You are here

Le sanctuaire d’Apollon Daphnéphoros à l’époque géométrique

July 2014 (118.3)

Book Review

Le sanctuaire d’Apollon Daphnéphoros à l’époque géométrique

By Samuel Verdan (Eretria 22). 2 vols. Vol. 1, Texte. Pp. 286, tables 4; vol. 2, Catalogue, tableaux et planches. Pp. 182, b&w pls. 129, tables 7, plan 1. École Suisse d’Archéologie en Grèce, Lausanne 2013. €100. ISBN 978-2-88474-411-9 (paper).

Reviewed by

While Eretria is widely known for its “Daphnephoreion,” this book offers a long-awaited presentation of the archaeological evidence for the Sanctuary of Apollo in the Geometric period (ca. 900–700 B.C.E.). The introduction documents the history of excavation, interpretation of the site, and its place in the study of Early Iron Age Greece. The first three chapters provide a detailed discussion of the stratigraphy and architecture, followed by three chapters focusing on the sanctuary pottery, its context/date, and its qualitative and quantitative analysis. Illustrations of the sherds include profiles, interpretive drawings, and photographs in a useful format. Individual chapters are dedicated to nonceramic objects and metalworking. The final chapters offer analysis of the sacred space, architecture, and the origins and development of the sanctuary through the Geometric period. Appendices present studies of the terrestrial and marine fauna and the archaeobotanical remains. Verdan has participated in the excavations since 1998, and his stated goal is not only to publish the archaeological remains and their analysis but also to place the results within the context of current scholarly research (28).

The complicated nature of the site is made clear by the state plan (pl. 3, plan 1) and the location of trenches excavated (pl. 5). The presentation of structures and stratigraphy proceeds from the Early Helladic to the end of the Geometric period and includes a detailed discussion of buildings (édifices = Ed), built features (structure = St), walls (mur = M), pits (fosses = Fo), and hearths (foyers = Fy). Verdan goes to great lengths to present the structures and features in chronological order, and the sequence is summarized in a useful series of phase plans (pls. 7–10). Photographs and stratigraphic sections provide valuable supporting evidence. The stone-by-stone plan of the buildings is included in a 1:100 state plan, but it would have been helpful to illustrate individual buildings separately. The description of architectural remains is concise but provides ample detail to justify conclusions regarding construction, size, and orientation of buildings. These observations are particularly helpful for establishing the design of the sanctuary from the time of its foundation in Middle Geometric (MG) II to the end of the Late Geometric (LG) period. Stratigraphy, both natural (the site was once a swamp and periodically suffered from flooding and alluvial deposits) and anthropogenic, is also presented in detail and allows the author to rule out any continuity between the prehistoric periods and the foundation of the sanctuary (39–40).

Careful consideration of the built environment, along with the material and faunal remains, allows Verdan to propose that the sanctuary area developed in the first phase of occupation and that there was no strict division between habitat and sanctuary. There was no temple in the strict sense, but multiple cult buildings that sheltered gatherings, possibly only for the elite members of the community. In phase I (MG II–early LG I), the main area included three apsidal buildings (Ed9, Ed1, and Ed150), all of which have internal hearths and faunal remains that suggest that they were used for communal feasting; a fourth partially preserved oval structure (Ed5) was located to the north. Ed1, first identified by Bérard as the “Daphnephoreion,” is notable for its size and quality of construction, while the smaller Ed150 is oriented toward St12 (altar). Verdan observes that the walls defining the sanctuary were placed in relation to the watercourses (158). They do not enclose or restrict access in general, but impose a frontal approach to the buildings. The analysis of pottery, hearths, animal bones, and other finds indicate that the buildings fulfill both public (Ed150) and domestic functions (Ed9, possibly Ed5), and perhaps a combination of both (Ed1). The bones recovered from St12 (thigh bones and tails, the parts intended to be burned in sacrifice) point to its role as an altar.

In phase II (LG I–II), the sacred space is expanded to the northeast. Two buildings appear, Ed17 and Ed2, the latter identified as the first monumental temple opening toward the altar. Ed9 and Ed1 disappear from use and were covered by a layer of fill. By contrast, Ed150 was completely rebuilt. Ed5 still stood, but it is not possible to say if the building was renovated in any way. In addition to sacrifices and banquets, the dedication of durable votives is first attested in this phase, as well as other ritual practices. In phase III (end of LG II), all the structures from phase II, with the exception of Ed2 and Ed150, were intentionally dismantled—not abandoned—and their superstructures leveled to raise the ground level in the sanctuary. At the end of this period, Ed150 went out of use, and Ed2 was subsequently destroyed by fire.

Throughout the book, Verdan presents the archaeological evidence in an approach that moves beyond simple description to recognize significant characteristics and their importance. For example, he notes that Auberson’s famous model of the “Daphnephoreion” (Ed1) was mistaken in many of its details (there are postholes, not bases, and walls of mudbrick, not branches) (160). In fact, the architecture in the sanctuary area is not fundamentally different from that found elsewhere in Eretria or at nearby sites, such as Oropos. What distinguishes some buildings, however, are the materials and care with which they were built (Ed1) and their size (Ed2). This last observation indicates that even if Ed2 was planned by a few elite members of society, its construction required a cooperative undertaking by the community, and it was probably meant to serve a much larger group or host additional activities. Its visual impact, especially after the surrounding buildings were intentionally demolished, also gave it a singular prominence.

Verdan investigates a wide variety of issues and theories in order to reevaluate the place occupied by Eretria in earlier scholarship. These include the identification of Ed2 as a hekatompedon (he agrees); ancestor cult around sub-Protogeometric II Tomb 20 (lack of contemporary or later activity argues against this); Early Iron Age social structure (no evidence for a “prince,” but rather elite members of society); whether the first temple (Ed1) served as a ruler’s house (probably not) or should be identified as temple-hestiatorion (he favors temple); the relevance of scenes painted on pottery to cult activities such as dancing (thematic connection, but not direct representation); and identification of the worship of Apollo and cultic continuity (he argues in favor). Verdan concludes by noting that what makes the sanctuary remarkable is its urban setting, for which we have few preserved examples in the Geometric period. Therefore, the ability to trace the existence of a sacred space based on evidence for ritual sacrifice and feasting before other traces of cult appear (attested by the accumulation of offerings) suggests a model of investigation and interpretation that might well serve other Iron Age sites. Verdan’s masterful presentation of the archaeological data and thoughtful consideration of theoretical and interpretive matters make this book an indispensable resource for everyone who studies Early Iron Age Greece and the development of Greek sanctuaries.

Nancy L. Klein
Department of Architecture
Texas A&M University
College Station, Texas 77843-3137

Book Review of Le sanctuaire dApollon Daphnéphoros à lépoque géométrique, by Samuel Verdan

Reviewed by Nancy L. Klein

American Journal of Archaeology Vol. 118, No. 3 (July 2014)

Published online at

DOI: 10.3764/ajaonline1183.Klein

Add new comment

Plain text

  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.