The Heraion of
Samos was a large sanctuary to the goddess Hera, in the
southern region of Samos, Greece, 6 km southwest of the ancient
city, in a low, marshy river basin near the sea. The Late Archaic
Samos was the first of the gigantic free-standing Ionic
temples, but its predecessors at this site reached back to the
Geometric Period of the 8th century BC, or earlier. The site of
temple's ruins, with its sole standing column, was designated a joint
UNESCO World Heritage Site, along with the nearby
2 Further reading
The core myth at the heart of the cult of
Samos is that of her
birth. According to the local tradition, the goddess was born under a
lygos tree (Vitex agnus-castus, the "chaste-tree"). At the annual
Samian festival called the Toneia, the "binding", the cult image of
Hera was ceremonially bound with lygos branches. The tree still
featured on the coinage of
Samos in Roman times.
Many construction phases are known, identified in part through
fragments of roof tiles, the first phase dating to the 8th century
BC. The first temple, the Hekatompedos, was roughly 100 feet
(30 m) long and narrow; it consisted of three walls and an
interior central line of columns to support a roof structure. A much
larger temple was built by the architects Rhoikos and Theodoros ca.
570-550 BC. The temple stood opposite the cult altar of
Hera in her
walled and gated temenos. It was a dipteral temple, that is with a
portico of columns two deep, which surrounded it entirely
(peripteral). It had a deep square-roofed pronaos in front of a closed
Cella and pronaos were divided into three equal aisles by two
rows of columns that marched down the pronaos and through the temple.
The result was that
Hera was worshipped in a temple fitted within a
stylized grove of columns, eight across and twenty-one deep. The
columns stood on unusual torus bases that were horizontally fluted.
The Rhoikos temple "must have had central significance for the
development of monumental Ionic architecture", Helmut Kyrieleis
Unfortunately it stood for only about a decade before it was
destroyed, probably by an earthquake. After the destruction of the
"Rhoikos temple", an even larger one was built approximately 40 m to
the west. This temple had the largest known floor plan of any Greek
temple and is known as the "
Polycrates Temple", named after a tyrant
of Samos. One of the giant statues from the Heraion survives in the
Samos Archaeological Museum. Construction continued into the Roman
period, but this Heraion was never wholly finished. Instead, the cult
image was housed in Roman imperial times in a smaller structure to the
east, which remained in use until the Theodosian edicts of 391 forbade
pagan observance. A Christian church occupied the Roman site,
employing stone taken from the Roman Heraeum.
The Heraion served as a quarry through Byzantine times, so that it was
eventually dismantled to the very foundations. Little information has
survived in literary sources. Pausanias missed
Samos in his Periegesis
of Greece. Scattered mentions by
Herodotus do not provide a
satisfactory substitute. With the exception of the open-air altar
and the great temple no other feature of the temenos is mentioned in a
The first Westerner to visit the site was Joseph Pitton de Tournefort,
commissioned by Louis XIV to travel in the East and report his
findings. Tournefort visited
Samos in 1704, and published his
drawings of the ruins as engravings. Massive siltation deposits
obscured, yet protected the site from amateur tinkering in the 18th
and 19th centuries. Reedbeds and thorny brakes of blackberry canes
provided daunting cover, and the water table, risen since Antiquity,
discouraged trench-digging at the same time that it preserved wooden
materials in anoxic strata. Thus the first preliminary archaeological
excavations were delayed until 1890-92, under the direction of P.
Kavvadias and Th. Sophoulis, from Athens, and the full extent of the
third temple's foundations were not revealed until Theodor Wiegand's
campaign of 1910-14. Rubble demonstrated that there had been a
In 1925 German archaeologists from the German Archaeological Institute
at Athens began again at the site; work that was interrupted by the
Second World War commenced again in 1951. The site has been minutely
described in a series of volumes in German under the general title
Samos, which were edited to a high standard, establishing a chronology
against which the wide range of votive objects deposited at the
Heraion from the 8th century onward can be compared. Helmut Kyrieleis
and Hermann J. Kienast took charge of the excavations in 1976.
Barletta, Barbara A. (2001). The Origins of the Greek Architectural
Orders. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
^ Cypriote terracotta votive objects date as early as the late 8th
century (Gerhard Schmidt, Kyprische Bildwerke aus dem Heraion von
Samos, (Samos, vol. VII) 1968).
^ "The inconspicuous beginnings of the altar may perhaps date back to
late Mycenaean times" observes the Heraion 's excavator, Helmut
Kyrieleis, (Kyrieleis, "The Heraion at Samos" in Greek Sanctuaries:
New Approaches, Nanno Marinatos and Robin Hägg, eds. 1993, pp 125ff)
^ Aenne Ohnesorg, "Archaic roof tiles from the Heraion on Samos",
Hesperia 59.1 (January - March 1990:181-192); Ohnesorg divided the
archaic tile fragments into five groups of "Laconian" and five or six
"Corinthian" types (ca 570 BC onwards), representing ten or eleven
roofings; there are also fragmentary antefixes.
^ Kyrieleis 1993, p. 133.
^ "The way in which a Christian cult immediately started up at the
site of a pagan cult is a phenomenon which may be frequently observed
in Greek sanctuaries" (Kyrieleis 1993, p. 127).
^ Helmut Kyrieleis 1993 notes the lack of the kind of orderly
descriptive tour Pausanias would have provided (p. 125).
^ This summary of the early excavation history is drawn from Kyrieleis
1993, p. 126f.
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