December 21, 2007

Archimedes Palimpsest

Stomachion is a dissection puzzle in the Archimedes Palimpsest
Stomachion is a dissection puzzle in the Archimedes Palimpsest

The Archimedes Palimpsest is a palimpsest on parchment in the form of a codex which originally was a copy of an otherwise unknown work of the ancient mathematician, physicist, and engineer Archimedes of Syracuse and other authors. Archimedes lived in the third century BC, but the copy was made in the 10th century by an anonymous scribe. In the 12th century the codex was unbound and washed, in order that the parchment leaves could be folded in half and reused for a Christian liturgical text. It was a book of nearly 90 pages before being made a palimpsest of 177 pages; the older leaves folded so that each became two leaves of the liturgical book. The erasure was incomplete, and Archimedes' work is now readable using digital processing of ultraviolet, X-ray, and visible light.

In 1906 it was briefly inspected in Constantinople and was published, from photographs, by the Danish philologist Johan Ludvig Heiberg; shortly thereafter Archimedes' Greek text was translated into English by Thomas Heath. Before that it was not widely known among mathematicians, physicists, or historians. It contains

  • "Equilibrium of Planes"
  • "Spiral Lines"
  • "The Measurement of the Circle"
  • "Sphere and Cylinder"
  • "On Floating Bodies" (only known copy in Greek)
  • "The Method of Mechanical Theorems" (only known copy)
  • "Stomachion" (only known copy)

The palimpsest also contains speeches by the 4th century BC politician Hypereides, and a commentary on Aristotle's Categories by Alexander of Aphrodisias.[1]

Mathematical content

The most remarkable of the above works is The Method, of which the palimpsest contains the only known copy. In his other works, Archimedes often proves the equality of two areas or volumes with his method of double contradiction: assuming that the first is bigger than the second leads to a contradiction, as does the assumption that the first be smaller than the second; so the two must be equal. These proofs, still considered to be rigorous and correct, used what we might now consider secondary-school geometry with rare brilliance. Later writers often criticized Archimedes for not explaining how he arrived at his results in the first place. This explanation is contained in The Method.

Essentially then, the method consists in dividing the two areas or volumes in infinitely many stripes of infinitesimal width, and "weighing" the stripes of the first figure against those of the second, evaluated in terms of a finite Egyptian fraction series. He considered this method as a useful heuristic but always made sure to prove the results found in this manner using the rigorous arithmetic methods mentioned above.

He was able to solve problems that would now be treated by integral calculus, which was formally invented in the 17th century by Isaac Newton and Gottfried Leibniz, working independently. Among those problems were that of calculating the center of gravity of a solid hemisphere, the center of gravity of a frustum of a circular paraboloid, and the area of a region bounded by a parabola and one of its secant lines. Contrary to exaggerations found in some 20th century calculus textbooks, he did not use anything like Riemann sums, either in the work embodied in this palimpsest or in any of his other works. (For explicit details of the method used, see How Archimedes used infinitesimals.)

A problem solved exclusively in the Method is the calculation of the volume of a cylindrical wedge, a result that reappears as theorem XVII (schema XIX) of Kepler's Stereometria.

Some pages of the Method remained unused by the author of the Palimpsest and thus they are still lost. Between them, an announced result concerned the volume of the intersection of two cylinders, a figure that Apostol and Mnatsakian have renamed n = 4 Archimedean globe (and the half of it, n = 4 Archimedean dome), whose volume relates to the n-polygonal pyramid.

In Heiberg's time, much attention was paid to Archimedes' brilliant use of infinitesimals to solve problems about areas, volumes, and centers of gravity. Less attention was given to the Stomachion, a problem treated in the Palimpsest that appears to deal with a children's puzzle. Reviel Netz of Stanford University has argued that Archimedes discussed the number of ways to solve the puzzle. Modern combinatorics leads to the result that this number is 17,152. Due to the fragmentary state of the palimpsest it is unknown whether or not Archimedes came to the same result. This may have been the most sophisticated work in the field of combinatorics in Greek antiquity.

Modern history

From the 1920s, the manuscript lay unknown in the Paris apartment of a collector of manuscripts and his heirs. In 1998 the ownership of the palimpsest was disputed in federal court in New York in the case of the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem versus Christie's, Inc. At some time in the distant past, the Archimedes manuscript had lain in the library of Mar Saba, near Jerusalem, a monastery bought by the Patriarchate in 1625. The plaintiff contended that the palimpsest had been stolen from one of its monasteries in the 1920s. Judge Kimba Wood decided in favor of Christie's Auction House on laches grounds, and the palimpsest was bought for $2 million by an anonymous information technology person.

The palimpsest is now at the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore, where conservation continues (as it had suffered considerably from mold).

A team of imaging scientists from the Rochester Institute of Technology and Johns Hopkins University has used computer processing of digital images from various spectral bands, including ultraviolet and visible light, to reveal more of Archimedes' text. Dr. Reviel Netz [2] of Stanford University has been trying to fill in gaps in Heiberg's account with these images.

Sometime after 1938, one owner of the manuscript forged four Byzantine-style religious images in the manuscript in an effort to increase its value. It appeared that these had rendered the underlying text forever illegible. Then, in May 2005, highly-focused X-rays produced at the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center in Menlo Park, California, were used to begin deciphering the parts of the 174-page text that have not yet been revealed. The production of x-ray fluorescence was described by Keith Hodgson, director of SSRL. "Synchrotron light is created when electrons traveling near the speed of light take a curved path around a storage ring—emitting electromagnetic light in X-ray through infrared wavelengths. The resulting light beam has characteristics that make it ideal for revealing the intricate architecture and utility of many kinds of matter—in this case, the previously hidden work of one of the founding fathers of all science." [3]

In April 2007 it was announced that a new text had been found in the palimpsest, which was a commentary on the work of Aristotle attributed to Alexander of Aphrodisias. Doctor William Noel, the curator of manuscripts at the Walters Art Museum, said in an interview: "You start thinking striking one palimpsest is gold, and striking two is utterly astonishing. But then something even more extraordinary happened." This referred to the previous discovery of a text by Hypereides, an Athenian politician from the 4th century BC, which has also been found within the palimpsest.

Greek mathematics

Greek mathematics, as that term is used in this article, is the mathematics written in Greek, developed from the 6th century BC to the 5th century AD around the Eastern shores of the Mediterranean.


Classical Greek mathematics refers to the mathematics studied before the Hellenistic period, when Greek mathematics was mostly limited to the Greek city-states in ancient Greece, Asia Minor, Libya, and Sicily.

Greek mathematics studied from the time of the Hellenistic period onwards (from 323 BC) refers to all mathematics of those who wrote in the Greek language, since Greek mathematics was now not only written by Greeks but also non-Greek scholars throughout the Hellenistic world, which was spread across the Eastern end of the Mediterranean. Greek mathematics from this point merged with Egyptian and Babylonian mathematics to give rise to the latter phase of Greek mathematics known as Hellenistic mathematics. The most important centre of learning during this period was Alexandria in Egypt, which attracted scholars from across the Hellenistic world, including mostly Greek and Egyptian scholars, as well as Jewish, Persian, Phoenician and even Indian scholars.[1]

Most of the mathematical texts written in Greek were found in Greece, Egypt, Asia Minor, Mesopotamia, and Sicily.


Greek mathematics constitutes a major period in the history of mathematics, fundamental in respect of geometry and the idea of formal proof. Greek mathematics also contributed importantly to ideas on number theory, mathematical analysis, applied mathematics, and, at times, approached close to integral calculus.

Well-known figures in Greek mathematics include Pythagoras, a shadowy figure from the isle of Samos associated partly with number mysticism and numerology, but more commonly with his theorem, and Euclid, who is known for his Elements, a canon of geometry for many centuries.

The most characteristic product of Greek mathematics may be the theory of conic sections, largely developed in the Hellenistic period. The methods used made no explicit use of algebra, nor trigonometry.


Greek mathematics has origins that are presumed to go back to the 7th century BC, but are not easily documented. It is generally believed that it built on the computational methods of earlier Babylonian and Egyptian mathematics, and it may well have had Phoenician influences.

Greek mathematics proper is thought to have begun from the late 500s BC, when Thales and Pythagoras brought knowledge of Egyptian and Babylonian mathematics to Greece. Thales used geometry to solve problems such as calculating the height of pyramids and the distance of ships from the shore. Pythagoras stated the Pythagorean theorem and constructed Pythagorean triples algebraically, according to Proclus' commentary on Euclid.

The high period

Mathematical developments took place in Greek-speaking centres as far apart as Egypt and Sicily, and with a high estimation of the intellectual and cultural status of mathematics (for example in the school of Plato). The Sand Reckoner by Archimedes, a resident of Syracuse, bespeaks a man who made major discoveries, and whose originality and accomplishments are commonly reckoned to be on par with those of Isaac Newton and C. F. Gauss.

Greek mathematics and astronomy reached a rather advanced stage during Hellenism, with scholars such as Hipparchus, Posidonius and Ptolemy, capable of the construction of simple analogue computers such as the Antikythera mechanism.

Transmission and the manuscript tradition

Although the earliest Greek language texts on mathematics that have been found were written after the Hellenistic period, many of these are considered to be copies of works written during and before the Hellenistic period. Nevertheless, the dates of Greek mathematics are more certain than the dates of earlier mathematical writing, since a large number of chronologies exist that, overlapping, record events year by year up to the present day. Even so, many dates are uncertain; but the doubt is a matter of decades rather than centuries.

During the Middle Ages, Europe derived much of its knowledge of Greek mathematics via Islamic mathematics. The texts of Greek mathematics were for the most part preserved and transmitted in the Muslim world.

December 20, 2007

Blog Archive

December 14, 2007

Xystus (Architectural term)

Xystus was the Greek architectural term for the covered portico of the gymnasium, in which the exercises took place during the winter or in rainy weather etc. The Romans applied the term to the garden walk in front of the porticoes, which was divided into flower beds with borders of box, and to a promenade between rows of large trees.

"Xystus" was used, by extension, to refer to the whole building containing the gymnasium and portico, as in the xysti of Jerusalem and Elis.


Triple-stepped crepidoma with stylobate at top, in the Doric Temple of Segesta, Sicily
Triple-stepped crepidoma with stylobate at top, in the Doric Temple of Segesta, Sicily
The Roman Maison Carrée, Nîmes, illustrating the Roman version of a stylobate
The Roman Maison Carrée, Nîmes, illustrating the Roman version of a stylobate

In classical Greek architecture, a stylobate (Greek: στυλοβάτης) is the top step of the crepidoma, the stepped platform on which colonnades of temple columns are placed (it is the "floor" of the temple). The platform was built on a leveling course that flattened out the ground immediately beneath the temple.

Some methodologies use the word stylobate to describe only the topmost step of the temple's base, while stereobate is used to describe the remaining steps of the platform beneath the stylobate and just above the leveling course. Others use the term to refer to the entire platform.

The stylobate was often designed to relate closely to the dimensions of other elements of the temple. In Greek Doric temples, the length and width of the stylobate were related, and in some early Doric temples the column height was one third the width of the stylobate. The Romans took a different approach in their interpretation of the Corinthian order, using a much loftier stylobate that was not graduated except in the approach to the portico.

List of Stoae



  • North Stoa (Lower Story): Two-storied Doric on the north side of the agora.
  • South Stoa: Two-aisled on the south side of the agora.

[edit] Athens

  • Stoa poikile (Painted Porch): on the north side of the Ancient Agora of Athens.
  • Stoa of Attalos: Two-storied on the eastern side of the Agora.
  • Stoa Amphiaraion: on the east side of the Sanctuary of Amphiaraios, southeast of the Theater.
  • Stoa of Hermes located to to the north of the agora.
  • Stoa Basileios (Royal Stoa): in the northeast corner of the Agora.
  • Stoa of Zeus (Eleutherios): Two-aisled in the northwest corner of the Agora.
  • South Stoa I (of Athens): on the south side of the Agora, located between the Heliaia and the Enneakrounos.
  • South Stoa II: on the southern edge of the Agora, on the approximate location of the South Stoa I, between the Heliaia, and the Middle Stoa.
  • Stoa of Artemis Brauronia: Stoa with wings; the south boundary of the Sanctuary of Artemis Brauronia, on the Acropolis, southeast of the Propylaia, west of the Chalkotheke.
  • Middle Stoa: approximately in the middle of the Agora and dividing it into north and south areas.
  • East stoa a small stoa in the south-east quadrant of the agora.
  • Doric Stoa: near Theater of Dionysos in the Sanctuary of Dionysos Eleuthereus on the south slope of the Acropolis, sharing its north wall with the back wall of the stage building of the Theater of Dionysos.



  • South Stoa I: south of the Sanctuary of Apollo and west of the Oblique Stoa and the L-shaped Stoa of the Agora of the Delians.
  • Stoa of Philip: Two-part south of the Sanctuary of Apollo, between the South Stoa and the harbour.
  • Oblique Stoa: south of the Sanctuary of Apollo, south of the L-shaped Stoa of the Agora of the Delians.
  • Stoa of Antigonos: Two-aisled the north boundary of the Sanctuary of Apollo.
  • L-shaped Stoa of the Agora of the Delians: Stoa creating north and east sides of a court, south of the Sanctuary of Apollo.
  • Stoa of the Naxians: L-shaped forming the southwest corner of the Sanctuary of Apollo.
  • L-Shaped Stoa: L-shaped bounded the Sanctuary of Artemis (Artemision) on the eastern side of the Sanctuary of Apollo.


  • Stoa of the Athenians: in the Sanctuary of Apollo, south of the Apollo Temple platform, with the southern, polygonal wall of the platform forming the north wall of the stoa.
  • West Stoa: projecting from the west wall of the Sanctuary of Apollo, southwest of the Theater.
  • Stoa of Attalos I: in the Sanctuary of Apollo, east of theater and northeast of the Temple of Apollo, intersecting and projecting east from the peribolos wall.



  • Stoa at Artemision: Three-sided surrounding the northern end of the Sanctuary of Artemis.



  • Stoa of the Great Forecourt: L-shaped stoa with rooms; northeast of the Greater Propylon, outside the Sanctuary of Demeter and Kore, bounding east and west sides of a court.


  • Stoa of Apollo Maleatas: on the north side of the Sanctuary of Apollo Maleatas.



  • South Stoa: T-shaped the southern boundary of the Sanctuary of Zeus (Altis).
  • Echo Hall (Painted Stoa): on the east side of the Sanctuary of Zeus (Altis), forming an eastern boundary to the central sanctuary.



  • Sacred Stoa: Two-aisled stoa located in the north of the agora in the center of the city.
  • Stoa of Athena Sanctuary: One-aisled stoa facing south, forming southern extremity of Sanctuary of Athena Polias.



  • South Stoa: South Stoa, SW of the main altar in Sanctuary of Hera, Samos .
  • North West Stoa: North West Stoa, NW of main altar and W of N gate at Sanctuary of Hera.


  • West Hall: along western wall of the Sanctuary of Poseidon, at a right angle and adjacent to the North Hall.
  • Sounion, North Hall: along the northern wall of the Sanctuary of Poseidon at the western end.



  • Middle Stoa: in the Sanctuary of Apollo Thermios, running north-south between the Temple of Apollo and the South Stoa.
  • South Stoa: on the south side of the Sanctuary of Apollo Thermios, parallel to the southern sanctuary wall.
  • East Stoa: at the southeast corner of the Sanctuary of Apollo Thermios.


The restored Stoa of Attalos in Athens.
The restored Stoa of Attalos in Athens.

Stoa (plural, stoae or stoæ) in Ancient Greek architecture; covered walkways or porticos, commonly for public usage. Early stoae were open at the entrance with columns lining the side of the building, creating an enveloping, protective atmosphere and were usually of Doric order. Later examples consisted of mainly two stories, with a roof supporting the inner colonnades where shops or sometimes offices were located and followed Ionic architecture. These buildings were open to the public; merchants could sell their goods, artists could display their artwork, and religious gatherings could take place. Stoae usually surrounded the marketplaces of large cities.

Sima (architecture)

In classical architecture, a sima is the upturned edge of a roof which acts as a gutter. Sima comes from the Greek simos, meaning bent upwards.


The sima runs around all four sides of a building, the raking sima is continuous, while the sima on the other sides is broken by spouts. Early sima featured tubular or half cylindrical spouts, but these were mostly replaced with animal head spouts by the middle of the 6th century BC.

Simas may be made of terracotta or stone.


Simas were normally decorated. Stone simas had continuous naratives, especially on the raking sides where they would not be interrupted by spouts, similar to a frieze. Terracotta simas had repeating patterns that were easy to reproduce with molds.


A Prytaneion was seat of the Prytaneis (executive), and so the seat of government in ancient Greece. The term is used to describe any of a range of ancient structures where officials met - normally relating to the government of a city - but the term is also used to refer to the building where the officials and winners of the Olympic games met at Olympia.

The Prytaneion normally stood in centre of the city, in the agora. The building contained the holy fire of Hestia, the goddess of the hearth, and symbol of the life of the city.

Tholos, Athens

At the southwest side of the agora in Athens, and part of the Bouleuterion complex stood the Tholos, a round temple (Tholos is the Greek word for circle), eighteen metres in diameter, which served as seat of the Prytaneis of Athens and so was their Prytaneion. It functioned as a kind of all purpose venue, with both a dining hall and sleeping quarters for some of the officials.[1] This accommodation was necessary as, after the reforms under Cleisthenes, one third of the senate had to be present in the complex at all times.

It was built around 470BCE by Cimon, to serve as a dining hall for the boule (members of the senate).[1] The site had previously been occupied by an earlier civic building, the Prytanikon.[2]

Prytaneion, Olympia

At Olympia, the Prytaneion was where the priests and magistrates lived; the high priests lived in the Theokoleon.[3] It stands to the north-west of the Temple of Hera and was used for celebrations and feasts by the winners of the games.[4] It also housed the Altar of Hestia where the original Olympic flame once burnt.[4]

Prytaneion, Ephesus

Peristasis (architecture)

A peripteros with a peristasis.
A peripteros with a peristasis.

The Peristasis (Greek περίστασις) was a four-sided porch or hall of columns surrounding the cella in an ancient Greek peripteros temple. This allowed priests to pass round the cella (along a pteron) in cultic processions. If such a hall of columns surrounds a patio or garden, it is called a peristyle rather than a peristasis.

In ecclesial architecture, it is also used of the area between the baluster of a Catholic church and the high altar (what is usually called the sanctuary or chancel).


A peripteros with a peristasis.
A peripteros with a peristasis.

Peripteros (Greek - περίπτερος) is the special name given to a type of ancient Greek or Roman temple surrounded by a portico with columns.

It refers to the useful element for the architectural definition of buildings surrounded around their outside by a colonnade (pteron) on all four sides of the cella (naos), creating a four-sided arcade (peristasis). By extension, it also means simply the perimeter of a building (typically a classical temple), when that perimeter is made up of columns[1].

The term is frequently used of buildings in the Doric order[1].


The peripteros can be a portico, a kiosk or a chapel. If it made up of four columns, it is tetrastyle; of 6, hexastyle; of 8, octastyle; of 10, decastyle; and of 12, dodecastyle. If the columns are fitted into the wall instead of standing alone, it is called a pseudo-peripteros[citation needed]


In ancient Greek and Roman architecture, a peribolos was a court enclosed by a wall, especially one surrounding a sacred area such as a temple, shrine, or altar. Peribolos walls (which may also be referred to as temenos walls) were sometimes composed of stone posts and slabs supported by poros sills.

Famous examples included:

> The peribolos wall and gate in the Sanctuary of Zeus (Altis), north of the Temple of Zeus at Olympia, Greece;

> The peribolos enclosing the Altar of the Twelve Gods near the north end of the Athens Agora; and

> The Terrace created by retaining and peribolos walls around the Sanctuary of Athena Pronaia (Marmaria), southeast of the Sanctuary of Apollo at Delphi, Greece


On either side of a doorway, the wall of the Temple of Despoina at Lycosura has a course of orthostates with string courses above them
On either side of a doorway, the wall of the Temple of Despoina at Lycosura has a course of orthostates with string courses above them

In the context of classical Greek architecture, orthostates are squared stone blocks much greater in height than depth that are usually built into the lower portion of a wall. They are so called because they seem to "stand upright" rather than to lie on their sides. It is typical in Greek architecture for pairs of orthostates to form the thickness of a wall, one serving as the inner and the other serving as the outer face of the wall. Above a course of orthostates, it is common to lay a course of stones spanning the width of the wall and joining its two faces (a binder course).

The term has been generalized for use in the description of the architecture of many cultures. In Assyrian practice, orthostates are often intricately carved. The term may be used more generally of other upright-standing stones, including megalithic menhirs.


Plan of a temple with opisthodomos highlighted
Plan of a temple with opisthodomos highlighted

An opisthodomos was the room present at the rear of some Greek temples. It was located behind the naos. By balancing the pronaos at the front of the temple the addition of an opisthodomos could create a symmetrical design.

Opisthodomos are present in the layout of:


Metroon (metrôon) was the name given to a building dedicated to the mother goddess, Cybele, Rhea, or Demeter, in Ancient Greece.

Metroon at the Agora, Athens

The Metroon in the Ancient Agora of Athens was originally used as the meeting chamber of the boule or city council. At the end of the 5th century BCE, when a new Bouleuterion was built, the building was dedicated to the mother goddess. The Metroon also housed the official archives of the city.[1]

Metroon at Olympia

Part of the complex of Olympia, and sited immediately below the terrace which houses the Treasuries, is the late 4th/early 3rd century Metroon.[2]


Greece Lycosura, Lykosoura, Lycosoura (Λυκόσουρα)
View SE toward the Temple of Despoina at Lycosoura.
Lycosura (Greece)
Coordinates 37°23′23″N, 22°1′51.67″E
Country Greece
Region Arkadia
Elevation 568 m
Controlling City Megalopolis
Peak Period Hellenistic to Roman

Lycosura (Greek, Ancient: Λυκόσουρα, Modern: Palaeokastro or Siderokastro) was a city of Arcadia reputed to be the most ancient city in Greece and, indeed, the world. Its current significance is chiefly associated with the sanctuary of the goddess Despoina, which contained a colossal sculptural group perhaps made by Damophon of Messene; this group comprises acrolithic-technique statues of Despoina and Demeter seated on a throne, with statues of Artemis and the Titan Anytus standing on either side of them - all in Pentelic marble. The dates of both the temple and the sculptural group have occasioned some dispute. Remains of a stoa, altars and other structures have also been found. The Sanctuary of Despoina at Lycosoura is located 9 km WSW of Megalopolis, 6.9 km SSE of Mt. Lycaion, and 160 km SW of Athens. There is a small museum at the archaeological site housing small finds as well as part of the cult group, while the remains of the cult statues of Despoina and Demeter are displayed at the National Archaeological Museum of Athens.

Mythology and history

View SW from inside the Stoa toward the temple of Despoina.
View SW from inside the Stoa toward the temple of Despoina.

The chthonic goddess worshiped by the Arcadians under the title Despoina (Δέσποινα: the Mistress), later conflated with Kore, was originally considered to be the daughter of Poseidon Hippios and Demeter, rather than of Zeus and Demeter as was Kore.[1] Her real name could not be revealed to anyone except those initiated to her mysteries at Lycosura; this name is consequently unknown.

In the 2nd century CE, the Greek periegetic writer Pausanias, relying on personal observations, available texts, and consultation with local persons, wrote the only extant account of the city and its sanctuary. He relates that Lycosura was founded by Lycaon the son of Pelasgus,[2] and that it was the oldest city in the world.[3] He notes that Cleitor the grandson of Arcas (whence the toponym Arcadia) dwelled in Lycosura.[4]

In 368/7 BCE, when many cities in the region were unified into the city of Megalopolis through persuasion or force, the citizens of Lycosura, Trapezus, Lycaea, and Tricoloni refused to relocate.[5] The citizens of Trapezus were massacred or driven into exile by the Arcadians, but the citizens of Lycosura were spared due to reverence for the Sanctuary of Despoina, where they had sought asylum.[6] Many of the cities of the region were thus abandoned in favor of Megalopolis and their sanctuaries fell out of use.[7] Pausanias states that the Sanctuary of Despoina was 40 stades (7.4 km) from Megalopolis, which exercised political control over the sanctuary.[8] In the 2nd century CE a statue of the emperor Hadrian was dedicated in the temple. Coins from Megalopolis of the Severan period in the early 3rd century CE appear to depict the cult statue group. [7] Despite its significance to the Arcadians and occasional notice from the wider Mediterranean world, the cult of Despoina appears to have remained tied to this one sanctuary at Lycosura.[9]


Overview of the site

Area shaded purple approximates the sacred precinct.
Area shaded purple approximates the sacred precinct.

The site of Lycosura occupies a hill of 632 m in the wooded, mountainous region south of the river Plataniston. The Sanctuary of Despoina is sited in a declivity on the north-eastern face of the hill occupied by the city. The temple and considerable remains of the cult statuary group were discovered in 1889 CE by the Greek Archaeological Society, well before the advent of stratographic excavation techniques. Dating of the finds and structures thus remains problematic, although later excavations and studies have attempted to clarify the situation. While the site of the city remains largely unexcavated, the sanctuary of Despoina has been thoroughly uncovered and consists of a temple, a stoa, an area of theater-like seats, three altars, and an enigmatic structure conventionally called the Megaron. Pausanias also describes a temple of Artemis Hegemone (Artemis the Leader) at the entrance to the sanctuary on its eastern side;[10] this structure and a number of others mentioned by the author have not to date been identified archaeologically. Traces of the temenos wall (boundary of the sacred area) have been detected on the north and the east sides of the sanctuary; the southern and western limits of the sacred area are thus unknown.

Temple of Despoina, Stoa, and altars

The Temple of Despoina with the theater-like seating area to the left
The Temple of Despoina with the theater-like seating area to the left

The Temple of Despoina is prostyle-hexastyle in plan and in the Doric order - i.e. it had six Doric columns across the front façade only. In plan, the stylobate (platform) of the temple measures 11.15 by 21.35 m and is divided between a pronaos (front portico) and a cella.[9] The lower portion of the walls of the temple's cella are built of limestone, consisting of a course of orthostates capped by two string courses; the walls are then completed to the level of the roof in fired clay brick, which would then have been plastered. The six columns of the façade are in marble, as is the entablature. A curious feature of this temple is the doorway in the south wall facing the theater-like area. Although uncommon, side doorways are known from other temples in Arkadia: i.e. Athena Alea at Tegea, and Apollo Epikourios at Bassai.

A decorated corner geison block from the entablature of the temple of Despoina
A decorated corner geison block from the entablature of the temple of Despoina

Rather than extending as steps along the four sides of the temple, the stepped crepidoma spans only the front of the temple and has returns on the sides as far as the antae. The architecture also deviates from the standard Doric schema in that its Doric frieze is 1.5x the height of the architrave.[11] At the rear of the cella is a massive, c. 1m high stone podium designed to hold the cult statuary group, in front of which is a mosaic decorating the floor. General consensus holds that the first construction of this temple dates to the 4th century BCE. There were several repairs in the Roman period.

To the south of the temple, inset into the slope of the hill, is a theater-like area with ten rows of stone seats ranging from 21 to 29 m in length. These rows of seats are uncurved and parallel with the south wall of the temple.

View of the sanctuary looking WNW from the area of the Megaron: (L to R) theater-like area, temple of Despoina, stoa, altars.
View of the sanctuary looking WNW from the area of the Megaron: (L to R) theater-like area, temple of Despoina, stoa, altars.

To the NE of the temple, there was a Stoa also in the Doric order with a single story and an internal colonnade, measuring 14 by 64 m. Foundations for a room of uncertain function measuring 5.5 by 6 m are connected to the west end of the stoa. Pausanias reports that the stoa contained a panel painted with matters pertaining to the mysteries and four bas-relief sculptures in white marble depicting:[12]

  1. Zeus and the Fates
  2. Hercules wrestling Apollo for the Delphic tripod
  3. nymphs and pans
  4. The historian Polybios with an inscription praising his wisdom.

Unfortunately, none of these reliefs has been recovered in the excavations. Similar use of a stoa to display artwork is know for the Stoa Poikile (Painted Stoa) of ancient Athens, where scenes were painted directly onto the rear wall of the structure. Stoas, as well as treasuries, were frequently used at sanctuaries to store votive gifts to the deities: e.g. the stoa and treasury of the Athenians at Delphi and the multiple treasuries at Olympia.

Three small, stone altars were found in the area c. 15m to the east of the temple dedicated to Despoina, Demeter, and the Great Mother respectively.[13] Many votive gifts and offerings were also found in the excavation of the sanctuary.

Megaron and beyond

Veil of Despoina
Veil of Despoina

The structure termed the Megaron (Great Hall) after Pausanias is poorly preserved but secure in its essential plan, measuring 9.5m in width by 12m in depth. It the view of William Dinsmoor, this structure can be reconstructed as a monumental altar with stairways flanking both sides and having a small stoa at its top - comparable to the Great Altar of Zeus at Pergamon. Of great interest are the over one hundred and forty terra cotta figurines having the heads of sheep or cows that were found in the area of the Megaron. The great majority of these are female and closely resemble the decorative figures carved into the veil of the colossal head of Despoina.[14]

Beyond the Megaron, Pausanias also notes the presence of a grove sacred to Despoina surrounded by stones with altars of Poseidon Hippios and other gods beyond that, with one altar stating that it is sacred to all the gods. From there it was possible to access a shrine of Pan via a flight of stairs.[15] Associated with this shrine were an altar of Ares, two statues of Aphrodite (one marble one wooden - a xoanon - and older), wooden images (xoana) of Apollo and Athena, and a sanctuary of Athena. These features have not been securely located.

Archaeological remains outside of the sanctuary

Although the sanctuary of Despoina has been excavated to a large extent, the urban area of Lycosura itself and its periphery have received much less attention. Outside of the sanctuary and sixty meters SW of the temple, on the opposite side of the ridge running SE to NW up to the hill of the acropolis, a number of structures of Hellenistic and Roman date have been uncovered that may have hydraulic functions, perhaps a nymphaeum (fountain-house) and a complex of Roman thermae (baths).[9] Some remains of the city wall have also been traced.

Cult sculptural group

The Veil of Despoina
The Veil of Despoina

Although in many fragments and not completely preserved, the colossal cult group attributed to Damophon by Pausanias has been extensively studied and described. [7] No comprehensive study of all the remains has yet been caried out, however. The relatively small cella of the temple of Despoina was dominated by a cultic group of statues comprising four significantly over life-size acrolithic-technique figures as well as a highly ornate throne for the central figures of Despoina and Demeter - all in Pentelic marble. [16] This arrangement was somewhat unusual in that the typical situation was for there to be a single cult statue at the rear of the cella that was the primary object of veneration. [17] The central figures of Despoina and Demeter were on a colossal scale, significantly greater than that of Artemis and the Titan Anytus. The bust of Despoina is not preserved. Holes are preserved on the bust of Artemis for the attachment of earrings and other metal ornaments, and for a diadem (or rays) on the bust of Demeter. The eyes of Artemis and Anytus were inset, rather than being carved from the marble as they were in the bust of Demeter. The throne of Despoina and Demeter was decorated with tritonesses - an appropriate theme given the identification of Poseidon as the father of Despoina. This nautical reference is underscored by the presence of marine themes on the veil of Despoina as well. One of these tritonesses was replaced in the Roman period, indicating damage to the group, perhaps due to an earthquake.

While the entire group is of significant stylistic interest, the veil of Despoina is particularly so, due to the complexity of its decorative program. In addition to the lines of dancing, animal-headed female figures mentioned above, there are several other registers of sculpted ornamentation on the two levels of the veil. The upper level of the veil of Despoina has the following modes of decoration (from top to bottom):

  • A series of triangular rays.
  • A band of eagles and winged thunderbolts.
  • A band of olive sprays.
  • A frieze of Nereids riding sea horses and Tritons, with dolphins intermixed.
  • A tasseled fringe.

The lower (and larger) layer has (from top to bottom):

  • A frieze of Nikai carrying censers, while bearing olive sprays in front of themselves.
  • A band of olive sprays.
  • A frieze of dancing animal-headed figures.
  • A running-wave meander pattern.

It has been suggested that this veil is representative of the types of tapestry or embroidered woven materials able to be created by contemporary artists. [18] The high level of detail is cited as a hallmark of Damophon's technique. The frieze of marine deities and the running-wave meander pick of the reference to Poseidon in the throne. The band of eagles and winged thunderbolts is likely a reference to Zeus.

Elements of the Cult Sculptural Group in the National Archaeological Museum of Athens
From L-R: Artemis, Demeter, Veil of Despoina, Anytus, Tritoness from the throne.

The images of the goddesses themselves and the throne on which they sit, and the footstool under their feet are of one stone. ... The images are about the same size as that of the Mother among the Athenians. These are works of Damophon. Demeter bears a torch in her right hand, and she has placed her other hand on Despoina. On her knees, Despoina has a scepter and what is called the Cista (box), which is held in her right hand. On either side of the throne, Artemis stands beside Demeter clothed in the hide of a deer, and having a quiver on her shoulders, and one hand there is a torch and in the other two snakes. A dog lies beside Artemis, the sort that is appropriate for hunting. Beside the image of Despoina stands Anytus, portrayed as a representation of a man in armor. -Pausanias 8.37.3-5

Significance of the site

The side doorway to the cella of the temple of Despoina.
The side doorway to the cella of the temple of Despoina.

In addition to the find of the Acrolithic statues commonly attributed to Damophon, this temple is important for the study of ancient Greek religious practice due to the unusual feature of its side doorway coupled with a theater-like area. Several authors have postulated that the side doorway and theater-like area were created to allow a ritual for the mystery cult of Despoina to take place, perhaps an epiphany of the goddess.

The remains of the Megaron
The remains of the Megaron

According to Pausanias, the Megaron (Μέγαρον) was the location for major sacrifices to Despoina by the Arcadians and the location where they enacted the mysteries of the goddess.[19] The mode of sacrifice at the Megaron was unusual in that it involved hacking a limb from the sacrificial animal rather than cutting its throat. The similarity of the figurines found in the vicinity of the Megaron and the dancing figures carved on the veil of Despoina may reveal something concerning the rituals of the cult.[14] The supposition that the site was a locus of cult activity from considerable antiquity is supported by the presence of multiple xoanon-type cult statues, by the unusual mode of sacrifice, and by the special veneration shown to the sanctuary by the Arcadians in 368/7 BCE as discussed above. Like Eleusis and Samothrace, Lycosura is an important site for the study of ancient mystery religions and religion more broadly, although it remained a regional rather than a panhellenic or pan-Mediterranean cult.

The podium of the cult statuary group in the temple of Despoina
The podium of the cult statuary group in the temple of Despoina

Pausanias relates that the sculptural group of Despoina et al. was created by the eminent Hellenistic artist Damophon of Messene. [20] While Damophon has been placed at dates varying from the 4th century BCE to the age of Hadrian in the 2nd century CE, it is now generally accepted that he was active in the 2nd century BCE. Pausanias also states that the statues of Despoina and Demeter were worked from a single piece of marble without any use of iron clamps or mortar. [21] As these statues are acrolithic in construction, this statement is manifestly incorrect, rendering his attribution of the group to Damophon equally suspect. At the time of Pausanias' visit, the sculptures would have been three hundred or more years old; no one with certain knowledge of their origins was alive. As much of what has been written concerning the style of Damophon relies on these sculptures, their attribution of no little importance.

Perspective Reconstruction of the Temple of Despoina:  The acrolithic statues of Demeter (L) and Despoina (R) are visible at scale in the cella -   at left is the theater-like seating area, and at right is the Stoa
Perspective Reconstruction of the Temple of Despoina:
The acrolithic statues of Demeter (L) and Despoina (R) are visible at scale in the cella - at left is the theater-like seating area, and at right is the Stoa

Additional images of the sanctuary of Despoina