Hera’s Month of Devotional Thought: Day 12 – Holy Places

Χαίρετε πάντες!

Today’s topic will be the Holy Places associated with Hera.

There are about five main centres of Hera’s cult. In the Iliad, Homeros makes her comment that she favours three poleis most of all: Argos, Mykenai, and Sparta (Ilias IV, 50–52). Besides these, she also had an important cult centre on Samos, as well as in Olympia, where her cult seems to predate that of Zeus.


Map of Samos. Where it says “Ireon”, that is the location of the Heraion. Attribution: User: Bgabel at wikivoyage shared [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons. Taken from Wikipedia on 11 March 2017.

Hera is called Samia for her patronship over Samos, according to myth the place where Rhea gave birth to her. The Heraion of Samos is located about 6 km from the ancient city in a marshy river basin near the sea. The Heraion dates back to as far as the Geometric Period in the 8th century BCE when it was made of wood. The first temple, the Hekatompedon, had only three walls,w as open at the front, and had a column of pillars in the middle to support the roof.


Above: Hekatompedon I (8th century) square columns in the cella. Below: Hekatompedon II (7th century). Pteron added columns in cella are gone. Both Heraia had a hipped roof. Image and explanation taken from Malina on Pinterest (https://www.pinterest.com/pin/76209418670735945/), on 11 March 2017.

The following version, Hekatompedon II, from the 7th century CE, had removed the central pillars and made pillar at the sides to support the roof. The temple was now on a platform and had a pillared gallery around it. In the Late Archaic Period, the temple was rebuilt again, and this was the first of the large, free-standing Ionic style temples. Hera Samia was represented by a cult image that was a white, wooden pillar or plank. During the Toneia festival, this image would be ritually bound with branches from the lygos tree, a kind of willow (Vitex agnus-castus) sacred to Hera, for when Rhea gave birth to her on Samos, Rhea grasped such a tree as Hera was being born.


Heraion of Argos, Reconstruction on a 1902 painting by Edward L- Tilton, Architect. Published originally in The Argive Heraeum (Band 1): General introduction, geology, architecture marble statuary and inscriptions — Boston [u.a.], 1902. Taken from Wikipedia, 11 March 2017, original location: http://digi.ub.uni-heidelberg.de/diglit/waldstein1902bd1/0162.

Argos is her second large cult centre, and she is called Hera Argeia after it. Argos also claimed to be her birth place. This temple lies 8 km from the urban centre of Argos, 5 km from Mykenai, and 9 km from Tiryns and Nauplia. The Argive Heraion had a temenos (holy precinct) encompassing three artificially levelled terraces, overseeing the Inachos plain. The top level was the location of the Old Temple, which burnt down in 423 BCE. The New Temple was built on the middle terrace, as were some other buildings. A stoa occupied the lowest level. Most archaeological remains date from the 7th-5th centuries BCE.


View from the Heraion of Argos into the Inachos plain, Argolis, Greece. Attribution: By Sarah Murray (Flickr: 091) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons. Downloaded 11 March 217.

While Mykenai is also cited to be close to Hera, as per Homeros, I have not found much information about there being a temple there. Indeed, Pausanias also mentions for Argos only two temples to Hera, dedicated to Hera Antheia and Hera Akraia, not the famous Heraion. As indicated above, the Sanctuary of Hera Argeia was apparently common to the main poleis of the Argolis region, roughly in between them: Argos, Mykenai, and Tiryns. These cities all made lavish sacrifices to try and outdo each other. It was a sort of ritualised competition/rivalry.

In Lakonia there were two native cults of Hera. One to Hera Aigophagos, which was founded according to myth by Herakles. During Herakles’ fight against Hippokoön and his children, Hera had not hindered him in any way, a change of pace from her usual obstructionism towards Herakles. Herakles then built the temple and sacrificed goats to her for lack of other suitable sacrificial animals. I have not been able to track down any archaeological or other information about this temple beside Pausanias’ account. The other cult to Hera peculiar to Lakonia was that of Hera Hyperkheiria, which was founded after an oracular utterance that she had saved Lakonia from a devastating flood of the Eurotas. From Pausanias’ account, I understand that this temple was near a temple to Hera Argeia, which was founded by Eurydike. Not the Eurydike of Orpheus, but the daughter of Lakedaimon and wife of Akrisios, son of Abas.


Plan of the Heraion at Olympia. By Encyclopædia Britannica. [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons, 12 March 2017.

Then there is Olympia, a site more notable for its sanctuary of Zeus Olympios, yet the Heraion seems to be older than the Olympeion. The Heraion was built in 590 BCE, most likely dedicated by the polis of Skillous, in the region called Triphylia. It is believed the entire sanctuary was originally dedicated to Hera, and that it was, at least a part of it, re-dedicated to Zeus Olympios after control of Olympia passed from Triphylia to Elis. It is pretty long and narrow, but this is not unusual for early Doric temples. The temple was surrounded by a colonnade of pillars, originally made of wood, and only gradually replaced with stone ones as the wood rotted. Because of the gradual process over Archaic even unto Roman times, the stone pillars were made of different materials and in different styles as were in fashion at the time, creating a rather variegated end result. The walls had a mudbrick superstructure, supported by a stone base, which is also common for Early Hellenic temple architecture.

Finally, I simply can not pass up the temple of Hera at Paestum, Campania, Italy. This temple is incredibly well preserved compared to other ruined temples. It was modelled after the Olympeion at Olympia and has 6 columns along the short sides, and 14 along the long sides. For an unknown reason, this temple was also aligned to a double-peaked mountain, which is unusual in Hellenic temple orientation.


Second temple of Hera, also called Neptun temple or Poseidon temple, Paestum (Poseidonia), Campania, Italy. By Norbert Nagel (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons, 11 March 2017.

I think that’s some the important holy sites of Hera.


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