First Messenian War

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The First Messenian War was a war between Messenia and Sparta. It began around 743 BC and ended around 724 BC.


Sources give different reasons for the cause of the war, but the Spartans and the Messenians laid the ground work for war with a dispute a generation before the war, in a skirmish between Spartans and Messenians during a festival at the temple of Artemis Limnatis around 768 BC.[1] The Spartan story tells of the raping of virgins and the killing of the king of the Agiad line in Sparta, Teleklos. The Messenian story says that the "virgins" were young soldiers sent by Teleklos to get close to the Messenian leaders for an attempt at their lives and the killing of Teleklos was in defence of that attack.


The actual outbreak of war only came in 743 BC, however, and even then there was little campaigning until the war's first major battle, the Spartan's attack on Ampheia.[2] Not wanting to experience another such battle, the Messenians fell back to the heavily fortified Mount Ithome. This is when the Messenians first sent for help from the Oracle at Delphi. They were told that a sacrifice of a royal virgin was the key to their success and the daughter of Aristodemus, a Messenian hero, was chosen for the sacrifice.

Upon hearing of this, the Spartans held off from attacking Ithome for several years, before finally making a long march under their kings and killing the Mesenian leader. Aristodemus was made the new Messenian king and led an offensive, meeting the enemy and driving them back into their own territory. The Spartans then sent an envoy to Delphi and their following of her advice caused Messenian reverses so great that Aristodemus committed suicide and Ithome fell. The Messenians who had fortified themselves on the mountain either fled abroad or were captured and enslaved.[3]


About 40 years later, a slave uprising caused a Second Messenian War.


  1. Pausanias, tr. W.H.S. Jones and H.A. Ormerod (1918) Description of Greece. Robert Hale Ltd., London, Book 4, IV, 1-3.
  2. Xanthippos, Demetrios. (2003 Jun.6) The First Messenian War. Ancient Worlds. Retrieved Feb 1, 2008 from
  3. Smith, William. (2000 March, 01). Early History of Peloponnesus and Sparta to the end of the Messenian Wars, B.C. 668. A Smaller History of Ancient Greece (chapter IV, pg 10). Retrieved 7 Feb, 2008, from

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