Sacred Space in Greece and Rome
- Michael Scott
“It is impossible to imagine ancient Greece without its sanctuaries.” (J. Whitley, Archaeology of Ancient Greece [Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2001], 134). The same statement could be made for the Roman world. Sacred space was a key omnipresent tenet of ancient Greek and Roman societies—the physical manifestation of the degree to which the ancients dedicated time to the wide spectrum of gods who controlled their worlds. Since the 1990s, the study of sacred space has moved from one primarily undertaken by archaeologists and architects fixated on monumental structures (with the study of religious ritual conducted by scholars of religion mainly through literary and inscriptional sources), to one in which the space is understood as a dynamic and key component in the ritual process, an equal player in the creation of the human understanding and experience of the divine. Yet alongside this reconsideration of the importance of space in the dynamics of ritual, there has also been an increasing appreciation of the multiple roles sanctuaries played, and played host to, within the wider landscape. Sacred spaces are thus key players in the ordering of landscapes, they offer the potential for the development and scope of civic and individual power, and they act as the locus for identity development, civic competition, and the articulation of changing power balances in the wider world. Sacred space has as a result shed its fixed and positivist image: we recognize sacred spaces as everything from natural groves to massive architectural complexes—as places that are constantly changing and constantly being used simultaneously for a variety of sacred and secular activities, experienced and understood simultaneously in a multitude of ways by their different users, and that engage dynamically and heterogeneously with their surrounding secular environments.
The Terminology of Sacred Space
What terms did the ancient Greeks and Romans use to describe and define their sacred spaces? In the Greek world, the most private sacred arena was the home and its central hearth, sacred to Hestia (and most poleis had their own “hearths” as well).1 In the space of the community, alongside street shrines (e.g., the Herms of Athens), the most traditional term for a sacred space is temenos, coming from the verb meaning temnein “to cut” (already used in Homer “temenos and fragrant altar”).2 The same term temenos can in fact be used to describe both sacred and profane demarcated spaces, but underlying both is a sense in which the nature of the space is defined by what it has been separated out from (even when the deity being worshipped is as non–spatially determined as a river or the sun).3 The temenos may have been designated by boundary markers (horoi) or by some kind of fence/wall (peribolos).
Within the temenos the key architectural feature is the object on which the sacrifice can take place: an altar, a “bomos” (equally a pit “bothros” or low-level structure open to the earth below “escharai”). In addition there may be a naos “the dwelling place of the deity”—a temple—but it was not considered to be a necessity in a sanctuary. Within a naos could be an even smaller space (adyton) to which access was restricted to particular religious personnel or to particular occasions. In addition, while again not a necessity, there could be a whole host of architectural features: theatres for theatrical performances in honor of the gods, athletic facilities for hosting games, baths, stoas for the display of dedications and/or for walking and talking, treasure houses set up by individuals and poleis as “hold-alls” for their offerings as well individual monumental offerings of all shapes and sizes, buildings in which visitors were healed or simply accommodated overnight, and springs and fountains. A single temenos could of course be home to more than one deity, worshipped at several altars or temples or both.
Sacred spaces could, however, also be composed and identified not by architectural elements but by natural ones: a sacred grove (alsos) can be the extent of the sanctuary itself or be attached to it in same way.4 On occasion the natural elements of the landscape may be all that identifies the place as sacred, for example, “this place is sacred, as I can easily guess: it bursts with laurel, olive, vine, and fluttering around are many sweet-voiced nightingales.”5 Caves also provided more natural sacred spaces both in the countryside and in the town (e.g., the caves at the base of the Acropolis in Athens), and were often the home of gods such as Pan and the Nymphs (or conversely of oracles of the dead), but again, as with the Acropolis example, could also be home to a wide range of deities.
Overlapping with these architectural and spatial descriptors are several terms to describe the reach of the sacred within the Greek world. The Greek term hieros demarcates the sphere of the religious, describing that which belongs to a god or sanctuary in some irrevocable way. As such the term hieron can also be used to describe a holy place, a “sacred precinct.”
Yet the tentacles of the sacred reached wider than the bounded precinct, as the complex Greek terminology of the sacred makes clear. Alongside hieros/on stands the term hosios. Whoever has passed the initiation for a mystery cult or more widely for priestly service is hosios.6 It represents the state gained after one has passed through or beyond that which is hieros. As Burkert puts it, “if hieros draws boundaries, then hosios is the recognition of the boundaries from the outside.”7
Alongside these, the term hagnos can be applied to things, people, gods, places related to ritual, and sacred space. As such particular rites, festivals, temples, and temene can be described as hagnon, as can more abstract entities like fire and light. As Burkert has described it, “hieros draws boundaries . . . hagnos creates a field of forces that demand reverence and distance.”8
In the Roman world, the shrine of the household gods contained within the home was known as lararium. Outside of the house, the terms sacer and sacrum are used to denote a place consecrated with religious authority (when a law passed or decree of Senate made), whereas any type of “unauthorized,” but still considered sacred in some way, spaces are referred to as religiosum. Key here is not simply the centrality of the idea of sacrifice in the denotation of sacred space, but the strong role of civic appointed bodies in recognizing it.
At the same time, the term templum could be used to denote an area of ground (or indeed sky) designated by an augur as that in which he is taking auspices or in which someone may watch for signs from the gods, or, more widely, a place perceived to be in a special relationship with the divine. The root of the word templum links to tueri “to gaze” (cf. to “contemplate”), and Varro’s early description of how the boundaries of a templum are fixed revolves around the view perceivable from certain fixed natural points (often trees).9
Often a templum could become a sacrum, but not necessarily. In addition, a temple (called, in the early republic, aedes “house of the god”) could be built in a sacrum or templum, but again not necessarily so (the curia and the rostra in the Roman Forum were templa without aedes).10 An aedes could also be built on non-augurated ground (and from the 1st century bce, the word for such a structure remained aedes, whereas a temple built on augurated ground became known instead as templum, e.g., the aedes of Vesta).
Alongside these demarcated areas, the Romans recognized a range of “natural” sacred spaces: wild lands “tesca,” sacred grove “nemus,” or simply a place where deity was thought to live “lucus” (numerous in Britain, Gaul, and Germany as well as in Italy, for example, the lucus of the Arval Brethren near Rome, which was in itself equipped with several ornate structures). In addition, more fine gradations were often made about sacred spaces without buildings but with open-air shrines/altars (sometimes called sacellum), or indeed stand-alone (sometimes monumental) altars by themselves (e.g., Ara Pacis). Places for the worship of cults such as that of Mithras (often underground and cavelike) were known as spelea (although sometimes the terms templum and aedes could be used). There was of course an incredible range of diversity in sacred spaces and traditions across the Roman world. The results of the mixing of “native” religious traditions with those of the Romans often in turn produced very particular ritual architecture and in turn sacred spaces (e.g., the Romano-Celtic temple). The Roman world was also home to different religions (e.g., Judaism and Christianity), which labeled, designed, and filled their sacred spaces differently.
Specifically related to Rome was the sacred concept of the pomerium boundary (thought to have been originally drawn by Romulus and extended several times in the late republic and early empire). While its most famous delineations were related to military authority, the pomerium also represented the boundary beyond which magistrates could not take auspices, and in addition, in early Rome, most sacred space dedicated to “foreign” deities had to be located outside the pomerium.11
What is immediately clear from this brief review of the terms used to describe different kinds of natural, delineated, and authorized sacred spaces in the Greek and Roman worlds is the great variety that characterized the sacred in the ancient world, as well as the often blurred and sliding scale between sacred and secular, with which our study of sacred space has to grapple. As such this article seeks not to examine in depth particular kinds of architecture within sacred spaces, nor particular activities taking place within them. Instead it seeks to highlight the major debates, categories and ways of thinking about sacred space, and the roles it played through time within the Greek and Roman worlds.
Archaic, Classical, and Hellenistic Sacred Space
Archaeological investigation is constantly closing the traditionally supposed gap between Bronze Age and Early Iron Age religious activity. Sanctuaries such as that of Artemis at Kalapodi in Phokis, we now know, have undisturbed continued religious use from the 12th to 7th centuries bce, and at the sanctuary of Hermes at Kato Syme, use can be shown from Late Bronze Age through to Roman times.12
That said, while some sanctuaries show continuity of use (and others, such as at Isthmia, a picture of early use, abandonment, and then later return), vast numbers of archaic Greek sanctuaries were new foundations. The key period for this activity was the 10th to 8th century, linked to the great societal and civic developments in Greek society at this time.
Why sanctuaries developed where they did is a complex question, with many possible answers. Within Homer, one sacrifices wherever one wants to the gods.13 This “spatial indeterminacy,” as it is known, while never eradicated in Greek culture, was slowly replaced through into the archaic period by the recognition of permanent sacred locations in which it was appropriate for sacrifice to take place. In many cases, the location itself, or particular aspects of the location, were part of the mythical stories told about the particular god/s worshipped there (e.g., Apollo and Artemis being born on Delos after the island made a deal with their mother Leto, in return for which she finally anchored the island the sea floor to stop it from wandering, as the major reason for the sacred nature of the island going forward). Equally scholarship has tried, more widely, to tie certain kinds of landscape to being “appropriate” for certain types of gods (mountain peaks particularly appropriate for Zeus, edges of plains for Hera, center of communities for Athena).14
Yet in the study of the Greek world, sacred space is also traditionally divided into categories dependent on its location vis-à-vis the community hub of the polis. Sanctuaries thus are classified as “urban,” “extra-urban,” “rural,” or “panhellenic.” Such distinctions reflect the combined rise of the polis and the foundation of many new sanctuaries in that crucial period of the 10th–8th centuries bce, and the blossoming relationships among them.
Sanctuaries within emerging poleis often sat at their very heart, often on raised protected areas of ground (e.g., the Acropolis in Athens), and were invested in as clear markers of, and focii for, civic engagement and identity. In the wider landscape, scholars like de Polignac have argued that sanctuaries from an early stage of the development of the polis provided communities with a way in which to articulate their presence within the wider landscape (and indeed establish their dominance over it) with sanctuaries constructed at limits of polis reach and/or in visible high locations projecting power over surrounding areas (e.g., the Argive Heraion).15 By the end of the 8th century, significant amounts of time, material, and wealth were being invested and deposited within a widening number of sacred sites around the Greek world, in particular by polis communities.16
In contrast, in the cases of the traditionally more independent “panhellenic” sanctuaries, their relatively late monumentalization (mostly from the 6th century) in comparison to urban and extra-urban sanctuaries has been attributed to their locations not within the remit of any one poleis. However, once these sanctuaries had developed, they too became part of the power politics of Greek poleis, acting as locations for “peer-polity interaction,” competition, and rivalry among the different Greek communities.17
The separation of the close bond between polis community and sanctuary, traditionally due to the demise of the power of the polis, has long been part of the traditional narrative of the Hellenistic period. However, this is now under revision, with much evidence for the continued prevalence and importance of the polis as a vehicle for community endeavor and engagement with the sacred in this period. Indeed, it has even recently been argued that Hellenistic kings often themselves used the language of the polis and its accepted models rather than imposing a new order.18 Within a world dominated swiftly by empires and rulers, smaller communities became more acutely keen than ever to use their sacred spaces to articulate their own local identities, and at the same time to position themselves vis-à-vis the new geopolitical status quo. The design of the sanctuary of Artemis Leukophryene, for example, was created so as to showcase more prominently the native Anatolian aspects of Magnesia’s culture as part of a new articulation of Magnesia’s civic identity.19 Communities also continued to make use of the archaio-classical tradition of using sanctuaries as territorial markers of ownership and influence in the landscape.20
Yet of course the influence of Hellenistic monarchs was also felt in sanctuaries far and wide. On some occasions, they—in deliberate manifestations of their power—chose to do what had never been accomplished in the classical period (e.g., the stoa of Attalus at Delphi, which deliberately sets itself across the temenos boundary of the sanctuary, the only building in the history of the site to do so). In other cases, they monumentalized entryways and enveloped sanctuaries with their monumental architectural dedications, contributing to a stronger delineation of sacred space (e.g., at the Sanctuary of Apollo and Artemis on Delos).
Alongside the development of sanctuaries in various locations and in various degrees of relationship with different poleis (and increasingly powerful individuals), sanctuaries throughout the archaic, classical, and Hellenistic periods also performed a variety of ritual functions, with implications for their spatial development.21 They were of course primarily places for sacrifice (of widely varying kinds/specifications depending on the particular god—and epithet—worshipped at that particular site), conducted on very varied forms of altar (e.g., the 7-meter-high altar composed of burnt offerings at Olympia). Sanctuaries could of course also be places of oracular divination, again conducted in a wide variety of different ways (e.g., through the Pythian priestess at Delphi and through the interpretation of the movement of leaves on a sacred tree at Dodona), requiring different spatial and architectural layouts. Or they could be home to the conduct of mystery rites, such as the sanctuary of the Great Mother at Samothrace, or the sanctuary of the Eleusinian mysteries at Eleusis, with each set of mystery cult rites having its own impact on the architectural and spatial development of the sacred cult site. Or they could be home to healing cults, such as that of Asklepios at Epidauros, again with specific architectural and spatial assemblages required.
The ongoing accommodation of the worship of new deities in the Greek landscape (and indeed the acceptance of new deities into the Greek pantheon) particularly from the 4th century onward also had implications for the development of sacred spaces. We know that Egyptians were granted space in the Piraeus for their worship of Isis, as had traders from Cyprus for their worship of Aphrodite Ourania.22 In other—ostensibly more international—sanctuaries, such as that on Delos, the introduction and accommodation of foreign deities seems to have been, ironically, a slower and more disputed process. The founding document for the eventual temple of Sarapis told how a priest of Sarapis had actually arrived on the island two generations previously, and since then, worship of the god had taken place in ad hoc spaces around the island. Nor was the final building of the temple, it seems, entirely welcome. It was accompanied by a public suit brought against the then-priest, which he proudly claims in the inscription to have won.23 The architecture of these Sarapeions (there were eventually three of them) on Delos reflects the different ritual priorities of the cult, as did the very un-Greek-looking sanctuary to Syrian deities that was eventually placed nearby (there was also a functioning Jewish synagogue on the island adding to the wide range of sacred architecture and ritual visible on the island).
This vast spectrum of spatial and architectural development occasioned by the worship of so many different gods was augmented further by the even wider range of activities also taking place in sanctuaries often as part of festival celebrations: athletic and musical competitions, theatrical performances, processions, the dedication of large numbers of increasingly varied and monumental dedications, and particular monuments acting as a bank reserve and storage facility for sacred items (see the inventories of the Parthenon in Athens, in which, alongside gold phialae—cups for libations—Milesian coaches and boxes of Persian arrows and a wide range of other items are recorded as being kept inside the Parthenon).
The variety inherent in Greek sacred space was also augmented by the developing use of architecture to create particular effects on the visitor. In new Hellenistic sanctuaries, the stoa structure, for example, was used at several different levels of the sanctuary to create a more theatrical use of sacred space, particularly focused on the delay and elongation of the journey toward the sacred heart of the sanctuary. This was accompanied by a greater reflection on the interconnection between structures and surrounding landscape in order to augment the increased desire for theatricality (e.g., Sanctuary of Athena Lindia, Sanctuary of Asklepios on Kos).24
Sacred spaces by the Hellenistic period were thus characterized by their multiplicity and variety—both in terms of their ritual and related activities and in the architectural and spatial forms that developed to accompany them: they were “multidimensional institutions which served the needs of their communities and the needs of the Greek city-state as a whole,” as well as increasingly the needs of the powerful individual rulers of the Hellenistic world.25 They were financed from their own income (from land or money lending, for example) or by poleis, or, more rarely, through larger multistate institutions (e.g., the Amphictyony, which ran Delphi and orchestrated fundraising for particular construction projects from its own members, from the polis of Delphi, and from contributions by rich individuals around the Mediterranean world).26 During the Hellenistic period, the increased willingness to give honors to local elite benefactors within a community, all too acceptable in a world of kings, encouraged a new local range of financing options, which benefitted many of the smaller sanctuaries in the Greek world.27
The activities of sanctuaries also had wider economic implications on the landscapes around them. In order to provide the necessary space and provisions (the provision of a hundred cows or oxen for sacrifice that had to be fed and grown in the landscape, for example, or the space for spectators to camp and watch athletic and equestrian competitions, or the provision of enough material for athletic victory prizes), or indeed to cater to the number of visitors and their desire to offer dedications bought close by, particular sanctuaries came to have a warping effect on the local landscape, sucking in larger and larger territories to their “sacred economy.” This could be constructed as simple supply-and-demand structures, but such influence over the landscape could be more officially imposed (e.g., the maintenance of olive trees solely to produce olive oil given to victors in the Panathenaic games in Athens).28 Equally, in certain cases sanctuaries could claim ownership over surrounding territories, controlling the kinds of activities allowed to go within them (e.g., the “sacred land” surrounding Delphi given to Apollo in the early 6th century and in which no agriculture not authorized by the priests was allowed to take place).
Roman Republican and Imperial Sacred Space
We have a good insight into the desired architectural ensemble of Roman sacred space through the writings of Vitruvius. It is noteworthy that despite the clear architectural indebtedness to the Etruscan tradition (particularly on the concept of axiality in Roman sacred structures), Vitruvius makes very little mention of the Etruscan connection in his books 3 and 4 on temple architecture. Instead, it has been argued that he is keen to demonstrate an independent Roman architectural design as a sign of distinct Roman identity and character.29 Yet whereas he distances himself from his native Italic traditions, he simultaneously closes the gap between Greek and Roman sacred architecture. It is noticeable that while Vitruvius does distinguish between Greek and Roman designs for theatres, palaistra, and baths, he does not with the design of temples (despite the obvious differences with the temple often mounted on a high platform approached by steps, and with solid walls along the rear and sides with thus much more pronounced frontality).30 He also chooses to use Greek rules for the parts of temple architecture.31 Thus we are left with a mixed picture of cultural influences much more willing to associate with the East than with native Italy.
This shift toward identifying with the Greek East (and particularly to Greek canonical orders and architectural syntax) rather than native Etruscan traditions (particularly focused on ornamentation) began from around 200 bce, as part of a tremendous expansion in the repertoire of monumental Roman architecture.32 Such a move toward a system based on modular proportions required the development of a whole new category of specialist: the architect (among whom of course Vitruvius considered himself a master). We even know of several temples that were rebuilt to reflect the new adoration of the Hellenic system (Temple of Peace, Paestum, originally built 273 bce and then rebuilt circa 100 bce as Corinthian and Doric temple and the Temple of Castor and Pollux in the Roman Forum, which was built originally 496 bce, but transformed into Corinthian peripteros in 117 bce).
Yet Vitruvius argued that temples—whether more Greek or more Roman—should impress. They should be aligned with the best possible view of the city in mind, or else be aligned with streets so as to impress passersby (e.g., the Fortuna Augusta sanctuary in Pompeii).33 They should be built of costly materials and use complex architectural tropes to impress and convey auctoritas.34 Column spacing on temples should aim to give the impression of gravitas, while colonnades should offer an impression of subtilitas.35 Sanctuaries and their temples were the homes of the god: in impressing the importance of visual engagement between them, it has been argued that Romans acted as if the gods were fellow residents and neighbors in the city, greeting them every time they passed by.36
Sometimes those divine neighbors called the shots, and sometimes the Romans did as they pleased with sacred spaces. At the heart of Rome’s story, for example, is the tale of one deity—Terminus—who refused to move during the clearing of space for the construction of the Temple of Jupiter on the Capitoline Hill. Terminus’s altar was thus incorporated into the middle of Jupiter’s temple, with a corresponding opening in the roof so that the god could continue to be worshipped under the night sky.37 This did not stop, in turn, the Romans from remodeling some sacred spaces as they saw fit, particularly in the gradual replacement of more rural features of sanctuaries with more urban ones (e.g., the replacement of the natural tree grove in the shrine of Vesta with a spacious residence for the priestess). Nor did the Romans respect all sacred spaces in the long term: outdoor cult sites with few or no architectural markers were swallowed up as a result of grand levels of private building in the final frantic decades of the republic.38
Sacred space for the Romans was a predominantly urban affair. While there were of course rustic and natural sacred spaces (which could be very important, e.g., the sacred grove of the Arval Brethren 5 km from Rome), as well as sub-urban and extra-urban sanctuaries (that often doubled as places for travelers to lodge and bathe), there were not nearly as many as there were urban sanctuaries.39 Roman towns were infested with smaller and larger sacred complexes, intermingled among the rest of the architectural repertoire of the city, indeed informing the layout of streets and neighborhoods.40 As Camillus cries in Livy, reacting to a proposal that Romans should leave Rome for Veii, “No place in this city is not full of sacred customs and of gods.”41 Many of these temples were constructed and financed by individual generals as part of their celebration of military victory—there was thus a very strong association in the Roman mindset among family, event, and sacred space/temple.
Just as with Greek sacred spaces, by the late republic, sanctuaries played multiple simultaneous roles: as rooms for Senate discussion, museums, treasure chambers, archives, mints, trading places, markets, libraries, and locations for diplomatic receptions.42 At the Apollo sanctuary on the Palatine, dedicated just after the end of the republic in 28 bce, the porticoes, courtyards, and libraries contained within the sacred enclosure may well have seen more traffic than the temple itself.43
With the move from republic to empire came great changes, which were reflected in the articulation and use made of sacred space. Under Augustus, the sense of “Roman” architecture was molded via the elegant adoption of classical and late classical forms in order to create a nontriumphal imagery of peace and order, reflected of course most prominently in the stand-alone Ara Pacis.44 At the same time, under Augustus, it is notable that the status of more natural sacred places (groves, springs, etc.) also increased once again in importance and estimation. The sacred grove of Dea Dia, for example, was invested, from Augustus’s time onward, with a priest drawn only from the highest circles of the elite.45
Augustus was keen of course to clothe himself in religious sanctity, and proudly mentions in his Res Gestae that he was fully involved with the development of sacred space: he built about twelve new temples and (perhaps even more importantly) restored eighty-two (in a single year), while also replacing votives stolen from temples in the East. One of his new constructions was the Temple of Mars Ultor within the Forum of Augustus. The temple and the forum as a whole served as a place for military and legal discussions, as well as a repository for much dedicated booty brought back from victorious campaigns, including, famously, re-acquired Roman standards originally lost to the enemy in battle. The sacred nature of imperial fora culminated in that of Vespasian, who dedicated his in the aftermath of his campaigns in Jerusalem in the mid-70s ce. The entire forum with a Temple of Peace at its heart was dedicated as a templum sacred space. While Domitian/Nerva’s “forum” did contain a Temple of Minerva, the Forum of Trajan—as the largest and most impressive imperial forum—is notable for the apparent absence of sacred structures. It is a seemingly secular space, with markets, a basilica, and of course Trajan’s column.46
This potential ousting of the sacred from the imperial forum was accompanied over the course of the empire by a marked invasion of the secular into previously existing sacred space. Sanctuaries had always had multiple roles to play within society both secular and sacred with many different activities taking place within them, but now secular construction encroached on older sacred areas. The collection of early republican temples at the Largo Argentina in Rome, for instance, in this period, saw the gaps between them filled in with banquet and storage areas.47 This increased heterogeneity of use, alongside the increased blurring of boundaries between sacred and secular space, was a strong characteristic of the Roman imperial period.
This of course did not mean the end of the relationship between emperors and sacred structures—far from it, in particular thanks to the development of the imperial cult. In some cases, these structures could seem very modest in comparison to their surroundings (e.g., the small round Temple to Augustus and Roma placed in front of the Parthenon on the Acropolis in Athens). In others, much more grand key parts of the city’s architecture and connection (e.g., the Sebasteion at Aphrodisias constructed 20–60 ce as both temple/forum in honor of Julio-Claudians and key processional way connecting parts of the city). And sometimes both styles within the same province (e.g., the more Greek and subtle Temple of Roma and Augustus at Ancyra and the more imposing frontal Imperial sanctuary at Pisidian Antioch). And in the 2nd–3rd centuries ce, emperors invested once again in large complex sanctuaries, particularly in the provinces, as a means of showcasing the skill at their command, their power, and, perhaps even more crucially, imperial interest in, and the prosperity of, the peripheries of the Roman world (e.g., the huge complex of Jupiter Heliopolitanus at Baalbek).
Roman Intervention in the Sacred Space of Others
At the same time as Romans developed their relationship with their gods (and their sacred spaces), Roman power expanded during the course of the republic and empire until Rome stood dominant over the Mediterranean. As a result, a large part of the discussion of Roman sacred space is also linked to how the impact of the arrival of Roman power was felt on the cult sites of pre-Roman Italy and the wider Mediterranean. Recent scholarship has rowed back from either a model of “Romanization” of native cult or a “Roman toleration” model in which the impact on local religious life was minimal, at the same time as underlining the wide variation in religious practices in both the Italian and wider Mediterranean landscape. In its place is a more flexible understanding of the individual ways in which sacred sites were actively used to create, transform, and enhance social structures, as well as proclaim particular statuses and identities within the developing Roman world, as part of continuing and dynamic competition among a variety of community groups all with differing social and political agendas.48 All of this often created new architectural structures, like the “Romano-Celtic” temple. However, there was, of course, also outright conflict between the Roman world and particular religions within it—in particular Judaism and Christianity, leading to the on-and-off destruction, sacking, and banning of particular sacred spaces.
Greece has provided a particularly fertile area for the understanding of how Romans interacted with the sacred spaces of others. During the republican era, Roman generals would dedicate at Greek sanctuaries following conquests by Romans in the East as carefully constructed ways of ensuring the public knowledge of their victories, as well as of course famously using sanctuaries, and their crowd-gathering activities, as stages from which to mediate and interact with leagues, poleis, and individual patrons (e.g., Flamininus’s proclamation from the sanctuary of Poseidon at Isthmia on Greek “freedom” from Macedon in 196 bce). Yet this period was also a tipping point in the Roman ability to demand more of Greek sanctuaries. M. Acilius Glabrio wrote to the sanctuary of Apollo at Delphi in the early 2nd century bce requesting a “resting-place” (katalyma) for “our citizens.”49 Thenceforth Romans had their own spaces within Greek sanctuaries.50 At the other end of the scale is the Roman destruction at the sanctuary of Zeus at Dodona in the mid-2nd century bce. And in between is a host of examples in which Romans took from sanctuaries as war booty, rededicated monuments and votives as their own, continued to enrich the sacred landscape with new structures, completed temples too big for the Greeks to ever complete, and even fell over themselves to become part of ritual practice (particularly with mystery cult).51 Perhaps the most memorable of these is the Roman tradition of moving temples. The 5th-century bce temple (most probably) of Athena Pallenis, in the Athenian countryside, was moved into the agora at the heart of Athens and rebuilt on a new Roman base in the mid-1st century ce, and recast as a Temple of Ares (as Pausanias saw it), probably reflecting the Roman belief in the importance of the sacred within the heart of the urban environment rather than in the countryside.52 And during the imperial period, there was a concerted effort to use sacred spaces through Greece as a key arena in which to negotiate and interact with the power of Rome, as well as an attempt to re-activate the dynamics of ritual in various key Greek sacred places as part of a wider policy for the enhanced economic stability and importance of this region of the Roman world (e.g., Hadrian’s Panhellenion).
Review of the Literature
For many decades the story of sacred space was the study of its architecture and its architectural monuments, carried out by specialists in architecture, art, and archaeology separate from those considering the (primarily literary) evidence for the ritual taking place with this architectural frame.53 Since the 1990s, two important revolutions have occurred. The first is the move from seeing space as a backdrop to action, static geographical entity, and reflector of the human actions it frames, toward instead thinking about spaces as fluid and multidimensional social constructs that both reflect and affect those who move within them.54 The second is the joining of the study of ritual and cult practice with the study of the spaces in which it takes place, to understand how ritual action informs and affects the development of sacred and vice versa.55
The move toward understanding space as a fluid social construct, the so-called spatial turn has impacted on wide areas of classical scholarship, from the study of perceptual spaces created within ancient literature, to physical spaces from the domestic to the sacred, and from the micro-individual structure to the widest landscape, in the historical and material study of ancient societies.56 In regard to sacred space, at the micro level of the individual sanctuary, it has focused much more attention on the perception and experience of the sanctuary and its monuments by its users, and particularly on how that experience (and the sanctuary space) changes and morphs over time along with the meanings and messages of its constituent parts.57 It has also focused attention (particularly in scholarship on Hellenistic and Roman sacred space) on the ways in which users move through sacred space and on how architecture frames, provokes, and hinders that movement.58 At the same time, at the macro level, much work has gone into understanding the variety of roles sacred space could play within its wider landscape, from its initial placement in a particular location to the way in which communities within the landscape interacted with it (and in particular in Roman scholarship, how Roman culture, ideas, and traditions spread across and over and intermingled with local religious traditions during the development of the Roman Empire).59 And at the “in-between” level—that of the sanctuary and its immediate community—the insistence on the changing nature of sacred space has prompted renewed emphasis on issues of agency and internationality: just who had the right to make decisions about location, placement, and architectural and artistic form within sacred space, with what repercussions for the meaning of individual monuments?60
In respect to the second major change—the connection of the study of sacred space and ritual—at the micro level, we have seen a renewed interest in the way in which ritual movement and especially procession conditioned the ritual experience.61 There has also been much more interest in the ways in which the different senses interacted with the sacred space, and with what impact on cult practice, experience, and understanding. Most recently, a consideration of space and cult has also moved the focus on to some of the most archaeologically invisible aspects of cult practice, such as dance and the impact on the ancient’s relationship with the divine.62 At the same time, at the in-between level—that of the sanctuary and its community—there has been renewed interest (especially in Roman scholarship) in the increasing hybridity of sacred space and the blurring of its boundaries through the multiple activities taking place alongside ritual with sacred space.63 And at the macro level, there has been wider interest again in the ritual networks that could be created between spaces of the same deity, and between deities, thanks to ritual movement, linkage through sacred calendar, political and cultural traditions, and through military intervention.64
For literary discussion of Greek sacred spaces, see in particular Aeschylus, Eumenides; Euripides, Ion; Plutarch, Moralia (in particular sections 384D–394C, 394D–409D, 409E–438E); and Pausanias, Description of Greece.
For literary discussion of Roman sacred spaces, see Varro, Human and Divine Antiquities (books 5–7 on sacred places—now of course lost but excerpts preserved in other authors); Ovid, Fasti; and Plutarch, On Isis and Osiris; as well as, of course, Vitruvius, On Architecture (particularly books 3 and 4 on sacred architecture).
For inscriptional resources on the sacred in the Greek world, see Franciszek Sokolowski, Lois Sacrés des Cités Grecques (LSCG; 1969); Lois Sacrés des Cités Grecques Supplément (LSS; 1962); Lois Sacrés de l’Asie Mineure (LSAM; 1955); and Eran Lupu Greek Sacred Law: A Collection of New Documents (NGSL; 2005). The best sourcebook for Roman religion still remains Mary Beard, John North, and Simon Price, Religions of Rome, vol. 2: Sourcebook (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1998).
By far the most important resources, however, are the archaeological reports for different sanctuaries across the Greek and Roman worlds. Published as journal articles for smaller sanctuaries, and as entire volume series for larger sites (such as Fouilles de Delphes for Delphi and Olympia Forschungen for Olympia), these provide the key information about the sanctuaries’ development over time.
In addition, see the recent encyclopedic venture on all aspects of Greek, Etruscan, and Roman cult practice 1000 bce–400 ce: Thesaurus Cultus et Rituum Antiquorum (ThesCRA), vols. 1–8 (articles in several languages with bibliography). The first set, consisting of volumes 1–3, addressed “Dynamic Elements/Activities”; the second, vols. 4–5, “Static Elements”; and the third, vols. 6–8, surveys “Contexts and Circumstances.”
- Alcock, Susan, and Robin Osborne, eds. Placing the Gods: Sanctuaries and Sacred Space in Ancient Greece. Oxford: Blackwell, 1994.
- Berve, Helmut, and Gottfried Gruben. Greek Temples, Theatres and Shrines. London: Thames and Hudson, 1963.
- Burkert, Walter Greek Religion. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1985.
- Cazanove, Olivier de, and John Scheid, eds. Les Bois Sacrés. Naples: Centre Jean Bérard, 1993.
- De Polignac, François Cults, Territory and the Origins of the Greek City-State. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1995.
- Dinsmoor, William Bell The Architecture of Ancient Greece. London: Batsford, 1927.
- Edlund, Ingrid The Gods and the Place: The Location and Function of Sanctuaries in the Countryside of Etruria and Magna Graecia. Stockholm: Svenska Institutet i Rom, 1987.
- Galli, Marco, ed. Roman Power and Greek Sanctuaries: Forms of Interaction and Communication. Athens: Scuola Archeologica Italiana di Atene, 2013.
- Hunt, Ailsa Reviving Roman Religion: Sacred Trees in the Roman World. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2016.
- Jenkyns, Richard God, Space and City in the Roman Imagination. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013.
- Kähler, Heinz Der römische Tempel. Berlin: Mann, 1970.
- Kaizer, Ted, Anna Leone, Edmund Thomas, and Robert Witcher, eds. Cities and Gods: Religious Space in Transition. BABESCH Supp 22. 2013.
- Marinatos, Nanno, and Robin Hägg, eds. Greek Sanctuaries: New Approaches. London: Routledge, 1993.
- Melfi, Milena, and Olympia Bobou, eds. Hellenistic Sanctuaries: Between Greece and Rome. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016.
- Miles, Margaret Melanie, ed. Companion to Greek Architecture. Oxford: Blackwell, 2016.
- Mili, Maria Religion and Society in Ancient Thessaly. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015.
- Nevin, Sonya Military Leaders and Sacred Space in Classical Greek Warfare: Temples, Sanctuaries and Conflict in Antiquity. London: I. B. Tauris, 2016.
- Pedley, John Sanctuaries and the Sacred in the Ancient Greek World. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2005.
- Peels, Saskia Hosios: A Semantic Study of Greek Piety. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2016.
- Price, Simon Ritual and Power: The Roman Imperial Cult in Asia Minor. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1984.
- Raja, Rubina, and Jörg Rüpke, eds. Companion to the Archaeology of Religion in the Ancient World. Oxford: Blackwell, 2015.
- Rowland, Ingrid, and Thomas Howe. Vitruvius: Ten Books on Architecture. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1999.
- Scott, Michael Delphi and Olympia: The Spatial Politics of Panhellenism in the Archaic and Classical Periods. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2010.
- Scott, Michael Space and Society in the Greek and Roman Worlds. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2012.
- Scott, Michael Delphi: Centre of the Ancient World. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2014.
- Scott, Michael “Temples and Sanctuaries.” In Companion to Greek Religion. Edited by E. Eidinow and J. Kindt, 227–240. Oxford: Blackwell, 2015.
- Scott, Michael “Mapping the Religious Landscape: The Case of Pan in Athens.” In Theoretical Approaches to the Archaeology of Ancient Greece: Manipulating Material Culture. Edited by L. Nevett, 212–229. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2017.
- Spawforth, Antony The Complete Greek Temples. London: Thames and Hudson, 2006.
- Stambaugh, John The Ancient Roman City. Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press, 1988.
- Stambaugh, John “The Functions of Roman Temples.” Aufstieg und Niedergang der römischen Welt II.16, 1 1978, 554–608.
- Wallace-Hadrill, Andrew Rome’s Cultural Revolution. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2008.
1. For example, Aristotle, Politics 1322b 26.
2. For example, Iliad (Il). 8.48; 23.148; Odyssey (Od.) 8.363; for possible Sumerian influence on this term, see H. van Effenterre, “Temenos” Revue des Études grecques (REG) 80 (1967): 14–17:
3. For example, Il. 6.194; 9.578; Od. 11.185.
4. For example, Franciszek Sokolowski, Lois sacrées des cités grecques (1969) (LSCG) 47; Franciszek Sokolowski, Lois sacrées des cités grecques: Supplément (1962) (LSS) 81.
5. Sophocles, Oedipus at Colonus 16–18.
6. Cf. Saskia Peels, Hosios: A Semantic Study of Greek Piety (Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2016).
7. Walter Burkert, Greek Religion (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1985), 270
8. Burkert, Greek Religion, 271.
9. Marcus Varro, On the Latin Language, 7.8–10.
10. And once again the dedication of a temple/aedes required a vote of the people authorizing a dedication: Cicero, On His House 36.
11. For discussion: Ken Dowden, Religion and the Romans (Bristol: Bristol Classical Press, 1992), 90–100; and Mary Beard, John North, and Simon Price, Religions of Rome, vol. 2: Sourcebook (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1998), 78–115.
12. Within this period also came the development of key aspects of sacred architecture, in particular the temple, whose form has been argued to have developed from the houses of chieftains from the Geometric period (e.g., at Lefkandi), alongside a series of Eastern and Egyptian influences: for discussion: William Bell Dinsmoor, The Architecture of Ancient Greece (London: Batsford, 1927); Alexander Mazarakis Ainian, From Rulers’ Dwelling to Temples: Architecture, Religion and Society in Early Iron Age Greece (1100–1700 BC) (Jonsered: Åström, 1997); and R. Tomlinson, Greek Sanctuaries (London: St Martin’s Press, 1976).
13. For example, Homer, Od. 3.168.
14. Cf. in particular Vincent Scully, The Earth, the Temple and the Gods: Greek Sacred Architecture (New York: Praeger, 1969); and Susan Cole, Landscapes, Gender and Ritual Space: The Ancient Greek Experience (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2004).
15. See particularly the work of François de Polignac, Cults, Territory and the Origins of the Greek City-State (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1995); as well as that of Susan Alcock and Robin Osborne, eds., Placing the Gods: Sanctuaries and Sacred Space in Ancient Greece (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1994).
16. Cf. Claudia Moser and Cecelia Feldman, Locating the Sacred (Oxford: Oxbow Books, 2014).
17. Peer polity interaction: Anthony M. Snodgrass, “Interaction by Design: The Greek City-State,” in Peer-Polity Interaction and Socio-political Change, eds. Colin Renfrew and John F. Cherry (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1986), 47–58; and Michael Scott, Delphi and Olympia (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2010).
18. Cf. Milena Melfi and Olympia Bobou, eds., Hellenistic Sanctuaries between Greece and Rome (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016).
19. Amanda Herring, “The Sanctuary of Artemis Leukophryene as an Expression of Conflicted Civic Identity,” in Icon, Cult and Context: Sacred Spaces and Objects in the Classical World, eds. Maura Heyn and Ann Steinsapir (Los Angeles: UCLA, 2016), 133–152.
20. Björn Forsén, “Artemis Lykoatis and the Bones of Arkas: Sanctuaries and Territoriality,” in Hellenistic Sanctuaries between Greece and Rome, eds. Milena Melfi and Olympia Bobou (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016), 40–62.
21. For a broad bibliography on Greek sanctuary scholarship see Erik Ostby, “Twenty-five Years of Research on Greek Sanctuaries,” in Greek Sanctuaries: New Approaches, eds. Nanno Marinatos and Robin Hägg (London: Routledge, 1993), 192–227.
22. Inscriptiones Graecae (1873– ) (IG) II2 337.
23. W. Dittenberger, Sylloge Inscriptionum Graecarum, 3d ed. (1915–1924) (Syll3) 663.
24. Rhys Townsend, “From Hellenistic to Roman Architecture,” in Companion to Greek Architecture, ed. Margaret Miles (Oxford: Blackwell, 2016), 454–469; Elisabetta Interdonato, “Architecture and Rituals in the Hellenistic Age: The Case of the Asklepieion in Kos,” in Hellenistic Sanctuaries between Greece and Rome, eds. Milena Melfi and Olympia Bobou (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016), 170–181.
25. Nanno Marinatos, “What Were Greek Sanctuaries? A Synthesis,” in Greek Sanctuaries: New Approaches, ed. Nanno Marinatos and Robin Hägg (London: Routledge, 1993), 228–233.
26. Cf. J. K. Davies, “Finance, Administration and Realpolitik: The Case of Fourth-Century Delphi,” in Modus Operandi: Essays in Honour of Geoffrey Rickman, eds. Michael Austin, Jill Harries, and Christopher John Smith (London: Institute of Classical Studies, 1998), 1–14.
27. For example, Maria Kantirea, “Re-shaping the Sacred Landscape through Benefaction: The Sanctuary of Lykosoura in the Peloponnese,” in Hellenistic Sanctuaries between Greece and Rome, eds. Milena Melfi and Olympia Bobou (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016), 27–39.
28. Aristotle, Constitution of the Athenians 60.1.
29. Andrew Wallace-Hadrill, Rome’s Cultural Revolution (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2008), 144–210.
30. Townsend, “From Hellenistic to Roman Architecture,” 454–469.
31. Vitruvius (Vitr.) 3.3.1–13.
32. Cf. Thomas Howe, “Hellenistic Architecture in Italy: Consuetudo Italica,” in Companion to Greek Architecture, ed. Margaret Miles (Oxford: Blackwell 2016), 470–486.
33. Vitr. 4.5.2.
34. Vitr. 3.3.6–9. Yet Vitruvius has little interest in the interior of a building: this was one of the greatest visual awakenings of later antiquity: Richard Jenkyns, God, Space and City in the Roman Imagination (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013), 300.
35. Vitr. 5.9.
36. Jenkyns, God, Space and City.
37. Dionysius, Antiquitates Romanae (Ant. Rom.) 3.69.3–5; Livy 1.55.3–5; 5.54.7. Hole in roof: Ovid, Fasti 2.669–672.
38. Ulrike Egelhaaf-Gaiser, “Roman Cult Sites: A Pragmatic Approach,” in A Companion to Roman Religion, ed. Jörg Rüpke (Oxford: Wiley Blackwell, 2007), 205–221.
39. Rubina Raja “Complex Sanctuaries in the Roman Period,” in A Companion to the Archaeology of Religion in the Ancient World, eds. Rubina Raja and Jörg Rüpke (Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 2015), 307–319. Although Romans—at least until the 1st century ce, also saw Rome as a city of constant architectural and spatial change. If they were thus looking for old sanctity, historic memory, and venerability, they always looked to outside the city; cf. Pliny, Ep. 8.24; Jenkyns, God, Space and City, 266.
40. Cf. Hubert Cancik, Alfred Schäfer, and Wolfgang Spickermann, eds., Zentralität und Religion (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2006); and Ted Kaizer, Anna Leone, Edmund Thomas, and Robert Witcher, eds., Cities and Gods: Religious Space in Transition, BABESCH Supp 22 (2013).
41. Livy 5.52.2; for similar insistences of divinely full nature of Rome: Dionysius, Ant. Rom. 2.21.1; 2.63.2; Cicero, On Laws 2.26.
42. Cf. Jenkyns, God, Space and City.
43. Egelhaaf-Gaiser, “Roman Cult Sites: A Pragmatic Approach,” 205–221.
44. Cf. Howe, “Hellenistic Architecture in Italy,” 470–486.
45. Egelhaaf-Gaiser, “Roman Cult Sites: A Pragmatic Approach,” 205–221; and Christoph Auffarth, ed., Religion auf dem Lande (Stuttgart: Steiner, 2009).
46. Jenkyns, God, Space and the City, 348. We know that a Temple of the Divine Trajan was built, but its location is uncertain (some argue that it in fact may have been placed in Trajan’s Forum).
47. Marlis Arnhold, “Sanctuaries and Urban Spatial Settings in Roman Imperial Ostia,” in Companion to the Archaeology of Religion in the Ancient World, eds. Rubina Raja and Jörg Rüpke (Oxford: Blackwell, 2015), 293–304.
48. Tesse Stek, Cult Places and Cultural Change in Republican Italy (Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2009); Tesse Stek and Gert–Jan Burgers, eds., The Impact of Rome on Cult Places and Religious Practices in Ancient Italy, BICS Supp 132 (London, 2015).
49. Supplementum epigraphicum Graecum (1923–) (SEG) 27, 123.
50. A similar space was provided for “Romans and judges” at Sparta: Inscriptiones Graecae (1873–) (IG) 6.869; cf. Sheila Ager, Interstate Arbitrations in the Greek World 337–390 BC (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1996).
51. Cf. Susan Alcock, “Spaced-Out Sanctuaries: The Ritual Landscape of Roman Greece,” in Theoretical Roman Archaeology Conference, ed. Eleanor Scott (Aldershot, U.K.: Avesbury, 1993), 155–163; Marco Galli, ed., Roman Power and Greek Sanctuaries: Forms of Interaction and Communication (Athens: Scuola Archeologica Italiana di Atene, 2013).
52. Cf. William Dinsmoor, “The Temple of Ares at Athens,” Hesperia 9 (1940): 1–52.
53. For example, Jörg Rüpke’s Religion in Republican Rome (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2012) does not explicitly deal with the physical spaces of Roman religion at all. Nor does J. Rives, Religion in the Roman Empire (Oxford: Blackwell, 2007).
54. Ian Hodder and Clive Orton, Spatial Analysis in Archaeology (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1976); Henri Lefebvre, The Production of Space (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1991; Anthony Giddens, The Constitution of Society (Cambridge, U.K.: Polity, 1984); Pierre Bourdieu, Outline of a Theory of Practice (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1977); and Amos Rapoport, “Vernacular Architecture and the Cultural Determinants of Form,” in Buildings and Society, ed. Anthony King (London: Routledge, 1980), 283–305.
55. Angelos Chaniotis, Ritual Dynamics in the Ancient Mediterranean (Stuttgart: Steiner, 2004); Jannis Mylonopoulos and Hubert Roeder, eds., Archäologie und Ritual: auf der Suche nach der rituellen Handlung in den antiken Kulturen Ägyptensund Griechenlands (Vienna: Phoibos, 2006); Jannis Mylonopoulos, “Greek Sanctuaries as Places of Communication through Ritual,” in Ritual and Communication in the Graeco-Roman world, ed. Eftychia Stavrianopoulou, Kernos Supplement 16 (Liege: Centre international d’étude de la Religion Grecque Antique, 2006), 69–110.
56. Cf. Michael Scott, Space and Society in the Greek and Roman Worlds (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2012).
57. For example, Michael Scott, Delphi and Olympia: The Spatial Politics of Panhellenism in the Archaic and Classical Periods (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2010).
58. For example, Bonna Wescoat and Robert Ousterhout, eds., Architecture of the Sacred: Space, Ritual, and Experience from Classical Greece to Byzantium (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2012); Mary Hollingshead, Shaping Ceremony: Monumental Steps and Greek Architecture (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2011); and Francesca Veronese, Lo spazio e la dimensione del sacro: santuari Greci e territorio nella Sicilia arcaica (Padova: Esedra Editrice, 2006).
59. For example, Alcock and Osborne, Placing the Gods; and Stek and Burgers, The Impact of Rome on Cult Places.
60. Cf. Kaizer, Leone, Thomas, and Witcher, Cities and Gods; and Michael Scott, “Prestige in Greek Sanctuaries: The Case of Delphi,” in Companion to Greek Architecture, ed. Margaret Miles (Oxford: Blackwell, 2016), 135–146.
61. For example, Lindsay Jones, The Hermeneutics of Sacred Architecture, vol. 1: Experience, Interpretation, Comparison (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2000); and Wescoat and Ousterhout, Architecture of the Sacred.
62. Cf. Lisa Nevett, ed., Theory in Greek Archaeology (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, forthcoming).
63. Cf. Jenkyns, God, Space and City.
64. Cf. Moser and Feldman, Locating the Sacred.