Sunday, April 1, 2012

A sanctuary of Asklepios discovered at Daphnous


Archaeologist Maria-Fotini Papaconstantinou recently revealed details of a sanctuary of Asklepios discovered in the 2005-2007 construction of the Patras-Athens-Thessaloniki-Evzonoi Highway in the area of the Malian Gulf.
Aerial view of site and road construction
Unfortunately, the site was discovered at a very late stage during the construction of the road and Papaconstantinou’s team had to “race against time” to excavate, record and relocate the finds before the bulldozers moved in. “It was just before the deadline for excavation when we would have had to hand over the site to construction,” she said.  The excavations were carried out at speed, with the work being completed in six months. The remains of the sanctuary were transported stone by stone to an adjacent site and a restoration and presentation project followed.
The sanctuary was part of the ancient city of Daphnous that was located at  "Isiomata" in hills to the south of Aghios Konstantinos in Phthiotida. The modern town is identified with the ancient city’s harbour and is on the Euboean sea some 200 kilometres north of Athens, near the city of Lamia. The city of Daphnous was possibly occupied in Archaic times, with occupation continuing into Classical times. By the time of Strabo, who suggests it was founded by the Phocians (9.3.17), the city was in ruins. In fact, not a great deal is so far known about Daphnous, whether it was a originally Phocian or Lokrian city, but certainly it came to be known as a city of the Opuntian Lokrians.
The excavation brought to light parts of the ancient city and the cemeteries, with the most important discovery being the Sanctuary of Asklepios, which is among the earliest Asklepieia in the Greek mainland. The sanctuary was previously unknown and dates to the fifth century BCE.  It is very well preserved, though quite small. Its modest size, 30 by 15 metres, suggests that the town it served was quite small. The identity of the sanctuary as an Asklepeion was confirmed by the discovery of snake-shaped offerings and shards of pottery bearing the healing god’s name. Asklepios was the son of Apollo, and the god of medicine and healing. His sanctuaries typically include an area for patients to stay for their cure, and are often adjacent to a theatre as the Greeks took a holistic view of medicine, believing in treatment for the mind as well as for the body. When the excavation reports are published it will be interesting to know more about the constituent parts of the Sanctuary.

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