The history of the region can be traced back to the Paleolithic Age, as evidenced by the findings in the Franchthi Cave, Ermioni, while the Mycenaean ruins bear witness to a rich mythological past, bringing to mind the Atreides, Agamemnon, Clytemnestra, Iphigenia, Electra and Orestes.
Epidaurus and Asclepius
It is believed that Epidaurus was named after its third king, Epidaurus, who was the son of Argos and Evandi. According to Homer, Epidaurus took part in the Trojan War under the leadership of Asclepius’ two sons, Podalirius and Machaon. In the Iliad, Homer refers to the “vine-clad Epidaurus”, further mentioning that it was among the cities that participated in the Trojan War under Diomedes of Argos.
So the Epidaurian land has been inexorably interwoven with Asclepius, the son of Apollo and Coronis (or the fruit of the union between Apollo and Arsinoe).
Unbeknownst to her father, Coronis gave birth on Mount Myrtio, where she abandoned the boy as she was being persecuted. But Apollo could not let his son perish. He guided a goat away from the flock of goatherd Aresthanas to breastfeed the baby, while the dog of the flock stood guard. This is why the people of Epidaurus renamed the Mount as Mount Titthium (place of breastfeeding). Aresthanas came across the nursing baby, who was wrapped in a divine light. Asclepius grew up, revealed his skills and became the renowned demigod doctor. To dispel any contradictory arguments, the people of Epidaurus insisted that Asclepius never left the area.
The ancient Greeks pictured Asclepius as a well-built ad robust man with a beard, who sat on a throne. He had many daughters whose names symbolised health, treatment and medication. He had serpent as his sacred animal and rod as his symbol.
The sanctuary of Asclepius at Epidaurus became one of the most famous sanctuaries of Ancient Greece. Its vast expanses, which included guest rooms, a gymnasium, a stadium, as well as the ancient theater renowned for its excellent acoustics, served as a treat for mind and soul. Sick people from all over Greece and the Mediterranean visited the sanctuary to purify their souls and offer gifts. They were then taken to special sections, where, as legend has it, the god visited them at night, usually in the form of a serpent or another animal, and heal them. Purification with water, animal sacrifices and ceremonial shared meals between priests and patients, where they consumed the sacred sacrificial animals, contributed to the physical health and mental wellbeing of the sick. This age-old ritual was preserved unaltered from the time the sanctuary first opened to the end of antiquity and constituted the pivotal worshiping act. Asclepius essentially symbolises the transition of philosophy and science from prehistory to history.
Towards the end of the 7th century BC, Epidaurus was ruled by tyrant Procles, while later it was annexed by Corinth.
During the Persian Wars, Epidaurus sent eight ships to the Battle of Artemisium, ten ships to the Battle of Salamis, and 800 men to the Battle of Plataea.
Around the end of the 6th century BC, the sanctuary of Asclepius started gaining fame, becoming one of the most known sanctuaries of antiquity. Meanwhile, the Asclepieia Festival took on national character and also encompassed games. The sanctuary of Asclepius reached its heyday in the 4th century BC. According to Pausanias, in 340 BC, an architect from Argos, Polykleitos the Younger, built the Theater of Epidaurus in a gorge. The Great Asclepiea games were held every four years, nine days after the Isthmia.
Throughout antiquity and up to the Roman conquest in 146 BC, Epidaurus was an ally of the Spartans and a rival of Argos, which was constantly looking to gain access to a port on the Saronic Gulf. The Roman conquerors showed respect to the area, apart from Syllas, who invaded the holy sanctuary of Asclepius in 86 BC, pillaging all valuables.
In 395-396 AD, the Ostrogoths, led by Alaric, destroyed the area, while the sanctuary of Asclepius received its most severe blow in 426 AD, when Byzantine emperor Theodosius II decreed the closure of all pagan sites, responding to the calls of the Christians of the time, who destroyed all the statues and votive offerings.
Piada (New Epidaurus) was founded in the Byzantine years, to protect the citizens from the pirate attacks at the time via the sea. The numerous Byzantine chapels and monasteries dating back to the 11th century bear witness to the fact that the area was quite popular, and New Epidaurus became a religious and administrative hub. The area was then conquered by the Venetians and the Franks before it eventually ended up in the hands of the Turks.
The First National Assembly
On 20 December 1821, 60 delegates from Roumeli, Morias and the islands gathered in Piada for the proceedings of the First National Assembly, also known as the Assembly of Epidaurus. The majority of them were led by Petrobey Mavromichalis, the leader of Mani, and his ally Alexander Ypsilantis, a political leader from Western Greece.
One of the first proceedings of the Assembly was to pass the “Provisional Regime of Greece”. It was quite progressive for its time and established three powers: legislative, executive and judicial.
On New Year’s Day 1822, Alexandros Mavrokordatos, who presided over the Assembly, issued the first official document of the liberated Greek state internationally, the Greek Declaration of Independence:
“In the name of the Holy and Indivisible Trinity,
the Greek Nation that in the last four centuries has been under the horrible Turkish rule, unable to bear any more the heavy and unprecedented tyranny, which with huge sacrifices we have finally thrown off, is proclaiming today – through its legitimate delegates here assembled – in front of God and humanity, its political existence and Independence.”
On 13 January, the National Assembly decided to abolish the powers of the Filiki Eteria (Society of Friends). It adopted the blue and white flag that Giannis Stathas had raised on a ship of the Greek pirate fleet in 1807. The conquest of Acrocorinth was vehemently celebrated by the delegates. Dimitrios Ypsilantis was appointed president of the legislature and Theodoros Kolokotronis was appointed general.