Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2003.05.10

Katja Sporn, Heiligtümer und Kulte Kretas in klassischer und hellenisticher Zeit. Studien zu antiken Heiligtümern, 3.   Heidelberg:  Verlag Archäologie und Geschichte, 2002.  Pp. 416.  ISBN 3-935289-00-6.  EUR 75.00.  

Reviewed by Charles Delattre, Université de Paris X Nanterre (
Word count: 1124 words

Katja Sporn's book is a welcome addition to Studien zu antiken Heiligtümern, a series directed by Heidelberg Professor Tonio Hölscher. In fact, it is the second volume to be edited in this series, after Ortwin Dally's Band 1, Canosa, località S. Leucio. Untersuchungen zu Akkulturations-Prozessen vom 6. bis zum 2. Jhr. v. Chr. am Beispiel eines daunischen Heiligtums, issued in 2001, although it bears the number 3 in the series, as Jürgen Riethmüller's Band 2, Asklepieia. Heiligtümer und Kulte einer griechischen Heilgottheit has not been released yet. It is the result, as the author notes in her Vorwort, of a Dissertation presented in 1997/1998 at the Ruprecht-Karls-Universität Heidelberg, under the special guidance of A. Chaniotis.

This work is very well structured and meets all the standards of scholarship. A careful and precise introduction leads us into the world of Cretan religious archaeology. After detailing some recent and not so recent works studying religious issues in particular areas in the Greek world (n. 7 p. 21 is very thorough), Sporn explains briefly but convincingly the frame within which she decided to work. As an island, Crete is a most peculiar landscape in the Greek world, as it offers a unity envied by many other areas. At the same time, Sporn stresses very carefully that it doesn't constitute a political or religious unit: particular cities and their chorai have to be respected, and the Kretan Koinon is too weak an organization to provide unity in this area.

Following the works of J. Svoronos, M. Guarducci and R. F. Willetts, among many others, Sporn focuses on religion in Crete, but at the same time offers a point of view none of these illustrious predecessors adopted. She is not interested in the origins of religion in Crete and does not address the problematic issue of Minoan religion or of syncretism between Aegean and Greek religion. Nor does she focus on what occurs in Roman times, even if she is compelled time to time to use sources from that time. Her aim is to study religion in the Classic and Hellenistic periods, as the title strongly underlines.

With minute accuracy, Sporn ends her introduction with precise indications about the tools she used to build the Cretan pantheon. Archaeological material comes first, with detailed discussion of identification issues that come with the study of ruins, inscriptions and coins. Literary sources, mainly Diodorus, are useful as well, as previous works by Istros or Sosicrates have been almost entirely lost. Then comes the study of toponyms and tribe names, whenever these names refer to a deity. Most original is finally the use of secondary literature written by travelers from the XVth century (Chr. Buondelmonte) to the early XXth century (Ch. Mosso, M. Deffner). As Sporn proudly (and rightly) notices, some indications they offer have never been explored by current scholarship, although they were of great interest.

Finally, the author establishes the basis of her research as she shows how these tools can be used to recreate a religious landscape. Notwithstanding this, she keeps a careful eye on whatever she creates and specifies with commendable care the limits of her work: the description of cults always comes with a mark, dubious (d), possible (m), probable (w) or is presented as certain (no mark).

This precision is reflected in the general presentation: first comes a catalogue, an opus rationale from page 35 to 318 with annotated description of every cult in every city of Crete, from East to West. The only problem with this catalogue is that I was unable to find any Table of Contents, which makes it sometimes difficult to use. The analytical description (Topographischer Teil: Poleis und Heiligtümer) goes as follow:

1) Eastern Crete

p. 35-52: the East: Itanos, Praisos

p. 52-85: Hierapytna, Malla, Istron, Lato, Olous, Dreros, Milatos

p. 85-99: South and South West of Mount Dicte (Kato Symi Viannou, Biannos, Priansos, Arkados)

p. 99-110: Lyttos, Chersonnesos, Ariaioi

2) Central Crete

p. 111-149: North: Knosos, Herakleion, Eltynia, Lycastos, Rhaukos, Tylisos, Apollonia

p. 149-223: South: Gortyn, Rhytion, Lebena, Lasaia, Phaistos, Ida Grotto

3) Western Crete

p. 224-254: Axos, Eleutherna, Rhethymnon, Sybrita, Korion

p. 255-267: Center West: Lappa, Aptera, Anopolis, Araden

p. 268-298 North West: Kydonia, Polyrrhenia, Polichna, (Allaria, Keraia, Moda, not included in the headtitle), Phalasarna

p. 298-318: South West: the Oreioi, Kantanos, Hyrtakina, Elyros, Lisos, Tarrha

The second chapter in the book is a systematic synthesis (Systematischer Teil), from page 318 to page 362, and deals with gods and individuals (Die Götter Kretas und ihre Kulte, p. 318-343), sanctuaries from an archaeological and architectural point of view (Die Heiligtümer, p. 343-356), and sanctuaries in relationship with the cities (Poleis, Siedlungen und Heiligtümer, p. 358-362). Sporn's treatment of these issues is detailed and convincing, even if some of the information is rendered redundant by the detailed first part of the book and hence a little tedious. The main problem resides in the fact that you first have to understand how the book works to make good use of it: there is no index of gods, so you have to go to one of the boards (1 to 18) in the Annex. If you look for details of Dictynna, first go to the Artemis board, then to the cities where she appears in chapter I, and then to the synthetic paragraph in chapter II. And if Dictynna is mentioned in another place, you have to read the entire book to find it... There are indexes of names, places and subjects, but no index of gods. And why does the Names Index include the Dactyls, or Leukothea, when the most important gods are omitted ?

Once you understand this rather peculiar system, the book becomes a useful resource. There are maps of Crete and of various sites (but not of some important locations such as the Diktynnaion), some iconographical samples, and an Appendix of the Riders Heroes of Eltynia. The list of literary sources mentioned throughout the book is impressive, if not exhaustive.

There are very few errors in the text: I noticed for example BEFRA instead of BEFAR (n. 7 p. 21), and an indication of Rhadamanthys as one of the sons of Minos (p. 339) instead of his brother. Robert Parker's Athenian Religion. A History was omitted from the bibliography.

In conclusion, Sporn fulfills all the promises of her title.. This is a very welcome study, as it gives a thorough catalogue of religious items. However, it is not the final work on Greek religion in Crete: there is no substantial discussion of festivals, for example, and literary sources are marginalized. R. F. Willetts' Cretan Festivals, remains a central study, even if Sporn's work helps to give a more scientific view of gods in Crete in the Classical and Hellenistic periods.

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