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Handbook of Archaeoastronomy and Ethnoastronomy

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Whether the positioning of ancient Greek temples was deliberate and facilitated astronomical observations has been a concern for scholars since the nineteenth century. Twenty-first-century research on Greek archaeoastronomy has identified the shortcomings of earlier approaches and has built on a new methodology which integrates archaeological, epigraphical, and literary evidence on the astronomical observations, in order to create interpretations that improve our narrative, understanding, and reconstruction of the role of astronomy in ancient Greek cult practice.
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Greek Temples and Rituals 140
Efrosyni Boutsikas
Contents
Introduction . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1573
Astronomy in Ancient Greek Cult Practice .. ................................................. 1574
The General Orientation of Greek Temples .................................................. 1575
The Astronomy of Certain Festivals of Apollo . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1576
Conclusion . . . . . . . . . . . .. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1579
Cross-References ............................................................................... 1580
References ...................................................................................... 1580
Abstract
Whether the positioning of ancient Greek temples was deliberate and facilitated
astronomical observations has been a concern for scholars since the nineteenth
century. Twenty-first-century research on Greek archaeoastronomy has identi-
fied the shortcomings of earlier approaches and has built on a new methodology
which integrates archaeological, epigraphical, and literary evidence on the
astronomical observations, in order to create interpretations that improve our
narrative, understanding, and reconstruction of the role of astronomy in ancient
Greek cult practice.
Introduction
Work carried out in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries focused on the precise
orientation of temples (calculated with an accuracy of a few minutes of arc) with the
aim to identify direct alignments with celestial bodies (stars and sun) seen to rise in
front of the temple. Studies linking the alignment of a star or the sun with the
E. Boutsikas
University of Kent, Canterbury, UK
e-mail: E.Boutsikas@kent.ac.uk
C.L.N. Ruggles (ed.), Handbook of Archaeoastronomy and Ethnoastronomy,
DOI 10.1007/978-1-4614-6141-8_155,
#Springer Science+Business Media New York 201
1573
5
temple’s axis concluded that Greek temples were aligned to sunrise on the day of
the god’s major festival (Dinsmoor 1939, pp. 122, 133; Nissen 1873, pp. 527–528;
Penrose 1893, p. 380). Using these alignments and taking into account the preces-
sion of the equinoxes and/or changing obliquity of the ecliptic (see Chap. 31,
“Long-Term Changes in the Appearance of the Sky”), the argument was taken
further to produce a date for the temple’s construction to the exact day and year
(Penrose 1892,1893). The absence of contextual evidence to support these inter-
pretations resulted in arguments that were far from convincing. For example, the
Hekatompedon temple in the Athenian Acropolis was dated to 1150 BC, the temple
of Athena in Sounio to 1125 BC, and the Argive Heraion to 1760 BC.
A study of the role of astronomy in ancient Greek religious practice must involve
more than the direct orientation of religious structures; it must consider other
available evidence, archaeological and/or literary, and must incorporate the reli-
gious structures in their surroundings; both immediate (i.e., the spatial layout of
a sanctuary) and wider (i.e., landscape and skyscape). This results to a better
understanding of the ancient Greek experience and of the ways in which ancient
cosmological ideas were imbedded in religious practice. The layout and positioning
of Greek temples and altars is considered, but in conjunction with the timing,
nature, and associated mythology of the rituals taking place in these specific
locations.
Astronomy in Ancient Greek Cult Practice
Astronomical knowledge and practice in ancient Greece was not restricted to
specific classes or groups. The widespread use of astronomical observations in
navigation and agricultural activities is well attested from at least as early as the
seventh-century BC (e.g., Homer, Odyssey, 5. 269–81, Hesiod, Works and Days,
383). From the sixth-century BC onward, astronomy contributes to the develop-
ment of Greek cosmological ideas and beliefs (e.g., the Milesians), down to
the composition of fifth- and fourth-century BC cosmologies and philosophies
(e.g., those of Dimokritos and Plato) (see Chap. 137, “Greek Cosmology and
Cosmogony”). Despite these developments, archaeological and literary evidence
attest that the practical uses of astronomical observations continued to be part of
daily life. The use of mythology as a memory device for the constellations popu-
lating the ancient Greek sky meant that constellations were linked with ancient
Greek religion through catasterism myths. The extent of this is witnessed in myths
associated with cults, some of which included catasterism myths, while others had
astronomical references (e.g., the Hyades and Athenian cults (Euripides,
Erechtheus, fr. 370.71–74; Boutsikas and Hannah 2012)).
Beyond myth, astronomy was also linked to cult practice in terms of religious
timekeeping. This is well attested in epigraphical and literary sources and in
archaeological finds (see Chap. 139, “Ancient Greek Calendars”). Artifacts
such as parapegmata, calendars, and sundials recovered in religious sites would
have assisted in timekeeping (see Chap. 142, “Material Culture of Greek and
1574 E. Boutsikas
Roman Astronomy”). An example of this are the Hibeh papyri (third-century BC),
which recorded astronomical movements associated with religious festivals to
Athena, Prometheus, and Hera (Grenfell and Hunt 1906), while direct references
to the role of astronomy in Greek religious practice are also present in literature: the
inhabitants of Keos watched the sky for the arrival of Sirius and offered sacrifices to
the Dog Star and Zeus (Ap. Rhod. Argon. 2.516–27; Diod. Sic. 4.82.1–3; Theophr.
De ventis 14). The rite dates to at least the fourth-century BC (Davidson 2007,
p. 207). In later periods, the role of stars in Greek cosmology is explicit: there are
references to the divinity of stars (e.g., Plato, Timaeus, 41d–e, 42b; Chrysippus,
Stoicorum Veterum Fragmenta, 810–11, 813–15, 1076–7), although direct star
worship was not practiced in Greece. These beliefs would have influenced the
way the Greeks viewed themselves in the cosmos, and the role they believed their
rituals had in maintaining cosmic order. This latter concern was predominant in the
performance of rituals, which were aimed at linking the world of men with the
cosmos (the divine realm).
The performance of Greek religious rituals was the manifestation and expres-
sion of these beliefs, and the location where the rituals took place was the space
where these beliefs were enacted. Because rituals were open air, performed around
the altar, in front of the temple, the orientation of Greek temples has attracted much
interest. In terms of ritual though, the space in front of the temples, marked by the
altar, where all cult activity would have been directed and performed was of
greater significance. This activity took place usually during the night, when the
skyscape would have been directly visible and linkable to these performances. The
timing of these performances aimed at linking the cosmos to the sanctuary through
the rituals performed there. So the picture comprises of several elements: the exact
location chosen and orientation of the temple-altar group, which would have
directed the participants to viewing specific parts of the visible night sky; the
time of the day/night the rituals took place; the month in the year; the myths
associated with the cults and the specific rituals performed. All these elements are
of equal significance in recreating the ritual experience, which reaffirms religious
and cosmological beliefs, and helps us reconstruct ancient Greek cosmological
cognition.
The General Orientation of Greek Temples
Common perception of the predominant eastern orientation of Greek temples
oversimplifies a much more complex pattern. Approximately 58% of Greek tem-
ples face toward the east (Boutsikas 2009), a much smaller percentage than that
previously thought (Dinsmoor 1939, pp. 115–116). In addition, no correlation
seems to exist between the orientation of temples and sunrise at the equinoxes
(Boutsikas 2009, p. 10), an unexpected occurrence if interpreting the orientation of
Greektemplesinrelationtothesun.Amuchlarger variation is present that cannot
be simply explained in terms of the orientation of Greek temples to the rising
sun (e.g., ca. 26% of temples have a southern orientation). As a result,
140 Greek Temples and Rituals 1575
all-encompassing interpretations do not apply to Greek temples. More contextual
evidence is needed that considers local variations, traditions, and landscapes in
Greek cult, in order for archaeoastronomical analyses to make sense and improve
our narrative.
The Astronomy of Certain Festivals of Apollo
Archaeoastronomy of the current era has moved beyond direct decontextualized
alignment studies. It has in recent years become a subdiscipline that can contribute
to our understanding of ancient cognition. The site of Delphi and rituals in ancient
Greece that were associated with the Delphic oracle are distinct examples of this.
Earlier research associated the temple of Apollo in Delphi with the rising sun and
the heliacal setting of stars of bLup and kCen (Penrose 1896, pp. 384–385), later
corrected to be associated with the heliacal setting of eCMa (Penrose 1900,
pp. 612–613). These links were based solely on the alignment of the temple and
considered no contextual evidence for the festival time or associated myths.
The timing of the operation of the Delphic oracle, the Pythian Games in Delphi
and Apollo’s birthday and his return to Delphi at the end of his stay in the land of
the Hyperboreans overlapped with the timing of the major astronomical phases of
the celestial dolphin, the constellation of Delphinus (ancient Greek for dolphin)
(Table 140.1). According to the Delphic foundation myth, Apollo transformed into
a dolphin and then to a shooting star to guide the Cretan sailors to his oracle
(Homeric Hymn to Apollo, 399–401, 440–443). The temple of Apollo in Delphi
faces an unusually high horizon of 25–27, resulting to the delay in observing the
rising of celestial bodies from this location by ca. 2 weeks (Fig. 140.1). The annual
operation of the Delphic oracle, on Apollo’s birthday, on the seventh of Bysios (our
February), was the first full month in which Delphinus was visible in the Delphic
sky after its heliacal rising. Observing Delphinus’ heliacal rising and setting across
Greece could act as the signifier of the period of the oracle’s consultation (Salt and
Boutsikas 2005). The delayed viewing of the heliacal rising of the constellation in
Delphi by 2 weeks compared to a lower horizon would offer advance warning for
visitors travelling from across the Greek world to consult the oracle, in order to
arrive at the oracle on time for the annual consultation. Likewise, the Delphic
Pythia festival held in Boukatios (C.I.A. 2.545) was timed on the first month after
Delphinus’ cosmical setting (Table 140.1).
For the Athenian delegation to depart for the annual consultation of the Delphic
oracle from Athens, the Pythaistai group spent 3 days and nights in each of
3 months watching the sky in anticipation of a divine sign (a lightning) (Strabo,
IX.2.11). The watch lasted from late Boedromion (our October) to Poseideon
(December–January) (Lambert 2002, p. 392) and can be associated with the move-
ment of Delphinus; the end of this period overlaps with Delphinus’ heliacal rising
and setting as visible in lower horizons, as is that of Athens (Boutsikas 2013). This
is the only time in the year when Delphinus is seen to set in the west toward the
direction that the Pythaistai were observing (Strabo, 9.2.11). A second occurrence is
1576 E. Boutsikas
Table 140.1 The timing of relevant festivals and sacrifices against the movement of Delphinus
Attic months
Delphic
months Delian months
Relevant
festivals
Movement
of Delphinus
Gregorian
months
Hekatombaion Apellaios Hekatombaion Cosmical
setting
(6–8 August)
July–August
Metageitnion Boukatios Metageitnion Pythia, Delphi
(7th)
August–
September
Boedromion Boathoos Bouphonion Beginning of
Pythaistai watch
(end of month)
September–
October
Pyanepsion Heraios Apatourion October–
November
Maimakterion Daidaphoros Aresion November–
December
Poseideon Poitropios Poseideon End of Pythaistai
watch (end of
month)
Helical
rising
(1–3 January)
December–
January
Helical
setting
(3–5 January)
Gamelion Amalios Gamelion Sacrifices to
Apollo
Delphinios in
Erchia (7th–8th)
Helical
rising in
Delphi
(17–19
January)
January–
February
Cities start
preparing
choruses for the
Delia
Anthesterion Bysios Hieros Delphic oracle
operation/ Delia
or Apollonia in
Delos (7th)
February–
March
Elaphebolion Theoxenios Galaxion March–April
Mounychion Edyspoitropios Artemision April–May
Thargelion Herakleios Thargelion Sacrifice to
Apollo in Erchia
(4th)
Acronychal
rising
(1–3 June)
May–June
Thargelia,
Athens (7th) (to
Apollo)
Birthday of
Apollo, Delos
(7th)
Daphnephoria,
Thebes
Skirophorion Ilaios Panimos Daphnephoria,
Delphi
Acronychal
rising in
Delphi
(15–17 June)
June–July
140 Greek Temples and Rituals 1577
that of Erchia, another Greek city, which offered sacrifices to Apollo Delphinios
annually on the seventh of Gamelion (January–February), before a procession
departed for Delphi to consult the oracle. This timing overlaps also with the
observation of Delphinus’ heliacal rising from the lower horizon of Erchia. The
Athenian delegation and the Erchian procession would have departed for Delphi as
soon as the heliacal rising of Delphinus became visible from these horizons.
The same event would become visible in Delphi approximately 2 weeks later,
and the oracle would offer consultation on the first month after this, allowing
enough time for oracle seekers to arrive in Delphi on time for the consultation.
Of equal interest is the festival of the Daphnephoria celebrated in Delphi and
Thebes and focusing on Apollo’s cosmological attributes. The festival included
a procession that carried symbols of the sun, moon, and planets (Proclos,
Christomatheia). The timing of the Delphic Daphnephoria was a month later to
that of Thebes. Both festivals occurred at the time of Delphinus’ acronychal rising,
as visible from each location (i.e., delayed in Delphi).
The other major Greek sanctuary of Apollo was in Delos and had close associ-
ations with Delphi. The most important festival of Apollo in Delos was called Delia
(or Apollonia). The temples of Apollo in Delos are oriented SW, to the opposite
direction of that in Delphi, toward the setting point of Delphinus (Fig. 140.2).
Fig. 140.1 The horizon of
the temple of Apollo in
Delphi
1578 E. Boutsikas
Starry symbolism is also present in the foundation myth of Delos: Asteria (She-
star), trying to avoid Zeus’ advances, leapt from heaven in the shape of a star,
turning into Delos upon her arrival on earth. Asteria was the deity of the altar of
Apollo’s temples in Delos (Kallimachos, Hymn to Delos, 312). The temples of
Delphi and Delos then are orientated toward altars dedicated to gods who in myth
changed temporarily to a star, before landing on the sacred spot. Apollo’s birthday
in Delos was different to that in Delphi, on the seventh of Thargelion (May–June)
(Diogenes Laertios, 3.2), but here too, it was timed during a significant phase of the
constellation of Delphinus (Table 140.1). The choruses the Greek cities sent to
Delos for the Delia needed to depart well in advance of the festival. The cities had to
start preparing for the departure of the choruses in early spring, and based on
ancient references (Theognis, 775; Dionysios Periegetes, 527), the beginning of
this preparation is calculated to sometime between February and March (Farnell
1907, p. 289–290), i.e., approximately in the first month after Delphinus’ heliacal
rising and heliacal setting (Table 140.1). The sacrificial calendar of Athens agrees
with this timing, as it records the departure of the theoˆria for Delos in early
Anthesterion (Fragment 8.2; Lambert 2002, p. 393), approximately a month after
the constellation’s heliacal rising and setting in the Attic horizon.
The end of the Pythaistai watch, the timing of the Erchian sacrifices to Apollo,
the Thargelia in Athens, the timing of Daphnephoria (in Thebes and Delphi), the
beginning of the preparations for the Delia in Delos, and the Pythia in Delphi
overlap with all four phases of Delphinus (Table 140.1)
Epigraphical evidence confirms that Delphinus was recognized and used as
a calendrical marker in ancient Greece, but also that these phases were known to
and watched for by the ancient Greeks. The first three phases were recorded in the
parapegma of Geminos (first-century BC) (Evans and Berggren 2006). Delphinus is
also mentioned in the two earlier parapegmata of Demokritos and Euktemon, which
date to the fifth-century BC, testifying that the constellation was known to the Greeks
and was used for calendric purposes from at least as early as the Classical period.
Conclusion
Past approaches and methodologies were viewed with suspicion by scholars,
because they contained no contextual evidence for the proposed astronomical
Fig. 140.2 Horizon of Delian temples
140 Greek Temples and Rituals 1579
links (Boutsikas and Ruggles 2011, pp. 56–60). By enriching archaeoastronomical
data with literary and archaeological evidence, we are in a position to explain the
importance and reasons why such a practice may have been used by the Greeks.
Such considerations improve our understanding of the culture and our reconstruc-
tions of Greek religious practice and cosmological beliefs.
Archaeoastronomy in Greek religion has greater potential when targeting spe-
cific cults as opposed to analyses of data in terms of general trends. Although this
latter type of analysis is valuable for preliterate cultures, in Greece, where there is
an abundance of literary and epigraphical evidence, archaeoastronomy can achieve
contextual interpretations. This type of analysis is significant also because it
manages to blend our knowledge of the development of Greek astronomy with
the application of this knowledge in Greek daily life.
More work in this field will improve our knowledge of the extent of the practices
discussed here. Investigations that consider spatial movement within the sanctuary
during the time the festivals were held will offer a better understanding of the
experience of the ancients who participated in these rituals, while investigations
dealing with sites where the Greeks worshipped their gods in the same space as non-
Greeks will enlighten on interactions and influences between cultures.
Cross-References
Analyzing Orientations
Ancient Greek Calendars
Calendars and Astronomy
Concepts of space, time, and the cosmos
Greek Constellations
Greek Cosmology and Cosmogony
Orientation of Egyptian Temples: An Overview
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The cities of Greece had their own calendars, so how did they all know when the god Apollo had returned from the northern realms and it was time to consult the oracle at Delphi? The authors show that the heliacal risinig of the constellation Delphinus probably provided the annual marker, and that because of the mountains it appeared to rise a month later at Delphi than elsewhere, giving would-be visitors time to travel. The landscape of Delphi was itself instrumental in creating or enhancing the cosmology of Apollo.
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This article presents the first ever full edition of the fragments of one of the most important documents of ancient Greek religion, the sacrificial calendar of Athens as it was inscribed on stone as part of the revision of Athenian Law in 410/9–405/4 and 403/2–400/399 BC. All these fragments, where they survive, are in Athens (the Agora and Epigraphical Museums). The edition contains many new readings, restorations and interpretative points (in particular the identification of festivals). In addition to a line-by-line commentary, a translation is included and there are explanatory notes on linguistic features, animal and non-animal items listed in the calendar and payments to priests and other officials.
Aitia, astronomy and the timing of the Arrhe ¯phoria. The Annual of the British School at Athens
  • E Boutsikas
  • R Hannah
Boutsikas E, Hannah R (2012) Aitia, astronomy and the timing of the Arrhe ¯phoria. The Annual of the British School at Athens (in press).