ORCHOMENUS (local form on coins and inscriptions, Erchomcnos), the name borne by two cities of ancient Greece.
I. A Boeotian city, situated in an angle between the Cephissus and its tributary the Melas, on a long narrow hill which projects south from Mount Acontium. Its position is exceedingly strong, being defended on every side by precipice or marsh or river, and it was admirably situated to be the stronghold of an early kingdom. The acropolis is at the north end of the hill, on a peak which is overhung by Acontium, but at a distance sufficient to be safe from an enemy with the weapons of early warfare posted on the mountain. At the foot of the acropolis are the springs of the Melas.
In prehistoric times Orchomenus, as is proved alike by archaeological finds and by an extensive cycle of legends, was one of the most prosperous towns of Greece. It was at once a continental and a maritime power. On the mainland it controlled the greater part of Boeotia and drew its riches from the fertile lowlands of Lake Copais, upon the drainage of which the early kings of Orchomenus bestowed great care. Its maritime connexions have not been as yet determined, but it is clear that its original inhabitants, the Minyae, were a seafaring nation, and in historical times Orchomenus remained a member of the Calaurian League of naval states. At the end of the second millennium the Minyae were more or less supplanted by the incoming stock of Boeotians. Henceforth Orchomenus no longer figures as a great commercial state, and its political supremacy in Boeotia passed now, if not previously, to the people of Thebes. Nevertheless, owing perhaps to its strong military position, it long continued to exercise some sort of overlordship over other towns of northern Boeotia, and maintained an independent attitude within the Boeotian League. In 447 it served as the headquarters of the oligarchic exiles who freed Boeotia from Athenian control. In the 4th century Orchomenus was actuated throughout by an anti-Theban policy, which may have been nothing more than a recrudescence of old-time rivalry, but seems chiefly inspired by aversion to the newly established democracy at Thebes. In the Corinthian War the city supported Lysander and Agesilaus in their attacks upon Thebes, and when war was renewed between the Thebans and Spartans in 379 Orchomenus again sided with the latter. After the battle of Leuctra it was left at the mercy of the Thebans, who first, on Epaminondas's advice, readmitted it into the Boeotian League, but in 368 destroyed the town and exterminated or enslaved its people. By 353 Orchomenus had been rebuilt, probably by the Phocians, who used it as a bulwark against Thebes. After the subjection of the Phocians in 346 it was again razed by the Thebans, but was restored by Philip of Macedon as a check upon the latter (338). Orchomenus springs into prominence once again in 85 B.C., when it provided the battle-field on which the Roman general Sulla destroyed an army of Mithradates VI. of Pontus. Apart from this event its later history is obscure, and its decadence is further attested by the neglectful drainage of the plain and the consequent encroachments of Lake Copais. Since medieval times the site has been occupied by a village named Skripou. Since 1867 drainage operations have been resumed, and the land thus reclaimed has been divided into small holdings. The most remarkable relic of the early power of Orchomenus is the so-called "treasury" (of " Minyas ") which resembles the buildings of similar style at Mycenae (see Mycenae), and is almost exactly the same size as the treasury of Atreus. The admiration which Pausanias expresses for it is justified by the beautiful ornamentation, especially of the roof, which has been brought to light by Schliemann's excavations in the inner chamber opening out of the circular vaulted tomb. The monument, undoubtedly the tomb of some ancient ruler, or of a dynasty, lies outside the city walls. Other remains of early date have been found upon this site.
The worship of the Charites (see Graces) was the great cultus of Orchomenus, and the site of the temple is now occupied by a chapel, the Kot/iijcris rijs Havaylas. The Charites were worshipped under the form of rude stones, which had fallen from heaven during the reign of Eteocles; and it was not till the time of Pausanias that statues of the goddesses were placed in the temple. Near this was another temple dedicated to Dionysus, in whose festival, the 'Aypiuvia, are apparent the traces of human sacrifice in early times (see Agrionia).
See Strabo viii. p. 374, ix. pp. 407, 414-416; Pausanias ix. 34-38; Thucydides i. 12, iv. 76; Xenophon, Hellenica, iii. 5, iv. 3, vi. 4; Diodorus XV., xvi.; Plutarch, Sulla, chs. 30-31; K. O. Mtiller, Orchomenos iind die Minyer (Breslau, 1844); B. V. Head, Historia numorum (Oxford, 1877), pp. 293-294; Journal of Hellenic Studies, vol. ii. pis. xii., xiii.
2. An Arcadian city, situated in a district of the same name, north of Mantineia and west of Stymphalus. The district was mountainous, but embraced two valleys - the northern containing a lake which is drained, like all Arcadian lakes, by a katavotliron; the southern lying under the city, separated from Mantineia by a mountain ridge called Anchisia. The old city occupied a strong and lofty situation; in the time of Strabo it was a ruin, but Pausanias mentions that a new town was built below the old. A primitive wooden image of Artemis Cedreatis stood in a large cedar tree outside the city. Orchomenus is mentioned in the Homeric catalogue with the epithet ToXu/irjXos.
In early history Orchomenus figures as a town of some importance, for its kings until the late 7th century B.C. held some sort of sovereignty over all Arcadia. In the 5th century it was overshadowed by its southern neighbour Mantineia, with whom it is henceforth generally found to be at variance. In 418 B.C. Orchomenus fell for a time into the hands of the Mantineians; in 370 it held aloof from the new Arcadian League which the Mantineians were organizing. About this time it further declined in importance through the loss of some possessions on the east Arcadian watershed to the new Arcadian capital Megalopolis. In the 3rd century Orchomenus belonged in turn to the Aetolian League, to the Lacedaemonians, and, since 222, to the Achaean League. Though a fairly extensive settlement still existed on the site in the 2nd century a.d., its history under the Roman rule is quite obscure.
See Pausanias, viii. chs. 5, 11-13, 27; B. V. Head, Historia numorum (Oxford, 1887), pp. 377-378.
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)