You are here

Le sanctuaire de Claros et son oracle: Actes du colloque international de Lyon, 13–14 janvier 2012

April 2016 (120.2)

Book Review

Le sanctuaire de Claros et son oracle: Actes du colloque international de Lyon, 13–14 janvier 2012

Edited by Jean-Charles Moretti, with the collaboration of Liliane Rabatel (Travaux de la Maison de l’Orient et de la Méditerranée 65). Pp. 258, figs. 149, tables 5. Maison de l’Orient et de la Méditerranée–Jean Pouilloux, Lyon 2014. €31. ISBN 978-2-35668-047-1 (paper).

Reviewed by

The proceedings from a colloquium held in Lyon in January 2012 focus on results from excavations in the Sanctuary of Apollo at Claros and an underwater excavation at Kızılburun associated with the sanctuary by its finds. Ten studies in French and five in English are presented by the excavators and invited experts, covering three broad aspects of the project: the topography and architecture, the objects, and the oracles. The site at Claros is one of the most important oracular sanctuaries of Apollo in the ancient world, well known from ancient authors, inscriptional evidence, and excavated remains over the past century, but more recently from French-Turkish fieldwork of the past three decades. The colloquium was a preliminary attempt at synthesizing current knowledge of the sanctuary and its function in antiquity. On the one hand, the resulting volume is useful in collecting both advanced and preliminary studies on the sanctuary and providing a helpful bibliography for interested readers (who should, however, be aware that works by authors whose last names begin with Ç, Ö, and Ş are listed after the Cs, Os, and Ss, respectively). On the other hand, the volume could have been improved with a wider and deeper range of studies, a firmer editorial hand, and more care with the non-native-English contributions. The order of the papers is as they were presented at the colloquium, although some papers were not submitted for the published proceedings. The brief introduction (“Avant propos”) could have been expanded to stitch together contributions into a more coherent picture of the current state of scholarship.

Şahin, the director of excavations since 2001, begins the volume with a report on the 2010 and 2011 seasons and comments on finds going back to the 2005 season, including deposits of terracotta figurines and women’s jewelry from as early as the seventh century B.C.E. A description of earlier excavations at the site, with bibliographic references, is provided only much later in the volume by Delrieux in his paper on the coins. (Publications on the site by the previous excavation director, La Genière, are found in the bibliography. Her 1998 article is listed twice under her name, with different page numbers.) A small altar was discovered during the latest campaigns just to the south of the altar of Apollo, which the excavator suggests may be the counterpoint to the altar of Artemis to the north and may possibly be identified as Leto’s. Finds from the very earliest stratum here point to this as a Mycenaean (Late Helladic IIIB/C) cult spot, possibly worshiping an early Anatolian version of Leto. In 2012, a layer in the same area was found with many female figurines holding a lyre, suggesting to the author an allusion to the oracular activity of this mother deity.

The second paper, by Moretti, director of the French mission at Claros, and four colleagues (Bresch, Bonora, Laroche, and Riss), discusses the late fourth-century B.C.E. Doric Temple of Apollo and the functioning of its oracle. This is of great interest especially for the well-preserved arched crypt below the floor of the temple, an early second-century B.C.E. design. The crypt has two joining rooms, one for those consulting the oracle and one for the oracle proper. Two stairways leading down from the pronaos to the crypt and narrow indirect passageways to the room for the consultants presumably heightened the mystic experience. An omphalos, a square base perhaps for a wooden statue, and seats for initiates between the arches were found in the first room, and a stele and square wellhead came from the second, where the oracle was delivered. The wellhead has the orientation of an earlier, archaic temple on this spot, suggesting that this temple, too, was oracular. A decorative bronze astragal was placed below each joint of blocks (316 in total) in the five-step crepis of the Hellenistic temple, a unique feature possibly alluding to the cult’s oracular function or specifically astragalomancy. Reconstruction drawings and comparisons with the Apolline oracle at Didyma are usefully offered.

A preliminary assessment by Carlson of dating evidence from the Kızılburun shipwreck, particularly the ceramic evidence, indicates that this vessel sank in the third quarter of the first century B.C.E. The wreck, excavated between 2005 and 2011 by the Institute of Nautical Archaeology at Texas A&M University, yielded a cargo of unfinished marble objects, including louteria, gravestones, and most interestingly a complete marble column in seven-ton drums for the temple at Claros, brought from the Proconnessos Island quarry in the Sea of Marmara. Radiocarbon dates for wood from the wreck suggest a much earlier date for the ship, although still Hellenistic (late fourth to second century B.C.E.), but pottery, including two dozen transport amphoras, as well as cooking and fine wares and two lamps, indicate a date in the first century B.C.E. Some of the pottery points to a western Mediterranean connection for the ship.

The paper by Aylward on lewis holes, used by stone masons for lifting, in architectural blocks at Claros, mostly from the Apollo temple, is narrowly focused, yet it supports a proposal that there were at least two building phases for the never-completed temple, one in the third quarter of the first century B.C.E. and a second in the second century C.E., based on differences in the shapes of the lifting holes. Aylward made a short visit to the site in 2008 and studied only 18 examples of these lewis holes without turning over blocks, but his study is thorough and helpful. One is disappointed, however, by the absence of figures 15–17 referred to at the end of the paper (another editorial oversight).

The other architectural study in the volume discusses marks used for assembling structures within the sanctuary. Here, Weber identifies Greek letters (used as numbers) on blocks of five different structures, including the Hellenistic Temple of Apollo and altars to both Artemis and Apollo. Matching ends of blocks with neighboring blocks having the same letter was common practice in reconstructing buildings, found also, for example, in a theater structure at Stymphalos. Although the temple is called Hellenistic, the letters on its peristyle column drums point to a Hadrianic date, and since the number of drums is 12 for the peristyle columns and 10 for the pronaos, a comment on why there are just 8 drums for the column from the shipwreck seems warranted.

Worship of Artemis and Dionysos in the sanctuary is discussed respectively in contributions by Dewailly and Pişkin-Ayvazoğlu. The former examines the temple, altar, and finds associated with Artemis, particularly from the late fifth to the end of the second century B.C.E., including more than 100 terracotta figurines. Dewailly finds a close relationship with the worship of Apollo and no evidence for initiation to adult life as in some other Artemis cults. Pişkin-Ayvazoğlu focuses on possible evidence for the Anthesteria festival of Dionysos based on a deposit of miniature choes, and figurines of kourotrophic goddesses and so-called temple boys. It is an interesting hypothesis, but the author unfortunately overlooks the popularity of kourotrophic figurines and temple boys in the worship of other deities, especially Artemis, and the miniature choes do not necessarily represent gifts from children as part of the second day (called “Choes”) of the Anthesteria festival. The evidence is weak and the editors should have insisted on more care both with the content and the language of this contribution.

The next three papers discuss some of the pottery types from the sanctuary. The first, by Zunal, gives a glimpse of the Protogeometric finds from inside and around the foundation of a round altar in front of the temple of Apollo; however, only six sherds are described, and no comment is made about overall quantities or shape distribution from the deposit. Two of the six fragments are believed to be Attic imports of the middle to late Protogeometric. The second paper, by Dupont, presents results from chemical analyses of about 30 fragments found at Colophon and 20 from Claros. The pieces are not stylistically identifiable for the most part, and the analyses are not particularly helpful in determining a local production other than a possible connection of some pieces with Erythrai.

The third pottery contribution, by Günata, which by its title admits to being “first observations” on black-glazed pottery from Claros, nevertheless would have benefited from more study. A few comments are in order. One sentence states that black-glazed pottery was first produced in the sixth century in Athens, and another, two sentences later, states that the earliest samples are from the late seventh century B.C.E. (123). Also, a note that the Claros sanctuary has the only in situ blocks used to secure sacrificial animals in a hecatomb (123) needs to be modified with a reference to the altar court in front of the Artemis sanctuary at Magnesia on the Meander, where rings set in stones by rows, together with topos inscriptions for participating groups, make it clear that a hecatomb of animals was present there. Three rings in blocks beside an altar at Amphipolis likewise have been identified as securing animals for sacrifice. Regarding the catalogue, it is not particularly helpful to have 16 basic black-glazed shapes described among the Claros finds, some with up to four sub-“types,” but to be presented with a catalogue numbering only 27 entries, no indication of total numbers of pieces at the site, and no breakdown of numbers by shape and perhaps date. More helpful, though, are comments about the shapes missing from the assemblage, especially pouring vessels and miniatures. The profile drawings are useful, but they are inconsistent in their format.

The longest and most complete study in the volume examines coins from the 2001 to 2011 seasons. Delrieux catalogues 419 coins in total, of which between 165 and 173 are from Colophon and 34 from other sites in Ionia. Roman coins number 32, although another 24 of the East Greek region are Roman in date, while 172 could not be identified at all but are nevertheless catalogued. Photographs are given of every coin except the last (no. 419). Notable results include a preponderance of coins from the late fourth to early third centuries B.C.E., a significant difference between the origin of coins in the sanctuary and the inscriptional lists of official delegations visiting the site, and the close correspondence, not unexpected, between the corpus of coins published here and that of about 330 coins from the site found prior to 1997 published in two articles by Çizmeli Öğün (“Les monnaies découvertes à Claros, santuaire d’Apollon en Ionie,” RN 163 [2007] 213–33; “Les monnaies découvertes à Claros, santuaire d’Apollon en Ionie, 2: Commentaire historique et numismatique,” RN 167 [2011] 321–38).

An interesting contribution by Ferrary catalogues the placement in the sanctuary of 431 inscriptions recording the visiting delegations who consulted the oracle from cities throughout the wider region in the second century and first third of the third century C.E. Since these memorial inscriptions record the names of the cities and also the prytany of Colophon, thus giving them an annular date, the study of their placement allows one to assess how these came to cover surfaces of buildings and monuments over time. Ferrary discerns only semi-systematic patterns in this distribution, to an extent based on chronology and origin of the delegation. His study also informs us about the state of certain monuments at a given moment, including information about damaged blocks lying around the site and what has now been lost from the structures based on expected inscriptions that are not found.

The next two papers leave archaeological matters and focus on epigraphic concerns and cult practice. On the one hand, unlike at other prominent oracles of Apollo such as Delphi and Didyma, not a single inscription at Claros describes an actual oracular response provided to visiting delegations. On the other hand, ancient authors and inscriptions in other cities do occasionally give such oracles or make reference to them. Busine, who has elsewhere settled on 20 authentic oracles originating from Claros and 13 references to such, outlines here the hazards of attributing oracular pronouncements to the sanctuary at Claros, especially when the origin of the oracle has not been mentioned by the source. Oesterheld’s corpus of oracles originating from Claros is much higher than Busine’s, numbering 45, and his paper in this volume discusses one of them, found in Italian excavations at Hieropolis and accepted also by Busine as an authentic one from Claros. The oracle is a response to a question about the cause of, and necessary steps to take to counter, a devastating epidemic that hit the city after 166 C.E. The text and translation of the lengthy inscription in verse form is provided by Oesterheld, followed by an analysis of its form and content. He also discusses it from a theological and sociological perspective, connecting it to the sanctuary at Claros and the process by which successful advice from the oracle was reflected back on devotion by worshipers at the sanctuary.

The final paper, by Jacquemin, seems out of place and might better have appeared elsewhere. Although some comparison is made between the oracles of Delphi and Claros, the paper really focuses on a reconstruction of the interior layout of the Temple of Apollo at Delphi, using both archaeology and comments by ancient writers to restore lateral openings to the north and south walls of the cella, and a possible separate oikos within the cella’s southern colonnade where the oracle was given.

Contributors to the study of long-term excavation projects often need a spur to keep them focused, and scholars with an interest in results to date can be frustrated by the slow pace of publication. The present volume is useful in alleviating these problems despite its several shortcomings.

Gerald P. Schaus
Department of Archaeology and Classical Studies
Wilfrid Laurier University

Book Review of Le sanctuaire de Claros et son oracle: Actes du colloque international de Lyon, 13–14 janvier 2012, edited by Jean-Charles Moretti, with the collaboration of Liliane Rabatel

Reviewed by Gerald P. Schaus

American Journal of Archaeology Vol. 120, No. 2 (April 2016)

Published online at

DOI: 10.3764/ajaonline1202.Schaus

Add new comment

Plain text

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