Heraion of Argos
Heraion of Argos, reconstruction on a 1902 painting
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The Heraion of Argos (Greek: Ἡραῖον Ἄργους) is an ancient temple in Argos, Greece. It was part of the greatest sanctuary in the Argolid, dedicated to Hera, whose epithet "Argive Hera" (Ἥρη Ἀργείη Here Argeie) appears in Homer's works. Hera herself claims to be the protector of Argos in Iliad IV, 50–52): "The three towns I love best are Argos, Sparta and Mycenae of the broad streets". The memory was preserved at Argos of an archaic, aniconic pillar representation of the Great Goddess. The site, which might mark the introduction of the cult of Hera in mainland Greece, lies northeast of Argos between the archaeological sites of Mycenae and Midea, two important Mycenaean cities. The traveller Pausanias, visiting the site in the 2nd century CE, referred to the area as Prosymna (Προσύμνη).
The temenos occupies three artificially terraced levels on a site above the plain with a commanding view. Most of the remains at the site date to the 7th through 5th centuries B.C. The Old Temple, destroyed by fire in 423 BCE, and an open-air altar stood on the uppermost terrace.
The famous ivory and gold-plated bronze sculpture of Hera by Polykleitos stood in the New Temple on the middle terrace, built by Eupolemos of Argos following the fire. Pausanias described that this statue depicted Hera was seated on a throne wearing a crown depicting the Charites and Horae (Seasons) and holding a pomegranate and a sceptre with a perched cuckoo on top. Behind this statue there was another statue created by Naucydes of Hebe, Hera's daughter, also clad in ivory and gold. There was also a relief image made of silver above an altar table depicting the marriage of Hebe and Heracles. Pausanias gave the name of the architect of the temple as Eupolemus and stated that there was carvings above the pillars of either the birth of Zeus and the Giantomachy; or the Trojan War and the fall of the city. Pausanias wrote:
- "The sculptures carved above the pillars refer either to the birth of Zeus and the battle between the gods and the Gigantes, or to the Trojan war and the capture of Ilium. Before the entrance stand statues of women who have been priestesses to Hera and of various heroes, including Orestes. They say that Orestes is the one with the inscription, that it represents the Emperor Augustus. In the fore-temple are on the one side ancient statues of the Kharites (Graces), and on the right a couch of Hera and a votive offering, the shield which Menelaus once took from Euphorbos at Troy. The statue of Hera is seated on a throne; it is huge, made of gold and ivory, and is a work of Polykleitos. She is wearing a crown with Kharites (Graces) and Horai (Seasons) worked upon it, and in one hand she carries a pomegranate and in the other a sceptre. About the pomegranate I must say nothing, for its story is somewhat of a holy mystery. The presence of a cuckoo seated on the sceptre they explain by the story that when Zeus was in love with Hera in her maidenhood he changed himself into this bird, and she caught it to be her pet. This tale and similar legends about the gods I relate without believing them, but I relate them nevertheless. By the side of Hera stands what is said to be an image of Hebe fashioned by Naukydes; it, too, is of ivory and gold. By its side is an old image of Hera on a pillar. The oldest image is made of wild-pear wood, and was dedicated in Tiryns by Peirasos, son of Argos, and when the Argives destroyed Tiryns they carried it away to the Heraion. I myself saw it, a small, seated image."
The temple contained numerous votive objects, some of them famous:
- "Of the votive offerings the following are noteworthy. There is an altar upon which is wrought in relief the fabled marriage of Hebe and Herakles. This is of silver, but the peacock dedicated by the Emperor Hadrian is of gold and gleaming stones. He dedicated it because they hold the bird to be sacred to Hera. There lie here a golden crown and a purple robe, offerings of Nero. Above this temple are the foundations of the earlier temple and such parts of it as were spared by the flames. It was burnt down because sleep overpowered Khryseis, the priestess of Hera, when the lamp before the wreaths set fire to them. Khryseis went to Tegea and supplicated Athena Alea. Although so great a disaster had befallen them the Argives did not take down the statue of Khryseis; it is still in position in front of the burnt temple."
There were other structures, one of which was the earliest example of a building with an open peristyle court, surrounded by columned stoas. The lowest level supports the remains of a stoa. Ancient retaining walls support the flat terraces. Close to the Heraion is a Mycenaean cemetery, apparently a site of an ancestor cult in the Geometric period, which was excavated by Carl Blege. In Roman times a baths and a palaestra were added near the site. Pausanias stated that there was a brook beside the road called the Water of Freedom that priestesses would use for purification and sacrifice rituals.
At the Heraion, Agamemnon was chosen to lead the Argives against Troy, according to a legend recorded by Dictys of Crete. Walls and earliest finds at the site date to the Geometric period, during which the Iliad was composed. A Helladic settlement preceded the sanctuary's development.
If the temple was still in use by the 4th-century, it would have been closed during the persecution of pagans in the late Roman Empire, when laws against non-Christian religions and their sanctuaries where enacted by the Christian emperors.
Hera was worshipped as the protector of Argos, the goddess of marriage, and as a goddess of childbirth. Two figurines indicating Hera as a protector of children have been found and one pregnancy figurine has been found. Research has also indicated that there were numerous baths at the sanctuary, which may have served as a healing centre for women.
The British officer Thomas Gordon was the first to identify the site in 1831, and in 1836 he conducted some desultory excavations. Heinrich Schliemann briefly investigated the site in 1874 before modern archaeology at the Heraion began, under the auspices of the Archaeological Institute of America, which chose the Argive Heraion in its first campaign of excavation in Greece, under the direction of Charles Waldstein, who discovered a bundle of iron roasting spits (oboloi) in a bundle of 180, together with a solid bar of iron weighing the same as the bundle and having the same length (about 120 centimeters), votive objects that served as standards of weight and measure, introduced by Pheidon of Argos which were still to be seen in Classical times.
- "The obols of the Heraion are mentioned by the philosopher Heracleides of Pontus in his work on Etymologies in order to explain the origin of the name of the monetary unit obol, which is 1/6 of drachma"
- Burkert, Greek Religion (1985) III.2.2, note 5.
- It is closer to Mycenae, 10 km from Argos.
- Argive Heraion (Site) perseus.tufts.edu
- The New International Encyclopædia, Daniel Coit Gilman, Harry Thurston Peck, Frank Moore Colby, Dodd, Mead and Company, 1903
- Pausanias. Description of Greece. pp. Book 2.15-28.
- Pausanias, Description of Greece 2. 17. 1 - 7
- Wise, Susan (2007). Childbirth Votives and Rituals in Ancient Greece (PhD). University of Cincinnati.
- Stecchini, Livio C. The Standard of the Heraion..
- Livio C. Stecchini, "The Standard of the Heraion"
- Pfaff, Christopher A., (1992) 2003. The Argive Heraion: The architecture of the classical temple of Hera
- Burkert, Walter, 1985. Greek Religion (Harvard University Press)
- Pausanias, Description of Greece, 2.15.4
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Heraion of Argos.|
- Perseus site: Argive Heraion Bibliography