UP TO 14 GUESTS
4 Days Private Tour: Corinth-Mycenae-Nafplio-Olympia-Delphi & Meteora
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Greek History private tour
- Corinth Canal
- Ancient Corinth
- The picturesque town of Nafplio – Bourtzi
- Ancient Olympia – Archaeological Museum Olympia
- Rio – Antirio Bridge
- Village of Delphi
- The Oracle of Delphi – Museum of Delphi
- Sanctuary Athena Pronea – Gymnasium
- Drive to Meteora
- The Monasteries of Meteora
- Kalambaka Village
- Thermopylae’s Battlefield – Leonidas statue
- Drive to Athens
This tour is an excellent way to visit several sites of Greece in 4 days while also spending time in the Peloponnese peninsula, a tour that will introduce you to the most important periods of Greek History. The tour starts with a drive to the Corinth Canal following the coast of the western suburbs of Athens through Olympia Highway. On the way, you will have a view of some Greek seaside villages and the island of Salamis (where the historical naval battle was held between the Athenians and Persians 480 BCE). Our first stop is going to be the Corinth Canal. Opened in 1892 separating the Peloponnese peninsula from the rest of Greece and connecting the Saronic Gulf to the Corinthian Sea. You will have time to walk across on a pedestrian bridge to admire the canal closer, (if you’re game) on some days bungee jumping is an option.
Moving on we will make our way to Ancient Corinth. This ancient city was dominated by the hill of Acrocorinth and the old Castle, the biggest and oldest castle in southern Greece. Ancient Corinth is located at the foot of the hill and includes the Roman Agora of Corinth, the temple of God Apollo and a small museum. Away from its archaeological and historical interest Ancient Corinth is also one of the most popular religious destinations in Greece. This was where the Apostle Paul preached Christianity, was judged by the tribunal in the Agora and established the best organized Christian church of that period.
Driving along the eastern coast of the Peloponnese peninsula we will reach Ancient Epidaurus and the sanctuary of god Asclepius, the god of Medicine, located in a peaceful environment. The best-preserved ancient Greek theater dated 4th century BCE, proof of what miracles the ancient Greek minds could create. You can test the acoustics great even today and climb up until the upper seats just to close your eyes and dream you attended an ancient Greek tragedy.
Continuing, after a short drive, we will reach Mycenae, the site that changed everything we thought we knew about of Mycenae, dated back to the 2nd Millennium BCE, and representing the era of Achilles, Agamemnon, and Helen of Troy. In the site, you will see the renowned Lions Gate (the oldest architectural sculpture in Europe), the cyclopean walls, the burial circle A and the remains of Agamemnon’s Palace. Within the site, there is a modern museum exhibiting the findings of the “City Of Gold” before leaving the site we will make a small stop at the treasury of Atreus, the best-preserved Tholos tomb, one of the finest examples of the Mycenaean architecture.
After that we will travel towards a more recent history of Greece to the city of Nafplion, considered the most scenic city and functioned as the capital of Greece until 1834. It offers you an outstanding combination of fortresses and castle (Palamidi), Bourtzi, a huge port opened to the Aegean Sea and the unique architecture of the old city of Nafplion revealing Venetian, neoclassical and oriental elements. After walking in the idyllic old city we will stop for lunch at a traditional tavern by the sea, and drive up to the castle of Acronafplia for a panoramic view of Nafplio.
Our last drive for the day will be towards Ancient Olympia driving by the cities of Tripoli and Megalopoli finally reaching the western coast opened towards the Ionia Sea. At Ancient Olympia we will stop at a hotel and you will have the time to enjoy the small village in the evening.
On this day, we will visit the archaeological site and the museum of Ancient Olympia. One of the largest sites in Greece, the birthplace of the Olympic Games and the Sanctuary of Olympian Zeus. Walking in the site you will pass by the Gymnasium, the Palaistra, the workshop of Phidias, the temple of Zeus and you will end up at the Stadium where every four years the Greeks competed for glory and for spiritual elevation, honoring their cities. The museum is also unique as it includes the renowned statue “Hermes of Praxiteles” with its perfect analogies and tools that belonged to Phidias himself. With these tools, he managed to create one of the Seven Wonders of the World “the gold ivory statue of Zeus”.
After the site we will head towards Delphi, driving by the port of Patra (the western Capital of Greece), we will reach the bridge (Charilaos Trikoupis) of Rio – Antirio that connects the Peloponnese peninsula to the Greek mainland. Considered a miracle of engineering this bridge, one of the world’s longest multi-span cable-stayed bridges and the longest of the fully suspended type. Crossing the bridge we will find Nafpaktos a small town by the sea where we will make a small stop for lunch at a traditional Greek tavern having a view towards the battlefield where the naval battle of Lepanto took place in 1571, between the Ottoman Empire and the united western powers. Following we will drive up the slopes of mountain Parnassus, on our way you will have the opportunity to see the huge valley of olive trees representing the Greek olive sea. Passing through the village of Delphi we will stop at the mountainous village of Arachova to spend the night. Arachova is very close to a ski resort, full of traditional houses and shops selling locally produced products. You can walk through the village with its narrow streets and shops on the central street having a breathtaking view of the mountains full of olive trees literally in front of you.
After spending the night at Arachova we will have a short drive to Delphi in order to visit the archaeological museum of Delphi and the site. Delphi is an ancient Greek sanctuary with a catholic character dedicated to God Apollo. It functioned as an Oracle and was considered ‘the naval’ the center of the world and is today a symbol of Greek cultural unity. The scenic location allows you to have a view of the Greek mountains and two more sites the Gymnasium and the secondary sanctuary of Athena Pronea. In the site, you will visit the Temple of Apollo where Pythia spoke to the oracles, the theater, and the stadium. While in the museum you will be able to see the famous charioteer and Gold Ivory statues. After the site, we will have our lunch at the modern village of Delphi with a view of the mountains of Fokis. Our trip will continue with a drive through the mountains, not taking the national highway, to see the real Greek countryside passing by the cities of Lamia, Trikala, and Karditsa we will reach Kalambaka, a beautiful small city that is dominated by the Meteora rocks standing upon it. Reaching the small town we will settle at the hotel and then drive up around the hills for an evening photo tour on the rocks under the Greek sunset. Returning into town you will have free time at Kalambaka until the next day.
The following day we’ll start in the morning for a visit to the monasteries and a closer look at the holy rocks. On the rocks that are like suspended in the air (that’s what Meteora means) there is one of the largest and most important complexes of Eastern Orthodox Monasteries still in use. Meteora combines natural beauty and cultural heritage a fact that makes them a unique destination between the world’s monuments.
Moving on after having our lunch at Kalambaka we will start heading towards Athens and to our last stop. On our way back we will meet the battlefield of Thermopylae’s. In the historical center of the site, you will enjoy a 3D movie, traveling through the time you will feel the presence of all who died for their freedom under a foreign conqueror. To complete the visit you will see the statue of Leonidas standing right opposite Kolonos Hill where the persisting Spartans left their last breath and after that, we will drive back to Athens.
Inclusions - Exclusions
Private Tours are personal and flexible just for you and your party.
- Professional Drivers with Deep knowledge of history. [Not licensed to accompany you in any site.]
- Accommodation and breakfast (according to your booking)
- Hotel pickup and drop-off
- Guaranteed to skip the long lines / Tickets are NOT included.
- Bottled water
- Licensed Tour guide on request (Additional cost)
- Accommodation and breakfast (according to your booking)
- Entrance Fees
- Personal expenses (drinks, meals, etc.)
- Airport Pick Up and drop-off (Additional cost)
ADMISSION FEES FOR SITES:
Summer Period: 73€per person
(1 April – 31 October)
Ancient Corinth: 8€ (08:00- 20:00)
Epidaurus: 12€ (08:00- 20:00)
Mycenae: 12€ (08:00- 20:00)
Palamidi Castle: 8€ (08:00- 20:00)
Ancient Olympia: 12€ (08:00- 20:00)
Delphi: 12€ (08:00- 20:00)
Meteora Monasteries: (3€ per monastery)
St. Stephen’s Nunnery 09:00 -13:30 and 15:30 –17:30 (Mondays closed)
Great Meteoron Monastery 09:00 –15:00 (Tuesdays closed)
Roussanou Monastery 09:00 -16:00 (Wednesdays closed)
Holy Trinity Monastery 09:00 -16:00 (Thursdays closed)
Varlaam Monastery 09:00 –16:00 (Fridays closed)
St. Nikolaos Anapafsas Monastery 09:00 -17:00 (Fridays closed)
Thermopylae’s Historical Center: 3€ (09:00- 17:00)
Winter Period: 41€ per person
(1 November – 31 March)
Ancient Corinth: 4€ (08:00- 15:30)
Epidaurus: 6€ (08:00- 15:30)
Mycenae: 6€ (08:00- 15:30)
Palamidi Castle: 4€ (08:30- 15:30)
Ancient Olympia: 6€ (08:00- 15:00)
Delphi: 6€ (08:00- 15:30)
Meteora Monasteries: (3€ per monastery)
St. Stephen’s Nunnery 09:30 -13:00 and 15:00 –17:00 (Mondays closed)
Great Meteoron Monastery 09:00 –14:00 (Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays closed)
Roussanou Monastery 09:00 -14:00 (Wednesdays closed)
Holy Trinity Monastery 10:00 -16:00 (Thursdays closed)
Varlaam Monastery 09:00 –15:00 (Thursdays, Fridays closed)
St. Nikolaos Anapafsas Monastery 09:00 -15:00 (Fridays closed)
Thermopylae’s Historical Center: 3€ (09:00- 17:00)
Free admission days:
- 6 March (in memory of Melina Mercouri)
- 18 April (International Monuments Day)
- 18 May (International Museums Day)
- The last weekend of September annually (European Heritage Days)
- Every first Sunday from November 1st to March 3rd
- 28 October
- 1 January: closed
- 25 March: closed
- 1 May: closed
- Easter Sunday: closed
- 25 December: closed
- 26 December: closed
Free admission for:
- Escorting teachers during the visits of schools and institutions of Primary, Secondary and Tertiary education and of military schools.
- Members of Societies and Associations of Friends of Museums and Archaeological Sites throughout Greece with the demonstration of certified membership card
- Members of the ICOM-ICOMOS
- Persons possessing a free admission card
- The employees of the Hellenic Ministry of Culture and Sports and the Archaeological Receipts Fund, upon presentation of their service ID card.
- The official guests of the Greek government, with the approval of the General Director of Antiquities.
- Young people, under the age of 18, after demonstrating the Identity Card or passport to confirm the age.
Reduced admission for:
- Greek citizens and citizens of other Member – States of the European Union who are over 65 years old, upon presentation of their ID card or passport for verification of their age and country of origin.
- Holders of a solidarity card
- Holders of a valid unemployment card.
- Large families’ parents of children up to 23 yrs old, or up to 25 yrs old (on military service/studying), or child with disabilities regardless the age, having a certified pass of large families, certification from the Large Family Association or a family status certificate issued by the Municipality
- Persons with disabilities (67 % or over) and one escort, upon presentation of the certification of disability issued by the Ministry of Health or a medical certification from a public hospital, where the disability and the percentage of disability are clearly stated.
- Single-parent families with minors, upon presentation of a family status certificate issued by the Municipality. In the case of divorced parents, only the parent holding custody of the children
- The police officers of the Department of Antiquity Smuggling of the Directorate of Security
- Tourist guides upon presentation of their professional ID card.
- University students and students at Technological Educational Institutes or equivalent schools from countries outside the EU by showing their student ID.
The famous Corinth Canal connects the Gulf of Corinth with the Saronic Gulf in the Aegean Sea. It cuts through the narrow Isthmus of Corinth and separates the Peloponnesian peninsula from the Greek mainland, thus effectively making the former an island. The canal is 6.4 kilometers in length and only 21.3 meters wide at its base. Earth cliffs flanking either side of the canal reach a maximum height of 63 meters. Aside from a few modest-sized cruise ships, the Corinth Canal is unserviceable to most modern ships. The Corinth Canal, though only completed in the late 19th century, was an idea and dream that dates back over 2000 thousand years.
Before it was built, ships sailing between the Aegean and Adriatic had to circumnavigate the Peloponnese adding about 185 nautical miles to their journey. The first to decide to dig the Corinth Canal was Periander, the tyrant of Corinth (602 BCE). Such a giant project was above the technical capabilities of ancient times so Periander carried out another great project, the diolkós, a stone road, on which the ships were transferred on wheeled platforms from one sea to the other. Dimitrios Poliorkitis, king of Macedon (c. 300 BCE), was the second who tried, but his engineers insisted that if the seas where connected, the more northerly Adriatic, mistakenly thought to be higher, would flood the more southern Aegean. At the time, it was also thought that Poseidon, the god of the sea, opposed joining the Aegean and the Adriatic. The same fear also stopped Julius Caesar and Emperors Hadrian and Caligula. The most serious try was that of Emperor Nero (67 CE). He had 6,000 slaves for the job. He started the work himself, digging with a golden hoe, while music was played. However, he was killed before the work could be completed.
In the modern era, the first who thought seriously to carry out the project was Kapodistrias (c. 1830), the first governor of Greece after the liberation from the Ottoman Turks. But the budget, estimated at 40 million French francs, was too much for the Greek state. Finally, in 1869, the Parliament authorized the Government to grant a private company (Austrian General Etienne Tyrr) the privilege to construct the Canal of Corinth. Work began on Mar 29, 1882, but Tyrr’s capital of 30 million francs proved to be insufficient. The work was restarted in 1890, by a new Greek company (Andreas Syggros), with a capital of 5 million francs. The job was finally completed and regular use of the Canal started on Oct 28, 1893. Due to the canal’s narrowness, navigational problems and periodic closures to repair landslips from its steep walls, it failed to attract the level of traffic anticipated by its operators. It is now used mainly for tourist traffic. The bridge above is perfect for bungee jumping.
Located on the isthmus which connects mainland Greece with the Peloponnese, surrounded by fertile plains and blessed with natural springs, Corinth was an important city in Greek, Hellenistic, and Roman times. Its geographical location, role as a center of trade, naval fleet, participation in various Greek wars, and status as a major Roman colony meant the city was, for over a millennium, rarely out of the limelight in the ancient world.
CORINTH IN MYTHOLOGY
Not being a major Mycenaean center, Corinth lacks the mythological heritage of other Greek city-states. Nevertheless, the mythical founder of the city was believed to have been King Sisyphus, famed for his punishment in Hades where he was made to forever roll a large boulder up a hill. Sisyphus was succeeded by his son Glaucus and his grandson Bellerophon, whose winged-horse Pegasus became a symbol of the city and a feature of Corinthian coins. Corinth is also the setting for several other episodes from Greek mythology such as Theseus’ hunt for the wild boar, Jason settled there with Medea after his adventures looking for the Golden Fleece, and there is the myth of Arion – the real-life and gifted kithara player and resident of Corinth – who was rescued by dolphins after being abducted by pirates.
The city was first inhabited in the Neolithic period (c. 5000 BCE) but became more densely populated from the 10th century BCE. The historical founders were the aristocratic descendants of King Bacchis, the Bacchiadae (c. 750 BCE). The Bacchiadae ruled as a body of 200 until in 657 BCE when the popular tyrant Cypselus took control of the city, to be succeeded by his son Periander (627 – 587 BCE). Cypselus funded the building of a treasury at Delphi and set up new colonies.
From the 8th century BCE, Corinthian pottery was exported across Greece. With its innovative figure decoration, it dominated the Greek pottery market until the 6th century BCE when Attic black-figure pottery took over as the dominant style. Other significant exports were Corinthian stone and bronze wares. Corinth also became the hub of trade through the diolkos. This was a stone track with carved grooves for wheeled wagons which offered a land short-cut between the two seas and probably dates to the reign of Periander. In the Peloponnesian War, the diolkos was even used to transport triremes. Although the idea for a canal across the isthmus was first considered in the 7th century BCE and various Roman Emperors from Julius Caesar to Hadrian began surveys, it was Nero who actually began the project (67 CE). However, on the emperor’s death, the project was abandoned, not to be resumed until 1881.
From the early 6th century BCE, Corinth administered the PanHellenic games at nearby Isthmia, held every two years in the spring. These games were established in honor of Poseidon and were particularly famous for their horse and chariot races.
An oligarchy, consisting of a council of 80, gained power in Corinth (585 BCE). Concerned with the local rival, Argos, from 550 BCE Corinth became an ally of Sparta. During Cleomenes’ reign though, the city became wary of the growing power of Sparta and opposed Spartan intervention in Athens. Corinth also fought in the Persian Wars against the invading forces of Xerxes which threatened the autonomy of all of Greece.
Corinth suffered badly in the First Peloponnesian War, which it was responsible for after attacking Megara. Later it was also guilty of causing the Second Peloponnesian War, in 433 BCE. Once again though, the Corinthians, mainly as Sparta’s naval ally, had a disastrous war. Disillusioned with Sparta and concerned over Spartan expansion in Greece and Asia Minor, Corinth formed an alliance with Argos, Boeotia, Thebes, and Athens to fight Sparta in the Corinthian Wars (395 – 386 BCE). The conflict was largely fought at sea and on Corinthian territory and was yet another costly endeavor for the citizens of Corinth.
Corinth became the seat of the Corinthian League, but losing a war against Philip II of Macedon (338 BCE) this ‘honor’ was a Macedonian garrison being stationed on the Acrocorinth acropolis overlooking the city.
A succession of Hellenistic kings took control of the city – starting with Ptolemy I and ending with Aratus in 243 BCE when Corinth joined the Achaean League. However, the worst was yet to come when the Roman commander Lucius Mummius sacked the city (146 BCE).
A brighter period was when Julius Caesar took charge (in 44 BCE) and organized the agricultural land into organized plots (centuriation) for distribution to Roman settlers. The city once more flourished, by the 1st century CE it became an important administrative and trade center again. In addition, following St. Paul’s visit between 51 and 52 CE, Corinth became the center of early Christianity in Greece. In a public hearing, the saint had to defend himself against accusations from the city’s Hebrews that his preaching undermined the Mosiac Law. The pro-consul Lucius Julius Gallio judged that Paul had not broken any Roman law and so was permitted to continue his teachings. From the 3rd century, CE Corinth began to decline and the Germanic tribes attacked the city.
THE ARCHAEOLOGICAL SITE
In Greek Corinth, there were cults to Aphrodite (protector of the city), Apollo, Demeter Thesmophoros, Hera, Poseidon, and Helios and various buildings to cult heroes, the founders of the city. In addition, there were several sacred springs, the most famous being Peirene. Unfortunately, the destruction in 146 BCE erased much of this religious past. In Roman Corinth, Aphrodite, Poseidon, and Demeter did continue to be worshipped along with the Roman gods.
The site today, first excavated in 1892 CE by the Greek Archaeological Service, is dominated by the Doric peripteral Temple of Apollo (550 – 530 BCE), originally with 6 columns on the façades and fifteen on the long sides. A particular feature of the temple is the use of monolithic columns rather than the more commonly used column drums. Seven columns remain standing today.
The majority of the other surviving buildings date from the 1st century CE in the Roman era and include a large forum, a temple to Octavia, baths, the Bema where St. Paul addressed the Corinthians, the Asklepeion temple to Asclepius, and a centre of healing, fountains – including the monumental Peirine fountain complex (2nd century CE) – a propylaea, theatre, odeion, gymnasium, and stoas. There are also the remains of three basilicas.
Archaeological finds at the site include many fine mosaics – notably the Dionysos mosaic – Greek and Roman sculpture – including an impressive number of busts of Roman rulers.
Located on the fertile Argolid plain of the east Peloponnese in Greece and blessed with a mild climate and natural springs, the sanctuary of Asclepius at Epidaurus was an important sacred center in both ancient Greek and Roman times.
Epidaurus was named after the hero Epidauros, son of Apollo. Inhabited since Neolithic times, the first significant settlement was in the Mycenaean period. Fortifications, a theatre and tholos tombs have been excavated dating as early as the 15th century BCE, although it was in the 12th century BCE that Epidaurus Limera, with its harbor linking it to the Aegean trade network, particularly flourished.
Earlier regional worship of the deity Maleatas evolved into the later worship of Apollo, who was given similar attributes. However, it was Asclepius (also spelled Asklepios), whom the Epidaurians believed was born on the nearby Mt. Titthion, who took precedence from the 5th century BCE until Roman times in the 4th century CE. Credited with possessing great healing powers (learned from his father Apollo) and also those of prophecy, the god – as manifested in the sanctuary or Asklepieion – was visited from all over Greece by those seeking ease and remedies from their illnesses either by divine intervention or medicines administered by the priests. The sanctuary used the wealth gained from dedications of the worshipers to build an impressive complex of buildings and to sponsor major art projects to beautify the center. Indeed, many of the offerings given were works of art such as statues, pottery vessels, tripods, and even buildings.
At the height of the site’s importance in the 4th century BCE (370 – 250 BCE), major buildings included two monumental entrances (Propylaia); a large temple (380 – 375 BCE) with the typical 6×11 column Doric layout, containing a larger than life-size Chryselephantine statue of a seated Asclepius (by Thrasymedes) and with pediments displaying in statuary the Amazonomachy and the Siege of Troy; temples dedicated to Aphrodite (320 BCE), Artemis and Themis; a sacred fountain; the Thymele (360 – 330 BCE) – around marble building originally with 26 outer Doric columns, a 14 Corinthian columned cella and a mysterious underground labyrinth, perhaps containing snakes which were associated with Asclepius; the columned Abato (or Enkoimeterion) in which patients waited overnight for divine intervention and remedy; other temples, hot and cold bathhouses, stoas, stadium, palaistra and large gymnasia; and a 6000 seat theatre (340 – 330 BCE). These latter sporting and artistic buildings were used in the Asklepieia festival, founded in the 5th century BCE and held every four years to celebrate theatre, sport, and music. The theatre, with 2nd century CE additions resulting in 55 tiers of seats and a capacity of perhaps 12,300 spectators, would become one of, if not the, largest theatres in antiquity. Other Roman additions to the site in the 2nd century included a temple of Hygieia, a large bath building and a small odeum.
The site was destroyed in 395 CE by the Goths and the Emperor Theodosius II definitively closed the site along with all other pagan sanctuaries in 426 CE. The site was abandoned once and for all following earthquakes in 522 and 551 CE. Excavations at the ancient site were first begun in 1881 CE by the Greek Archaeological Society and continue to the present day. Today, the magnificent theatre, renowned for its acoustics, is still in active use for performances in an annual traditional theatre festival.
Mycenae was a fortified late Bronze Age city located between two hills on the Argolis plain of the Peloponnese, Greece. The acropolis today dates from between the 14th and 13th century BCE when the Mycenaean civilization was at its peak of power, influence and artistic expression.
In Greek mythology, the city was founded by Perseus, who gave the site its name either after his sword’s scabbard (mykes) fell to the ground and was regarded as a good omen or as he found a water spring near a mushroom (mykes). Perseus was the first king of the Perseid dynasty which ended with Eurytheus (instigator of Hercules’ famous twelve labors). The succeeding dynasty was the Atreids, whose first king, Atreus, is traditionally believed to have reigned around 1250 BCE. Atreus’ son Agamemnon is believed to have been not only king of Mycenae but of all of the Achaean Greeks and the leader of their expedition to Troy to recapture Helen. In Homer’s account of the Trojan War in the Iliad, Mycenae (or Mykene) is described as a ‘well-founded citadel’, as ‘wide-wayed’ and as ‘golden Mycenae’, the latter supported by the recovery of over 15 kilograms of gold objects recovered from the shaft graves in the acropolis.
Situated on a rocky hill (40 – 50 m high) commanding the surrounding plain as far as the sea 15 km away, the site of Mycenae covered 30,000 square meters and has always been known throughout history. First excavations were begun by the Archaeological Society of Athens in 1841 and then continued by the famous Heinrich Schliemann in 1876 that discovered the magnificent treasures of Grave Circle A. The archaeological excavations have shown that the city has a much older history than traditional Greek literature described.
Even though the site was inhabited since Neolithic times, it is not until 2100 BCE that the first walls, pottery finds (including imports from the Cycladic islands) and pit and shaft graves with higher quality grave goods appear. These, collectively, suggest greater importance and prosperity in the settlement.
Since 1600 BCE there is evidence of an elite presence on the acropolis: high-quality pottery, wall paintings, shaft graves and an increase in the surrounding settlement with the construction of large tholos tombs. From the 14th century BCE the first large-scale palace complex is built (on three artificial terraces), so is the celebrated tholos tomb, the Treasury of Atreus, a monumental circular building with corbelled roof reaching a height of 13.5 m and 14.6 m in diameter and approached by a long walled and unroofed corridor 36 m long and 6m wide. Fortification walls, of large roughly worked stone blocks, surrounding the acropolis (of which the north wall is still visible today), flood management structures such as dams, roads, Linear B tablets and an increase in pottery imports (fitting well with theories of contemporary Mycenaean expansion in the Aegean) illustrate the culture was at its zenith.
The large palace structure built around a central hall or Megaron is typical of Mycenaean palaces. Other features included a secondary hall, many private rooms, and a workshop complex. Decorated stonework and frescoes and a monumental entrance, the Lion Gate (a 3 m x 3 m square doorway with an 18-ton lintel topped by two 3 m high heraldic lions and a column altar), added to the overall splendor of the complex. The relationship between the palace and the surrounding settlement and between Mycenae and other towns in the Peloponnese is much discussed by scholars. Concrete archaeological evidence is lacking but it seems likely that the palace was a center of political, religious and commercial power. Certainly, high-value grave goods, administrative tablets, pottery imports and the presence of precious materials deposits such as bronze, gold, and ivory would suggest that the palace was, at the very least, the hub of a thriving trade network.
The first palace was destroyed in the late 13th century, probably by an earthquake and then (rather poorly) repaired. A monumental staircase, the North Gate, and a ramp were added to the acropolis and the walls were extended to include the Persia spring within the fortifications. The spring was named after the city’s mythological founder and was reached by an impressive corbelled tunnel (or syrinx) with 86 steps leading down 18m to the water source. It is argued by some scholars that these architectural additions are evidence for a preoccupation with security and possible invasion. This second palace was also destroyed, this time with signs of fire. Some rebuilding did occur and pottery finds suggest a degree of prosperity returned briefly before another fire ended the occupation of the site until a brief revival in Hellenistic times. With the decline of Mycenae, Argos became the dominant power in the region. Reasons for the demise of Mycenae and the Mycenaean civilization are much debated with suggestions including natural disasters, over-population, internal social and political unrest or invasion from foreign tribes.
The city of Nafplio was the first capital of the modern Greek state. Named after Nafplios, son of Poseidon, and home of Palamidis, their local hero of the Trojan war and supposedly the inventor of weights and measures, lighthouses, the first Greek alphabet and the father of the Sophists. The small city-state made the mistake of allying with Sparta in the second Messenian War (685 – 688BCE) and was destroyed by Damokratis the king of Argos.
Because of the strength of the fort that sits above the bay, the town of Nafplio became an important strategic and commercial center to the Byzantines from around the sixth century AD. In 1203 Leon Sgouros, ruler of the city, conquered Argos and Corinth, and Larissa to the north, though it failed to successfully conquer Athens after a siege in 1204.
With the fall of Constantinople to the Turks, the Franks, with the help of the Venetians captured the city and nearly destroyed the fortress in the process. In the treaty, the defenders of the city were given the eastern side of the city, called the Romeiko and allowed to follow their customs, while the Franks controlled the Akronafplia, which was most of the city at the time. The Franks controlled the city for 200 years and then sold it to the Venetians. The Venetians continued the fortification of the upper town and completed their work in 1470. That same year they built a fort on the small island in the center of the harbor called the Bourtzi. To close the harbor the fort was linked by chains and the town was known as Porto Cadenza, meaning Port of Chains. During this period people flocked to the safety of the fortified city in fear of the Turks and forced the expansion of the city into the lagoon between the sea and the walls of the Akronafplia. The new additions to the city were surrounded by walls and many major buildings were erected including the Church of Saint George. But these new walls didn’t matter because in the treaty with Suleiman the First, Nafplio was handed over to the Turks who controlled the city for 100 years and made it the primary import/export center for mainland Greece.
In 1686 the Turks surrendered the city to a combined force of Venetians, Germans and Poles, lead by Vice Admiral Morozini and this began the second period of Venetian rule in which massive repairs were made to the fortress and the city including the construction of the fortress in Palamidi. When the Peloponessos falls to the Venetians, Nafplio becomes the capital. But after just thirty years the Turks once again take control of the city, almost totally destroying it, looting it and killing almost all its defenders. Most of the survivors chose to leave and the city while the Turks built mosques, baths and homes in the eastern style which can still be seen.
In April of 1821 Greek chieftains and Philhellenes surrounded the city of Nafplio and liberated it from the Turks under the leadership of Theodore Kolokotronis. Nafplio became the center of activities that would result in the formation of Modern Greece. In 1823 it becomes the capital of the state which is then recognized by the world powers (England, France and Russia) in 1827.
In January of 1828, Ioannis Kapodistrias is recognized as the first governor and arrives in Nafplion. In 1831 King Otto is chosen as the first King of Greece but a month later Kapodistrias is murdered in the Church of Agios Spiridon.
In 1833 King Otto arrives amid great fanfare to the city of Nafplio where he remains until 1834 when the capital of Greece is moved to Athens.
In 1862 there is a rebellion in Nafplio against the monarchy. A siege by the royal army follows. The rebels are given amnesty in 1862. In 1834 Kolokotronis is jailed in the Palamidi fortress. After the capital moves to Athens, the city of Nafplio becomes of less importance. But it still continues to attract visitors to this very day because its history is virtually the history of modern Greece and because every occupying power has left its mark.
The city of Nafplio is like a living museum. It’s also as lively as any city in Greece.
The history of Olympia is strongly connected to the Olympic Games. Historical records indicate that the games began in 776 BCE as a local festival to honor god Zeus. However, along the centuries, these games gained more and more popularity and all city-states of Greece would send their finest men to participate in the games. This event was so important for the ancient world that even all warfare would stop for a month so that the towns would send their best youths to participate in the games. This athletic festival occurred every four years and lasted for five days, including wrestling, chariot and horse racing, the pentathlon (discus throwing, javelin throwing, long jump, running and pancratium).
However, the athletes would stay for 1 or 2 months before the games in Olympia to train in the Palaestra. Before the games, the high priestess of Olympia marked the beginning of the games lighting the Olympic flame. Also, offerings and ceremonies in the temple of Zeus and the temple of Hera were practiced to ask for the favor of the gods. The games would take place in the stadium and people would watch them from the hills around it. All athletes were male and would take part in the games in total nudity. Women were forbidden under the penalty of death to part take in the games or even watch them as a spectator. The only woman who could watch the games, and in fact from a privileged spot, was the priestess of the temple of Demeter in Olympia.
There were no seats for the spectators and all people, regardless of their social state, would sit on the ground. The Hellanodikae, a body of priests, were responsible to name the winners. The reward of the winning athletes was a crown made from a wild olive tree, which was enough to honor him, his family and his city for decades. In fact, it was such an honor to be an Olympic winner that their town even pulled down a part of their city walls, as the town would be protected by the winner. At the same time, the political personalities from different parts of Greece took advantage of the games to make speeches and try to resolve differences against each other. The games were also a good opportunity for traders to make business deals. Unfortunately, in 393 AD, the Olympic Games were suspended by the Byzantine Emperor Theodosius, as it was considered a pagan custom. It was the time when Christianity was the dominant religion of the Byzantine Empire and everything connected to the ancient Greek spirit was considered pagan. Thus the games were stopped, the temples of Olympia were turned into churches and important statues, among which the golden statue of Zeus, a miracle of the ancient world, was transferred to Constantinople.
The revival of the Olympic Games in the modern era was an idea of the French Baron Pierre de Coubertin, who founded the International Olympic Committee in 1894 and only two years later, in 1896, the first modern Olympic Games took place in Athens, at the renovated Panathenaic Stadium. Since then, the games take place every 4 years in a different place in the world every time.
The name Nafpaktos derives from nafs which means boat in ancient Greek. The privileged location of Nafpaktos not only benefited the shipbuilding activity but located so close to the Peloponnese made it a nice spot to have control over the western side of the Corinthian bay. During the Peloponnesian War in 455 BCE, Nafpaktos became a chief naval station. In Medieval times, in spite of the many earthquakes, it also worked as one of the most important ports in the area, as it served as a connection between Europe and the Holy Land. Nafpaktos also became one of the most important ports of the Byzantine fleet and it was used as a proper station for diplomatic communications to the West and at the same time to Constantinople. Then, in 1204, Nafpaktos was captured by the Venetians and was recorded as Lepanto on their documents, a name that became very famous after the Battle of Lepanto, an important point in the history of Nafpaktos. In the 13th century, the city was ceded to Michael Doukas Komnenos. During this same century, he offered Nafpaktos to Philip of Taras, the fiance of his daughter as a marriage dowry. The following century, the control of the city passed to the Ottomans. In 1407, Nafpaktos fell under the Venetians again who repaired the old Byzantine walls and fortified the port with a strong castle in order to create a safe station. The Ottomans finally invaded the city in 1499. In October of 1571, the legendary Battle of Lepanto took place between the Ottomans and Europeans, leading to the victory of the Europeans. According to historians, this battle marked the decline of the Ottoman Empire. Among the soldiers to participate in this fight was Miguel de Cervantes, the famous writer who was fighting in the Spanish fleet that time and in fact, he lost his left arm in the battle. His statue is found today at the port of Nafpaktos. Many fights followed to set the town free. Nafpaktos had an important contribution to the Greek War of Independence and many heroes operated there in fact, the statue of Anemogiannis, a Freedom fighter, stands today at the port of Nafpaktos. Finally, in 1829, Nafpaktos earned its freedom and became part of the first Greek State.
Delphi was an important ancient Greek religious sanctuary sacred to the god Apollo. Located on Mt. Parnassus near the Gulf of Corinth, the sanctuary was home to the famous oracle of Apollo which gave cryptic predictions and guidance to both city-states and individuals. In addition, Delphi was also home to the PanHellenic Pythian Games.
MYTHOLOGY & ORIGINS:
The site was first settled in Mycenaean times in the late Bronze Age (1500 – 1100 BCE) but took on its religious significance from around 800 BCE. The original name of the sanctuary was Pytho after the snake which Apollo was believed to have killed there. Οfferings at the site from this period include small clay statues (the earliest), bronze figurines, and richly decorated bronze tripods.
Delphi was also considered the center of the world, for in Greek mythology Zeus released two eagles, one to the east and another to the west, and Delphi was the point at which they met after encircling the world. This fact was represented by the omphalos (or navel); a dome-shaped stone that stood outside Apollo’s temple and which also marked the spot where Apollo killed the Python.
The oracle of Apollo at Delphi was famed throughout the Greek world and even beyond. The oracle – the Pythia or priestess – would answer questions put to her by visitors wishing to be guided in their future actions. The whole process was a lengthy one, usually taking up a whole day and only carried out on specific days of the year. First, the priestess would perform various actions of purification such as washing in the nearby Castalian Spring, burning laurel leaves and drinking holy water. Next an animal – usually a goat – was sacrificed. The party seeking advice would then offer a pelanos – a sort of pie – before being allowed into the inner temple where the priestess resided and gave her pronouncements, possibly in a drug or natural gas-induced state of ecstasy.
Perhaps the most famous consultant of the Delphic oracle was Croesus, the fabulously rich King of Lydia who, when faced with a war against the Persians, asked the oracle’s advice. The oracle stated that if Croesus went to war then a great empire would surely fall. Reassured by this, the king took on the mighty Cyrus. However, the Lydians were overpowered at Sardis and it was the Lydian empire which fell, a lesson that the oracle could easily be misinterpreted by the unwise or over-confident.
Delphi, as with the other major religious sites of Olympia, Nemea, and Isthmia, held games to honor various gods of the Greek religion. The Pythian Games of Delphi began sometime between 591 and 585 BCE and were initially held every eight years, with the only event being a musical competition where solo singers accompanied themselves on a kithara to sing a hymn to Apollo. Later, more musical contests and athletic events were added to the program, and the games were held every four years with only the Olympic Games being more important. The principal prize for victors in the games was a crown of laurel or bay leaves.
The site and games were managed by the independent Delphic amphictyony – a council with representatives from various nearby city-states – which asked for taxes, collected offerings, invested in construction programs, and even organized military campaigns in the Four Sacred Wars, fought to remedy sacrilegious acts against Apollo committed by the states of Crisa, Phocis, and Amphissa.
The first temple in the area was built in the 7th century BCE and was a replacement for less substantial buildings of worship that had stood before it. The focal point of the sanctuary, the Doric temple of Apollo, was unfortunately destroyed by fire in 548 BCE. A second temple, again Doric in style, was completed in 510 BCE. Measuring some 60 by 24 meters, the facade had six columns whilst the sides had 15. This temple was destroyed by an earthquake in 373 BCE and was replaced by a similarly sized temple in 330 BCE. This was constructed with poros stone coated in stucco. Marble sculpture was also added as decoration along with Persian shields taken at the Battle of Marathon. This is the temple that survives, although only partially, today.
Other notable constructions were the theatre (with capacity for 5,000 spectators), temples to Athena (4th century BCE), a tholos with 13 Doric columns ( 580 BCE), stoas, a stadium (with capacity for 7,000 spectators), and around 20 treasuries, which were constructed to house the votive offerings and dedications from city-states all over Greece. Similarly, monuments were also erected to commemorate military victories and other important events. For example, the Spartan general Lysander erected a monument to celebrate his victory over Athens at Aegospotami. Other notable monuments were the great bronze Bull of Corcyra (580 BCE), the ten statues of the kings of Argos (369 BCE), a gold four-horse chariot offered by Rhodes, and a huge bronze statue of the Trojan Horse offered by the Argives (413 BCE). Lining the sacred way, from the sanctuary gate up to the temple of Apollo, the visitor must have been greatly impressed by the artistic and literal wealth on display. Alas, in most cases, only the monumental pedestals survive of these great statues, silent witnesses to lost grandeur.
In 480 BCE the Persians attacked the sanctuary and in 279 BCE the sanctuary was attacked again, this time by the Gauls. During the 3rd century BCE, the site came under the control of the Aitolian League. In 191 BCE Delphi passed into Roman hands; however, the sanctuary and the games continued to be culturally important in Roman times, in particular under Hadrian. The decree by Theodosius in 393 CE to close all pagan sanctuaries resulted in Delphi’s gradual decline. A Christian community dwelt at the site for several centuries until its final abandonment in the 7th century CE.
The site was ‘rediscovered’ with the first modern excavations being carried out in 1880 CE by a team of French archaeologists. Notable finds were splendid metope sculptures from the treasury of the Athenians (490 BCE) and the Siphnians (525 BCE) depicting scenes from Greek mythology. In addition, a bronze charioteer in the severe style (480 – 460 BCE), the marble Sphinx of the Naxians (560 BCE), the twin marble archaic statues – the kouroi of Argos (580 BCE) and the richly decorated omphalos stone (330 BCE) – all survive as testimony to the cultural and artistic wealth that Delphi had once enjoyed.
Meteora is an exquisite complex that consists of huge dark stone pillars rising outside Trikala, near the mountains of Pindos. The monasteries that sit on top of these rocks make up the second most important monastic community in Greece, after Mount Athos in Halkidiki. Out of the thirty monasteries that were founded throughout the centuries, only six of them are active today.
The history of Meteora goes back to many millenniums. Theories on the creation of this natural phenomenon are associated with the geological movements that occurred over several geological periods. Scientists believe that these pillars were formed about 60 million years ago, during the Tertiary Period. At the time, the area was covered by sea but a series of earth movements caused the seabed to withdraw. The mountains left were continuously hit by strong winds and waves, which, in combination with extreme weather conditions, affected their shape, leaving us with pillars composed of sandstone and conglomerate. In the Byzantine times, monks had the inspiration to construct monasteries on top of these rocks so that they would be closer to god.
The foundation of Meteora monasteries began around the 11th century. In the 12th century, the first ascetic state was officially formed and established a church to the Mother our Lord as their worshiping center. Activities of this church were not only related to worshiping God, but hermits used these occasions to discuss their problems and exchange ideas relating their ascetic life there. In the 14th century, Saint Athanasios established the Holy Monastery of the Transfiguration of Jesus and named this huge rock Meteoro, which means hanged from nowhere. This monastery is also known as the Holy Monastery of the Great Meteoron, the largest of all monasteries.
For many centuries, the monks used scaffolds for climbing the rocks and getting supplies. As years passed, this method was followed by the use of nets with hooks and rope ladders. Sometimes a basket was used, which was pulled up by the monks. Wooden ladders of 40 meters long were also one of the essential tools for accessing the monasteries. Between the 15th and 17th centuries, Meteora was at its prime with the arrival of many monks from other monasteries or people who wanted to lead an ascetic life in this divine environment. However, the prosperity of Meteora during that time started to fade away after the 17th century mainly due to the raids of thieves and conquerors. These caused many monasteries to be abandoned or destructed. Today, only 6 monasteries operate with a handful of monks each. The only nunnery (female monastery) is the Monastery of Agios Stefanos.
Thermopylae is a mountain pass near the sea in northern Greece which was the site of several battles in antiquity, the most famous being that between Persians and Greeks in August 480 BCE. Despite being greatly inferior in numbers, the Greeks held the narrow pass for three days with Spartan King Leonidas fighting a last-ditch defense with a small force of Spartans and other Greek hoplites. Ultimately the Persians took control of the pass, but the heroic defeat of Leonidas would assume legendary proportions for later generations of Greeks, and within a year the Persian invasion would be repulsed at the battles of Salamis and Plataea.
THE PERSIAN WARS
By the first years of the 5th century BCE, Persia, under the rule of Darius (522 – 486 BCE), was already expanding into mainland Europe and had subjugated Thrace and Macedonia. Next in Κing Darius’ sights were Athens and the rest of Greece. Just why Greece was craved by Persia is unclear. Wealth and resources seem an unlikely motive; other more plausible suggestions include the need to increase the prestige of the king at home or to quell once and for all a collection of potentially troublesome rebel states on the western border of the empire.
Whatever the exact motives, in 491 BCE Darius sent envoys to call for the Greek’s submission to Persian rule. The Greeks sent a no-nonsense reply by executing the envoys, and Athens and Sparta promised to form an alliance for the defense of Greece. Darius’ response to this diplomatic outrage was to launch a naval force of 600 ships and 25,000 men to attack the Cyclades and Euboea, leaving the Persians just one step away from the rest of Greece. In 490 BCE Greek forces led by Athens met the Persians in battle at Marathon and defeated the invaders. The battle would take on mythical status amongst the Greeks, but in reality, it was merely the opening overture of a long war with several other battles making up the principal acts. Persia, with the largest empire in the world, was vastly superior in men and resources and now these would be fully utilized for a full-scale attack.
In 486 BCE Xerxes became king upon the death of Darius and massive preparations for an invasion were made. Depots of equipment and supplies were laid, a canal dug at Chalkidiki, and boat bridges built across the Hellespont to facilitate the movement of troops. Greece was about to face its greatest ever threat, and even the oracle at Delphi ominously advised the Athenians to ‘fly to the world’s end’.
THE PASS OF THERMOPYLAE
When news of the invading force reached Greece, the initial Greek reaction was to send a force of 10,000 hoplites to hold a position at the valley of Tempē near Mt. Olympos, but these withdrew when the massive size of the invading army was revealed. Then after much discussion and compromise between Greek city-states, suspicious of each other’s motives, a joint army of between 6,000 and 7,000 men was sent to defend the pass at Thermopylae through which the Persians must enter to access mainland Greece. The Greek forces included 300 Spartans and their helots with 2,120 Arcadians, 1,000 Lokrians, 1,000 Phokians, 700 Thespians, 400 Corinthians, 400 Thebans, 200 men from Phleious, and 80 Mycenaeans.
The relatively small size of the defending force has been explained as reluctance by some Greek city-states to commit troops so far north, and/or due to religious motives, for it was the period of the sacred games at Olympia and the most important Spartan religious festival, the Karneia, and no fighting was permitted during these events. Indeed, for this very reason, the Spartans had arrived too late at the earlier battle of Marathon. Therefore, the Spartans, widely credited as being the best fighters in Greece and the only city state with a professional army, contributed only a small advance force of 300 hoplites (from an estimated 8,000 available) to the Greek defensive force, these few being chosen from men with male heirs.
In addition to the land forces, the Greek city-states sent a fleet of trireme warships that held position off the coast of Artemision (or Artemisium) on the northern coast of Euboea, 40 nautical miles from Thermopylae. The Greeks would amass over 300 triremes and perhaps their main purpose was to prevent the Persian fleet sailing down the inland coast of Lokris and Boeotia.
The pass of Thermopylae, located 150 km north of Athens was an excellent choice for defense with steep mountains running down into the sea leaving only a narrow marshy area along the coast. The pass had also been fortified by the local Phokians who built a defensive wall running from the so-called Middle Gate down to the sea. The wall was in a state of ruin, but the Spartans made the best repairs they could in the circumstances. It was here, then, in a 15-meter wide gap with a sheer cliff protecting their left flank and the sea on their right that the Greeks chose to make a stand against the invading army. Having somewhere in the region of 80,000 troops at his disposal, the Persian king, who led the invasion in person, first waited four days in the expectation that the Greeks would flee in panic. When the Greeks held their position, Xerxes once again sent envoys to offer the defenders the last chance to surrender without bloodshed, if the Greeks would only lay down their arms. Leonidas’ bullish response to Xerxes’s request was ‘molōn labe’ or ‘come and gets them’ and so battle commenced.
HOPLITES VS ARCHERS
The two opposing armies were essentially representative of the two approaches to Classical warfare – the Persians favored long-range assault using archers followed up with a cavalry charge, whilst the Greeks favored heavily-armored hoplites, arranged in a densely packed formation called the phalanx, with each man carrying a heavy round bronze shield and fighting at close quarters using spears and swords. The Persian infantry carried a lightweight (often crescent-shaped) wicker shield and was armed with a long dagger or battle-ax, a short spear, and composite bow. The Persian forces also included the Immortals, an elite force of 10,000 who were probably better protected with armor and armed with spears. The Persian cavalry was armed as the foot soldiers, with a bow and an additional two javelins for throwing and thrusting. Cavalry, usually operating on the flanks of the main battle, were used to mop up opposing infantry put in disarray after they had been subjected to repeated showers from the archers. Although the Persians had enjoyed the upper hand in previous contests during the recent Ionian revolt, the terrain at Thermopylae would better suit the Greek approach to warfare.
Although the Persian tactic of rapidly firing vast numbers of arrows into the 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 is epitomized by Dieneces, who, when told that the Persian arrows would be so dense 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 have all of the advantages, and in the narrow confines of the terrain, the Persians would struggle to make their vastly superior numbers count.
On the first day, Xerxes sent his Median and Kissian troops, and after their failure to clear the pass, the elite Immortals entered the battle but in the brutal close-quarter fighting, the Greeks held firm. The Greek tactic of simulating a disorganized retreat and then turning on the enemy in the phalanx formation also worked well, lessening the threat from Persian arrows and perhaps the hoplites surprised the Persians with their disciplined mobility, a benefit of being a professionally trained army.
The second day followed the pattern of the first, and the Greek forces still held the pass. However, an unscrupulous traitor was about to tip the balance in favor of the invaders. Ephialtes, son of Eurydemos, a local shepherd from Trachis, seeking reward from Xerxes, informed the Persians of an alternative route –the Anopaia path– which would allow them to avoid the majority of the enemy forces and attack their southern flank. Leonidas had stationed the contingent of Phokian troops to guard this vital point but they, thinking themselves the primary target of this new development, withdrew to a higher defensive position when the Immortals attacked. This suited the Persians as they could now continue unobstructed along the mountain path and arrive behind the main Greek force. With their position now seemingly hopeless, and before their retreat was cut off completely, the bulk of the Greek forces were ordered to withdraw by Leonidas.
The Spartan king, on the third day of the battle, rallied his small force – the survivors from the original Spartan 300, 700 Thespians and 400 Thebans – and made a rearguard stand to defend the pass to the last man in the hope of delaying the Persians progress, in order to allow the rest of the Greek force to retreat or also possibly to await relief from a larger Greek force. Early in the morning, the hoplites once more met the enemy, but this time Xerxes could attack from both front and rear and planned to do so but, in the event, the Immortals behind the Greeks were late on arrival. Leonidas moved his troops to the widest part of the pass to utilize all of his men at once, and in the ensuing clash, the Spartan king was killed. His comrades then fought fiercely to recover the body of the fallen king. Meanwhile, the Immortals now entered the fray behind the Greeks who retreated to a high mound behind the Phokian wall. Perhaps at this point, the Theban contingent may have surrendered (although this is disputed amongst scholars). The remaining hoplites now trapped and without their inspirational king, were subjected to a barrage of Persian arrows until no man was left standing. After the battle, Xerxes ordered that Leonidas’ head be put on a stake and displayed at the battlefield. As Herodotus claims in his account of the battle in book VII of The Histories, the Oracle at Delphi had been proved right when she proclaimed that either Sparta or one of her kings must fall.
Meanwhile, at Artemision, the Persians were battling the elements rather than the Greeks, as they lost 400 triremes in a storm off the coast of Magnesia and more in a second storm off Euboea. When the two fleets finally met, the Greeks fought late in the day and therefore limited the duration of each skirmish which diminished the numerical advantage held by the Persians. The result of the battle was, however, indecisive and on news of Leonidas’ defeat, the fleet withdrew to Salamis.
The battle of Thermopylae, and particularly the Spartan’s role in it, soon acquired mythical status amongst the Greeks. Free men, in defiance of their own laws, had sacrificed themselves in order to defend their way of life against foreign aggression. As Simonides’ epitaph at the site of the fallen stated: ‘Go tell the Spartans, you who read: We took their orders and here lie dead’.
A glorious defeat maybe, but the fact remained that the way was now clear for Xerxes to push on into mainland Greece. The Greeks, though, were far from finished, and despite many states now turning over to the Persians and Athens itself being sacked, a Greek army led by Leonidas’ brother Kleombrotos began to build a defensive wall near Corinth. Winter halted the land campaign, though, and at Salamis, the Greek fleet maneuvered the Persians into shallow waters and won a resounding victory. Xerxes returned home to his palace at Sousa and left the gifted general Mardonius in charge of the invasion. After a series of political negotiations, it became clear that the Persians would not gain victory through diplomacy and the two armies met at Plataea in August 479 BCE. The Greeks, fielding the largest hoplite army ever seen, won the battle and finally ended Xerxes’ ambitions in Greece.
As an interesting footnote: the important strategic position of Thermopylae meant that it was once more the scene of battle in 279 BCE when the Greeks faced invading Gauls, in 191 BCE when a Roman army defeated Antiochus III, and even as recent as 1941 when Allied New Zealand forces clashed with those of Germany.
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