BMCR 1994.03.17

Greek Sanctuaries

, , Greek sanctuaries : new approaches. London: Routledge, 1993. xv, 245 pages : illustrations ; 25 cm. ISBN 9780415053846. $49.95.

Under the auspices of the Swedish Academy at Athens, Robin Hägg and Nanno Marinatos have organized and published a number of symposia on Greek religion; they now bring that interest to a wider audience, with ten essays written by archaeologists and historians of religion “with an intentional inclination towards Anglo-Saxon scholarship,” the focus being the function and historical development of sanctuaries. The tenth, Eric Østby’s 35 page descriptive bibliography of “twenty five years of research on Greek sanctuaries,” (1965-90) alone makes the volume a necessary addition to any serious Classical library. But all the essays have some claim on our attention.

Christiane Sourvinou-Inwood leads off, in “Early sanctuaries, the eighth century and ritual space: Fragments of a discourse,” with an energetic attack on the view of de Polignac and Morris that sacred space was indeterminate in the Dark Ages but became more sharply differentiated around 700 BC. She convincingly shows against de Polignac that an altar is implied even if it is not explicitly mentioned at every sacrifice in the Iliad and Odyssey and in every grove and cave and so there were “strictly defined sacred spaces” (but were they all permanently so and cannot the perimeter be vague even if the center is marked?). Against Morris she argues that Dark Age shrines are not rare and can be intramural, such as Karphi, Asine, the Spartan Amyklaion and the sanctuary of Artemis at Mounichia: “all three categories of sanctuary (intramural, periurban, extraurban) are found in both historical and in Mycenaean Greece … the same was true in the Dark Ages.” Against a later sharp differentiation, she notes first that herms, hestiai and altars show “the gods and heroes were installed at the very centre of the living space” interweaving sacred and non-sacred and then that emphasis on the emergence of sanctuary peribolos walls (never a requirement) is offset by the fact that they often enclosed “non-strictly sacred spaces” as well (citing Bergquist). Thus development of sanctuaries was continuous and without rupture. I find it hard to accomodate the idea of a “strictly defined sacred space” with this idea of interweaving but can see that peribolos wall and temple need not represent a break in the ritual tradition.

Catherine Morgan continues the argument in her suggestive but overly-condensed chapter on “The origins of pan-Hellenism,” for which “there is no simple recipe” and which emerged gradually to control aristocratic activity that began during the eighth century. Thus, votives at Olympia show three stages: before 800 the site is “a meeting place for the petty chiefs of the west” and selectively a cult site for the Arcadians as we see from the limited range of Arkadian jewelery and small bronzes; in the 8th C. whereas figurines were often cast in situ and remained small, simple and essentially unchanged in form, tripods increased in size and elaboration and were mostly brought from workshops elsewhere, suggesting that “the elite of emerging poleis were beginning to exercise their rivalries outside state borders.” During the seventh century pottery (i.e. dining) appears; there is a settlement (in Elis) as well as sanctuary; and tripods decline and eventually disappear as Olympic dedications, while becoming civic symbols in other places (choregic monuments at Athens, the Plataean tripod at Delphi), at the same time as the Olympic competition is institutionalized and eventually incorporated into a pan-Hellenic cycle. Delphi is like Olympia in being geographically remote and in having large numbers of early votives, including competitive elite dedications, but quite different in other respects: the earliest evidence is 8th not 10th C.; settlement precedes cult, which eventually displaces it; the oracle is pan-Hellenic from the start, consulted on community issues “probably beyond the collective wisdom of the local elite.” Votives from Ionian sanctuaries, also located away from cities, are even less comparable, explicable only in terms of local politics, whereas the mainland sanctuaries were eventually coordinated in a festival cycle, as the states sought to regulate aristocratic activity. This emphasis on regional variation nicely prepares us for the individual studies that follow.

Nancy Bookidis’ “Ritual dining at Corinth” describes the extensive dining facilities at the intriguing three-level Demeter sanctuary on Acrocorinth, 14 dining rooms in the 6th C. and 30 in the 5th. Dining was restricted to the lowest area, with sacrifice and offerings on the middle terrace and a rock-cut theater above, presumably for initiations. The rooms were often equipped with kitchens and separate bathing facilities. Stewpot, casserole and pitcher are consistently found, and their small size (half-liter or less) suggests food that was eaten in small quantities. Numerous storage amphorae suggest considerable drinking, and fragments of drinking cups are the most common discards. Pig bones, but not in great quantity, were found in a sacrificial pit but virtually no bones in the dining rooms and no garbage pits. Grinding stones were found but no ovens; sacrificial cakes (attested on clay models of winnowing trays) were probably moulded from boiled grain. Despite 40 large-scale terracotta statues of young men carrying offerings, dedications are mostly feminine—loomweights, jewellery, mirrors and over 23,000 young female votaries in terracotta. Several questions remain: what the identity of the festival(s) was; why the theater holds many fewer participants (85-90) than the dining rooms (200); why couch lengths vary considerably (measurements are provided), resembling private houses more than public dining areas.

In “Three related sanctuaries of Poseidon: Geraistos, Kalaureia and Tainaron,” Rob W.M. Schumacher argues against previous explanations for the sanctuaries’ relationship (wandering tribe, geographical location, Mycenaean elaboration) and points to their common function as asyla. His key evidence is a 3rd C. Kimolian honorific inscription found in Euboean Kastri instructing that one copy be erected in the sanctuary of Athena on Kimolos and for a second copy “the ambassador is to request of the Senate and the People of Karystos a place in the sanctuary of Poseidon Geraistios in the inviolable area (ἐν τῶι ἀσύλωι), where it may be set up. This inscription both confirms Kastri as ancient Geraistos and supplies the key that binds all three sanctuaries and separates them from other famous Poseidon sanctuaries like Sounion and Malea and incidentally explains why they are named after sons of Zeus, protector of suppliants, not Poseidon (though some think Sounion offered asylum, cf p.232). This function, of course, does not exclude other connections, and the author’s discussion of the function and meaning of asylum could be clearer but conveniently points us to the next essay, with whose author he shares as well a commendable insistence on a functional, historical study.

Ulrich Sinn’s chapter, “Greek sanctuaries as places of refuge,” a condensation of his essay in AthMitt 1990, begins with a general and uncritical discussion of suppliancy as seen in tragedy and the historians, said to reflect “raw reality.” More helpful is the practical question Sinn then poses: “how did sanctuaries prepare for these continual claims on their hospitality”? Inscriptions confirm that suppliants lived in sanctuaries and “were allowed to frequent the eating places and lodgings in the sanctuary” and so Sinn tries to locate precisely where. He finds that sanctuaries generally have an inner precinct, with altar, temple and votive offerings, which is separated from the outer precinct (alsos, “grove”), with a water supply and either permanent structures or simply shady places for temporary shelters. Thus “all Greek sanctuaries were in a position to put up large numbers of cult participants—and therefore suppliants too—for a long period of time on sacred ground.” (Note the shift from “generally” to “all.”) The sacredness of the outer area (how marked?) is argued only for Olympia, on the basis of a passage in Pindar (“an authentic testimonium”—as opposed to what?) and the presence of discarded votive offerings in the hundreds of disused wells since “votive offerings even after they had been discarded could be deposited only inside the sanctuary.” I imagine an equally strong argument can be made for the rule that truly sacred areas were kept pure (cf. Thuc.4.97) and I wonder if there is any well near a sanctuary with out discarded votives, but perhaps the distinction between sacred and profane should not be drawn too sharply, as R. Connor has argued ( Ancient Society 1988) and as Sourvinou-Inwood argues above. Sinn asks finally why suppliants in drama turned to the main sanctuaries and, noting “that the priest was backed up by the authority of a whole town” and that large sanctuaries were better equipped for long stays, argues that a further factor was their location far outside town (“sited on particularly exposed spots remarkably often”) for these were the best places of refuge in an invasion and the best place to isolate political enemies. I worry (again) about excessive reliance on tragedy (where an out-of-town suppliant arriving to seek civic aid and an in-towner running to an altar are two quite distinct plot motifs) and want to know exactly how often “remarkably often” is, but perhaps this will be answered in Sinn’s forthcoming study on “Die griechischen Heiligtümer, Funktion—Organisation—Topographie.”

In “The Sanctuary of Demeter and Kore at Eleusis,” Kevin Clinton gives a helpful overview of his radical reinterpretation of the Hymn to Demeter and the iconography of the Mysteries and its consequences for our reconstruction of the activities at the rites. The hymn omits key elements of the Mysteries (Athens, Triptolemus, Eumolpus, Eubuleus, the Mirthless Rock) and adds others (Hecate, Iambe, Demophon) because it describes not the Mysteries but the Thesmophoria. The iconographic key is the St Petersburg hydria known as the Regina Vasorum, which shows that the drama begins not with the rape of Kore but with the separation of mother and daughter. So the night after the initiates have arrived and danced by the Callichoron Well as part of the Reception of Iacchus, they enter the sanctuary, passing by the Mirthless Rock from which lamentations issue, and, depositing their piglets in the megara by the Telesterion, they wander around hearing the hierophant summoning Kore with a gong. She would probably emerge from the underworld accompanied by Eubuleus and embrace her mother and then all three go to the Telesterion, glimpsed by the Epoptai. Suddenly the door would open and the hierophant stand in the doorway, silhouetted against a brilliant light coming from thousands of torches held by the Epoptai. The initiates would enter and then depart after having seen the goddesses on a platform with divine initiates such as Heracles and Dionysus. The Epoptai would stay to see the epiphany of the child Ploutos as hierophant displays the ear of grain. This strikingly new reconstruction of the Mysteries by the acknowledged master of the site I imagine will spark considerable discussion.

Helmut Kyrieleis begins his essay on “The Heraion at Samos” with a brief history of its excavation and discussion of the difficulty of distinguishing temples from other “temple-like buildings” in the Heraion (ten in all during the archaic period). The absence of an altar may not be definitive if, as K. argues, many of the temple-like buildings are “orientated towards the great altar of Hera” (this is not obvious—the clearest example is in fact identified as a treasury on the plan); clearer is the placement of some along the main routes through the sanctuary, in the immediate vicinity of votive sculpture, which defines them as treasuries. K. continues with a discussion of finds. Bone remains show that bovines, sheep and pigs were the three most common animal sacrifices, and the total absence of thigh bones suggests their special status (either wrapped in fat and burned for the god or given to the priest). The pottery was plain but elegantly profiled cult equipment (goblets, cups, mugs, plates, amphoras), some painted with rho and eta, marking them as cult objects, probably produced and sold in the sanctuary. Exotic animals (a crocodile skull, African antelope horns) were found, probably brought to the island as dedications, along with the many Egyptian and Near Eastern reliefs and figurines—”no other archaeological excavation in Greek has produced as many imports…. One comes to realize what the close proximity of such varied votives from widely different countries meant for the evolution of Greek art.” Because the site is marshy, wooden objects were found in great numbers, often “votives of the common people” such as rude wooden statuettes, bowls and plates, schematic “little boats” that may have been symbolic cult objects and more elaborate miniature stools. The moisture also preserved plant material such as the predictable grape seeds and olive pits but also pomegranate seeds, poppy seeds and several imported pine cones, represented in terracota as well—”it is scarcely possible to draw a line between what is purely a votive offering and what is sacrificed or eaten at a ritual banquet.” K. ends with a full discussion of the thrice life-size Isches kouros, fully reconstructed only in 1984.

Elizabeth R. Gebhard also gives a full site survey in her chapter, “The evolution of a pan-Hellenic sanctuary: from archaeology towards history at Isthmia.” The first ritual evidence is Early Protogeometric, “many layers of ash and burnt bones mixed with fragments of pottery cups” along the plateau edge where the long stone altar of Poseidon stood from the seventh century onwards. This is superseded by a late-eighth century terrace on the south, with postholes covered by pieces of charred wood and a curved groove perhaps for an offering table, as well as a garbage dump and votives, mostly simple offerings of Corinthian manufacture, including many unique handmade terracotta bovoid figurines, but later richer dedications such as tripods and armor. The first temple, built in the early seventh century, burned around 470 in a fire that destroyed most of the offerings but not a large and intricately designed marble water basin (whose handles and rim show heavy use). It was replaced almost immediately, burned again in 390 and rebuilt along with a theater for musical contests. The stadium was built in the sixth century, with several ramps to direct traffic, and relocated on a grander scale in the fourth. Having described the site, G. ends with three short essays, on Isthmia as an assembly place (see Morgan above), on sacred space and on the cult of Melikertes-Palaimon. Particularly interesting in light of Sourvinou-Inwood’s and Sinn’s chapters is the second, which discusses how the space around the altar was marked off from the nearby stadium, though I missed discussion of the changing relationship between the temenos wall and Corinth highway.

In his “Concordia Discors: the literary and the archaeological evidence on the sanctuary of Samothrace,” Walter Burkert argues that here, despite Lehman’s attempts, the “limits of archaeological exploration are becoming apparent.” The outward history of the sanctuary can be clearly read in both literature and archaeology, but the only place they meet regarding ritual is in the iron rings for mystai, which are mentioned by Lucretius and Pliny and have been found in the sanctuary. Literature alone teaches us that there were Samothracian mysteries which involved ithyphallic statues and “seeing Kore”; that Samothrace had special status already in the archaic (7th C.) tradition (“a myth of origin, of sex and crime, designating a sacred centre established by Zeus within the non-Greek world”); that the sanctuary was filled with votive tablets from those saved at sea; and that an initiate had to reveal his worst sin, which “makes for a good conspiracy” as often in mysteries. On the other hand, Burkert is aware of the limits of literature too: “anaktoron as used in rhetorical tradition is a word with a very vague meaning”; Hippolytus’s Gnostic source “is personally interested in mysteries but free from obligations of ancient