Argo, una delle più importanti ‘terze forze’ del quadro internazionale greco, fu città di solide tradizioni democratiche, ma la sua esperienza fu assai diversa rispetto al modello ateniese, sia sul piano delle forme istituzionali, sia sul piano della convivenza civile.
I saggi raccolti in questo volume cercano, da una parte, di cogliere il ruolo internazionale di Argo nel contesto geopolitico peloponnesiaco e nel più ampio contesto panellenico; dall’altra, di mettere in evidenza, sul piano della politica interna, le peculiari caratteristiche istituzionali della città argiva e le profonde fratture che ne attraversano il contesto sociale, originate dalle forme particolari di un processo di democratizzazione avviato dall’immissione di elementi estranei, in senso etnico e sociale, nel corpo civico. Ne esce il quadro di una vicenda storica profondamente condizionata dalla costante minaccia delle potenze confinanti e dal ricorrere di sanguinose lotte fratricide.
The hinterland of the Argolic Gulf comprises the Kynouria to the west,
the Argive plain or Argeia to the north, and the peninsula known as the
Argolic Akte to the east. At the western end of an alluvial plain of c. 250
km2, the site of Argos is dominated by two hills, one much higher than
the other: to the south, Larisa with escarpments rising to c. 290 m, and
to the north Profites Elias, called Aspis, a rocky outcrop of less than 90
m. The profound penetration of the mountain into the plain confers to
the site a dominating position on the chief routes of the Argolid, among
them the main road from the Isthmus of Corinth to the south and the
western parts of the Peloponnese.
In a study of the natural borders of the Argive plain, the watershed
offers a reliable guide-line: to the north, the Tretos Pass separates the
Corinthian Gulf from that of Argos; to the east is the Arachnaion massif;
to the west rises the range of the Arkadian mountains. It follows that
Argos naturally tried to secure for itself the political control of the entire
valley of the rivers Inachos and Charadros. The plan was implemented by
destroying and incorporating Tiryns and Mykenai in the fifth century.
The toponym Argos, which was used in the following period, seems to
be a Greek word, which is rather surprising for site of that time.
Habitation is attested from the Neolithic period on the site where later
the city of Argos grew up. From MH onwards, the site has become a
nucleated settlement of some size, but not large enough to deserve the
name of «city» or «town». Further extended in LH, it was still smaller
than Mykenai and Tiryns.
After the destruction of Mycenae toward the end of the twelfth century,
Argos became the most important site of the plain. The area within
which Early Iron Age remains have been found is much larger than at Mycenae and Tiryns. In the Geometric period, population was growing
significantly. Although the town remained a cluster of hamlets, shrines
were erected on the two hills. Traces of urban activities are attested. New
cemeteries were opened. The extent of the Late Geometric city was
almost equivalent to the modern town. We can accept the hypothesis of
a synoecism at Argos in the eight century B.C.
We know very little of social and political organization of Argolid
during the period that followed the collapse of the Mycenaean civilization.
The emerging city-state was dominated by an aristocracy of cattle
and horse breeder. According to the tradition, Argos was ruled by kings
(the Temenidai). After the destruction of Asine and the conquest of
Nauplia (if historical), Argos dominated the entire valley, which is well
suited to being the territory of one polity, but the political status of some
dependant communities remains obscure. Citizens were distributed
among the three Dorian tribes (Hylleis, Dymanes and Pamphylai). The
tribes were probably subdivided in phratries. The plain was cultivated by
During the Dark Ages, the inhabitants of Argos showed probably a
growing interest in the Heroic Age. They claimed to be the true descendants
of the conquerors of Thebes and Troy.
The historical existence of Pheidon, the shadowy tyrant/king of archaic
Argos unanimously considered by ancient sources as the inventor or
reformer of Peloponnesian measures and weight standards, might be
not totally beyond doubt judging from the possible allusiveness of his
name (Pheidon = «the economiser» / pheidon = «little measuring cup for
oil», «oil saver» / pheidon[e]ia metra = «[reduced] measures/weight
standards fixed by Pheidon»: cf. vb. pheidesthai, «to save», «to economise
») and from the extreme fluctuations of his chronology (from the
9th to the beginning of the 6th century B.C., according to different dates
or implications in ancient sources or questionable arguments by modern
Yet such a conclusion seems to be excluded by Herodotus’ authority,
who mentions Leocedes, Pheidon’s son, as one of the suitors of
Agariste, Orthagorid Cleisthenes’ daughter: «from the Peloponnese
came Leocedes, son of Phidon the tyrant of Argos, that Phidon who
made weights and measures for the Peloponnesians and acted more
arrogantly than any other Greek: he drove out the Elean contestdirectors
and held the contests at Olympia himself» (Her. VI 127: the
earliest testimony about Pheidon; also the only one that moves his date
– as a contemporary of Sicyonian Cleisthenes – to the second half of
the 7th or the beginning of the 6th century B.C.). Herodotus’ list, which
probably reflects reliable Alcmaeonid tradition from Periclean entourage,
cannot be rejected as pure epic fiction.
Probably one of the reasons why Pheidon’s chronology became so
puzzling in ancient post-Herodotean tradition is that the tyrant of Argos
was not at all – or only vaguely – mentioned in Hellanicus’ Argive
Hiereiai; and that his usurped role as an organizer of the Olympic
Games, obtained by military force, was intentionally obliterated by the
Eleans, who considered that edition of the Games as an Anolympiad
(Paus. VI 22, 2-3).
As a consequence, the ancients could only guess the Argive tyrant’s
chronology, according to different autoschediastical calculations and
chronological systems; a circumstance which invalidates also any modern
pretention to “correct” and improve such unreliable “data”. This is
particularly true in the case of Pheidon’s intrusive genealogical role in
the Corinthian tale of Habron and Melissus, connected to the foundation
of Syracuse by Archias: a role attested only occasionally in ancient
sources, a surreptitious mean to provide a “historical” frame for some
originally atemporal cultic aition (concerning ritualized “Dorian” pederasty
and/or some Dionysiac/Demetriac ritual in Corinth). Instead, a kernel of historical truth – however alterated and modernized it may be
– seems to be preserved in the lexicographic tradition (perhaps originally
Aristotelian) concerning Pheidon’s alleged role in the demonetization
and dedication of iron spits (obeloi) in the Heraion at Argos; a
tradition which found substantial – although problematic – confirmation
by Ch. Waldstein’s archaeological discovery of a bundle of iron
spits, bound together with a heavy iron bar, near the altar of the archaic
On the contrary, the assumption – perhaps not earlier than Ephorus –
that Pheidon «invented» silver coinage, precisely at Aegina, and gave it
in change of the proto-monetary iron spits which he retired from circulation,
is beyond any doubt false: as said above, the latest attested chronology
for the Argive tyrant is the beginning of the 6th century B.C.
(Herodotus), while numismatic evidence points to a date not earlier
than the second or third quarter of the same century for the very beginning
of Aeginetan coinage (the so called Aeginetan chelonai, «seaturtles
» or «tortoises» in the modern research: a virtual Peloponnesiakon
nomisma according to Hesychius s.v. chelone).
Perhaps this anachronistic tradition is only a “logic” conclusion
drawn by ancient sources on the following heterogeneous grounds: (a)
the awareness of Pheidon’s historical role as an inventor of Argive
weight standards (later extended to a greater part of Peloponnese),
and of a new system of “microscopic” weights suitable for silver in little
bars: a reform which promoted silver to the official proto-monetary
mean of exchange in the whole area, and made the heavy and unpractical
proto-monetary iron spits obsolete; (b) the awareness of a close
evolutive connection between the proto-monetary circulation of
weighted silver and the beginning of silver coinage, generally considered
– at least for mainland Greece – an Aeginetan primacy.
Such an hypothesis, increasingly accepted in recent research, may
be strenghthened by a literary testimony, sofar unnoticed: Etymologicum
Gudianum s.v. pheidesthai. Although somewhat corrupted, this passage
seems to depict Pheidon as the author of a new «reduced» weight standard
(meiosantos ta metra), which allowed to base exchanges (allagai) on
small pre-determined quantities of silver.
This paper aims to identify the main features of Argos’ policy in the fifth
century B.C. Modern scholars have underlined neutrality, defence from
Spartan hegemony, and alliance with the Arcadians (especially with
Mantinea) and with Athens.
Friendship with Athens has been particularly discussed since, despite
favourable premises, it was not very successful (as for example after
462/1 and between 421 and 418). Consequently, some scholars argue
that Argive relations with Athens cannot explain the whole of Argos’ policy
in the fifth century. Kelly states that this policy was «essentially pro-
Argive». In my opinion, however, Argos often showed too little capacity
of initiative and too great internal divisions, that did not permit a consistent
The relations with Athens were no doubt favoured by political affinity
(Thuc. V 44, 1). Only a democratic government could, in fact, enable
Argos to set herself free from Sparta, join democratic, anti-Spartan states
(such as Athens, Arcadia and Elis), and aspire to restore her ancient
hegemony on the Peloponnesos. On the contrary, with an oligarchic,
pro-Spartan government Argos could only aspire to control Argolid and
enforce a local policy.
For this reason Argos was influenced by internal stasis. On several
occasions (probably in 469-464 and in 451, and certainly in 417), the
revival of the oligarchical faction caused a change in Argive foreign policy.
Unlike Athens, Argos was a weak and disunited democracy, built
from a forced assimilation of people of lower status (perhaps even of different
ethnical origin) and often undermined by a strenuous oligarchical
Beside fear of isolation and internal divisions, historical events highlight, in my opinion, a strong influence of Corinth on Argos’ policy (perhaps
not enough underlined by modern scholarship). We can identify
several episodes from the end of the sixth century until 421; but
Corinth’s role clearly emerges from the events of the years 421-418.
After the conclusion of the alliance between Sparta and Athens in 421,
the Corinthians tried to arrange a great Peloponnesian democratic
coalition under the leadership of Argos, whose aim was to save the
Peloponnesos from subjugation (Thuc. V 27, 2). The Corinthians evidently
did not intend to claim Peloponnesian hegemony for themselves:
they consciously left this leading role to the Argives, either because
Argos had historical traditions that made it the best alternative to Sparta
as Peloponnesian leader, or in order not to get too much involved in an
uncertain and dangerous project. Furthermore, Argos’ leadership could
obtain the approval of Peloponnesian democratic states, that did not
trust the oligarchical Corinth, for the Corinthian project.
Afterwards, Corinth’s attitude seems to have been fundamental in
the crisis of the anti-Spartan coalition. When the Corinthians withdrew
from the anti-Spartan front during the year 420, the Argives lost their
interest in Peloponnesian hegemony. Being afraid of remaining isolated,
they first tried to come to a compromise with the Spartans, and then
reapproached the Athenians. In comparison with Corinth, Argive political
and diplomatic initiative shows lack of consistency and impressive
weakness after 421.
Thus, Argos’ policy seems to have often depended on external initiative
and to have been conditioned, or inspired, by Corinth. The great
influence Corinth had on Argos’ choices also depended on the geopolitical
situation of Argos that was under Spartan pressure on the southern
side and Corinthian menace in the North. Sometimes Argos tried to
extend her influence to the detriment of Corinth; more often she suffered
Corinth’s initiative and became an instrument of Corinthian policy.
Thus, in the fifth century Argive foreign policy seems to have been a
‘vicarious’ policy, actually led by the Corinthians.
This paper addresses the relationship beetween the mythical and the
contemporary Argos in some tragedies of the fifth century, which were
composed a few years before or after the two Athens-Argos alliances in
462/1 and 420 a.C.: Aeschylus’ Supplices (an analysis of the drama in this
perspective is found in par. 1.) and Eumenides, and The Suppliant Women
Between the two Aeschylean dramas there are many correspondences,
especially in the dramatic structure, which can be properly explained only
if we suppose chronological contiguity (par. 2.).
The treatment of Argos in the Euripidean tragedy is radically different
from that of Aeschylus, particularly for what concerns the personage
of Adrastus, both in the first scene with Theseus and in the exodos (par.
3.). The attitude of the younger dramatist towards the alliance with
Argos seems not so optimistic as in Aeschylus; on the contrary, it reflects
a substantial mistrust which can be explained with the different historical
2. The sixth century. 2.1 Literary evidence. 2.2 Epigraphical evidence.
2.3 According to Pausanias (II 19, 2), the king Meltas was deposed by the
demos: however he was not the last king of Argos, as we have evidence
about a basileus still in charge in the fifth century; it was just the end of
the Temenid dynasty. Approximately in the same time, inscriptions
attest a board of damiorgoi at Argos: probably, the Argive kings had lost
their effective power and thus a transition occurred in the first half of
the century from a monarchic rule to an aristocratic one.
3. The first three quarters of the fifth century. 3.1 Literary evidence. 3.2
Epigraphical evidence. 3.3 The introduction of the fourth tribe may be
connected to the enlargement of the citizenship after the battle of
Sepeia, providing the first step towards democracy. Although we know
very little about democratic institutions, inscriptions often record resolutions
of the council and particularly of the assembly. The ‘new citizens’
were partially thrown out of the city about 468 but this did not imply a
change in the institutions: also as a consequence of mixed marriages
between widows of the fallen at Sepeia and the ‘new citizens’, Argos was
from that time on its way to democracy.
4. The last quarter of the fifth century. 4.1 The Corinthian embassy to
Argos after Nicias’ peace (Thuc. V 27-28). 4.2 Additional proofs of
Thucydides’ inaccuracy about institutional matters (Thuc. V 37, 2-3);
and about the importance of the Argive assembly (Thuc. V 40-41; 59,5;
60,6; 61, 1). 4.3 Alliance between Argos, Athens, Mantinea and Elis
(Thuc. V 47, 9). 4.4 Military organization: the generals; the martial
court; the five lochoi; the Thousand. 4.5 Evaluations of the Argive government
(Thuc. V 29, 1; 31, 6; 44, 1). 4.6 The oligarchic revolution of 417.
4.7 The restoration of democracy and the last part of the fifth century.
5. Conclusion. The evidence we have about democratic institutions is
not complete. Nor can we safely assess when democracy was born:
Sepeia was definitely a turning point, but no evidence of democratic
institutions can be traced before about 480. We can say something more
about years between 421 and 417. At that time Argos was a democracy,
possibly a moderate one. But what is clear is that Argive democracy was
unstable, because of the persistence of a strong oligarchic faction, whose
members were able to occupy important offices.
The ancient sources for a detailed study about Argos’ history in the
fourth century are relatively few.
In the years after the end of the Peloponnesian war it is possible to
assume a democratic orientation for Argos: the town was the destination
of all those who were against the hard regime that the Thirties had set
up in Athens.
In the period of the Corinthian war Argos seems to have an important
role by the military point of view: Argos belongs to the antispartan
coalition from the beginning (it was one of the receiver of the
Timocrates’ gold) and then in the course of the war the sources clearly
show its military power (in 392, 391 and 388 Agesilaos performed three
expeditions in the Peloponnese). Up to the King’s peace Argos has a
significant military power which finds a support in Corinth for its struggle
Its internal politics, however, was instable, as the 370’s civil war (scitalism)
shows; probably, because of this internal instability, Argos really
did not succeed to develop his leading role of the Peloponnese, as
instead it could have done by virtue of its military strength.
In the years of the Theban hegemony, Argos is close to Arcadians,
who wanted to get the command of the Peloponnese. The two Theban
expeditions in the Peloponnese, the help supplied to Euphron of
Sikion, the case of Phlyus and the battle of Ornai are all examples in
which Argos fights near Arcadians against the Spartans.
In the last years of the century, we notice the passage from the favour
given to Philip II to the resistance to Alexander, owed to the ancient
loyalty of Argives to Thebes that had risen against Alexander. The lack
of the sources does not allow to formulate an hypothesis about the internal
political situation of Argos for this period. The total judgement is,
however, that of a strong power by the military point of view, but politically
unsettled; and this element, probably, conditioned a great part of
its history in the fourth century.
This paper opens with a short survey of the sources on the merging of
Argos and Corinth and on its chronology; then, it focuses on the charge
of betrayal brought against the pro-Spartan element in Corinth.
According to Xenophon and Demosthenes, the Corinthian oligarchs
had already intended to betray the alliance after August 394. This charge
is supposed to have caused the massacre of the pro-Spartan
Corinthians in the Eukleia. The paper also highlights Athenian interest in Corinthian loyalty to the alliance: Athenian and Argive troops stayed
together in Corinth until the Athenian general Iphicrates was removed
from Corinth and the Argives were able to seize the Corinthian citadel.
As for the precise form of the Argos-Corinth Union, two aspects must
be considered: 1) the Union was organized in wartime; 2) there were
pro-Athenian and pro-Argive democrats in Corinth. In this context, we
must rule out both synoikismos and sympoliteia and assume a form of isopoliteia
(which may explain the Argive involvement in the Isthmian
Games in 392).
Starting from the 5th century BC, the Macedonian kings claimed to be Argives, the offspring of Temenos, the ‘child of Herakles’, who won the Argolid, when the Herakleides made themselves masters of the Peloponnese, eighty years after the Troyan War. However, the history of post-classic Argos is linked with Philip II, the Temenid king of Macedonia. Without considering these mythical connections, the Argives were already friends and allies of Philip II in 343, when at Athens Demosthenes, in De falsa legatione, pointed out that the Argives, like other Peloponnesian peoples, were prone to Philip’s will. After the battle of Cheroneia in 338, Philip satisfied Argive territorial claims to Sparta’s detriment, but Argos’ gratitude for the Macedonian king did not last: at the news of Philip’s death in 336, the city, along with most of the Peloponnese, tried to break from the Macedonian alliance. However, after Thebes’ destruction, Argos, like the other Greek cities, did not pursue the rebellion further: as long as Alexander lived, it was faithful to Macedonian power. After Alexander’s death in 323, the Argives were involved in twentyyear Diadochean Wars; in those terrible years, they often changed sides and suffered heavy losses: during the Second Diadochean War, in 316/5, 500 citizens, who were opponents of Cassander, were burnt alive in the town hall by a Macedonian commander: as it was often happened in classic Argos, Argive politics had achieved a bloody outcome once more. In the 3th century, we hear of Argos in the late 270s, when Pyrrhus, the ambitious king of Epirus, decided to fight against Antigonos Gonatas in the Peloponnese: supporters of Pyrrhus were to be found in all the Peloponnesian cities, including Argos, where Aristeas, the friend of Pyrrhus, was in feud with Aristippos. According to Plutarch, Aristippos appeared to be a friend of Antigonos, but in effect he was tyrant of Argos and founder of a dynasty which ruled Argos until the city joined the Achaean League in 229. Pyrrhus was killed in Argos by Macedonians soldiers who fought on behalf of Aristippos: Antigonos’ victory proved sufficient to ensure the continued maintenance of Aristippos at Argos. For many years the tyrants of Argos were faithful to Macedonian kings: only in the 220s, the last offspring of the dynasty, Aristomachus the Younger, changed side and became a friend of Aratos, the leader of the Achaean League. When Aratos, in his turn, became a friend of the Macedonian regent, Antigonos Doson, out of hatred for Kleomenes III, king of Sparta, Aristomachos changed side once more and was seized, tortured and killed by Aratos. Antigonos Doson did not like at all Aratos’ act: in fact, according to Plutarch, when the Macedonian regent arrived in Argos, the statues of Aristippos’ dynasty, which had been overthrown, were reinstated on Antigonos’ orders.
In accordance with Flamininus’ and Nabis’ speeches (Livy 34, 31-32 ) on
the brink of war in 195 B.C., Rome’s intervention at Argos was requested
by the Greeks themselves for internal purposes: first, the long clash between
the Achaean League and Sparta, secondly the different aims of the
Flamininus made war against Nabis only to give freedom to Argos and
to restore the city to the Achaean’s League, which Argos in 198 had departed
from. Nevertheless Flamininus, after the Roman’s victory at
Cinoscefale, didn’t want to resolve completely the Greek internal conflicts.
Biografia degli autori
A questo volume hanno collaborato:
Cinzia Bearzot, Marcello Bertoli, Alessandro Galimberti, Franca Landucci, Maria Pia Pattoni, Marcel Piérart, Giuseppe Ragone, Marta Sordi, Paolo A. Tuci.