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14/05/2008

Places of worship in the ancient city of Argos

Municipality of Argos


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Excavations revealed a city-centre, which was densely populated and had a social structure analogous to the leading role, which Argos played in Antiquity.
Among others, the discovery of a worship place in the South East side of the city gives us enough information for the worship practices of historical years.
We should not ignore the fact that the notion of religion in archaic and classic Greece refers to the religion of the city-state. The city has a social and political entity, which is formed in a broader dominion with a settlement, headquarters of the institutions, in the middle. In this type of religion, a person does not have a central position. Persons do not take part in worship ceremonies as such, being responsible for their souls’ salvation, but they take up their role assigned to them by their social and political hypostasis. Each city has its protector gods. Parallel to the creation of urban sanctuaries in the inner city (asty) there is a gradual conjunction of all the peripheral settlements, which is completed at about 460 B.C. At that time, the city-state of Argos, in which the sanctuaries had already temples (possessions), before they started being controlled by the city, turned up.
Having the general framework described above in mind, we learn from Pausanias’s travels that there were a big number of sanctuaries and worship places in Argo. Many of them were in the central Agora or around it. Only few of them have been identified by excavations. There were sanctuaries dedicated to almost all the gods of Olympus. The Argeians honored male and female divinities, to which they dedicated temples, sanctuaries, statues, anaglyphs, and shrines, but they also honored mythic heroes and demigods. : The sanctuaries of the protecting gods, Larisseos Zeus and Athena Polyas on the Acropolis of Larissa, the sanctuaries of Apollo Deiradiotis and Athena Oxyderkis on the hill of Aspis or Deiras, while in the centre of the Agora, there was the most important temple of the city, which was the sanctuary of Lykeios Apollo, on which they set up all the decrees of the city. On the South West side of the Agora the sanctuary of Aphrodite was revealed. The architectural remains and the excavation findings on the North side of the theatre indicate a worship place of ceremonial character.
Heroes’ tombs are memorials of another category explaining the role of the tradition in the worship history of the city. Heroes lived a long time before the ancient Greeks, when people were different: tall and stout, strong, beautiful. This was the generation, the achievements of which were hymned in Epic poetry. They constituted the legendary past of Greece. Worship, enacted by the city-state, is actualized at their tombs.
The Argeians honored their dead beloved persons. They decorated their tombs with wreaths, they offered sweets and they spilled “hoes” or “leves” which mean water, milk, honey or wine to the ground in a ceremonial way. This process was repeated on the third, the ninth and the thirtieth day after the funeral and then once a year.
According to two inscribed tomb columns from the riverbed of the river Haradros or Xerias and from a tomb in the area of the National Gymnasium of Argos of the 4th and 5th centuries B.C., it is probably that tomb worship is connected to worship of chthonic divinities.
Another category of sanctuaries have been found in the countryside, in small settlements, the “komes”, in areas inhabited by farmers, land-cultivators and characterized as agricultural sanctuaries. These sanctuaries were built in locations in a 5-8 km. distance from Argos.
This is the topographic and historical framework, in which we should place all the excavation data, without ignoring mythological traditions from Inahos to Telesila, which sometimes complete the gaps of our historical information.




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