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The promenade
The promenade
Gytheio is located in Greece
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Country Greece
Administrative region Peloponnese
Regional unit Laconia
Municipality East Mani
Elevation 5 m (16 ft)
Population (2011)[1]
 • Municipal unit 7,106
Time zone EET (UTC+2)
 • Summer (DST) EEST (UTC+3)
Postal code 232 00
Area code(s) 27330
Vehicle registration ΑΚ

Gytheio (Greek: Γύθειο, [ˈʝiθio]), the ancient Gythium or Gytheion (Ancient Greek: Γύθειον), is a town and a former municipality in Laconia, Peloponnese, Greece. Since the 2011 local government reform it is part of the municipality East Mani, of which it is a municipal unit.[2] It was the seaport of Sparta, some 40 kilometres (25 miles) north. Gytheio used to be an important port until it was destroyed in 4th century AD, possibly by an earthquake. Today it is the largest and most important town in Mani. It is also the seat of the municipality of East Mani.

Nearest Places

Historical population

Year Town Municipality
1830[3] 500-700 -
1910[3] 2,000+ -
1981 4,354 -
1991 4,259 7,542
2001[4] 4,489 7,926
2011[5] 4,717 7,106


Gytheio is located in the north-east corner of Mani. It lies on the north-western end of the Laconian Gulf. Gytheio was built on a hill called Koumaros or Laryssio in one of the most fertile areas in Mani, near the mouth of the Gythium River, which is usually dry and has been given the nickname of "Xerias", meaning 'dry' (Today most of the "Xerias" dry river is covered by "Ermou Avenue"). Further north-east is the delta of the Evrotas River. Gytheio is built on hilly ground overlooking the Laconian Gulf. Offshore of Gytheio are several small islands, the most important of these being Cranae, which is connected to the mainland by a causeway. Gytheio is only 40 km (25 mi) southeast of Sparti, connected by Greek National Road 39. The town centre is situated around the port. Pine trees are situated in the west and rocky mountains in the north.


Map showing Gythium in ancient Greece.
The ancient theatre of Gythio.
View of the port.
Old tower.
The city hall, designed by Ernst Ziller.

The reputed founders of ancient Gythium were Heracles and Apollo,[6] who frequently appear on its coins or in other legends, and Castor and Pollux:[7] the former of these names may point to the influence of Phoenician traders from Tyre, who, we know, visited the Laconian shores at a very early period.[8] It is thought that Gytheio may have been the center of their purple dye trade because the Laconian Gulf had a plentiful source of murex. In classical times it was a community of Perioeci, politically dependent on Sparta, though doubtless with a municipal life of its own.

In 455 BC, during the First Peloponnesian War, it was burned by the Athenian admiral Tolmides who besieged the city with 50 ships and 4,000 hoplites.[7][9] It was rebuilt and was most probably, the building ground for the Spartan fleet in the Peloponnesian War. In 407 BC during the Peloponnesian War, Alcibiades landed there and saw the thirty triremes the Spartans were building there.[7][10] In 370 BC, the Thebans under the command of Epaminondas besieged the city successfully for three days after ravaging Laconia.[7] However it was recaptured by the Spartans three days later.

In 219 BC, Philip V of Macedon tried to capture the city but without success.[7] Under Nabis, Gythium became a major naval arsenal and port. During the Roman-Spartan War, Gythium was captured after a lengthy siege. After the war finished, Gythium was made part of the Union of Free Laconians under Achean protection.[11] Nabis recaptured Gythium three years and the Spartan fleet defeated the Achean fleet outside of Gythium. Gythium was liberated by a Roman fleet under the command of Aulus Atilius Serranus.

Subsequently Gythium formed the most important of the Union of Free Laconians, a group of twenty-four, later eighteen, communities leagued together to maintain their autonomy against Sparta and declared free by Caesar Augustus.[12] The highest officer of the confederacy was the general, who was assisted by a treasurer (rauias), while the chief magistrates of the several communities bore the title of ephors.

In Roman times Gythium remained a major port and it prospered as a member of the Union.Roman Gythium[›][11] As purple dye was popular in Rome, Gythium exported that as well as porphyry and rose antique marble.[7] Evidence of the ancient Gythium prosperity can be found by the fact that the Romans built an ancient theatre which is well preserved today and is still used occasionally. The ancient theatre, as well as the city's Acropolis (west to the location of the theatre) discovered by the archeologist Dimitris Skias on 1891. Some time in the 4th century AD, Gythium was destroyed.[7] What happened to Gythium is not recorded but it is thought to have been either sacked by Alaric and Visigoths, pillaged by the Slavs or destroyed by the massive earthquake that struck the area in 375 AD.[7]

After the earthquake Gythium was abandoned. It remained a small village throughout the Byzantine and Ottoman times. Its importance grew when Tzannetos Grigorakis built his tower at Cranae and more people came and settled at Gytheio.[7] But during the Greek War of Independence, refugees flooded into Mani and made Gytheio a major town.[3]

The modern Gytheio opened a port in the 1960s. Ferries sail from Gytheio to Kythira almost daily and also to Crete twice a week. It is the See of the Diocese of Gytheion and Oitylo, headed by a Metropolitan bishop of the Orthodox Church of Greece. Gytheio is the largest and most important town in Mani. Most of the ruins of ancient Gythium are now submerged in the Laconian Gulf. Some walls' remains can be seen today on the sandy beach of Valtaki and in the shallow waters, where the well known Dimitrios shipwreck lies stranded. It is also the capital of the municipality of Gytheio.


The former province of Gytheio within the Peloponnese.

The province of Gytheio (Greek: Επαρχία Γυθείου) was one of the provinces of the Laconia Prefecture. Its territory corresponded with that of the current municipal units Gytheio and East Mani.[13] It was abolished in 2006.


International relations

Twin towns – Sister cities

Gytheio is twinned with:


^ Roman Gythium: Pausanias has left us a description of the town as it existed in the reign of Marcus Aurelius, the agora, the Acropolis, the island of Cranae (Marathonisi) where Paris celebrated his nuptials with Helen of Troy, the Migonium or precinct of Aphrodite Migonitis (occupied by the modern town), and the hill Larysium (Koumaro) rising above it. The numerous remains extant, of which the theatre and the buildings partially submerged by the sea are the most noteworthy, all belong to the Roman period.[14]

Inline Citations

  1. "Απογραφή Πληθυσμού - Κατοικιών 2011. ΜΟΝΙΜΟΣ Πληθυσμός" (in Greek). Hellenic Statistical Authority.CS1 maint: unrecognized language (link)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. Kallikratis law Greece Ministry of Interior (Greek)
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 Saïtis. Mani., 46 Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "Sa.C3.AFtis" defined multiple times with different content Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "Sa.C3.AFtis" defined multiple times with different content
  4. source
  5. source
  6. Pausanias 3.21.8
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 7.3 7.4 7.5 7.6 7.7 7.8 Fermor. Mani: Travels in the Southern Peloponesse., 302 Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "Fermor" defined multiple times with different content
  8. Pausanias 3.21.6
  9. Pausanias 1.27.5
  10. Xenophon, Hellenica, 1, 4, 8–12.
  11. 11.0 11.1 Greenhalgh and Eliopoulos. Deep into Mani:Journey to the southern tip of Greece., 21
  12. Pausanias 3.21.7
  13. Detailed census results 1991 PDF (39 MB) (Greek) (French)
  14. Pausanias 3.21.5


Primary Sources

  • Livy, translated by Henry Bettison, (1976). Rome and the Mediterranean. London: Penguin Classics. ISBN 0-14-044318-5.
  • Pausanias, translated by W.H.S Jones, (1918). Pausanias Description of Greece. London: Harvard University Press. ISBN 0-14-044362-2.
  • Polybius, translated by Frank W. Walbank, (1979). The Rise of the Roman Empire. New York: Penguin Classics. ISBN 0-14-044362-2.

Secondary Sources

  • Collitz-Bechtel, Sammlung d. griech. Dialekt-Inschriften, iii. Nos. 4562-4573; British School Annual, x. 179 foll.
  • Paul Cartledge and Antony Spawforth, (2002). Hellenistic and Roman Sparta: A tale of two cities. London: Routledge. ISBN 0-415-26277-1
  • E. Curtius, Peloponnesos, ii. 267 foll. Inscriptions: Le Bas-Foucart, Voyage archéologique, ii. Nos. 238-248 f.
  • Patrick Leigh Fermor, (1984). Mani: Travels in the Southern Peloponnese. London: Penguin. ISBN 0-14-011511-0
  • Peter Greenhalgh and Edward Eliopoulos, (1985). Deep into Mani:Journey to the southern tip of Greece. London: Trinity Press ISBN 0-571-13524-2
  • Peter Green, (1990). Alexander to Actium: The Historical Evolution of the Hellenistic Age, (2nd edition). Los Angeles: University of California Press. ISBN 0-500-01485-X.
  • Rosemary Hall, Paul Hellander, Corinne Simcock and David Willet. Lonely Planet: Greece. Singapore: SNP Printing Pte Ltd. ISBN 0-86442-527-9
  • Kyriakos Kassis, (1979). Mani's History. Athens: Presoft
  • William Leake, Travels in the Morea, i. 244 foll.
  • Maria Mavromataki, (2001). 8,500 Years of Civilization: Greece: Between Legend and History. Athens: Haïtalis. ISBN 960-8284-01-5
  • G. Weber, De Gytheo et Lacedaemoniorum rebus navalibus (Heidelberg, 1833)