Tuesday, June 11, 2019


Raimon Graells i Fabregat, Fausto Longo, Gabriel Zuchtriegel (ed.), Le armi di Athena: il Santuario settentrionale di Paestum. Napoli: Arte'm, 2017. Pp. 256. ISBN 9788856906080. €25,00 (pb).

Reviewed by Christopher Smith, University of St Andrews (cjs6@st-and.ac.uk)

Version at BMCR home site

A small exhibition of the votives from the sanctuary of Athena at Paestum has given rise to this extremely valuable book, which takes a much broader contextual view. Anyone interested in votive-deposit behaviour will want to look at this significant contribution, which includes essays by a number of the most prominent figures in the archaeology of Paestum.

The deposit runs from the late sixth to the third century BC, and spans therefore a critical moment of transition as the colony builds the great temples which are iconic representations of the city, through to its late third century BC wall. The sanctuary is complex; there are a number of small monuments, altars and pits around the main temple. When scholarly investigation began, this was identified as the "temple of Ceres," solely, as far as we can make out, because of its proximity to a gate and the assumption that this was the traditional place in Greek cities for the goddess Demeter. The temple survived early interventions until the more systematic work by A. Maiuri and P. Sestieri, who found the votives around the temple area. (The location of the finds is not so easy to deduce from the text or its graphics).

The earliest cult building on the site is dated from its terracotta decoration to around 580 BC. A bronze inscription from the early sixth century seems to refer to the relationship between Poseidonia and Sybaris, possibly the mother-city. The votives increase in number in the second half of the sixth century, with increasing amounts of pottery (often connected to drinking), statuettes( including an Athena Promachos), and both real size and miniaturized armour and weapons. After the temple burnt down in the late sixth century it was replaced with the structure we see today, a large altar to the front, and further monumentalization of the temenos. Terracotta votives continue, the ceramic dedications become larger, and we start to see new representations of Athena with a Phrygian helmet, or with her shield by her side. These, it is suggested, may relate to political allegiances (for instance with Thurii, whose connections to Athens may be relevant to the adoption of the iconography of Athena with a Phrygian helmet and a less terrifying aegis). The fourth century sees an increase in offerings, a number of representations of seated women, and banqueting ceramics. These are closely paralleled at another sanctuary near the east gate of the city. The suggestion is offered that both sites represent cults related to the transition of young men and women to adulthood, but the east gate perhaps looks towards the surrounding agrarian population.

A significant part of the volume is dedicated to the metalwork from the site, which includes not only armour but also graters, cooking instruments, vases and even keys (sometimes attributed metaphorically to childbirth wishes). One object stands out; the bronze statuette of a woman on an Ionic capital raising the right hand. According to the inscription it was dedicated by Phillo, daughter of Charmylidas, as a tithe to Athena. The catalogue plausibly proposes that the figure surmounted a candelabrum.

Of the armour, 94% is of real size and of that 70% are shields, whereas 41% of the miniaturized dedications are breastplates. Armour is found elsewhere in Paestum at the other sanctuaries and is of course also to be found in Greece. The catalogue comprises a substantial section on dedications of Greek armour. The custom is well-attested in the sources, including Homer, so the practice is sanctioned by aristocratic custom. The exhibition, conservation, and defunctionalization of armour seem clearly to relate to mechanisms of memory and self-promotion. The use of miniaturized armour is an interesting and widespread phenomenon, usually attributed to an economic decision to limit expenditure ( hence sometimes associated with the world of mercenaries who could ill afford to give up their armour), to rites of passage, or symbolizing vows for success in battle. The places of production of such armour are sometimes found close to sanctuaries, and there is scope for f additional work on this feature at Paestum.

One line of thought that might be explored further leads us back to Phillo's dedication. Could armour be a natural tithing object? We have little information about tithing, but it must have been a significant element of sanctuary life. Armour, including in miniature, as a symbol of wealth, status and manliness might be an ideal expression in the context of tithing. This well-produced and informative volume offers a range of material and information on which to take such speculation further.

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