Classical Greek World

Case 5: Greek sanctuaries

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Votive practice

Greeks left gifts in sanctuaries to honour a god or give thanks. The gifts were also visible signs of piety for other visitors to see. The pieces displayed here are not the most expensive sanctuary dedications, such as large statues, precious metal objects, or even buildings, which might have been gifts from wealthy individuals, families or a whole city. These are the small-scale, personal dedications left by individuals on a regular basis and found at sanctuaries throughout Greece.

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Sanctuary of Artemis Orthia, Sparta

These objects are a tiny proportion of those found at one sanctuary just outside the city of Sparta in the Peloponnese, which was dedicated to Artemis Orthia. Artemis was the virgin goddess of the hunt and of wild animals, but the title Artemis Orthia may mean she was worshipped together with another local goddess, Orthia, who is otherwise unknown. Alternatively it might be another word to describe Artemis - ‘standing upright’ - from the Greek word orthos, meaning straight.

The sanctuary was in use from about 900 BC to the Roman period. For the earlier Greek sanctuary the only surviving evidence was excavated by archaeologists from the British School at Athens in 1906-1910. As well as discovering the temple, the excavators unearthed thousands of small items of pottery, bone, ivory, bronze and lead. These were all votive gifts and most date to between about 700 and 450 BC.

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The Fitzwilliam Museum : Classical Greek world540-320 BC

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