Introduction

Beyond the polis

 

The sanctuary of Apollo on Despotiko (Antiparos)

Despotiko, is an uninhabited island lying west of the southwestern coast of Antiparos and east of Sifnos in the central Cyclades in Aegean. It is the largest of a number of small islets including Saliagos, Tsimintiri, Strongylo, which until relatively recent prehistory formed one continuous island. Although Despotiko is unattested in ancient literary sources, the systematic excavations directed by the archaeologist Y. Kourayos and the 21st Ephorate of Classical Antiquities of the Greek Ministry of Culture brought to light an archaic sanctuary dedicated to Apollo, whose richness and importance can only be compared with that of Delos.Although unattested in ancient literary sources, the systematic excavations directed by the archaeologist Y. Kourayos and the 21st Ephorate of Classical Antiquities of the Greek Ministry of Culture brought to light an archaic sanctuary dedicated to Apollo, whose richness and importance can only be compared with that of Delos.

On the basis of the records of Strabo and Pliny, Despotiko has been identified with ancient Prepesinthos. Since 2001, the still ongoing systematic excavation brought to light 12 buildings, most of them dating to the late sixth century BC. The North temenos, a rectangular peribolos formed by buildings A, Δ, Ε, is core of the sanctuary, while Building A, consisting of five large rectangular rooms, has been recognized as the sanctuary’s cult centre.



Until now the exploration of the sanctuary mostly threw light on the period of its acme, namely the archaic era and the sixth century. And although isolated pottery finds indicated that activity at the site could be placed back to the Early Iron Age, the available evidence did not allow for reconstructing its first phases. Nevertheless, the most recent architectural and mostly the important quantities of early ceramic finds allow for placing the earliest activity at the site in the second half of the ninth century BC.
The early material came to light in association with a Late Geometric apsidal building, which has been partly uncovered. The predominance of drinking and mixing forms, the presence of cooking pots, in combination with the high concentration of animal bones provides a rather secure ground for suggesting that sacrifice, ritual feasting and in particular drinking formed the focus of early cult at the sanctuary. The variety of shapes, and more importantly the quality of their decoration and craftsmanship, are suggestive of a wealth investment on these communal activities, while the almost complete presence of pottery of Parian origin, points to visitors from the neighbouring island. Based on the stratigraphy and the relevant ceramic evidence, the early structure and the earliest activities related to it should be placed in the second half of the ninth century. However, it seems that it is the second half of the eighth century, which saw a peak in feasting as suggested by the quantity and the quality of the material.

Feasting seems to have continued to play an important role in the cult during the archaic period too. A concentration of banded kraters and bowls, accompanied by glazed drinking shapes, indicate that the archaic Building D, which has been established over the geometric apsidal, should be linked to banqueting activities, continuing the Early Iron Age tradition.

Within the frame of the post-doctoral FNRS project, Dr. Alexandridou is studying the unpublished ceramic material from the contexts described above. It serves as the main tool for exploring the establishment and the nature of the earliest cultic activities, the further development of cult, as well as the role and importance of communal banqueting during the geometric and archaic era. The identity of the honoured deity or deities is one of the main questions, which will be addressed.

Finally, since this Delion seems to have been established and maintained by the Parians, it should be examined in close relation to the cultic developments of their rivals, the Naxians, who dominated on Delos. The important issue of the cultural affinities of the sanctuary of Despotiko with its neighbouring counterparts in the central Cyclades will be studied in detail in order to understand the construction of a cultural identity for the inhabitants of the area.

This part of the project will be undertaken with the support of the FNRS, since Dr. Alexandridou’s appointment as a “Chargée de Recherches“ will allow her to continue her work for the research program “Beyond the polis“.

 

 

 

Top