Frantzis mentions.

During the Frankish occupation, when Constantinople fell into the hands of the Franks, Kynouria and many other coastal parts of the Peloponnese were dominated by the Venetians. Very few areas in the Peloponnese resisted the conquerors. However, the Kynurians, together with Laconians, Arcadians and the Hellenized Milingos, led by the Despot of Epirus Michael A' Angelos Komnenos, fought the Franks in Messenia and were defeated. The Chaconians were always opposed to the Franks and, in order to prevent them from doing so, Villehardouin founded the fortress at Geraki. Later, William of Guile, in order to achieve absolute domination of the Peloponnese and to subdue the 'unpleasant' Chacons, built a castle at Xerocampi, which was later called the 'Castle of Auria' and traces of it are still preserved today.

Kynouria in the Greek Revolution

The presence of Kynouria in the Greek Revolution was important. With its outbreak in March 1821, Tsakonian fighters led by Captain Georgakis Michalakis or Manolakis, in collaboration with the Maniates, besieged and finally captured the castle of Monemvasia in the summer of 1821. A camp was set up in Verbena during the first days of the struggle. The Procrites of the Prefecture of Agios Petros and Prashtos and Theodoret of Breshthenes set up the first notable permanent and stable "tutorial" called "Kelari". The "Kelari", which accepted food from other provinces, supplied the warriors outside Tripolitsa.

An important contribution to the Revolution was the battle of Berbeno and Dolian on 18 May 1821. The Turks, believing that after the battle of Valtetsiou they would find the Greeks in a state of ignorance, started at night from Tripolitsa with two columns and attacked them at dawn with a surprise attack on the villages of Verbena (leaders P. Yatrakos and Ad. Mavromichalis) and Doliana (leader Nikitas Stamatelopoulos). They found them really unprepared and shut them in some houses that were hastily fortified and in some drums outside the villages. But the Maniathan chiefs of the Berbers quickly recovered from their first astonishment, repelled the attacks of their opponents, chased them to Doliana and lifted the siege of the village, counterattacked them at sunset and, now united, pursued them. It was here that Nikitaras triumphed, who brought great destruction to the Turks and was therefore called Turcophagus.

Second National Assembly (Astros 1823)

In 1823 the Second National Assembly of the Greeks was held in Astros. The official opening of the work of the 2nd National Assembly took place on 29 March under the presidency of Petrobeis Mavromichalis. On 13 April 1823, the National Assembly adopted the new revised Constitution of revolutionary Greece which, because it was based on the Constitution of Epidaurus, was called the 'Law of Epidaurus'. On 18 April, after Tripoli was designated as the seat of the administration and it was decided to convene a new National Assembly after two years, the Second National Assembly of the Greeks closed its proceedings with a declaration that once again distorted 'the political existence and independence of the Greeks'. The Second National Assembly held its proceedings in the 'Agrokipio' of Astros, next to the Karitsiotis School. A memorial plaque was placed on the site of the Second National Assembly in 1899 to remind visitors of the sanctity of the site.



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