Poseidon’s MDT – Day 12: Temples & Holy Places

Χαίρετε ἀναγνώστες!

Today I will discuss Poseidon’s temples and holy places.

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Map of the Sanctuary of Poseidon Isthmios. Source: http://www2.warwick.ac.uk/fac/arts/classics/students/modules/greekreligion/database/clunay/, consulted 12 August 2017.

His main holy place in Hellas, of Panhellenic importance, was the temple of Poseidon Isthmios in Korinthos, where the Isthmian Games were held. I have discussed these already yesterday and will not discuss them further here. However, because of its location, any traveller would go either way across the Isthmos would pass the Temple, and it was also located in easy travel distance from several harbour cities, which would be another reason why the temple was of great importance. This temple was built ca. 690-650 BCE.

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Map of the Sanctuary of Poseidon Sounios. Source: http://www2.warwick.ac.uk/fac/arts/classics/students/modules/greekreligion/database/clunbr/, consulted 12 August 2017.

Another well-known temple of Poseidon is the temple of Poseidon Sounios on Cape Sounion, at the very southern tip of the Attica peninsula. This temple is dated to at the middle 5th century BCE, but religious activity at the site goes back to at least the 7th century BCE. This first temple was made of porous limestone, typical of the Archaic period. This temple was destroyed in 480 BCE by the invading Persian forces. The new temple was built over the remains of the old one, with parts of the older one, like columns and steps being visible today under the ruins of the new temple. The new temple was built ca. 444-440 BCE. It was built out of marble from nearby Agrileza. The architecture is very akin to that of the temple of Nemesis Rhamnousia, and those of Ares and Hephaistos in Athens, which suggest they may be by the same architect. Very likely it was also rebuilt as part of Perikles’ building program. Interestingly, early on the temple was identified as being dedicated to Athena, and there was some debate about this until inscriptions at the temple proved definitively that it belonged to Poseidon. However, not very far from the Poseidon temple lies a, less well-preserved and less visible, temple that actually does belong to Athena surnamed Sounia. Given that Cape Sounion marked the southern end of Attica, it seems fitting that a temple of Athena would stand here, a t the edge of her polis.

The Erekhtheum on the Akropolis of Athens is also sacred to Poseidon and featured the spring that Poseidon created during the contest for Athens with Athena. Another cape ruled by Poseidon is Cape Tainaron in Lakonia, on the Mani (Μάνη, Mani is the modern pronunciation) peninsula. The Pelopponesos has three peninsulas sticking out of its southern edge, the middle one being Mani, which is also the southernmost cape of mainland Hellas. This Cape Tainaron is ruled by Poseidon Tainarios and is part of the domain of Sparta in Antiquity. Interestingly, this temple seems to have been a refuge for slaves, and several stelae found at the site record slaves being released from service. When Sparta was devastated by an earthquake in 464 BCE, it was determined by oracles to have been the wrath of Poseidon because the ephors (a rank of Spartan public official) had killed several helots that had sought refuge at the temple. The Sanctuary may also have functioned as a recruiting ground for mercenaries. Strabo describes the Sanctuary as containing a sacred grove and a cavern, while Pausanias mentions a cave-like temple with an agalma (cult image) set up at the entrance.

Because of these two major examples, one might assume all Capes were sacred to Poseidon, but you’d be wrong. The second southernmost cape of mainland Hellas, Cape Maleas, which is also the easternmost of the three southern peninsula’s sticking out of the Peloponnesos, was sacred to Apollon Maleatas. So, not all capes are sacred to Poseidon. But let’s get back on track.

There is also a temple in the old town of Taranto (Latin: Tarentum, Ancient Hellenic: Τάρᾱς, Taras) that was attributed to Poseidon by archaeologist Luigi Viola in the 19th century, however, it is now believed to be more likely attributed to a female Deity such as Hera, Artemis, or Persephone. An exact plan of the temple is not available, as spoliation, ruination, and decay over the centuries have left it in very bad shape. Two Doric style columns remain and some column drums. It is assumed these are part of later renovations and additions, with the original building being made of bricks and wood, going back to the 8th century BCE to the first Spartan colonists at the site.

These are the main temples I could find information on, others existed all over the Hellenic world, as Poseidon was a God of such great power and importance to the Hellenes. Many colonies in Magna Graecia had him among their chief Gods, even the chief God, of their public religion, which is logical as the colonists had come across the sea. Some were even named after him, with names as Poseidonia. Poseidonia, in fact, was the ancient Hellenic name of Paestum.

This will be all for today.

Ἔρρωσο.

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