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The Heraion

of Samos

by Helmut Kyrieleis

I. Site

II. Cult

III. Votives

IV. History of the Sanctuary

 

I. Site

One of the most significant cult sites of ancient Greece, the Hera Sanctuary of Samos lies approximately seven kilometres southwest of the ancient city of Samos (today Pythagoreion) near the coast, in the broad, marshy plain of the river Imbrasos. The location has acquired its popular name, "Kolona," from the single surviving column of the temple, which remains visible in the distance as a landmark. Situated at a remove from the next larger settlement, the site is characteristic of many Greek sanctuaries. The only explanation for the distance separating the sanctuary from the city is to be sought in its sense of permanence. It was permanent and could not be transferred to another location at the convenience of city planners and developers. In its politics and administration, however, the Heraion belonged inseparably to the polity of the city, Samos. This is substantiated by numerous inscriptions, although the details regarding the city's administration of the sanctuary remain in question.

The temple's external affiliation with the city of Samos is particularly emphasized by the 'Sacred Road' which links the Heraion to the city by a nearly perfect straight course. Outside the northeast corner of the Heraion itself, this broad road, which was paved with stone during the Roman Empire, is still to be found in the area now occupied by the present-day airport, as well as in excavations along the southeast exit from Pythagoreion. There is no doubt that it comprises the main thoroughfare from the city to the sanctuary. It may be assumed that many visitors also arrived directly by sea. The pebble strand near the Heraion was well-suited for the landing of the flat-bottomed Greek ships.

It has often been asked why the Heraion was built right in the middle of the swampy marshland of the Imbrasos, where the laying of foundations for large structures, for example, encountered enormous obstacles, when not far away dry, hilly land was available, free from inundation. This attachment to a locality, in itself unfavorable to architectural development, can only be explained by the permanence of the cult. This, too, is characteristic of Greek religion, in the sense that the god's place of worship is, from its inception, inseparably bound to a particular location of the region, featured prominently as spring, cliff, cave or chasm. The sacred precinct, the 'temenos,' is not an arbitrarily transferable location.

Already in antiquity attempts had been made to explain the peculiarity of the Heraion site. According to one of the local cult legends handed down by the travel writer Pausanias (2nd Century A.D.) during the Imperial Roman age, Hera is to have been born on the banks of the Imbrasos beneath a Lygos [willow] tree (Paus. VII 4,4). Hera's sacred tree, the rooted memorial of the sanctuary, was still to be seen in Pausanias's day. The Lygos [Lat. vitex agnus castus; mod. Gr. lygariá , Eng. osier], a blue, white or pink flowering species of willow, is still characteristic of the landscape of the Imbrasos plain today.

Whether the Heraion site had any connection to the prehistoric settlement which has been discovered in excavations at numerous places beneath the northern part of the later sanctuary has yet to be determined. This early Bronze Age (3000 B.C.) settlement appears to have been sizeable, and from circa 2200 B.C. was fortified by a strong defensive wall. The houses were long rectangular buildings of the so-called 'Megaron' type, with clay brick walls over well-built plinths of quarry stone. The settlement finds, above all the very rich quality of ceramic, indicate the closest connection stylistically with Early Bronze Age cultures of west Asia Minor as well as Troy. In the later phases of this settlement located nearby, clear influences of the Cycladic culture can be observed. This early Bronze Age village survived to about the end of the 3rd Millenium. Continuous colonisation through the 2nd Millenium has yet to be proven, despite negligible scattered finds of Middle Bronze Age ceramic, and in terms of stylistic influence in locations where the prehistoric strata has been coherently excavated, it can be positively ruled out. Future excavations can, of course, shed new light upon this question. In this short guide we shall not return to the prehistoric settlements, for their sunken remains have long become buried and are no longer observable. A selection of the finds are exhibited in the Archaeological Museum of Samos/Vathy.

II. Cult

The first traces of a continuous cult practice at this location date from the later part of the 2nd Millenium B.C. A particular concentration of finds of late Mycenaean ceramic in the area around the altar - including numerous so-called 'cult bowls' - suggests that a cult was already active at this spot in Mycenaean times, and that the object of worship was the very same goddess who would be worshipped here in later ages. An isolated Mycenaean tumulus [burial mound] (13th Century B.C.) with a walled burial chamber was unearthed directly north of the great temple. Traces of settlement in the region of the Heraion dating from this period have not been discovered. These settlements are conjectured to have been in the hills near Myli.

Along with the Heraion of Argos, the Samian sanctuary is the most famous site in Greece for the worship of Hera. During its blossoming period in the middle of the 6th Century B.C., it excelled all other Greek sanctuaries in its buildings and votive offerings.

Given the archaeologically demonstrable significance of the site, it is remarkable how little we actually know about the goddess and her cult. Ancient written accounts are rare and, for the most part, relatively late, i.e. not until the hellenistic age or the period of the Roman Empire. As for the archaic period, when the sanctuary underwent its greatest development, we possess absolutely no first-hand written testimony concerning the Samian Hera cult.

It is possible, nevertheless, to derive an image of the goddess and the forms her worship took, however vague and fragmentary, on the basis of the scattered written sources, archaeological finds, and comparisons with information on the other cults of the Greek gods. When exploring the excavated site, visitors should keep in mind the uncertainties of the tradition. To give the reader an idea of what this tradition entails, the most important sources will be cited in the following pages.

Hera is known as the highest ranking goddess of Olympus, the consort of Zeus, according to the mythology stamped by Homer's poetry. This relatively colorless mythological representation, which is only one aspect of the goddess, does not appear to present the whole picture of her religious significance and her essence as a divine power in Greek belief. The Hera cult corresponds not to the spouse of Zeus and the Queen of Olympus, but to a goddess who was worshipped long before her union with Zeus, that highest god of the migrating Greeks at the end of the 2nd Millenium B.C. Zeus, moreover, seems to have played no part in the Samian Hera cult, which had been in existence since the late Bronze Age.

The more recent science of religion regards Hera as an old, originally pre-Hellenic nature and fertility goddess, indeed nothing short of the primordial goddess of the pre-Hellenic inhabitants of Greece. This original independence from the Olympian Zeus myth is also expressed later in Hera's autonomous cult. The ancient poet Alcaeus of Lesbos (7th/6th Century B.C.) still calls the goddess "genetrix of all things" [panthon genethla]. Archaeological research further testifies, even more than poetic expressions such as this one, to the universal character of Hera during the early Greek period: the Heraia of Argos, Olympia and Samos belong among the oldest significant sanctuaries of the gods in ancient Greece. It has been convincingly observed that the broad, fertile plain, so characteristic of the great Hera sanctuary, expresses a fundamental trait of the goddess: her power over vegetation and fertility. Such an idea can be perceived amongst the older votive offerings of the Heraion. Here are to be found many ivory or clay representations of poppy heads and pomegranates, which were known as symbols of fertility because of their abundant seeds. Numerous votive offerings of clay oxen from earlier levels of the Samian sanctuary, just as the ox 'emblem' of later Samian coins, indicate a related sphere under the goddess's protection, namely ownership of herds and agricultural wealth.

The local forms adopted by the Greek cults of the gods varied widely according to age and historical surroundings. Tradition has preserved at least a few of the local features of the Samian Hera cult.

The cult image, the worshipped figure which Hera was seen to embody, was made of wood. Clement of Alexandria (PROTREPT. IV 46,3) cites a remark made by the local Samian historian Aethlios (500 B.C.): "The image of the Samian Hera was originally a plank of wood, but later took on a human figure under the archon Procles." Smilis, son of Eucleides of Aegina, is said by Olympichos (PROTREPT. IV 46) and Pausanias, who calls him a contemporary of Daedalus (VII 4, 4), to have been the artist who transformed the aniconic 'fetish' into the figure of a goddess. This source, albeit a late one, also points to the high antiquity of the image, for Daedalus was considered by the Greeks to be the primeval artist. Even if he cannot be considered a historical figure, in antiquity the name of Daedalus has been closely associated with the beginnings of Greek sculpture (8th and 7th Centuries B.C.). The cult image of Hera is depicted on coins from the Roman Empire with the typical 'daedalian' friseur of the 7th Century B.C. If one accepts the word of Aethlios about Procles, the antiquity of the image must be pushed even further into the past for Procles the leader of the Ionic settlers on Samos at the end of the 2nd Millenium B.C.

It can be reckoned, therefore, that an aniconic cult image of Hera was already being worshipped in the Mycenaean age (2nd Millenium B.C.). The hellenistic poet, Callimachus (3rd Century B.C.), was still familiar with this image in the form of an 'uncut plank' [áxoos sanís]. This amorphous wood was later carved into a goddess in human form by an artist from the Greek immigrants. According to another tradition cited by Pausanias (VII 4, 4), the Argonauts established the cult of Hera and brought the cult image with them from Argos, which the Samians, of course, disputed.

The local myth recorded by the author of SAMIAN MEMORABILIA, Menodotus of Samos (3rd/2nd Century B.C.), and cited by Athenaeus (XV 672), an author from the Roman Empire in the 3rd Century A.D., contains references to the practice of the cult ceremony: Admete, daughter of Eurystheus, is said to have come to Samos while fleeing from Argos, and on the basis of a vision of Hera is to have assumed the priesthood of the Hera cult which had been established by the pre-Hellenic populace there. To punish Admete, the Argives are said to have incited Tyrrhenian (Etruscan) pirates to carry off the Samian cult image. The abduction was to have appeared easy "for the temple had no door in those days." The pirate ship with the abducted image, however, was unable to set off from its mooring, whereupon the superstitious pirates placed the image upon the strand with offerings of sacrificial cakes beside it in reconciliation before they fled. When the image was discovered the next day outside the temple on the strand, the islanders are thought to have believed that it had escaped by itself. To hinder any further flight, they bound it with rods from the Lygos tree. "Admete, however, untied it, washed it and placed it back upon its pedestal just as it had stood before. From that time on, the cult image was dragged to the strand each year and washed, and sacrificial cakes were placed before it. This annual festival was called 'Tonaia' ( cord or binding festival) because the image was bound fast by those who first searched for it." The cult image is therefore to have originally stood in an open shrine. The goddess's annual festival (or a part of this festival) was called 'Tonaia,' and in the course of it the sacred Lygos of Hera was clearly referred to. This is no doubt the same festival which is called 'Heraea' in other sources. Competitions in athletics and music were also held during this festival. The main festivity involved the ceremonious transporting of the goddess embodied in the cult image from the temple to the sea, where it was then washed and fêted. It can be inferred from an inventory catalogue of the sanctuary from the 4th Century B.C. (the inscription is now in the Archaeological Museum of Samos) that the Hera image was then dressed with costly raiments (a practice to which parallels can be found in other Greek cults). Numerous ceremonial garments and materials are listed as 'belonging to' the goddess under the rubric "jewelry of the goddess" [kósmos tés theoú]. Coins from the Imperial Roman period, therefore, depict the cult image abounding in finery.

In his INSTITUTIONES DIVINAE, the early Christian apologist, Lactantius (4th Century A.D.), cites the Roman author, Varro (1st Century A.D.), according to whom the image of the Samian Hera was dressed as a bride, and that an annual festival with wedding rites was celebrated in her honor. This probably refers simply to a further aspect of the Tonaia, namely the goddess's marriage with Zeus. A festival commemorating the birth of Hera on Samos is mentioned in a hellenistic epigram (ANTHOLOGIA GRAECA VI 243). This could be referring to the Tonaia also, since Hera was born under the Lygos tree on the Imbrasos River according to Samian tradition.

Callimachus (Fragment 101) mentions a vine tendril that is to have adorned the head of the Samian Hera, and according to an ancient commentary on this passage a lion skin lay at her feet. This lion skin also appears on Samian coins from the 6th Century B.C. on.

Little is known about the cult attendants. Priestesses of Hera are occasionally mentioned in inscriptions from the time of the Roman Empire. A certain 'Euangelis' mentioned in an inventory inscriptîon could have been a kind of high priestess. Inscriptions on an archaic bronze steer rhyton [drinking horn] from the 7th Century B.C. indicate that there were also male priests. They also appear in inscriptions from the Imperial Roman age. The office was apparently handed down in families. A municipal supervisory and administrative authority, whose annually alternating members were called Neopoiai ['temple guardians'], is frequently encountered in inscriptions from the 4th Century B.C.

As in every Greek sanctuary, the heart of cult activities was the altar. Oxen were the sacrifice offered here, at least during the main festivals. In addition to the similar cult practices in other Hera sanctuaries and the abundance of terra cotta oxen among the votive offerings, this observation is confirmed by the large number of oxen bones in the excavations. The hellenistic epigram quoted above also mentions oxen sacrificed to the Samian Hera. At the sacrifice, certain parts of the ox were burned upon the altar. The remaining parts, however, were roasted and consumed by the festival community. The ashes of the sacrifice were heaped up beside the altar and in the course of time grew into a veritable 'ash altar,' which Pausanias (V 13, 8) compared to the similar Zeus altar of Olympia.

Countless simple drinking utensils which came to light in the excavations testify to the sacrificial banquet at the annual Hera festival. Booths for foodstuffs and ceramics, as well as for small votive offerings, are mentioned in an inscription from the 3rd Century B.C., in which a kind of market order for such retail transactions in the Heraion has been recorded in writing.

It can be concluded from a remark by the comic poet Antiphanes (4th Century B.C.) quoted in Athenaeus ((XIV 655) that peacocks were kept in the sanctuary as Hera's sacred birds. Beginning in the Hellenic age, the peacock had appeared as an emblem on Samian coins.

The so-called right of asylum, which had already been granted to the Heraion in ancient times, was renewed under Emperor Tiberius according to Tacitus. This asylum protected individuals who fled to the sacred precinct, i.e. to the protection of the goddess, from state or private persecution, and it was therefore a privilege of considerable political importance.

There can be little doubt that Hera was originally the sole inhabitant of the temenos. Later, however, other gods appeared on the scene, as in other Greek sanctuaries. The previously mentioned inventory inscription from the 4th Century B.C. lists two Hermes statues, one of which is to have stood in the Temple of Aphrodite. These are the only references we have to other cults. The multitude of greater and smaller temples that have been excavated do lead to the conclusion that there were other gods in the sanctuary, but precisely which of the existing temples belonged to this or that god at the time has yet to be determined. By no means is it out of the question that several of the unidentified temples were dedicated to Hera. In fact, it is likely. The goddess also possessed several temples at other locations at the same time, such as Perachora and Paestum. What makes the Samian sanctuary noteworthy, however, is the fact that aside from the great Hera altar no other altars have been discovered. It was the altar in front of the temple, not the temple itself, which was the actual center of the cult. If the temples to the north and south of the altar place have no altars of their own and instead are more or less precisely oriented towards the great Hera altar, this may mean that all of these temples (as donations from individuals or families) were dedicated to Hera.

It is also possible to detect the floor plans of a group of small temple-like buildings in the sanctuary. According to the style of their construction these foundatons (which later walls overlap) are preponderately archaic. From their location on the Sacred Road and next to the north entrance, it may be concluded that these were so-called treasury houses in which especially costly votive offerings were placed, as in Olympia and Delphi.

III. Votives

What meager information about the sanctuary has survived is so sparse and dry that it barely conveys anything of the living belief in the goddess in whose honor these stunning structures were built. To those who would understand this belief the votives found in the excavations speak with greater resonance. Brought by individuals or families, these votive offerings once animated the sanctuary by virtue of their abundance and variety. The age-old, universal human custom of bringing the god a personal offering, from the simplest crops to the most precious of objects, was displayed in the Heraion to a dazzling degree. Of course, such easily perishable offerings as cloth material and garments (which must have played a great rôle) are irretrievably lost. As for votive offerings of stone, metal, baked clay, even ivory and --thanks to the particularly damp ground -- wood objects, the excavated finds still afford a representative glimpse. The finds from the Heraion are on display in the Museum of Vathy/Samos.

Numerous extant pedestals still bear witness to the statues of marble and bronze which lined the way into the Heraion, especially along the Sacred Road. Two or three colossal marble kuroi [kouros, statue of a youth] from the early 6th Century B.C., which are nearly 5 metres in height, must have towered above their surroundings like mighty landmarks. The torso of one such kouros, which was discovered by the Sacred Road in 1980, still conveys an impression of its monumental aura. The group of statues by Geneleos on the Sacred Road is one of the most significant works of archaic Ionic sculpture. As for a colossal bronze group by the Athenian artist Myron (5th Century B.C.), only a part of the pedestal has been preserved. The same can be said for the historically significant groups of family statues of Cicero and Augustus. Despite the fragmentary nature of the finds, the unearthed fragments of sculpture testify to the high artistic quality of the votive statues in the Heraion, especially the large-scale bronze sculpture of the 6th Century B.C. However plentiful such works must have been, they have unfortunately fallen prey to the corrosion of later ages, even down to the last few fragments. In addition to the large, free-standing statues, the temple's treasuries and halls displayed an enormous number of statuettes made of bronze, clay, ivory and wood. In the early period (9th/8th Centuries B.C.) clay animals and female figurines predominate in the vicinity of the altar. In the 7th and 6th Centuries masterfully crafted small bronzes and works of ivory appearing on the scene bear full witness, in terms of variety of themes and artistic expression, to the culture and the piety of the archaic period.

Valuable tools were often offered as votive gifts. Many fragments of iron spits, for example, have been found in the excavations. These were undoubtedly in use at the Hera festival as well. It is conceivable that bundles of such 'obeloi' were dedicated as costly metal implements, as has been attested to at Delphi. Bronze cauldrons with cast griffin protomes on their rims appeared in great number in the 7th Century B.C. The show-piece among these consecrated cauldrons is mentioned by Herodotus (IV 152). A giant cauldron with griffin protomes was made with the tenth part of the profit earned during a trading expedition to the south of Spain under the leader Colaeus (7th Century B.C.). This cauldron rested upon three kneeling support figures, which were some 7 ells in height and made of bronze. Seven ells are approximately 3.5 metres. In its entirety it stood nearly 5 metres and practically reached the esteemed height of the temple. [1]

A magnificent ivory youth in a kneeling, or probably dancing, posture, which once adorned a lyre from the 7th Century B.C., is on display in the Samos Archaeological Museum. In general, ivory votives appear to have decorated furniture or instruments.

The walled 'ship base' south of the temple's altar testifies to the fact that even entire ships were eventually displayed as votive gifts. The social scale of the votive offerings in the Heraion ranged from the humblest wooden carvings to entire sailing vessels.

On the basis of their archaeologically verifiable origins, the finds from the Heraion underscore the wide international trade relations which Samos already enjoyed in the archaic period, and which Herodotus occasionally mentions. West Phoenician ivory carvings found in the Heraion, for example, have become linked to Colaeus's voyage to Spain, for it is only in the south of Spain that a parallel to such objects can be found. The proportion of Egyptian works is remarkably large, especially among the small bronze votives. It serves to remind us that the Samians had already taken part in the foundation of Ionian trade with Naucratis on the Nile delta, and that the Egyptian Pharaoh, Amasis, for instance, had carried on a friendly correspondence with Polycrates. (In Schiller's poem, "The Ring of Polycrates," 'Egypt's King' refers to Amasis.) Amasis certainly never visited Samos, but he did send two Egyptian statues of himself. Herodotus saw them standing in the great temple on Samos in the 5th Century B.C. [Histories II 182]. Bronze and ivory works from Asia Minor, Syria, Mesopotamia and Persia testify to the intensive relations between Samos and the Near East, which had begun already in the 8th Century B.C. It may also be supposed that oriental merchants visited the Heraion and may have worshipped in the Greek Hera the same goddess who ruled in the Near East under various names and forms of representation as the 'Great Mother of the Gods.' Nearly a third of the archaic terra cottas from the Heraion originate from Cyprus. Since this is quite unusual for a Greek sanctuary, it would seem that archaic Samos had a special trading relationship with the island of the eastern Mediterranean, which has up to now been substantiated by no other sources. Etruscan Bucchero ceramic vessels from the 7th to the 6th Century B.C. have also found their way here from Italy. Pronounced relations with other Greek regions also emerge in the finds. There is a striking amount of Laconic (Spartan) ceramic from the 7th and 6th Centuries B.C. The Samian Heraion up to now has been the principal source of finds for this well-known black-figured ceramic, far removed from its Spartan place of origin. Popular Corinthian ceramic from the 7th Century B.C. and Attic black-figured vases of eminent quality have also been found in large quantities.

IV. History of the Sanctuary

Despite its size and significance, the Heraion was not a panhellenic sanctuary like Delphi or Olympia. Belonging exclusively to Samos, the development of the temple was inseparably bound up with the political history of the city. In the following sketch of the archaeologically tangible phases of the development of the sanctuary and its buildings, occasional references will be made to this political history.

As was mentioned above, ceramic finds in the region of the altar indicate that the cult already reached back to the Bronze Age of Mycenaean culture. Nothing certain is known regarding the sanctuary's appearance during this early period. Except for a small field-stone altar, the other evidence remains speculative: the Lygos tree would have served as the cult memorial and the wooden image of the goddess would have been housed in an open shrine with some kind of protective roof.

After the migrating Ionian Greeks had settled in scattered settlements (rather than in the present city) at the end of the 2nd Millenium, there was almost no change for two centuries. Finds from the so-called protogeometric and early geometric ceramic of this period are rare and testify to the still quite modest size of the cult.

In the vicinity of the city of Samos traces have been detected of a self-contained settlement which cannot date from a period later than the 8th Century B.C. A noteworthy development of the sanctuary's architecture took place during this period: the altar took on a rectangular form with a southeastern orientation, which remained in effect down to the 6th Century B.C., and was surrounded by a flat paved floor. To the west of this was built the first Hera temple, the hundred-foot-long 'Hekatompedos,' one of the earliest of all Greek temples. Other 'Naiskoi' (small temple-like buildings) could have originated during the Geometric Period. Their P-shaped floor plans, oriented toward the altar, have been discovered to the north and south of the altar place. Their exact chronology and original function remains unknown, though they may have sheltered votive offerings. The records show a significant increase in finds, especially ceramic and terracottas, from the late 8th Century B.C. The first imported works from the Orient and Egypt also date from this period.

The finds from the 7th Century B.C. testify impressively to the robust development of Samos as a commercial city and seaport with far-reaching trade relations extending from the Near East to the western Mediterranean. The Hekatompedos was then rebuilt according to the same dimensions, but with costly, large-scale plinths. At either the same time or short thereafter, it was surrounded by a ring of wooden columns. The altar was apparently renovated as well and enlarged several times. By the end of the century it already possessed the monumental form of a royal altar with a high wall to shield it from the wind. At the river, the South Wall was built as a boundary of the temenos. It was to become a forerunner of the pillared hall or stoa, later so widespread in Greek architecture. The foremost large-scale sculptures were consecrated in the sanctuary, as is indicated by a fragment of a 'daedalian' female statue in the museum. An intensification of the cult's activity and an increase in the number of visitors is also confirmed by several stone basins, used either for purification or drinking water, in the southeast part of the temenos. These drainage basins, which were fed from groundwater deep beneath the present-day level of current, were built in predominantly box-like form out of great limestone slabs. South of the South Wall, a larger basin was built out of hewn stone and slab masonry into a monumental style.

The growth of the urban population and the concentration of wealth through commerce, piracy or war expeditions led to far-reaching political changes in Samos in the early 6th Century B.C., just as in Corinth or Athens, for example. If the structure of the polis up to this point had been determined by the old association of tribes and the nobility, the untraditional possibilities of power now gave rise to the political form of the 'Tyrannis,' i.e., the dominion of the individual supported by economic and military superiority. The first tyrant of Samos is traditionally said to have been a certain Demoteles, around 600 B.C. The most famous among the tyrants was Polycrates, who reigned from 538-522 B.C. The years between the rule of Demoteles and Polycrates were interrupted by oligarchic and aristocratic overthrows. Other tyrants must have ruled in Samos, but not a single name has been transmitted to us with any kind of certainty. The emergence of the towering individual personality in the early 6th Century B.C. may have manifested itself in the gigantic marble kouroi (three times larger than life-size), which were erected along the Sacred Road rivalling one another in size and towering above everything else in the sanctuary.

The monumental way of thinking which was expressed in such works, combined with the concentration of economic power and the will-to-representation of one or more tyrants (as yet unknown to us), led to a gigantic architectural remodeling of the sanctuary around the middle of the 6th Century B.C. Under the direction of the architect, Rhoikos, and the universal artist, Theodoros, the giant structure of the Hera temple came into being. As an architectural type, its grand scale was without precedent in Greek temple architecture. Both the older Hera temple and a part of the South Wall which had been torn down were covered over by the new structure. The altar was newly rebuilt on a monumental scale with a new east-west, axial orientation to the temple. Towards the north, the sacred precinct acquired a fortified circumvallation [= enclosure wall] with gate entrance, propping up the so-called 'North Wall'. At approximately the same time as the 'Rhoikos Temple' (whether it was somewhat earlier or later can no longer be determined), the construction of two more great temples must have commenced: first, the so-called 'North Building' was begun as a double-aisled cella [or naos = the enclosed central chamber of a temple], to which a ring of columns was later added. Later, the typologically peculiar structure with double-aisles, the so-called 'South Building', was begun. During the middle of the 6th Century B.C. the small antae temples A and B [temples with naos, pronaos and columns in antis] arose at the fork of path towards the north gate on the Sacred Road. Among the many votive offerings now on display, the Genelaos group stands out by virtue of its size, craftsmanship and well-preserved condition. The small peripteral temple C and the double-antae temple D [with naos, pronaos, posticum and distyle in antis on both ends] north of the Sacred Road belong to the later 6th Century.

A few years or decades after its completion, the Great Temple of Rhoikos and Theodoros was torn down again. Its wooden truss and entablature cannot have been destroyed by fire, for there are no traces of fire in the preserved fragments of the building, which was composed of fine limestone, particularly sensitive to fire. The reason for the short life span of this wonder-work of Ionian architecture is best sought in irreparable structural damage brought about by earthquake or unforseen sinking of the foundation.

The commencement of new temple construction, following the same dimensions, falls most likely during the reign of Polycrates, whose political might and proverbial wealth also expressed themselves in the other structures in the capital which Herodotus (III,60) has praised, such as the artificial harbor installation and the mountain tunnel built by Eupalinos as a water conduit. In favor of a more spacious arrangement of the altar-forecourt, the new construction of the temple was shifted approximately forty metres to the west in previously undeveloped terrain. Though its deeper significance remains unexplained, there was a further displacement opposite the predecessor building to the south. In the course of this displacement, tha axial orientation to the altar was abandoned. In its place, the longitudinal axis of the temple was precisely aligned upon the base of the cult image of the Hekatompedos. This time-honored structural remnant of the oldest Hera temple, which had been covered over by the Rhoikos temple, was now uncovered and protected. It was given prominence by the so-called 'Monopteros.'

The ambitious new construction of the Hera temple was not completed. After the death of Polycrates and the ensuing struggles for power among his successors, the political and economic power of Samos began to decline. By the late 6th Century B.C., Persian expansion in Ionia had taken hold of the island, which for a time was ruled by the tyrants Syloson and Aiakes, who were friendly to Persia. After the collapse of the Ionian uprising (499 - 494 B.C.), Samos was externally spared due to the good political conduct of the Persians. Nonetheless, the island was annexed to the Persian Empire as a tributary constituent state of the Satrapy of Sardes. After the Greek victory over the Persians (480-479 B.C.) Samos, as a member of the first Attic-Delian League, found itself increasingly in conflict with the claims of Athens for control of the Aegean. This finally led to the siege and capture of Samos by an Athenian contingent under Pericles in 441 B.C. The ensuing heavy taxation, the loss of its fleet and the razing of the city walls completely deprived Samos of any power. In the early 4th Century B.C., while temporarily allied with both Sparta and Persia, Samos was once again occupied by Athens (365 B.C.). The majority of the indigenous population was driven into exile while their property was distributed to Attic evacuees, the so-called 'cleruchy,' who formed their own political system. Boundary stones found at the Heraion with inscriptions in the Attic dialect, such as "Boundary of the Precinct of Athena, the Goddess Protectoress of Athens," testify to the fact that confiscated estates in the environs, which had perhaps been the property of the Heraion sanctuary, became dedicated to the Athenian state goddess.

The political decline of the island in the 5th and 4th Centuries B.C. is clearly reflected in the Heraion as well. Work on the Hera temple stagnated and larger buildings were apparently not begun. The sparsity of classical sculpture among the finds is particularly striking. One significant monument from the 5th Century seems to have been the bronze group of Myron. This was probably dedicated to the new Attic rulers of the island. The finds of small votive offerings and ceramic from the 4th and 5th Centuries make an equally poor impression in comparison with those from the archaic period.

It was only after the death of Alexander the Great that a decree was put into effect in 322 B.C. to restore the rights of Samians who had been living in exile. During the following Hellenistic period, Samos, which became a naval base for the fleets of the Ptolemies and other Hellenistic kings, experienced a significant economic recovery. This recovery can also be read from the monuments of the Heraion. True, no significant new buildings arose during this period, but work on the Hera temple was resumed, and a certain amount of construction to the north of the Sacred Road can be detected in isolated sections of foundation. The enigmatic circular-plan building must belong to this period. If the visitor to the sanctuary in earlier times had drawn drinking water from a drawing-well, now ---in accordance with the increased demands of the time ---a system of clay piping was laid, through which fresh spring water (probably from Myli) was conducted into the Heraion. The running well near the North Gate belongs to this new water supply. Among the numerous Hellenistic votive statues, the individual portrait-figure stands out. The political intention of honoring persons depicted for their merit or good deeds is more explicit in the appertaining inscriptions than had been the case before. For example, the people of Samos dedicated a statue of the Egyptian-Ptolemaic Queen (Berenice, 246-221 B.C.) to Hera, and King Attalos II of Pergamus (159-138 B.C.) had a statue of his general Philopoemen erected in the sanctuary "because of his military prowess, valor and loyalty." The new rôle of the Heraion as the arena of political showmanship is underscored by numerous Hellenistic inscription-stelae upon which the town coucil and public meetings made resolutions public in honor of foreign and native benefactors of the polis.

In contrast to this public character, the actual cult and the private worship of the goddess seems, at least according to the archaeological evidence, to have lost its significance. It was a common phenomenon in ancient Greece that belief in Homeric gods waned as other gods and cult practices, for the most part Oriental, attracted the people.

According to Plutarch (Pompey 24), the city and Heraion were plundered by pirates during the 2nd Mithridatic War (88-84 B.C.). During this period Samos must have become completely impoverished. In the eighth decade of the 1st Century B.C. (the exact date is not known), Samos was annexed as a part of the Asian province by the Roman Empire. Under the oppressive tax system of the Romans and the abuses of the Roman officials, the island suffered greatly; nor was the Heraion spared. The notorious theft of artworks from Samos by the Roman legate C. Licinus Verres in 80 B.C., whom Cicero later denounced so impressively in a trial against Verres (in Verrem II 1,19), had especially concerned the old sanctuary. Later, Mark Antony allowed the bronze group by Myron to be carried off. It was only partially returned by Augustus. Just how dependent Samos was upon the benevolence of individual Roman officials is already indicated by the Cicero base, as it was no doubt erected in recognition of the moderate administration of Quintus Tullius Cicero as Proconsul of Asia.

The long peace after the termination of the Roman Civil Wars (31 B.C.) brought with it a modest second blossoming for the Heraion. Octavian-Augustus, who had spent the winters of 31 and 20/19 B.C. on the island, seems to have been particularly well-disposed towards Samos. He conferred the Roman rights of citizenship upon the inhabitants and was revered by them as 'New Founder'. A temple for Augustus and Roma stood in the city, and numerous statues of the Imperial family were erected in the Heraion. In 23 A.D., Tiberius, the stepson and successor of Augustus, renewed the Heraion's old right of asylum which had been withdrawn from many Greek sanctuaries.

The last architectural development of the Hera temple and altar must have taken place during the period of renovation by Augustus and his house. The east front of the great temple, which had either been standing already or was just now completed, remained standing as a facade-like terminus of the festival ground. Aside from these modest alterations, however, the great temple remained standing as a structural ruin with an incompleted ring of columns, and from then on served as depository for older votive offerings. A smaller marble temple with a ring of columns now sheltered the cult image as its last accommodation. The modesty of this temple, which was in fact smaller than the altar ( in contrst to its gigantic predecessor), impressively demonstrates the decline of the Hera cult. Strangely enough, this last temple returned again to the axis and orientation of the oldest temple, the Hekatompedos, at the cost of the axial relation to the great altar, from which a gap approximately three metres wide separated it. The archaic altar, which had become almost completely weather-worn, must have been restored in marble during this period. A noteworthy sign of the times during this period of renovation under Augustus and the succeeding emperors of his house can be seen in the fact that the wife of Augustus, Livia, became posthumously worshipped as a goddess together with Hera (an inscription mentions a priestess of Hera and Livia during the reign of Emperor Claudius).

On the basis of a number of inscriptions from the middle of the Imperial Age it can be concluded that the sanctuary had already become relatively insignificant by the late 1st and 2nd Centuries A.D. Evidence that individual buildings fell to ruin or were torn down is to be seen, for example, in the parts of a Doric hall building which were used when a broad perron [outside staircase] was laid before the facade of the old Hera temple in either the 1st or 2nd Centuries A.D. Shortly after the middle of the 2nd Century, the small Corinthian Temple must also have been erected, while the last temple of the sanctuary arose in the 3rd Century.

Despite clear indications of the sanctuary's decay in the 2nd and 3rd Centuries, a building provision which must date from this period testifies to a significantly reawakened interest in the Hera temple. The extent of the construction could only have originated in an Imperial initiative, for it resulted in the paving of the 6 km long Sacred Road. It is conceivable that the Empress Julia Domna (193-217 A.D.), whose special patronage of the Juno (Hera) cult is attested to, donated the materials for this project. From the late 2nd Century on, a new phenomenon comes into being: the increasing construction of dwellings in the sacred precinct. If the attendants of the sanctuary had lived outside the temenos in the early periods --- the geographer Strabo mentions a suburb of the Heraion in the 1st Century B.C. --- by the middle of the 3rd Century A.D. a large part of the temenos had become transformed into housing estates. Quite a few foundation walls, especially on either side of the Sacred Road, have been preserved. These were quite stately, in some cases two-storey, houses with small peristyle-inner courts, mosaics, colorfully painted interiors and good drinking-water and sewage installations. There was even a small thermal bath installation which sprung up in this little town. The reason for the sudden settling of the temenos in the late Imperial Age cannot lie solely in the decline of the Hera cult, for the Imbrasos valley, now as before, was not a particularly suitable place to dwell. External, political circumstances must have been decisive in the establishment of estates in the temenos. The conjecture that individual families fled to the asylum of the sacred precinct to evade the clutches of the Imperial Treasury, which had imposed particularly burdensome taxation upon the wealthy provinces, seems convincing.

Archaeological finds which have been dated according to coins from the same period indicate that the settlement was abandoned and fell to ruin during the sixth decade of the 3rd Century A.D. A devastating earthquake in the year 262 A.D. and the plundering of the island by wandering Germanic tribes in 267 A.D. must have been the causes. After this point there are only scant traces of life and achitectural activity to be found --- a few inscriptions from the early 4th Century and shabby little walls made from reused materials. Around the middle of the 4th Century, the site appears to have been completely desolate. The ancient buildings were gradually dismantled. Their ashlar [square-hewn stone] material found applications elsewhere, perhaps in the large early Christian churches of Asia Minor. The site of the Heraion on the sea facilitated the transport of the stone by cargo ships.

As is so frequently the case in Greece, the memory of the ancient cult site's sacredness was also preserved in the Christian period: in the 5th Century A.D. a stately triple-aisled Basilica arose over the ruins of the old sanctuary. Although the settlement belonging to the church has not yet been found, the site of an early Byzantine cistern near the North Gate and traces of a wall above the pavement of the Sacred Road indicate that its location is to be sought to the north and east of the present-day excavation site.

 

---from Führer Durch das Heraion von Samos [Guide Through the Heraion of Samos], Deutsches Archäologisches Institut Athen, Krene Verlag, 1981, 9-53.

Translated from the German by Scott J. Thompson

 


Notes

[1] Trans.note: In his Histories, Herodotus relates the story of this cauldron: "[T]he Samian merchants, on their return home, made a greater profit on their cargo than any Greeks of whom we have precise knowledge....A tenth part of their profits, amounting to six talents, they spent on the manufacture of a bronze vessel, shaped like an Argive wine-bowl, with a continuous row of griffins' heads round the rim; this bowl, supported upon three kneeling figures in bronze, eleven and a half feet high, they placed as an offering in the temple of Hera." [trans. A. de Selincourt, London, Penguin Books, 1954,1972.]


Architectural Terms:

anta: (pl.: antae) a square pilaster on either side of a doorway

cella: the enclosed central chamber of a Greek temple, also called naos.

circumvallation: a surrounding with a wall.

distyle: a portico with two columns.

entablature: the superstructure carried by a colonnade, comprising architrave, frieze and cornice.

frieze: the middle element of an entablature; also any horizontal zone adorned with reliefs.

naiskos: a small shrine-building, usually the perpetuation of an older sanctuary within a later temple on the same site.

naos: a temple; the inner cell of a temple.

peripteral: a temple whose cella is surrounded by a colonnade.

peristyle: a range of buildings round a building or round a square.

plinth: a square block forming the bottom of an Ionic base.

posticum: also called opisthodomus; an adyton or inner sanctuary or an open porch with no door in its back wall.

perron: a raised platform or terrace at an entrance door; an external flight of steps leading up to it.

pronaos: the porch in front of the naos or cella of a temple.

 

 

Scott J. Thompson: bakchos@cronos.net