Comparison of Panhellenic Structures and Greek Sanctuaries
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Published: Mon, 30 Apr 2018
In What Ways Were Panhellenic Sanctuaries Distinctive in Comparison with Other Kinds of Greek Sanctuaries?
This work is going to centre on the Panhellenic sanctuaries of Olympia and Delphi and what made them distinctive, but also the reasons why these distinctions occurred. To achieve this I am going to focus the discussion on the origins of the sanctuaries in comparison to others that did not have Panhellenic status and also the types of activity that were established at these sanctuaries that were able to appeal to such a vast selection of people.
According to tradition the Olympic games were first held in 776 BC, but cult activity at Olympia had its origins some time before this as evidenced by the presence of terracotta and bronze votive figurines, which suggest a date of at least the late 10th century BC (Morgan 1990: 57). During this period however the sanctuary was by no means Panhellenic and was mainly used by ‘local’ groups. The site of the sanctuary of Zeus Olympios at Olympia was located in a fertile plain on the banks of the River Alpheios in the northwest Peloponnese, and was not controlled by any one state, which, as we shall see, was a key requirement for it becoming Panhellenic. Metal evidence of bronze and occasionally iron tripods points to settlements from the regions of Messenia and Arkadia as the main groups participating in the sanctuary in this earlier period and the reasons for this may have been to do with the remoteness of the site. It may have been, as Morgan suggests, a neutral meeting place at which inter-regional relations were developed (Morgan 1990: 30, 85, Hall 2007: 272). It can be seen therefore that even during its earlier history, Olympia took on a role that fostered relations between different groups, in this case of the western Peloponnese rather than the larger Greek world.
In the 8th century the number of communities using the sanctuary hugely increased as shown by a massive rise in the number of tripods being dedicated there. Tripods were seen as high status items and were an indictor of wealth, and were among the prizes given by Achilles at the funeral games of Patroclus in the Iliad:
‘For swift charioteers first he set forth goodly prizes, a woman to lead away, one skilled in goodly handiwork, and an eared tripod of two and twenty measuresfor him that should be first.'(Homer Iliad 23.264-265)
It can be seen from this that in around 700BC, the approximate date of the composition of the Iliad, tripods were given as prizes, but as Osborne notes, it is difficult to determine whether this association existed earlier in the 8th century. Despite this he suggests that the rise in tripod dedication coincides with the traditional creation of the Olympic games in 776 and argues that the reason for there being many more tripods than the number of possible victors is that the range of type and manufacture points to people bringing their own tripods to dedicate whether victorious or not (Osborne 1996: 96). It is the view of Hall however that this date of 776 was exaggerated through the calculations of Hippias of Elis to increase the standing of the games. He asserts that as the other great Panhellenic games were not established until the 6th century the Olympic games may also have their origins in this century (Hall 2007: 32, 272). Morgan on the other hand, believes there may be an element of truth in Pausanias’ account that the games were re-established in 776, and puts forward the idea that there may have been a ‘small scale local festival’ tradition in place prior to the 8th century. She argues that although a precedent may have been in place, wider participation in the games did not commence until c.725BC (Morgan 1990: 48). It does seem odd however that the other Panhellenic games at Delphi, Nemea and Isthmia were not established until over a hundred years after those at Olympia, and yet these were apparently founded within quick succession (between c.582 and c.573). I am therefore in support of Hall’s position that perhaps the antiquity of the games was exaggerated, and it seems more likely that their origins lie in the late 7th or possibly even early 6th century.
If it were not games then, what drew people to the Olympic sanctuary to cause the sudden increase in the number of tripods dedicated? There is another explanation which shows a changing attitude in the ideas of individual identity and the display of wealth. The dedications could reflect a new desire to display wealth for the viewing of a much wider audience. This would therefore have been a way of displaying social status but may also have provided opportunities for increasing your position within a social hierarchy. The sheer numbers of tripods may also reflect the need to compete with others outside of your own community. Olympia was therefore the ideal place for these activities, situated on two major rivers and so providing ample ‘status boosting’ attention and also on neutral territory in a remote location, the distance, and thus the added danger, increasing the prestige of the dedicator (De Polignac 1994: 11, Osborne 1996: 98). This seems to be a valid suggestion in explaining the influx of votive offerings. A fundamental change in attitude appears likely as an explanation for these new practices, as an increase in cultic practice was taking place throughout Greece. For example in the sanctuary of Pherai only two fibulae have so far been found dating to the 9th and early 8th centuries compared to 1783 from the late 8th and early 7th. This can also be seen in a range of other objects at various different sanctuaries, and is not restricted to the future Panhellenic sites (Osborne 1996: 93). Snodgrass suggests this represented a redirection of wealth to the dedication of the gods, and so it may be no coincidence that in this same period there was also a change in custom in that the dead were no longer buried with the range or wealth of grave-goods that they once were (Snodgrass 1980: 53-4, Osborne 1996: 82). This would imply a change in belief from the display of power, of an individual or possibly even just a family group, in death through the inclusion of worldly possessions, to an active display of wealth and social status in life. This may of course have been a factor prior to the 8th century but it is not as archaeologically visible as it becomes through tripod dedications. This is not to say that the games could not have been taking place at the same time, as neither activity is mutually exclusive; however it highlights the practical impossibility of identifying the origins of the games through available archaeology.
The sanctuary of Apollo Pythios at Delphi had quite different origins to Olympia and there is no evidence that it had any cult associations until around the start of the 8th century, when bronze tripods and figurines appear. It is Morgan’s view that the sanctuary began life as a local shrine for the village of Delphi, which was subsequently adopted by neighbouring states (Morgan 1990: 106). During most of the 8th century dedications were relatively limited especially when compared to other sanctuaries such as Perakhora. These increased considerably in the last quarter of the 8th century, but unlike Olympia where this apparently trailed off in the 7th, these dedications steadily continued coming from locations as diverse as the Peloponnese, Attica and Crete (Osborne 1996: 202-203).
Similarly to Olympia, Delphi was situated in quite a remote location on the slopes of Mount Parnassos, north of the Gulf of Corinth, in central Greece. This remoteness likewise allowed for its appeal to a wider audience, but it did evolve as part of a community, unlike the much more isolated Olympia and there was also a strong Corinthian involvement. The key issue however is that it did not fall directly within the territory of a developing powerful political centre.
The aforementioned sanctuary of Hera at Perakhora for example became part of the territory of the city of Corinth and despite its similar origins and superior wealth in the 8th century at least to Delphi, it never achieved Panhellenic status. It would come under what Marinatos calls an extra-urban sanctuary, in that it fell under the direct administration of Corinth but was not within the urban space of the city. Urban sanctuaries, such as the Acropolis at Athens, were prominent features within the boundaries of a city and were used as an obvious display of the wealth and power of the respective city. Extra-urban sanctuaries on the other hand had a different political function; to define the territory of the city administering it, such as Corinth in the case of Perakhora. They also acted as small scale pan-Hellenic sanctuaries in as much as they united followers of a particular cult within a region and were not just for members of a specific polis. The Panhellenic sites of Delphi and Olympia fall under the title of inter-urban sanctuaries (Marinatos 1993: 229). This status largely depended on where the sanctuary was when cities became politicised, and the creation of, or claim for possession of a sanctuary probably indicated the beginnings of regional awareness (Morgan 1990: 7). The position of a sanctuary therefore defined its function, thus also changing the types of votive objects dedicated. Morgan believes Perakhora came to reflect the personal concerns of the people in the region of Corinth, while the elite utilized Delphi for the display of their wealth; this change in focus can be seen at Perakhora through dedications of items such as clay model koulouria and other ‘feminine’ items linked to Hera (Morgan 1990: 144). The major investment in sanctuaries within polis territories however came in the form of monumental architecture which was constructed in these locations at least a century before that of any of the temples of the major Panhellenic sanctuaries (Hall 2007: 271, De Polignac 1994: 12). Prior to the construction of these temples the main focus of cult activity at all sanctuaries had been just an open air altar.
The small temple of Hera at Perakhora built c.800 BC was one of the first to be constructed and was probably a one roomed building around 8 metres long and 5 metres wide. The initial temple of the Heraion at Samos was also constructed in this period; though it was far more monumental in structure at just over 30 metres long, although still only 6 metres wide. The temple to first be built entirely of stone however was not erected until the 6th century, though perhaps it is not surprising that this was also at a polis sanctuary; the temple of Artemis at Kerkyra (Coldstream 1977: 322, Coldstream 1985: 70-3).
It is interesting then that these smaller, localised polis sanctuaries received this type of investment from communities long before the Panhellenic sanctuaries in the 7th and 6th centuries. Did this mean that urban and extra-urban sanctuaries were more important? Hall asserts that local sanctuaries must have been of a higher priority and Morgan takes this further in saying that the reason for this is that the state had to be defined politically, spatially and socially before formal investment could take place outside of its borders (Hall 2007: 271, Morgan 1993: 19-20). Coldstream also agrees with this view, and it is his opinion that the construction of temples, among other signs, marked the arrival of the polis (Coldstream 1985: 68). This would therefore seem to show that local temples such as that at Perakhora, were a key component of polis identity, and so it would seem only natural that city sanctuaries were invested in before competing against other poleis on the wider stage at the sanctuaries of Delphi and Olympia. As a result, it would seem less an argument of which was the more important and therefore most deserving of communal investment, and more about which was the most fundamental to the establishment of a collective civic identity.
This change in the notion of identity, away from the promotion of self interest of the individual and towards the collective identity of ‘the polis,’ is also noticeable in the building of treasuries, particularly at Delphi. At first these were constructed by elites in order to promote their own status, such as the treasury of Cypselus mentioned by Herodotos:
‘These bowls…stand in the Corinthian treasury – though to speak strictly it should not be called the public treasury of the Corinthians, but the treasury of Cypselus, son of Eëtion.'(Herodotos Histories 1.14)
As Hall notes however, by the 6th century these, despite still probably being financed by the most affluent, were constructed in the name of the polis, the treasury of Knidos being built in c.560-550 and the treasury of Siphnos in 525 for example (Hall 2007: 272-3, Snodgrass 1980: 141). Their function would have been the same, but the focus had shifted to the glorification of the polis rather than individuals. Only once a city state, and thus the communal identity that went with it, had fully formed could this be possible and allow for competition between states. Treasuries also existed in state sanctuaries, but all would have been financed by local inhabitants of the controlling city again differentiating from the Panhellenic appeal of Olympia and Delphi. The Heraion at Samos for instance has several possible treasuries, which were likely funded by local elites (Kyrieleis 1993: 129, 133).
As previously mentioned, the majority, if not all of the Panhellenic sanctuaries introduced games in the early 6th century and this is the period when they can truly be called Panhellenic, involving competition between many poleis, rather than just elite individuals from neighbouring states. Individuals were still fêted as heroes for victory, both by their polis and on a wider scale; through winning they had increased their own status, but also the prestige of their home city. All athletic competitions were linked to religious festivals, and by 500BC there were around 50 sets of games in place throughout Greece (Sweet 1987: 3). This wider recognition of ability of course, could not happen at these local games, such as those of the Panathenaia, and so added to the appeal of the Panhellenic games and must have been one of the main reasons for the assured interest of so many states. Again the reason that so many city-states could come together in one place to compete was because none of the Panhellenic sanctuaries were dominated by a powerful state. This meant that there was no reason to feel threatened as perhaps could happen at more urban sanctuaries, located within or close to a dominant polis. This was one of the reasons why the Panathenaia, despite efforts from the Athenians to make it an inter-state festival to rival the Panhellenic games, was ultimately unsuccessful in attracting other poleis to compete (Finley 1985: xviii-xix).
The Pythian games at Delphi and the Olympic games consisted of similar events, except that Delphi also offered musical competitions:
‘…contests for harping…for flute-playing and for singing to the flute…The competitions being the same as at Olympia, except the four horse chariot, and the Delphians themselves added to the contest running races for boys, the long course and the double course.'(Pausanias Description of Greece 10.7.4-5)
These contests clearly fixed the Panhellenic status of these sanctuaries, but could they have been classed as Panhellenic prior to the introduction of athletic competition? This is harder to determine with Olympia, as the games were the main attraction of the sanctuary but also because the origins of the games are so hard to determine. Delphi however was just as famous, if not more so, for its oracle. The Delphic oracle is believed to have been established in the late 8th century, although like the Olympic games this is disputed. Again the only material evidence is the rise in votive offerings at the end of the century, which as discussed above is present in many places and could be indicative of a number of practices. There is a mention of the oracle in the Odyssey however:
‘…in sacred Pytho, when he passed over the threshold of stone to enquire of the oracle.'(Homer Odyssey 8.79-82)
If its provenance is to be believed, and if it was not a later addendum to the story, then this would seem to support an 8th century origin for the oracle. Whatever the actual date, it is Morgan’s belief that the introduction of the oracle may reflect early state domination of the sanctuary, in a similar fashion to the way treasuries began to reflect the polis rather than the individual (Morgan 1990: 184-5). Osborne advocates that the oracle was part of the wider appeal of Delphi, but Delphi was not the only sanctuary with an oracle, and this again brings us back to the question of when it first became Panhellenic and what determined this status; the oracle or the Pythian games (Osborne 1996: 204).
No matter what the actual cause of panhellenism was, the activities in place at both Olympia and Delphi were available elsewhere at many other sanctuaries that never achieved the status ‘Panhellenic’. The apparent reason for this, as has been reiterated many times through this work, was the geographical location of the sanctuaries. The Delphic oracle would have been perceived as far less likely to give biased advice to protect its political allegiances, as its neutrality meant that it was not dependent on the ambitions of a controlling polis. Similarly, the Olympic and Pythian games would have provided impartial ground on which to compete for greater glory than was possible within the confines of a state or intra-regional festival. It can be seen therefore that the origins of both Panhellenic and civic sanctuaries were quite comparable, and it was only following the emergence of a fully defined state, with territorial awareness, that the varying roles of sanctuaries became distinct. Consequently, it is my belief that it was a combination of geographical location and the rise of the polis that provided the environment for Panhellenic sanctuaries to be set apart, but that they had to have something to offer in order to appeal to a wider audience, whether it was an oracle or athletic competition. It is mainly through these factors that inter-urban sanctuaries differentiated from those directly under the control of a city-state.
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