See C. A. Roebuck, A History of Messenia from 369 to 146 B.C. (1941); The Minnesota Messenia Expedition, ed. by W. A. McDonald and G. R. Rapp (1972).
Excavations at Pylos and Nichoria have revealed for Messenia's late Bronze Age (1300s BC) a bureaucratic, agricultural kingdom ruled by the wanax at Pylos. The Messenians spoke Mycenaean Greek, and worshipped the Greek gods at local shrines like that at PA-KI-JA-NE (*Sphagianes). Later, Greeks agreed that a body of Dorians under Cresphontes invaded the country from Arcadia and taking as their capital Stenyclarus in the northern plain, extended, first their suzerainty, and then their rule over the whole district. However, given that the Arcadian language is a direct and conservative descendent of Mycenaean Greek, it is more likely that the Dorians pushed the native Messenians into Arcadia.
The task apparently proved an easy one, and the Dorians blending with the previous inhabitants produced an amalgamated Messenian tribe with a strong national feeling. However, the relative wealth of Messenia in fertile soil and favourable climate attracted the expansionistic neighbouring Spartans. War broke out, it was said, as a result of the murder of the Spartan king Teleclus by the Messenians - which, in spite of the heroism of King Euphaes and his successor Aristodemus ended in the subjection of Messenia to Sparta (c. 720 BC). Two generations later the Messenians revolted and under the leadership of Aristomenes kept the Spartans at bay for some seventeen years (648 BC—631 BC, according to Grote). However, the stronghold of Ira (Eira) fell after a siege of eleven years.
As the object of the Spartans was to increase the number of lots of land for their citizens, many of the conquered Messenians (those who did not manage to leave the area) were reduced to the condition of Helots. Servitude was hard, though their plight might have been harder, for they paid to their lords only one-half of the produce of the lands which they tilled. The Spartan poet Tyrtaeus describes how the Messenians endured the insolence of the masters:
The next revolt broke out in 464 BC, when a severe earthquake destroyed Sparta and caused great loss of life. The insurgents defended themselves for some years on the rock-citadel of Ithome, as they had done in the first war; but eventually they had to leave the Peloponnese and were settled by the Athenians at Naupactus in the territory of the Locri Ozolae. After the Battle of Leuctra (371 BC), Epaminondas invited the exiled Messenians scattered in Italy, Sicily, Africa and elsewhere to return to their country. The city of Messene was founded in 369 BC to be the capital of the country and, like Megalopolis in Arcadia, became a powerful check on Sparta. Other towns, as well, were founded or rebuilt at this time, though a great part of the land still remained very sparsely populated. Although quite independent, Messenia never became really powerful or able to stand without external support.
After the fall of the Theban power, to which it had owed its foundation, it became an ally of Philip II of Macedon and took no part in the battle of Chaeronea (338 BC). Subsequently it joined the Achaean League, and we find Messenian troops fighting along with the Achaeans and Antigonus Doson at Sellasia in 222 BC. Philip V sent Demetrius of Pharos to seize Messene, but the attempt failed and cost the life of Demetrius. Soon afterwards the Spartan tyrant Nabis succeeded in taking the city, but was forced to retire by the timely arrival of Philopoemen and the Megalopolitans. A war afterwards broke out with the Achaean League, during which Philopoemen was captured and put to death by the Messenians (183 BC), but Lycortas took the city in the following year, and it again joined the Achaean League, though much weakened by the loss of Abia, Thuria and Pherae, which broke loose from it and entered the League as independent members.
In 146 BC, the Messenians, together with the other states of Greece, were brought directly under Roman sway by L. Mummius. For centuries there had been a dispute between Messenia and Sparta about the possession of the Ager Dentheliales on the western slope of Taygetus: after various decisions by Philip of Macedon, Antigonus, Mummius, Caesar, Antony, Augustus and others, the question was settled in 25 by Tiberius and the Senate in favour of the Messenians (Tac. Ann. iv. 43). In 395 AD, the Roman Empire was split into the East and the Western Roman Empire and Messenia was ruled by the East and was later known as the Byzantine Empire, it was later invaded by the Slavs.
In the Middle Ages, Messenia shared the fortunes of the rest of the Peloponnese. Striking reminders of these conflicts are afforded by the extant ruins of the medieval strongholds of Kalamata, Coron (anc. Asine, mod. Korone), Modon (Methone) and Pylos. Messenia was a part of the Frankish Empire.
Much of Messenia fell into the hands of the Ottoman Turks, a part of the area remained with the Venetian Republic and a whole shortly in the mid to late-15th century. Again in the 1680s, the whole of Messenia was part of the Venetian Republic again before being ruled again by the Ottomans in the 1730s. Messenia did not became Greek until the Greek War of Independence of 1821 and several months and years later was liberated by the Greeks. One of the most famous battles was the Battle of Navarino which took place in the middle of the war and defeated its Turkish fleets. The Mani Peninsula, a part of modern Messenia, was autonomous from Turkish rule due to the fact that it had no harbors.
Messenia had improved its economy including its agriculture in the first years of the modern country of Greece. It was later connected by rail (OSE's SPAP line and four highways. Emigration to the United States and later larger towns and cities including Athens also began slowly. The prefecture later included the Ionian Islands of Sapientza and Schiza.
After World War II and the Greek Civil War, most of its buildings were rebuilt. Emigration increased and later included much of North America and Australia and later western Europe and slowed down in the 1980s and continues in villages. The population in the area of Kalamata and Messene boomed from 30,000 before the war up to nearly 80,000 in the present day.
The highway bypassed Messene in the 1970s. In 1999, the construction of the GR-7 was opened and added an interchange in the mid-2000s with the GR-9. The Ministry of Transportation will extend the bypass with two lanes downward to Kalamata with the bypass that opened in 2004, it length will be approximately 30 km, the section will open as early as 2012. The next construction program is uncertain with the exception of the possible proposal of the GR-9A from Kalo Neri to the GR-7 connecting the GR-9 which the date is unset. The eastern portion is bypassed and features an interchange.
On Thursday July 26, 2007, the central part of the prefecture was strucked by a small fire that consumed several forests, groves and farms and ruined a part of its economy. Some houses were destroyed in villages that are built in a valley. The fire lasted into July 28. Nearly a month later, another fire ravaged the northeastern portion of the prefecture and consumed villages in the Taygetos ranges. It lasted from August 26 to August 27 and ruined many bushes, it did not affect southwest into the GR-9A Junction due to low winds and cooler weather. Firefighters along with airplanes, fire trucks and choppers battled the blaze, most of its water came from Lake Taka. Another natural disaster became earthquakes (see Earthquakes in Greece), a high medium earthquake ravaged and shook the entire prefecture, it measured at 6.6 on the Richter scale on Thursday February 14, 2008. Kalamata and Methoni became dangerous places as damages were rarely reported, they were nearly on high alert which brought panic to Messinia. Messinia was not to escape the earthquakes but they were to be lighter, Anthoni was battered by a February 26 earthquake that measured around 5.5 and another on Thursday February 28 that battered Methoni and caused only minor damages on these two earthquakes, some of its old houses were damaged from it. Messinia did not escape the quakes once again, four earthquakes battered portions of the prefecture near Methoni, all measured around 4 on the Richter scale, all of these occurred at the sea which relieved most of the shakiness.
Today, Messenia forms a prefecture with its capital at Kalamata.
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