Beyond the polis


The EIA Amyklaion in Lakonia

© Amykles Research Project

The sanctuary of Apollo at Amyklai was a very important landmark in Lakonia up to late antiquity. The cults of Apollo and the local hero Hyakinthos instigated the ritual activities, among which the most important was the Hyakinthia festival.
The almost complete absence of architectural remains from the area of the sanctuary, up until the end of the Archaic period when the monumental and rather enigmatic Throne of Apollo was built, raise a number of questions related to the origin and the development of cult and rituals at Amyklai. Recent excavations undertaken by the Benaki Museum and the 5th Ephorate of Prehistoric and Classical Antiquities offer new evidence on the development of the sanctuary and its relation to other sanctuaries and sacred spaces in the wider area of Sparta.

Evidence of cult is found on the low hill of Agia Kyriaki at Amyklai, located in the middle of the Spartan plain and already dated to the late Mycenaean period. Figurines and other votive-offerings have been associated with an open-air sanctuary or shrine. The transition to the Early Iron Age is not very well-documented and the origin of the cult in the area remains a matter of debate. This study will focus on matters of ritual performance in the sanctuary of Apollo Hyakinthos, as well as challenging comparisons and interpretations in the wider context of Sparta and Laconia.

An increasing quantity and range of votive material is observed at the end of the 8th century BC, when the construction of a peribolos wall seems to have played an important role in articulating the space of ritual performance. Pottery is the most common find. The ceramic assemblage largely consists of drinking vessels, which is to be expected in such contexts. For this reason, the study of ceramics associated with the successive phases of the sanctuary may contribute to discussions of cult activities and ritual performance. Ritual vessels form a small but distinctive category within the assemblage. Figured scenes on the pottery from the Amyklaion may be the only direct evidence of ritual performance at this early date. A few votives, such as metallic objects and weapons, clay tripods, figurines and the large corpus of pottery, can be associated with the Geometric and the Archaic phases.

Important social and possibly ritual changes at the Amyklaion in the second half of the 8th century BC may be associated with the formation of Sparta as a polis and the incorporation of Amyklai. Similar changes have also been traced in other sacred places in the wider area of Sparta (Menelaion, Acropolis, Orthia Artemis). A comparative study may contribute to a better understanding of ritual expression and definition of ritual performance at Amyklai