March 23 notes
Sanctuary of the great gods at Samothrace
- Just off shore of thrace, in Hellenistic period the sanctuary became a principle one. It was
beloved by Macedonian kings.
- Seemed to be independent for much of its history.
- We don’t know who the great gods are. But we think is it was taboo to utter their names,
collectively could be refered to as cabeiri. Usually given epithet gods or great gods. Offerings
have that inscription. If it is the cabeiri, they were cothonic deities associated with this part of
- Cabeiri sometimes Connected to an Olympian deity also, Hephaistos.
- For cabeiri, we think it includes pre-greek or not greek elements. Like Hittite elements. Another
reason, the names are never named. So this is a mystery cult, and the process of worship is
never to be described, hence mystery cult. Some sources do mention two female goddesses and
one male one. Axierus, axiocersa, axiocersus (last wo underworld deities). Along with them, a
servant often included named cadmilus. (sometimes shown as old man or son.)axierus seems to
be a great mother goddess. (coins depict this) (silver tetradrachm, Samothrace 280BC) we tend
to associated axierus with demeter. Cadmilus often shown as spous of axierus, seen similar to
- The cult of the great gods was a mystery cult. At first seems concerned with sailors. Offered
them safety and prosperity. But since mystery cult, know little. Herodotus does say he was
initiated but nothing else.
- comes under patronage of Macedonian kings. Perseus after 3 Macedonian war sought refuge
here, was arrested by romans.
- Site is confusing: has unsual topography. Built upon over 6 centuries, starting in 8 c.
- Site is confined to three narrow terrances. On mount hagios Georgios. Terrace divided by two
streams. Visitors entered eastern side, would pass through the ptolemaion (formal entrance),
commissioned by Ptolemy II. Propylon was entered through a porch, 6 Corinthian columns on
west, 6 ionic on east.
- Have a circular are with an altar at center (infront of ptolemaion)
- The main terrace between two streams, has all main monuments. Have a tholos, arsionoeion,
made on top of a pre-existing structure. This one was made btween 289-281 BC through
financial support of arsinoe II. She always had a great interest in Macedonia, return to her roots.
During this time she is married to Lysimachus. (ruler of thrace). At 20 meters in diameter, largest
covered round space. Bottom part was a fairly plain plan, had a doric entablature. Above it, have
a parapet consisting of plasters and marble screens. Who ever entered would be surprised at
o Typical ones had wrings of columns inside, this one had a space without any internal
support. Interior well decorated. Have an arrangement of Corinthian half columns,
engaged and on interface of plasters. Some had carved scenes of sacrificial rites.
o See flowers and bulls skull.
o We aren’t certain of its purpose. Some say it was to welcome sacred ambassadors
delegated by cities and associations to attend festivals here. The decorations, like
offering bowls, maybe show sacrifices.
- To the south of it, largest building, hall of the choral dancers (temenos).
o 34 x 23 meters.
o Have an ionic façade with figures that have wings.
o Has a dancers frieze. Was a continuous frieze showing hundreds of dancing maidens. o Becomes famous for Philip II, he met his wife here. It evokes an archaic sense in style.
(scopas was sculptor)
- The anaktoron, place to greet initiates. Dates to roman period.
- Most important building, the hieron.
o Called that, inscription was found close to it.
o Don’t know who dedicated it, but was wealthy maybe royal due to size.
o Limestone, marble, stucco
o 40 x 13 meters.
o Outside, looks like a temple. Have a double colonnade of columns outside of porch.
o Cella: largest, 11m. terminates in an apse. Was unroofed. Outside doesn’t look apse.
o The apse constitutes the most sacred part of the building, some say it was a grotto for
rituals for the great gods. Maybe are where the mystery was revealed. Know it was
decorated with two huge torches.
o Had akroteria along roofline, floral motifs and sculpted nikes in corner.
o Had two lateral doors. Both decorated with meander patterns.
o Stucco walls meant to imitate coarse ashlar masonry. Marble ceiling features complex
systems of coffers, some crowned with prancing centaurs.
o Some weird features: the apse, also have two long rows of marble benches supported
by sculpted lions legs. Think this offorded seats for spectators or participators for
ceremonies. In the cella, have evidence for libations and burned sacrifices. This was the
focus of the sanctuary.
o Date is problematic. See evidence for much restoration and work over time.
o Think it started around 325 BC. Some say l