Sunday, April 29, 2012

New discovery in Messenia - a temple to a god of war?



Greek archaeologists have revealed the existence of a new temple in Messenia, dating back to the late 6th/early 5th century BC.  Between Elis and Messene, on the opposite side of the valley to the famous temple of Apollo, the remains have been found at an altitude of 1000 metres. The temple is reached by travelling along seven kilometres of dirt track above the village of Upper Melpeias to the site of the chapel of Prophet Elias, and has been identified by Dr. Xeni Arapogianni, former head of the 38th Ephorate of Antiquities.
Photo showing two phases of the temple from To Vima
The temple, which now exists only at foundation level, was discovered through the identification of a number of architectural fragments visible on the surface. It is thought by Dr Arapogianni that the fragments were scattered when the temple was demolished to build a later version.
The fragments were first discovered in 1995 but excavations began only in 2010, and revealed not only the existence of the temple but a number of exceptional finds including pottery, bronze objects and a large number of iron weapons (particularly spearheads). It is thought that the weapons had been dedicated at the temple.  One significant find is a bronze statuette of a naked male, possibly a warrior as he holds a spear in one hand.
Photo To Vima.
Dr Arapogianni considers that this is evidence for the temple being dedicated to a deity of war. However, the fact that the temple is visible from the temple of Apollo on the opposite hillside and the similarity of the offerings found there gives rise to a range of possible attributions, including a war god, but possibly Artemis or Athena.
A terrace on the top of the hill was leveled to accommodate the structure, which is estimated to be around 23 meters long. The maximum extant dimensions are 20.65 × 10.75 meters and the thickness of the walls ranges from 0.80 to 0.90m. A portion of the east wall has been completely destroyed because it served as the foundation of the Christian church.
The interior of the main structure revealed a smaller building of 15.60 × 2.18 metres constructed from stones without any mortar, the east side of which was also damaged. The floor of the temple consisted of small blocks with mortar.
Arapogianni thinks that this small structure was the first, archaic, temple dated to the end of the 6th century and the one that was later dismantled, resulting in the outlying scattered architectural fragments.  She thinks that it was probably built by the Spartans, the conquerors of Messenia, and perhaps the locals were responsible for the building of the larger, later temple once they had thrown off the Spartan yoke.
Finds include copper bracelets ending in a snake's head, a bronze bowl embossed with a representation of a woman holding a branch, iron studs and utensils and what appears to be a bronze handle ending in a lion's head. There were also iron weapons and at least 20 spearheads. A dedicatory inscription on a clay vase reveals ‘ANETHEKEN’.
However, a puzzling fact is that although stone metopes, triglyphs and cornices have been found, the site is so far lacking columns or capitals.  One possible solution would be that wooden columns were used, but this would make the temple very rare at this date.  It is hoped that further research will shed light on this mystery.
Architectural fragments showing triglyphs, To Vima.

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