BMCR 2022.05.33

The Sanctuary of Artemis Soteira in the Kerameikos of Athens

, The Sanctuary of Artemis Soteira in the Kerameikos of Athens. Philippika, 136. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz Verlag, 2020. Pp. 350. ISBN 9783447112864 €128,00.

This book is the revised and translated version of the dissertation submitted by the author to the Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz in 2014. The resulting publication focuses on the study and re-identification of the so-called Hekataion discovered in 1890 in the area to the south of the Street of the Tombs in the Kerameikos of Athens and is based on a study of accessible material and data housed in the archives of the Kerameikos excavations, the Stadtmuseum Kassel, the German Archaeological Institute at Athens, and the German Archaeological Institute at Berlin. As underlined by Constanze Graml within the foreword, “this work aims to be seen as a contribution to the understanding of the research history of one of the most prominent, oldest, and still active excavation sites of Greece” as well as to make the archaeological record of a long-neglected Athenian sanctuary accessible to the research community (p. X).

The book is organized into twelve chapters. After the foreword, a preliminary chapter presents some remarks on the nomenclature used in the volume. Chapter 1 begins with a history of previous research of the area of the Kerameikos itself since its discovery. This is followed by a detailed presentation of the various excavation campaigns carried out in the area of the so-called Hekataion from its discovery in 1890 by Kyriakos Mylonas to the most recent excavation campaign undertaken inside the temenos in May 2015 under the directorship of Jutta Stroszeck. With this introduction, the author situates her work within the larger scholarship on the sanctuary and justifies the need for a re-examination of archives data and material. Moreover, she defines the methodology of her study and its objectives. Speaking about the publications related to the temenos, she underlines the fact that scholars still rely on the 1890s Mylonas report, accepting his interpretation of the temenos as dedicated to Hekate. She points out that there is a lack of new interpretations of the temenos and connects this shortcoming to the absence of a complete publication of the archaeological records. Furthermore, she notes that individual finds from the temenos that have already been published, have been published without any connection to their original findspot. Therefore, Graml’s analysis is based on the observation of the archaeological remains and information from archival documents. The objectives of this work are to reconstruct the archaeological record discovered in 1890, to proceed with a critical review of the previous interpretations of the archaeological record and the attribution of the sanctuary to Hekate, and finally to propose a new understanding of the use of the sanctuary and its relevance in antiquity.

Chapter 2 presents a reassessment of the structure of the temenos based on the data from the archival records of Alfred Brueckner together with data from recent excavations. The chapter begins with an analysis of walls related to the temenos. All the walls are identified by a number. Walls 1a, 2a, and 3a, inside the temenos, belong to a burial precinct (South 3) dated to the 4th century BCE. In early Hellenistic times these walls were buried and the burial precinct South 3 was reduced in size by the construction of  two walls (no. 2 and 3 respectively). This phase of South 3 coincides with the establishment of the sanctuary which is framed by walls 1 to 10. The construction of these walls was not part of the same building project, but, according to the author, were added at different times as a consequence of the gradual growth of the surrounding necropolis. After describing the framing walls of the temenos and their phases, the rest of the chapter focuses on other structures identified inside the temenos. These structures are described and interpreted taking into consideration the chronological development of the area. Among the structures related to ritual practices, the author presents a bomos and a trapeza, both of which are located in the northern part of the temenos; a statue base with a prismatic recess on its upper surface found in axis with them, inside a niche in the wall 4; and an omphaloid marble stone located between the statue base and the bomos. When the omphaloid stone was removed in 2015, a shaft framed with tiles was found under it. The invocations inscribed on the tiles as well as on the marble omphalos stone enabled the identification of the structure as a manteion shaft. Other structures within the temenos that were not related to cult activities are a rock-cut well (Well B 18) and a limestone block that may be identified as a sundial.

After describing the built structures the author focuses on the analysis of small finds attributed to the temenos (Chapter 3). Among all the finds catalogued in the book, only six artefacts (cat. nos. 4, 6, 9, 15, 17, and 20) could securely be attributed to the sanctuary of Artemis, while the others do not indicate any relation to the cult of the goddess. The majority of the other catalogued pottery is connected to pottery production unrelated to the cult. Graml’s analysis of the small finds together with the study of the structures discussed in chapter 2 allows the author to define the 4th century BCE as an approximate terminus post quem for the sanctuary and the 2nd/1st century BCE as terminus ante quem for its foundation. The sanctuary itself existed in the 2nd century BCE, while the latest evidence of an Artemis cult is the Artemis statuette Cat. 17, which is dated to the 2nd century CE.

Chapter 4 focuses on describing the area to the south of the Street of the Tombs and especially its development and evolution with regard to the foundation of the sanctuary. Chapters 5 and 6 then take up a discussion on the cult recipients and the ritual organization of the temenos. In Chapter 5, Graml disproves the conventional attribution of the sanctuary to Hekate, which had been based on the discovery of the statue base with a prismatic recess, described in chapter 2. The statue base dates back to the first phase of the sanctuary. The author reconsiders the epigraphic evidence from the sanctuary together with more recent information about the polyvalence of the prismatic image type, as known from Delos, and identifies the goddess honored within the temenos of the Kerameikos as Artemis Soteira. Graml’s analysis also focuses on the iconography of the goddess. The author considers both the base with a prismatic recess, which testifies to a herm-like shaft for the cult image in the Keramikos sanctuary, and a small 2nd century CE Artemis statuette, attesting to a full anthropomorphic iconography representing Artemis as a torch-bearer. The remaining part of the chapter is dedicated to the goddess’ character and sphere of power. Graml argues that Artemis Soteira might have had special significance for the polis related to her functions as a savior and lightbringer, characteristics also attributed to Artemis Mounichia. Moreover, the scholar assumes that Bendis might have shared the altar with Artemis Soteira since the earliest phase of the sanctuary; this idea derives from a Classical votive relief reused on the north side of the bomos. The relief represents a sacrificial procession led by a boy identified as a servant. Behind the young boy there are a female figure wearing a Phrygian cap and a man. Both figures are holding ears of wheat. The manteion shaft can be dated to the 3rd century CE, as indicated by the style of the inscribed invocations on the shaft tiles. These inscriptions also attest to the presence of “Paian” in the area. Considering the inscription and the omphaloid shape of the ritual installation, the author argues that the name “Paian” in the Kerameikos was used as an epithet of Apollo. However, due to the destruction of relevant undocumented strata, a joint cult of Artemis Soteira and Apollo Paian at the sanctuary in the Kerameikos cannot be confirmed. Graml therefore only can suggest that the cult of the goddess may have been replaced in the 3rd century CE by the cult of Paian who became the new savior god of the sanctuary.

Chapter 6 focuses on cult organization and the reconstruction of ritual practices. The author notes that little can be said about the organization of the cult of Artemis Soteira during the earliest phases of the sanctuary due to a lack of documentation, and that the earliest evidence of a cult association responsible for the temenos is a 1st century BCE honorary decree of the Soteriastai (Cat. 9). Graml’s analysis of ritual practice is based on the archaeological evidence of both Artemis and Bendis, discussed in Chapter 5. According to the author, the cult of Bendis, if it existed here, would most likely have been privately organized. She hypothesizes that the marble relief of a woman wearing a Phrygian cap mentioned above might have been transferred from the Bendideion in Mounichia to the Kerameikos. However, since the cult of Bendis is not attested by other archaeological evidence, Graml assumes that after a certain time, her worship became subordinate to that of Artemis. Other cult activities may have included purification rituals inside the temenos and along its boundaries. The bomos and the trapeza were related to sacrificial practice. According to Graml, the size and height of the bomos suggest that small animals were sacrificed on it. Since no trace of animal sacrifice has been documented in the excavation reports, the characteristics of any possible bloody sacrifices remain unclear. Nevertheless, she does not exclude that larger animals may have been killed and butchered near the altar. Non-animal sacrifice may have been offered at the trapeza. A few dedicatory objects from the excavation attest to dedicatory practice, while oracular rituals are attested in the 3rd century CE following the installation of the manteion.

In Chapter 7, the evidence of the sanctuary and the cult of Artemis Soteira is compared to and interpreted within the overall picture of the Greek religious system and the religious landscape of Attica. Specifically, the author compares the sanctuary at the Kerameikos with the development attested at Piraeus where both Artemis and Bendis had two important sanctuaries. Both the sanctuary of Artemis Mounichia and the Bendideion at Piraeus apparently faced changes in Hellenistic time when a Macedonian garrison was installed at Mounichia causing the area to be put under strict surveillance, probably preventing the Athenians from accessing these sanctuaries. Therefore, considering the major political changes faced by Athens under Macedonian control, Graml connects the foundation of the sanctuary of Artemis Soteira in the Keramikos with the necessity to transfer the ritual activities from the no longer accessible sanctuaries at Piraeus to a more easy reachable area.

Summaries of the book in English, German and modern Greek are provided in Chapters 8 and 9. The catalog in Chapter 10 is divided into two main parts dedicated to the description of wall structures and finds from the temenos. The finds, including archaeological materials and inscriptions from the excavations, are organized by their material group. The author describes and illustrates the finds from the temenos, including relevant extracts of Brueckner’s excavation diaries.

This book concludes with four sections dedicated to illustration credits, bibliography, indices, and to a collection of supplementary material including maps, archival photos, and drawings of the main monuments in the area. Moreover, attachments A to G present maps drawn up over the years by various scholars including an updated plan of the temenos of Artemis Soteira by Constanze Graml and Yannis Nakas (Attachment F), accompanied by drawings of the walls (Attachment H) and reconstructions of the sanctuary of Artemis Soteira at the time of its establishment and in the Hellenistic period (Attachment I).

In conclusion, this book makes available data from both old and new excavations, which until now had only been partially published. Data collected are coherently presented to provide a new and complete reconstruction of the different phases of the sanctuary. Moreover, this study offers a new interpretation of this area, and Graml’s attribution to Artemis Soteira of the sanctuary instead of the conventional Hekate is convincing. Her proposal connecting the foundation of the sanctuary of Artemis Soitera in the Kerameikos with the temporary abandonment of the sanctuaries of Bendis and Artemis Mounichia at Piraeus is also particularly interesting. All these reasons qualify this book as an important piece of scholarship in the wider studies aimed at the reconstruction of the topography of Athens and the analysis of the testimonies related to the cult of Artemis in Attica.