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Sanctuary of Hera, Argos (The Argive Heraion)

Argive Heraion

Image 1

The Sanctuary of Hera (also known as the Heraion Argive) was part of the new generation of cult sanctuaries that were founded in the end of the 9th century BC. Others include Delos, Delphi and the Athenian Acropolis.

Despite its name, for a while ownership of the site was not attested to Argos (also known as Argolis). The site was desired by Argos, Mycenae and Tiryns. It seems to be understood that Argos won dominion over the Heraion, not by war, but these neighbours understanding that Argos had won the 'ritualised competition'.

Most of the remains are from the 7th - 5th century BC, though there is much disagreement between scholars over the dating of the ruins. The earliest structure is the Cyclopean wall, thought to be from the Late Geometric period. It is a wall made up of large rounded rocks, which would hold up the terrace.

We can assume that the Heraion was used well into the Roman Empire due to dedications made by Augustus, Nero and Hadrian. Also, there is archaeological evidence of aspects of the north stoa and new temples were replaced in Roman period.

So little of the site survives, as a fire burned down the new temple. To add to this, Byzantine churches in the area used the materials there to build their churches to at least the 12th century BC.

Archaeological Development

General Gordon discovered the Argive Heraion in 1831, though Sir Charles Waldstein excavated it in 1892 - 1895 with the Archaeological Institute of America. They chose this sanctuary for their first excavation in Greece, as it was one of the most important sites in the Greek world.

One of the things Walderstein found most interesting was the iron objects he found in 1894. The objects were 180 iron spits (oboloi) and a bar of iron which weighed the same as the bundle with also the same length which was 120 cm. Walderstein understood the obols as the objects that ancient authors described being used for money before coins were minted. He knew of texts that described the obols being dedicated at this sanctuary. Pheidon of Argos, a king in the seventh century BC, gave iron obols as a sacrifice to Hera, after inventing metra kai stathma kai nomisma. Hercleides of Pontus states that obols were dedicated to Hera to end their use, as Pheidon of Argos had created a new system of measures, a metric standard. The new bar set up at the Heraion was to impose this new currency Pheidon had invented.

Archaeological evidence remaining shows that the site may have been used for cult activity before since 10th century BC. After all, the Heraion was built on a prehistoric site.

At the end of the 8th century BC/early 7th century BC, a terrace was constructed with a monumental wall. This terrace was important in defining religious space from the natural environment at the Heraion (de Polignac, p19) Hall speculates whether the cyclopean blocks were an imitation of the Mycenaean remains that were on the site.

A temple dating from 625BC-600BC is thought to be the earliest temple on the site. It was a peripteral temple, meaning that it had one row of pillars surrounding the outside of the temple.

Peripteral temple
Image 4. This is an example of a peripteral temple, not a plan of the earliest temple found at the sanctuary.

In the following century, stoas were built in the south, below the main temple and there seems to have been built a hestiatorion (dining hall).

After the priestess Chrysis accidentally burnt down the temple, another temple was built over the following two/three decades. This was located on another terrace, below the previous temple. This one was in the Doric order and made by porous stone, sourced locally, yet Pentelic marble was used for the metopes and for the pediments and roof tiles, Parian marble was used. This Doric temple had six pillars on the facade, with twelve on the side. It was built by Eupolemus and had images of 'the birth of Zeus', a gigantomachy and the sack of Troy with Hera supporting the Greeks:

It is said that the architect of the temple was Eupolemus, an Argive. The sculptures carved above the pillars refer either to the birth of Zeus and the battle between the gods and the giants, or to the Trojan war and the capture of Ilium. Before the entrance stand statues of women who have been priestesses to Hera and of various heroes, including Orestes. They say that Orestes is the one with the inscription, that it represents the Emperor Augustus. In the fore-temple are on the one side ancient statues of the Graces, and on the right a couch of Hera and a votive offering, the shield which Menelaus once took from Euphorbus at Troy.
Pausanias (2.3)

There is evidence of Roman buildings; baths, an 'L'-shaped gymnasium and a foundry.


  • Hera

The sanctuary housed a cult for the polis deity of Argos: Hera. Her epithet was Argive Hera. Hera was worshipped here, as the she is the chief local goddess. Argives demonstrated this by giving her the greatest and wealthiest sanctuary in Argos.[4]

She appears in Homer's Iliad, declaring that she is the protector of Argos:

'The three towns I love best are Argos, Sparta and Mycenae with its broad streets.'

Iliad (IV.51-2)

  • Hebe

Pausanias tells us that there was a statue to Hebe, seated next to the statue of Hera. There was also an altar with images celebrating the marriage of Hebe and Herakles.

Ritual Activity


  • Neighbouring polis

There would have been great sacrifices as Mycenae, Argos and Tiryns tried to out do each other in their offerings to Hera. De Polignac calls this 'ritualized competition'. He states this started in the 8th century BC between the aristocratic families and developed into an important way of showing their superiority in the region.[5]

  • Cleomenes

Herodotus recounts how the Spartan general, Cleomenes, was punished for his impiety when sacrificing at the temple when Sparta invaded Argos (c. 496 BC). Foreigners are not allowed to sacrifice in the temple:

'Cleomenes now sent home the greater part of his army, while with a thousand of his best troops he proceeded to the temple of Hera, to offer sacrifice. When however he would have slain the victim on the altar himself, the priest forbade him, as it was not lawful (he said) for a foreigner to sacrifice in that temple. At this Cleomenes ordered his helots to drag the priest from the altar and scourge him, while he performed the sacrifice himself, after which he went back to Sparta.'
Herodotus (Book 6. 81)

The priests of Argos were removed after the battle of Sepia and the Spartans controlled Argive Hera.

  • Locals

Locals would sacrifice herd animals. This is in connection to the festival, when the priestess of Hera is carried through the fields for fertility of the ground.[6]


  • Polis competition for dedications

Part of the significance of the Argive Heraion is that ownership of the site was desired by three different city-states: Argos, Mycenae and Tiryns. This yearning meant that these city-states competed to dedicate the most impressive offerings.

One way of doing this was by flooding the sanctuary with dedications; making them as extravagant as possible and making it clear on dedications who commissioned it. It was important to have the greatest presence in the sanctuary, clear for any visitor to see.

  • Cult statue of Hera

Pausanias (2.17.4) relays the giant chryselephantine statue (made of gold and ivory) of Hera, made by the celebrated sculptor, Polycleitus. Strabo compared it to the giant chryselephantine sculpture of Zeus at Olympia by Pheidias, saying it was smaller in size and cheaper to make. Yet, Hall states there is doubt whether this was actually the work of Polykleitos.

'They say the architect was Eupolemos, an Argive; concerning the sculptures carved above the columns, some refer to the birth of Zeus and the battle of the gods and giants, others to the Trojan War and the sack of Troy .... The statue of Hera sits on a throne and is huge; made of gold and ivory, it is the work of Polykleitos. She wears a crown with Graces and Seasons worked in relief, and in one hand carries a pomegranate, in the other a scepter. About the pomegranate I must say nothing, for its story may not be told, but concerning the cuckoo that sits on the scepter they say that Zeus, when he was in love with the virgin Hera, turned himself into this bird, and she caught it to be her pet. This and other similar tales about the gods I relate without believing them, but relate them nevertheless. By Hera's side stands what is said to be an image of Hebe, by Naukydes, of ivory and gold also, and by its side is an ancient image of Hera on a column. This, the oldest image of her, is made of wild pear-wood, and was dedicated at Tiryns by Peirasos son of Argos, but when the Argives destroyed Tiryns they carried it off to the Heraion; I saw it myself, a small, seated image.'

Pausanias (2.17)

'In this temple are xoana made by Polykleitos, in execution the most beautiful in the world, but in costliness and size inferior to those of Pheidias.'

Strabo (8.732)

  • Emperors

There were also dedications made by Roman emperors Hadrian and Nero. Hadrian dedicated a gold peacock encrusted with jewels. Whereas, Nero offered a gold crown and a majestic purple robe:

Of the votive offerings the following are noteworthy. There is an altar upon which is wrought in relief the fabled marriage of Hebe and Heracles. This is of silver, but the peacock dedicated by the Emperor Hadrian is of gold and gleaming stones. He dedicated it because they hold the bird to be sacred to Hera. There lie here a golden crown and a purple robe, offerings of Nero.
Pausanias (2.17.6)

There was an image of Orestes, which represented the Emperor Augustus.

  • Ordinary Greeks: Pins

In regards to the common Greek who visited the site, a number of pins have been found on the site. These pins had a practical use, by securing garments. They could reach up to 0.80m in size.

The number of dedicated pins exploded in the Early to Late Geometric period (850 BC - 700 BC), for which archaeologists have found 699 pins. This compares to 1050 BC - 850 BC where there are just two pins found from the period. Evidence suggests that dedicating pins in this era was not common, many have none, Olympia alone has seven. However, after the burst of dedications, 279 pins are found from the late eight and early seventh century BC (c.725 - 650 BC). Yet there are 388 pins found from the archaic period (700 BC - 500 BC).

To make it clearer, here it is in a table below how many pins are found from which era:

Sub-Mycenaean and Pro-Geometric (c.1050-850) Early to Late Geometric (c.850-700) Late Eighth and Early Seventh Century (c725-650 BC) Archaic (c700-500 BC)
2 699 279 388
  • Ordinary Greeks: minitature houses/temples

Miniature models 'represent a building of a wood and rough bricks in the form of an apsidal hall surmounted by a steeply sloping roof and fronted by a porch supported by two pillars. These have been interpreted as reproductions of the earliest temples, but they may simply be models of houses.'[7]

Jonathan M. Hall states that the general thinking is that it is unlikely that this model 'is a representation of an early cult structure on this terrace.'

These can be found in different sanctuaries of Hera, the earliest at Perachora in the 8th century BC, there are ones from a later date found at Hera at Samos as well as the Argive Hera.


Image 8. A terrocotta model of a temple, found at the site, mid-8th Century BC, National Archaeological Museum, Athens

Head of Hera

Image 9. Head of Hera, found at the site, 5th Century BC

After Argos destroyed Mycenae, Tiryns and Midea, there were hekatoid games dedicated to Hera. At the end of the 3rd century BC, these honourific games were relocated to Argos and called the Heraia.

In the Heraia, an oxen-pulled chariot transported the priestess of Hera through the fields, where the oxen work, to the sanctuary. This could be a sort of sacred ploughing; all the participants moving slowly behind the priestess, through the communal fields. Hera is the goddess of fertility, this journey through the fields is symbolic of a successful farming. The procession included armed men; perhaps it was due to the Classical era, when bronze shields were awarded to the winners of games dedicated to Hera.

The origin of this tradition for oxen pulling the chariot comes from the story of Kleobis and Biton as shown below. Another reason is that there is a myth telling how the river Asterion’s three daughters raised Hera. The Asterion was the river which ran along her sanctuary. The mountain behind the sanctuary is named after Euboia, one of the three daughters of Asterion.

'The hill opposite the Heraeum they name after Acraea, the environs of the sanctuary they name after Euboea, and the land beneath the Heraeum after Prosymna. This Asterion flows above the Heraeum, and falling into a cleft disappears. On its banks grows a plant, which also is called asterion. They offer the plant itself to Hera, and from its leaves weave her garlands.'
Pausanias (2.17.2)

The use of oxen may be due to Greek mythology; the priestess of Argive Hera, Io, was turned into a white cow by Hera to prevent her from being seduced by Zeus. This and the story of Kleobis and Biton, show early on in history, Argos was trying to exert their influence in the Archaic period by tieing the site to mythology regarding their polis.

Hera had an important place in the Argive community. It was she that saw children transitioning into adults. Virgin Argive girls were included in the Heraia and performed choral dances in honour of Hera.[9]

  • Kleobis and Biton

Herodotus relays the story of the famous young Argives; Kleobis and Biton. Hera granted their mother, the priestess of Argive Hera, her wish that they would be honoured by putting them into an eternal sleep. Hall notes that this writing indicates that Argos did indeed have control of the site.

'There was a great festival in honour of the goddess Hera at Argos, to which their mother must needs to be taken in a car. Now the oxen did not come home from the field in time: so the youths, fearful of being late too, put the yoke on their own necks, and themselves drew the car in which their mother rode. Five and forty furlongs did they draw her, and stopped before the temple. This deed of their was witnessed by the whole assembly of worshippers, and their life was closed in the best possible way. Herein, too, God showed forth more evidently, how much better a thing for man death is than life. For the Argive men, who stood around the car, extolled the vast stregnth of the youths; and the Argive men, who stood around the car, extolled the vast strength of the youths; and the Argive women extolled the mother who was blessed with such a pair of sons; and the mother herself, overjoyed at the deed and at the praises it had won, standing straight before the image, besought the goddess to bestow on Cleobis and Bito, the sons who had so mightily honoured her, the highest blessing to which mortals can attain. Her prayer ended, they offered the sacrifice and partook of the holy banquet, after which the two youths fell asleep in the temple. The Argives, looking on them as among the best of men, caused statues of them to be made, which they gave to the shrine at Delphi."'
Herodotus (1.31)


Rules and Regulations

note here any rules and regulations relating to sanctuary use that have been found inscribed in and around the site.

Other Activities

  • Troy

It is said before their departure to Troy, Agamemnon took oaths to the chiefs in the temple of Hera. (Dictys Cretensis, 1. 15. 6) According to mythology, the Heraion was built thirteen generations before the sack of Troy.

  • The temple was burned down

Thucydides (4. 133) reports that the temple was burned down in 423 BC:

'The temple of Juno in Argos was also burnt down the same summer, by the negligence of Chrysis the priest, who, having set a burning torch by the garlands, fell asleep, insomuch as all was on fire and flamed out before she knew.'

Thuc. (IV.133)

Pausanius gives the same story. The sculpture dedicated in honour of Chryseis was never removed:

Above this temple are the foundations of the earlier temple and such parts of it as were spared by the flames. It was burnt down because sleep overpowered Chryseis, the priestess of Hera, when the lamp before the wreaths set fire to them. Chryseis went to Tegea and supplicated Athena Alea. Although so great a disaster had befallen them the Argives did not take down the statue of Chryseis; it is still in position in front of the burnt temple.
Pausanias (2.17.7)

  • Cleomenes receives a sign from Hera in the sanctuary

Cleomenes (the Spartan from the sacrifice section) claimed he got a bad omen from the sanctuary:

'"so soon as he discovered discovered the sacred precinct which he had taken to belong with Argos, he directly imagined that the oracle had received its accoplishment; he therefore thought it not good to attempt the town, at least until he had inquired by sacrifice, and ascertained if the god meant to grant him the place, or was determined to oppose his taking it. So he offered in the temple of Hera, and when the omens were propitious, immediately there flashed forth a flame of fire from the breast of the image; whereby he knew of a surety that he was not to take Argos. For if the image had come from the head, he would have gained the town, citadel and all; but as it shone from the breast, he had done so much as the god intended." And his words seemed to the Spartans so true and reasonable, that he came clear off from his adversaries.'

Herodotus (Book VI.82)

Historical Significance

It was one of the most prominent sanctuaries in whole of the Greek world. It is said that it was actually the epithet 'Argive Hera' who was worshipped in the sanctuary of Hera on Samos and at sanctuaries of Hera located in southern Italy, e.g. Foce del Sele near Paestum. (Pliny, Natural History 3.5.70)

Part of the reason for its importance was the due to its convenient location of being sat in the middle of three emerging polis: Argos, Mycenae and Tiryns. Each of these polis wanted sole control of the sanctuary, heightening the influence of the sanctuary to all other Greek communities.

It seems ancient scholarship believed that the Heraion was shared between Mycenae and Argos, before Argos had domain over it:

'After the descendants of Danaüs succeeded to the reign in Argos, and the Amythaonides, who were emigrants from Pisatis and Triphylia, became associated with these, one should not be surprised if, being kindred, they at first so divided the country into two kingdoms that the two cities in them which held the hegemony were designated as the capitals, though situated near one another, at a distance of less than fifty stadia, I mean Argos and Mycenae, and that the Heraeum [Note] near Mycenae was a temple common to both.'
Strabo (8.6.10)

De Polignac notes that the Argives took control of the sanctuary as a boundary marker to show the extent of their land. Stecchini states that the Heraion may only be controlled by Argos from the 5th century BC. Despite this, Hall states that 'there is a growing consensus that the sanctuary was shared by the various communities of the Argive plain throughout the Archaic period.'

Who used the site, and where did they come from? 

  • The people of Argos, Mycenae, Tiryns
  • King Pheidon of Argos
  • Cleomenes of Sparta
  • Emperors from Rome (Hadrian, Nero and an image of Orestes that is associated with Augustus)

Select Site Bibliography

Homer, The Iliad, Trans E.V.Rieu, Penguin Books, 2003
Herodotus, The Histories, Trans. George Rawlinson, Everyman's Library, 1997
Pausanias. Pausanias Description of Greece, Trans. by W.H.S. Jones, Litt.D., and H.A. Ormerod, M.A., in 4 Volumes. Harvard University Press, 1918.
Strabo, The Geography of Strabo, Trans. H. L. Jones, Harvard University Press, 1924.
Thucydides. Trans. Thomas Hobbes, London, Bohn, 1843,

Hall, J. M. (1995) “How Argive was the ‘Argive’ Heraion? The political and cultic geography of the Argive plain, 900–400 BC.” American Journal of Archaeology 99: 577–613.
de Polignac, Francois (1995). Cults, Territory, and the Origins of the Greek City-State, Trans. Janet Lloyd, The University of Chicago Press
Stillwell, Richard. MacDonald, William L. McAlister, Marian Holland, The Princeton encyclopedia of classical sites, Princeton, N.J. Princeton University Press. 1976.

Heraion Sanctuary by Jonathon M. Hall;jsessionid=EB935A7F6CD81A13B722D81D73F8922D.f01t01?v=1&s=fd265711d822784429a1d4b5ee12a878f349c06d
'The Standard of Heraion' in A History of Measures by Livio C. Stecchini,


1 - De Polignac (1995) 37
2 - De Polignac (1995) 33
3 - De Polignac (1995) 34
4 - De Polignac (1995) 25
5 - De Polignac (1995) 37
6 - De Polignac (1995) 42
7 - De Polignac (1995) 17
8 - De Polignac (1995) 41
9 - De Polignac (1995) 63


Situated on the slopes, at the base of Mount Euboea, it is 8km northeast of Argos, though it is nearer to Mycenae (5km) as they were both on the slopes of Mount Euboea. A sacred road that was less than 3km long connected Mycenae and the sanctuary. Tiryns (9km) and Nauplia were south of the sanctuary. Being in the middle of these city-states meant it was a central area to bring these communities together.[1]

From where the Heraion was, it could be seen from many different points, yet was easiest to see from Argos.[2] Like with the Heraion, sanctuaries were often out on a plain, on land that is not for Greeks to live on. In a sense, it marks a boundary for where Greeks can live.[3]

There is also a cemetery that dates back to the Mycenaean age, near the Heraion.

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Site Plan

Site Plan for Argive Heraion

Image 2

Reconstruction of the Argive Heraion

Reconstruction - Image 3

 Remains of the Stoa

Remains of the Stoa - Image 5

Hera of argos

Image 6

Argive Heraion

Image 7

Image 1 - Name: View from the Heraion of Argos into the Inachos plain, Argolis, Greece; Author: Sarah Murray; CC BY-SA 2.0; 2009
Image 4 - Name: Selinunte-TempleE-Plan-bjs; Author: Bernhard J. Scheuvens; CC BY-SA 2.5;2005
Image 5, 6 and 7 - Name: Heraion of Argos in 1993; Author: Herbert Ortner; CC-BY 3.0; 1993