Cults and religion in northern Ionia from Homer and Hesiod to Xenophanes of Colophon: An archaeological and textual reconstruction – Ergün Lafli

Although Ionia occupied only a narrow coastal strip on the eastern Aegean coast, its favorable position between the civilizations to the west (e.g., the Greek Aegean) and to the east (e.g., Lydia and Phrygia) made an immense contribution to the archaic Greek art by supplying much of the Eastern influence in the eighth and seventh centuries B.C. As Athens claimed to be the mother city of all the Ionian cities, the Ionians were ethnologically a mixed group, mainly from Attica and Boeotia. In this paper concentration will be given to the cults and religion in Ionia and Ionians between the eighth and sixth centuries B.C., based on textual and archaeological sources. Cultic and religious materials and results from geometric and archaic sites in northern Ionia, i.e. Old Smyrna, Phocaea, Clazomenae, Erythrae, Chios, Teos, Lebedus and Colophon, including Claros, will be the main archaeological output and be discussed individually, as there is a considerable number of significant cultic materials from this area since the year 2005. From all of these sites there are several new publications and finds which will be helpful in order to understand the situation with cult and religion between the eighth and sixth centuries B.C. It is my intention to use results of especially Turkish field projects for a synthesis to understand cult and religion in Ionia for the periods between the eighth and sixth centuries B.C. in a more comprehensive way. My research is based mostly on the reports of excavations and other field researches undertaken in geometric and archaic northern Ionian sites; but I also included my documentation of cultic small finds in the local museums and some field research on some of these sites. Ephesus, Samos, Miletus, Myus and Mycale on the plains of Selçuk as well as Söke, and two other significant sites, Didyma and Priene, likewise in southern Ionia, are excluded from this paper. Excluded are also the sites in Caystrus Valley which belong in greater majority to Lydia or Lydian archaeo-cultural sphere. With “cultic and religious materials” it is meant hereby cultic (monumental) architecture (such as temples and sanctuaries), coroplastic finds, cultic vessels, cultic metal objects and other type of cultic finds.

The best way to understand the reasons and nature of the shifting of Homeric and Hesiodic polytheism in Ionia to the theological assertions of Xenophanes is to collect all textual and archaeological sources in the regards of cult and religion. Here is a list of northern Ionian sites and their summarized cultic evidences between the eighth and sixth centuries B.C.:

Old Smyrna: The most important archaeological evidence for the religious architecture at this site is the temple of Athena which is located on terrace near north-east gate of Old Smyrna, adjacent to the north fortification wall. This is the largest archaic monumental building in northern Ionia, excavated by both British and Turkish scholars. The dimensions of the temple stylobate are c. 19 m. x 32 m. Although its reconstruction itself is open to question, Akurgal has a reconstruction of six columns across the rear. It is Aeolic in architectural order and based on the related ceramic finds (a.o. Corinthian pottery) in the excavation levels and evidence of changes in masonry technique in terrace walls Akurgal dated it between c. 700 and 590 B.C. At the beginning of the seventh century B.C., an area at the north of the city, adjacent to the city wall, was reserved as a sanctuary to the goddess Athena. The excavators of the site identify the following construction phases: Phase I dates to the late geometric period (725-700 B.C.); phase II (the “sub-geometric podium”) to between c. 675-640 B.C.; and phase III is the so-called the “orientalizing” phase. In c. 600 B.C. the Lydian king Alyattes captured Old Smyrna, and the temple, which may have been unfinished, was destroyed. Numerous votive deposits from the period c. 600-550 B.C. indicate that the temple remained a center of cult activity. The absence of any deposits or associated finds suggests that the temple was abandoned after c. 545 B.C. The dedication of the temple to Athena seems secure, based on the evidence of a bronze votive bar found during the

A life-size terracotta statue from Old Smyrna; 600-545 B.C. Archaeological Museum of Izmir (by E. Laflı, 2012). Reference: E. Gjerstad, The Cypro-Archaic life-size terracotta statue found in Old Smyrna, in: E. Akurgal (ed.), The proceedings of the Xth international congress of classical archaeology, Ankara-Izmir, 23-30/IX/1973 (Ankara, Türk Tarih Kurumu Basımevi 1978), vol. II, 709-713; and vol. III, pl. 218, fig. 1.

excavations; but except this bronze find there is almost no further epigraphic finds from this temple. A problematic feature of the temple and its architectural remains is the restoration of the tufa capitals (or bases) with a convex above a concave element, and decorated with two tiers of floral ornament of lotus buds and flowers. Also interesting is that there are only kouros type of sculptural finds from this Athena temple, and almost no kore. Also sculpure by marble is almost completely lacking. Cultic small finds, i.e. coroplastic examples (fig. 1) and ceramic vessels, are, however, many in numbers.


Phocaea: A further temple of Athena is located in Phocaea on a flat rock platform with a commanding view of the city and its bay. Excavations again by Akurgal in 1960s have yielded many fragments of bases, columns, capitals and architectural terracottas which may have been part of the temple of Athena mentioned by Xenophon (Hell. 13.1) and Pausanias (2.31.6 and 7.5.4). Constructed of fine white porous stone, the building seems to have been erected in the second quarter of the sixth century B.C., and restored about the end of the same century after its destruction by the Persians. In 408 B.C. the temple was struck by lightning and set on fire (Xen Hell. 1.3.1). Strabo stated that a statue of Athena was made of wood and placed in a sitting position in the temple. In addition to Athena, Cybele was also venerated at the same spot. Rock-cut niches beneath the temple of Athena facing the harbour of Phocaea have lately been interpreted as a “sanctuary of Cybele”; but a new Ph.D. thesis by Rohaut Laura at the Aix Marseille Université makes a different interpretation about this site. On the small finds with cultic function there are some reports by the Turkish excavators. Also remarkable sculptural griffins by tuffa stone were found in the recent excavations in the temple.

Clazomenae: The archaic town of Clazomenae was very extensive in size and made up of several residential, industrial and burial areas. A large curvilinear structure – quite likely a household unit – sits at the centre of the settlement, with pottery manufacture and the cemetery relegated to the outskirts of town. During the archaic period the settlement expanded towards the west, and in the mid-seventh century B.C. the defensive wall was built. There are sparse cultic findings from the period between the ninth and seventh centuries B.C. and the evidence on the cultic architecture at the site is weak. Large numbers of painted sarcophagi made of terracotta, however, were uncovered in the area of Clazomenean chora and are thought to be peculiar to Clazomenae. These figurative objects could be helpful in understanding the religious characteristics of archaic Clazomenae.

Erythrae: Most important archaic religious features in Erythrae were the sanctuary of Hercules (fig. 2) and temple of Athena Polias. So far a terrace wall, dating back to the first half of the sixth century B.C. is believed to be the podium of the temple. According to a graffito on a bowl from the early sixth century B.C. it is secured that the temple was offered to Athena Polias, as the textual evidence supports (Paus. 7.5.8). Two monumental marble statues were found

An electrum hekte of Erythrae with the head of youthful Heracles, wearing lion’s skin headdress; 520-480 B.C. Archaeological Museum of Izmir (by E. Laflı, 2017). References: SNG Copenhagen; BMC Ionia 7; and SNG von Aulock 1942.

in the excavations of Akurgal in 1960s. The first one whose head of is missing has folds on her chiton which recall such Samian sculptures as the Hera of Cheramyes in the Louvre and the statues by Geneleos, dated to 560-550 B.C. Small finds in this temple were as numerous as Old Smyrna; especially trenches on top of the Acropolis have yielded much cultic pottery and small offerings in bronze and ivory of c. 670-545 BC.

Chios: The archaic period of Chios is the best explored among the other Ionian sites. Especially Emporio and its finds will be the focus of my paper. The British excavators of the archaic temple at Emporio found some votive deposits, among others nine little griffin protomes of lead, attributed to the wooden statue of a goddess in the temple which should be there during the sixth century B.C. Other archaic sites on the island, other than Emporio, are small and not very significant; but their small finds are many in number (fig. 3).

A marble votive statuette to Cybele from the city of Chios (Kofinas-N.I. Philippou estate); mid. sixth century B.C. Museum of Chios, no. 754 (by E. Laflı, 2018). Reference: F. Graf, Nordionische Kulte: religionsgeschichtliche und epigraphische Untersuchungen zu den Kulten von Chios, Erythrai, Klazomenai und Phokaia, Bibliotheca Helvetica Romana 21 (Rome, Schweizerisches Institut in Rom 1985).

Teos: Teos was one of the most important, but less known cities of Ionia. Archaeometric analyses have now verified that this site was a large pottery production center between the late geometric and archaic periods (c. 800-500 B.C.). Turkish excavations since 2010 yieled numerous results in terms of the archaic period of the city. It was one of the largest and commercially strongest poleis of Ionia. The most important discovery was the archaic phase of the Dionysos temple which was enlarged during the Hellenistic period, even though the archaic phase of the site is characterized mostly with the pottery finds. The measurements of its cella are 38.46 x 7.30 m, similar to the temple of Samian Heraion Hekatompedos. The remains of superstructure of this earlier temple in white marble with narrow egg-and-dart reliefs were found at the southwest of its temenos. Hekatompedos temple at Teos was built by levelling the bedrock and filling the area over three metres on one side where the Turkish excavators were discovered an archaic bothros recently.

Lebedus: This site is 36 km to the northwest of Ephesus. In Lebedus there is an archaic temple on a slope of its acropolis which is being investigated by us in the recent time. Otherwise Lebedus is almost entirely unknown for its archaic phase, as it was a poor and minor Ionian site.

Colophon: It was a flourishing commercial city from the eighth to the fifth century b.c. with its harbour at Notium in the south. Recent Turkish field surveys display new finds in terms of cultic activities at this site and confirmed former evidences by the American excavations in early of the 20th century. It is obvious that some of the buildings discovered by the Americans had cultic function and some of them not.

Claros: This sanctury site was located on the territory of Colophon, with major Apollo and Artemis sanctuaries as well as some cultic evidence for Cybele in some neighbouring cave sites. An archaic Artemis statue is a past evidence for the cult of Artemis at the site. Both French and Turkish excavations yielded enormous numbers of small finds which are significant for a better understanding of cultic activities at this sanctuary site. This site is also important for its sculptural finds for a better understanding of archaic Ionia.