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Tripolis: Is in the central Peloponnese a major crossroads of the Peloponnese, from which most travellers either head northwest towards Olympia, or south to Sparti and Mystra, or Kalamata. Alternatives include more direct routes to the coast west to Kiparissia, or east to Nafplio or Αstros/Leonidio and the Peloponnese railway, which continues its meandering course from Korinthos and Αrgos to Kiparissia and Kalamata.

Megalopolis: The great western plain of Arcadia stretches 30 km from north to south and 16 km from east to west. Unlike most Greek cities, Megalopolis therefore had no easily defensible heights, a situation similar to Mantinea's.  Although Mantinea was totally flat, Megalopolis did have some irregular hills that were incorporated into the defensive walls constructed with the city.  The area was crossed by cool rivers draining from the mountains of Arcadia which surround it and the farmland was better than most in the region.  The city itself was laid out on both sides of the Helisson River.

History: Before 370 B.C., the cities of Arkadia had been divided into a number of independent communities.  Sparta had favored this arrangement and was able to keep the cities under its control by means of this division.  After the Spartans were defeated in the Battle of Leuktra around 370 B.C., the Theban Epaminondas convinced (or in some cases "compelled") the townships to form a new capital on the northwest border of Laconia.  It is clear that some of these cities wished to remain separate from the synoecism (notably Tegea, Orchomenus, and Heraea), but it is likely that the other cities were the driving force behind the formation of Megalopolis (i.e., the 'Great City').  Epaminondas only aided their cause and spurred them on by providing a Theban army to defend them during the construction of the city and its walls.  Messene was also formed at this time and Mantinea and Argos were being supported by the Thebans in an effort to keep Sparta from gaining too much power.  At the city's foundation, the walls were laid out with a five and a half mile circuit.  This was such a broad area that the population would not long be able to defend itself properly.

Mantinea soon broke with the alliance and Megalopolis in 364 B.C. after the league had tampered with the sacred treasuries at Olympia.  In 362 B.C., half of the league fought against the Thebans, who prevented many of the citizens of Megalopolis from returning to their former homes.  In 353 B.C. the Spartans attacked the new city, but with Theban help they were thrown back. Soon after the Thebans' power declined, the Spartans attacked Megalopolis again in 331 B.C., but with the help of the Macedonians, also an enemy of Sparta, they were able to defeat the Lacedaimonians again.  Its city walls, which have been excavated at many places, kept the defenders safe.  Yet over time the population declined as colonists returned to their original cities and jealousy between the townships kept Megalopolis from reaching its true potential as head of the Arcadians.  In 318 B.C.  the city was besieged by Polysperchon in his contest with Cassander, but they were saved by an officer named Damis who repelled a group that had broken through the walls.

For a while the city was ruled by tyrants. Aristodemus was the first and he was held in high regard.  He successfully defended Megalopolis from a Spartan attack in which the Spartan king Acrotatus was killed.  Later, Lydiades became tyrant only to voluntarily resign, at which time the city joined the Achaen League and was once again attacked by the Spartans in 234 B.C.  This time the defenders benefited from a hurricane which blew down the Spartan siege equipment.  Finally in 223 B.C. the city was sacked by the Spartan king Cleomenes III.  Many escaped the city to Messenia and then returned two years later after another Spartan defeat, but the city had been laid to waste by the Spartans and many buildings were not rebuilt.

At this time a great dispute arose over the size of the city walls. Some wanted the walls to be rebuilt in their original courses while others wanted a smaller circuit, easier to defend.  The former party won and the walls were rebuilt.  They were enough to withstand a siege by the tyrant Nabis but they soon fell into decay and we know that by 175 B.C. outsiders were promising to build new walls.  Strabo remarked that "the Great City was a great desert," and Pausanias reflected upon the fallen state of many great cities after seeing Megalopolis.

Government: The Federal Constitution of the new Pan Arcadian union was democratic in nature; Megalopolis was just another city in the League in some respects.  There was an Assembly whose official title was the Ten Thousand (Myrioi) that every citizen of the League was a member of.  The Ten Thousand made war and peace, concluded alliances, and sat in judgment on offenders against the League.  A Council (the Damiorgoi) was also formed from fifty members from the various cities.  It had the usual executive and deliberative functions of Greek city councils.

The river Helisson divides the site of Megalopolis into two nearly equal sections.  The city itself was on the south side with a marketplace and a Bouleterion where the Council of the Megalopolitan state met.  On the north side of the river the federal buildings were built in the area known as the Oresteia.  Here was the Thersilion (Federal Hall of Assembly) and the theater which served as an open-air hall for federal meetings.  It is also thought that the dwellings of the permanent armed force, 5,000 men, were maintained by the Federation.  This is also the area where the lodgings for the Ten Thousand were when they met in the city.

The Thersilion was the federal building where the meetings of the Arcadian League were held.  The building was 215 ft. (66.5 m.) long and 170 ft. (52.5 m.) broad.  The foundations have been uncovered and display the ingenious arrangement of the internal supports, converging towards the center so that few people would have had their views obstructed.  The internal columns were arranged in five concentric rows, set parallel to the outside walls.  Their bases remain in situ and show us that there was also a slight slope towards the tribune, where the speaker would have given addresses, something like a theater.  On the south side of the building stretched a long Doric portico (14 columns) that served as the skene of the theater.  The building was dubbed the Thersilion after the man who dedicated it.  The Thersilion was destroyed in 222 B.C. and not rebuilt.

In the Theater itself, no scenery existed except for temporary pieces that were attached to fastenings in the floor.  The theater was dubbed the largest in Greece by Pausanias (though he said he preferred the one at Epidauros) and its orchestra is nearly twice as large as those at Athens and Epidauros.  It seated between 17,000 to 21,000, but there may have been additional rows that are no longer visible at the top of the theater. The original construction of the theater dates back to the same period that the city was founded, but shortly after the construction of the Thersilion.  The Cavea of the theater is divided by 10 stairways and two diazomata.  There were major improvements in the Roman era, namely the stone stage. The orchestra was lowered in later years (by about 3 ft.) and additional steps were added.  Pausanias also mentions a perpetual spring that flowed in the theater.  This was discovered in the middle of the orchestra and still supplied water as late as 1963 (maybe even now).  In the nineteenth century, some archaeologists complained that the entire orchestra was under water, though whether this was due to flood from the river or excessive water from the spring, I don't know.

The possibility that a "Rollskene" (a wheeled, wooden skene) was used at Megalopolis is very intriguing.  Since the portico on the south side of the Thersilion served as the only background for productions in the theater, it has been assumed that movable scenery was used.  Beside the stage sits a long building, known as the "skanotheka" (i.e., the scenery storage shed) from its roof tiles, which lines up exactly along the front of the portico and has a large opening on the side facing towards the stage.  Since the length and width of the building are so similar to the remnants of the stage, this must have been the place where the temporary scenery was moved. One of the early excavators of the theater believed that an entire wheeled skene was rolled onto the stage out of the skanotheka and many other scholars have since followed him, but recently this matter has been questioned. A sill  that runs the length of the skanotheka is problematic since it may have protruded into the skene, but it may have only stood a few feet high and merely served as a rest for the stage to be wedged upon to take pressure off the wheels.  The existence of cuttings in the stone floor of the stage and in the skanotheka at Sparta and the chance that such a building was used there is very similar to the situation at Megalopolis, but the cuttings might have just been drainage channels or slots for the movable scenery.

On the other side of the river, and right on its northern bank, the Sanctuary of Zeus Soter (Savior) and the Stoa of Philip (named for Philip, not donated by him) demarcated the Agora, which is hardly visible now.  Inside the market there was a Sanctuary of Lykian Zeus and a Temple of the Mother. Next to the stoa stood a Temple of Akakesian Hermes and another portico which held state offices. There was also a statue of Polybius, who was born in Megalopolis in ca. 204 B.C., beside the Council House for the city. Unfortunately the southern part of the area was overrun by the river's course and is now gone, a circumstance which most affected the Sanctuary of Zeus Soter.   To the west of the Agora stood a sacred enclosure of the Great Goddesses (Demeter and the Maid).  Inside this enclosure stood a Shrine of Zeus of Friendship and a Sanctuary of Aphrodite.  North of the sanctuary stood a Sanctuary of the Maid, as well as a Sanctuary of Athene and a Temple of Perfect Hera, which stood on nearby hills.

The Modern Town: With about 4,700 people, the modern town lies less than a mile south of the ancient city.  Unfortunately, the site is well within the view of a large power station, whose cooling tower  distracts from the otherwise serene landscape. The plant, maintained by the Public Power Corporation, which runs on lignite, which is found in great quantities in the area.

Many of the items recovered from excavations at Megalopolis are now housed in the Panarcadian Archaeological Museum, located in Tripolis, which also is home to the center of archaeological services in the region.  Online, you can see a bronze helmet that was found in Megalopolis which is associated with the expedition of Alexander the Great.  Other nearby sites worth mentioning are the Lycosoura Museum of Archaeology and the Sanctuary of Despoina at Lycosoura.

>> Peloponnese Achaia, Argolida, Arkadia, Elia, Korinthos, Lakonia, Messinia.

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