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ANCIENT MESSINI

Messini was an ancient city of Messinia, in the southwestern part of the Peloponnese. It is located in the current village of Ancient Messini, which until 2002 was called Mavrommati Ithomis.

The ancient city was founded in the winter of 370 BC-369 BC. by the Theban general Epaminondas, after his victory over the Spartans at the battle of Leuctra and his invasion of Laconia. Epaminondas freed Messinia from Spartan influence and chose the foothills of Mount Ithomi to build the capital of the free Messenians. It was built almost at the same time as the Arcadian Megalopolis, so that Sparta could be excluded from hostile states and its influence outside Laconia would disappear.

The traveler Pausanias has preserved most of the information about the founding of the city. Heralds sent by the Thebans arrived in Italy, Sicily, the Libyan city of Evesperides, and wherever else fugitive Messenians lived, and invited them to return to their homeland. It is obvious that the freed helots and perioceans of Messinia would also have participated but the most vital element of foreignness was deemed necessary and, fortunately for the plans of Epaminondas, responded to the call. The choice of the city’s location was made after an alleged miraculous revelation of the location of the testament by the Messenian hero Aristomenes and with the help of priests and diviners. The city was named after the mythical queen Messini, daughter of the Argos king Triopas. Thus began the building of the wall, after sacrifices by the allies to the local gods and heroes, and accompanied by Boeotian and Argive courtiers (although Pausanias does not consider that wall to be what he himself saw).

The city remained the cultural center (and perhaps also the political center) of Messinia during Roman times and at least until the end of the 4th c. A.D. In 365 the great earthquake that struck the Eastern Mediterranean probably had significant effects on Messini as well. In 395 Alaric’s Goth invasion is supposed to have dealt the decisive blow to the city. Then its few inhabitants would begin to settle in safer settlements and the place would become deserted.

Messini soon from the 5th c. and then it will once again become an important settlement in the area. From the 5th c. it will be the seat of a bishop and will be included in the list of important cities of the empire, known as the Synekdemus of Hierocleus. During the period of people’s migrations from the end of the 6th c. and until the beginning of the 8th in Messini, the presence of Slavic populations alongside the Romans is recorded, and then the settlement was probably renamed Vulkano or Vourkano, just like the monastery of the same name on the top of Ithomi. The settlement continues as a large village with an important archaeological presence as well as references to the sources both during the Middle Byzantine period and during the Late Middle Ages.

Archaeological site

The Hellenic Archaeological Society began the excavation of the main public buildings of the market in 1895 with Themistocles Sofoulis. Excavations continued in 1909 and 1925 by Georgios Oikonomos. From 1957 onwards, the excavation was carried out regularly every summer by the academician Anastasios Orlandos. With the excavations by him and his predecessors, the greater part of the building complex of Asklepiion came to light.

The Hero in the Stadium of Ancient Messina

In 1986, the Archaeological Society commissioned Professor Petros Themelis to direct the excavations of Ancient Messina. Excavation research with parallel fixing and restoration works of the monuments continue from 1987 to the present day at a faster and progressive pace. They have brought to light all the public and sacred buildings of the city that Pausanias saw and described in Messina, when he visited it in the years of the emperor Antoninus Pius (155-160 AD).

The main sites and monuments that have been revealed are:

  • Asklepiion
  • Theater. This existed from the Hellenistic era, was reconstructed in the years of the emperors Augustus and Tiberius and in the middle of the 2nd AD. h. but it started to be destroyed from the end of the 3rd – beginning of the 4th century. Houses and one of the three Basilicas located a short distance SE of the theater were built from the stones of the theater during the first Christian times.
  • The Church Hall (Odeion) which is preserved in excellent condition is a theatrical structure that has a semi-circular orchestra, stage and proscenium. At the eastern end of the orchestra is a large pedestal for a bronze horseman statue depicting the benefactor of Ancient Messina,
  • Tiberius Claudius
  • Saithidas.
  • Sanctuary of Isis and Sarapids, also mentioned by Pausanias
  • Proto-Byzantine basilica of the theater (two others that have not been investigated are located, of this market and that of Asklepiion)
  • Arsinoe fountain
  • West side of the Agora
  • Sanctuary of Dios Sotiros. The cult of Zeus was one of the most important in the city after the cult of the patron saint Ithomata. It is also mentioned by Pausanias.
  • Sacred hero, probably of Aristomenes, in the Gymnasium of Messina.
  • Roman mansion of the late Roman times.
    Stadium and Gymnasium.

A small two-story museum with key exhibits of the excavation is located on the western outskirts of the village of Ancient Messini (formerly Mavrommati), built by the oldest director of excavations Anastasios Orlandos and completely renovated by the current director Petros Themelis. The plot was donated to the Archaeological Society by the expatriate D. Latzounis. On the first floor, it includes three exhibition rooms where mainly works of sculpture from the Hellenistic and Roman periods are presented and an exterior, while on the ground floor are the storage areas. Architectural members and inscribed pedestals have been exposed in the museum’s atrium and sheds.