Historical region of Greece
Photograph of a grassy landscape dotted with trees, with woodland and grassy hills in the background
Landscape of Arcadia
Map of the Peloponnese showing borders of ancient regions
Ancient Arcadia in the center of the Peloponnese
Major citiesMantineia, Tegea, Orchomenus
Key periods4th century BC

Arcadia (Greek: Ἀρκαδία) is a region in the central Peloponnese. It takes its name from the mythological character Arcas, and in Greek mythology it was the home of the gods Hermes and Pan. In European Renaissance arts, Arcadia was celebrated as an unspoiled, harmonious wilderness; as such, it was referenced in popular culture.

The modern regional unit of the same name more or less overlaps with the historical region, but is slightly larger.


Ancient Regions of Peloponnese with cities
Ancient Regions of Peloponnese with cities

Arcadia was gradually linked in a loose confederation that included all the Arcadian towns and was named League of the Arcadians. In the 7th century BC, it successfully faced the threat of Sparta and the Arcadians managed to maintain their independence. They participated in the Persian Wars alongside other Greeks by sending forces to Thermopylae and Plataea. During the Peloponnesian War, Arcadia allied with Sparta and Corinth. In the following years, during the period of the Hegemony of Thebes, the Theban general Epaminondas reinforced the Arcadian federation in order to form a rival pole to the neighboring Sparta. Then he founded Megalopolis, which became its new capital. Over the next centuries Arcadia weakened. It initially was subjugated by the Macedonians and later the Arcadians joined the Achaean League.


Mount Lykaion

Geographically, ancient Arcadia occupied the highlands at the centre of the Peloponnese. To the north, it bordered Achaea along the ridge of high ground running from Mount Erymanthos to Mount Cyllene; most of Mount Aroania lay within Arcadia. To the east, it had borders with Argolis and Corinthia along the ridge of high ground running from Mount Cyllene round to Mount Oligyrtus and then south Mount Parthenius. To the south, the borders with Laconia and Messenia ran through the foothills of the Parnon and Taygetos mountain ranges, such that Arcadia contained all the headwaters of the Alpheios river, but none of the Eurotas river. To the south-west, the border with Messania ran along the tops of Mount Nomia, and Mount Elaeum, and from there the border with Elis ran along the valleys of the Erymanthos and Diagon rivers. Most of the region of Arcardia was mountainous, apart from the plains around Tegea and Megalopolis, and the valleys of the Alpheios and Ladon rivers.


Karst Landscape near the community Vlacherna (Arcadia)
Karst Landscape near the community Vlacherna (Arcadia)

The Arcadians were an ancient Greek tribe which was situated in the mountainous Peloponnese. It is considered one of the oldest Greek tribes in Greece and it was probably part of, or a relative tribe of, the aboriginal inhabitants of Greece, who are mentioned by the ancient authors as Pelasgians.[1] Whilst Herodotus seems to have found the idea that the Arcadians were not Greek far-fetched, it is clear that the Arcadians were considered as the original inhabitants of the region.[2] This is testified by ancient myths, like the myth of Arcas, the myth of Lycaon etc.

Arcadia is also one of the regions described in the "Catalogue of Ships" in the Iliad.[3] Agamemnon himself gave Arcadia the ships for the Trojan war because Arcadia did not have a navy.


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Due to its remote, mountainous character, Arcadia seems to have been a cultural refuge. During the Mycenaean Era (c. 1600 BC – 1200 BC), the Greek dialect of the region was likely Mycenaean. When, during the Greek Dark Age (c. 1200 BC – 800 BC), Doric Greek dialects were introduced to the Peloponnese, the older language apparently survived in Arcadia, and formed part of the Arcado-Cypriot group of Greek dialects. Arcadocypriot never became a literary dialect, but it is known from inscriptions. Tsan is a letter of the Greek alphabet occurring only in Arcadia, shaped like Cyrillic И; it represents an affricate that developed from labiovelars in context where they became t in other dialects.


The Arcadians founded numerous towns. Of these the strongest were the cities which controlled the few fertile valleys; Mantinea, Tegea and Orchomenos. The remaining towns were more mountainous or had smaller plains. Some of these were Asea, Ypsounta, Teuthis, Heraea, Thyraion, Nestani, Alea, Lykosoura, Trikolonon, Tropea, Caphyae, Pallantion, Petrosaca, Feneos, Phoezon, Leucasium, etc. From 370 BC the capital of Arcadia became Megalopolis.

Statues from the Lycosura sanctuary: Artemis, Demeter, veil of Despoina, Antyus, Tritoness.
Statues from the Lycosura sanctuary: Artemis, Demeter, veil of Despoina, Antyus, Tritoness.


Main article: Despoina § Cult of Despoina

Arcadia was the location of the cult of Despoina, also known as the Arcadian mysteries. Despoina means "the mistress", but was only a title given to the goddess, and was not her real name, which was told only to those initiated in the mysteries.[4] Despoina, along with Demeter, was the primary deity worshipped in Arcadia,[4] and was particularly worshipped at a sanctuary at Lycosura.

The Arcadians had their own unique myths, which were mainly centered around Despoina and Demeter. Another important god in Arcadia was Antyos, who was said to be a Titan who raised Despoina.[5]

Notable Arcadians

Olympic victors

See also: List of ancient Olympic victors


See also


  1. ^ Herodotus I, 56–57
  2. ^ Herodotus VIII, 73
  3. ^ Homer, Iliad II, 603–611
  4. ^ a b Pausanias. Description of Greece. 8.37.9.
  5. ^ Pausanias. Description of Greece. 8.37.5.
  6. ^ a b Dionysius of Halicarnassus, Roman Antiquities, 2.1
  7. ^ Strabo, Geography, 5.3.3
  8. ^ Ovid, 43 B.C. – 17 or 18 A.D. Metamorphoses.