Geometric Greece: 900-700 BC

By J. N. Coldstream | Go to book overview

13

Sanctuaries, Gods, and Votives

As prosperity gradually returned to the Greek world, the gods received an increasingly generous share of its fruits. During the ninth century, hardly more than a dozen sanctuaries had been receiving votive offerings, and at none of these places can we be sure that the resident deity was honoured with a temple. By 700 B.C. we know of at least seventy places of worship all over the Greek world, of which nearly half already possessed temples (fig. 101).

Our first task is to review the growth of these sanctuaries, paying special attention to the architecture of their temples. Then we shall inquire into the nature of their cults, and the gods who were worshipped. We must also face the difficult problems of origins, assessing the likelihood of any cult going back without break into the Late Bronze Age. The various classes of votives have already been treated in our earlier chapters, where their regional characteristics have received some emphasis; a more general discussion of their purpose will be added here. Especially remarkable are the dedications in bronze, which far surpass in abundance and splendour the analogous finds from graves and settlements. In conclusion we shall try to relate the spectacular development of the sanctuaries to the other manifestations of the Greek Renaissance.


Sanctuaries. Altars and Temples

The Greek temple, as an independent and freestanding structure, is largely a creation of the eighth century. The Minoans and Mycenaeans had had no need of such buildings; their cults were practised in rooms within houses and palaces, around sacred trees and pillars, and in the wild surroundings of caves and mountain peaks. The sanctity of some caves and peaks was still remembered in the eighth century, especially in Crete; there we have observed the Geometric offerings from the peak shrine of Kato Symi, and from the caves of Ida, Dicte, and Amnisos.

After the collapse of Mycenaean civilization, traces of domestic religion disappear. During the Dark Ages it seems that almost all worship took place in the open air, 1 usually round a raised altar for burnt sacrifices. Sometimes the altar was hewn out of the living rock, as at the Delion sanctuary of Paros; but the most widespread form had a stonebuilt exterior and an earth fill, such as we find at the Samian Heraion. There we are unusually well informed about the early structures of the sanctuary. The first two versions of the altar precede the earliest temple, and so cannot be later than the ninth century. 2 Much care was lavished on its subsequent rebuilding; thus Altar III (c. 750 B.C.), which goes with the

p. 400

-317-

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