Ancient Argos

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The Greek city-state of Argos predates other more famous centers of power, dating back to before the Trojan War. The Mycenaean civilization, which led the assault on the famous walled city, was just to the north of Argos, and men from Argos fought alongside Agamemnon, Achilles, and other famous enemies of Troy.

Argos map

Argos was built on a fertile plain called the Argolis, in the eastern Peloponnese. Two hills, the Aspis and Larissa, dominate the landscape. The city-state was largely shielded by mountains but was open on one side to the sea. It was an inviting destination for many a Greek settler.

Argos was famous for its horses. One of the legends of Argos was that of the famed Medusa-slayer Perseus, who flew on the winged horse Pegasus in his defeat of a sea monster.

Pheidon was the King of Argos in the 7th Century B.C. and gained fame for his war expertise. Argos was an early victor over military powerhouse Sparta in several battles. The kings list of ancient Argos contains nearly two dozen names.

Argos largely sat out the Persian Wars, even as Athens and Sparta led the way to victory over first Darius the Great and then Xerxes the Great. A large city-state by ancient Greek standards, Argos became known as a center of culture and industry. The Nemean Games, an every-two-years version of the Olympic Games, took place under Argive rule for a time, after that city-state assumed control of neighboring Nemea.

A major victory by Sparta in the 5th Century B.C. led to the overthrow of autocratic government in Argos and to the establishment of democracy.

The influence of Argos waxed and waned throughout the time of Greek dominance of the Mediterranean world. Argos sided with Corinth in the Corinthian War, won by Sparta, and with Thebes against Sparta a few decades after that. Argos became a client city-state of both the Macedonian and Roman civilizations.

The theatre of Argos survives to this day; its 81 rows of seats would have accommodated an audience of about 20,000. Other well-known structures in the city-state were a Roman baths, a large agora, and a sanctuary of Aphrodite.

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