Kirra, Phocis

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Kirra or Cirrha (Greek: Κίρρα) is a village in Phocis, central Greece. It is part of the municipal unit of Itea. It is also sometimes called Adrastea. Kirra is part of a Trifecta starting in the north with Delphi, descending south to the Gulf of Corinth to Itea, which is the main seaside city in that area, and then down the coast a few miles to Kirra.

Ancient history

In ancient times Kirra existed as a fortified city that controlled access to Delphi from the Corinthian Gulf. This strategic location of Kirra allowed its citizens to rob pilgrims on their way to the Delphic Oracle, and to collect taxes and annex sacred lands from Delphi. This behavior prompted many of the other tribal entities of the adjacent regions to form the Amphictionic League, an alliance for the protection of the cult of Demeter in Anthele (initially) and of Apollo in Delphi. The Amphictyony consulted the oracle for advise on dealing with Kirra, and the reply was a call for total war. The members of the League vowed to completely destroy Kirra and ravage the surrounding areas. To this they added a curse in the name of Apollo: that the soil should bring forth no crops, that the children of the women and livestock should be deformed, and that the entire ethnic group that inhabited the city should be eradicated.[1] The ensuing war lasted for ten years (595 BC-585 BC) and became known as the First Sacred War.

The leader of the attack was the Tyrant[2] Cleisthenes of Sicyon, who used his powerful navy to blockade the city's port before using an allied Amphictionic army to besiege Kirra. What transpired after this is a matter of debate. The earliest, and therefore probably most reliable, account is that of the medical writer Thessalos, who in the 5th century BC wrote that the attackers discovered a secret water pipe leading into the city after it was broken by a horse's hoof. An asclepiad named Nebros,[3] or, according to another version the Athenian Solon[4] advised the allies to poison the water with hellebore. The hellebore soon rendered the defenders so weak with diarrhea that they were unable to continue resisting the assault. Kirra was captured and the entire population was slaughtered. Nebros was an ancestor of Hippocrates of Kos, so this story has caused many to wonder whether it might not have been guilt over his ancestor's use of poison that drove Hippocrates to establish the Hippocratic Oath.[1]

Later historians told different stories. According to Frontinus (Strat. III.7.6) who wrote in the 1st century AD, after discovering the pipe, the Amphictions cut it, leading to great thirst within the city. After a while, they restored the pipe, allowing water to flow into the city. The desperate Kirreans immediately began drinking the water, unaware that Kleisthenes and his allies had poisoned it with hellebore. According to Polyaenus, a writer of the 2nd century AD, after the pipe was discovered, the attackers added the hellebore to the spring from which the water came, without ever actually depriving the Kirreans of water. Polyaenus also gave credit for the strategy not to Kleisthenes but to general Eurylochos, who he claimed advised his allies to gather a large amount of hellebore from Anticyra, where it was abundant. The stories of Frontinus and Polyaenus both have the same result as Thessalos's tale: the defeat of Kirra.[1]

The last major historian to advance a new story of the siege was Pausanias, who visited the region in the 2nd century AD. In his version of events Solon of Athens diverted the course of the River Pleistos so that it didn't run through Kirra. Solon had hoped to thus defeat the Kirreans by thirst, but the enemy were able to get enough water from their wells and rainwater collection. Solon then added a great quantity of hellebore to the water of the Pleistos and let it flow into Kirra. The poisoning then allowed the allies to destroy the city.[1]

Modern Kirra

Kirra is part of the regional unit of Phocis. It is known for its beaches, camping and water sports. Excavations in the region have revealed traces of habitation since the Early Helladic period with a prosperity period in the Middle Helladic period. A sanctuary, possibly dedicated to Poseidon, has been excavated close to the beach of the modern town. The Medieval tower on the seaside as well as some traces of port infrastructure attest to the prosperity of Kirra in the Byzantine and Frankish period.


  • On the popular TV series Xena: Warrior Princess, the character Callisto was born in this city and Xena's army burned it when Callisto was a small girl killing her family, giving her the reason to be Xena's worst enemy.
  • Cirrha (Kirra) was a nymph from whom the town of Cirrha in Phocis was believed to have derived its name.
  • Kirra is another name for the nymph Adrasteia. At Cirrha, the port that served Delphi, Pausanias noted "a temple of Apollo, Artemis and Leto, with very large images of Attica workmanship. Adrasteia has been set up by the Cirrhaeans in the same place, but she is not so large as the other images. She was sometimes called Nemesis (mythology), probably meaning "one from whom there is no escape"; her epithet Erinys ("implacable") is specially applied to Demeter and the Phrygian mother goddess, Cybele.
  • The village of Kirra is featured in the 2013 PlayStation 3 game, God of War: Ascension.


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 Mayor, Andrienne. Greek fire, poison arrows, and scorpion bombs: Biological and chemical warfare in the ancient world. The Overlook Press, Peter Mayer Publishers, Inc., 2003. ISBN 1-58567-348-X. pages 100–101
  2. We should here note that in archaic Greece a 'tyrant' was simply an aristocrat who gained supreme power against his fellow aristocrats, usually with the support of the people. The word did not necessarily mean a despot.
  3. Πρεσβευτικός Λόγος 17-19
  4. Pausanias, X, 37, 7-8


  • Pausanias, Description of Greece, 10.37.8.

External links

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