BMCR 2022.11.30

The sanctuary of Demeter and Kore: miscellaneous finds of terracotta

, The sanctuary of Demeter and Kore: miscellaneous finds of terracotta. Corinth, XVIII.8. Princeton: American School of Classical Studies at Athens, 2021. Pp. xxx, 176. ISBN 9780876611883. $150.00.

The eighth volume of the Sanctuary of Demeter and Kore at Corinth series enhances our knowledge of the finds from the sanctuary, in particular the miscellaneous terracotta finds. It complements the publications of other clay finds in Parts 1, 2, 4, 5, and 7, on the Greek pottery, the Roman pottery and lamps, the terracotta figurines, the terracotta sculpture, and the Greek lamps and offering trays, respectively.[1] The volume includes a contribution by Gloria Merker and Nancy Bookidis on the publication of the loomweights and textile tools. Bookidis also wrote the section “A Review of the Sanctuary of Demeter and Kore” and co-authored with Klinger the “Chronology and Conclusions” section. The volume is arranged in four chapters, an appendix on the contexts of the terracotta miscellaneous finds, the concordance to the catalogue, and five indices.

From the onset Klinger stresses that publications of terracotta miscellaneous finds from sites are extremely rare or non-existent, or that such finds are mentioned in passing and rarely form the subject of detailed publications. Among the editorial choices which I found interesting, the authors chose to provide two dates for finds, one for an estimated date of the objects (often stylistic—based on parallels) and one on their stratigraphic context. Even though these double dates might seem confusing to some, they provide information about the lives of the objects; for instance, an Archaic period object might be found in a Hellenistic period stratum, indicating that it was used until then, or perhaps that ritual clearing took place at that period.

The introduction includes a comprehensive review of the sanctuary and its history. It is a very welcome addition, especially considering the advances in the Sanctuary’s study over the decades since its discovery, and it will certainly be of great use to the sanctuary’s students in the future. A section on the manufacture of the finds follows. Klinger emphasises the local production of the finds and their relation to finds from the Potters’ Quarter of Corinth and to a lesser extent to those from the Tile Works (a ceramic workshop in Corinth).

A section on “Dedications and the Cult” follows. Klinger raises another much debated issue in archaeology, and especially archaeology of religion and cult, that of the “multivocality” of dedications. She suggests that several of the finds, for instance the phormiskoi, astragaloi, and sandaled feet could have had multiple meanings within a sanctuary in antiquity (p. 10). She also stresses that two important aspects of dedication seem to be noticeable across most of the material: abundance and fertility (p. 11). According to Klinger, the small terracotta altars relate to domestic contexts and Demeter’s “patronage of the house and its concerns”.  Dedication of vehicles or wheels are connected with the “deities’ mythical travels and their arrival/presence in the Sanctuary”, but also to weddings, “a pivotal aspect of the sanctuary’s cult” (p. 11). Another significant facet of the cult in the sanctuary is the protection of marriage and children (p. 12). A further important observation—taken from Klinger’s predecessor (Gloria Merker) in the study of terracottas from the sanctuary—is that the dedication of many of the offerings was not necessarily dependant on their “universal significance” but rather on the function of the specific shrine or sanctuary. The presence of Dionysos in the sanctuary and offerings related to his cult are discussed, especially considering other classes of offerings. A strength of the volume is the exploration of the possible ways in which each offering category was displayed and used during the cult, but also by whom they might have been dedicated, questions which are rarely explored in publications of sanctuaries and offerings. Based on the finds, Klinger suggests that not only the Thesmophoria, as suggested by Bookidis et al. on the basis of flotation finds,[2] but also other rituals connected with life passages could have been performed during the year. This is strengthened by the reference to an epigram (Anth. Pal. 6.309) about a certain Philokles who, at the transition from his childhood to his adult life, dedicated his toys in a sanctuary (of Hermes). The authors conclude that the terracotta finds, even though disparate at first glance, all had some connections with agricultural and human fertility, childhood and protection in transition from childhood to adulthood, as well as the protection of the family.

Chapter 2 discusses the votive furnishings, of which the protomes and mask constitute the first category of finds. Surprisingly, many (20 out of the 33—all theatrical masks) are of Roman date, at a time when overall finds numbers in the sanctuary dwindle dramatically.[3] Dionysos is the figure most often represented on the protomes, but his presence is also implied by theatrical masks. Drawing from literary and epigraphic, Klinger explores the reasons for dedication of protomes and masks; she approaches this with a fresh viewpoint, within a Demeter sanctuary, when earlier narratives connected these objects with chthonic cults. Klinger is cautious in identifying theatrical characters in the masks due to their poor state of preservation.

The discussion of altars/arulae is significant, as few studies exist on the subject, many of which focus more on the iconography of the reliefs (for Hellenistic relief examples) or on larger-scale examples from Italy and Sicily. Klinger follows Williams’ assumption that terracotta altars were not used for incense burning since no traces of burning survive. She argues that since the primary findspots of these objects are domestic contexts then their dedication to the sanctuary might be connected to domestic cult under Demeter’s protection and that perhaps they were used to place agricultural produce on them (p. 39).

An interesting object follows, tentatively identified by Klinger as a tray or model of coffer. The object is decorated with an eight-ray star, its rays alternating in size. To me this is reminiscent of the coffers of the fountain house from the Sanctuary of Poseidon and Amphitrite on Tenos dated to the late 4th or in the early 3rd century BCE,[4] perhaps strengthening the case for the object’s identification as a coffer model. A terracotta architectural member bearing a painted 16-ray Macedonian star is also attested in Nea Plevrona (Aitolia).[5]

The discussion of the plaques occupies a longer space, and with good reason, as the round plaques which constitute the majority of this finds class (the terms disks or pinakes are also used in other publications) are rarely discussed in archaeological publications. Conversely, square and rectangular plaques are well-known, especially from the Peloponnese (Laconia and Messenia); otherwise, the round plaques are wrongly identified as relief plates, lids, or stamps. Klinger groups them in four types based on their shape and decoration. Regarding their meaning, she tentatively suggests that they might represent rolls of bread or votive cakes. This interpretation rests partly on an old presumption that bread stamps of modern times used to stamp Christian holy breads also existed in antiquity. However, no evidence exists for this other than scholars’ interpretations of moulds for round plaques/disks as bread stamps. In addition, in Late Classical and Hellenistic examples, round plaques/disks acquire intricate figural decoration, often depicting various mythological scenes, such as the Nymphs, a decoration which does not seem appropriate for bread. Despite this, I do agree with Klinger’s suggestion that the floral decoration of these objects made them appropriate offerings to a sanctuary of Demeter and Kore, goddesses of agriculture and fertility. The author’s ideas on how these objects were displayed and used withing the sanctuary are also interesting.

Chapter 3 presents the votive models, which include effigies of furniture, vehicles, boats, food models, models of personal adornment (jewelry, sandaled feet, and mirrors), toys (spinning tops, rattles, phormiskoi, astragaloi), herms, a helmet, a stele with a helmet, and a snake. This class of materials is also greatly underrepresented in archaeological publications and Klinger’s contribution will provide an important basis for comparisons. Regarding the interpretation of seats and couches, the author suggests that they perhaps represent seats of deities, or that they could be dedications before young women’s weddings (p. 55). The analysis of sandaled feet models is also a strong asset of this volume; they have already been analyzed in further detail in an article,[6] in which Klinger stressed their connection with marriage. I found particularly interesting her treatment of the fruit and plant models, as she explores their meaning not only symbolically but also according to the use of real fruit and plants in the sanctuary, such as the poppy seedpods, connected to fertility and used to produce opium (pp. 78–79).

Chapter 4 tackles the “Other Objects”: a mold, grills, and the loomweights and other textile tools. Interestingly, the grills are, possibly, the only finds in this book that were not dedications but functional objects for preparations of meals. Another important contribution of this volume is the discussion of loomweights and textile tools as dedications within a sanctuary context: such materials from religious contexts in Greece are rarely considered, and large collections, such as that from the Sanctuary of the Nymphe south of the Athenian Acropolis, remain unpublished. The authors propose that textile tools were dedicated by individual people. Merker and Bookidis contribute much to the chronology of the typology and the study of the stamps.

The book is richly illustrated with photographs, drawings, and plans. The finds are often shown from multiple viewpoints, increasing their intelligibility for readers.

Klinger managed to master a large assemblage of (disparate) material, which requires knowledge of many classes of finds and is commendable for this achievement. The author has excellent command of the Corinthian material, drawing parallels from other excavated sites, both published and unpublished; a good example is the comparisons made between the finds in the sanctuary and the Potter’s Quarter showing the relationship between workshops and sanctuaries. Throughout the volume, Klinger stresses that the terracotta finds point more to the goddesses’ connection with fertility, kourotrophy, protection of marriage and children, and life transitions, than to their connection with chthonic cults, a view that has dominated past scholarship and which was not always based on sound grounds.

Despite the excellent observations, it is regrettable that some important studies on Demeter sanctuaries in northern Greece are not cited, such as the publications of the sanctuaries of Demeter in Thessaly,[7] the Thesmophorion of Pella,[8] and the sanctuary of Demeter at Dion,[9] all important sites, especially since they provide a few parallels for protomes of bearded men, terracotta models of furniture, and loomweights.[10] Most importantly, Muller’s publication of the goddess’ sanctuary on Thasos is a major omission, as it would have provided parallels for some of the finds categories discussed in this volume, such as carts/chariots (connected to Hades’ abduction of Persephone), arulae, textile tools, models of trays, fruit, cakes, and furniture such as miniature columns.[11]

One other minor criticism is that the book often devotes—at times lengthy—discussions on potential “visiting deities” for which some of the offerings could be appropriate, such as Dionysos or Aphrodite. This is not always necessary, especially in the case of cakes, which are well-known offerings to Demeter.

In essence, this volume is of great importance to anyone studying miscellaneous terracotta finds in sanctuaries, the cult and sanctuaries of Demeter and Kore, and the dedications offered to them. As the first comprehensive publication of several important finds categories that have often been overlooked, it will undoubtedly become a reference point in the future for studies in the field.



[1] Pemberton, The Sanctuary of Demeter and Kore: The Greek Pottery. Corinth XVIII.1 (1989); Slane, The Roman Pottery and Lamps. Corinth XVIII.2. (1990); Merker, The Terracotta Figurines of the Classical, Hellenistic and Roman Periods. Corinth XVIII.4. (2000); Bookidis, The Terracotta Sculpture. Corinth XVIII.5 (2010); Bookidis and Pemberton, The Greek Lamps and Offering Trays. Corinth XVIII.7 (2015).

[2] Bookidis, Hansen, Snyder, and Goldberg. 1999. “Dining in the Sanctuary of Demeter and Kore at Corinth.” Hesperia 68 (1): 1–54.

[3] Indicatively, of the 24,000 figurines published by Merker (2000, 311–12) only 30 are Roman.

[4] Orlandos. 1937. “Η Κρήνη του τν Τήνω Ιερού του Ποσειδώνος και της Αμφιτρίτης.” AE 1937: 608–20. See also Étienne and Braun. 1986. Ténos 1. Le Sanctuaire de Poséidon et d’Amphitrite. Bibliothèque des Écoles Françaises d’Athènes et de Rome 263. Athens; Paris (especially pp. 73-91).

[5] Vikatou. 2021. Ξενοκράτειον. Το Αρχαιολογικό Μουσείο Ιεράς Πόλεως Μεσολογγίου. Athens. (c.f. p. 217.)

[6] Klinger. 2018. “Terracotta Models of Sandaled Feet: Votives from the Sanctuary of Demeter and Kore on Acrocorinth.” Hesperia 87(3): 429–49.

[7] Daffa-Nikonanou. 1973. Θεσσαλικά Ιερά Δήμητρος και Κοροπλαστικά Αναθήματα. Volos.

[8] Lilimpaki-Akamati. 1996. Το Θεσμοφόριο της Πέλλας. Athens.

[9] Pingiatoglou. 2015. Δίον. Το Ιερό tης Δήμητρος. Thessaloniki.

[10] Daffa-Nikonanou 1973, pls. 11.1–2, 13.2–3; Lilimpaki-Akamati 1996, 93–94, nos. 371–72, 383.

[11] Muller. 1996. Les Terres Cuites Votives du Thesmophorion. De l’atelier au Sanctuaire. Études Thasiennes XVII. Athens; Paris.