The Greek Temple as Museum: The Case of the Legendary Treasure of Athena from Lindos


While many scholars have compared the Greek temple to a museum, no one has explored this metaphor systematically. In this article I bring the insights of recent work in museum studies to bear upon an analysis of the Greek temple. I center upon the Lindian Temple Chronicle, a monumental inscription erected in 99 B.C.E. that commemorated the legendary treasures and miracles of Athena Lindia from Rhodes. Carolyn Higbie has recently published a new edition and translation of this inscription together with an extensive commentary and three interpretive essays, yet attention has not been paid to what the stele reveals about the cultural functions of Hellenistic temple treasures. What we see when we examine the logic of the Lindian Temple Chronicle is not the temple as the god's treasure house, but rather the temple as the community's "museum," a sacred-historical space which both legitimated and interpreted material traces of the past. This article will be of interest to those who study the history of collecting and museums, for it offers an early example of the way in which a collection of objects was imagined, organized, described, documented, and used. It will also appeal to classicists, ancient art historians, and archaeologists who are interested in the cultural work performed by late Hellenistic temples and votive offerings.


DOI: 10.3764/aja.109.3.423