The 2015 Samothrace survey team has been very busy capturing data throughout the site to help spatially locate a number of buildings and geographical features. This year, we used several new technologies to improve our understanding of the site. For the first time in Samothracian history, we captured aerial imagery using an aerial robot. Unfortunately, the aerial robot encountered some technical difficulties, resulting in its decommissioning for the remainder of the season. However, we did get some great photos and videos of the sanctuary before then and look forward to its use in future seasons!
Another exciting resource this season is the ability to capture 3-D videos and still photographs using 3-D cameras. We documented various monuments and geographical features throughout the site with the cameras. This imagery will be useful for future site management by documenting the current state of various elements in three-dimensional space.
Stay tuned for some fantastic underwater footage when the survey team took the 3-D cameras under the sea exploring a potential ancient quarry site off the Phonias shoals!
In addition to these thrilling new technologies, we continue to survey in the traditional manner using a total station to capture geolocation data. We also continue to employ photoscanning software for 3-D modeling of specific features on the site.
The main focus of our survey work this season has been exploring how the two main streams in the sanctuary ran through the site in antiquity. Consequently, we have been capturing large amounts of data in the central and eastern ravines through survey, photoscans, and 3-D imagery. As part of this project, we investigated a possible Roman bridge that spanned the central ravine. Using survey data and photoscans of the bridge remains, we hope to determine what the original bridge might have looked like in antiquity.
An unexpected but extremely beneficial project conducted early in the field season was completing the survey of every visible block of the orchestra of the Theatral Circle, which had recently been cleaned. The stalwart survey team logged numerous hours in the sun to capture this data and those efforts will enhance our understanding of this very important architectural feature.
What do we do with all this data? Much of the survey data captured during this and recent field seasons has been used by our architect to create a current state plan of the sanctuary, documenting the current condition of both the monuments and the geographical features of the site. The 2-D and 3-D imagery assists in site management, providing a clear record of what the site looks like in 2015, for comparison in future years. Such data will allow future teams to assess which areas of the sanctuary are most in need of attention. Further, this information places monuments and geographical features within their geospatial location, creating an accurate site plan and helping us understand how the sanctuary looked in antiquity and how people would have moved through it.
Propylon of Ptolemy II
Bukrane and Rosette Frieze, Propylon of Ptolemy II
Dedicated by Ptolemy II
Samothrace Archaeological Museum; Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna; Istanbul Archaeological Museum
The Propylon of Ptolemy II was one of the most extensively decorated gateways in the Hellenistic Greek world. A skillfully carved frieze of some 104 bukrania and 100 rosettes adorned its entablature. Twelve surviving frieze blocks from the facades and sides indicate the facades has elaborate rosettes with two tiers of petals, while those on the flanks have a single tier of simpler leaves. While most of the building was constructed in Thasian marble, the intricate architectural details, including the frieze, were carved in Proconnesian marble.
Bukrania, or bovine skulls with upturned horns, and rosettes are key elements of sacrificial imagery. The bare skulls represent the sacrificial victim and the rosettes may allude to floral decoration or to phialai, the shallow vessels used for libations (liquid offerings) in religious festivals. These skulls are notable for the varied design of the tufts of hair (forelocks) between the horns and for the beaded ribbons terminating in three-tipped tassels, which hang from the horns.
Sculpted bukrania and rosettes also appear on the Rotunda of Arsinoe II, a building dedicated by the sister and later wife of Ptolemy II. These Samothracian buildings, which have some earliest examples of the bukrania and rosette ornamentation, clearly played an important role in the development of a motif that would became ubiquitous in Hellenistic Greek and Roman architecture.
Corinthian Capital, Propylon of Ptolemy II
Dedicated by Ptolemy II
The Propylon of Ptolemy II is remarkable in being “bilingual.” While the east façade is Ionic, the western façade that faced into the Sanctuary is Corinthian. The Propylon is one of the first Greek buildings to employ a fully structural, monumental Corinthian façade. Although the Corinthian column was first developed in the late 5th century B.C., this delicate, decorative order was generally reserved for the interior of buildings. Prior to the Propylon, it appears only on the exterior of small structures such as the Lysikrates Monument in Athens.
Mixing the Ionic and Corinthian orders was also highly unusual. The designer of this building may have used the two different forms cleverly to distinguish between “outside” and “inside” the sacred space, as the initiates would be greeted by the Ionic façade on entering the Sanctuary and the Corinthian façade once they were inside.
At least 138 fragments of Corinthian capitals were discovered in the course of excavations in the vicinity of the Propylon of Ptolemy II. Individually, they are small, but collectively they allow for a complete reconstruction of the capital. The image to the left shows a plaster reconstruction. Significant features of this capital include the two tiers of acanthus leaves at the base and the exceptionally large diagonal volutes.
Although different in proportions and details, in basic scheme this Corinthian capital closely resembles the engaged Corinthian capital from the interior order of the Rotunda of Arsinoe II. The resemblance in the capitals (as well as the frieze mentioned above) constitutes an additional architectural link between the two buildings that were donated by the Ptolemaic siblings, Ptolemy II and Arsinoe II.
Corinthian Anta Capital with Griffins and Stag, Propylon of Ptolemy II
Dedicated by Ptolemy II
Samothrace Museum (on loan from the Louvre)
The capital that crowned the anta on the western Corinthian façade of thePropylon of Ptolemy II is known as a “sofa” capital because of the sofa-shaped border that frames the central relief.
Although the subject of its decoration, griffins (mythical, hybrid beasts with the head of an eagle and the body of a lion) bringing down a stag, is a popular Hellenistic motif, figural carving on an anta capital is highly unusual in Hellenistic Greek architecture. In fact, this type of decoration is known elsewhere only on the Temple of Apollo at Didyma, which was completed after the Samothracian Propylon.
First to second quarter of the 4th century B.C.
Fragments of painted plaster from the exterior and interior walls
W ca. 6.75 m (across the walls) L at least 9.17 m
Painted plaster exterior fragments: 65.1025, 66.0744.1, 66.0890.1, 66.0771.1, 66.0772
Both the exterior and interior walls of the Fieldstone Building were finished in plaster. The remains from the outer surfaces of the building are scant, but some fragments of plaster, primarily white and bluish-white fragments, were recovered along the southern face of the Fieldstone Building. Graffiti, drawing or writing scratched into a wall or other surface, and dipinti, painted markings, are preserved on several of the exterior fragments. Recognizable forms, once parts of larger inscriptions, include a theta above and a sigma and an alpha below, a theta alone, an epsilon, sigma, and additional, less clear, markings, and one with a sketch that may be a building. A parallel for this practice may be found in the letters etched into the plaster walls of the Stoa. Within the very fragmentary remains, there is some suggestion that the texts may have been lists of initiates.
The remains of the plaster decorating the interior walls of the Fieldstone Building are particularly impressive. They constitute the earliest example in the Sanctuary of painted plaster imitating stone construction. Projecting panels formed the both the dado and string courses. The orthostate and stringcourse were lightly incised and painted with red lines to emulate the drafted margins of masonry blocks. The wall above the string course was painted a deep red.
The Fieldstone Building is one of the very few examples of architectonic mural decoration on a public building or within a Greek sanctuary prior to the Hellenistic period. At the time of its construction, there were no marble buildings within the Sanctuary. (In fact, there were very few permanent structures at all.) The emulation of a costly marble construction reflects an effort to raise the modest architectural profile of the Sanctuary.
Dedication of Philip III and Alexander IV
Dedicated by Philip III and Alexander IV
Sanctuary, Eastern Hill
These two inscribed epistyle blocks are crucial to our understanding of this important Doric pavilion on the Eastern Hill. The first two words of the beautifully rendered inscription, ΒΑΣΙΛΕ|ΙΣΦΙΛΙΠΠΟΣ, are set out in one line across the epistyle which, at its full length, would have stretched an impressive 10.8 meters across the façade of the building. Five additional fragments from the epistyle preserving additional letterforms contribute important pieces of the puzzle. The plural of basileus (ΒΑΣΙΛΕ|ΙΣ), or king, reveals that the dedicators of the building must have been two rulers who held the Macedonian throne jointly. The only two rulers who fit this description are Arrhidaios, the brother of Alexander the Great who took the name Philip III after assuming the throne, and Alexander IV, the posthumous son of Alexander the Great. As restored the inscription reads ΒΑΣΙΛΕ|ΙΣΦΙΛΙΠΠΟΣ|Α[ΛΕΞΑN]Δ[Ρ]|Ο[Σ ΘΕΟΙΣΜΕΓ]|Α[ΛΟΙΣ, which can be translated as “Kings Philip and Alexander to the Great Gods.”
This costly building, which had a Pentelic marble facade and Thasian side and back walls, is one of the very few dedications made by the blood successors of Alexander. Significantly, they chose Samothrace, the place known to have special importance to Philip II, the father of both Philip Arrhidaios and Alexander the Great, as the place to assert their authority as successors. Thereafter, the Sanctuary became central to Hellenistic royalty.
Marble Floor Pieces from Central Panel
Dedicated by Philip III and Alexander IV
The Dedication had a floor composed of marble pieces set in a pinkish mortar. The central area bore a rectangular “carpet,” c. 9.62 m by 7.3 m, of small, diamond-shaped marble blocks. The outer border of irregular marble chips formed loosely trapezoidal fields along the sides of the main panel. Remarkably, parts of the marble floor were never covered over and sections of the marble border panels still survive in their original position.
Volute fragment with Restored Ionic Capital
Late 3rd or first half of the 2nd century B.C.
The Ionic Porch takes its name from the order of the columns that adorned its façade. Oriented westward, the Ionic porch faces away from the Theatral Complex and would have been visible as the initiates continued on their journey down the Sacred Way to the heart of the Sanctuary in the central valley. It is especially visible when coming up the Sacred Way form the central valley.
The architectural remains of the Ionic Porch have fared far worse than those of the adjacent Dedication of Philip III and Alexander IV, owing both to the circumstances of destruction (the blocks fell over the well-traveled Sacred Way) and to post-antique activity in the region. Despite the comparatively thorough destruction of the Porch, several important fragments of the Ionic capitals survive allowing the reconstruction of its formal components. The key remains include two sizable volute fragments, three fragmentary eggs from the echinus (the circular part of the capital that rests on the column), and a corner piece of the abacus (the rectangular crowning element that supports the entablature).
The capital of the Ionic Porch is less elaborate that the other Ionic buildings in the Sanctuary, especially the Propylon of Ptolemy II and the Hall of Choral Dancers. Like the capitals of the Propylon, it is carved in Proconnesian marble, while the rest of the building is made of Thasian marble.
Floral Coffer Lids, Ionic Porch, Eastern Hill
Late 3rd or first half of the 2nd century B.C.
Samothrace Archaeological Museum
One of the finest features of the small Ionic Porch appended to the back of the Dedication of Philip III and Alexander IV was its marble ceiling with recessed panels crowned by floral patterns carved in relief. At least 16 fragments of coffer blocks and 6 separately sculpted lids represent this elegant ceiling.
Coffered ceilings were a particularly favored form of architectural sculpture in the Sanctuary of the Great Gods. At least three buildings – the Ionic Porch, the Hall of Choral Dancers, and the Hieron – included marble ceilings that incorporated multiple sizes of coffers with separately carved motifs in the lids. Floral ceiling coffers do not seem to have been common in Greek architecture, although they became a standard feature in the Roman period. Outside of Samothrace, we find just three major parallels in the Tholos in the Sanctuary of Asklepios at Epidauros, the Temple of Asklepios Soter in Pergamon, and the Temple of Athena at Illion.
The surviving coffer lids from the Ionic Porch preserve both open and closed floral forms, with at least three distinct types that would have been scattered across the ceiling. The flowers are not generic rosettes. While they do not precisely imitate specific botanical, they do recall several Mediterranean species with broad, flat petals and a lower tier of leaves that would have been common in the Greek landscape and familiar to sculptors and viewers alike. The sculptor’s desire for some degree of naturalism no doubt would have been enhanced with painted colors. Generally symbolic of health, fecundity, and vitality, flowers evoked associations with renewal and growth that must have resonated powerfully with the men and women completing their initiation into the Samothracian Mysteries.
Architectural Elements: Sima with Lion’s Head Water Spout, Ionic Porch
Late 3rd or first half of the 2nd century B.C.
Lion’s head waterspouts were a common feature of Greek architecture. In addition to their role as handsome sculptural embellishment, they served a very practical function as part of the gutter. Along the edge of the roof, rainwater was directed out of the animals’ mouths at regular intervals to prevent it from cascading over the entire side of the building. The waterspouts alternated with antefixes, upright elements, usually decorated with floral motifs, that formed the ends of the covering tiles that protected the joints between the pan tiles.
Samothracian lion’s head waterspouts from the Hieron and Hall of Choral Dancers are particularly handsome. Only one small head survives from the Ionic Porch, but it exhibits some of the same Samothracian qualities, including the pronounced vertical furrow that descends across the brow from the parted locks of the mane, the deep-set eyes, and the broad ruff of the mane.
Individual statue bases, built monument bases, and multiple stelai (upright inscriptions on stone slabs) signal that the Theatral Complex was a prime place for public display within the Sanctuary. Based largely on statue base findspots, choice of material, and technical features, it is possible to reconstruct the probable arrangement of the statues in the Theatral Complex. Most of the individual statues originally stood on monument platforms that framed part of the Theatral Circle. The outer Stepped Retaining Wall supported the statue groups on built monuments as well as individual statues. The 3-D model of the Theatral Complex suggests the dramatic visual impact of this rich and concentrated display. Because none of the bases is inscribed, it is impossible to know the identity of the figures represented. They are more likely mortals, as opposed to mythological or generic dedications. The statues on the monument platforms appear to have been set up in clusters. While the statues may represent religious groups such as initiates into the Mysteries or theoroi (visiting sacred officials), it is more likely that the statues honor benefactors of the Sanctuary.
Statue Base for Statue of a Male
Eastern Hill, SE Quadrant between the Theatral Circle and the southern bridge landing
H. 0.283 m, W. 0.755 m, L. 0.702 m
Of the twenty-two surviving statue bases from the Eastern Hill, most are made of imported Thasian marble and consist of a single, unmolded and uninscribed block. Generally, they have two cuttings for the insertion of tenons supporting life-sized bronze statues. Statue base T003 is rectangular and bears two foot-shaped cuttings with a slight difference in their position, suggesting that the left leg bore the weight and the right leg was set in front.
Found in clusters scattered behind, on, and in front of Monument Platforms II through V, it is likely that the Thasian marble bases were grouped together on the Monument Platforms II, III, and V. Excavators discovered base T003 upside down, lodged between the outside of the fifth step of the Theatral Circle and the bridge landing. It appears that base T003 was flipped off the Monument Platform V during the salvage operation after the final destruction of the Theatral Complex. Deep pick marks around the foot cuttings, evident on a number of bases, bear vivid testimony to attempts to pry the statue from base T003.
Statue Base, possibly for Statue of a Female
Eastern Hill, SE quadrant, on the first step of the Theatral Circle in front of Platform IV
H. 0.251 m, W. 0699 m, L. 0.896 m
Base T058 is one of three statue bases with cuttings that differ from the majority of bases in the Theatral Complex. The base has two rectangular cuttings. The right cutting is set in advance of the left and close to the front of the base, while the left is angled outward and closer to the midpoint of the block. A shallow, roughly worked groove on the top surface near the back of the block curves in a manner that suggests it was cut to accommodate drapery. It therefore seems most likely that statue base T058 supported a bronze statue of a female. Women in Hellenistic Greece typically wore a chiton, a floor-length tunic. The worked surface on the top of T058 is the area where the marble of the statue’s drapery would have reached the marble of the base. Found on the steps of the Theatral Circle, base T058 probably stood on Monument Platform III or on the southern section of the Stepped Retaining Wall.
Statue Base for Statue of a Male, Contrapposto Stance
Eastern Hill, SE Quadrant, upside down on Monument Platform IV
H. 0.340 m, W. 0.618 m, L. 0.623 m
In addition to the Thasian marble bases, the excavators also uncovered nine limestone bases grouped generally in two clusters. Five of the surviving limestone bases were fashioned from a local soft gray limestone, and four, including base T060, were of a harder limestone, either deep gray or white with gray and red veins. Cuttings on the top surface of base T060 indicate a bronze statue of a man standing in contrapposto pose. In this position the figure stands with the weight on one leg with the other leg relaxed and bent at the knee. As a consequence of this shift in weight the figure’s shoulders and torso naturally and subtly twist away from the legs. The foot shaped cutting would have supported the right, weight-bearing leg and the oval cutting behind it indicates where the ball of the left foot would have been attached to the base with a bronze tenon. Statue base T060 was found upside down on the foundation of Platform IV, indicating that salvagers upended the base from its platform after destruction of the Theatral Complex in the late 1st or early 2nd century A.D. Most probably, statue base T060 and up to three other bases stood on Platform IV.
Fragment of an Inscribed Block Supporting a Dedication
Eastern Hill, SE quadrant, on or near the floor of the Theatral Circle
H. 0.136 m, W. 0.289 m, Th. 0.110 m
66.0457, 65.0468a-b, 68.1091
[The demos (vel sim.) dedicated (a statue of) King – – -], son of King [-
– -] to the Great Gods.
Found in the destruction debris on top of the flagstone paving of the Theatral Circle, this block most likely supported a dedication in honor of a king or member of a royal family. Although highly fragmentary, the inscription is similar to that on the column monument of Philip V (SEG XXIX 795); possibly this dedication was also made by the Macedonians. From the time of Philip II and Olympias, parents of Alexander the Great, in the second half of the 4th century B.C., the development of the Sanctuary and expansion of the cult of the Megaloi Theoi was closely tied to the Macedonian royal family and the Hellenistic successors of Alexander. The Eastern Hill was a particularly prominent place for dedications, as the many statue bases found in the region attest.
Inscribed Stele, Dedication in Honor of King Lysimachos of Thrace
SE Quadrant, on packing between Monument Platform IV and Stepped Retaining Wall
p.H. 0.035 m, p.W. 0.375 m, Th. 0.075 m., L.H. 0.012 m-0.010 m
It was decided by the Boule: since King Lysimachos continues to be
friendly and benevolent toward the city and has both granted us
benefactions previously and now has provided us with the sacred territory
on the mainland that Kings Philip and Alexander consecrated to the Gods
and dedicated also [- – -] of the sacred precinct, decided to give the
children of [- -]ion all [- – -], from the time when [- – -] after they
expelled us [- – -] the sanctuary [- – -] continues [- – -]
This stele was found in close proximity to the Monument Platforms and was probably originally set up on Platform III or IV. The crown molding and upper section of the stele, including portions of 15 lines, survive. The stele records a decree of the Βουλή, the council of citizens from a Greek city appointed to run its day-to-day affairs, honoring Lysimachos, one of the generals and successors of Alexander the Great, who became king of Thrace, parts of Asia Minor, and Macedonia. The decree honors Lysimachos for restoring sacred lands on the mainland originally granted to the Samothracians by Philip and Alexander, either II and III, or III and IV. Boundary stones for this sacred land have been found on the mainland near the modern city of Alexandroupolis.
The decree describes Lysimachos’ relationship to the Samothracian polis as one of friend and benefactor, a status that probably stems from another event in which Lysimachos rescued the Sanctuary from an attack at night. In thanks, the city of Samothrace decreed an altar to Lysimachos Euergetes (benefactor) for use in annual festivals (IG XIII.8.150). Lysimachos’ availability to help the Samothracians suggests that he was near at hand. He may well have been an inititate.
List of Greek Initiates
Greek, 2nd to 3rd century AD
Eastern Hill, NW/NE quadrants, fill within destruction debris
H. 0.11 m, W. 0.135 m, Th. 0.025-0.03 m, L.H. 0.015 m
For good fortune.
In the kingship of [- – -],
son of Diogenes [- – -]
This fragment of a stele or plaque was found on the steps of the Theatral Circle within destruction debris; it may well have been set up on the Eastern Hill, although it is also possible that it was among the massive quantity of earth and debris that was brought in to fill the area after the earthquake of the late 1st/early 2nd century A.D.
An incised pediment crowns the stele, which preserves the opening lines of what was probably a list of initiates into the Mysteries. At least 138 surviving inscriptions on stone dating to the Hellenistic and Roman periods record the names of initiates. Samothrace is unique in the systematic memorialization of initiation compared with other mystery cult sites.
Usually commissioned by the initiates themselves, inscriptions such as this one are the primary source of information about who was initiated into the Mysteries and where they were from. While men and women of all social classes, including slaves and kings, traveled great distances from all over the Greek, and later the Roman, world to be initiated, the majority of initiates were from northern Greece and western Asia Minor.
Inscription on Stele, Record of Initiates from Rome, Pessinus, and Smyrna
Late May or early June, 186 A.D.
H. 0.395 m, W. 0.466 m, Th. .052 m, L.H. .025 m- .03 m
93.0047, 93.0048, 93.0049
On the ? day before the June Kalends, Ides or Nones, when Emperor M.
Aurelius Commodus was consul for the fifth time and Acilius Glabrio for
the second time, the following initiates were initiated into the [solemn?]
Mysteries according to the will of the Great Gods, in the kingship of [- –
-]. P. Iulius Geminius Marcianus was proconsul. [Follows a list of
initiates, including Roman citizens, freedmen, and slaves.]
This inscription was broken into pieces and built into a later Roman structure along the Sacred Way. It is the latest certainly dated list of initiates, although other archaeological and literary evidence proves that the Sanctuary operated well into the 4th century A.D. Roman initiates into the Mysteries, like those whose names are inscribed on this stele, include citizens, freedmen, and slaves. Roman military personnel, Roman administrators living in the provinces of the Roman Empire, or private Roman citizens residing or traveling in the east are among the initiates whose names appear on the lists. While this inscription is in Greek, other records of initiation and other inscriptions in Latin also survive, attesting further to the importance of the Sanctuary in the Roman period.
Achaemenid, probably 4th century B.C.
H. 2.6 cm, L. 3.2 cm, Th. 0.12 cm
One of the finest objects found on the Eastern Hill, this appliqué takes the form of a striding lion. It was made from a thin gold sheet hammered in repoussé. Articulated spaces throughout the mane, shoulders, belly, and haunches indicate that the entire body of the lion was meant to receive inlays. Three turquoise paste inlays are preserved in the area of the mane. Eyelets on the back allowed for the appliqué to be sewn onto a piece of cloth. Similar lions form a decorative border applied to a horse-cloth found in Kurgan 5 at Pazyryk (Siberia) and on representations of such fabrics on the monuments at Persepolis.
The lion from Samothrace must have been made in the same workshop as two other lions of similar scale and style found in the Sanctuary of Zeus at Dodona. A gold wing from a creature created in the same materials, style and technique, now in Ioannina, may come from the same tradition.
P. Amandry has assigned the lions from both Samothrace and Dodona to the early fifth century, but J.R. McCredie has proposed that they belong instead to the second half of the fourth century. If so, the lion may have come into Greece along with other spoils from Alexander’s eastern campaigns, perhaps as a votive offering to the Great Gods from a returning soldier.
Roman, probably 4th century A.D.
L. (pin), 3.5 cm, W. (across clasp), 4.7 cm
This bronze fibula belongs to the type known as ‘Aucissa,’ which has connections with pins found in the Northern Balkans, the Rhineland, Gaul, and Spain. J. Gaunt suggests a possible connection between this object and several initiates from Pannonia (in present-day Hungaria, along the Danube river), although he notes that offering personal jewelry to the Great Gods does not seem to have been common in the Sanctuary. Regardless of whether it was intentionally dedicated or accidently left behind, the presence of this bronze pin (like the gold Achaemenid lion) attests to the popularity and international character of the cult in the Roman period.
Roman, probably first or second century A.D.
H. 2.6 cm, L. (bezel) 0.9 cm, W. (bezel) 0.8 cm, Diam. 2.2 cm
This simple iron ring has a rectangular bezel with rounded corners. Two iron rings were found in the vicinity of the Eastern Hill. They provide welcome archaeological evidence for an important feature of the Mysteries recorded in literary sources (Lucretius 6 1044-47; Pliny, Nat. Hist. 33.1.23, cf.Samothrace, vol. 1, pp. 96-97, nos. 212-213), which note that an iron ring was a token of initiation. The quasi-magical status of magnetized iron must have been one of the attractive features of these rings, making them powerful mementos of the rites of the Mysteries for those who had been initiated.
Greek or Roman
Bronze and Iron
H. 1.6 cm, Th. 0.1 cm
This miniature bell was suspended by the small hook at the top. The moving part that strikes the interior surface and makes the resounding ring, known as the clapper, is made of iron. Bells similar to this one were frequently dedicated in Greek sanctuaries, including at least one other site sacred to theKabeiroi, at Thebes. This kind of object adds an auditory dimension to our understanding of the experience of initiation, reminding us that sound surely was an important part of the mysterious rituals. According to the historian Apollodorus (Schol. Theocritus 2.36), the sound of bronze bells ringing had an association with purity, which would have been an ideal connotation for ritual objects within a sacred space, such as on the Eastern Hill, which lies just inside the limits of the Sanctuary of the Great Gods.
Greek or Roman
H. 2.3 cm, L. 4 cm, W. 1.3 cm
This fish-hook may represent the most humble of the votive offerings dedicated in the Sanctuary. Even among similar types of objects, this hook is simply made, with a point at the tip of the curved end and a notch at the top of the vertical element for attachment. Literary sources tell us that one of the promises of initiation into the Samothracian mysteries was delivery from peril at sea (Schol. to Aristides Oratio 13; Samothrace, vol. 1, p. 73, no. 158). Fish-hooks and other seafaring paraphernalia have been discovered in other Greek sanctuaries, suggesting that sailors may have left them as a token of gratitude for safe passages. The simplicity of this dedication reminds us that the gesture of leaving offerings and tokens of appreciation in honor of the Great Gods may take many forms, from the mundane to the grandiose according to the wealth and status of the donor.
Greek or Roman
L. 13 cm, W. 1 cm
This pointed lead spike bears an inscription, “MH.” This object may belong to the tradition of ritual cursing, a custom that is confirmed by a lead curse tablet found in the Samothracian Necropolis. The action of cursing seems to have involved binding, nailing, and burying the inscribed text.
Greek, probably Hellenistic
H. 1.5 cm, W. 2.3 cm, L. 3.2 cm
These two well-preserved bronze toes and a small fragment of a third one to their left are the second, third, and fourth toes from the proper left foot of a life-sized, or slightly under life-sized, statue of a man. A few toes, eyelashes, scraps of drapery, and dozens of statue bases bearing the imprint of feet are virtually all that remain of the many bronze statues that once stood along the western perimeter of the Theatral Circle and bore witness to the initiation rituals that occurred on the Eastern Hill.
Following the catastrophic earthquake that destroyed the structures in this area of the Sanctuary, it seems that the bronze statues were removed from their bases for the purposes of recycling their valuable materials into other usable objects. The surviving bits of metal from these monuments represent the small fragments that may have fallen off during the salvaging efforts. Although the sculptures and their identifying inscriptions are not preserved, even these very fragmentary elements help us to understand the gender, scale, and poses of the many bronze figures that collectively were a prominent features of the Eastern Hill complex in antiquity.
Greek, probably Hellenistic
p.H. 5.8 cm, W. 2 cm, p.L. 2 cm
This bronze tassel likely formed part of the drapery of one of the bronze statues atop the monument platforms that overlooked the Theatral Circle. Its striated and twisted appearance indicates that it imitates fibers and may have formed part of a belt from the garment of one of the numerous bronze statues that once stood in this area of the Sanctuary. Figures wearing drapery with tassels are known from archaeological finds from other sites as well as literary references, such as the mention in Book XIV of Homer’s Iliad of a girdle with 100 tassels.
Greek, probably Hellenistic
L. 4 cm, W. 3.3 cm. Th. 0.03 cm
L. 3 cm, W. 3 cm, Th. 0.06 cm
These two eyelash plates come from two different bronze statues that originally stood on one of the monument platforms overlooking the Theatral Circle. The first (65.0916) lacks the strong curvature of an upper eyelid, which suggests that it formed the lower lid, possibly of a proper right eye. The lid and the eyelashes were made separately and joined together. The entire element was then attached to the rest of the sculpture with the wide hook at the back.
The second example (65.0541) was made in the same way and also belongs to a lower eyelid, although it probably forms part of a proper left eye. Here, the lid is attached with two insertation tangs, rather than a single wide one.
These eyelashes are but two of at least 17 similar elements found on the Eastern Hill. Like the bronze toes and monument platforms found in the same area, they suggest the presence of many life-size, or nearly so, bronze figures in this part of the Sanctuary, a prominent feature that otherwise was lost when the sculptures were dismantled following the ruinous earthquake in first century AD.
Nearly 1,000 legible coins, ranging in date from the late 6th century B.C. to the early 19th century, have been found during American excavations on Samothrace. As Laura Gadbery has noted, the fifty-seven Samothracian coins found during excavations on the Eastern Hill contribute to a more complete understanding of the local Samothracian mint and testify to activity on the island from the first half of the 4th century B.C. to the 17th century. Presented here are five of the more legible coins from the local mint including examples of the more common coin types found on the Eastern Hill.
Local Samothracian Coins
Prow Reverse Type
NW Quadrant, over to ca. 2 m south of the south foundation of the Dedication of Philip III and Alexander VI
On its obverse this series features the head of the goddess Athena wearing a Corinthian helmet. A nude warrior crouching forward on the prow of a ship and holding a spear and shield is represented on the reverse. The Greek letters ΣΑ on the reverse indicate that the coin is local Samothracian issue. This coin series may have been introduced when the Samothracian mint reopened in the late 4th century B.C. after a prolonged hiatus. Other examples of the prow series have been found in contexts associated with theRotunda of Arsinoe.
The representation of a warrior on a ship’s prow may have commemorated a specific naval victory or it may have alluded to the power of the Great Gods to rescue sailors in peril at sea. Diodorus recounts that when the Argonauts came upon a great storm Orpheus, one of the crew members and an initiate into the Samothracian mysteries, prayed to the deities of Samothrace for their salvation. Next the wind died down, two stars fell over the heads of the Dioscuroi, and the whole company was amazed at the marvel which had taken place and concluded that they had been rescued from their perils by an act of providence of the gods (Diodorus 4.43.1-2).
Ram’s Head Reverse Type
Northwest Quadrant, over to ca. 2m south of the south foundation of the Dedication of Philip III and Alexander VI
66.697Prominently featuring a ram’s head facing a kerykeion on its reverse, like the prow type this series bears a head of the goddess Athena wearing a Corinthian helmet on its obverse. The letters ΣAMO on the reverse attests to the magistrate in office in the Samothracian polis at the time of the coin issue.
Kerykeion is the Greek word for caduceus, a short herald’s staff with two snakes entwined in the shape of a double helix. Commonly associated with the Greek Olympian god Hermes, in the context of the Sanctuary the ram and kerykeion were more likely linked to a god similar to Hermes who was worshiped in the cult of the Great Gods. In some cases ancient sources equated Hermes with Kasmilos (also spelled Kadmillo and Kamillos). These sources include Kasmilos among the great gods of Samothrace. According to this tradition Kasmilos was an attendant god to three other gods: Axieros, Axiokersas, and Axiokera. Hippolytus recognized the similar ithyphallic statues of Hermes on Cyllene in the ithyphallic statues of nude, youthful men flanking the doorway to the Anaktoron in the Sanctuary. He believed that the Samothracian images represented primal man and the regenerative spirit in every man (Hippolytus, Refutatio omnium haeresium 5.8.9-10). Among other instances, a kerykeion is represented on a bilingual inscription found outside the Anaktoron that prohibits the uninitiated from entering.
Half-ram Reverse Type
SW Quadrant, cleaning the top step of the Theatral Circle
66.601The half-ram reverse type is much rarer than the prow reverse or ram’s head reverse types. In this series the reverse bears the upper body, front legs, and head of a ram alongside the letters ΣΑΜΟ, indicating a Samothracian issue. Laura Gadbery has observed that the earliest dating evidence for the half-ram type on Samothrace comes from the construction fill of the Stoa, which has been dated in the second quarter of the 3rd century B.C. Although lacking the kerykeion, it is possible that the half-ram types were iconographically related to the ram’s head type.
Seated Goddess Type (Head of Athena on obverse)
NW Quadrant, around northeast corner of Dedication of Philip III and Alexander VI
65.1100Because of its wide distribution – this coin type has been found as far afield as Thasos, Athens, Babylon, and along the Thracian coast – the seated goddess type is the best know of the Samothracian issues. Based on the Samothracian evidence and coins found in other parts of the Greek world Laura Gadbery has argued for a 2nd century B.C. date for the seated goddess type. The Samothracian magistrate at the time of issue was ΑΡΙΣTΟΞE.
On the reverse is a goddess, seated on a throne or stool, wearing a belted chiton, himation around the waist, and a tall polos, or cylindrical crown. In her left hand the goddess holds a scepter and in her right hand a patera, a ritual vessel for pouring libations. On this particular coin a lion is poised beneath the stool. Although some scholars have identified the goddess as the Anatolian mother-goddess Kybele, it is more likely one of the goddesses worshipped in the Sanctuary. In particular, a goddess known as the Great Mother may have been worshiped locally as Axieros.
Seated Goddess Type (Bust of Athena on obverse)
SW Quadrant, on or near packing between Monument Platforms and Stepped Retaining Wall
The seated goddess type continued to be issued into the Roman period but with a substantial change to the obverse. Rather than a head of Athena, the obverse bears a bust of Athena in three-quarters view with an eight-rayed star on a globe. Visible attributes of Athena are her peplos, aegis, and Corinthian helmet. As an exceedingly rare type, only eight examples have been found in American excavations on Samothrace, this coin may bear witness to the last productions of the Samothracian mint in the second half of the 1st century or the early 2nd century B.C.
The twenty-two non-Samothracian coins from the area of the Eastern Hill range in date from the first half of the 4th century B.C. to the 15th century. Of these three are from Macedonia, two are from Thrace, two from Chersonesos Taurica, and one from each of Thessaly, Euboia, and Saray in Turkey. Nine of the coins are from an indeterminable Greek mint. One coin is Ottoman. Finally, one coin is a Roman issue and one is from an unknown Roman provincial mint. Here is presented a representative selection of the more legible coins. The variety of foreign coins attests to only a fraction of the locations from which religious officials and initiates came to Samothrace. These locations may be added to what is known from the abundant initiate and theoroi lists that have been found in and around the Sanctuary.
356 – 345 B.C.
Surface, over Theatral Complex
On the obverse is a beardless head of Herakles distinguished by his lion’s skin. On the reverse is a tripod beside the letters ΦΙΛ[ΙΠ] and ΠΩΝ (Philippon).
187 – 31 B.C.
NE quadrant, on or near floor of Theatral Circle
A bearded and laureate head of Zeus is visible on the obverse. On the reverse is depicted two goats confronting each other and standing on their hind legs. The letters Θ / Ε; Σ/ ΑΛ/[Ο] (Thesalo) designate the mint.
Lysimachos of Thrace
306/05 – 301/00 B.C.
SE quadrant, over Theatral Complex
A representation of Apollo with short hair and a laurel wreath is on the obverse. On the reverse is a young nude male rider on a galloping horse. Carmen Arnold Biucchi has observed that the somewhat corroded letters under the horse may be ΛΥ. If so, she attributes this coin to Lysimachos, king of Thrace, and dates it to 306-361 B.C., the years following his assumption of the title basileus.
405 – 350 B.C.
SW quadrant, over or behind Stepped Retaining Wall
The iconography on the two side of this coin from Ainos, Thrace are iconographically closely related. On the obverse is a head of the Olympian god Hermes. Hermes wears a close-fitting petasos, a Greek traveling hat that is one of his attributes. On the reverse the letters Α Ι /Ν Ι appear on either side of a kerykeion, the herald’s staff associated with Hermes.
A.D. 77-78 (COS V)
Sacred Way, toward center of Sanctuary.
On the obverse of this Roman coin is the head of the Flavian emperor Domitian adorned with a laurel wreath. On the reverse is the Roman she-wolf with the twins Romulus and Remus. This well-known symbol evoked the legendary story of the founding of Rome involving Romulus and Remus, offspring of Mars, the god of war, and Rhea Silvia.
p.H. 0.15 m, p.L. 0.19 m
NW quadrant, directly east of Rectangular Monument
Three joining fragments of an Eagle Wing
p.H. 0.095 m, p.L. 0.28 m
NW quadrant, directly east of Rectangular Monument
Two joining fragments of an Eagle Wing
p.H. 0.11 m, p.L. 0.185 m
65.0846: NW quadrant, over north foundation of Dedication of Philip III and Alexander IV
68.0465: Surface, east bank of ravine, area 15-25 m north of north foundation of Propylon of Ptolemy II
Fragments of a monumental eagle head and portions of the shoulder of two right wings indicate that at least two large marble eagles once adored the Eastern Hill. The head appears turned very slightly to the proper right. The right side of the head preserves greater detail than the left side, which was either originally carved in less detail or is more heavily weathered, or both. The eye is set in a deep socket, and the eyelid is defined in sharp relief. The nostril is preserved as an upward-facing, incised crescent. A deeply incised groove delineates the separation between the upper and lower beak; it terminates in a depression at the corner of the mouth. Deep comma-shaped grooves framed by ridges indicate the feathering on the right side of the neck.
The similarity in carving of the feathers on the head and on the smaller fragment of surviving wing (65.0846/68.0465), indicated by two beveled edges with a central rib defined by an incised groove, suggest that these two fragments belonged to the same statue. The feathers of the other wing (65.0845a-c) differ slightly; they are formed by more sharply beveled edges and are divided down the spine by a raised ridge. This wing must be assigned to a pendant eagle.
Although the surviving evidence does not permit a certain reconstruction of the eagle or a definitive context, the presence of two eagles suggest they could be akroteria for the Dedication of Philip III and Alexander IV. Other options include freestanding statues or attributes of a monumental marble sculpture.
Round Altar or Base
Main block: NE quadrant, surface of eastern slope opposite north spur wall of the Propylon of Ptolemy II
Fragments: chiefly NE quadrant, on or near floor of Theatral Circle
H. 0.640 m.
Diam. across drum 0.744 m.
Unnumbered, 64.0988, 64.1007, 66.0161, 66.0187, 66.0245b, 66.0397, 66.0818, 66.0991, 66.1004
This block consists of a smooth, non-tapering cylindrical drum decorated with carved moldings at the base and crown. On the top surface, two small, rectangular dowel holes with the remains of pour channels indicate that an additional block rested atop the preserved crown. While the moldings are more indicative of an altar, the additional crowning block is more characteristic of a statue base. The block has no immediate parallels in the Sanctuary; however, a similar but smaller ancient base, probably supporting a tripod, was reused as an altar support in the church of Ai-Giorgis ston Katsamba on the western side of the island. Nevertheless, given the many statue bases on the Eastern Hill, all of which are rectangular, it is perhaps more likely to understand this piece as a small altar. The entrance complex on the Eastern Hill would be a likely place to make preliminary sacrifices and offerings in advance of proceeding into the main Sanctuary.
Torso from a Statuette
p.H 0.115 m, p.W. 0.09 m, p.Th. 0.065 m
This marble statuette of a male, like its many terracotta counterparts of both males and females found in the Sanctuary, was most like an offering to the Great Gods. Only the upper torso survives; the position of the right arm, bent up across the chest, is clear. Other features include the poorly preserved right hand and several folds of the figure’s mantel. Several well preserved terracotta male figurines from the South Nekropolis give a sense of the appearance of the body in this format (Samothrace 2, pp. 882-883, nos. SP1-7A and SP1-7B).
ca. 250 B.C. or later
Eastern Hill, NW Quadrant over or behind Stepped Retaining Wall
H. 3.7 cm, Rim Diam. 15.3 cm
65.0745a,b (ring foot)
ca. 100 B.C. or later
Eastern Hill, SW Quadrant, on or near packing between Monument Platforms and
Stepped Retaining Wall
H. 5 cm, Rim Diam. 16.6 cm
66.0037 (string-cut base)
ca . 100 B.C. or after
Eastern Hill, NW quadrant, over to ca. 2 m south of south foundation of
Dedication of Philip III and Alexander IV
H. 5.3 cm, Rim Diam. 17.7 cm
66.0879 (string-cut base)
Used for several centuries in the Sanctuary, the ubiquitous Samothracian conical bowl maintained a remarkably consistent overall shape: a shallow, upside-down cone extending outward from a flat ring or string-cut base. Thousands of conical bowl fragments have been found throughout the Sanctuary, the earliest dating to approximately the middle of the 3rd century B.C. Scholars have concluded, based on the comparison of conical bowl finds in numerous Samothracian contexts, that the conical bowl with ring base (65.0745a,b) preceded the conical bowl with string cut base (66.0037, 66.0879). The slightly revised form, in which the potter removed the vessel from the wheel by cutting the base with a string, appears in stratigraphic contexts in the early 1st century B.C. This chronological distinction is significant for dating some features on the Eastern Hill and also in the rest of the Sanctuary.
Several large deposits of conical bowl fragments have been found on the Eastern Hill. Archaeologists found huge quantities of conical bowls, including whole bowls as well as bowls that appear broken in half, in the area behind the Stepped Retaining Wall and in the collapsed terrace fill immediately south of the Dedication of Philip III and Alexander IV. The enormous quantity (tens of thousands of fragments) as well as the consistency of the fill (very little earth and other debris) suggest that the bowls were deposited there intentionally. It is tempting to imagine that this cache was a deposit of conical bowls used by initiates who then discarded the bowls behind the Stepped Retaining Wall, either when they proceeded from the Theatral Circle toward the heart of the Sanctuary, or when they exited the Sanctuary.
The exact function of the conical bowl is unclear, as it is an imperfect vessel either for drinking or for eating. Likely, visitors to the Sanctuary and initiates most likely used conical bowls in ritual libations and for dining after initiation or in connection with the annual festival.
66.0037, string-cut foot
250 B.C. or later
Terracotta, ΘE in ligature incised in floor
Eastern Hill, within hole in center of Theatral Circle
p.H. 1.6 cm, Base Diam. 6.5 cm
250 B.C. or later
Terracotta, Θ incised in center of floor with central dot
Eastern Hill, SW Quadrant over Theatral Complex
p.H. 1.2 cm, Base Diam. 5.5 cm
Identification of vessels, lamps, tiles, and other objects as property of the gods by stamping or incising them with the Greek letters Θ (theta) or ΘE (theta epsilon) appears to begin as early as the 5th century B.C. in the Sanctuary of the Great Gods. The ten bowls and plates from the Eastern Hill stamped or incised with a Θ or ΘE may be added to the approximately 260 examples found in other contexts throughout the Sanctuary. It is likely that participants in the Mysteries used the inscribed vessels in connection with ritual activities that took place within the Sanctuary. Karl Lehmann hypothesizes that initiates used theta vessels in the rites of myesis,a lesser stage in initiation into the Mysteries, and vessels inscribed with an epsilon in the rites of epopteia, a higher stage of initiation.
It is tempting to interpret the Θ or ΘE as an abbreviation for the Greek dative Θɛοῖς, (theois), which would declare the vessels to be gifts to the gods. However, a bowl discovered in the fill from the Stoa and stamped in the interior center with the full word ΘΕΩΝ (theon) supports the position first presented by Karl Lehmann that an inscribed theta identifies an object as sacred property of the gods. The inscribed letter forms vary; the most common form of the theta is a circle with a short dash in the center (65.0340). One surviving inscription (66.0352) has a theta with a ligature (adjoining) epsilon. This fuller form of the word theon appears to be an earlier type that disappeared as early as the 3rd century B.C., giving way to the simpler form.
Black-Glazed Attic One-handler
ca. 400 B.C.
Eastern Hill, NW quadrant, directly north of Theatral Circle and east of Rectangular Monument
H. 4.3 cm, Rim Diam. 11.3 cm
Discovered just outside of the Theatral Circle beside the Rectangular Monument, this three-quarter complete Attic one-handler has been restored from twenty-eight joining fragments. The vessel is covered in a mottled red and black glaze; the resting surface of the foot and the underside remain unpainted. This shape was one of the most popular black-glazed bowls produced by potters in and around Athens in the 5th and 4th centuries B.C., by the end of which potters preferred vessels without handles. Scholars have suggested that the Greek term for this vessel type would have been κάναστρον (kanastron). Low bowls such as this one-handler were useful for drinking or for eating solids such as porridge or gruel. Like other one-handlers, this bowl rests on a low, ring foot and has one horizontal handle attached just below the rim. This vessel type is distinguished by the thick side walls and the shape of the rim, broad on top and often sloping inward in order to contain liquids. This one-handler is just one of many examples of Attic pottery imported to Samothrace in antiquity.
Moldmade Bowl with Inscription KIRBEIS
2nd century B.C.
Eastern Hill, SE Quadrant within packing of Stepped Retaining Wall
p.H. 4.9 cm
This fragment comes from a hemispherical, moldmade bowl bearing relief decoration, commonly known as a Megarian bowl. To make this type of bowl, potters first fabricated a wheelmade mold. While the clay of the mold was still damp, the decoration was stamped or incised into the interior of the mold. The potter then pressed soft clay into the mold resulting in an elaborate design on the exterior. Usually, a decorative medallion in the center bottom of the bowl anchored the designs filling the walls of the vessel.
One such medallion, consisting of a round stamp bearing the head of a goddess facing to the right, is preserved in this fragment. A circle of lotus palmettes growing from outcurved tendrils extends from the two raised ridges that encircle the profile of the goddess. The goddess wears a mural crown with three tall towers designating her as the patron of a particular city. A signature consisting of the three letters ΚΙΡ to the left of the head and the three letters ΒΕΙ to the right indicate that this vessel came from the workshop of Kirbeis. Susan Rotroff has compiled a catalogue of at least forty vessels from the workshop of KIRBEIS. Most of them come from the northern and western shores of the Black Sea and the Aegean, leading scholars to believe that the workshop was located either around the Black Sea or in Asia Minor. Based on the characteristics of the grey-brown, fine clay of this vessel Susan Rotroff has suggested that the Samothracian fragment is from the area of the Black Sea.
Floral Moldmade Bowl
2nd century B.C. to early 1st century B.C.
NW quadrant, over, to ca. 2 m south of, south foundation of Dedication of Philip III and Alexander IV
p.H. 6.9 cm, Wall Th. 3 mm
Although finds of moldmade bowls are relatively rare in the Sanctuary, excavators have unearthed two from the Eastern Hill. Moldmade bowls were first manufactured in the last quarter of the 3rd century B.C. and may have been based on metal prototypes. This fragment from the rim and wall of a hemispherical shaped bowl is an example of a bowl with floral embellishment. Represented is an acanthus leaf flanked by a stylized plant sprouting spiraling tendrils. Three dots beside the tendrils and a bird sitting to the right above the acanthus enhances the decorative effect.
Black-glazed Stamped Attic Bowl
ca. 350 B.C.
Eastern Hill, within east foundation of Dedication of Philip III and Alexander IV, just above the floor of the Fieldstone Building
H. 3.4 cm, Diam. 9.3 cm.
This small stamped bowl imported to the Sanctuary from a workshop in or around Athens was a creation of the 4th century B.C. and is comparable to examples from the Athenian Agora. With an incurving rim, this bowl rests on a large ring foot, and has a shallow groove in the bottom of the foot and in between the foot and wall. Black-glazed bowls of this type were typically adorned with stamped or impressed decoration on the interior. The five alternately linked palmettes within three concentric rings of rouletting are standard. Light concentric grooves that guided the placement of the decoration are still faintly visible on the surface. Potters created rouletting, which did not appear until the second decade of the 4th century, by holding a slender metal strip to the damp clay of the bowl as it rotated on the wheel. Similarly, craftsman stamped the palmettes into the wet clay before application of the black glaze. This bowl, dated to the middle of the 4th century B.C., is consistent with the fill in the east foundation of the Dedication of Philip III and Alexander IV, which was built between 323-317 B.C.
ca. 250 B.C. or later
Eastern Hill, NW Quadrant, over, to ca. 2 m south of, south foundation of Dedication of Philip III and Alexander IV
Diam. 9.5 cm, H. 3.1 cm.
Ideal for salt and other condiments at the table, the saltcellar was a popular vessel type during the Hellenistic period. This locally-produced courseware example is similar in fabric to the Samothracian conical bowls. These humble objects have resonance in the larger world view of Samothrace in the Hellenistic period. Callimachus, a Hellenistic Greek poet, tells the story of a saltcellar in Epigram 47, “The saltcellar, whereon, by eating frugal salt for relish, he escaped the mighty storms of debt, Eudemus dedicated to the gods of Samothrace saying, “According to my vow, O people, saved through salt I dedicate this here.”
Other famous dedicatees include the Argonauts, who left offerings of bowls in the Sanctuary after safe passage, and Aeneas, who, legend has it, dedicated shields at the entrance to the Sanctuary. While visitors to the Sanctuary marveled at the number of votive dedications made by persons who escaped the violence of storms at sea, Callimachus reminds us that even modest objects could be worthy of dedication to the Great Gods.
Lamps and torches were the primary sources of illumination after nightfall in the Sanctuary. Necessary features of every lamp include a filling hole for oil, a chamber to hold the oil, and a hole for the wick. Of the surviving lamps from Samothrace, inexpensive, locally-produced lamps thrown on a potter’s wheel such as the lamps included here are the most common, suggesting that local lamp production satisfied the principal needs of the Sanctuary. Each of these lamps shows signs of burning around the wick hole, demonstrating that they had been used in antiquity.
50 B.C. to 1st century A.D.
Eastern Hill, NW Quadrant, on or near floor of Theatral Circle
H. 4.9 cm, L. 9.0 cm
50 B.C. to 1st century A.D.
Eastern Hill, SW quadrant, on or near packing between Monument Platform III and Stepped Retaining Wall
H. 5.6 cm, L. 10.2 cm
Testimony from ancient authors suggests that the rituals of initiation into the Mysteries likely took place at night. Judging from the number of lamps that have been found in the Sanctuary, it seems that initiates may have had their own lamps to light the way as they navigated the path of initiation from the Propylon of Ptolemy into the Theatral Circle, down the Sacred Way, and into the heart of the Sanctuary. The discovery of these substantially intact lamps, along with several others, in destruction debris on the floor of the Theatral Complex, evokes the idea of a nocturnal, sacred ceremony abruptly cut short.
ca. 1st century A.D.
Eastern Hill, SW quadrant, on or near packing between Monument Platforms IV and V and Stepped Retaining Wall
H. 3.3 cm, Diam. 7.2 cm
This well-preserved, moldmade lamp was discovered in the debris from the destruction of the Theatral Complex. In the early 3rd century B.C., lamp makers began to produce lamps by pressing the clay into two-piece molds. Moldmade lamps generally have wider shoulders than those made on a potter’s wheel, making it easier to decorate the upper surface. The decoration surrounding the small central fill hole of this lamp consists of concentric rings of geometric decoration.
Visitors to sanctuaries throughout the Greek world used lamps not only for the practical purpose of illumination, but also as dedications to the gods. It is possible to imagine that one of the many prominent initiates into the Mysteries might have brought their own lamps to use during initiation or leave behind as offerings to the Great Gods. Perhaps the Greek letters sigma tau (ΣΤ) inscribed on the bottom of the lamp refer to the owner of the lamp, or, alternatively, to the manufacturer.
Lamps: Lamp Nozzle
Eastern Hill, SW Quadrant, over Theatral Circle
H. 2.6 cm, L. 4.7 cm
65.0459Although only a fragment of this moldmade, black-glazed lamp survives, it is possible to understand something about its function from the inscribed Greek letters theta epsilon (ΘΕ) scratched into the glaze beside the wick hole. The letters ΘE are an abbreviation for Theon (ΘΕΩΝ), a form of the Greek wordTheoi, or gods. These two letters identify this particular lamp as the belonging to the Great Gods. Its status as property of the Great Gods strongly suggests that Sanctuary officials or initiates used the lamp in connection with the rites. Although much about the Mysteries remains unknown, light certainly played an important role, because the initiation seem to have been held at night and at least one epitaph of a Samothracian initiate records that viewing a sacred light was part of his experience of the Mysteries
While this particular lamp is most likely Hellenistic in date, identification of pottery, lamps, and roof tiles as property of the gods by stamping or incising them with a Θ or ΘΕ began as early as the 5th century B.C. in the Sanctuary.
ca. 330-320 BC
Terracotta, traces of white glaze and green, pink, and red pigment
Eastern Hill, on or near the floor of the Fieldstone Building
65.0658/67.0860: p.H. 9.5 cm, 67.0549: p.H. 9.5 cm
Surviving almost completely intact, these draped female figurines each wear a chiton and himation, the inner tunic and outer cloak worn by both men and women in the ancient Greek world. Each figure stands elegantly with her weight on one foot and hip gently splayed, with one arm bent in front of her body and the drapery extending all the way to the ground. If fully preserved, they would be between ten and twelve centimeters tall. This type of draped female figurine is called a Tanagra figurine, after the city in Boeotia (Central Greece) where thousands of similar statuettes have been discovered. Today, we refer to these two figures as the “Green Girls” because of the green pigment that remains on their garments, reminding us of the Greek tradition of painting statues and figurines, although such coloring rarely survives for us to see today.
It is possible to date the “Green Girls” prior to 323-317 B.C. because archaeologists discovered them sealed on and near the floor of the Fieldstone Building beneath the Dedication of Philip III and Alexander IV. They are, therefore, some of the earliest examples of the popular Hellenistic Tanagra figurines. While their precise function is unknown, their findspot suggests that they may have been displayed in the Fieldstone Building.
Head of a Female Figurine
NW quadrant, over, to ca. 2 m south of, south foundation of Dedication of Philip III and Alexander IV.
This veiled head of a female, which was part of a terracotta statuette, most likely belongs to a type of figurine called a mantle dancer. Female dancers wrapped themselves in a thin mantle called a himation, often drawn over the head as a veil and sometimes also covering the lower part of the face. The head of this dancing figurine tilts to the right as she lifts her right arm and draws the drapery up to her chin. Such dances were performed in religious and theatrical contexts. Although found primarily in graves during the Hellenistic period, a number of the mantle dancer figurines have also come from sanctuaries. Ancient sources have associated the mantle dance with seasonal festivals to Cybele, Demeter, Dionysus, and Adonis. Later Roman depictions show veiled dancers specifically connected to the mystery cult of Demeter and Kore at Eleusis, leading scholars to make a connection between the veil, purification, and secrecy. Such associations would have resonated with initiates who worshipped the Great Mother, a nature and fertility goddess later assimilated with the goddess Demeter, among others. Worship in the form of dancing may have evoked mythic parallels with the Korybantes, daimones believed to take part in dancing in honor of the Samothracian gods.
NW quadrant, over, to ca. 2 m south of, south foundation of Dedication of Philip III and Alexander IV
66.0533: p.H. 2.9 cm, HH 66.0467: p.H. 4.5 cm
Excavators have retrieved two fragments of terracotta hydriaphoroi, figurines of women carrying water jars, from the Eastern Hill. One fragment (66.0533) shows a figure with hair parted at the center and brushed back to frame the exaggerated features of the face. A hydria, or vessel designed for carrying water, would have been attached on the now broken surface at the top of the figure’s head. A thumb print of the craftsman who pressed the clay into the mold is preserved on the inside of the head. A second fragment (66.0467) preserves part of the left side of another water-carrier, including part of her veiled face, the bottom of her vessel, and one arm bent beside her body. The right arm would have extended up to secure the hydria in place.
Numerous water-carrying figurines have also been unearthed in the Sanctuary near the Propylon of Ptolemy II. Such figurines may reflect the practice of carrying water for use in purification ceremonies or other cult rituals. Although water-carriers were common types during the Hellenistic period, they seem to have been particularly important in fertility cults such as that of Demeter and Kore at Corinth, perhaps referring to bathing performed in bridal rituals. Ritual bathing of a bride may have held special meaning for initiates into the Mysteries who celebrated the sacred union of Kadmos and Harmonia at the annual festival of the Great Gods at the Sanctuary. According to Diodorus the wedding of Kadmos, legendary founder of the city of Thebes, and Harmonia, daughter of Zeus and Elektra (daughter of Atlas and matriarch of the Samothracian mythical family) was the first to be celebrated on earth with the gods in attendance bringing gifts for the couple.
Seated female figurine
5th to 4th century B.C.
NE Quadrant, over the Theatral Circle
This seated female figurine is among the oldest of the terracotta figures found in the fill thrown into the Theatral Circle following the destruction of the region. Rather than rebuild the monuments, the Samothracians simply pushed the destroyed structures into the Theatral Circle and covered it with some two meters of earth, stones, and debris to create a level area. Among this fill are fragments of pottery that span from the Archaic period through the late 1stcentury A.D.
The figure sits on a throne, resting her closely-spaced feet on a stool and her hands in her lap. Her thick hair is arranged in an arch above her face, crowned by a stephane, a diadem or headdress that may have denoted divinity. She most likely wears a heavy cloak known as a himation drawn up over her head.
This figurine seems to be a simplified, local version of a common type of seated female statuette made in the 5th or 4th century B.C. and found in abundance all over the Greek world. Figures of this type are found frequently in sanctuaries and shrines where worshippers dedicated them as offerings to the gods.
The top of this moldmade figurine from the chest to the head is solid, while the rest of the figure is hollow. Terracotta molds producing figures of this type seem to have had a long life. After repeated use, the details of the mold would have worn away, a result that may explain the lack of definition in the features of the figurine. Excavators discovered a similarly worn seated figurine dated to ca. 400 B.C. (57.174) in Tomb H8-5 from the Nekropolis in the vicinity of the Sanctuary.
Head of a God Based on Zeus Ammon
Eastern Hill, on or near the floor of the Theatral Circle
p.H. 4.6 cm, W. 3 cm
This small terracotta bust has the large, curling locks of hair, prominent nose and brow, and pair of in-curving horns or tusks projecting onto the cheeks that are typical visual characteristics of the hybrid Greek-Egyptian deity Zeus Ammon. Judging from the smoothly finished, concave back surface, it may have been part of a figurine or vessel.
Alexander the Great associated himself with Zeus Ammon. After the Egyptians welcomed him into Egypt as a liberator in 332-331 B.C., Alexander visited the oracle of the Egyptian deity Amun at the Siwa Oasis in the Libyan desert where, it is assumed, he received confirmation that he was the son of Zeus. After 331 B.C., Alexander referred to himself as Zeus Ammon and commissioned images of himself adorned with ram horns as a symbol of his divine ancestry. This figurine is most likely based on representations of Zeus Ammon found on bronze coins and popular with the Ptolemaic kings, the successors of Alexander the Great in Egypt.
Head of a Boy Wearing a Kausia
p.H. 4.5 cm, W. 3.1 cm
65.0277This terracotta head of a boy wearing a kausia, a flat, mushroom-shaped cap adopted by Alexander the Great during his travels in India and later associated with Macedonian military costume, would originally have been part of a full-length figurine of a standing youth with a cloak fastened on his shoulder.
This particular figurine likely was produced locally using a mold, but the boy with a kausia derives from a well-known type created in one of the major Hellenistic centers for Greek terracotta figurine production such as Athens, Myrina, or Smyrna. Similar figurines of boys wearing the kausia have been found in or near sanctuaries throughout the Greek world, where worshipers during the Hellenistic period routinely dedicated them as offerings to heroes and deities with connections to the underworld. The presence of this particular figurine in the Sanctuary along with others found in the vicinity of the Propylon of Ptolemy II is not surprising given the strong associations of the Great Gods with the earth, the underworld, and fertility.