Bryn Mawr Classical Review

BMCR 2015.01.02 on the BMCR blog

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2015.01.02

Sebastian Prignitz, Bauurkunden und Bauprogramm von Epidauros (400-350): Asklepiostempel, Tholos, Kultbild, Brunnenhaus. Vestigia Bd 67.   München:  Verlag C. H. Beck, 2014.  Pp. x, 395.  ISBN 9783406658204.  €108.00.  

Reviewed by Ghislaine E. van der Ploeg, University of Warwick (

The sanctuary of Asklepios at Epidauros underwent a drastic rebuilding programme in the 4th century BC and numerous excellent works, most notably Alison Burford’s The Greek Temple Builders at Epidauros (1969) have studied this event. The current work is a welcome addition to prior scholarship and presents a detailed examination of four inscriptions relating to the rebuilding programme. These inscriptions list the building accounts for four separate structures in the sanctuary and list expenditures and incomes. An in-depth study of the inscriptions is followed by an examination of the sculptural decoration of the Temple of Asklepios, and a chapter on the contractors and sculptors who participated in this building. The book consists of six chapters and a separate introduction. The text is often complemented by summaries, diagrams, photos, and illustrations making it highly accessible for the reader. A useful summary of the epigraphic chapters and how the work updates current readings of the inscriptions is provided at the end (pages 250-252) in German, Greek, and English.

In Chapter 1 Prignitz clearly lays out his goals; he ambitiously intends to revise the readings of the inscriptions, show the transmission of the texts, provide drawings and photos of the stelai and documents, do a systematic commentary on the building costs, draw up a comprehensive building vocabulary, and also compile a prosopography of the contractors. Following this, he discusses the excavations and where the inscriptions were found, the architecture of the Temple of Asklepios, the Tholos, and the fountain house.

Chapter Two is the longest and examines in great detail the four building inscriptions. With all of these inscriptions, images and drawings, allow for a comprehensive understanding of each inscription. He provides the text in Greek, a transcription, a translation into German, and commentary. This is a great improvement on Burford’s volume, which only included a translation of the accounts for the temple. One of the main points of interest, which becomes apparent from this study are the differences between each of these inscriptions and the changes in the epigraphic habit.

Inscription 1 concerns the accounts for the Temple of Asklepios which was built in four years and nine months. The inscription is remarkable as each side of the stone was divided into multiple columns, which, as Prignitz argues, show the main expenses in the larger column, and the side expenses in the smaller one. Two formulae are used here, one that indicates work that had already been completed and the other showing payment for future jobs. The billing year mentioned here began with the commencement of the building and is listed on a year by year basis, making it an official record of work done and commissioned. No fines are listed in this inscription.

Parts of Inscription 2 are quite illegible, recording a monthly billing process, but it is clear that it concerns the Tholos, despite it not being named as such. The inscription lists fines incurred as well as the expenditures, but no mention is made of when the work started or when it was completed. There is a significant difference between Inscriptions 1 and 2. In the first the building project is listed from foundation to roof, with each section listed individually, whereas with the Tholos not all building phases are accounted for.

Inscription 3 has been reconstructed from six fragments, not all of which can be placed with complete certainty. The text shows a list of expenditures and incomes for an undetermined period; too much text is missing to be certain of the billing cycle but it seems to concern a two-year period. It is likely that this is an account for either an abaton or the fountain house (a reference in Pausanias 2.27.5 makes the latter more likely). Inscription 4 was inscribed on the back of another inscription but the dating makes clear that the building mentioned here ran parallel to work on the Tholos. This inscription provides the accounts for the cult-statue.

The administration and organisation of the building programme is examined in Chapter 3. Prignitz notes that there was an alteration partway through the programme, indicated by various changes such as the title of the men commissioned to give out contracts and collect fines for tardy work (egdoteres to thymelopoi). Inscription 1 makes clear that guarantors were needed for all work that cost over 1000 drachmas since most contractors were paid in advance. Only a small number were paid on completion of a job and this mostly concerned those making deliveries. In the middle of the 4th century BC guarantees were no longer listed on Inscriptions 2 and 3, which are only concerned with payments after the work was completed, indicating a change in the accounting habit here. Fines are not mentioned in Inscription 1 but are listed in the later inscriptions.

Chapter 4 discusses the physical appearance of the structures. The majority of the chapter is dedicated to the iconography of the pediments and acroteria of the Temple of Asklepios which Prignitz discusses thematically. The east pediment was constructed by Hektoridas and showed the Fall of Troy and the west showed an Amazonomachy, made by an unknown artist. The sculpture is fragmentary and little is extant. Prignitz shows an awareness of past reconstructions but also argues for different sculptural placements. One of the most important suggestions he makes is the placement of Asklepios’ sons within the pediment, which is possible as Machon and Podaleiros were listed as being present at Troy (Il. 2.730), and also the possibility that one of the acroteria depicted Apollo and Coronis. This would link the iconography of the temple more strongly to the god to whom it was dedicated than has previously been thought. He also draws attention to similarities with the Erechtheion sculpture, especially the details. He notes that the iconographic themes that occur on the Asklepieion are strongly linked to Athens and might reflect the political alliance between Athens and Epidaurus in the 4th century. Prignitz moves on from the temple to the cult statue and notes that this would have been very expensive to construct but that there are no mentions of gold or ivory in Inscription 4, indicating that there must have been a separate account inscribed on stone, now lost. The building history of the Tholos is clearly tabulated. A brief discussion of the fountain house concludes the chapter.

Chapter 5 attempts to provide a new dating of the inscriptions on the basis of a prosopography, palaeography, and orthography. The discovery of Inscription 3 shows that dates need revision because there was a gap of ten to twenty years between the construction of the temple and the cult statue, meaning that a date of before 370 BC is not possible for inscription 3. Prignitz argues that Inscription 1 should date to between 400 and 390 BC, and a date of around 380 BC should be given to the start of work on the Tholos (Burford previously argued for later dates). By comparing the Epidaurian sculpture to others of that period, Prignitz is also able to date the temple sculpture between 375 and 370. The chapter concludes which a section on what is known about the named building contractors.

Chapter 6 offers a brief conclusion. Prignitz argues that the four inscriptions show a coherent building programme for the sanctuary. The new temple was built in less than five years and attracted workmen from the Athenian rebuilding programme. Work at Epidauros began simultaneously on the Tholos and on the cult-statue, but construction of the Tholos took over thirty years, far longer than the temple. The building programme was expanded and a fountain house was also commissioned, meaning that it took over half a century to complete work at Epidauros.

Prignitz finishes with a number of indexes on the building vocabulary used in the inscriptions, a prosopography, list of Epidaurian priests of Asklepios, and a list of Chairmen.

This work greatly enriches our understanding of the building programme at Epidauros and sheds new light on an important phase for the sanctuary of Asklepios, the actual dates of the building works and the organisation and administration behind the programme. The work’s great merit is its narrow focus, the detailed reading of the inscriptions, and the clear presentation including the addition of Greek texts and many images. However, it is not for the beginner and prior knowledge of the sanctuary, its history, and architecture is required. Combining the inscriptions with discussion of sculpture shows the phases in which structures were built, the movement of contractors between them, but also how the building works fit in with other programmes taking place in the Greek world around the same. The work shows not only the administration and process of the building programme but also indicates the changes that occurred within the process of inscribing in a small period of time.

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