Monday, November 7, 2022

The Pheneos Plain and the location of Lykouria

The town of Lykouria was only ever notable for the fact that Pausanias once passed through it and there are few or no other mentions of it in antiquity.   Its isolation explains this.  It is set in northern Arcadia, surrounded by mountains, and sitting on the edge of a remarkable karst landscape (the plain of Pheneus) to which there is no easy entrance or exit.  Let's go to the map.

The area of the Pheneos Basin in N. Arcadia.

The Pheneos Basin in more detail.  Lykouria was located somewhere on the southwest edge of the valley, and just to the north of the jagged white line in the lower left that indicates a road.

The Pheneos Basin from the SE and looking NW.  Lykouria was located somewhere by the center left corner of the superimposed line map.

Here's what we know about Lykouria.  In Paus. viii.19.4 we read "One of the roads west out of Pheneos I have still to deal with, the one on the left, which leads to Kleitor, past Herakles Labour, the channel he made for the river Aroanios.  Beyond that point, the road goes down to a place called Lykouria, which is the territorial boundary of Pheneos and Kleitor."[1]

Let's look at each of the bolded names in turn:
Pheneos (ID: F7322): An ancient town of Arcadia situated in the NW corner of the Pheneos Plain.

The hill on which Pheneos was built is in the center of this image.  
Here S is to the lower left.

Kleitor is Pausanias' destination.  What geographical relationship does it have to Pheneos?

This map shows the route Pausanias takes.  He starts at Feneos and travels more or less along the blue line and reaches ancient Kleitor.  The distance is about 26 km; a day's trip perhaps.  The town of Lykouria is somewhere near the end of that first leg just before it bends to the SW and descends into a valley.  Can we be more precise?

In the very next paragraph (viii.20.1) Pausanias says this: "Six miles or so from Lykouria you arrive at the SPRINGS OF THE LADON.  I had heard that the water of the Phenean lake which drops into the pot-holes in the mountains comes up again here to form the springs of the Ladon."[2]

The Ladon is a major tributary of the Alpheios which it joins (at  37.593682° N,  21.820481° E) from the N and just above the complex at ancient Olympia.  The primary source of this river is a spring at F7315.  Here is a user-submitted photo of the Spring.

Springs of the Ladon where they emerge from underground at F7315.
Original  work of Chris Karagounis.  All rights reserved to the creator.

The Pheneos Plain forms a basin at an average elevation of about 750 m. sloping down to about 710 m. at its S end.  Any water that enters the plain (which it does from the N) exits from the south by the way of sinkholes or katavothrai.  The water that leaves the Pheneos Plain reemerges at this spring and from here it becomes one of the major contributors to the Ladon river.  This spring at F7315 has an elevation of 475 m.  The distance to the katavothrai is just about 9 km. or 5.66 miles.  In that distance the waters to the spring fall about 235 m. or 771 ft.  This is about the height of a 72-story building.

So  Pausanias says that the Spring and the town of Lykouria are about 50 stades distant from each other.  All we have to do is work backward from the Spring about 50 stadia and we should be in the region of Lykouria.  So how long is a stadion?  A stadion was a rough and ready estimation of length and it varied from about 157 m/stadion to 209 m/stadion.   I gathered various stadion equivalents from sources around the internet and put them into this table:

These values of m/stadion have a standard deviation of 14.175 m.

I could think of no better solution than to take the average of 185.4 m/stadion.  This would suggest that the distance Pausanias traveled was about 5 and 3/4 miles (9.27 km.)    To confirm that that makes sense let's look at the next photo.

Pausanias's plausible route in green (R to L)

Here we see the territory stretching from the Springs of the Ladon to the edge of the Pheneos Plain.  On this map I traced a plausible route for Pausanias in green.  This route goes to the edge of the plain and it is just a hair over 5.5 miles (8.87 km.).  So this suggests that Lykouria is north of where the green path reaches the plain and south of Louzion (F7321).  Levi suggests that 'Pausanias took roughly the track from LOUZION.' [3]

The ancient town/village of Lykouria may safely be placed somewhere on the SW edge of the Pheneos Plain where it meets the hills and between 37.865 N to 37.879 N longitude which is a distance of 0.94 miles or (1.52 km.)  The total area to search would be about 1 square km. (100 ha.) or 0.39 sq. miles.  It looks like this:

Here I removed the vector-map overlay so you can see what the country looks like.  The orange polygon encloses the 1 sq. km. search area.  The two horizontal lines are the bounds in longitude which I referred to above.

This work was undertaken to improve the guesses of Pleiades and Topostext.  Topostext has the location of Lykouria at the Ladon Springs.  This cannot be because Pausanias has already told us that the Springs and Lykouria are 50 stadia distant from one another.  Pleiades, with their usual carelessness, has placed Lykouria on the other (west) side of Mt. Dourdoubana/Pentelia at 37.90495, 22.230895.  I'm not even going to bother to plot that.

There is a modern town of Lykouria in this area which is 3.8 km. from the Ladon Springs.  It has nothing to do with the town/village of ancient Lykouria.  Frazer, when he comments on viii.19.4, says

"The modern village of Lykouria can hardly occupy the site of the ancient place of that name.  For Pausanias's description of the route to it implies that it was situated in the plain of Pheneus, lower down than the city of Pheneus, and that it was on or near the canal.  Moreover, he says (20. 1) that Lycuria was 50 Greek furlongs (5 1/2 miles) from the springs of the Ladon; whereas the modern Lykouria is only 2 1/2 miles (less than 20 furlongs) from the springs."[4]

As it was so close to the head of the valley leading to the Ladon Spring I wonder whether the business model of Lykouria wasn't primarily to provide guides down the risky descent to the Springs and then on to Kleitor.

In another post, I would like to write more about the karst landscape (or polje) of Pheneos but this is enough for today.


[1] Translation in Levi [1971] 418.
[2] Idem.
[3] Levi [1971] 418, fn. 141.
[4] Frazer [1898] 262.


Frazer [1898] : Frazer, J.G. Pausanias's Description of Greece; Translated with a Commentary by J.G. Frazer. Vol. IV, Commentary on Books VI-VIII., London, MacMillan and Co. Limited. 1898.

Levi [1971] :  Levi, Peter.  Pausanias; Guide to Greece; Vol. 2 Southern Greece.  Translated with an Introduction by Peter Levi.  Penguin Books, 1971.  ISBN: 978-0-14-044226-7.

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