The Spartan Way

Channeling my inner Spartan, I hiked up the steep slopes of the saddle between Mesa Vouno and Mon Profitas Ilias, leading to Ancient Thera. The 1.39 mile uphill trek took a while, with a copious amount of breaks to drink water and to rest. The sun beat down on me with a pressure only intensified by the humidity of the area. I felt extremely accomplished once I reached the top, I was able to look down on a large expanse of land and ocean. This is what the Spartans did every day for water in 700 BC. I was not only amazed by the view, but by the geologic processes that brought this rock that I stood on, that the Spartans stood on, hundreds of feet above the sea.

Back in 8th century BC, the main island of Santorini, called Thera, looked much like it does today; a crescent shape with a few mountains rising up out of the hilly landscape. There are steep cliffs along the inner part of Thera that jut out of the deep blue water within the caldera. The outer edge of Thera is formed by mostly gradual drops in elevation down into the sea broken only by the steep sided Mesa Vouno and Mon Profitas Ilinas. (Figure 1)

imageFigure  1 (Santorini)

This island became inhabited by Dorian settlers around 700 BC, and was named Thera, after their leader, Theras. Their main settlement was built on Mesa Vouno, the second largest mountain in the area. (Figure 2)


Figure 2 (View of the mountains from the water near Kamari) [1]

Mesa Vouno towers 369 meters (1210 feet) above the sea below, with cliffs on its northern, eastern and southern sides. It’s southern side is formed by a more gently sloping saddle connecting it to the similar, taller mountain, Mon Profitas Ilinas.

The establishment of a town on the top of this mountain was of stratigic importance, because it was surrounded by step slopes on three sides, defense of the city would have been advantageous, especially against larger forces, because the enemy would be funneled into a small pathway rather than being able to overwhelm the Spartans. That is, if once the enemy makes it up the steep slopes of the saddle they are still able to fight.

The height of the mountain also provides vision miles off shore, and of Thera to the north and south. There is one blind area behind the taller Mon Profitas Ilinas to the west. In order for an enemy to sneak up on the settlement, they would have to climb up the nearby taller mountain, which before a battle, could be disastrous. Thera was built in a very superior position that would have made for brilliant defense, although the transportation of goods up to the city would have been grueling because although the saddle makes travel possible, it is still a very steep and long hike.

Limestones and marbles form the steep slopes of Mesa Vouno. Limestone is formed when calcium carbonate collects in shallow, warm water, and becomes compacted over time. So how did this limestone deposited anywhere from 245 to 65 million years ago rise 369 meters above the sea? The limestone and marble (limestone exposed to heat and pressure) were brought up by normal faulting caused by extension of the earths crust. (See Figure 3)


Figure 3 (Displaying the normal faulting that brought up the metamorphic rock)

This metamorphic rock is extremely strong, allowing the ancient Spartans to build their city high up on the mountain. Without the metamorphic rock and limestone, the Spartan town would have collapsed long ago, perhaps while people lived on it, from the erosion of more easily weathered material.

The saddle, shown in Figure 4 has a base of schist(a metamorphic rock) and an outer layer of ash and pumice from volcanic eruptions. Schist is an easily erodible metamorphic rock, which along with the crumbly ash and pumice, form the saddle, allowing the Spartans to climb to Ancient Thera. This material would have been disastrous to build on, because it is so easily eroded, and would have collapsed under the weight of the buildings.


Figure 4 (Mesa Vouno on the right, Mon Profitos Iliou on the left)

As the Spartans hiked the saddle in the past, many people hike it today, whether it be for amazing views, a good workout, or the feeling of hiking up the mountain in the same way that ancient people did 2,716 years ago. I enjoyed this experience for all of these reasons, most of all experiencing what the Spartans did in ancient times. The geology in this area made this ancient civilization possible, and it allowed the ancient city to be preserved through the centuries, and still allows people to traverse the trails and routes used by the ancient Spartans. Although the trails leading up to Ancient Thera may erode away, the buildings of the Spartans and the ground their town was built on will last centuries more.


[1] Kamari. (n.d.). Retrieved June 05, 2016, from

[2] Archaeology / Ancient Thira. (n.d.). Retrieved June 05, 2016, from

7 thoughts on “The Spartan Way

  1. Jess – thank you for integrating most of my comments. I like the addition of the normal faulting figure – although the process could be explained a little better. Mt. Profitas Ilias is still referred to as different names at different times (maybe this is done on purpose since everywhere the translation is different! :-))? My only final comment is that I am still unsure about what the blog will be about based on your introduction. You wrote well about our trek, but the intro lacks direction. On your next entry, be sure to include a statement about what you are writing about and why. Looking forward to what you come up with next!

  2. Hi Jessica,

    Very interesting post this week. I found the first half of the post to be relatively clear as an examination of ancient Spartan culture and how their lives were affected by the geology around them. I did find that you veered a little bit away from your main purpose after paragraph 6 as you started talking only about geology and less about the history which you established as a main point in the first few paragraphs. A way to clarify that you will be discussing geology as much as history would be to add that in the first paragraph which–though this is a blog and not a formal essay–still functions like the introduction to a normal academic paper. In the first paragraph or the second you could state the relationship the Spartans had with the land around them then the geological discussion would not seem out of place.

    I found your introduction interesting, and I think you could make it more effective by writing more on the geology of the location and how it affected the Spartans because that is what the majority of the post talks about. As it is, this post seems divided in its discussion of geology and history starting after paragraph six. Something you could do in revision is to focus primarily on geology or the history of the Spartans because right now both subjects are vying for attention. In a few instances later in the post, you have a good start at intertwining the Spartan’s history and geology, and I think you could clarify it a bit then do the same throughout.

    For future posts, it works well to introduce all your main ideas in the first few paragraphs, so none of the ideas you introduce later in the post feel unplanned or out of place.


    1. Justin,
      Thank you very much for your input, I will try to incorporate what you suggested into my next blog post.

  3. Hi Jessica,
    With the description you gave of the mountain and the length of the hike, I imagine the Spartans would have had legs any gym goer would be jealous of! After reading the first paragraph, I thought the entry would be mainly about the ancient civilization. However, the post is much more broad than that, so adding points on the geology could help your readers to know what the post will be about.

    You gave a refreshing post about the people living within the geology of the island. It was a little hard to follow along at times. It felt as though you were jumping from one idea to another without the use of transitions. For example, you talked about the defense capabilities of the mountain and then jumped to talk about limestone in the next paragraph.
    The visuals and diagrams you used makes it easy for readers to follow along with your post. You also converted the meters to feet in your explanation, which makes it totally understandable for anyone not familiar with the metric system. This is important because it shows you were thinking of who was going to see your post. Your audience is important to keep in mind when you’re writing your post, especially when you’re posting to a platform, which is readily available all over the world.
    I’m looking forward to reading more about the relationship between the geology and the ancient people!

    1. Nicole,
      Thank you for what you said about my blog. I understand what things stood out and were helpful for readers and what I need to work on!

  4. Hey Jess,

    I like the history lesson you incorporated when discussing the geology behind the Spartan outpost.
    I think you have some good responses to your writing so I just have a question: If the saddle is capped by pumice, ash, and schist, why are the summits of Mesa Vouno and Mt. Profitis Ilias not capped by the same thing?


    1. Alex,
      That was a great question that I wasn’t completely sure of! I asked my teaching assistant, and he told me that Mesa Vouno and Mt. Profitas Ilias are far enough away from the vent and have too steep of sides for the ash and pumice to stick. The ash and pumice that reached the top would have most likely eroded away by this point in time, which is why it is only found in the saddle.

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