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date: 28 January 2021


  • R. W. V. Catling

Laconia (Λακεδαίμων or ἡ Λακωνικὴ [γῆ]‎), the SE district of the Peloponnese (see peloponnesus), bordering Arcadia to the north and Messenia to the west. Until the 190s bce (see below), Laconia was controlled by Sparta and was the ‘nuclear territory’ (Cartledge) of the Spartans. A mountainous region, dominated by limestone formations and its derivatives, Laconia comprises the Parnon range in the east (peak 1,935 m.: 6, 348 ft.) running south to the Malea peninsula, and the Taygetus range in the west (peak 2,407 m.: 7,897 ft.) which towers over the plain of Sparta and extends south to the Mani peninsula. In between is the valley of the Eurotas, joined by the Oenus above Sparta, which empties into the Laconian Gulf at Helos. Natural resources occur in the south, iron near Neapolis and copper and silver/lead ores around Molaoi; lapis lacedaemonius is quarried near Croceae and rosso antico in the Mani (see marble). The main areas of cultivable land are the Eurotas valley (especially the plain of Sparta) and the Helos and Molaoi plains.

Palaeolithic occupation occurs at caves in the Mani. The only important neolithic settlement is at Kouphovouno near Sparta but early bronze age sites are widespread. Since c.1600 bce, when a flourishing Mycenaean kingdom (see mycenaean civilization) emerged, the centre of political power has always been located in the plain of Sparta. The main site at the Menelaion and others like Agios Stephanos on the Helos plain were destroyed c.1200 bce. From then until the arrival of Dorian settlers c.950 bce, Laconia was severely depopulated. By c.700 bce Sparta controlled most of Laconia and had begun its expansion into Messenia, reducing much of the conquered population to helotry (see helots). Spartiate territory comprised the plain of Sparta and its surrounds, the rest of Laconia being divided among nominally independent perioecic towns (see perioikoi) whose origins are mostly obscure. The northern frontiers were established c.540 bce after long disputes with Argos (1) and Tegea. Communications with the outside world were through Tegea to the north and Gytheum, Sparta's port and naval station, to the south. Spartan control of Laconia was uninterrupted until 338 bce when Philip (1) II divided its northern borderlands between Argos, Tegea, and Megalopolis and awarded land on Taygetus to Messene. Although some areas were recovered, the forced incorporation of Sparta and its dependencies into the Achaean Confederacy in 192 bce effectively ended Spartan hegemony of Laconia. A league of Laconian towns excluding Sparta, instituted during the 2nd cent. bce, was transformed into the ‘League of the Free Laconians’ (κοινὸν τῶν Ἐλευθερολακώνων‎) under Augustus, finally freeing the perioecic towns from Spartan domination. Initially twenty-four in number, they were reduced to eighteen by the Antonine period. Their cult centre was at the Hyperteleatum.


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  • Inscriptiones Graecae (1873– ), 5. 1.
  • A. Philippson and E. Kirsten, Die griechischen Landschaften 1–4 (1950–1959), 3/2. 412 ff.
  • R. Hope Simpson and O. Dickinson, Gazetteer of Aegean Civilisation in the Bronze Age 1: The Mainland and Islands (1979), 107 ff.
  • P. Cartledge, Sparta and Lakonia (1979).
  • P. Cartledge and A. Spawforth, Hellenistic and Roman Sparta, 2nd edn. (2002).
  • G. Shipley in J. M. Sanders (ed.), Philolakon (1992), 211 ff.
  • J. B. Rutter, American Journal of Archaeology 1993, 745ff.
  • W. Cavanagh and others (eds.), The Laconia Survey 1 (1996).
  • W. Cavanagh and others (eds.), The Laconia Survey 2 (2002).
  • N. Kennell, in S. Hodkinson and A. Powell (eds.), Sparta. New Perspectives (1999) 189 ff.
  • Annual of the British School at Athens 2000, 367 ff.
  • M. H. Hansen and T. H. Nielsen (eds.), An Inventory of Archaic and Classical Poleis (2004), 569 ff.