Professor Reinhard Senff will address the topic “Olympia and the Western Greeks. A Peloponnesian Sanctuary and its Connections to the Western Greek Colonies” in the framework of the AAIA 2023 Visiting Lecture Program.
The sanctuary of Zeus at Olympia started as a local cult centre at the very end of the second millenium B.C. but soon attracted visitors from other regions of Greece and, finally, the whole Mediterranean. Over the course of the centuries it developed into a panhellenic centre, especially through the athletic games held every four years in honour of Zeus, the supreme god of the Greek pantheon, and other religious attractions such as its famous and important oracle.
Only citizens of Greek states were admitted to the games, but for religious ceremonies and other matters of concern the sanctuary was open to all. One of the regions especially well attested at Olympia is Western Greece: the Greek cities of the Adriatic, Sicily and Southern Italy. From their foundation, in which some cases Olympia was even said to have been involved, onwards the sanctuary became increasingly important as a centre for the display and for the identity-formation of the Western Greek city states. Treaties between them or with their local neighbours were placed under the protection of Zeus and published at Olympia. Many dedications were made by victorious participants in the athletic contests, but as the highest god of war Zeus also received rich spoils from military victors.
The wealthy tyrants of Western Greek cities found it increasingly important to participate in the equestrian contests of the games and manifested their victories in sumptuous sculptural groups. The most evident testimony for the intensive and long lasting relation between Olympia and the Western Greek cities are the treasuries, small temple-like buildings in which precious and delicate votive offerings were stored. They were built during the sixth century B.C. and still stood in the Roman Imperial Period, when Pausanias saw and described them. The written historical sources and an abundance of finds from the excavations give us a vivid picture of the varied nature of the relations between the Western Greek states and Olympia especially in the Archaic and Classical periods.
About the speaker
Professor Reinhard Senff is the recently retired Director of the Ancient Olympia Excavations (appointed 2005) and Second Director of the German Archaeological Institute at Athens. He will bring with him to Australia a wealth of experience of working at Olympia, one of the foremost ancient Greek sanctuaries from where the modern Olympic movement took its inspiration.