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A temenos (Greek: τέμενος; plural: τεμένη, temenē)[1] is a piece of land cut off and assigned as an official domain, especially to kings and chiefs, or a piece of land marked off from common uses and dedicated to a god, such as a sanctuary, holy grove, or holy precinct.[2][3]

A temenos enclosed a sacred space called a hieron. It was usually surrounded by a wall, ditch, or line of stones. All things inside of the demarkated area belonged to the designated god. Greeks could find asylum within a sanctuary and be under the protection of the deity and could not be moved against their will.[4]


The word derives from the Greek verb τέμνω (temnō), "I cut".[5][6] The earliest attested form of the word is the Mycenaean Greek 𐀳𐀕𐀜, te-me-no, written in Linear B syllabic script.[7]

The Latin language equivalent was fanum.

In religious discourse in English, temenos has also come to refer to a territory, plane, receptacle or field of deity or divinity.


Historical development[edit]

The concept of temenos arose in classical antiquity as an area reserved for worship of the gods. Some authors have used the term to apply to a sacred grove of trees,[12] isolated from everyday living spaces, while other usage points to areas within ancient urban development that are parts of sanctuaries.[13]

A temenos is often physically marked by a peribolos fence or wall (e.g. Delphi) as a structural boundary.

Originally, the peribolos was often just a set of marker stones demarcating the boundary, or a light fence. The earliest sanctuaries appear to have begun as a peribolos around a sacred grove, spring, cave, or other feature, with an altar but no temple or cult image. Later, as Greek sanctuaries became more elaborate, large stone walls with gateways or gatehouses were built around important sanctuaries, although the most famous, the Acropolis of Athens, had an elaborate enclosure because it began as a palace and military citadel and was converted into a sanctuary.

Psychological interpretation[edit]

Carl Jung relates the temenos to the spellbinding or magic circle, which acts as a "square space"[14] where mental "work" can take place. This temenos resembles among others a "symmetrical rose garden with a fountain in the middle" in which an encounter with the unconscious can be had and where these unconscious contents can safely be brought into the light of consciousness. In this manner, one can meet one's own animus / anima, shadow, wise old wo/man (senex), and finally the self.[a][15]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Animus, ... senex are technical terms that Jung coined for archetypal personifications of (unpersonal) unconscious contents which seem to span all cultures.


  1. ^ a b c τέμενος. Liddell, Henry George; Scott, Robert; A Greek–English Lexicon at the Perseus Project.
  2. ^ Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Temenos" . Encyclopædia Britannica. Vol. 26 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 577.
  3. ^ Reich, Ronny; Katzenstein, Hannah (1992). "Glossary of Archaeological Terms". In Kempinski, Aharon; Reich, Ronny (eds.). The Architecture of Ancient Israel. Jerusalem: Israel Exploration Society. p. 321. ISBN 978-965-221-013-5. Temenos: Holy precinct within a city or close by, separated by a wall from the secular parts of the city.
  4. ^ Mikalson, Jon (2010). Ancient Greek Religion (2nd ed.). Wiley-Blackewll. pp. 1–31. ISBN 9781405181778.
  5. ^ τέμνω in Liddell and Scott.
  6. ^ Cf. Harper, Douglas. "temple". Online Etymology Dictionary.
  7. ^ "The Linear B word te-me-no". Palaeolexicon. Word study tool of Ancient languages
  8. ^ Pindar (1937). "Pythian 4.56". The Odes of Pindar (in Greek). Translated by John Sandys.
  9. ^ Aristophanes (1907). "Lysistrata, line 483". In Hall, F.W.; Geldart, W.M. (eds.). Aristophanes Comoediae (in Greek). Vol. 2. Oxford: Clarendon Press.
  10. ^ Hogan, C. Michael (2007). "Knossos fieldnotes". Modern Antiquarian.
  11. ^ CADW
  12. ^ Whitley, David S. (1998). Reader in Archaeological Theory: Post-processual and cognitive approaches. Routledge. ISBN 0-415-14160-5.
  13. ^ Antonaccio, Carla M. (1995). An Archaeology of Ancestors: Tomb cult and hero cult in early Greece. Rowman & Littlefield. ISBN 0-8476-7942-X.
  14. ^ C. G. Jung (1968). Psychology and Alchemy (Collected Works of C. G. Jung). Translated by R. F. C. Hull. Princeton University Press.
  15. ^ Jung, C. (1968). Psychology and Alchemy. par. 63.
    See also: Individual dream symbolism in relation to alchemy:
    Jung, C.G. (1968). "3: The symbolism of the mandala". Psychology and Alchemy. Collected Works. Vol. 12. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. ISBN 0-691-01831-6.