Lacedaemon (Sparta)

Late Hellenistic or Early Roman Theater at Sparta

With the Taygetus Mountain in the background

Lacedaemon is the Byzantine name for both the region of Laconia and its capital Sparta. While Sparta expanded during the Roman era, it began to contracted in late antiquity and a limited area was fortified. The foundations of three churches of this period have been found, as have various objects, including clay lamps dating to the 6th century. 

The region began to decline by the late 6th century,  perhaps due to pressure caused Slavic invasions. The Chronicles of Monemvasia reports that its citizens left their city under pressure of the Slavic invasions and settled in Sicily. Nicephoros I (802-811) rebuilt the polis of Lacedaemon and had a "mixed population" settle there. The early history of the bishopric of Lacedaemon is unclear. The first known bishop, Hosios, is attested in 458; then, in 681, when the city was supposedly abandoned, when a bishop of the polis seems to be mentioned. Records again refer to the bishopric of "Lakedeon" in the Peloponnese around 800.

The vita of the 10th century saint Nikon the Metanleite, who lived in Lacedaemon, provides rich information about the city and its environs, including the existence of a Jewish community and pagan Slavs. The city is described as large and flourishing in the 12th century. An  11th-12th century bath been excavated at Sparta, while coins of Constantine VII and polychrome ceramics have been found on the acropolis. Lacedaemon was elevated to the status of metropolis in 1083. 
In the early 13th century the Franks took Lacedaemon, apparently without any difficulty, and it came under the control of the Principality of Achaia. William II Villehardouin spent the winter of 1248-49 there and in 1249 began construction of the castle at Mystras, west of the city. Lacedaemon remained the urban center until warfare beginning in 1263 caused the inhabitants to flee to Mystras. Laconian frescoed churches include St. George at Longaniko, dated 1375, and St. Nicholas at Agoriane, built around 1300 and painted by Kyriakos Phrangopoulos (as attested by an inscription). According to the Chronicle of the Morea, Lacedaemon was a large town with towers and a good city wall. Under the Franks there was a Catholic bishop, last attested in 1278, when he was forced to flee, just as the Orthodox bishop of Lacedaemon moved his residence to Mystras.

The Cathedral of Lacedaemon

 

The building complex of the basilica, demarcated to the north and south by an enclosure wall, is located some metres to the east of the theatre.

The church is a three-aisled basilica with three-sided apses to the east and a narthex to the west. Access to the interior of the church was achieved through an opening in the middle of the west side of the narthex and through two more openings on the side walls of the church. The aisles were separated by columns resting on high bases. The narthex and the nave were communicating through a large opening (tribelon) while smaller openings provided access to the side aisles.

The tripartite sanctuary, which protrudes slightly at the sides, is of unique architectural interest. The main sanctuary is separated from the bipartite rooms next to it (parabemata) with walls in the middle of which a semicircular niche with a passage was formed. At the middle apse there was a semicircular area with seats (synthronon) that was used by the bishop and the priests during the ceremonies. Between the synthronon and the wall of the apse there is an ambulatory, i.e. a corridor to facilitate the movement of the priests in the sanctuary during the Divine Liturgy. Traces of the foundation of the altar have also been found. An offertory table was revealed at the western part of the prothesis.

There is no secure evidence for the time of the monument's construction. Its dating ranges from the second half of the 6th century to the 7th century AD. The northern section and those attached to the south and west side stairwell are most probably later additions. A cruciform building and an elongated construction were added to the west part of the church during the Middle Byzantine period.

The monument was originally identified with the church of Christ which, according to the texts of the Life and the Testament of St. Nikon, was built by the Saint himself in the late 10th century. Today it is considered to be the Cathedral of Lacedaemon.

Cathredal Plan

Spartan Church possibly dating to the Middle Byzantine Era

Church Plan

Sources

Oxford Dictionary of Byzantium

Information and Plans on Churches

Acropolis of Ancient Sparta

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The Byzantine Legacy
Created by David Hendrix Copyright 2016