Sanctuary of Apollo, Amyclae, Sparta
The site was first excavated by a Greek archaeologist in 1980. The remaining archaeological evidence from the site includes the retaining walls, circuit walls, evidence of foundations dating to various periods, and a circular altar.
The retaining walls around the sanctuary were made of local conglomerate stone, and are architecturally designed to work with the steep slopes of the hill. The precinct indicates that there have been extensions and repairs made to it, as well as general measures of maintenance carried out during the Roman and Byzantine periods.
Found at the site is also archaeological evidence of the Throne of Apollo Amyklaios by Archaic artist Bathykles (Vathykli?) from Asia Minor. A stoa-like building enclosed a colossal statue of Apollo on three sides and was decorated with reliefs. The tomb of Hyacinthus is used as a statue base, combining the two local deities together. The statue is thought to have been erected around the 7th or early 6th century BC, with the throne/temple complex being created around it in the later 6th century.
The only remaining part of the throne is the foundation, four metres long and one metre high.
According to Pausanias (the only real description of the throne complex that we have) the colossal statue was approximately 14 metres high and made of wood lined with bronze plates. A votive bas-relief from the Classical period found in Amyclae and a few coin depictions give us a general image of the statue.
The circular altar is dated to the second monumental phase of the sanctuary. During a restoration project in 2009 part of the altar was reconstructed, indicating its size to be about 8 metres wide and 4 metres high.
Amyclae was founded by Amyclas of Sparta, son of the mythical king Lacedaemon.
Within the Sanctuary of Apollo Amyklaios, the tomb of Hyacinthus, the youngest son of Amyclas and local god of vegetation, stands as a pedestal for the colossal statue of Apollo.
At the sanctuary, the cults of Hyacinthus and Apollo are combined, and celebrated in the annual festival that took place at the Sanctuary; the Hyacinthia.
The most important Spartan festival, the Hyacinthia, took place at Amyclae. The festival merged the cults of Apollo and Hyacinthus, which represent respectively Doric Sparta and the population of Amyclae and the political reconciliation between them.
The Hyacinthia was celebrated for three days every year - the first day was a designated day of bereavement and sacrifice to Hyacinthus. On the second day a procession was lead from Sparta to Amyclae, where the people partaking in the festival would stay temporarily at the sanctuary in tents. This procession seems to represent the common aspect of festivals; initiation, in which the interests of Apollo focused upon the younger generation and their prosperous passage into adult life and society.
'at the Hyacinthia, before the sacrifice to Apollo, they devote offerings to Hyacinthus as to a hero into this altar through a bronze door, which is on the left of the altar'
- Pausanias, 3.19.3
The retaining walls of the sanctuary marked out a large area around the throne and statue that meant it could facilitate the cult celebrations.
Rules and Regulations
note here any rules and regulations relating to sanctuary use that have been found inscribed in and around the site.
Pausanias notes that there is a statue of a victor of the pentathlon, Aenetus, as well as a number of bronze tripods, of which the older ones are said to be a tithe of Messenian War. Under some of the tripods stand images of other deities such as Aphrodite and Artemis.
According to Pausanias, on the completion of the throne Bathykles dedicated Graces and an image of Artemis Leucophryene.
Foundations of buildings have been found at the sanctuary that date to the later periods of the 4th and 5th centuries AD. It is also speculated that later on during the Byzantine period chamber tombs and pit graves were included in parts of the hill.
Shortly before the first Messenian War in the 8th century BC the town was conquered by the Spartans (Pausanias 3.2.6). In Maurius Servius Honoratus' Commentary on Virgil from around the 4th and 5th centuries, a story is told that the people of Amyclae had become so paranoid by frequent false reports of invasions, that it was forbidden for anyone to mention it again. This meant that when the Spartan's did eventually invade, no one dared to announce the attack and so 'Amyclae perished through silence'. (Serv. ad Virg. Aen. 10)
The Spartans destroyed the fortifications and moved the majority of the inhabitants to settle instead in the plains below, turning Amyclae into a small village as opposed to moving the conquered inhabitants elsewhere. It was following this that the city placed religion as a particularly important part of their identity, and the Sanctuary of Apollo and the Hyacinthia festival became its most distinguishing features.
Amyclae is said to have been the home of Castor and Pullox, who were so given the name 'Amyclaei Fratres'.
Who used the site, and where did they come from?
Replace this with a discussion of the different communities who used the site, including dates and sources.
Select Site Bibliography
Pausanias, Description of Greece from Perseus Digital Library
Polybius, Histories from Perseus Digital Library
Smith, W. Dictionary of Greek and Roman Geography (London : Walton and Maberley : John Murray 1857) from Perseus Digital Library
Clark, W. G. (2011) Peloponnesus: Notes of Study and Travel (Cambridge University Press)
Thirwall, C. (1835) A History of Greece: Volume 1 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press)
Perseus Digital Library 4.0 - http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/
Amyklaion I Amykles Research Project - http://www.amyklaion.gr/?page_id=241
The Sanctuary of Apollo Amyklaios lies on the hill of Agia Kyriaki in Amyclae, Sparta.
In present day the village of Sklavokhori is thought to be the location of ancient Amyclae due to inscriptions found at the site - however, there are disputes over whether this is actually the case, as Sklavokhori is more than twice the distance from Sparta that Amyclae was supposed to have been.
Amyclae was 5km south-west from the centre of Sparta.
‘The district of Amyclae is one of the most richly timbered and fertile in Laconia, lies about twenty stades from Sparta, and contains a temple of Apollo which is about the most famous of all the Laconian holy places.’
- Polybius 5.19