Apotropaia and Phylakteria

Conference Paper

Archaeological evidence: 1. On apotropaic rituals and practices in domestic, industrial and sacred contexts
Thursday 2021-06-24
10:45 | 12:50
Place: Swedish Institute at Athens & Zoom

Sacred transitions. On the protection of city gates in Sicily and Magna Graecia

Valentina Garaffa, 2021-06-24, Time: 11:10 - 11:30


Built like fortresses, experienced as multifunctional space, perceived as symbol of identity, city gates became emblematic of the city itself. Although they were built as integral part of architectural strongholds, city gates also risked being the most vulnerable areas of the city. Due to their importance and to safeguard their integrity, they were placed in the custody of various deities to which sacrifices were dedicated. The protection of city walls is a widespread and well known phenomenon in the ancient world, especially in the Greek and Roman ones. Literary and archaeological sources allow us to reconstruct a composite picture of the rites that took place at the city gates and the deities who presided over the entrances.

Rarely have the same traces in the Greek colonial world been featured or even simply been recognized. An exceptional case from the archaeological point of view is represented by the fortifications of the καλλίστα βροτεᾶν πολίων, as Pindar, in Pindar’s Pitica 12, called the Greek colony Agrigento. Near its city gates traces of ritual activities have long been discovered. The most conspicuous are probably the plastered (now empty) niches that dotted the bedrock in which Gate II and Gate IV were cut. Niches are considered the best evidence for the regular use of guardian statues at the thresholds of Greek cities.

Is it possible to discuss the meaning of these evidences in order to recognize their prophylactic or apotropaic function, despite the absence of literary sources? What can we derive from the comparison with the evidences in the Greek motherland?

The proposed conference paper aims to discuss the value of the archaeological evidence of the niches near the city gates of the Greek colonial world, and their possible prophylactic or apotropaic meaning, from the examples of Agrigento and other ancient Greek colonies.

About the Author(s)

Christian-Albrechts-Universität zu Kiel, Institut für Klassische Altertumskunde / Bereich Klassische Archäologie


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