The Open Collections website will be unavailable July 27 from 2100-2200 PST ahead of planned usability and performance enhancements on July 28. More information here.

UBC Community, Partners, and Alumni Publications

Delphi Robertson, Paul 2019-01-29

Your browser doesn't seem to have a PDF viewer, please download the PDF to view this item.

Notice for Google Chrome users:
If you are having trouble viewing or searching the PDF with Google Chrome, please download it here instead.

Item Metadata


52387-Robertson_Paul_Delphi_2019.pdf [ 438.22kB ]
JSON: 52387-1.0376509.json
JSON-LD: 52387-1.0376509-ld.json
RDF/XML (Pretty): 52387-1.0376509-rdf.xml
RDF/JSON: 52387-1.0376509-rdf.json
Turtle: 52387-1.0376509-turtle.txt
N-Triples: 52387-1.0376509-rdf-ntriples.txt
Original Record: 52387-1.0376509-source.json
Full Text

Full Text

Poll: Religious Place (v1.1) Published on: 29 January 2019Date Range: 800 BCE - 393 CERegion: DelphiRegion tags: Europe, Southern Europe, GreeceThe Temple of Delphi, containing both the site of theOracle at Delphi as well as the greater sanctuarycontaining a host of buildings including temples,athletic facilities, and a treasury.DelphiBy Paul Robertson, University of New HampshireEntry tags: Temple, PlaceDelphi was the main, institutional oracular site in ancient Greece. On an ancient temple site withpurported divinatory practices going as far back at 1600 BCE, it became a formal cult site of Apollo and hisoracle in the 8th century BCE. The central religious activity was the Oracle at Delphi, also known as the"Pythia" after the primordial, mythical python slain by the god Apollo at the site to claim it for the Greekpantheon. The Pythia was both the high priestess of Apollo and his oracular mouthpiece, utteringauthoritative but vague and often frenzied prophecies that made her the object of fascination across theancient Mediterranean. The Pythia was attended by a formal priesthood in charge of the cult site and itspractices. This cult site grew to become a major cultural and pilgrimage center, with extensive structuresincluding temples, a treasury, theater, sanctuary, gymnasium, stadium, hippodrome, and extensivestatuary and other offerings.Status of Participants:✓ Elite ✓ Religious SpecialistsGeneral VariablesSources and ExcavationsPrint SourcesPrint sources used for understanding this subject:Online SourcesOnline sources used for understanding this subject:Source 1: William J. Broad (2006). The Oracle: Ancient Delphi and the Science Behind its Lost Secrets.New York: Penguin.—Source 2: Joan Breton Connelly (2007). Portrait of a Priestess: Women and Ritual in Ancient Greece.Princeton: Princeton University Press.—Source 3: Joseph Eddy Fontenrose (1978). The Delphic Oracle, its responses and operations, with acatalogue of responses. Berkeley: University of California Press.—Source 1 URL:—DOI: URL: work is licensed under the Creative CommonsAttribution 4.0 International license.Please see our Terms of Use here: 1 of 28© 2019 Database of Religious History.The University of British Columbia.For any questions contactproject.manager@religiondatabase.orgHas this place been the focus of excavation (pre-modern, illicit, or scientific):Answer 'Yes' for each period or type of excavation.Topographical ContextIs the place associated with a feature in the landscapeDoes the place involve human-made features besides structure:Other features might be ground clearing, terracing, other modifications of the local environment.Source 1 Description: Official website of the Delphi site, with text and archaeology database—Source 2 URL:—Source 2 Description: A summary of the excavations—Source 3 URL:—Source 3 Description: Archaeological Museum at Delphi—Yes—Type of excavation:Scientific—Years of excavation:Year range: 1892-present—Name of excavationNotes: Jacquemin, A. (ed) (2000). Delphes Cent Ans après la Grande fouille. Essai de bilan.Actes du colloque organisé par l'EFA, 17-20 septembre 1992, BCH supplément 36Official or descriptive name: La Grande Fouille ("The Great Excavation"), 1892-1903; continuousexcavations since—Elevation—Type of elevationMountain—Rock face—Other [specify]: Cracks in rocks over geological fissures—Yes—Type of featureRobertson, Database of Religious History, 2019 Page 2 of 28Is the place situated in an urban or siginificantly urbanized area:Is the place situated in a rural setting:Is the place situated far removed from non-religious places of habitation:Structures PresentAre there structures or features present:Instructions: Answer for each structure/feature or group that can be differentiated.Leveling of ground—Terracing—Clearing—Trackway or road-surface—Other [specify]: Extensive statuary, buildings, athletic facilities, temples—No—Yes—Are there settlements in close proximity to the place:Yes—Are there routes of travel in close proximity to the place:Yes—Yes—Is there a established route of travel connecting it to a wider transportation network:Yes—Yes—A single structureNo—One single featureClearing—Robertson, Database of Religious History, 2019 Page 3 of 28A group of structures:Yes—Are they part of a single design/construction stage:No—A group of features:Yes—Are they part of a single design/construction stage:No—Is it part of a larger place/sanctuary:Yes—What is the function of the structure/feature or group:Answer "Yes" once for each distinct functionWorship—Worship:Other [specify]: Solicit oracular utterance—Social—Political—Is the structure/feature finished:Yes—Was the structure/feature intended to last beyond a generation:Yes—Was the structure/feature modified through time:Yes—Was the structure/feature destroyed:Yes—Robertson, Database of Religious History, 2019 Page 4 of 28Reasons for Creation/Construction/ConsecrationIs the place used for the worship of/communication with non-human supernatural beings:Is the place used for the worship of a semi-divine human being:Is the place used for the worship of non-divine ancestors:How was the structure/feature destroyedBurned—Was it destroyed deliberately:For religious reasons—As the result of war—As the resuilt of pillage—Was it destroyed by accident/natural phenomena:Other [specify]: Earthquake; geological shifting—Has the structure/feature been reconstructed:Yes—In antiquityPeriodically—In modernityPost-Renaissance—Yes—Dedicated to a supernatural being:Yes [specify]: Apollo—Dedicated to more than one supernatural being:No—No—No—Robertson, Database of Religious History, 2019 Page 5 of 28Was the place commissioned/built by an official political entity:A political entity is a local power structure that leverages a workforce.Were the Structures built by specific groups of people:Was the place thought to have originated as the result of divine intervention:Was the place created to mark or commemorate the birthplace of a supernatural or humanbeing:Was the place created as the result of an event:Was the creation of the place sponsored by external financial/material donation:Yes—SpecifyCouncil of elders—Yes—Groups:Specialized labourers/craftspeople—Yes—SpecifyRevealed by other kind of supernatural being(s) [specify]: Site established by Greek god Apollo,who killed the mythical python at the site and established the omphalos ("navel") stone—No—Yes—SpecifyOther [specify]: Greek god Apollo killed the primordial python at the site and established Greekpantheon dominance there—Yes—Is this sponsor of the same religious group/tradition as the main usage of the place:Yes—Robertson, Database of Religious History, 2019 Page 6 of 28Was the establishment of the place motivated by:Was the place built specifically for housing scriptures/sacred texts:Design and Material RemainsOverall StructureIs the place made up of multiple built structures:Is monumental architecture present:Monumental architecture is defined here as a built structure that surpasses average human proportionsand in general is larger and more complex than is necessary to fulfill the structure's utilitarian function(s).Examples of monumental architecture include Mesopotamian Ziggurats, Egyptian Pyramids, Greek andRoman temples, Mesoamerican Pyramids, North American and Aegean burial mounds, etc.Expression of devotion with no expectation of favor in return—No—Yes—Are any of the structures attached to or associated with a landscape feature:Yes—Are any of the structures attached to other structures:Yes—Is there a hierarchy among the structures:Yes—Yes—In the average place, what percentage of area is taken up by built monuments:Percentage: 50—Footprint of largest single religious monument, square meters:Please add dimensions in the comments, if known.Notes: The TheaterSquare meters: 2500—Height of largest single religious monument, meters:Robertson, Database of Religious History, 2019 Page 7 of 28Is the structure/feature made out of natural materials:Answer [Yes] for each material typeField doesn't know—Size of average monument, square meters:Notes: Approximate number based on survey of properly scaled field planSquare meters: 150—Height of average monument, meters:Field doesn't know—Yes—EarthNo—SandNo—ClayNo—PlasterNo—WoodNo—GrassNo—StoneYes—Is this material sourced locally:Yes—Robertson, Database of Religious History, 2019 Page 8 of 28Is the structure/feature made out of human-made materialsDecorationIs decoration present:Is this material lacking in the local natural environment:No—OtherOther [specify]: Substantial use of marble and stone, often unmortared limestone—No—Yes—Is decoration part of the building (permanent):Yes—On the outside:Yes—On the inside:Yes—Is decoration attached to the building, i.e. movable reliefs or tapestriesField doesn't know—Is the decoration figural:A figural representation is defined here as one that contains the depiction of discernible human,anthropomorphic, animal, or zoomorphic forms. In general, it differentiates between animateand inanimate beings, as well as between narrative compositions and still life, landscapes,abstraction, etc. Answer [Yes] for each type of figure depictedYes—Are there gods depicted:Yes—Are there other supernatural beings depicted:Robertson, Database of Religious History, 2019 Page 9 of 28Yes—Are there humans depicted:Yes—Are there animals depicted:Yes—Are there animal-human hybrids depicted:Field doesn't know—Is the decoration non-figural:Yes—Is it geometric/abstractYes—Floral motifsYes—Is it writing/caligraphyYes—Other [Specify]Other [specify]: Substantial statuary and pedimentary decoration, paired with imagesof gods, humans, animals, plants, and other classical Greek decorative features—Is the decoration hidden or restricted from view:No—Are there statues present:Yes—Cult statues:Yes—Robertson, Database of Religious History, 2019 Page 10 of 28Statues of gods/supernatural beings:Yes—Statues of humans:Yes—Other [Specify]Other [specify]: Several prominent statues, e.g. "The Charioteer of Delphia, "The Alter ofChians", "The Dancers of Delphi"—Are there reliefs present:A relief—as opposed to sculpture carved on the round—is a work of sculpture in which the figuresproject from a background support, generally a flat surface. Reliefs can be carved out of stone,clay, or a similar material.Yes—Reliefs representing the god(s) worshipped at the place:Yes—Reliefs representing mythological narratives:Yes—Reliefs representing human/historical narratives:Yes—Other [Specify]Other [specify]: Marble bas reliefs commonly decorated the structures, depicting bothmythical scenes constructed in dedication and recent human battles constructed intriumph—Are there paintings present:Yes—Are they panel paintings [movable]:Field doesn't know—Are they wall paintings:Field doesn't know—Robertson, Database of Religious History, 2019 Page 11 of 28Paintings representing the gods worshipped at the place:Field doesn't know—Paintings representing mythological narratives:Yes—Paintings representing human/historical narratives:Yes—Other [Specify]Notes: The famous Greek painter Polygnotus painted two large frescos: one on thecapture of Troy (Trojan War), the other Odysseus' trip to Hades (Underworld). Thesemostly lost paintings occurred in the Lesche of the Knidians, a meeting place. Seedescription of these paintings in Pausanius, 10.25-31.Other [specify]: Lost frescoes by Polygnotus—Are there mosaics present:Field doesn't know—Are there inscriptions as part of the decoration:Yes—Are the inscriptions ornamental:Yes—Are the inscriptions informative/declarative[e.g. historical narratives, calendars, donor lists etc...Yes—Are the inscription a formal dedication:Yes—Other [Specify]Other [specify]: The site contains hundreds of slave manumissions inscribed in stone ina wall on site, dedicated to Apollo—Other type of decoration:Robertson, Database of Religious History, 2019 Page 12 of 28IconographyAre there distinct features in the places iconography:Notes: [specify]: Variety of altars and significant finds—Yes—Eyes (stylized or not)Yes—Supernatural beings (zoomorphic)Yes—Supernatural beings (geomorphic)Yes—Supernatural beings (anthropomorphic)Yes—Supernatural being (abstract)Yes—Portrayals of afterlifeYes—Aspects of doctrine (e.g. cross, trinity, Mithraic symbols)Yes—HumansYes—Supernatural narrativesYes—Human narrativesRobertson, Database of Religious History, 2019 Page 13 of 28Beliefs and PracticesFunerary AssociationsIs this palce a tomb/burial:Is this a place for the worship of the dead:Is this a place for treatment of the corpse:Are co-sacrifices present in tomb/burial:Co-sacrifices are animal/human sacrifices prompted by the death of the primary occuptant of thetomb/burial.Are grave goods present:Are formal burials present:Supernatural BeingsIs a supreme high god is present:Does the supreme high god communicates with the living at this place:Yes—Other [Specify]Other [specify]: The "Omphalos Stone", the mythical navel of the earth, placed by Apollo afterdefeating the mythical Python—No—No—No—No—No—No—No—No—Robertson, Database of Religious History, 2019 Page 14 of 28Are previously human spirits present:Do human spirits communicate with the living at this place:Are nonhuman supernatural beings are present:Do nonhuman spirits communicate with the living at this place:No—No—Yes—Human spirits can be seen:Yes—Human spritis can be phyiscally felt:Yes—Yes—In waking, everyday life:No—In dreams:Yes—In trance possession:Yes—Through divination practices:Yes—Only through religious specialists:Yes—Only through monarch:No—Robertson, Database of Religious History, 2019 Page 15 of 28Are mixed human-divine beings are present:Do mixed human-divine beings communicate with the living at this place:Is the supernatural being/high god present in the form of a cult statue(s):Supernatural InteractionsIs supernatural monitoring present:OtherOther [specify]: The Pythian priestess provides an oracular pronouncement from the godApollo, a process which was managed or interpreted by temple priests—No—No—Yes—Is the cult statue visible:Yes—Is the cult statue hidden:No—Yes—Supernatural monitoring of norm adherence:Yes—Supernatural beings care about or expect offerings:Yes—Libations:Yes [specify]: Typically wine—Offerings of food:Yes [specify]: Meat, often oxen—Animal sacrifice:Robertson, Database of Religious History, 2019 Page 16 of 28Yes [specify]: Oxen, goats—Human sacrifice:No—Sacred objects:Yes [specify]: Tripod (the so-called "Tripod of Delphi"), a Greek stand used forceremonial, decorative, and some functional applications, such as offerings or seating.—Daily life objects:Yes [specify]: Water, incense—Other:Other [specify]: Laurel branch, connected to Apollo's mythology—Supernatural beings care about sex:Notes: The Pythian priestess needed to be a virgin of high reputationNotes: Those coming to the sanctuary to receive an oracle or participate in other religiousactivities did not need to be virginalYes—Does the worship include sex acts/references:No—No—Supernatural beings care about or expect proper ritual observerance:Yes—Supernatural beings care about or expect performance of rituals:Yes—Supernatural beings care about or expect maintenance of the place:Yes—Supernatural beings care about or expect personal hygiene:Yes—Robertson, Database of Religious History, 2019 Page 17 of 28Do visitors communicate with the gods or supernatural beings:Ritual and PerformanceSacrificices, Offerings, and MaintenanceAre sacrifices performed at this place:Are there self-sacrifices present:Are material offerings present:Supernatural beings care about honoring oaths:Field doesn't know—Other:Other [specify]: Those asking for an oracle would be expected to perform rituals of purificationand offering; meanwhile, it is uncertain the exact ritual behavior of the Pythian priestess—Yes—Do visitors communicate with gods:Yes—Do visitors communicate with other supernatural beings:No—Yes—Are there animal sacrifices:Yes [specify]: Oxen, goats—Are there human sacrifices:No—Are the sacrified humans associated in some way:No—No—Yes—Robertson, Database of Religious History, 2019 Page 18 of 28Is attendance to worship/sacrifice mandatory:Is maintenance of the place performed:Are material offerings mandatory:Yes—Are material offerings composed of valuable objects:Yes—Are material offerings composed of daily-life objects:Yes—Are material offerings interred at this place (in caches):Yes—OtherOther [specify]: The Sanctuary became a major political site as well, which led to theestablishment of a formal Treasury building by the Athenian delegation—No—Yes—Is it required:Yes—Is there cleansing (for the maintenance)Yes—Are there periodic repairs/reconstructions:Yes—Is the maintenance performed by permanent staffYes—OtherOther [specify]: There were permanent priests at the sanctuary, who were augmented withregular visits from skilled maintenance and religious staff from various visiting delegations—Robertson, Database of Religious History, 2019 Page 19 of 28Pilgrimage and FestivalsAre pilgrimages present:Is this place a venue for feasting:Yes—How strict is pilgrimage:optional (rare)—Are pilgrimages the main reason for constructur/establishment of place:No—Are pilgrimages to this place associated with significant life events:Yes—BirthNo—Transition to adulthoodNo—DeathYes—OtherOther [specify]: The Oracle consulted on significant political and military mattersfrom civic delegations as well as personal requests from individuals; the ratio variedover time—Does pilgirmage to this place involve follow establish routes (roads)Yes—Are these routes maintained together with the place:Yes—Yes—Robertson, Database of Religious History, 2019 Page 20 of 28Are festivals present:Is feasting connected to the worship/sacrifices performed at this place:Yes—Is feasting sponsored by the same entity that built/maintains the place:Yes—PriestsYes—Local elitesYes—Private contributionsYes—OtherOther [specify]: Major benefactors built up structures representing their delegations,e.g. the Athenian Treasury, which was paired with a local priesthood—Does feasting occur in a specific location with the place:Yes [specify]: Ceremonial grounds outside the inner sanctuary—Yes—Frequency of festivalsspecify: Pythian Games, once every four years, in a cycle with the Olympian, Nemean, andIsthmian Games—Do all members of the society participate in the festival(s):All members—Are festivals a defining element in the construction/decoration of the place:Yes—Requires special maintenance/cleansing of the placeYes—Robertson, Database of Religious History, 2019 Page 21 of 28Divination and HealingIs divination present:Requires new construction/decoration of the placeYes—Requires maintenance/replacement of cult statue(s)Field doesn't know—On average, how many participants gather at this place:number: 10,000+, the theater holds nearly 15,000—Is feasting part of the festival(s)Yes—Is food consumption limited to certain members of the populationNotes: Sacrificial festivals occurred, where food would be distributed across sociallines, but the choicest portions typically would go to the elites and religiousprofessionals firstElites—Non-elites—Religious professionals—Yes—Divination by examination of the extaAnimals remains, internal organs, answer this question and subsequent question once for eachspeciesYes—SpeciesYes [specify]: Goat—PartYes [specify]: Liver—Remains are consumedRobertson, Database of Religious History, 2019 Page 22 of 28Field doesn't know—Remains are disposed ofField doesn't know—Divination though human communication:Yes—Is a human being the vehicle for the oracle:Yes—Is a human being the interpreter of the oracle:Yes—Are the oracle interpreters of specified sex/genderYes—Are the oracle interpreters of specified ethnicity:Yes—Are the oracle interpreters of specified class:Yes—Is sex-deprivation required:Yes—Are intoxicants required:Notes: Leading theories suggest the Pythian priestess' frenzied oracles were theresult of vapors from geological cracks on site; this theory is disputedYes—Physical ordeal required:Notes: Accounts describe the act of oracular frenzy as extremely taxing, with thePythian priestess necessitating a substantial recovery time, and few reaching old ageYes—Divination through animal-behavior:Robertson, Database of Religious History, 2019 Page 23 of 28Is healing present/practiced at this place:Notes: Apollo was associated with healing; it is plausible healing occurred at this sanctuaryDo rituals occur at this place:Rituals are visibly enacted behaviors by one or more people for the purposes of religious observance.Yes—Wild-animalsYes—Domesticated animalsYes—Captive animalsYes—Divination through non-living material:Notes: Lots were drawn to establish the order of who would first consult the OracleNotes: The Oracle reportedly held a bowl of water she would gaze into before/during herprophecyOther [specify in comments]—Other [specify in comments]—OtherOther [specify]: Evidence records the presence of substantial smoke around the Oracle'schambers—No—Yes—Do large-scale rituals take place:Yes—Do small-scale rituals take place:Yes—On average how many participants are present in large-scale rituals:Robertson, Database of Religious History, 2019 Page 24 of 28Institutions and ScripturesReligious SpecialistsAre religious specialists present/in charge of this place:Religious specialists are individuals who's primary duties within a population group are not concernedwith subsitence or craft production but the maintaince of the religious landscape and culture of thegroup.specify: 10,000—How often do these rituals take place:specify: Once every four years—Are there orthodoxy checks:Field doesn't know—Are there orthopraxy checks:Notes: Ritual processions and sacrifices would take place, functionally upholding a commonritual orthopraxyYes—Are there synchonic practices:No—Are there intoxicants used during the ritual:Notes: Leading theories attribute the Oracle's frenzied prophecy to vapors arising from cracksin the surrounding, faultline-filled geography; others suggest hallucinogenic smoke inhalation.Both theories are contested.Yes—Yes—Present full timeYes—Present part timeYes—Are the religious specialists of specific sex/genderRobertson, Database of Religious History, 2019 Page 25 of 28Does this place incorporate a living space for religious specialists:Is this palce used for the training of religious specialists:Are there formal institutions for the maintenance of the place:institutions that are authorized by the religious community or political leaders)Notes: Civic delegations from across Greece contributed money, labor and expertise to themaintenance, building, and execution of cult site activitiesBureaucracyIs there a formal bureaucracy present at this place:A bureaucracy consists of a hierarchical system of accounting and rule maintance primarily concernedwith material wealth.Yes—Are the religious specialists of specific ethnicityYes—Are the religious specialists of specific class/castYes—Are religious specialists dedicate to the place for lifeYes—Are the religious specialists stratified in a hierarchical system:Yes—Is access within the space segregated by this hierarchyNotes: The Oracle alone could spend time in the inner sanctum/caveYes—Yes—Field doesn't know—Yes—Yes—Robertson, Database of Religious History, 2019 Page 26 of 28Does this place control economic resources (land, goods, tools):Public WorksDoes this place serve as a location for services to the community:Is a bureaucracy present permanentlyYes—Is a bureaucracy present temporarily/seasonalyYes—Yes—Is this control the primary supporting income of this placeNo—Does this place lease out landField doesn't know—Does this place lease out toolsField doesn't know—Yes—Public food distribution and/or storageField doesn't know—Place for civic functions (census, elections, others)Yes—Place for the practice of justice (trials, executions, etc.)Field doesn't know—Function for water managementNotes: Sacred spring on site, may have been used for water management for surroundingcommunityYes—Robertson, Database of Religious History, 2019 Page 27 of 28Writing/ScripturesIs non-religious writing stored at this place:Economic documents, records etc.Notes: Most notably there were hundreds of records of slave manumissions, albeit dedicated to Apollo;there were also likely documents pertaining to civic, diplomatic, and economic matters around thecult site's activity given its size and importance across various Greek city-statesAre there scriptures associated with this placeNotes: The Oracle is notable for her lack of required literacy, though likely many of the priestesses wereeducated as they were chosen from a particular caste. A collection of oracles has been made inmodern scholarship, but there is no evidence such a collection existed at Delphi or in ancient timesPart of the transportation networkNo—OtherOther [specify]: Site served as major religious and athletic site to fashion a pan-Greek notion ofHellenism throughout Greek history—Yes—No—Robertson, Database of Religious History, 2019 Page 28 of 28


Citation Scheme:


Citations by CSL (citeproc-js)

Usage Statistics



Customize your widget with the following options, then copy and paste the code below into the HTML of your page to embed this item in your website.
                            <div id="ubcOpenCollectionsWidgetDisplay">
                            <script id="ubcOpenCollectionsWidget"
                            async >
IIIF logo Our image viewer uses the IIIF 2.0 standard. To load this item in other compatible viewers, use this url:


Related Items