Messene: Rise of the phoenix

Ancient Messene home to the Messenians the inhabitants of the south west of the Peleponese in Greece. These people were enslaved by the Spartans in the 8th century BC after two long wars. They were known as Helots by the Spartans who used them to farm the land while the male Spartans were off fighting. They tried to revolt many times and were put down brutally. The Spartans were all ways paranoid of such revolts as the helots were their main source of labour. Tough Spartan boys were often picked and let loose into the wild where they would hunt and kill any helots they came across.Such was the brutality of the age. Most of Greece had slaves which were normally foreigners. However the idea that a whole city state or ‘polis could be enslaved was something looked down upon by most Greeks.

The Spartans had oppressed the Messenians for 2 centuries until the unthinkable happened. In 370BC the Thebans led by Epameinondas defeated the ‘invincible’ Spartans. They then liberated the Messenians and built the town of Messene for them. The Messenians with the help of other Greeks built a massive wall to prevent the Spartans enslaving them again.This wall still stands and according to Pausanias it was the most heavily defended city in Greece. Even the top of Mt Ithome was fortified. in the Hellenistic times (3rd-2nd c. B.C.) when the Asklepieion was built, Messene was worshipped probably together with Asklepios who was also a chthonic deity of fertility, of life and death historically linked to the pre-dorian past of the land of Messene.



Author: Jeremy Hallatt



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