Peloponnese

Definition

by
published on 07 January 2016
Spartan Territory (Marsyas)

The Peloponnese is a large peninsula linked to the northern territory of Greece by the Isthmus of Corinth. To the west of the Peloponnese is the Ionian sea while to the east is the Aegean Sea. The terrain is typified by high limestone mountains, narrow coastal plains, and natural rocky harbours. The area contained several cities important in antiquity such as Mycenae, Argos, Megalopolis, Sparta, Ellis, Messene, and Corinth. The region also contains the important ancient religious sites of Olympia, Epidaurus, Isthmia, and Nemea which regularly hosted Pan-Hellenic sporting games, notably the Olympic Games

The Bronze Age

Inhabited since prehistoric times, the name Peloponnese (in Greek Peloponessos, a term first used in the Archaic period) means 'island of Pelops' and derives from the mythical king Pelops who was thought to have unified the region. The coastal plains were exploited for agricultural production which allowed the growth of major Bronze Age settlements such as Mycenae, Argos, and Tiryns on the plain of Argos, Sparta on the Laconian plain, and Messene in the southwest. The Mycenaean civilization is noted for its expansion throughout the Aegean, its palace and tomb architecture, its fine gold artwork, and as the origin of such famous stories as the Trojan War. The civilization collapsed sometime in the 12th century BCE perhaps due to natural disaster, over-population, internal social and political unrest, invasion from foreign tribes, or a combination of all or several of these factors.

The Peloponnese city-states effectively combined for major conflicts, notably in the Peloponnesian War of 431-404 BCE.

Archaic & Classical Periods

In the Archaic and Classical period Corinth, in particular, was ideally located to control lucrative land and sea trade routes connecting Greece with the wider Mediterranean. Many of the cities of the Peloponnese fought in the Persian Wars of the early 5th century BCE and some formed a loose alliance for the purposes of military action known as the Peloponnesian League (c. 505 BCE - 365 BCE). The Greeks actually referred to this alliance as 'the Lacedaemonians and their allies' after their lead city-state Sparta. Relations were not always peaceful between the members but they did effectively combine for major conflicts, notably in the Peloponnesian War of 431-404 BCE against Athens and its allies.

Ever the regional trouble-maker, Corinth formed an alliance with Argos, Boeotia, Thebes, and Athens to fight Sparta in the Corinthian Wars of 395-386 BCE. The conflict was largely fought at sea and was lost by the Corinthians. Sparta would, in turn, lose regional dominance in their disastrous defeat to Thebes at the Battle of Leuctra in 371 BCE. Even worse for the region, in 338 BCE Philip of Macedonia defeated the Greek allied forces of Athens, Thebes and Corinth in the Battle of Chaironeia. There then followed an unstable period when the region was governed by a succession of Hellenistic kings.

Temple of Apollo, Corinth

Hellenistic & Roman Periods

The Achaean League (also known as the Achaean Confederacy) was a federation of 12 states in the north-east of the Peloponnese, which originally formed in the 5th century BCE. Initially allies of Athens, the League came under Spartan control. In the 3rd century BCE the League expanded its territorial control, even subduing Sparta, and by the end of the century became an ally of Macedon. In the 2nd century BCE the Achaeans stood against Macedonia and signed a treaty of alliance with Rome.

In the mid-2nd century BCE Rome, tired of the region’s internal disputes and provocations, destroyed Corinth (146 BCE) and the Peloponnese became, along with northern Greece, the Roman province of Achaea. Patrae (modern Patras), which could control trade routes via the western entrance to the Corinthian Gulf, became an important Roman colonia. Gythium and Methone were other important cities in this period as they were conveniently located along east-west sea-routes.

Corinth regained some of its former status when Julius Caesar founded his colony at the site in 44 BCE. The city became an important administrative and trade centre, and, following St. Paul’s visit between 51 and 52 CE, Corinth became the centre of early Christianity in Greece. Corinth, and the Peloponnese in general, fell into decline when the Germanic Heruli and Alaric tribes attacked the region in 267 CE and 396 CE.


About the Author

Mark Cartwright
Mark holds an M.A. in Greek philosophy and his special interests include the Minoans, the ancient Americas, and world mythology. He loves visiting and reading about historic sites and transforming that experience into free articles accessible to all.

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Timeline

Visual Timeline
  • 6000 BCE - 5000 BCE
    First inhabitation of the Nemean valley.
  • c. 5000 BCE
    Earliest Neolithic finds in the Corinth area.
  • c. 3000 BCE
    First settlement at Tiryns.
  • 3000 BCE - 2000 BCE
    First inhabitation of Mycenae area.
  • c. 2100 BCE
    First evidence of building structures at Mycenae.
  • 2000 BCE
    Early Greeks settle the Peloponnese.
  • c. 1600 BCE
    First construction stages of the Tiryns citadel.
  • c. 1550 BCE
    Gold death-masks (including that of 'Agamemnon') made at Mycenae
  • c. 1500 BCE - c. 1400 BCE
    First palace structure and Treasury of Atreus tomb built at Mycenae.
  • c. 1500 BCE - 1200 BCE
    Mycenae at its peak of influence.
  • c. 1450 BCE
    Mycenaen influence extended to Knossos, Crete.
  • c. 1450 BCE
    Linear B script developed at Mycenae.
  • 1400 BCE - 1300 BCE
    Mycenaean palace architecture at Tiryns.
  • 1400 BCE - 1300 BCE
    Mycenaean fortifications, palaces and tombs constructed at Argos.
  • 1400 BCE - 1100 BCE
    Culture in the Cyclades is increasingly influenced by the Mycenaean civilization of mainland Greece.
  • c. 1300 BCE
    First palace destroyed at Mycenae and repaired, Lion Gate added and fortifications extended.
  • 1300 BCE - 1200 BCE
    Mycenaean Tiryns is at the height of its importance.
  • c. 1200 BCE
    Second palace destroyed at Mycenae, city begins to decline.
  • c. 1200 BCE
    Earthquake severely damages Tiryns.
  • 1200 BCE - 1100 BCE
    Argos takes over from Mycenae as most important regional power in the Argolid.
  • c. 900 BCE
    Sparta is founded.
  • c. 700 BCE
    Corinthians adopt the trireme from the Phoenicians.
  • c. 700 BCE
    Sparta, Argos and Paros hold the first documented musical competitions in Greece.
  • 700 BCE - 600 BCE
    King Phiedon leads Argos to its greatest expansion.
  • c. 657 BCE - 585 BCE
    The Kypselidai are tyrants of Corinth.
  • c. 650 BCE
    Sparta crushes Messenian revolt.
  • 627 BCE - 587 BCE
    Periander is tyrant at Corinth.
  • c. 625 BCE
  • c. 600 BCE - 700 BCE
    Tiryns becomes a cult centre for the worship of Hera, Athena, and Herakles.
  • 585 BCE
    An oligarchy of 80 takes power at Corinth.
  • 580 BCE
    First athletic games at Isthmia.
  • c. 580 BCE
    The kouroi of Argos thought to represent Cleobis & Biton are sculpted.
  • 573 BCE
    First athletic games at Nemea in honour of Zeus.
  • c. 550 BCE
    The temple of Apollo is constructed at Corinth.
  • c. 505 BCE - 365 BCE
    Peloponnesian League alliance between Sparta, Corinth, Elis and Tegea which establishes Spartan hegemony over the Peloponnese.
  • 494 BCE - 493 BCE
    Spartan forces under Cleomenes I attack the city of Argos.
  • 494 BCE - 493 BCE
    Telesilla of Argos defends her city against the Spartan forces with an army of women.
  • c. 490 BCE
    Leonidas beomes one of Sparta's two kings.
  • 478 BCE
    Sparta withdraws from alliance against Persia.
  • c. 468 BCE
    Tiryns is destroyed by the Argeians.
  • 468 BCE
    Argeians destroy citadel of Mycenae.
  • 460 BCE - 445 BCE
  • 432 BCE
    Sparta declares that Athens has broken the Thirty Year Peace and prepares for war.
  • 431 BCE - 404 BCE
    The 2nd Peloponnesian War between Athens and Sparta (the Delian League and the Peloponnesian League) which involved all of Greece.
  • 431 BCE - 404 BCE
    Thebes sides with Sparta against Athens in the Peloponnesian War.
  • 429 BCE
    Peloponnesian forces led by Sparta begin the siege of Plataea.
  • 425 BCE
    Pylos campaign, under Cleon and Demosthenes' command Athens defeats Sparta at Pylos.
  • 424 BCE
    Spartan general Brasidas takes Amphipolis, Thucydides failed to prevent this and is exiled.
  • 424 BCE
    A force of Athenian peltasts defeat Spartan hoplites on Sphaktria in the Peloponnese.
  • 418 BCE
    Sparta, led by Agis II, defeats Argos and her allies at the battle of Mantinaea.
  • 415 BCE - 330 BCE
    Nemean Games relocated to Argos.
  • 412 BCE
    Sparta allies with Persia.
  • 410 BCE
    Alcibiades leads the Athenian fleet to victory over Sparta at Cyzicus.
  • 404 BCE
    End of the Peloponnesian war, Athens defeated By Sparta at Aigospotamoi, Rule of the Thirty Tyrants in Athens.
  • 395 BCE - 386 BCE
    The Corinthian Wars between Sparta and an alliance of Athens, Corinth, Argos, Boeotia and Thebes.
  • 390 BCE
    Athenian leader Iphikrates employs peltasts to defeat Spartan hoplites at Lechaion near Corinth.
  • 379 BCE - 376 BCE
    Sparta establishes a garrison at Thebes.
  • 375 BCE
    Thebes defeats Sparta at the Battle of Tegyra.
  • 371 BCE
    Thebes defeats Sparta in the Battle of Leuktra.
  • 362 BCE
    Indecisive Battle of Matinea where Thebes fought against Sparta and Athens. Theban general Epaminondas is killed.
  • 338 BCE
    Philip of Macedonia defeats the Greek allied forces of Athens, Thebes and Corinth in the Battle of Chaironeia.
  • 330 BCE
    Athletic Games return from Argos to Nemea.
  • c. 330 BCE
    Temple of Zeus built at Nemea.
  • c. 330 BCE - c. 300 BCE
    Extensive building programme at Nemea funded by the Macedonians.
  • 269 BCE
    Nemean Games definitively moved to Argos.
  • 243 BCE
    Corinth joins the Archaean League.
  • 225 BCE
    Macedonians bring an army across the Isthmus to face another Achaian force trying to take Corinth.
  • 146 BCE
    Rome sacks Corinth and dissolves the Achaean league. Greece is ruled by Rome.
  • 44 BCE
    Julius Caesar founds the Roman colony of Corinth.
  • 67 CE
    Under Nero excavation of the Corinth Canal begins but is abandoned after three months.
  • c. 150 CE
    Pausanias visits the abandoned site of Nemea.
  • 267 CE
    The Goths sack Athens, Corinth, Sparta, and Argos.
  • 393 CE
    Roman Emperor Theodosius definitively ends all pagan Games in Greece.
  • c. 396 CE
    Corinth burned by the Visigoths under Alaric.
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