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 gorgoneion-roundels. Evidence for a new defined group of votive offerings in an apotropaic/prophylactic context

Maria G. Spathi, 2021-06-25, Time: 10:40 - 11:00


The gorgoneion is widely understood to be apotropaic in intention, originally at least, and its representations in Greece were extremely popular throughout the historical period from the 7th c. BCE. onwards. The face of the Medusa, which takes the form of the round gorgoneion is very familiar for example from many cup tondi, in vase-painting and also as an emblematic figural motif decorating many different types of objects, like armour, jewellery, antefixes, pediments and epistyles, later also found on sarcophagi and floor mosaics, from sacral as well as profane contexts.

The discovery of two moulded roundels with the depictions of a gorgoneion in a foundation deposit, at the sanctuary of Artemis Limnatis in Messene, triggered the study of similar finds, upon which no attention has been drawn as yet. They are cut-out reliefs with two holes on the upper part, probably for suspension and they seem to constitute a specific category of votive offerings. Their diameter ranges between 11 and 17cm and the back side is flat or slightly convex or even concave. So far, they have been mostly found in sacral contexts in sanctuaries of Demeter in Thessaly, in heroic contexts in Laconia, in Corinth and the Argolis and in Southern Italy. They are quite different from their counterparts, which are smaller, without holes, and with a flat rim all around, apparently designed as attachments to furniture, chests or even coffins.

The aim of the paper is to collect relevant scattered material evidence, mostly from excavation contexts, to define the special characteristics of such finds, including those from Messene, and offer an interpretation on their function. At the same time, since the gorgoneion presented is part of a foundation deposit, we will seek to illustrate the motives for such an act of deposition.

About the Author(s)

Post-Doc, Society of Messenian Archaeological Studies


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