Historical observations

The importance the local people attached to the spring and its relationships with the natural and economical conditions of the area can be discerned in the name the Ancients gave to this spring. According to philologists, the toponym Yperia krini (Y pepia Kp-fjvri) can be interpreted as a composite name by separating yp from epeia. Based on spa (= earth), a term confirmed by ej-epaw (= to outpour, to vomit, to evacuate), and two notes of Hesychius relative to epasai (= vacuous) and epa (= earth; Chantraine 1966), the term yp-epaw describes 'the water outpouring from underground resurgence', the Vauclusian fountains, commonly referred to by modern Greeks as

Kephalovrysso (= major spring). A number of such springs are known in Thessaly. Though of different importance, all these springs marked the natural environment and attracted the establishment of human settlements (Sivignon 1974).

If this is the real meaning of the toponym, other similar springs could have been named in the same way; the term is not exclusive to Pherae, though only at Pherae has it been preserved. Homer described a spring named Yperia in Thes-saly belonging to the town of Ormenion in the kingdom of Eurypylos. It is clear that this town cannot be the town of Orminion, placed on the Volos Gulf (Strabon, IX, 5, 18; in Baladie 1996), nor can the Homeric Yperia be associated with Pherae, at that time in the Kingdom of Eumelos. Consequently, in addition to the Yperia of Pherae, at least one other spring named Yperia existed in Thessaly, probably located near Ktouri, within the western plain (Decourt 1990; Helly 1995).

In any case, the inhabitants of Pherae and of Velestino were aware of the very peculiar environment they lived in, because of the Yperia fountain. This environment, which was recognized by all European travellers visiting Thessaly in the previous century, is in clear contrast to the flat and bare lands extending to the edge of the old Karla Lake. This place is characterized by a rich vegetation, small groves, orchards, and by lines of tall trees. Geographers (e.g. Sivignon 1974) define the basin of Velestino as an huerta, a typical environment of river deltas and of some alluvial fans. It consists of a mosaic composed of small fields and gardens abundantly drained by an intricate network of channels and numerous paths necessary to reach each field. Eventually, the fields are separated by dry-stone walls and by lines of vegetation, reeds, fig trees and poplar trees marking the pathways and channels.

It is not possible to describe in detail the history and evolution of this environment as we lack any specific information. On the other hand, we certainly know that at the beginning of the second century BC, this characteristic environment was already formed and persisted untill recently. Indeed, we know the citations of Polybius (XVIII, 20, 1, in Paton 1926) and Livy (XXXII, VI, 6-7, in Sage 1961) about the military operations preceding the great battle of Cynoscephalai in 196 BC. The two armies of the Romans and that of Philip V of Macedonia were in the region of Pherae looking for the ideal terrain for fighting. The historiographers say that during the military reconnaissance several 'contacts' occurred between the enemies, when turning around the walls of the gardens. These contacts were unexpected because of the high vegetation and of the noise produced by the water flowing in the channels. Due to the frequency of these accidents and the realization that this environment was clearly not favourable to draw up the armies and especially the cavalry, the two commanders were forced to move towards the hills of Revenia, near Skotoussa, where the final battle took place.

With the exception of this precise witness, our knowledge about possible variations of this environment, its areal extent and even the activity of the Yperia spring is almost nil. Nevertheless, in the imagination of the inhabitants today and in the analyses of the historians, the spring is considered to have always existed, giving abundant and permanent water. The water discharge was probably not constant and past periods of decreasing discharge or even of complete dryness cannot be excluded. Because the written sources do not allow us to solve this problem, we attempt to use three different arguments.

Firstly, from an anthropological point of view, the legends and traditions of the inhabitants of Velestino continuously attest to fear of the disappearance of water. When such a feeling is widespread, we can infer that the phenomenon can really occur. Indeed, it is the anxiety of a collective unconsciousness, whose origins are possibly several centuries back in time. In general, all these legends are born from a situation which actually occurred. Whenever it occurred, long ago or yesterday, the possibility should not be neglected.

Secondly, the recent discovery of the remains of a post-Byzantine or Turkish (fifteenth to sixteenth century) aqueduct, used to bring water from the mountain near Velestino down to the town (Di Salvatore 1994), poses the same question. In fact, the construction of such an edifice clearly indicates the need to improve the delivery of water to the inhabitants and to the environment. This fact can be interpreted in two opposite ways: either the need for water was greatly increased due to a comparable demographic increase, or the spring no longer provided enough water to satisfy the demands of the inhabitants. This situation generates a potential danger for the whole community. The construction of an aqueduct of this importance implies the mobilization of considerable human and economic resources. The latter hypothesis seems to better explain the question we pose about the permanence of the Yperia Krini spring, because it is very likely that the spring experienced periods of high and low water discharge.

Thirdly, a further aspect of the question should be analysed for completeness. As mentioned above the life of the town is closely related to the spring. Therefore, when migrations or phases of desertion occurred during the history of Pherae, such as that recorded at the beginning of the first century BC (Helly 1976, 1980), it is likely that a critical decrease in activity of the Yperia fountain directly caused the decline of the ancient town, and also affected the surrounding territory. Indeed, recent archaeological excavations (Intzesiloglou 1994) clearly show that at least part of the ancient town was abandoned during the first years (or decades) of the first century BC. Moreover, according to Helly (1976), there is evidence that the town of Pherae almost completely disappeared during the reign of Emperor Augustus, at least as a political entity. In fact, an inscription at Larissa states that the entire territory of Pherae and everything living on it, such as men and animals, were totally enclosed within the patrimonium Augusti (Helly 1976, 1980). The territory of Pherae was thus integrated within an imperial domain whose administrator, Sebastou Oikonomos, during the second century AD resided in Demetrias.

The eclipse of Pherae as a political entity is also emphasized by the fact that in antiquity the town was never an episcopate, in contrast to all other Thessalian towns which persisted since the end of the fourth century AD (Helly 1976).

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