Temple of Artemis Orthia, Sparta
The site was brought to light by the British School of Archaeology during their digs in Laconia, 1906-10. At the time, the unexcavated site appeared to consist only of a ruined Roman theatre, largely pillaged after the foundation of modern Sparta in 1834, and about to collapse into the river. The archaeologists, under the leadership of R. M. Dawkins, quickly found evidence of Greek occupation.
There are three sections to the sanctuary. Firstly, the remains of an altar erected in the ninth century is located in the centre of the city. It was destroyed and rebuilt several times. To the west, a temple was built in the sixth century, only a section of it survives to us today. After the site fell into disuse, it was rediscovered by the Romans in the second century AD, who built a theatre on top of and around the original site. The existence of the theatre suggests people gathered there to observe rituals performed in honour of Artemis Orthia.
(See Pinney (1925) 157.)
Most female deities of the ancient world, such as Hera, were concerned with the wellbeing of house and family. This, however, was not the case for Sparta; often, the emphasis was on communal ties rather than the family. The goddess was addressed as ‘Orthia’, with varying spellings, for most of her sanctuary’s existence; it was not until the Flavian period that there was epigraphic evidence of her being referred to as Artemis Orthia. She is not necessary identical but can be identified with Panhellenic Artemis. Orthia was considered the goddess of salvation and fertility, as well as the protector of vegetation and was also thought to be a suitable goddess to ensure safe childbirth. Later on, the cult was linked to that of Artemis and the temple became a centre of religious education for youths. Artemis was mostly concerned with the natural world, wild animals and hunting.
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Lead figurines of Hoplite soldiers are normally associated with men’s cult activity, connected with Sparta’s well known militarism. However, given the number of feminine offerings at the sanctuary, including lead models of cloth and clothing and weaving equipment, it could be suggested that, while some might be men’s dedications, others might be women’s dedications on behalf of men  . Animal votives show Orthia in her role as an animal goddess or huntress in which capacity she was merged with Artemis. Nude figurines represent Orthia’s role as a fertility goddess
Waugh (2009) 160-4.
The sanctuary was greatly associated with the education of the young Spartans. It was the focus of festivals involving the young citizens of the city; they endured trials of endurance, for example, young boys were flogged as part of their initiation rites as a way to make them stronger.
See Pausanias 3.16.7-11
Material objects are linked with a mythical and divine past. Miraculous qualities and demand for human blood – the statue of Artemis Orthia, breaks natural laws by becoming heavy when not offered enough blood and challenges human taboos with its need for the blood of human kings. . Statue is small, light and wooden. He believes the statue to be authentic given its ritual and magical power (the demands for authenticity).
See Elsner (1996) 524.
Rules and Regulations
note here any rules and regulations relating to sanctuary use that have been found inscribed in and around the site.
Xenophon Constitution of the Lacadaemonians 2 -
“Someone may ask: But why, if he believed stealing to be a fine thing, did he have the boy who was caught beaten with many stripes? I reply: Because in all cases men punish a learner for not carrying out properly whatever he is taught to do. So the Spartans chastise those who get caught for stealing badly. He made it a point of honour to steal as many cheeses as possible [from the altar of Artemis Orthia], but appointed others to scourge the thieves, meaning to show thereby that by enduring pain for a short time one may win lasting fame and felicity. It is shown herein that where there is need of swiftness, the slothful, as usual, gets little profit and many troubles.”
Stealing cheese from the altar of Artemis Orthia appeared to be a ritual activity that took place in order to strengthen young male Spartans.
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Who used the site, and where did they come from?
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Select Site Bibliography
Foxhall, L (Feb 2000) The Running Sands of Time: Archaeology and the Short-Term World Archaeogy, 3, Human Lifecycles, 484-494. Taylor & Francis Ltd. Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/125114 John Elsner (1996).
Image and ritual: reflections on the religious appreciation of classical art. The Classical Quarterly, 46, pp 515-531 Waugh, N (2009) Visualising fertility at Artemis Orthia's site Sparta and Laconia: From prehistory to the pre-modern, 16, 159-167, British School at Athens. Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/40960632
Pinney, M. E. (June 1925)Votive Gifts to Artemis Orthia, The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin, 20, No. 6,157-159, The Metropolitan Museum of Art Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/3254624
Temples, Stars, and Ritual Landscapes: The Potential for Archaeoastronomy in Ancient Greece By Efrosyni Boutsikas and Clive Ruggles American Journal of Archaeology Vol. 115, No. 1 (January 2011), pp. 55–68
1 - Foxhall (2000) 486.
The Sanctuary of Artemis Orthia is located in a basin between Limnai and the west bank of the Eurotas River. Its remains can be found just north of the ancient Spartan polis and is one of the most important religious sites in Sparta.
Image of Wooden Idol of Artemis Orthia