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Sanctuary of Zeus at Dodona

Santuary at Dodona

Archaeological Development

Archaeological excavations have taken place for more than a century, recovering items as early as Mycenaean. It was dug extensively by C. Carapanos in 1875-6, but was more like a search for Antiquities than archaeological excavation.

D. Evangelides did a great deal of intermittent but persistent work between 1929-58 exploring the sanctuary which made it possible for S. I. Dakaris to produce a picture of the various stages by which it developed.

In the neolithic period, Dodona was extensively inhabited but appear to had no permanent dwellings, but made a lot of pottery of the neolithic style. They were probably a pastoral community, living here in temporary huts for the summer: they left behind a thick layer of pottery. There is no certain evidence from archaeology of religious activity, but would be quite consistent with the primitive settlement centd on the oak tree, regarded as sacred to the god who thundered from heaven.

There is no evidence of occupation in 2nd millenium BC by people of dentral Greece and Peloponnese. No Helladic or Mycenaean pottery has been found.

Excavation exposed only a simple tree sanctuary. It was not until 4th Century BCE that a small temple was added, after the Molossian Kings of Epirus had assumed the protectorship of Dodona. From that time onwards Dodona had a certain amount of popularity, but it is mostly private individuals who wrote on the lead tablets asking the gods for help and advice.

In c. 290 BCE, King Pyrrhus made Dodona the religious capital of his domain and added a series of buildings including a grandly built Temple of Zeus plus several other buildings including a theatre. A wall was built around the oracle itself and the holy tree, as well as temples to Dione and Heracles.


Zeus- meaning "deity"
Earth Goddess- Gaia/Rhea
Dione- meaning "goddess"

Homer's Iliad: Achilles prays to "High Zeus, Lord of Dodona, Pelasgian, living afar off, brooding over wintry Dodona".

Ritual Activity


votive offerings

Illyrian Dedications have also been found from the 7th century BCE. After 650BCE it is thought that more Southern Greeks were visiting the Sanctuary compared with before 650BCE.

The Cult of Divine Birth-

add text here as appropriate

Rules and Regulations

Questions at Dodona were typically scratched on lead tablets, some of which have been discovered during archaeological excavation.

Other Activities

Sleeping on the ground...

Historical Significance

The oracle at Dodona is considered to the oldest Oracle in Ancient Greece and second only to the Oracle at Delphi in presitige. It is situated in North West Greece in Eiprus, 1600 feet above sea level, east of Mount Tamaros. It is said to have been established by a priestess of Theban Zeus who had been carried off from Egypt by Phoenicians. (Another priestess, who was simultaneously abducted, founded the oracle of Ammon (also identifi ed with Zeus) in the Oasis of Siwah in ancient Libya.) Another foundational legend, told to Herodotus by three Dodonian priestesses of his day named Promeneia, Timarete, and Nicandra, the oracle was established by a “black dove” that fl ew away from Egyptian Thebes. The bird settled on the famous oak tree at Dodona, spoke in a human voice, and declared that an oracle to Zeus was to be establish here on this spot. (Again, a parallel with the fi rst version of the legend, a second black dove was said to have fl own to Libya and instructed the Libyans to found the oracle of Ammon/Zeus there, as well.) Herodotus suggests that the foundation of the oracle being a associated with 'black' doves may be in fact that it was founded by an Egyptian.

Particularly old and sacred was the oak (phegos) of Dodona which imparted the oracle with the rustling of its branches.

It is thought that two different cultures had provenance over this site. The earlier one is said to have worshipped the Earth Goddess but there are only taboos which suggest this, but a later culture around 1900-1400BCE then worshipped Zeus. So this particular site could be almost 4000 years old.

An indication that Ge/Gaia indeed may have been the fi rst goddess venerated at the site can be found in verses Pausanias (10.12.5) reports were first chanted by the Dodonian priestesses:

"Zeus was, Zeus is, Zeus shall be; O mighty Zeus.
Earth sends up the harvest, therefore sing the praise of Earth as Mother."

Dakaris (1971, 85) asserts,

"Ancient tradition, cult symbols unrelated with the worship of Zeus
in Greece (doves, boars, double-bladed axes, tripods), the prophetic
powers of the oak, the chthonian form of the temple of Zeus, confi rm
beyond doubt the preexistence of a chthonian cult to the Great
Goddess, who was worshipped in Greece at least from the beginning
of the third millennium B.C., if not from the Neolithic Age. The sacred
oak at Dodona is part of the cult of Mother Earth."

The idea of the Mother Goddess being there before the establishment of an oracle also corresponds with most if not all of the other Oracular sanctuaries in Ancient Greece, e.g. Delphi, Oplympia and Corinth. Zeus, therefore, must have "arrived" at a place that was an already functioning oracular sanctuary.

Herodotus reports on the “founding” of the site by the Egyptian priestess, that the Zeusian cult laid over the earlier cult was, in some sense, Egyptian. Herodotus (2.52) indeed further emphasises the influence of Egypt on Greek religion more generally. He states that the Dodonians of his day fully believed that the Egyptians had in fact brought to the Pelasgians (early Greek people) the names of all deities, and the Oracle at Delphi had sanctioned the use of these names. Before this, in remote antiquity, the Pelasgians were thought to have prayed to deities who had no names of titles and merely called them theoi (gods). This all began here at Dodona and then spread through out Greece (Parke 1967, 57, 59)

The God therefore must have been "Theban Zeus" whom Herodotus (1.182, 2.42, 4.181) confi rms was identifi ed with Amun-Re. So still Egyptian origins.

Cook (1914–40, 3.1:882) reports that Zeus was identified with Amun of Thebes at least as far back as 900 B.C.E. 10 The cult of Amun-Re at Thebes was associated with the practice of divine birth of the pharaoh throughout much of the Bronze Age.

As written above, it was mentioned in Homer's Iliad but also in the Odyssey. Odysseus tells Emaeus in Book 14 that he was seen among the Thesprotians at the Oracle at Delphi inquiring whether or not he will return to Ithace openly or in disguise (which he is doing). This is in his fictitious story.

The Sanctuary itself remained an important place right up until the rise of Christianity in the Late Roman era, which certianly emphasises how important it was.

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

Before 650BCE it is thought that only northern Greeks visited the site because of the Illyrian dedicatory evidence but after this it is thought that southern Greeks ventured up there.

Select Site Bibliography

Homer, Iliad,

Home, Odyssey,


Boardman, John (1982). The Expansion of the Greek World, Eighth to Sixth Centuries B.C.. (Cambridge, United Kingdom: Cambridge University Press.)

Kindt, J. (2012) Rethinking Greek Religion, (Cambridge University Press)

Marguerite Rigoglioso,. (2009) The cult of divine birth in ancient Greece, (Basingstoke : Palgrave Macmillan,.)

Sacks, D.; Murray, O.; Bunson, M., (1997). A Dictionary of the Ancient Greek World. (New York, Oxford: Oxford University Press.)


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Sanctuary of Dodona

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