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by Archaeology Newsroom

Problems of the temple and cult of Apollo at Bassae

The temple of Apollo Epikurius at Bassae did not lie isolated on the slope of Kotylion Mountain. On the contrary, it is certain that it stood among numerous buildings, some even monumental, of the archaic and classic period. This is also ascertained by Ludwig Ross and later scholars. Therefore, we are obliged to revise the image of the temple as it was created by the romantic mood of the 19th century, which had located the temple “in the solitude and wild nature of the Arcadic landscape” The building density in the researched areas, especially north of the temple, is obvious in the topographic plan, although the phase of excavation shown in it is not the final. The buildings arrayed to the north across the temple are monumental edifices, but we do not know their function as yet.

On the North and Northwest and close to the temple, four sites offered ample evidence, that a quantity of limestones, for the erection of the temple, had been quarried there. From the excavations of the same area come the most important finds dating, in their majority, from the archaic period. Only few, found in the upper layers, were classic sherds, while votive weapons (iron and bronze spear and arrow heads, minute bronze helmets, leggings and shields ) undoubtedly, offerings to the Bassitis Apollo, who at that time must have been worshiped as a martial god, were found in abundance. Remnants from melting and casting metals were also found in abundance, a fact indicating the existance of metallurgic workshops, built close to the temple. The great number of small vases made of friable clay, which imitate Corinthian, Laconian and Elian pottery, must also be ascribed to local workshops. On the other hand, the imported minor-arts objects are also man: Elian, Corinthian, Laconian, as well as lead offerings. From the rest finds worth mentioning are:

a. A bronze horse statuette with a compact perforated base, from the late geometric period.

b. A bronze rein ornament, from the late geometric period.

c. A clay statuette of a woman enthroned, from the archaic period.

d. An iron statuette of a male figure (Apollo), from the early seventh century BC.

e. Bronze mirrors.

f. Male figures on cut-out, metallic sheets.

g. A bronze head of Athena, from the late geometric period.

h. A late geometric bronze statuette of a Kouros (Apollo) from an Arcadian workshop, whose craftman-ship reminds of woodwork. Until recently we had no indication of the location of the archaic temple, apart from the architectonic members belonging to it.

The 1970s excavations (1970, 1975-77) proved to be especially important. The foundations of a large rectangular archaic building, which had remained unnoticed, were discovered during the 1970 research on the south of the Ictinian temple. Both edifices have the same orientation. During the 1980 excavation a few trenches were made on the pteron stylobate and in the cella, the latter so deep as to reach the natural rock. Finally, another trench on the west pteron revealed a wall of flat, unhewn stones, that runs parallel to the side toichobate of the cella. It should be noticed that the upper layer of this wall corresponds, as regards its depth, to the floor pavement of the cella. The finds of both trenches, on the west pteron and the cella are archaic. Therefore, one could conclude that the cella pavement and the wall probably belong to the archaic, pro-Ictinian temple. The fact that the wall runs parallel to the cella wall means, that the archaic temple had the same orientation with the Ictinian one, alike the archaic edifice mentioned above. Furthermore, one of the two small temples close to the Kotylion peak is also oriented from north to south, as is also the case with two other Area-die temples: that of Athena at Aliphei-ra and the Doric one, which we located in 1969, at Prassidaki, close to Lepreon. Consequently, the orientation of the Ictinian temple was dictated by special reasons, cult reasons for sure, prevailing particularly in Arcadia. Which are these cult reason? Before we answer this question we must remind, that the orientation from north to south is not the only peculiarity of the temple. The Corinthian column at the far end of the cella, where in the Greek temples usually stood the cult statue of the god, is another peculiarity.

But, let us go back to the N-S orientation.

We should recall the close relation of Apollo with the Northern Countries, where Apollo had his dwelling and the eponyme “Hyperborios”. From there he comes every spring in Greece, inhabiting two of its most importand religious centres, Delphi and Delos.

To an aboriginal cult can probably be also ascribed the peculiar Corinthian column in the cella, for which no satisfactory explanation has been proposed as yet.

According to a most ancient tradition the deity is represented under the form of a column, pillar, cube, pyramid, cone or tree. This notion goes back, at least, to the Minoan and Mycenaean era and is also present in eastern religions. In the temple of Apollo at Bassae his cult as Hyperborios recalls the column-shaped Hyperborios Apollo Agyieas, whose presence in the entire region is manifested in many ways and leads our thought to the solitary Corinthian column raising in the temple. It is different from the half-columns not only for its marble capital, which is Corinthian, while those of the half-columns are Ionic; but also for its dissimilar in shape and volume base and the appearance of its shaft, which is more slender than that of the half-columns. Finally, it must be added that the actual parts of this column, that have been recently discovered in the surface layers around the temple, make the column reconstruction more accurate.