Temple of Isthmia

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Temple of Isthmia
Temple of Isthmia is located in Greece
Temple of Isthmia
Shown within Greece
LocationKyras Vrysi, Corinthia, Greece
RegionCorinthia
Coordinates37°54′57″N 22°59′35″E / 37.91583°N 22.99306°E / 37.91583; 22.99306Coordinates: 37°54′57″N 22°59′35″E / 37.91583°N 22.99306°E / 37.91583; 22.99306
TypeSanctuary
Length40.05 m
Width14.018 m
History
Founded690 to 650 BC
Abandoned470 BC
PeriodsArchaic Greek
Satellite ofIsthmia

The Temple of Isthmia is an ancient Greek temple on the Isthmus of Corinth dedicated to the god Poseidon and built in the Archaic Period. It is about 16 kilometers (9.9 mi) east of ancient Corinth, at the site of ancient Isthmia. It appears to have been constructed in the seventh century BC though was later destroyed in 470 BC and rebuilt as the Temple of Poseidon at Isthmia in c. 440 BC during the Classical period.

History[edit]

Around the turn of the 8th to 7th century BC, it is apparent that there is the emergence of a new period in both Greek architectural and artistic history.[1] Corinth was at the centre of this with its development of new pottery design, settlement planning, military organisation and most significantly being the possible birthplace of monumental buildings and a new style of Architecture known as the Doric order.[2] The date of the Archaic temple’s construction is important then as it establishes when monumental architecture began as well as when the transition from Iron Age architecture to Doric occurred. This was also the point where the Greek temple as a whole became a defined form.[3]

The site of the Temple of Poseidon at Isthmia was one of great activity up until the 3rd century AD. It was the last location of one of the four Pan-Hellenic Games from the sixth century (around 581 BC[4]) to be found,[5] and had numerous buildings constructed in its vicinity. These ranged from Roman baths to a theatre and most importantly two temples. The Archaic temple was the first erected and was destroyed by fire in 470 BC;[6] the site of the temple was then rebuilt upon, resulting in a larger temple constructed directly on top of the Archaic in the Classical period, which was also destroyed by fire, this time in 390 BC.

The Isthmian Games which were held near the Temple of Isthmia in honour of Poseidon was one of the four great Athletic Festivals of Ancient Greece, alongside those of Zeus at Olympia and Nemea, and those of Apollo at Delphoi. The games was mentioned by Callimachus in the 3rd century BC:

"And it [the wild celery] shall the sons of Aletes [great-grandson of Herakles], when in the presence of the god Aigaion (of the Aegean Sea) [i.e. Poseidon] they celebrate a festival more ancient by far than this, appoint to be the token of victory in the Isthmia (Isthmian Games), in rivalry of those at Nemea; but the pine they shall reject, which aforetime crowned the combatants at Ephyra [Korinthos]."[7]

Pausanias described the sanctuary in the second century:

"The Isthmos [of Korinthos] belongs to Poseidon. Worth seeing here are a theater and a white-marble race-course [where the Isthmion Games were held]. Within the sanctuary of the god [Poseidon] stand on the one side portrait statues of athletes who have won victories at the Isthmian games, on the other side pine trees growing in a row, the greater number of them rising up straight. On the temple, which is not very large, stand bronze Tritones. In the fore-temple are images, two of Poseidon, a third of Amphitrite, and of Thalassa (the Sea), which also is of bronze. The offerings inside were dedicated in our time by Herodes the Athenian, four horses, gilded except for the hoofs, which are of ivory, and two gold Tritones beside the horses, with the parts below the waist of ivory. On the car stand Amphitrite and Poseidon, and there is the boy Palaimon upright upon a dolphin. These too are made of ivory and gold. On the middle of the base on which the car is has been wrought Thalassa (the Sea) holding up the young Aphrodite, and on either side are the Nymphai called Nereides . . . Among the reliefs on the base of the statue of Poseidon are the Dioskouroi sons of Tyndareus, because these too are saviours of ships and of sea-faring men. The other offerings are images of Galene (Calm) and of Thalassa (Sea), a horse like a whale from the breast onward, Ino [Leukothea] and Bellerophontes, and the horse Pegasos Within the enclosure is on the left a temple of Palaimon, with images in it of Poseidon, Leukothea and Palaimon himself. There is also what is called his Holy of Holies, and an underground descent to it, where they say that Palaimon is concealed. Whosoever, whether Korinthian or stranger, swears falsely here, can by no means escape from his oath. There is also an ancient sanctuary called the altar of the Kyklopes, and they sacrifice to the Kyklopes upon it. The graves of Sisyphos [an early king of Korinthos] and of Neleus [son of Poseidon]--for they say that Neleus came to Korinthos, died of disease, and was buried near the Isthmos."[8]

If still in use by the 4th-century, the temple would have been closed during the persecution of pagans in the late Roman Empire. The temple of Poseidon was most likely sacked and destroyed in the invasion of the Peloponnesus by the Visigoths in AD 396.[9]

Archeology[edit]

Excavations of the site were conducted in both the original 1952 excavations, and again in 1989. The latter excavations helped to uncover evidence relating to all the areas of development of Isthmia from the Bronze Age to the Roman period, but in particular focused on the Archaic temple, partly because this is the most complete of the buildings found at the site despite being one of the oldest.[10]

The site was originally found by Oscar Broneer in 1952 with excavations continuing until 1967.[11] He published his findings in a series of three volumes starting in 1971,[12] and in articles in the Hesperia Journal. He dated the temple to about 700 BC and produced a reconstruction of the temple which featured a wooden peristyle in the Doric style.[13]

Between August 16 and November 29, 1989 a new period of excavation was undertaken, mostly to clear up some of the disputes that had arisen over the conclusions Broneer had made on his finds.[14] The first report of the 1989 findings was published in Hesperia in 1992,[15] with subsequent reports following in later years and has contributed to the debate which primarily focuses around the dating of the temple, but also includes the nature of its layout and general usage and development.

Dating[edit]

Reconstruction of the Archaic Temple of Isthmia, Greece. Constructed between 690-650 BC.

The debates that occurred after the first publication of Broneer's results focused on his inclusion of a wooden peristyle of the Doric order, and a construction date of c. 700 BC. Historians such as J. B. Salmons in his book Wealthy Corinth (1984) stated that the temple was constructed under the reign of Cypselus;[16] this contradicted Broneer's suggestions as Cypselus did not achieve power until 657 BC, and so would put back the creation of the temple by about 50 years.[17] Furthermore, it was disputed whether the temple was even Doric in design and the proposed plan of Broneer detailing the temples foundations had little evidence in support.

The 1989 excavations contained important discoveries that helped to establish that the temple was actually constructed later than Broneer had anticipated, and puts it at a date that ranges from about 690 to 650 BC.[18] This date would mean that it could have been possible for it to have been constructed during Cypselus’ reign, as well as suggesting a later date for appearance of monumental buildings. The excavations achieved their results through a variety of methods. Prior to the excavations topographical and stratigraphical investigations were carried out of the known buildings under the surface. When digging commenced trenches were made, for the most part extensions on Broneer’s original trenches. The soil that was collected was then both dry sieved and wet sieved and from this many finds were made. Deposits containing large amounts of pottery, ashes as well as stone foundations were all found which helped to determine answers to many of the questions that had been raised. The Ceramics recovered helped to ascertain a more accurate date, this was through the finding of pottery such as that of the aryballoi style, which is an effective means of dating owing to their introduction at the beginning of the seventh century.[19] Furthermore, the ground plan and surrounding features of the site were now able to be mapped with a good degree of accuracy.[20] In the reports, this fact that the temple floor plan could be reconstructed accurately is mentioned as the most important find of the 1989 excavations.[21] The ground plan showed a temple that was of unrivalled proportions for its time and of a layout that was almost entirely new.[22] This therefore showed the origins of monumental buildings on the Greek mainland and provided an approximate date. Also though it further established that there was no evidence for the employment of the Doric style as suggested by Broneer.[23] Although Broneer stated of his reconstruction that it was speculative, and still appears to have no evidence in support its existence, this does not mean the temple was not one of the pioneering buildings featuring Doric architecture.[24] This is because all that is known from the temple is what has been found in deposits of pottery and the stone foundations, as the temple was completely destroyed in 470 BC (also known from pottery discovered during excavations, particularly burnt pottery[25]). There is little that remains other than the floor plan, or at least that has been found thus far, and so the actual style is hard to put any firm conclusion to. It is however apparent from the excavations though, the layout of supporting pillars and dimensions, which beyond doubt can tell us that it was a temple of epic proportions for its time.

Ultimately the importance of the Isthmian site stems from the fact that almost all the knowledge of the Archaic temple comes from archaeology. There are few references in contemporary Greek literature, for example in HerodotusThe Histories there is mention only of Cypselus’ reign in passing, being one of great prosperity, and of the battles and beginning of the Pan-Hellenic games at Isthmia.[26] This means that when studying the origins of Greek monumental architecture and the Doric order and such like, the archaeology remains the only real source of information. In this respects the temple at Isthmia is key in looking at these early developments and the 1989 excavations helped to establish details concerning dating, size and style. From this further study can now be undertaken such as who built the temple, as suggested earlier Cypselus is noted as a candidate but it could well have been before his time. Furthermore, future excavations may be able to uncover more evidence on the temples relation to Doric architecture and so overall bring together a clearer picture of the changes that occurred as Greece moved on from the Iron Age into the Classical period.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Grant, Michael. 1987. The Rise of the Greeks. London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, page 84.
  2. ^ Shanks, Michael. 1996. Classical Archaeology of Greece. London: Routledge, page 10.
  3. ^ Briers, William R. 1996. The Archaeology of Greece 2nd Edition. New York: Cornell University, pages 132–133.
  4. ^ Grant, Michael. 1987. The Rise of the Greeks. London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, page 88.
  5. ^ Roux, Georges. ‘Review: Isthmia, Vol. 1, Temple of Poseidon by Oscar Broneer.’ American Journal of Archaeology. Volume 78, Number 3 (July 1974), pp. 305–306, page 305.
  6. ^ Gebhard, Elizabeth on ‘The Evolution of a Pan-Hellenic Sanctuary: From Archaeology towards History at Isthmia.’ pp 154–177 in: Marinatos, Nanno (ed.) and Hägg, Robin (ed.). 1993. Greek Sanctuaries: New Approaches. London: Routledge.
  7. ^ Callimachus, Fragment 103 (from Plutarch Quest. Conviv. 5. 677B) (trans. Trypanis)
  8. ^ Pausanias, Description of Greece 2. 1. 7 - 2. 2 (trans. Jones) (Greek travelogue C2nd A.D.)
  9. ^ Ann E.Beaton and Paul A Clement, “The Date of the Destruction of the Sanctuary of Poseidon on the Isthmus of Corinth”, Hesperia 45 (1976) 267-79. [1]
  10. ^ Roux, Georges. ‘Review: Isthmia, Vol. 1, Temple of Poseidon by Oscar Broneer.’ American Journal of Archaeology. Volume 78, Number 3 (July 1974), pp. 305–306, page 305.
  11. ^ Hemans, Frederick P. ‘Greek Architectural Terracotta from the Sanctuary of Poseidon at Isthmia’. Hesperia Supplements, Volume 27 (1994), pp. 61–83, 362–364, page 61.
  12. ^ These are a trilogy of books by Oscar Broneer: Isthmia, Vol. 1, Temple of Poseidon. Princeton (1971), Isthmia, Vol. 2, Topography and Architecture. Princeton (1973) and Isthmia, Vol. 3, Terracotta Lamps. Princeton (1977).
  13. ^ Rhodes, Robin F. ‘Early Corinthian Architecture and the Origins of the Doric Order.’ American Journal of Archaeology. Volume 91, Number 3 (July 1987), pp. 477–480, page 477.
  14. ^ Gebhard, Elizabeth R. and Hemans, Frederick P. University of Chicago Excavations at Isthmia, 1989: I. Hesperia, Volume 61, Number 1 (January 1992), pp. 1–77, pages 1–2
  15. ^ Gebhard, Elizabeth R. and Hemans, Frederick P. University of Chicago Excavations at Isthmia, 1989: I. Hesperia, Volume 61, Number 1 (January 1992), pp. 1–77.
  16. ^ Salmon, J. B. 1984. Wealthy Corinth: A History of the City to 338 BC. Oxford: Clarendon Press.
  17. ^ Salmon, J. B. 1984. Wealthy Corinth: A History of the City to 338 BC. Oxford: Clarendon Press, page 180.
  18. ^ Gebhard, Elizabeth on ‘The Evolution of a Pan-Hellenic Sanctuary: From Archaeology towards History at Isthmia.’ pp. 154–177 in: Marinatos, Nanno (ed.) and Hägg, Robin (ed.). 1993. Greek Sanctuaries: New Approaches. London: Routledge, page 160.
  19. ^ Shanks, Michael. 1996. Classical Archaeology of Greece. London: Routledge, page 12.
  20. ^ Gebhard, Elizabeth R. and Hemans, Frederick P. University of Chicago Excavations at Isthmia, 1989: I. Hesperia, Volume 61, Number 1 (January 1992), pp. 1–77, pages 23–27.
  21. ^ Gebhard, Elizabeth R. and Hemans, Frederick P. University of Chicago Excavations at Isthmia, 1989: I. Hesperia, Volume 61, Number 1 (January 1992), pp. 1–77, page 23.
  22. ^ Salmon, J. B. 1984. Wealthy Corinth: A History of the City to 338 BC. Oxford: Clarendon Press, page 61.
  23. ^ Gebhard, Elizabeth on ‘The Evolution of a Pan-Hellenic Sanctuary: From Archaeology towards History at Isthmia.’ pp. 154–177 in: Marinatos, Nanno (ed.) and Hägg, Robin (ed.). 1993. Greek Sanctuaries: New Approaches. London: Routledge, page 160.
  24. ^ Gebhard, Elizabeth R. and Hemans, Frederick P. University of Chicago Excavations at Isthmia, 1989: I. Hesperia, Volume 61, Number 1 (January 1992), pp. 1–77, page 25.
  25. ^ Gebhard, Elizabeth on ‘The Evolution of a Pan-Hellenic Sanctuary: From Archaeology towards History at Isthmia.’ pp 154–177 in: Marinatos, Nanno (ed.) and Hägg, Robin (ed.). 1993. Greek Sanctuaries: New Approaches. London: Routledge, page 160.
  26. ^ Herodotus, The Histories (6.92)

Further reading[edit]

  • Briers, William R. (1996). The Archaeology of Greece 2nd Edition. New York: Cornell University.
  • Gebhard, Elizabeth; ‘The Evolution of a Pan-Hellenic Sanctuary: From Archaeology towards History at Isthmia.’ pp 154–177 in: Marinatos, Nanno (ed.) and Hägg, Robin (ed.). (1993). Greek Sanctuaries: New Approaches. London: Routledge.
  • Gebhard, Elizabeth R. and Hemans, Frederick P. University of Chicago Excavations at Isthmia, 1989: I. Hesperia, Volume 61, Number 1 (January 1992), pp. 1–77.
  • Grant, Michael. (1987). The Rise of the Greeks. London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson. ISBN 0-7538-0178-7
  • Hemans, Frederick P. ‘Greek Architectural Terracotta from the Sanctuary of Poseidon at Isthmia’. Hesperia Supplements, Volume 27 (1994), pp. 61–83, 362-364.
  • Herodotus, The Histories (6.92)
  • Hornblower, Simon & Spawforth Anthony (eds.). (1996). The Oxford Classical Dictionary 3rd Edition. Oxford University Press: Oxford. ISBN 0-19-860641-9
  • Rhodes, Robin F. ‘Early Corinthian Architecture and the Origins of the Doric Order.’ American Journal of Archaeology. Volume 91, Number 3 (July 1987), pp. 477–480.
  • Salmon, J. B. (1984). Wealthy Corinth: A History of the City to 338 BC. Oxford: Clarendon Press. ISBN 0-19-814833-X
  • Shanks, Michael. (1996). Classical Archaeology of Greece. London: Routledge, page 10.
  • The OSU Excavations at Isthmia – The Sanctuary to Poseidon at Isthmia

External links[edit]