Argos | Unveil the wonders of the sanctuary of Hera

Argos, one of Greece’s oldest continuously inhabited cities, is situated in the Peloponnese region, approximately 120 kilometers southwest of Athens. This ancient city was important in Greek mythology and history because it was the birthplace of many of the greatest Greek heroes and served as a Mycenean stronghold. Its extensive archaeological heritage and mythological significance make it an enticing destination for history enthusiasts.

Vincenzo Coronelli - Republic of Venice p. IV. Cities, Fortresses, and other main places of Albania
Vincenzo Coronelli, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Where once the Chorus danced to measures fleet;
Far to the East a purple stretch of sea, 
The cliffs of gold that prisoned Danae; 
And desecrated Argos at my feet.

-Oscar Wilde, “The Theater at Argos” (1877)

Argos Key Facts

Details
NameArgos
DeitiesHera, Zeus
Mythological EventsThe Danaids, Birth of Perseus, Hercules’ Labors
Accessibilityby bus or car from Athens and Nafplio
Visit Duration1-2 days

Overview

Argos, a once-legendary city and agricultural paradise, is one of Greece’s oldest continuously inhabited cities. With a history dating back over 7,000 years, the city is home to impressive ancient ruins such as the well-preserved ancient theatre and the remains of Roman baths. A city in which modern buildings were built on top of ancient ones demonstrates the continuity of history and civilization. Argos’ strategic location in the Argolic Plain made it a major center of power in antiquity, and its influence can be seen in many Greek myths and historical accounts.

Practical travel tips 

Getting There

Argos is easily accessible by car or bus from Athens (maximum a 2-hour drive) or Nafplion (20-minute drive).

Accessibility

Argos, located in the Argolic plain, is a very flat and walkable city. Some places, like the path towards the castle, might require moderate hiking.

Best Time to Visit

As with any open archaeological site in Greece, it’s better to visit Argos during spring or autumn, as the summer sun can make your visit significantly more difficult.

Duration of Visit

1 day is sufficient to explore the main sites. You can stay for 2 days if you want to relax and visit the modern town or nearby Nafplion.

Budgeting

Entrance fees are completely reasonable (less than 10 euros), while the city of Argos itself is more inexpensive than Athens.

Local Amenities

The modern city of Argos offers various accommodation options, restaurants, and shops, as well as pharmacies and doctors.

Ancient Argos in Greek Mythology

Argos is one of the cities that features prominently in Greek mythology. Although its significance is more historical, there are several stories about its mythology.

Inachos and the creation of Argos

Argos’ story begins with Inachos, the river god. Inachos was the citys’ founder and first king. According to Pausanias, Inachos named the Argos River after himself and offered a sacrifice to Hera, the matriarch goddess.

Inachos fathered numerous children who went on to become Argos’ kings. He was also the father of Io, who, as we will see below, is the main character in a popular Argive myth.

Io and Zeus

Io, daughter of Inachos and priestess of Hera, was one of the mortal lovers of Zeus. However, Hera figured out the affair and turned Io into a half-cow, captured her, and sent Argus Panoptes to guard her, so that Zeus would not visit her. When that plan failed, Hera sent a gadfly (Oistros) to sting Io, driving her through Bosporus (lit. passage of the ox) where she met Prometheus bound. Prometheus helped her, by informing her that she would be the ancestor of Hercules, the greatest hero of all.

Io escaped by crossing the Ionian Sea to Egypt, where she gave birth to Zeus’ son, Epaphus, who set out to become Egypt’s king. While the rest of Io’s story isn’t relevant to Argos, the stories of her grandchildren, Danaus and Aegyptus, are.

The Danaids

Aeschylus’ tragedy Danaides tells the story of Danaus, Io’s grandson, who had 50 daughters. The other grandson of Io, Aegyptus, the mythical king of Egypt, proposed that his twin brother’s daughters marry his 50 sons, their cousins.

Danaus did not want that future for his daughters, so he fled to Argos. Aegyptus and his sons followed in order to protect Argos from possible wars. It was then that Danaus agreed to the marriage – only on paper, though. In reality, he instructed his daughters to kill all of their husbands. Everyone agreed and proceeded with the murder, except Hypermnestra, who chose to spare her husband Lynceus.

The rest of the daughters took the heads of their murdered husbands and buried them in Lerna, in the south of Argos. According to some accounts, Athena and Hermes purified them after Zeus commanded them. Others claim that their punishment in Tartarus was similar to that of Sisyphus. They would try to fill a tub with a perforated jug, but their attempts would be futile, as the water kept spilling.

Birth of Perseus

Hypermnestra and her husband Lynceus went on to establish the Danaid Dynasty. The Danaid Dynasty would produce the next kings of Argos. The first of them was Abas, and his son was Acrisius. While we don’t care that much about Acrisius, king of Argos, we care about his daughter, Danae

Acrisius, disappointed that he only had a daughter and no male heir, visited Delphi. There, he received an oracle that his grandson would kill him, thus he imprisons Danae so she would never be able to have a child. Still, Zeus approaches young Danae in the form of golden rain and impregnates her. Danae gives birth to Perseus, the famous hero, while in Argos.

When Acrisius learned about the child, he threw him in a chest with his mother before throwing the chest into the sea. Zeus protected Danae and Perseus, and they washed up on the island of Seriphos. We will not go into great detail about Perseus; he grew up to be a hero and, after marrying Andromeda, returned to Argos with his wife and mother. 

However, Acrisius had departed for Larissa. According to Bibliotheca, Perseus traveled to Larissa and took part in the funeral games of the king of Larissa. Perseus accidentally killed his grandfather when he threw the discus, fulfilling the prophecy and becoming Argos’ new king.

Argos in the Trojan War

Argos was a major city during the Trojan War. While it is said to have been the city of Agamemnon, the well-known Trojan War hero, it certainly provided the Greeks with great power. So much so that in the Iliad, Homer describes the city sending 80 ships to Troy. Their strength would be so admired that the term Danaans, derived from the Danaid Dynasty, would be synonymous with Greeks.

Hercules and Argos

Before we get into the historical portion of this article, there is one more myth to dispel. As previously stated, Hercules was descended from Io through his mother, Alcmene, Perseus’ granddaughter.

Heracles is best known for completing the seemingly impossible 12 labors for King Eurystheus. Eurystheus was either the king of Tiryns or Argos, two major Mycenaean strongholds. Hercules’ first two labors took place in the plain of Argolis. First, the lion of Nemea was captured, followed by the defeat of the Lernaean Hydra at Lerna, located south of Argos.

Argos in Ancient Greek History

For centuries, the city has been a historically significant city. Much of its history can be explained by its status as a Mycenean stronghold and its location halfway between the main cities of Athens and Sparta. It should be noted that Argos was Sparta’s main rival in the Peloponnese.

The Ancient City of Argos

For thousands of years, people have lived in the area now known as Argos. Like Athens, it is one of the Greek cities that have never been abandoned. Argos has been built and rebuilt from antiquity to the classical period, by Romans, Byzantines, and Ottomans, and continues to this day, resulting in a town with a diverse range of influences.

Argos, which was originally a Mycenean stronghold, grew in strength during the seventh century under Pheidon’s rule. During this time, Argos gained control of the Argolid cities and emerged as one of Sparta’s most formidable opponents.

During classical times, Argos suffered greatly. It lost to Sparta in 494 BC, resulting in political turmoil and the establishment of Democracy. Argos, despite being a previous great force, chose not to participate in the Persian invasion and isolated itself. It remained relatively neutral during the major wars of the fifth century, which increased its prestige.

In 421 BC, the city formed an alliance with neighboring cities against Athens and Sparta, which Athens eventually joined. Still, after losing at the Battle of Mantinea, Argos suffered a second severe blow and remained largely powerless.

Argos remained a powerful city with a strategic location for centuries, even during the Ottoman era. Today, you can visit several archaeological sites, including the Larisa castle, the ancient theatre, and the ancient agora.

Visiting Argos

Apart from the modern city, there are several archaeological sites to visit in Argos. Let’s see what you can expect from this historic town.

The Ancient Theatre 

One of the largest theatres in Greece, capable of seating up to 20,000 spectators. It was built in the 3rd century BC, replacing an older theater. 

Larissa Castle

A medieval fortress with panoramic views of the city and the surrounding plains. It was built during the prehistoric period and played an important role during both Venetian dominance and the Greek Independence War in the 19th  century.

Ancient Agora

The heart of the ancient city, with ruins of public buildings and temples. Developed in the 6th  century BC at the intersection of ancient roads that linked major cities such as Corinth and Tegea. It also includes the remains of a bouleuterion, a palaestra, and an Apollo sanctuary.

Roman Baths

The Roman Baths are well-preserved ruins that showcase Roman architecture and engineering. The Roman thermes were built on a Serapis temple, with the bath dedicated to Asclepius. It was created between 117 and 136 AD.

Pyramid of Hellinikon

They are also known as the Argolis Pyramids or Greek Pyramids. They are located south of Argos, and Pausanias considered them to be tombs.

Last Thoughts

Argos, though just a small town today, offers a unique blend of mythology and history. Its long, continuous habitation has left marks from any single era of the last 7 thousand years, most evident until today. It is certainly a town worth visiting. And if you still wonder if Argos is worth a visit, you can sweeten the deal by also visiting nearby historically important towns, like Nafplion, Epidaurus, and Nemea.

FAQs

What is Argos famous for?

Argos is famous for its mythological connections, being the birthplace of Perseus and associated with the Labors of Heracles.

Can Argos be visited as a day trip from Athens?

Yes, Argos can be visited as a day trip from Athens, though staying overnight allows for a more relaxed exploration.

Are there guided tours available in Argos?

While Argos is a site that might not require a guided tour per se, guided tours are available and can be arranged through local travel agencies or at the archaeological sites themselves.

Featured Image Credit: George E. Koronaios, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

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Vasiliki Moutzouri

Vasiliki has been a professional author, editor, and academic researcher since 2018. She currently lives in Athens, Greece. She has studied Philology and Computational Linguistics at the University of Athens. She is interested in literature, poetry, history and mythology, and political philosophy. Other interests include playing music, traveling, and playing pen-and-paper games. She has written a children’s book and a few poems. She is currently working as a content writer, translator, and editor, as well as an academic researcher in the field of linguistics.