Brauron. In a marshy valley on the eastern coast of Attica
lies the archaeological site of Brauron. Named after an ancient hero, Brauron
was one of the twelve cities of ancient Attica as well as the home territory
of the Athenian tyrant, Peisistratos. The river Erasinos flows nearby, making
this location suitable for the residential population it hosted for 2200 years
from the Neolithic through the Mycenaean periods. After abandonment in 1300
BC, Brauron saw no use until the 8th century BC, when it became the site of
the principal sanctuary of Artemis Brauronia. Legend has it that the priestess
Iphigeneia, on orders from Athena, established this cult at Brauron. The architectural
remains at the site include a small shrine, generally accepted as the Tomb of
Iphigeneia, a three-winged stoa, the temple of Artemis, and a stone bridge of
a style unique to Attica in its time.
Megan Harrison, ed.
A settlement on the low acropolis hill of Brauron was occupied from the later
Neolithic period, around 3500 BC, until late in the Mycenaean period, ca. 1300
BC. It flourished especially between 2000 and 1600 BC during the Middle Bronze
Age. A few houses dating from this period, as well as a number of late Mycenaean
chamber tombs dug into the slope east of the acropolis, have been excavated.
John Papadimitriou, a Greek archaeologist who excavated much of Brauron, attributed
the abandonment of the prehistoric village ca. 1300 B.C. to the legendary unification
of Attica by Theseus, the mythical king of Athens. When Theseus unified the
independent towns of Attica, he reputedly forced their aristocracies to move
to Athens. So the aristocratic families left Brauron, while the remainder of
the population was presumably settled in other villages nearby.
Occupation of Brauron began again in the eighth century B.C., but this time
it was a religious site, not a town. The site was sacred to Artemis Brauronia
and her priestess Iphigeneia. Euripides' Iphigeneia in Tauris explains the origin
of the cult. Iphigeneia was the daughter of Agamemnon, leader of the Greeks
during the Trojan War. The Greeks offended Artemis by not offering her proper
sacrifice, so she would not send an appropriate wind to let them leave Greece
and sail for Troy. In order to appease Artemis, they sacrificed Iphigeneia to
the goddess. However, Artemis saved Iphigeneia by whisking her away to Scythian
Tauris, where Iphigeneia became a priestess of Artemis.
Many years later, Iphigeneia's brother, Orestes, came to Tauris to
steal the cult statue of Artemis, as he had been ordered to do by an oracle. The
Scythians caught Orestes and planned on sacrificing him to the goddess. Iphigeneia
recognized her brother, however, and the two of them proceeded to steal the cult
statue together. Athena told them to take the cult statue back to Greece and set
up two cult sites to Artemis in eastern Attica, one at Halae Araphenides and the
other at Brauron. Orestes set the Taurian cult statue up at Halae in a temple
dedicated to Artemis Tauropolos, while Iphigeneia instituted a cult dedicated
to Artemis Brauronia at Brauron.
Worship of Artemis Brauronia increased in importance in Athens during
the rule of the tyrant Peisistratos from ca. 546 until his death in 527. Peisistratos
originally came from the Brauronian hills, and incorporated many of the Brauronian
rites into Athenian public life, such as the celebration of the Brauronia festival.
During his rule, a sanctuary of Artemis Brauronia was built for the first time
on the Athenian Acropolis.
At Brauron, Artemis was worshipped primarily by women in connection
with childbirth. After giving birth successfully, women would often dedicate their
prized possessions to the goddess. The clothes of women who died in childbirth
were also offered. Iphigeneia was also worshipped, in her own shrine close to
the temple of Artemis. Every four years a festival, the Brauronia, was held. The
festival was celebrated mainly by women, and a goat was sacrificed to the goddess.
While our knowledge about this festival and the events that took place during
its course is far from complete, we do know a little from literary and artistic
sources about the activities that took place. Two of the most valuable passages
are by the comic playwright, Aristophanes, in Peace 872-6 and Lysistrata 638f.
In addition, a number of vases found at Brauron and at other locations in Attica
illustrate some of the cult's activities.
During the Brauronia, the Arkteia was celebrated. This was a coming
of age ceremony performed by young girls, called arktoi, or "bears".
The name arktoi was derived from a local Attic myth, according to which Iphigeneia
had been slated for sacrifice at Brauron instead of in her Argive homeland but
was rescued when Artemis substituted a bear for her. There was another local story
in which a bear that was sacred to Artemis scratched a young girl. The girl's
brothers killed the bear, thereby enraging Artemis, who sent a plague down on
the population. In order to appease the goddess, the rites of the Arkteia were
While the age of the girls who participated in the Arkteia is still
a matter of scholarly debate, they were probably somewhere between five and thirteen.
During the course of the festival, the arktoi would dress up in saffron colored
robes, called krokotoi, and perform a dance in which they imitated bears. In addition,
the girls would run races.
While worship of Artemis Brauronia probably began as early as the
eighth century, the Temple of Artemis wasn't built until shortly before 500 BC.
Before this, the cult was probably centered around the sacred spring in the hillside
just to the northwest of the temple. Both the temple and the sanctuary were destroyed
in the Persian invasion of Attica in 480 B.C., but were rebuilt later in the fifth
Brauron was abandoned in the third century BC after it was flooded by the river
Erasinos. The sanctuary of Artemis was never rebuilt, and the site remained deserted
throughout the Roman period. The site was reoccupied in the sixth century, however,
when a Christian basilica dedicated to St. George was built immediately south
of the temple.
Excavation of the site began in 1948, under John Papademetriou. Today,
the site is dedicated mainly to archaeology. The ruins of the sanctuary of Artemis
have been excavated, and a museum housing the artifacts found on the site has
Amanda Herring, ed.
The sanctuary of Artemis Brauronia was cleared between 1948 and 1962 under the
direction of John Papadimitriou. Prior to this, the only excavation carried
out was the clearance of three Mycenaean chamber tombs in 1894 under B. Stais.
The sanctuary is located at the foot of the Ayios Georgios hill, on top of which
a prehistoric settlement existed from 3500 to 1300 BC. Several houses from this
settlement have been found, along with the chamber tombs that Stais excavated.
Many vases and figurines were also found on the surface of the hill (also referred
to as the akropolis). Expensive grave offerings were recovered from within the
tombs, as well as a skeleton that apparently had a fishing net thrown over it,
which suggests that the livelihood of the town may have centered on the sea.
The settlement was abandoned before the end of the Bronze Age, and as a result
the sanctuary was the only human development on the site during the Classical
period. The sanctuary first came into use during the eighth century BC then
was abandoned in the third century BC when it was destroyed by a flood of the
River Erasinos. The only building activity on the site since then (aside from
the modern reconstruction of part of the stoa and the construction of a museum
for the site) was the construction of a Christian basilica in the sixth century
An Athenian decree from the third century BC that orders the site to be inspected
lists the buildings at the site, and thus gives archaeologists an idea of what
to be looking for. Among those buildings named are a temple, a parthenon, an
amphipoleion, a gymnasium (athletic field), a palaestra (wrestling school),
and stables. The temple has been uncovered, as has a stoa that dominates the
site and therefore is very likely to be one of the structures mentioned epigraphically.
Other structures uncovered are a bridge, a sacred spring, a shrine, and several
rooms that were probably once inside a cave. The parthenon and an "Old
Temple" are repeatedly referred to in fourth century BC inscriptions on
the Athenian Akropolis. There is considerable debate over where these are located
on the site, but it is agreed that they are to be found among the temple, the
stoa, the shrine, and the rooms within these buildings. Inventories of garments
dedicated at Brauron mention three statues that the garments were draped over.
These statues have not been discovered but may explain the division of the cella
of the temple into three sections.
By far the largest building uncovered at Brauron is the ninety-six-foot-long,
three-winged Doric stoa constructed in the fifth century BC. Most of the stoa
was constructed out of sandstone quarried only a few hundred yards away, as
was most of the sanctuary. This sandstone is easy to work but is not particularly
attractive. The stoa's stylobate, capitals, and metopes were made of marble.
The surviving foundations on the north, east, and west sides define the outlines
colonnaded wings, while a retaining wall for the Temple of Artemis bounded the
stoa at the southwest. It seems that only the north wing was actually completed,
while the east and west colonnades never rose above the foundations. Based on
its architecture and an inscription, the stoa appears to have been built in
420 BC. An inscription found inside the stoa states that it is the parthenon
of the arktoi, the girls who participated in the cult activities at the site.
The stoa has been preserved well enough in mud that much of the north colonnade
has been reconstructed from the original materials.
The north wing serves as a model for what the rest of the temple would have
looked like had it been built. The north colonnade consisted of eleven Doric
columns, each twelve feet high. This is the only fifth century stoa for which
the column height is precisely known. The column proportions are similar to
those of the Hephaisteion in Athens. Many inscribed bases have been found inside
the portico. Although the stylobate has been disturbed due to settling on the
eastern side, it appears to have had refinements similar to those of the Parthenon,
in that it curved upward very slightly toward the center rather than being perfectly
horizontal. Such a refinement was relatively rare in the fifth century BC. The
frieze and possibly also the architrave are higher in relation to the lower
column diameter than they are on most stoas. The columns are thicker at the
corners. While most colonnades had columns sitting in the center of every other
stylobate block, the columns of the stoa at Brauron rest on every other joint
The intercolumniations are longer than those in most temples of the
period. For the first time we know of in an extensive colonnade, each intercolumniation
accommodated three metopes at the frieze level instead of the usual two. This,
in combination with the intended length of the stoa, affected the treatment of
the reentrant angle in the frieze. The intercolumniations at the ends are twelve
centimeters longer than the rest so that a half-triglyph could be placed at the
corner. Because this was an early attempt at wider column spacing, the lengthening
of these intercolumniations was only a quarter of what it needed to be, and the
metopes at the corners were significantly shortened in order to compensate. Because
of these irregularities, mutules and viae were left out, and the cornice is Ionic.
The stoa at Brauron and the south stoa of the Athenian Agora are the
earliest known stoas to have rooms in the back. There are six identical rooms
along the north wing of the stoa at Brauron and, less well preserved, four along
the west wing, each about eighteen feet by eighteen feet. Indications of the furnishings
of these rooms are most abundant at the eastern end of the north wing. Holes in
their floors indicate that they held eleven beds or couches along their walls.
These would have been about five feet long, and therefore could have accommodated
sleeping children or served as their dining couches. They had wooden feet that
were secured in cuttings with lead. In front of the beds were seven sandstone
tables covered with marble plaques. A few base blocks of these tables still survive.
The doors to these rooms faced the inside of the stoa and were displaced off-axis
to the east to accommodate the couch configuration. The marble threshold to the
easternmost doorway still has a bronze pivot for double doors as well as several
bronze projections for keeping these doors shut. Al,ong the northern margin of
the portico just to the south of these rooms are rows of bases. These held inscriptions
and relief sculptures dedicated to Artemis as well as a few statues of children,
most of which were portraits of young girls holding symbolic objects such as birds
or fruit. These were put up in the fourth and fifth centuries BC. Because of the
groups of beds as well as the nearby statues of children, it has been suggested
that the arktoi slept in the rooms of the stoa's north wing. The counter-argument
is that they were used as dining rooms, as they resemble the dining rooms in other
A hallway between two of the rooms on the north side led into an open
air corridor. This corridor was bounded by a shallow portico along its north side
and by small propyla at the east and west ends. A small room at the western end
of the north wing may have been for a porter stationed at the west propylon. In
the portico to the north of the corridor were racks which may have held clothing
that was dedicated to Artemis. About twelve meters to the west of the corridor
is a collection of inscriptions, apparently relocated there by Christians.
The third room from the south in the west wing constituted a gate
leading into the center of the stoa. A road made from remains of the stoa passes
over the foundations of this room and was probably used to remove building material
once the site had been abandoned.
On top of the frieze and some of the walls of the stoa sat wall plates.
These supported the rafters of a pitched roof. In the north and west wings, the
front wall of the rooms supported the peak of the roof, while in the east a ridge
beam served this purpose. There were probably battens or planking to hold up the
To the west of the stoa is a thirty-by-thirty-foot bridge crossing the stream
that flows from the sacred spring in the southwest corner of the site. This
bridge is unique in that it is the only one found on the Greek mainland that
was built in the fifth century BC, and in that it was the first to be built
by constructing walls parallel to the stream and laying horizontal stone slabs
on top of them. The bridge consists of five such walls, on top of which lay
slabs that are about three feet long.
The Temple of Artemis
Off the southwest corner of the stoa, on a terrace supported by a retaining
wall, sat the Temple of Artemis Brauronia. The temple stood on what Euripides
may have meant by the "holy stairs of Brauron" in his play, Iphigenia
in Tauris. This retaining wall is well preserved and has steps that lead up
past the temple to the church of St. George, which was built in the 6th century
AD, reusing some of the original material of the sanctuary. There was probably
a pagan altar where the church now stands, especially since one can now detect
the foundation of an earlier structure from within the church. The temple was
probably built around 500 BC, on top of the remains of an older shrine, as indicated
by pottery fragments and the pavement inside the temple. The temple was Doric
and measured sixty-six feet by thirty-three and a half feet.
Because the north side of the hill has been cut away to make a roadway,
all that remains of the temple are a section of polygonal toichobate and bits
of the foundation in the southeast, as well as cuts made into the bedrock for
the western side of the foundations. Scattered fragments of poros column drums,
geisa, and triglyphs also appear to have belonged to the temple.
Two broken column drums indicate that the eastern side of the temple
was distyle or tetrastyle in antis. A cella (closed interior) lay at the center
of the temple, with an adyton (inner sanctum) to the west and a prodomos (an open
portico, serving as the entrance to the temple) to the east. Two rows of columns
divided the cella into three sections. The cella is nearly square, but would have
had almost standard proportions if it were combined with the adyton behind it.
Inside the temple, colored reliefs in terracotta, bronze mirrors,
and votive jewelry have been excavated. Near the retaining wall several marble
steles were found along with the slots in the bedrock that held them. Inscribed
on these slabs are lists of offerings to Artemis and Iphigenia as well as the
names of the women who made these offerings. During the Peloponnesian War, the
offerings were moved to the Athenian Akropolis, where copies of the lists have
also been recovered.
The Sacred Spring
Out of the northwest side of the hill that the temple sits on, a spring flows
first into a manmade pool, then north toward the Erasinos as a stream. In the
basin of the pool and bed of the stream, thousands of objects have been found
dating between 700 BC and 480 BC. It appears that all of these were offerings
made by women; they include bronze mirrors, rings, gems, scarabs, statuettes,
vases, and even objects of bone and wood that were preserved in the mud. The mirrors
are considered particularly beautiful, and one has an inscription describing its
dedication. The spring was probably the most sacred part of the site until late
in the 6th century BC. It was destroyed, along with the temple, in the Persian
sack of 480 BC. It is possible that the objects found in the spring were buried
there in order to protect them from the Persians.
The Shrine and Adjacent Structures
Uphill from the temple are the foundations of a shrine, or mikron hieron, that
was 24.5 feet long and 14.5 feet wide, and further to the southeast lie the
remains of several stone and mortar rooms buried by boulders. It appears likely
from the positions of the boulders that these rooms were once situated inside
a cave. After the cave crashed down on them in the mid-5th century BC, the shrine
may have been built in their place. Valuable offerings as well as inscriptions
were found amidst the rubble. The shrine or the rooms to the southeast are considered
by Papadimitriou to have been the supposed Tomb of Iphigenia, as the tombs of
Greek heroes and heroines were often placed inside caves. Barber mentions that
the rooms adjacent to the shrine may have been the tombs of priestesses of the
temple. Hollinshead argues that the shrine was instead the Old Temple that is
alluded to in Athenian inscriptions. Her evidence is the shrine's proximity
to the newer temple and the quantity of inscriptions found outside of the shrine,
as well as the limited access to the shrine, which would make it well suited
High-quality Greek sculpture has been preserved in the mud, including a number
of votive reliefs and numerous statues and statuettes of children. One relief
in particular, known as the "Relief of the Gods," portrays Zeus, Leto,
Apollo, and Artemis, and may have been sculpted by Phidias.
Two sections of an aulos, a type of flute, have been found in the
bed of the spring. They are made out of bone, fit together, and have a total of
six finger holes. The aulos is probably one of a pair of flutes that were played
at the same time. The sections have been replicated in brass and experiments have
been done that involve adding different lengths of pipe to try to produce a tuned
musical scale. These experiments give clues about what the original instrument
A special series of cult vessels called krateriskoi have been excavated
at Brauron. These were used for dedications to Artemis. They depict naked girls
running, as well as part of a bear, all perhaps pictorial rendeerings of the Brauronian
rituals. A pit containing small votive offerings and Geometric potsherds has also
Lindsay Clark, ed.
This text is cited Aug 2005 from The
Dartmouth College URL below
- Dartmouth College WebPages
Lies beside a small bay on the E coast, about 38 km from Athens.
A fortified prehistoric settlement occupied the small hill about
400 m W of the bay, flourishing from the Neolithic to the Late Bronze Age, but
particularly during the period ca. 2000-1600 B.C. A few houses have been cleared,
and on the NW slopes of the hill E of the acropolis, several Late Helladic chamber
tombs were dug. This settlement was abandoned before the end of the Bronze Age,
and in the Classical period only a sanctuary remained. It lay just to the NW of
the acropolis and was active from the late 8th to the 3d c. B.C., when it was
destroyed by a flood of the nearby river Erasinos. The area was deserted in Roman
times, but in the 6th c. A.D. an Early Christian basilica was built about 500
m W of the sanctuary on the other side of the valley, and reused some material
from the sanctuary itself.
The goddess of the sanctuary, identified with Artemis, was particularly
connected with childbirth and was worshiped mainly by women. Her cult statue,
presumably a primitive one, was said to have been brought from the Crimea by Iphigeneia
and Orestes (Eur. IT 1462-67) but Pausanias (1.23.7; 1.33.1; 3.16.8) discounts
the story. Iphigeneia herself was supposed to be buried there. The special servants
of Artemis Brauronia were called arktoi (bears), young girls aged between five
and ten, who wore saffron robes, perhaps to recall the actual bearskins of an
earlier period (Suda, s.v. arktos e Brauroniois).
Greek excavations between 1948 and 1962 revealed the main buildings
of the sanctuary. Of the temple, dating from ca. 500 B.C., only the foundations
remain. It was a small Doric building (ca. 20 x 11 m), but little is known of
its plan. Immediately to the NW of the temple terrace is a copious spring into
whose waters offerings were thrown. From the partly artificial basin of the spring,
and from the bed of the stream flowing N from it, many dedications were recovered,
mostly of a feminine character--mirrors rings, gems, etc.; particularly valuable
are the objects of bone and wood which luckily have been preserved in the mud.
The spring seems to have been the most sacred part of the sanctuary until the
late 6th c. B.C., but both it and the temple were probably destroyed by the Persians
About 10 m SE of the temple, in a cleft in the rock which was probably
once a cave, stood a small temple-like building which perhaps represents the supposed
Tomb of Iphigeneia. It seems to have replaced the earlier buildings to the SE,
which were destroyed by the collapse of the cave roof in the mid 5th c. B.C.
The most impressive building at the sanctuary is the large Doric
stoa dating from ca. 430-420 B.C., which was perhaps used by the arktoi. It was
to have had three colonnaded wings facing onto a court from the W, N, and E, the
temple terrace forming the fourth side. The E wing was longer than the W, and
did not have rooms behind its portico as did the N and W wings. In the end, the
N wing alone was completed; except for the column nearest the corner with the
N colonnade, the E and W colonnades never rose above their foundations. Behind
the N wing was a narrow courtyard with a small propylon at each end, and a shallow
portico forming its N side.
The N colonnade of the stoa has been partially restored, using the
original elements found lying in front of it. Its 11 Doric columns, with shafts
of local sandstone and capitals of Pentelic marble, stood on a marble stylobate,
which, although it has settled badly at the E end, seems to have been laid in
a rising curve like that of the Parthenon. The columns were more widely spaced
than in contemporary temples, so that above each span there are three metopes
instead of two; the spans nearest the corners were extended a further 12 cm to
allow a half-triglyph to appear in the frieze at the reentrant angle. The stoa
is one of the earliest buildings where this wider column spacing is found, and
where the problem of the reentrant angle had to be met; not surprisingly, therefore,
the adjustment of the column spacing is not really adequate.
Behind the N and (intended) W porticos of the stoa were various rooms,
the majority of them of a standard size (ca. 6 x 6 m) and equipped with 11 couches
and 7 small tables. The arrangement of these rooms is best seen at the E end of
the N wing, where the base blocks for several tables, as well as the holes where
couch legs were fixed with lead, still survive. The rooms were entered from the
porticos in front of them, and in the marble threshold of the first room from
the E can be seen one of the bronze pivots for the double doors and the prism-shaped
bronze projections that held the doors shut.
Besides the standard rooms, there were also in the N wing a narrow
passage to the N court, and a small room at the extreme W end, which probably
served as a lodge for the porter of the W gate into the N court. In the W wing,
the third room from the S formed the main entrance to the stoa and its court from
the W. The many wheel-marks visible here, however, belong with a rough road made
of reused reliefs and architectural members and laid over the remains of the stoa,
probably by people coming to remove building material from the site.
Along the central wall of the N wing, behind the rear wall of the
W wing, and at the foot of the N retaining wall of the temple, there were rows
of bases. On most of these bases were reliefs or inscriptions in honor of Artemis,
but there were also several statues of children, mostly girls (arktoi ?), dating
from the 5th and 4th c. B.C. Several fragments of the catalogue of dedications
to Artemis list separately the garments dedicated to the goddess, either in thanks
for successful childbirth or in memory of those who died as a result of it. The
garments were perhaps displayed on the racks which appear to have occupied the
narrow portico of the N court.
About 7 m W of the stoa, a bridge of the 5th c. B.C. crosses the
stream which flows N from the sacred spring to the Erasinos. It is ca. 9 m long
x 9 m wide, very simple in structure, and consists of horizontal slabs about 1
m long which rest on five rows of upright slabs. Not all the buildings at the
sanctuary have been uncovered; an inscription mentions several others, including
a palaistra and a gymnasium.
The finds from the excavations at the artemision are mostly housed
in a new museum on the site.
J. J. Coulton, ed.
This text is from: The Princeton encyclopedia of classical sites,
Princeton University Press 1976. Cited Oct 2002 from
Perseus Project URL below, which contains 8 image(s), bibliography & interesting hyperlinks.