With a rich history that intersects with mythological figures from the legendary Greek pantheon, an international team of archaeologists believes it has discovered the Temple of Samian Poseidon at the acropolis of the ancient city of Samikon in Greece. If this is true, their finding would corroborate claims made by Strabo, the ancient Greek author, in his encyclopedic work entitled Geographica completed about 20 AD.
Strabo, seen here in a 16th century engraving, made reference to a sanctuary of Poseidon in his encyclopedic work Geographica. ( Public domain )
“Based on the information conveyed by Strabo in the 8th book of his Geographika, the regionally important cult center of the amphictyony of the cities of Triphylia was located here,” explained a statement by the Athenian branch of the Austrian Archaeological Institute (AAI). This archaeological project was a collaboration with the Ephorate of Antiquities of Elis (EAE), Greece, with the assistance of researchers from the universities of Mainz and Kiel in Germany.
The first phase of the five-year research program at Kleidi Hill in Samikon, which will run from 2022 to 2026, revealed what archaeologists believe to have once been the sanctuary of Poseidon, the ancient Greek sea god . The goal of the project was survey the topography of the area, with geoarchaeological and geophysical investigations conducted by the AAI, the EAE, and the other aforementioned collaborators in 2017, 2018, and 2021. The research has been funded by the Gerda Henkel Foundation.
Marble perirrhanterion found at what experts believe was once the sanctuary of Poseidon at Samikon (Elis) in Greece . ( Greek Ministry of Culture and Sports )
Have They Really Discovered the Ruined Sanctuary of Poseidon at Elis?
The ruins have specifically been discovered in Elis, where the discovery of the sanctuary dedicated to Poseidon was made at the ancient acropolis of Samikon, also known as Samicum. This ancient city flourished during the middle and late Helladic periods (circa 3200 to 1050 BC), half-way located between the mouths of the Alpheius and Neda rivers, according to Greek Reporter .
“Then comes the mountain of Triphylia that sees Macistia from Pisatis; then another river called Chalcis, and a spring called Cruni, and a settlement called Chalcis, and, after these, Samicum, where is the most highly revered temple of the Samian Poseidon,” described Strabo eloquently within Geographica. “About the temple is a sacred precinct full of wild olive trees .”
Remains uncovered in Elis of what they believe was once the sanctuary of Poseidon. ( Greek Ministry of Culture and Sports )
Large sections of the building’s foundation were unearthed measuring 9.4 meters (30.8 ft) wide, and heavy stone walls a whopping 0.8 meters (2.6 ft) thick. They have been dated to the 6th century BC. Based on these discoveries, the research team calculated a building of almost 28 meters (91.8 ft) in length, with 2 interior rooms, along with a pronaos (a vestibule at the front of a classical temple), and an opisthodome (inner shrine or rear room of ancient Greek temple). This helped confirm the veracity of the claim that this was indeed a temple.
Additionally, one of the inner rooms is a cella, filled with a dense layer of tiles, reports Artnet News . Beyond that, dating the so-called temple of Poseidon was made easier by the presence of a laconic roof’s fragments and a marble perirrhanterion, a water basin specifically used for rituals. The evidence pointed to the Archaic period (circa 800 to 480 BC) in Greek history.
Statue of Neptune, the Roman version of Poseidon. ( Jovan Peric / Adobe Stock)
Future Plans for the Sanctuary of Poseidon
Poseidon, one of the chief deities of the Greek pantheon, and the son of Titan Cronus, is popularly known as the god of the sea. In classical Hellenism, he had many attributes, including earthquakes and horses. He was a patron for many festivals and celebrations, and a protector of seafarers and travelers depicted often with his trident with which he tamed water. His Roman avatar was known as Neptune.
Poseidon has featured in popular culture throughout history, right from Homer’s Iliad set during the critical Trojan War, to Homer’s other epic, known as Odyssey which recounts the story of Odysseus and his sea voyage back from Troy. Poseidon features in the foundational myths of Athens and Corinth, and has earned a place in modern popular imagination through a crucial role in the Percy Jackson book series.
Moving forward, the project aims to study the topography of the area, particularly the sanctuary of Poseidon. The team will also be making a concerted effort to locate the ancient harbor at Samikon. There are several phases of excavations remaining and only the first has been completed so far.
“This discovery allows new perspectives on the political and economic importance of the amphictyony of the Triphylian cities in the 6th century BC, for whom the sanctuary of Poseidon at Samikon formed the center of their religious and ethnic identity,” write the authors in their statement.
Top image: Sanctuary of Poseidon Source: Greek Ministry of Culture and Sports
By Sahir Pandey