Apotropaia and Phylakteria

Conference Paper

Archaeological evidence: 3a. Apotropaic qualities of objects: Sanctuary context
Friday 2021-06-25
09:00 | 11:00
Place: Swedish Institute at Athens & Zoom

Clay plaques depicting eyes from the sanctuary of Demeter in Mytilene

A. M. Sara Karatas, 2021-06-25, Time: 10:15 - 10:35


More than hundred fragments of clay plaques depicting a temple façade and a pair of eyes have been recovered from the sanctuary of Demeter at Mytilene that was excavated by Canadian archaeologists under the direction of Hector Williams (University of British Columbia).

Marble and clay plaques depicting eyes were found in various sanctuaries. It is assumed that the plaques depicting eyes reflect health problems and were dedicated to healing deities. This may lead us to believe that the clay plaques from Mytilene were also consecrated with the same intention and Demeter was worshipped as a healing deity on Lesbos. However, not all plaques were dedicated to healing deities. It is suggested that some of these plaques had an apotropaic function or represented the encounter with the deity.

In contrast to the plaques found in other sanctuaries, the plaques (ca 10-11 cm) from Mytilene are pierced at the top to be hung on the wall; and the pair of eyes on some plaques are painted black or white (see figure below). This brings us to the question as whether the plaques from Mytilene may have had an apotropaic or epiphanic function. Demeter at Mytilene had exercised multiple functions for her devotees. Depending on the intention, worshippers dedicated presumably clay plaques depicting unpainted, white, or black eyes.

My paper aims to explore the various intentions behind the dedication of clay plaques depicting eyes consecrated at the sanctuary of Demeter at Mytilene.

About the Author(s)

University of Bristol


We use cookies to enhance your online experience.
By browsing our site, you agree to our use of cookies.

Read More