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Joukowsky Institute for Archaeology



Joukowsky Institute for Archaeology & the Ancient World
Brown University
Box 1837 / 60 George Street
Providence, RI 02912
Telephone: (401) 863-3188
Fax: (401) 863-9423
[email protected]

The earliest Greek sanctuaries were not immediately recognizable as such. Unlike later sanctuaries marked by physical structures like temples, or even altars, many of these sacred places may not be as visible in the archaeological record or appear aesthetically stunning. James Whitley, author of The Archaeology of Ancient Greece, describes many as “liminal places” on the threshold of transition, both physical and spiritual. Mountaintops, springs, and caves all serve as examples of these types of early sacred locales. Some sanctuaries were specific to a particular god, or rite of passage, but not necessarily so. Zeus, it appears, was not necessarily limited worship on mountaintops.

More concrete markers of early sanctuaries are deposits of varying kinds, namely votive offerings such as figurines or daily objects. Crucial for worship and veneration of the gods was animal sacrifice and the resultant burned offerings. Associations with particular poleis also became more widespread, as control over particular sanctuaries became tied to political power of the various rising city-states. The Perachora sanctuary, near Corinth, shows evidence of votive offerings by women. Scarab beetles, bronze pins, and fibulae were notable among the finds. The Argive Heraion, with its terrace partially constructed of cyclopean ashlar masonry imposingly overlooked the Argive plain. The famous “Kleobis and Biton” kouroi, were votive offerings left at Delphi.

Further along in the development, many took on importance that encompassed much of the Greek world. Many poleis built treasuries at these pan-Hellenic sanctuaries not only in reverence of the gods, but also to show off its wealth and importance, whether real or perceived. One such example, Delphi, has certainly permeated historical and literary accounts. The prophecies of the Delphic Oracle (“Pythia”) were sought from even beyond the Greek world. Major mythical and historical figures such as King Croesus of Lydia and Alexander the Great, were among those who have sought the oracle. These services were often in exchange for a payment (“pelanos”) and offering of sacrificial animals. Delphi’s architectural structures entailed a temenos wall, sacred way leading worshippers to the Temple of Apollo (where the Pythia resided). The Castalian spring was frequented for the ritual washing before continuing to the Temple.

Treasuries also dotted the landscape at Delphi. Two notable examples are the Siphnian and Athenian treasuries, the later of which was erected to commemorate the Athenian victory at the Battle of Marathon. It boasted a large terrace and an impressive display of treasury items, advertising the rich winnings of Classical Athens. The nearby Siphnian treasury had caryatid columns, one of the earliest miniature sculptural friezes and many votive offerings.

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by Harry Anastopulos

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