UBC Faculty Research and Publications

The Sanctuary of Artemis Orthia (Sparta) Daniels, Megan


The sanctuary to the goddess Orthia (later conflated with Artemis, according to an inscription from the late first century CE) was one of four sanctuaries built around Sparta in the Iron Age (1100-700 BCE). The sanctuary is located in the village of Limnai, and sits on a flat marshy hollow on the bank of the Eurotas River. The most conspicuous remains today are Roman, in particular an amphitheatre built in the third century CE, built around an earlier temple and altar dating to the sixth century BCE. The excavations in the early 1900s uncovered even earlier phases to this sanctuary, and recent reassessments of the excavation notebooks suggest the earliest structures may date back to the late ninth century BCE. The sanctuary became known from about the fourth century BCE onwards for the harsh rituals performed on the altar at this sanctuary. Both Plato (Laws) and Xenophon (Constitution of the Lacedaemonians) discuss the training Spartan youths received, enduring harsh trials as part of the system of education known as the agoge. The oft-cited flogging of Spartan youths on the altar of Orthia is mentioned Xenophon’s Constitution of the Lakedaimonians (2.8-9) and elaborated by later authors like Plutarch. Pausanias (3.16.7-11) ties the origins of these violent rites to early conflicts by members of the original four villages of Sparta, who fell to quarrelling and bloodshed over Orthia's altar. The excavations also uncovered a wide array of dedicated objects: ivory plaques and figurines dated primarily to the sixth century, later replaced by bone plaques and other ornaments (including votive flutes); a huge number of lead dedications, in particular lead figurines that reached the tens of thousands by the sixth and fifth centuries BCE; a corpus of clay masks dated to the sixth century representing various characters, including monsters and heroes; and other objects such as terracotta figurines and bronze figurines and jewelry.

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