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Heraion sanctuary

  1. Jonathan M. Hall

Published Online: 26 OCT 2012

DOI: 10.1002/9781444338386.wbeah14113

The Encyclopedia of Ancient History

How to Cite

Hall, J. M. 2012. Heraion sanctuary. The Encyclopedia of Ancient History. .

Publication History

  1. Published Online: 26 OCT 2012

The sanctuary of Hera Argeia, situated 8 km northeast of Argos on the slopes of Mount Euboea, housed the most important cult in the Argolid. Its significance within the wider Greek world is indicated by the fact that it was supposedly the Argive Hera that was worshipped at the Heraion on Samos and at several Hera sanctuaries in south Italy, including Foce del Sele near Paestum (Plin. HN 3.5.70) (see Paestum (Poseidonia)).

With habitation throughout much of the Bronze Age, archaeological evidence suggests that cultic activity at the Heraion may date back as early as the tenth century bce. Towards the end of the eighth century or early in the seventh, a terrace was created by the construction of a monumental wall, whose large, cyclopean blocks—if they were originally intended to be visible—were probably designed to imitate Mycenaean remains in the area. It is, however, doubtful whether a terracotta “house model,” excavated at the Heraion and now in the National Archaeological Museum, is a representation of an early cult structure on this terrace. Herodotus (1.31) recounts the story of how two Argive youths, Kleobis and Biton, had dragged the cart oftheir mother, the priestess of Hera Argeia, from Argos to the Heraion because the oxen assigned to the task had not arrived from the fields in time; upon arrival at the sanctuary, their mother prayed that the goddess grant them the greatest mortal blessing and, upon entering the temple, the youths fell into a deep and eternal sleep. This tradition may lend some credence to those who believe that Argos exerted an early control over the Heraion, perhaps even establishing it to mark the extent of its territory (Polignac 1995), though there is a growing consensus that the sanctuary was shared by the various communities of the Argive plain throughout the Archaic period (Hall 1995); in either case, the material evidence does not attest to significant influences from further afield.

The earliest identifiable temple on the upper terrace was peripteral and probably dates to ca. 625–600. Over the next century and a half, stoas were constructed to the south, below the temple terrace, together with a courtyard building that seems to have served as a hestiatorion (dining hall). In 423, according to Thucydides (4.133), the temple burned down after the priestess, Chrysis, accidentally dropped a lighted torch while asleep. Over the next two to three decades, a second temple was built on a new terrace below the earlier temple. Doric in style, it was largely constructed with local poros stone, though Pentelic marble was used for the metopes and Parian marble for the roof tiles and pediments. Pausanias (2.17) names its architect as Eupolemos and notes that the birth of Zeus and a gigantomachy were depicted on one pediment and the sack of Troy on the other. He also says that the chryselephantine statue of Hera was the work of Polykleitos, though there are some doubts that this is the famous Argive sculptor.

Although the new temple was initiated after the conflagration of 423, architectural examination of the south stoa and abutting steps indicates that the terrace on which the new temple stood was constructed around the middle of the fifth century—almost certainly following Argos' destruction of Mycenae, Tiryns, and Midea in the 460s (Hdt. 7.137; Ephorus 70 FGrH 56; Diod. sic. 11.65.1–11; strabo 8.6.11, 19; Paus. 2.17.5, 25.8; 7.25.5–6; 8.46.3) and the subsequent consolidation of Argive control over the Heraion. It is from this date that the Hekatombaia games in honor of Hera are first attested epigraphically (Amandry 1980: 212–16).

Towards the end of the third century, the games were transferred to Argos and renamed the Heraia. The sanctuary, however, remained in use: Pausanias (2.17.6) noted dedications by the emperors Nero and Hadrian, and there is evidence for the replacement of architectural elements in both the new temple and the north stoa during the Roman period. The temple was finallydestroyed byfire, though the date of this is unknown: spolia from Byzantine churches in the surrounding area indicate that the sanctuary was being quarried for stone from at least the twelfth century.

The Heraion was rediscovered in 1831 by General Thomas Gordon, who dug there five years later. Between 1892 and 1895 it was excavated by Charles Waldstein (later Sir Charles Walston) in the first archaeological campaign undertaken by the newly founded American school of Classical studies at Athens.

References and Suggested Readings

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  2. References and Suggested Readings
  • Amandry, P. (1980) “Sur les concours argiens.” Etudes Argiennes 21153. Paris.
  • Antonaccio, C. M. (1992) “Terraces, tombs, and the early Argive Heraion.” Hesperia 61: 85105.
  • Hall, J. M. (1995) “How Argive was the ‘Argive’ Heraion? The political and cultic geography of the Argive plain, 900–400 bc.” American Journal of Archaeology 99: 577613.
  • Pfaff, C. A. (2003) The Argive Heraion I: the architecture ofthe classical temple of Hera. Princeton.
  • Polignac, F. de (1995) Cults, territory and the origins ofthe Greek city-state, transl. J. Lloyd. Chicago.
  • Waldstein, C., ed. (1902–5) The Argive Heraeum, 2 vols. Boston.
  • Wright, J. C. (1982) “The old temple terrace at the Argive Heraion and the early cult of Hera in the Argolid.” Journal of Hellenic Studies 102: 186201.