Messenia, Or Messene, the S. W. division of the Peloponnesus in ancient Greece, bounded N. by Elis, from which it was separated by the river Neda, and Arcadia; E. by Laconia, the boundary line varying at various periods; and S. and W. by the sea, which on the south forms the large gulf of Messenia, or, as it is now sometimes called, of Coron. It is a mountainous country, containing but two plains of any extent, the southern of which, traversed by the Pamisus, was called Macaria or the Blessed, on account of its great fertility. The valleys among the mountains were also fertile, and the whole country was renowned for the mildness of its climate. Among the few towns of note were Pylos, a seaport, Cyparissia, Corone (now Coron), Methone (Modon), Abia, Derre, Stenyclarus in the northern plain of the same name, and the later capital Messene, besides the mountain fortresses of Ithome and Ira. The earliest inhabitants of Messenia were Le-leges and Argives. Polycaon, son of Lelex, is said to have given the country its name from Messene, his wife, daughter of the Argive Tri-opas. It was subsequently settled by Aeolians. During the following period Messenia seems to have belonged partly to Pylos and partly to Lacedasmon. When the Dorians conquered the Peloponnesus, it became the possession of Cresphontes, who destroyed the kingdom of Pylos. Of the kindred Dorian states, Sparta, the eastern neighbor, soon developed its aggressive policy, and after various collisions and mutual inroads the first Messenian war broke out.
It is said to have lasted 20 years, its principal Messenian hero and victim being Aristo-demus, and ended with the fall of Ithome and the subjugation of Messenia. After 38 years of subjection, the Messenians rose under the lead of Aristomenes, supported by Argos, Arcadia, and other states of the Peloponnesus, while their enemies received the support of Corinth. Aristomenes succumbed after a struggle of 17 years, and Ira fell. (See Aristomenes, and TyrtAeus.) In common chronology the first war is placed at 743-723 B. C, and the second at 685-668. The two great struggles are considered as sufficiently attested, but the particulars, which are highly poetical and rest on authorities of the 3d century B. C.,. are justly doubted. The consequence of the wars was the emigration of a large number of the inhabitants to Italy and Sicily, giving the name of Messene or Messana to the town of Zancle in that island, and the subjection of those who remained to the condition of helots. Together with the other slaves of Sparta, they were induced by the great earthquake which devastated the capital of their oppressors in 404 to strike once more for freedom.
This third Messenian war lasted ten years, and was terminated by the capitulation of the defenders of Ithome, who were allowed a free departure from the Peloponnesus. They settled at Nau-pactus, on the northern shore of the Corinthian gulf, a town recently conquered by Athens, now the declared rival of Sparta. When the former was crushed by the fatal issue of the Peloponnesian war, the Messenians of Nau-pactus were compelled to leave Greece. Epa-minondas finally restored the independence of Messenia, convoking the refugees from the various lands of their exile, after the great battle of Leuctra (371), and giving the country a strongly fortified capital in Messene, a new town at the foot of the old stronghold Ithome (869), which was maintained down to the time of the Roman conquest of Greece in 146. - The modern nomarchy of Messenia is bounded N. by Achaia and Elis, E. by Arcadia, S. by the gulf of Messenia or Coron, and W. by the Ionian sea; area, 1,226 sq. m.; pop. in 1871, 130,417. Capital, Kalamata.