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Sanctuary, ca. 375 B.C.-A.D. 50

This photograph shows the Greek Sanctuary at Kommos in its final phase before excavation of the deeper Minoan levels. Viewed from the southeast with the Libyan Sea as a backdrop, in the foreground are four rectangular altars that were erected to the east of Temple C in various periods of the sanctuary's development. The earliest of these, Altar H (at the front on the right), dates to the second half of the sixth century B.C., just after Temple B went out of use, whereas the other three altars were built in the period of Temple C (ca. 375/350 B.C. - A.D. 50). It is not known whether the addition of new altars indicates that different deities were being worshipped in the later centuries of the sanctuary, but it is interesting that inscriptions found in the area mention Zeus, Athena, and Poseidon. In addition to Temple C and its adjoining Room A1, which appear at the top left of the photograph, the final phases of the sanctuary included the rectangular, two-roomed Building B and round building D, both located slightly north and east of the Temple, upper right in this photo. Although the purpose of circular Building D remains a mystery, finds from the rooms of Building B suggest that they functioned variously for cooking, dining, and storage, with one being a possible living area for the guardian of the sanctuary.
Temple B Plan, Phases 1-3

The isometric drawing shows a reconstruction of the second phase of Temple B, which was founded almost directly upon an earlier building, Temple A, in ca. 800 B.C. Temple B endured for two hundred years (800-600 B.C.), and underwent three main phases of development. Those phases were marked by alterations to the interior fixtures of the temple, as well as by the addition of an exterior altar to the east (phase three). In its second phase, the small rectangular building featured a stone platform or bench along the north wall (possibly the south as well) and a hearth composed of rounded cobble stones set in a circle, which was located west of the central pillar set at the entrance to the temple. Discovered just west of the hearth was the most unusual Iron Age construction found at Kommos: three stone pillars set into a block resting on the floor. This "Tripillar Shrine" has been identified as Phoenician, and was likely built with the help of sea traders coming to Kommos from the Syro-Palestinian coast in the early phases of Temple B, when quantities of Phoenician transport vessels also occur on the site. To date, this is the only Phoenician-influenced shrine discovered in the Aegean world. It's not certain which deity or deities were worshipped in this temple, but the nature of Kommos as a regular stop along the major trading routes is vividly reflected in the range of local and imported offerings left by visitors, especially around the shrine area. These included Cretan-made terra-cotta figurines, a bronze horse from Greece, fine Egyptian faience figurines of the goddess Sekhmet and her son Nefertum, and weapons representing a local elite warrior class. The practice of placing dedications within the temple had already started in the preceding period of Temple A, which had been founded over Minoan ruins in the late eleventh century B.C.

Temple C, from east

The construction and interior features of the last temple on the site, Temple C (ca. 375/350 B.C. - A.D. 160/170), are documented in this photograph, taken from the east. Like its predecessors, Temple C was built with stone blocks re-used from earlier Minoan structures on the site. The slab floor of the temple was well preserved, as is the plan of the structure, which was larger than its predecessor - measuring 9 m wide and 11.50 m long on the exterior - and had a slightly different orientation, some six degrees further northeast. This shift in orientation aligned the temple more directly with Archaic Altar H in the courtyard to the east, permitting an unrestricted view from inside the temple to the religious activities focused on that altar. Visible against the inner southern, eastern, and northern walls are upright stones that functioned as supports for wooden benches. The two rounded limestone bases projecting from the floor in the center of the temple accommodated the stone columns that supported the roof. Unfortunately, no capitals were found, and judging from a weathered column drum found near the entrance the columns were unfluted and roughly cut. You can see that the hearth, the locus of ritual burning within the temple, was bordered by stones and set into the floor between the two columns. Like most later Greek temples, Temple C housed one or more cult statues, which were placed on a well-built platform set against the west wall on axis with the hearth (ca. 2.85 m long and 1.50 m wide, originally at least 0.95 m high). A more makeshift platform, probably for offerings, was set against this one in the northwest corner (upper right in photograph). A partially preserved Minoan stone stand that once supported a stone bowl, located just to the right and beyond the far column base in our photo, appears to have been re-used as a support for a bench in the later phases of Temple C, one illustration of a noticeable tendency at Kommos to respect and "recycle" venerable artifacts.

Temple C Plan, Phases 1-3

The third temple in the Greek sanctuary at Kommos, Temple C was built over the remains of Temple B (albeit with a slightly different orientation), and had six phases of development during its fairly long history from 375/350 B.C. - A.D. 160/170. Tantalizing evidence in the form of inscribed stone objects found in and around Temple C and dating to at least the second century B.C., suggests that the following gods were worshipped in the sanctuary at this time: Poseidon, Zeus, and Athena. This drawing illustrates the features of Temple C in its first three phases. In the middle of the room was a rectangular hearth set in the floor between the two stone pillars that supported the roof. Benches were placed around the southern, eastern and northern sides of the room, and at the back of the temple along the west wall there were platforms for cult statues and offerings. A single bone eye found in the temple may belong to one of these missing statues. Other discoveries are more suggestive of the kinds of activities that took place here. Fragments of terra-cotta lamps and vessels, including drinking wares and ladles, as well as quantities of mammal, bird, and fish bones found in the hearth ash and elsewhere in the room, indicate that ritual feasts were held in the temple from time to time. Religious activity also centered on the altars located in the courtyard east of the temple, where ample evidence of burnt offerings and dedications of animal figures and various vessels were found. During the period of Temple C, the sculpture dedications often took the form of large clay bulls, which were likely placed on top of the altars by the poorer worshippers as substitutes for the actual sacrificial animals.
Bull and Horse Figurines

The dedication of terra-cotta animal figures in religious contexts has a long history at Kommos. Large hollow-made sculptures of quadrupeds first appear on the site in the Sub-Minoan and Proto-Geometric periods (ca. 1100-900 B.C.), suggesting a continuity of that aspect of religious practice from the Late Bronze Age into the Early Iron Age. This photograph illustrates another type of animal votive found in the Kommos sanctuary until the seventh century B.C., when Temple B goes out of use: the solid and small-scale figurine, usually depicting bulls and horses. An interesting category of the horse figurines shows them equipped with wheels, probably meant to indicate a wheeled vehicle (middle in photo). Generally these horses have long cylindrical bodies and necks, with manes indicated by a sharp ridge. The front and rear legs appear as short blocks with holes driven through for the attachment of axles and wheels (the latter reconstructed here from pieces found on the site). Sometimes dark stripes or bands decorate the body, perhaps indicating harnesses and other equipment associated with carts or chariots. Although we cannot know for certain why bulls and horse-drawn vehicles were so popular as offerings to the gods, in an agricultural society where animals and "technology" like wheeled carts are components personal prosperity, it seems reasonable to assume that petitioners sought divine protection for such valuable commodities.
Figurine of Egyptian Goddess Sekhmet

This small figurine (ca. 14.3 cm high and 3.9 cm wide) was one of the imported offerings deposited by worshippers between upright stones of the Phoenician Tripillar Shrine in Temple B (ca. 800-600 B.C.). Crafted from faience, a complex glassy substance composed of crushed quartz and sand, the figurine represents the Egyptian goddess Sekhmet. She appears as a striding, lion-headed woman wearing a long clinging dress, holding an ankh in her right hand while her left grasps a long lotus-topped staff in front of her body. A small cat sits in attendance beside her right foot. Sekhmet embodied many conditions and forces to the ancient Egyptians, who invoked her powers in matters ranging from fertility and birth to death and destruction. We do not know what deity or deities were worshiped in the Temple at this time, or what relation, if any, Sekhmet had to those gods, but it is noteworthy that a small faience figurine of Neftertum, Sekhmet's son, was found in the same votive deposit. Could the pair represent part of an Egyptian variant of the divine trinity that is portrayed symbolically by the three stone pillars of the shrine - foreign versions of the Greek holy triad of Leto, Artemis and Apollo? Whatever their meaning, dedications of such faience figurines discovered in the context of a Phoenician-influenced shrine of the eighth to seventh century B.C., are important testimony to the importation and transmission of objects and cult practices from Egypt and the Near East to Crete and Greece proper. We can imagine that traders from Phoenicia were instrumental in this process, picking up figurines and other exotica in Rhodes, Cyprus, and Egypt and bringing them in their ships to Kommos, where they may have been exchanged for locally produced trade goods destined for other ports of call. This period of "oriental" or "orientalizing" influence in the arts and culture of Crete appears to have been fairly short-lived on the island, culminating at the end of the seventh century B.C.
Terra-cotta Base with Sphinxes

Several pieces of sanctuary "furniture" were found in connection with Temple C (ca. 375 B.C. - A.D. 160), including this damaged terra-cotta base or stand, which was discovered in a "dump" just south of the temple. Triangular in form with incurved sides and a central perforation, in its incomplete state of preservation the base measures 18.1 cm high and 30.0 cm long. At each leg of the base there is a modeled figure of a sphinx, a supernatural creature of great antiquity that is usually represented, as here, with the face and upper torso of a woman, the wings of a bird, and the lower body of a lion. This object, which resembles the low triangular bases depicted in cult scenes in Hellenistic art (ca. 323-31 B.C.), was likely housed in the temple, where it could have served as a base or stand for a lamp, basin, statue or various ritual utensils. In that context the sphinx served as a protective guardian of the offerings, statues, and cult paraphernalia associated with the gods and their "house" or temple. The Kommos stand represents a less costly version of similar objects cast in bronze or carved in marble, examples of which have been found in other sanctuaries in the Greek world.
Cup with Inscribed Decoration ca. 630-600 B.C.

The cup in this photograph was found in late seventh century B.C. levels of Temple B and is among the most decorated vessels found on the site featuring complex floral motifs as well as figural scenes. These elements were incised into the black glaze on the outer part of the vessel before it was fired. The cup was made locally ca. 630-600 B.C., but the "orientalizing" style of the decoration on its neck and base, as well as the subject matter of the figural scenes, occur on pottery found in various parts of the Greek world. Such themes were first introduced in Athenian pottery of the Geometric Period (ca. 750-725 B.C.) by the famed Dipylon Painter. In one part of the composition on the Kommos cup men compete in a foot race, echoing perhaps depictions of chariot races in Attic representations. Accounts of heroic funerals in Greek epic include athletic competitions or games. Elsewhere a man wearing a helmet and carrying a round shield appears to be taking part in a funeral ceremony, the lying in state or prothesis. He is carrying some kind of basket, perhaps on a spear, as if he has just returned from the battlefield. Thus, a warrior appears to be honoring a member of a warrior class, a class that seems to have had elite status in this period in Crete. We can't know for sure if this cup was used in a ritual banquet before it was dedicated, or if it was brought to the sanctuary specifically as a special gift to the gods - like the dedications of actual spear heads and a shield found in Temple B. Perhaps it was offered on the occasion of a funerary sacrifice and feast honouring a member of Kommos' elite warrior class?
Unguentaria and Tulip Cups

Pottery was found in all strata of the Greek Sanctuary and its character and distribution help us reconstruct the ritual acts that took place there. Clay drinking vessels like the single-handled "tulip cups" pictured to the right of centre and the two rather squat, teacup-like "Kommos cups" shown on the left, were used for the wine consumed at communal ritual banquets held on various occasions. Like most ancient Greeks, Cretans normally drank their wine mixed with water, although the smaller variety of tulip cup shown in the front left of the photo may have been used for undiluted wine. These particular cups range in date from the fourth to the first century B.C. The narrow, long-necked vessels on the extreme left and back right in our picture are unguentaria, containers for precious oils and ointments, especially perfumes and medicines. Their elongated shapes were designed to facilitate the slow pouring of such valuable liquids, while the folded-in rims prevented the dripping of any residue and ensured that it flowed back inside. The unguentarium on the left has the "amphoroid" form common to Egyptian types of the first century B.C., whereas the "fusiform" version on the right is known throughout Greece in the Late Hellenistic period. The unguentaria found in connection with later phases of Temple C could have been used during meals but they may also have been left in the sanctuary as dedications to the gods.
Miniature Votive Vessels

There is one class of clay pottery found in the Greek Sanctuary that seems to have been fashioned exclusively for dedications or offerings to the gods. These are the miniature vessels, which resemble the typical pot types used by the ancient Greeks except that they are made in a scale that is too small for practical use. This photograph illustrates the range of votive miniatures discovered on the site, most dating to the Hellenistic period (especially the fourth to first centuries B.C.). They include two-handled drinking cups and shallow plates and bowls that would have accommodated small "gift" portions of food. Such vessels might then be placed on the altars or in the temple. Many of the rituals carried out in the sanctuary involved the offering of sacrifices to the gods, which were performed as a way of winning divine favour and in fulfillment of vows, or in gratitude and devotion. These sacrifices might be of the "bloodless" variety, such as grain cakes or first fruits like corn and grapes, or they could be animal sacrifices like goats, bovines, or fish. The sacrificial act was completed by an enduring form of human festivity, the communal banquet, where food and drink were consumed by the devotees in the spirit of thanks and homage to their gods. The many drinking vessels, cooking pots, and other dishes found in the Greek Sanctuary at Kommos testify to the popularity of ritual dining on the site, as do the copious remains of fish and animal bones discovered in all levels of occupation in this area.