The Politics of Ethnicity and the Crisis of the Peloponnesian League

  Funke, Peter, and Nino Luraghi, eds. 2009. The Politics of Ethnicity and the Crisis of the Peloponnesian League. Hellenic Studies Series 32. Washington, DC: Center for Hellenic Studies.

VII. Messenian Ethnicity and the Free Messenians [*]

Nino Luraghi

1. Messenians in the Fifth Century

After the earthquake that shattered the southern Peloponnese in the sixties of the fifth century, a new group calling itself “the Messenians” emerged, and this time it was in Messenia. This group was formed by Helots and perioikoi who seceded from Sparta. Ultimately their revolt failed and the rebels, after resisting for many years entrenched on Mount Ithome, had to surrender to the Spartans, but they did so from a relatively strong position, and were able at least to gain the right to leave the Peloponnese. The Athenians settled them in Naupaktos in Ozolian Locris, where the Messenians remained for more than half a century, until after the end of the Peloponnesian War. [5] During the pentekontaetia, the Messenians of Naupaktos seem to have been involved in various campaigns in Northwestern Greece, [6] but their most prominent deeds were performed during the Peloponnesian War. Besides participating in Demosthenes’ campaign in Aetolia in 426, [7] the Messenians played a decisive part in forcing the surrender of the Spartiates blockaded on the island of Sphacteria during the Pylos campaign. [8] For more than a decade, from the Spartan surrender on Sphacteria in the summer of 425 until 408, with an interval of two years, [9] Pylos was garrisoned by Messenians from Naupaktos, later joined by Helots and possibly perioikoi who had deserted from both Messenia and Laconia. Meanwhile, Messenians from Naupaktos participated in the Sicilian expedition, summoned by Demosthenes in 413 (Thucydides 7.31.2) and, under Conon’s guidance, in the repression of the pro-Spartan faction in Corcyra in 410 (Diodorus 13.48).

It is the Messenians’ never-forgotten aspiration to win back their fatherland, and not only their consistent loyalty to Athens, that explains why, after the end of the Peloponnesian War, after the successful conclusion of their campaign against Elis, the Spartans decided to evict the Messenians from Naupaktos and from a fortress they occupied on the island of Cephallenia. In 401, according to Diodorus (14.34.2–5), faced by the Spartan onslaught, the Messenians left Naupaktos and Cephallenia with their weapons. Some of them moved to Sicily, to fight as mercenaries for Dionysius the First, but the majority, some three thousand according to Diodorus, went to Cyrene, where they helped the Cyrenaean aristocracy to return to the city from which they had been recently exiled. [16] A few years later, Dionysius settled six hundred Messenian mercenaries in Messana, which he was founding anew after the city had been laid waste by the Carthaginians in 397. Then, however, afraid of annoying his allies the Spartans, the Syracusan tyrant decided to relocate the Messenians to another place, still in Messana’s territory. There they founded the city of Tyndaris, a fortress in an important strategic position, defending the approach to Messana along the northern coast of Sicily (Diodorus 14.78.4–6). [17] But the Messenian diaspora must have spread even wider than this. As we happen to know from the Hellenica of Oxyrhynchus (15.3), the personal guard of the exiled Athenian admiral Conon was formed by Messenians, too. [18]

2. Free Messene and Its Liberators

The creation of a free polity in Messenia was a striking development, and one wonders who conceived this rather bold plan. Objectively speaking, the final result of the campaign of 370/69, with Sparta still alive but crippled, suited the interests of the Thebans better than those of the other allies. Epaminondas’ personal initiative is stressed in the sources (e.g. Diodorus 15.66.1) and should probably be seen behind a decision that was going to have important consequences both for the initial survival of Messene and for the history of Messenia for centuries to come, the decision to fortify Ithome. Still standing today for long stretches, the imposing fortification wall was the most impressive component of the city for an ancient visitor. Built in stone up to the top, nine kilometers long, it was a true masterpiece of military architecture, exploiting the nature of the terrain to the best effect. Pausanias (4.27.7) explicitly connects the construction of the wall with the liberation of Messenia, insisting that it was built in an extraordinarily short time, and recent studies have shown that in terms of architectural technique a date soon after the liberation of Messenia is likely. Comparison with other fortifications points to the involvement of Theban military architects in the enterprise. [23] This massive work betrays a realistic attitude towards the new polity’s chances of survival if faced with a Spartan onslaught and without external help. Epaminondas must have thought that the Messenians simply had to be in a condition to resist long enough for a rescue army to reach them. The permanence of a strong garrison in the city once Epaminondas left (Diodorus 15.67.1) confirms this point. However, both on a symbolic and on a material level, the imposing walls of Ithome defined in a new way the status of this settlement vis-à-vis the rest of Messenia and the Greek world at large.

Beside the Thebans, Argives and Arcadians both appear to have played an important role in the rebirth of Messene. Pausanias (4.26.7) highlights the intervention of the Argive general Epiteles, chosen to lead an army from Argos to found Messene anew. Epiteles was pointed by a dream towards the place on Mount Ithome where, at the time of the final Spartan conquest of Messenia, the Messenian hero Aristomenes had buried a bronze hydria that contained the texts of the mysteries of the Great Goddesses of Andania. Much in this story shows signs of later elaboration. However, some support for Pausanias’ depiction of the Argives’ participation may come from the fact that one of the tribes of the new Messenian polity carried the name of the Argive Heraclid Daiphontes, like an Argive phatra also did (see below). Moreover, a number of clues seem to suggest that the Argives had been keenly aware for quite a while of the fact that rule over Messenia was the cornerstone of Spartan supremacy. The tradition about the division of the Peloponnese among the Heraclids, which implicitly questioned this situation, seems to have originated in Argos, possibly in the first decades of the fifth century, [25] and according to Thucydides (5.69.1) before the battle of Mantinea in 418 the Argive commanders fired up their troops by reminding them that they were fighting to reestablish isomoiria, that is, equality in the division of the Peloponnese—surely a reference to Sparta’s domination over Cresphontes’ lot, i.e. Messenia. Finally, as mentioned above, the Argives seem to have seen the point of having Messenians in Pylos better than the Athenians themselves had. But this is as close as we can get to definite proof that the liberation of Messenia was really an Argive idea.

3. The New Messenians: The Party Line(s)

One point needs emphasizing, because it has not always received the attention it deserves: according to the Theban version of the liberation of Messenia, there were no Messenians left in the region itself at the time of Epaminondas’ campaign, which should imply that all descendants of the ancient Messenians had left the country after the revolt in the fifth century at the latest. This is made explicit in Pausanias, but is clearly presupposed by Diodorus and Plutarch as well. None of them speaks of liberation of Messenians living in Messenia, and for that matter, no ancient source does. Paradoxically, on this point the Thebans agreed with the Spartans, in that both denied, directly or by implication, that descendants of the once free Messenians lived in the region at the time of Epaminondas’ expedition.

The rest of Greece seems to have taken these conflicting views of the identity of the new Messenians for the expressions of propaganda they were. The clearest evidence of this is provided by the Athenian orator Lycurgus. In his speech against Leocrates, delivered in 330 BCE, he mentioned Troy and Messene as two examples of cities that had been deserted by their inhabitants at some point in the past and never recovered. According to Lycurgus, five hundred years after its destruction Messene had been repopulated by people assembled randomly (Against Leocrates 62). Certainly Lycurgus did not intend to question the legitimacy of the free Messenian state, but he took for granted that the citizens of this state were not the descendants of the Messenians of the past, and he expected his audience to concur. Even Diodorus (15.66.1), an author who is clearly dependent on sources on the whole not hostile to the Thebans, describes the foundation saying that Epaminondas, after summoning all the Messenians he could find, opened up citizen rights in the new city to whoever wished to partake of them.

4. The New Messenians: Facts on the Ground

In the first place, it will be helpful to look at the topography of the new Messenian state, since after all, when Messenia was liberated, it may have been less densely populated than other parts of the Peloponnese, but it was certainly not uninhabited. The city that was growing out of a pre-existing perioikic settlement by Mount Ithome was only a component of the new polity. [32] First of all, the Plain of Stenyklaros and the Soulima Valley, in all likelihood Spartiate land tilled and inhabited by Helots, certainly became part of free Messene, and probably, judging by later history, formed the territory of the new city of Ithome. Moreover, other perioikic settlements became part of Messene, although in some cases it is difficult to tell exactly when. According to Pausanias (4.26.5), Epaminondas had been told by a dream to give back to the Messenians “their fatherland and their poleis,” and later Pausanias indeed refers briefly to the reconstruction of the “other poleis” as taking place parallel to the foundation of Ithome, which he anachronistically calls Messene (4.27.7). Only in the case of Korone, Kyparissia and Koryphasion is ancient evidence available. As noted above, the latter two were compelled to become part of Messene by the Arcadians in 365/4. Korone, according to Pausanias (4.34.5), was formerly called Aipeia and was founded anew when the Thebans brought the Messenians back to the Peloponnese. Its founder was the Boeotian Epimelides of Koroneia. The Arcadian onslaught on Asine, probably in the summer of 369/8, confirms that the western coast of the Messenian gulf north of Asine was not Lacedaemonian any more at that time. If Korone was really founded anew, however formally, it might parallel Ithome, which also rose on the site of a former perioikic town, one that had been the cradle of the revolt in the fifth century but seems nevertheless to have been in continuing existence in the second half of the century. [33]

Of course, even if we could determine with certitude the territorial extension of free Messene, we would still not know exactly who formed its citizen body, for after all an exchange of population on a large scale cannot be ruled out a priori. However, a general look at the inhabitants of Lakonikê in the years before Epaminondas’ expedition suggests that quite a few of them may not have needed a lot of persuasion to become citizens of the new polity. Unrest among the Helots is normally assumed, and with good reason, although the picture of universal revolt as soon as the Theban army invaded Laconia, found in some ancient sources (Xenophon Hellenica 7.2.2; Life of Agesilaos 2.24), is certainly exaggerated. After all, with Epaminondas just across the Eurotas as many as 6,000 Helots were ready to fight for Sparta in return for the promise to be liberated if they fought well (Xenophon Hellenica 6.5.29). [36] Among the perioikoi, not normally suspected of having a seditious disposition by modern scholars, discontent with the Spartiates must have been fairly widespread. According to Xenophon (Hellenica 6.5.25), an embassy of perioikoi had approached Epaminondas as he still hesitated to march into the Spartan territory, offering themselves as hostages and assuring the Theban that, if he only dared to march further, all the perioikoi would revolt against the Spartiates—already now, they said, they hardly responded when summoned to arms. At least some perioikoi really joined the invading army and participated in Epaminondas’ campaign (Hellenica 6.5.32). Incidentally, these Laconian perioikoi must have formed part of the citizen-body of the new city, since they could hardly expect that the Spartans would leave them in peace as soon as the Theban army had left Laconia. On the other hand, perioikic settlements south of Sparta were laid waste by Epaminondas, and the harbor of Gytheion resisted the Theban onslaught (Xenophon Hellenica 6.5.32). In other words, it seems that the rifts in the Spartan state which became conspicuous on the occasion of Epaminondas’ invasion were not clear-cut and did not simply run between Helots on the one side and Spartiates and perioikoi on the other, nor just between Laconia and Messenia.

In conclusion, we should not be too far from the truth in assuming the population of free Messene to have been comprised of former inhabitants of the region, free and unfree, refugees from Laconia, and settlers from abroad. A close look at their cults confirms the general accuracy of this conclusion and helps to some extent in defining the proportions.

5. Messenian Identity in the Fourth Century

The most revealing evidence on how the new Messenians articulated their identity comes from the names of their tribes. As a number of inscriptions from Ithome/Messene shows, the citizen body was divided into five tribes, called Hyllis, Kleolaia, Aristomachis, Kresphontis and Daiphontis. [38] The presence of two of these tribes at Thouria and possibly of one of them at Korone suggests that they applied to all the free Messenians, as one would expect anyway given the usual association between tribes and ethnic identity. [39] The names of the Messenian tribes are transparent. Hyllos was the son of Heracles, Kleolaios Hyllos’ son and the father of Aristomachos, who was in his turn Kresphontes’ father. Daiphontes was a Heraclid from Argos, who had married Temenos’ daughter Hyrnetho. The choice of these heroes as eponymous for the tribes is remarkable. In the Greek world, the names of subdivisions of the citizen body were typically related to ethnic identity, although not in a systematic way: Dorians normally had the three ancestral tribes of the Pamphyloi, Hylleis, and Dymanes, and often a fourth one, and Argadeis, Aigikoreis, Geleontes, and Hopletes recurred in many Ionian cities, though rarely all together. [40] Considering that the Messenian revolt in the fifth century and the myth of the Dorian invasion had established the Messenians as members of the Dorian ethnos, we might have expected the new Messenians to adopt the names of the Dorian tribes, or at least some of them. Actually, this happened only in the case of the tribe Hyllis. The remaining names delineate a subtle and creative strategy of ethnic self-definition. Exploiting the ambivalence between Heraclids and Dorians in the traditions on the division of the Peloponnese, the Messenians were able to connect themselves to a supposed ancestral Heraclid heritage, which constituted the main mythic charter providing legitimacy to the new Messenian state, [41] while at the same time diverting attention from the Dorian identity they shared with the Spartans—a component of their ethnicity they could not altogether erase, since it had been emphasized by fifth-century Messenians.

However, the new tribal names went much further in placing the new political community on the mythic-historical map of Greece in a very precise way. Heraclid myths were particularly important at Argos. Daiphontes, eponymous of one of the Messenian tribes, was a very prominent character in Argive myth-history: he was Temenos’ son-in-law and successor, de facto or only in pectore depending on the version of the myth. He was also the eponymous of a phatra at Argos, while another Argive phatra was named after Kleolaios. [42] Moreover, the Heraclid heritage formed a strong bond between the Messenians and their new protectors the Thebans: Heracles was a quintessentially Boeotian and more specifically Theban hero. His cult seems to have played a part in the initiation of the warriors of the Sacred Band, the elite Theban unit that had crushed the Spartan hoplites at Leuctra; right before the battle, allegedly the weapons dedicated in the temple of Heracles at Thebes had disappeared, signifying that the hero himself was preparing to join the fight. [43] It is important to note that in exactly the same years the Argives themselves were emphasizing their Heraclid heritage to create a mythic connection with Thebes: the “hemicycle of the kings,” a series of ten bronze statues dedicated at Delphi in the aftermath of the alliance between Thebes and Argos and the liberation of Messenia, depicted Heracles and his Argive ancestors all the way back to Danaos. [44] This parallel strengthens the idea that the Heraclid names of the Messenian tribes were meant to establish a connection with the mythic heritage of Thebes. The assemblage of eponymous heroes of the tribes showcased the ancestral claim of the Messenians to their fatherland, while at the same time emphasizing their mythic connections to Argos and Thebes. This peculiar mix of tradition and innovation, or rather this innovation disguised as the most ancestral of traits, defines fourth-century Messenian ethnicity in an important way.

Among the cults documented in Mavromati-Messene itself, only a few can be traced back to the age of the liberation. This is probably the case with the cult of Zeus Ithomatas, practiced in a sacred enclosure on the top of the mountain. [46] Archaeological evidence from there is scarce, but the very first coins struck by the Messenians show an image of Zeus Ithomatas, in an old-fashioned style that was probably meant to suggest some traditional pedigree for the new polity. [47] Material evidence going back to the fourth century is not abundant in the urban area, either, since the sanctuary of Asclepius was completely rebuilt at a later date, covering up to a large extent the traces of earlier phases. The cult in the archaic sanctuary omega-omega continues undisturbed from the archaic period to the late fourth or early third century, when the shrine was totally rebuilt, apparently after being destroyed by a fire. Some of the rather scanty evidence on the early architectural phases of the sanctuary may refer to new buildings erected at the time of the liberation of Messenia. [48] The cult of the Dioscuri is explicitly attested by a votive inscription on a bronze shield dating slightly before the destruction (SEG 45.302). It is not completely certain how far back this cult goes, but the iconography of the dedications would be consistent with their presence from early on. In other words, the cult of the Dioscuri may conceivably have been introduced in this sanctuary at the time of the liberation of Messenia, but it is at least as likely that it simply continued from the period before. The same can be said with more confidence of the kourotrophic deity whose cult is suggested by the iconography of archaic terracottas from the omega-omega sanctuary. [49] In the soundings south of the later temple of Asclepius traces of buildings and an altar have been found that can be connected with Epaminondas’ foundation, but even here it is impossible to say with certainty, on the basis of the votives of classical date, which deity or deities were worshipped in this shrine. Asclepius is extremely likely to have been among them, given his importance in the later history of the sanctuary and the fact that anatomic ex-votos have been found among the materials associated with these early buildings. [50] Traces of cult go back to the archaic age, and it is ultimately only the fact that the cult of Asclepius was apparently expanding precisely in the late fifth and early fourth century that suggests that it may have been introduced here at the time of the liberation of Messenia. Also to be dated in the fourth century, probably close to 369, is a small prostyle temple dedicated to Artemis Orthia. [51]

Asclepius was still a new god in the early fourth century. Even though his early temple may not have been as uniquely prominent among the sanctuaries of the new city as the later Doric temple would be, it is fair to say that the location of his cult speaks in favor of its importance from the beginning. One of the traditions about Asclepius’ birth connected it with Messenia, especially with the eastern coast of the Messenian gulf, [52] and this could explain to some extent why he became part of the pantheon of the new city. Besides the popularity of the cult in the early fourth century, its relative novelty, and the traditions on the Messenian origin of the god, there may be one further reason for its introduction into the pantheon of the free Messenians. The center from which the cult of Asclepius spread was Epidauros, a longstanding object of Argive covetousness and therefore a staunch ally of Sparta, one of the very few that did not desert the Spartans after Leuctra. [53] One version of the myth of the Heraclids in the Argolid attributed the conquest of Epidauros to Daiphontes. By Pausanias’ time at the latest, the Epidaurians had appropriated Daiphontes and his wife Hyrnetho, daughter of Temenos, but the quarrel between Argives and Epidaurians as to which city had Hyrnetho’s tomb (Pausanias 2. 28.3–7) suggests that Daiphontes, too, was a likely object of dispute, in which case one can see the two sides interpreting in diverging ways Daiphontes’ role at Epidaurus: founder for the Epidaurians, conqueror for the Argives. It would be tempting to see in the Messenian cult of Asclepius also the reflection of an attempt by the Argives to hijack the main god of their enemies the Epidaurians. However, given the fragmentary nature of the evidence, this hypothesis has to remain somewhat tentative.

6. Messenian Ethnogenesis

In the end, one has the impression that in some key aspects the emergence of the new Messenians in the fourth century resembled fifth-century Messenian ethnogenesis. To be sure, massive external intervention in the form of Epaminondas’ campaign and later of ongoing military activity by the Arcadians in southwestern Messenia constitutes an important difference, and the likely influx of population from outside the region was a new factor, too. Beside this, though, the foundation of Messenian identity was still the same: opposition to Sparta. As Thomas Figueira (1999:224) put it, “instead of reflecting genealogy, feeling ‘Messenian’ or identifying oneself as ‘Messenian’ appears to be inversely correlated with the degree of compliance with the Spartan government and with the Spartiates as a social class.” Figueira refers to the fifth century, but his formulation seems to hold true to a significant extent for the citizens of free Messene, as well.

The idea that, in spite of a myth of foundation based on an exile and return story, the roots of the new Messenian ethnogenesis of the fourth century lay partly in Messenia itself may receive some support from a very important and characteristically Messenian class of evidence, later materials deposited in Bronze Age tombs. [57] The interpretation of this corpus of evidence is anything but straightforward. In very general terms, since there can be little doubt that Bronze Age tombs were recognized as such, the cult practiced in them was in all likelihood addressed to previous inhabitants of the region. It may be less than crucial from our perspective to decide whether such previous inhabitants were seen as heroes or as ancestors by the worshippers. [58] In either case, they were clearly perceived as a powerful presence that had to be appeased, and one that had a particularly close connection to the territory. Cult created a special relationship between the worshippers and these powers. For an understanding of the meaning of this relationship, the perceptions of the past in whose framework it was embedded are of decisive importance. We cannot be absolutely certain that, prior to the liberation of Messenia, these ancestral dead were not seen as part of a purely Laconian view of the past of the region, but by the mid-fifth century the idea that the region west of the Taygetos was a later addition to the original Spartan lot was widespread enough to suggest that most probably the Bronze Age tombs were seen as pre-Spartan and by implication as Messenian. The absence of comparable evidence of cult at Bronze Age tombs from Laconia somewhat reinforces this conclusion.


To conclude, the birth of a free Messenian polity was made possible by an extraordinary convergence of favorable conditions. It could not have happened without the Theban victory at Leuctra and subsequent invasion of Laconia. Arcadian and Argive involvement was clearly very important, and a peculiar ethnic dynamic in the Peloponnese must have made it easier for the new ethnic entity to be accepted as such. However, the preexistence of Messenian ethnicity and the fact that it had meanwhile gained some acceptance throughout the Greek world were necessary preconditions for the success of the new polity carved out of the Lacedaemonian state. Massive external influence on the shape of Messenian ethnicity should not completely divert our attention from the very important fact that cultic activity at Bronze Age tombs may point to the articulation of claims of Messenian identity from the last decades of the fifth century in parts of the region that would become free Messene in 369. If that is correct, upon gaining their freedom thanks to the Theban victory, these Messenians probably sacrificed their own constructions of their past to the Messenian master narrative that was to survive in the written sources, without any contrasting voice but the—equally self-interested, equally implausible—Spartan image of the city of slaves.


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Roussel, D. 1976. Tribu et cité. Études sur les groupes sociaux dans les cites grecques aux époques archaïque et classique. Paris.

Salviat, F. 1965. “L’offrande argienne de l’«hémicycle des rois» à Delphes et l’Héraclès béotien.” BCH 89:307–314.

Shipley, G. 2004. “Messenia.” An Inventory of Archaic and Classical Poleis (eds. M. H. Hansen and T. H. Nielsen) 547–568. Oxford.

Themelis, P. G. 1994. “Artemis Ortheia at Messene: The Epigraphical and Archaeological Evidence.” Ancient Greek Cult Practice from the Epigraphical Evidence (ed. R. Hagg) 101–122. Stockholm.

———. 1998. “The sanctuary of Demeter and the Dioscouri at Messene.” Ancient Greek Cult Practice from the Archaeological Evidence (ed. R. Hägg) 157–186. Stockholm.

———. 2000. Ἥρωες καὰ ἡρῶα στὴ Μεσσήνη. Athens.

Zunino, M. L. 1997. Hiera messeniaka. La storia religiosa della Messenia dall’Età Micenea all’Età Ellenistica. Udine


[ back ] * The present contribution forms a part of a wider project, which has meanwhile appeared in book form (Luraghi 2008). The author wishes to thank the participants to the Münster conference and the anonymous referee for their helpful comments.

[ back ] 1. After Roebuck 1941, see now Grandjean 2003, with groundbreaking work on the numismatic evidence.

[ back ] 2. Rhegion was supposedly a joint Chalcidian-Messenian colony; see Luraghi 1994:193–215 with further references.

[ back ] 3. Most conspicuously, the adoption of modified forms of Spartan cults and myths; see e.g. Luraghi 1997 on the cult of Artemis.

[ back ] 4. As suggested by Hall 2003:154n62. Note however that the dedications of weapons by the Methanioi strongly suggest that the idea that the Messenians were actually Dorians originated in Messenia itself, in connection with the fifth-century revolt at the latest; see Luraghi 2001a:288–289. For the use of the ethnic in the Ionic form by the Messenians of Sicily, see the dedications of weapons in Olympia SEG 24.313, 314 (victory over the Mylaioi, soon after the foundation, Luraghi 1994:213), 304, 305 (victory over the Locrians, before 477 BCE, Luraghi 1994:216) and Mikythos’ dedications, IvO 267–269 (after 467 BCE, Luraghi 1994:226). On coins, the shift from the Ionic to the Doric form seems to occur around 450 BCE, Caccamo Caltabiano 1993:67–69.

[ back ] 5. On the revolt following the earthquake, see Luraghi 2001a.

[ back ] 6. See Freitag 1996:78–82; Jacquemin and Laroche 1982:198–199.

[ back ] 7. Thucydides 3.94–98; see also 3.105–113. Note that, according to Thucydides, it was the Messenians who urged Demosthenes to undertake the campaign and offered advice. Collaboration between Demosthenes and the Messenians of Naupaktos would continue in the Pylos campaign.

[ back ] 8. Thucydides 4.36.

[ back ] 9. From the late summer of 421 to the winter of 419; see Thucydides 5.35.6–7 and 5.56.2–3.

[ back ] 10. Matthaiou and Matrokostas 2000–2003.

[ back ] 11. Thucydides 2.9.4, Diodorus 12.60.1.

[ back ] 12. Cf. Diodorus 14.34.2. Notice that Thucydides gives signs of not being inclined to take too seriously the Messenian identity of this motley crew, witness his use of the expression “those who are now called the Messenians” (7.57.8). He was not alone in his moderately pro-Spartan take on the Messenian question: as we know from the Attic stêlai, Alcibiades’ uncle Axiochus, one of the Hermocopids, had named one of his slaves Messênios, and since it is quite unlikely that the man was really a Messenian, his name must have been a sarcastic statement about the true nature of “those who are now called the Messenians” (see Rosivach 1999:129n3).

[ back ] 13. Figueira 1999:215.

[ back ] 14. Jacquemin and Laroche 1982:192–199, who suggest a date before the thirty-years peace. The dedicatory inscription is SEG 32.550.

[ back ] 15. For the dedicatory inscription, see Meiggs-Lewis 74. The best study of the monument is still Hölscher 1974, especially helpful on the political implications of the dedication and the Spartans’ reaction to it, which confirms that they perceived the monument as a challenge.

[ back ] 16. As usual with numbers provided by Greek historians, it is difficult to decide what to do with Diodorus’ data. At any rate, Diodorus seems to refer to men of fighting age, and the impression that the largest contingent of the Messenian diaspora was the one that took the route to North Africa is supported by Pausanias (4.26.2), who however says that they went to Euhesperides not Cyrene.

[ back ] 17. It should not go unnoticed that the name of the new city implies a claim to the Tyndarids, traditionally seen as Spartan (a similar claim in Pausanias 3.26.3 and 4.31.9); this is confirmed by the iconography of the first coins of the new city, which show Helen and the Dioscuri. See Consolo Langher 1965. We have here one example of the construction of a Messenian identity that was based on disputing traditional elements of the Spartan heritage; for more, see below.

[ back ] 18. The anonymous referee suggests the likely possibility that these Messenians were Messenian-Naupaktian marines from the Ionian War who had stayed loyal to Conon after Aigospotamoi.

[ back ] 19. Lewis 1977:28.

[ back ] 20. Further indications of the Argives’ awareness that Messenia could be turned into Sparta’s Achilles’ heel are discussed below.

[ back ] 21. Thucydides 1.103.1 and Figueira 1999:234–235.

[ back ] 22. For a detailed reconstruction of the campaign, with references to sources and bibliography, see Buckler 1980:70–90.

[ back ] 23. By far the most detailed investigation of the fortifications of Messene is provided by Müth-Herda 2005:42–139. I would like to thank Silke Müth-Herda for providing me with a copy of her dissertation.

[ back ] 24. Pausanias mentions two statues of Epaminondas in Messene, one in the stoa of the Asklepieion, built approximately in the first half of second century BCE (see Chlepa 2001:79–80), the other in the hierothusion (Pausanias 4.31.10 and 32.1 respectively; see Themelis 2000:45). Especially the position of the former, among the main gods of Messene, suggests that the Theban general was regarded in some sense as the founder of the city. However, pace Leschhorn 1984:164–166, there is no evidence for a cult for Epaminondas in Messene. The facility with which the sentence “By my counsels … holy Messene receives at last her children” from the epigram that accompanied Epaminondas’ statue in Thebes (Pausanias 9.15.6) is paraphrased by Pausanias as “Epaminondas was the founder (oikistês) of Messene” (Pausanias 9.15.5; cf. also 14.5) is a warning.

[ back ] 25. Luraghi 2001b.

[ back ] 26. Pretzler, this volume.

[ back ] 27. Dipersia 1974:54–61 collects the basic evidence; see also Grandjean 2003:54–57. For the Spartan and Theban views, see Asheri 1983:36–39 and Luraghi 2002:63.

[ back ] 28. Isocrates Archidamos 28; as Dipersia 1974:58 subtly notes, this speaks to shared perceptions of slavery, trying to win for the Spartans the sympathy of the other Greeks.

[ back ] 29. Jehne 1994:11n21 with further references. The fact that similar views are voiced by the Spartans in Xenophon, Hellenica 7.4.9 speaks moderately in favor of taking Isocrates’ Archidamos as a reasonably reliable representation of Spartan views.

[ back ] 30. The epigram is quoted in full only by Pausanias 9.15.6, but seems to have been quite well known; Cicero, Tusculan disputations 5.17.49 quotes the first verse. The grande rentrée of the Messenians appears in Diodorus 15.66.6, in Plutarch’s Pelopidas 24.5 and Life of Agesilaos 34.1, and, with fuller detail, in Pausanias 4.26.5, who specifies that Epaminondas summoned the Messenians from Italy, Sicily, and Euhesperides, where they had fled when the Spartans, after defeating Athens, had expelled them from Naupaktos.

[ back ] 31. The return of Messene under Spartan control was the clause that pushed the Thebans to refuse the peace that Philiskos of Abydos was trying to broker in 368 (Xenophon Hellenica 7.1.27); the freedom of Messene was one of the requests of Pelopidas at Susa and one of the conditions of the peace the Thebans unsuccessfully tried to have the Greeks agree upon in 367 (Xenophon Hellenica 7.1.36, 7.1.39; Diodorus 15.81.3). See Jehne 1994:79–90, Grandjean 2003:65–67.

[ back ] 32. Roebuck 1941:37n54 first realized that the new city itself was called Ithome, while Messene was the name of the new Messenian polity, which probably included more towns, former perioikic settlements, connected to Ithome in some sort of federation. Recently, Grandjean 2003:93–98 has argued against Roebuck; note however that the ethnic “Ithomaeans” is by far the most likely supplement for SEG 43.135 line 9, adding one more source to Roebuck’s dossier. See also Plutarch Pelopidas 24.9, not considered by Grandjean, and compare the use of “Messene” as name of the region in fifth-century authors such as Pherecydes (fr. 117 Fowler = FGH 3 F 117), Hellanicus (fr. 124a and 125 Fowler = FGH 4 F 124 and 323a F 23), Euripides fr. 1083, and Aristophanes Lysistrata 1141

[ back ] 33. Note that Pausanias’ insistence on the fact that the city at the foot of Mount Ithome had no predecessors in the centuries before could betray the attempt to disguise the continuity between new Messenians and old perioikoi, and would match the representation of the new polity as formed totally by old Messenians returning from exile, which was the official Theban line.

[ back ] 34. IG V 1.1370, lines 24–25. On Hippothoos see Pausanias 8.5.4; 10.3 (sacrilege and death) and especially 45.7 (Hippothoos depicted in the Calydonian hunt on the pediment of the mid-fourth century temple of Athena Aleia, the most prominent monument of Tegea); there was a tribe Hippothoontis in Tegea, IG V 2.39 and 40, Pausanias 8.53.6. It should be noted however that a Spartan Hippothoos appears in the list of the sons of Hippokoon killed by Heracles given by Apollodorus (3.10.5).

[ back ] 35. On the fortification walls of Thouria, see Hope Simpson 1966:123–124, whose chronology is to be revised in light of Müth-Herda 2005. For the likelihood that Thouria joined Messene in 369, see also Shipley 2004:566. Traces of offerings connected with one of the Bronze Age chamber tombs at Thouria, whose start coincides with the liberation of Messenia, would point in the same direction; see Chatzi-Spiliopoulou 2001.

[ back ] 36. Although the measure was exceptional, the practice was not new. Between 425 and 369, the Spartans seem to have had recourse rather frequently to the recruitment of large contingents of Helots with the promise of freedom (after the campaign for which they had been recruited?), especially for expeditions abroad; these were the Neodamodeis, on whom see Ducat 1990:160–161. Cozzoli 1978:223–224 is probably right to suggest a connection between this phenomenon and Sparta’s willingness to allow Dionysius the First to recruit large contingents of mercenaries among the Lacedaemonians (Diodorus 14.44.2; 58.1).

[ back ] 37. In favor of the presence of Messenians of the diaspora, see now Grandjean 2003:57.

[ back ] 38. Jones 1987:146–148.

[ back ] 39. On the tribes at Thouria, see IG V 1.1386, and Jones 1987:148–149. The tribe Kleolaia seems to be mentioned in an inscription from Petalidi, ancient Korone, which has been made known recently, SEG 48. 514 J; the second line should read ]λ̣εολαιας δευ[, as I could verify during a visit to the Benaki Museum in Kalamata in March 2005.

[ back ] 40. On Dorian and Ionian tribes, see Roussel 1976:193–263.

[ back ] 41. Luraghi 2001b.

[ back ] 42. On Daiphontes’ genealogy, see Pausanias 2.19.1. Harder 1991:126–128 discusses various versions of his role in the succession to Temenos. On the phatrai of the Daiphontees and Kleodaidai at Argos see Piérart 1985:282–284. On the Argive phatrai, subdivisions of the tribes, see also Jones 1987:113.

[ back ] 43. The “miracle” is reported by Xenophon Hellenica 6.4.7; cf. Callisthenes FGH 124 F 22a, Diodorus 15.53.4, the latter crediting Epaminondas with engineering it. Note that the Herakles’ Theban connections were made explicit at Messene in the assemblage of statues in the western stoa of the Hellenistic Asklepieion, where Herakles and the personification of the city of Thebes flanked Epaminondas; see Themelis 2000:43.

[ back ] 44. See Pausanias 10.10.5 and, on the form and political meaning of the monument, Salviat 1965.

[ back ] 45. On the pervasive connection between cults and ethnicity in Greek culture see Parker 1998:16–21.

[ back ] 46. See Zunino 1997:103–107.

[ back ] 47. Grandjean 2003:59–65.

[ back ] 48. See Themelis 1998:157–161.

[ back ] 49. Papaefthymiou 2001–2002.

[ back ] 50. Themelis 2000:22–23.

[ back ] 51. Themelis 1994:101–106.

[ back ] 52. Luraghi 2006:180–181.

[ back ] 53. On the conflictual relations between Epidauros and Argos, see now Piérart 2004:27–30.

[ back ] 54. On the iconography of the plaques, admittedly not very specific, see Themelis 1998.

[ back ] 55. The same combination of cults with strong Spartan associations (Apollo Karneios), local cults (the river-god Pamisos), and possible newcomers (the Great Gods at Andania) is found in Messenian territory. See the evidence collected in Zunino 1997 and for the possible Boeotian origin of the Great Gods, see Guarducci 1934:84.

[ back ] 56. Luraghi 2002:65.

[ back ] 57. The best survey of the evidence is Boehringer 2001:243–325; add now Chatzi-Spiliopoulou 2001.

[ back ] 58. See the discussion in Antonaccio 1995:245–268. At any rate, the terracotta plaques strongly suggest heroic cult, especially considering the parallels from Laconia; see Boehringer 2001:291.

[ back ] 59. Alcock 1991.

[ back ] 60. Figueira 1999:240n56.

[ back ] 61. See Coulson and Wilkie 1983:337 and plan 7–2. The building is much more substantial than those whose traces have been located in the pre-third-century strata of the omega-omega complex and in the courtyard of the Asklepieion at Mavromati/Messene. The pottery associated with the building appears to be contemporary with the pottery found in the tholos.