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Sanctuary of Apollo Ptoieius, Boeotia

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Archaeological Development

The sanctuary is of an intriguing design, as it occupied three seperate terraces on a hillside. [1] On top of a large rock was a spring, whose waters were conveyed to a cave on the terrace below by means of a channel. [2] Also on this terrace was the main building of the sanctuary, a Doric temple made of limestone. It seems likely that this temple was built later after the sanctuary had been used for some time, in the fourth/third century BC, probably replacing an earlier wooden temple from the seventh century. [3] Some archaelogists are of the opinion that there was another intervening stone temple built some time in the 6th century. [4]

It appears the history of Ptoion being used as a sacred space is attested to very early in Greek history, as a tablet from Thebes written in Linear B mentions the place name "Ptoios" and traces of occupation from that period have been found at the site. [5]

Pausanias [6] and Herodotus [7] record the sanctuary as having belonged to the Thebans, but there is scant historical evidence for the sanctuary's role before 500BC, although some archaelogical evidence of it does exist (see below in Gods/Heroes.)

The heyday of the sanctuary occured during the Archaic period, as is evidenced by the large amount of kouroi statues from that period (see below in Devotions.) During this period the channels that conveyed the spring from the upper rock to the cave below were constructed.

The sanctuary was probably destroyed, along with Thebes, by the Macedonians in 335BC. [8] The ruins of the present temple were constructed in the Hellenistic period, as previously stated. The temple was constructed out of Poros limestone, which accounts for its present poor state.

The first excavations of the sanctuary were undertake by the French Archaeological Institute in 1884 until 1891 when they were discontinued, they were resumed during 1934-36, and the results of these were published in the Bulletin de Correspondance Hellénique and in P. Guillon's book Les Trépieds du Ptoion. [9]


The specific epithet "Ptoan" used for the sanctuary's god Apollo refers to the Ptoion, the first mountain in a range which extends out eastward from the Gulf of Euboea in Boeotia. Accoriding to Pausanias, in an epic Asius noted that this name comes from the mythological figure Ptoion, who was the son of Athamas, a mythical Boeotian king, by Themisto. [10]

Some archaelogist are of the opinion that after worship of Ptoion was displaced by the popularity of Apollo the Ptoion worshippers continued in a smaller sanctuary very close by, around a kilometer to the west at Kastraki. [11] Indeed, this would seem to be corroborated by a passage of Pindar, cited by Strabo, where Teneros, a son of Apollo, "took possession of the three-peaked hollow of Ptoios" and became a prophet of the oracle there. [12] However, we have evidence of worship of Apollo at the larger sanctuary dating back to 620BC, thanks to an inscription on a headless cithara playing statue that probably represented Apollo, and which now resides in the National Museum at Athens. As evidence for Ptoion worship at the smaller sanctuary is only evidenced from 580BC it is doubtful that the larger one was originally solely dedicated to Ptoion. [13]

It also appears that Athena Pronaia, meaning Athena before the temple, was also associated with the site earlier on in its history, but this seems to have stopped after the Archaic period. [14]

Ritual Activity

I have been unable to find any specific evidence that sacrifice was carried out here.
An impressive number of kouroi were found in the sanctuary, and they are very good examples of early Boeotian Archaic sculpture. Several of these now reside in the National Museum in Athens and the Thebes Museum. In addition, also present in the National Museum are several heads and females statuettes, apparently the support for a water basin, and the aforementioned cithara playing statue. In addition a large number of tripods were found here, their possible significance is discussed elsewhere (see below in Who used the site, and where did they come from?) [15]

Bases for votive gifts located in the sanctuary are evidence at for votive offerings,from some prominent Atheninan politicians, as the inscriptions on them record, these include a member of the Alcmaeonid family and the tyrant Hipparchus, son of Pisistratus. These are a testament to the relative importance of the site. [16]
A series of local games, known as the Ptoia, took place there every four years in the sanctuary. They were comparatively minor compared to any of the larger, more familiar Panhellenic games, and yet their popularity was apparently sufficient to ensure their survival until the 3rd Century BC. [17] It is possible that an open space in front of the temple, where the aforementioned kouroi were located, was used for these athletic events. [18]

Rules and Regulations-

None of the incriptions I have looked at in the site contain any rules or regulations governing either customs visitors should observe, or any information on how the consultations should occur. There is however one small piece of information on the setting in which the consultations should be held (see below in Other Activities.)

Other Activities

Oracular consultations were undertaken at the sanctuary. While the exact process that occured during these is somewhat obscure, it appears that the waters of a spring in a cave in front of the sanctuary may have provided the "inspiration" necessary for an oracular consultation. Thus the consultations technically took place outside of the main body of the sanctuary itself, in this cave. [19]

Herodotus records a story of one specific consultation, where a man called Mys of Europus came to the sanctuary, which apparently belonged to the Thebans at that time. However, when the Thebans who were supposed to write down what the oracle said heard the consultation they were astonished to learn that the oracle was speaking in a foreign tongue, the language of Caria, Mys' native tongue and not Greek. [20] The same story occurs in the passage of Pausanias mentioned above.

A third century BC incription at the site at the base of a statue dedicated to Apollo Ptoion furnishes us with a few details about the oracular process, in particular the god is described as "ennychos", nocturnal, which could either refer to the consultations taking place solely at night, or possibly the natural darkness of the cave in which the consultations took place. [21]

Apparently by the time Pausanias visited this area in the second century AD the oracular consultations had ceased to occur. [22]

specify activities, known dates, and ancient sources.

Historical Significance

I have made reference elsewhere to factors which contributed to the relative importance of the site, such as its being the official oracle of the Boeotian league, and the dedications from the famous Athenian politicians. However, one of the areas in which the site is most historical important is not actually in terms of it featuring heavily in historical sources, but due to the large number of kouroi that have been found there, rendering it an excellent showcase for Boeotian Archaic period art. Ninety kouroi have been found there, albeit many in fragments, and there are enough from a wide enough time period that developments in style from the heavily stylised kouroi made earlier to the more naturalistic look that eventually occured are evident at the sanctuary. [23]

According to an inscription it appears that in 67BC a certain Epiminondas restored the site as a benefactor, and intergrated aspects of the imperial cult into it, such as erecting statues of Nero Zeus Liberator and Augusta Messalina there. [24]

Later, it appears that in the Second Century AD the distinguished aristocrat Herodes Atticus became a patron of the site, and for this a statue of his daughter was erected in Acraephia. [25]

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

Apparently the site was greatly popular not just with the local community from the town of Acraephia, but also drew in a large number of visitors from other parts of the Greek world, and was regarded with great importance, as the dedications of the Athenian politicians mentioned above suggest. However, the lack of information about the process of oracular consulatation itself renders more specific enquiry about the general profile of a visitor to the site difficult. However, given that both Herodotus and Pausanias stress the Theban control and possible origin of the site it would appear that the sanctuary's primary purpose would have been to serve Thebes' interest, indeed this is compounded by the strategic location of the site, which would have been near one of the only routes by which Thessaly could have attacked Thebes.

After the rebuilding of the sanctuary and Thebes in the Hellenistic period and Thebes' joining of the resurrected Boeotian League in 287BC the sanctuary might have again had renewed popularity in the region after its decline in fortunes during the Classical period and eventual destruction. Indeed, it appears that the sanctuary was made the official oracle of the league, and thus it would have played a great ceremonial and political role in its machinations. [26]

Replace this with a discussion of the different communities who used the site, including dates and sources.

Select Site Bibliography

Primary Sources

Herodotus Histories

Pausanias Descriptions Of Greece

Strabo Geography

Secondary Sources

The Sanctuaries of Mount Ptoion in Boeotia by Evi Touloupa, in Temples and Sanctuaries of Ancient Greece edited by Evi Melas, 1970, Thames and Hudson Ltd, London

Caves and the Ancient Greek Mind : Descending Underground in the Search for Ultimate Truth by Yulia Ustinova, 2009, OUP, Oxford

"Sanctuaries of Apollo and hero Ptoios", Encyclopedia of the Hellenic World, Boeotia by Livieratou Antonia, 2011

URL = <>

Histoires Grecques: Snapshots from Antiquity by Maurice Sartre, translated by Catherine Porter, 2009, Harvard University Press


[1] Pg 117, Touloupa

[2] Pg 113, Ustinova

[3] Pg 118, Touloupa

[4] 2.2.1, Antonia

[5] 2.2.1, Antonia

[6] Pausanias, 9.23.5

[7] Herodotus, 8.135.1

[8] 2.2.1, Antonia

[9] Pg 117, Touloupa

[10] Pausanias, Boetia, 9.23.6

[11] Pg 113, Ustinova

[12] Strabo, 9.2.34

[13] Pg 121, Touloupa

[14] 2.2.1, Antonia

[15] Pg 118, Touloupa

[16] 2.2.1, Antonia

[17] 2.2.3, Antonia

[18] Pg 118, Touloupa

[19] Pg 114, Ustinova

[20] Herodotus, 8.135.2

[21] Pg 115, Ustinova

[22] Pausanias, 9.23.6

[23] 2.2.1, Antonia

[24] Pg 312, Sartre

[25] Pg 120, Touloupa

[26] 2.2.3, Antonia

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The sanctuary is located about two miles from the ancient town of Acraephia, where the modern town of Akraifnio is now situated. The sanctuary is near a spring called "Perdikovrisi", and is thus sometimes called by this name to differentiate it from a smaller sanctuary sanctuary a kilometer to the west at Kastraki. Since the history of the two sanctuaries appears to have inextricapably linked, I have included some details about the latter where appropriate.

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