Argos

by
published on 14 May 2012

Kouroi of Argos

Argos lies on the fertile Argolid plain in the eastern Peloponnese in Greece. The site has been inhabited from prehistoric times up to the present day.  Ancient Argos was built on two hills: Aspis and Larissa, 80 m and 289 m in height respectively. Argos, along with Mycenae and Tiryns, was a significant Mycenaean centre, and the city remained important throughout the Greek, Hellenistic, and Roman periods until its destruction by the Visigoths in 395 CE.

In ancient Greek mythology, the city gained its name from Argos, son of Zeus and Niobe. Homer’s Iliad tells of Argos sending men to fight in the Trojan War, as being ruled by Agamemnon, and as a place celebrated for its horse rearing. The city is also described by Homer as being especially dear to the goddess Hera.

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The city's mythical heritage meant Argos enjoyed a certain prestige even in Roman times.

The city perhaps reached its greatest dominance in the 7th century BCE under King Pheidon, who is credited with introducing to mainland Greece such military innovations as hoplite tactics and double grip shields. From the 7th to 5th century BCE, the city was a long-time rival to Sparta for dominance of the Argolid. The role of Argos during the Persian wars of the 5th century BCE is ambiguous, the city either remaining neutral or displaying pro-Persian sentiment.  Nevertheless, it was during this century that Argos began to assimilate smaller surrounding states such as Tiryns, Mycenae, and Nemea. It was as part of this expansion that Argos also took over as host of the biennial Panhellenic games originally held at Nemea, firstly from c. 415 BCE to c. 330 BCE, and again definitively from 271 BCE. This fact and the city's mythical heritage meant Argos enjoyed a certain prestige even in Roman times. Hadrian, in particular, was generous to the city, building, amongst other things, an aqueduct and baths.   

Theatre of Argos

Visible today are Mycenaean tombs (14th to 13th century BCE), a  theatre (4th to 3rd century BCE, with 2nd and 4th century CE modifications), an odeum for dramatic and musical performances (5th century BCE), the sanctuary of Aphrodite (430-420 BCE), foundations and walls of the agora (5th century BCE), Roman baths or thermae (2nd century CE), and parts of the ancient, Cyclopean, citadel walls (incorporated into the medieval fortress fortifications on the Larissa hill). The theatre is particularly well preserved and includes 81 rows of seats which would have given it a capacity of 20,000 spectators - the largest of any Greek theatre.

Argos was excavated principally by the French School of Archaeology, and various artefacts have been found at the site including terracotta figurines (13th century BCE), pottery in the geometric style (8th century BCE), armour (7th century BCE), Roman sculpture, and two 4th-5th century CE mosaic floors depicting Dionysos and the months of the year.  Most of these now reside in the Archaeological Museum of Argos.

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About the Author

Mark Cartwright
Mark is a history writer based in Italy. Surrounded by archaeological sites, his special interests include ancient ceramics, architecture, and mythology. He holds an MA in Political Philosophy and is the Publishing Director at AHE.

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