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Placing GreekTemples: An Archaeoastronom-

cal Study of the Orientation of Ancient Greek

Religious Structures

Abstract Resumen
Thi.s paper revisits the generally accepted view Al analizar los alineamientos de 107 templos
that the normal orientation of ancient Greek griegos la autora del presente artculo som-
temples is toward the east through a general ete a nuevo examen la idea, comnmente
analysi.s of 107 Greek temple orientations col- aceptada, de que los templos en Grecia Antigua
lected by the author. The paper also attempts se orientaban normalmente hacia el Este. Este
to establish whether there existed a general artculo tambin trata de verificar si existi
principle that related to specific astronomical algn principio general relacionado con las
observations and could have determined the observaciones astronmicas especficas y si
orientation of Greek temples. The analysis este principio pudo determinar la orientacin
applies archaeoastronomical methodology in de los templos griegos. El estudio de los
investigating orientation patterns of Greek patrones de orientacin de los templos
temples from the Geometric to the Hellenistic griegos construidos en Grecia entre el periodo
periods in Greece. These first results show geomtrico hasta el periodo helenstico
that the Sun does not seem to have played as emplea la metodologa arqueoastronmica.
decisive a role in the orientation of temples as Los primeros resultados demuestran que el
currently thought. Instead, there appears to be movimiento del sol no parece jugar el papel
a much larger variation than accounted for at tan determinante en la elaboracin de las
present that cannot be simply explained by the orientaciones de los templos como se ha
concept of the predominance of eastern orien- pensado hasta ahora. En cambio, parece que
tations. It is concluded that all-encompassing la variacin de orientaciones es mucho ms
interpretations do not appear to apply in Greek grande de lo que se supona y ello no puede
religion and cult practices and that the study of explicarse por el hecho de que simplemente
Greek cult needs to account for local variations, predominan las orientaciones hacia el este. En
traditions, and landscapes. conclusin, las interpretaciones que pretenden
explicar la totalidad de orientaciones, no se
aplican a los estudios de la religin griega y de
las prcticas cultuales, por lo tanto, cualquier
estudio de los cultos griegos tiene que tomar
en cuenta las variaciones,tradiciones y paisajes

Efrosyni Boutsikas is a Lecturer of Classical Archaeology at the University of Kent and presently holds a Visiting Fellowship at the University
of Leicester. She received a B.Sc. in Archaeological Science from the University of Sheffield and an M.A. in Archaeology from the University
of Leicester. Boutsikas completed her Ph.D. (University of Leicester) on astronomy and ancient Creek cult in 2007.

2007-2008 by the University of Texas Press, P.O. Box 7819. Austin, TX 78713-7819
In 1939 William Bell Dinsmoor published his study mainland and the islands of the Aegean (Figure 1 ) eol-
on ihe principles behind ancient Greek temple orien- lected by the author and covering a time period from
tations. His treatment and conclusions in this paper 900 to 200 B.C. (Table 1 ). The analysis that follows
brought together earlier research that had been ear- tests the existing ideas on the general orientation of
ried out by Francis C. Penrose in the 1890s and by Greek temples andthrough a quantitative assess-
Heinrich Nissen published between 1869 and 1906. ment of the distribution of the orientations presents
Dinsmoor's general conclusion on the orientation of new data in order to test current understanding of the
Greek temples followed that of his predecessors, who role and function of the orientation of Greek temples.
argued in favor of the predominant eastern orienta- It demonstrates that Greek religious structures were
tion. He claimed that 73 percent of Greek temples plaeed over a far wider range than can be simply
were oriented within 60 of due east (1939:115-116), explained by a solar orientation.
and therefore the placing of Greek temples was dic-
tated by the need to face the rising or setthig Sun. This Sample Description
result was derived from plotting Nissen*s temple ori- The dataset of this study includes some of the most
entations (published in 1906) in a graph in an attempt important and representative sites of the periods
to examine the presence of trends. Eighty years since during which they were constructed and some of the
Dinsmoor's paper, the orientations of Greek temples earliest self-standing religious structures found in
have been shoe-horned in such a way that the presence Greece from around 900 B.C. (e.g., Apollo Thermios,
of a much broader variation of orientationswhich excluding the megara, the function of which has not
is in factthecaseis commonly overlooked in favor been firmly established to this date). The region cov-
of the idea of the predominance of an eastern orienta- ered by this study includes the area covered by the
tion, which remains a point of reference for modern modern Greek state (Figure 1 ) rather than the world
scholars (Beyer 1990; Mikalson 2005:20; Scully of Hellenic city-states as a whole, which extended
1979:44,151). Prior to Dinsmoor's publication Nissen from the western Mediterranean to the Black Sea. In
and Penrose had argued that temples were aligned to the selection procedure of temples to be surveyed,
sunrise on the day of the god's major festival (Nissen no deities or types of sites have intentionally been
1873:527-528; Penrose 1893:380). The eastern orien- given greater emphasis. This study includes the vast
tation of Greek temples was explained as the result of majority of religious sites that could be measured
Egyptian influence (Nissen 1906:249). within the study area. All religious structures for
The study presented here intends to offer a much which permission was given and whose preservation
needed structured and rigorous approach through the was sufficient have been surveyed (including those
discipline of archaeoastronomy as prescribed by Aveni of foreign deities).
(2002). McCluskey (1982.2004). and Ruggles (1984, The geographical area covered by the sample
1999. 2000a. 2000b). These scholars have pioneered presented here includes the Greek mainland and the
methods of archaeoastronomical research. leading Aegean islands of Aigina. Delos. Kos. Naxos. Poros,
to new directions with regard to the contribution of Rhodes, Samos, and Tenos. The dataset includes
archaeoastronomy to the reconstruction of past so- different types of sites, including temples located in
cieties and practices (Ghezzi and Ruggles 2007). organically grown settlements that demonstrate the
and wherever possible in conjunction with ancient continuity of a cult over several successive temples
written sources (McCluskey 2006; Vail and Aveni constructed in the same location. Settlements that
2004). This paper challenges for the first time the argu- developed organically are important to this study, as
ment that Greek temples had a predominantly eastern they allow the examination of patterns of continu-
orientation, raising as a result serious doubts about ity and. more importantly, observations of changes
the assumed role of the Sun in the orientation of many in the orientation between successive structures. In
Greek temples. The study presents a general analysis some cases as many as four reconstructions of the
of the orientation of 107 Greek temples from the Greek same temple have been measured (e.g., the temples

VOLUME XXI 2007-2008

Table 1. List of the structures included in the dataset of this study

ID Location Site Building Azimuth Altitude Declination

1 Acheron Oracle of the dead Main sanctuary 4 3 53 21

2 Acheron Oracle of the dead Palace of Hades & Persephone 4 0 50 1
3 Aegina Sanctuary of Aphaia Temple of Aphaia 67 1.5 18 35
4 Amphipolis Sanctuary of Attis Temple of Attis 101 4 -5 56
5 Amphipolis Thesmophorio Thesmophorio-Nymphaion 165 11 -36 28
6 Argos Heraion Old Temple of Hera 118 3 -19 12
7 Argos Heraion New Temple of Hera 119 3 -1956
8 Athens Acropolis Parthenon 11 2 11 7
9 Athens Acropolis Temple of Athena Polias 85 3.5 5 48
10 Athens Acropolis Erechtheion 353 3 54 15
M Athens Agora Metroon 102 4.5 -1
12 Athens Agora Temple of Apollo Patroos 97 4.5 -2 59
13 Athens Agora Temple of Zeus & Athena Phatria 99 4.5 -4 33
14 Athens Agora Hephaisteion 104 5 -8 6
15 Athens South slope Old Temple of Dionysos 75 3 13 21
16 Athens South slope New Temple of Dionysos 75 4 1400
17 Bassae Sanctuary of Apollo Temple of Af>ollo 4 14 62 1
18 Calydon Ancient Calydon Temple of Apollo 129 1 -29 4
19 Calydon Ancient Calydon Hercwn 180 0.5 -51 36
20 Calydon Ancient Calydon Temple of Artemis 122 3 -22 34
21 Corinth Agora Temple of Apollo 11 3 12 1
22 De los Sanctuary of Apollo Letoon 186 1 -5140
23 Dlos Sanctuary of Apollo Artemisio 108 3 -12 37
24 Dlos Sanctuary of Apollo Temple G 347 2 52 19
25 Dlos Sanctuary of Apollo Poros Temple of Apollo 265 0.5 -4 11
26 Dlos Sanctuary of Apollo Temple of Apollo (Athenians) 263 0.5 -5 23
27 Dlos Sanctuary of Apollo Great Temple of Apollo 264 0.5 -4 59
28 Dlos Sanctuary of Apollo Dodekatheo 97 3.5 -3 33
29 Dlos Sanctuary of Foreign Gods Heraion 172 7 -45 8
30 Dlos Sanctuary of Foreign Gods Serapeion C 178 2 -50 52
31 Dlos Sanctuary of Foreign Gods Temple of Isis 268 0 -145
32 Dlos Sanctuary of Foreign Gods Serapeion A 297 2 22 24
33 Dlos Sanctuary of Mount Kythnos Temple of Zeus 286 0 12 17
Hypsistos Mount Kythnos
34 Dlos Sanctuary of Mount Kythnos Sanctuary of Artemis Locheia, 85 0 3 37
Hercules-Baal Zeboul, gods of
33 Dlos Sanctuary of Mount Kythnos Sanctuary of Agathe Tyche 266 0 -3 32
36 Dlos Theatre district Aphrodi.sion 170 9 -42 45
37 Delphi Sanctuary of Apollo Old Temple of Athena Pronaia 177 7 -44 34
38 Delphi Sanctuary of Apollo Temple of Apollo 49 27 47 49
39 Delphi Sanctuary of Apollo Old Temple of Apollo 49 27 47 49
40 Delphi Sanctuary of Apollo Temple of Athena Pronaia 190 8 -42 42
41 Dion Sanctuary of Demeter Temple A 64 0 192
42 Dion Sanctuary of Demeter Temple 1 70 0 14 37
ID Location Site Building Azimuth Altitude Declination

43 Dion Sanctuary of Demeter Temple B 78 0 8 37

44 Dion Sanctuary of Demeter Temple 2 71 0 13 52
45 Dion Sanctuary of Demeter Small temple with offering table 61 0 21 12
46 Dion Sanctuary of Egyptian Gods Temple of Isis 162 1 -46 7
47 Dion Sanctuary of Egyptian Gods Temple of Hypolympia Aphrodite 68 0 166
48 Dion Temple of Zeus Temple of Zeus Hypsistos 150 1.5 -40 32
49 Dodona Oracle of Zeus Temple of Aphrodite 116 8 -!4 15
50 Dodona Oracle of Zeus Temple of Themis 129 7 -23 51
51 Dodona Oracle of Zeus Temple of Zeus {hiera oikia) 125 7.5 -20 50
52 Dodona Oracle of Zeus New Temple of Dione 110 8 -9 56
53 Dodona Oracle of Zeus Old Temple of Dione 176 12 -38 23
54 Dodona Oracle of Zeus Temple of Hercules 158 3.5 -42 35
55 Eleusis Sanctuary of Demeter & Kore Megaron 111 2 -15 27
56 Eleusis Sanctuary of Demeter & Kore Telestirio-Solonion 115 2 -18 29
57 Eleusis Sanctuary of Demeter & Kore Telestirio-Peisistratid 115 2 -18 29
58 Eleusis Sanctuary of Demeter & Kore Ploutoneion 103 2 -9 18
59 Gortyn Asklepieion Temple of Asklepios 108 20 -1 12
60 Isthmia Sanctuary of Poseidon Old Temple of Poseidon 98 0 -6 35
61 Isthmia Sanctuary of Poseidon New Temple of Poseidon 97 1 -5 4
62 Kos Asklepieion Large Temple of Asklepios 25 1 4647
63 Kos Askiepieion Prostyle Ionic Temple of 114 2 -18 13
64 Lebade i a Temple of Zeus Temple of Zeus Vassileus 64 0 20
65 Mantineia Agora Temple of Hera 93 8 2 32
66 M an ti ne i a Agora Podare i on 86 8 83
67 Megalopolis Agora Temple of Zeus Soter 101 4.5 -5 58
68 Messe ne Asklepieion Temple of Asklepios 115 11 -12 11
69 Messene Asklepieion Temple of Artemis 129 11 -2156
70 Messene Asklepieion Artemision 115 11 -12 11
71 Messene Asklepieion Oikos Asklepeiou & Paidon 215 1 -40 30
72 Naxos City Temple of Apollo Portara 140 0 -38 6
73 Naxos Sanctuary of Dionysos Old Temple of Dionysos 203 4 -43 46
74 Naxos Sanctuary of Dionysos Temple of Dionysos 202 4 -44 11
75 Naxos Sagri Temple of Demeter 213 0 -42 30
76 Nemea Sanctuary of Zeus Temple of Zeus 75 7 168
77 Nemea Sanctuary of Zeus Old Temple of Zeus 75 7 168
78 Olympia Sanctuary of Zeus Temple of Zeus 83 3 7 28
79 Olympia Sanctuary of Zeus Heraion 87 2 3 39
80 Olympia Sanctuary of Zeus Pe lope ion 208 3 -42 8
81 Pella Thesmophorio Thesmophorio 267 2 -1 1
82 Pella Thesmophorio Thesmophorio 84 1 447
83 Pe rae hora Heraion Temple of Hera Akraia 93 12 54
84 Poros Sanctuary of Poseidon Temple of Poseidon 68 2 18 13
85 Pylos Nestor's Palace Hiero-Oplostasio 147 2 -37 18
86 Pylos Nestor's Palace Queen's Hall SW entrance 220 0 -35 27
Table l.(Cont.)

ID Location Site Building Azimuth Altitude Declination

87 Pylos Nestor's Palace Megaron 147 3 -36 23

88 Rhodes City of Rhodes , Temple of Aphrodite 93 0 -3 5
89 Rhodes Ialyssos ' "^ Temple of Athena Polias & 184 0 -53 57
1 Zeus Poiieos
90 Rhodes Kameiros Temple of Pythian Apollo 357 0.5 53 36 ;
91 Rhodes Lindos. Acropolis Temple of Lindia Athena 34 0 4121
92 Samos Heraion Rhoecus Temple 79 0.5 8 47 ..
93 Samos Heraion Hekatomhedon II 79 0.5 8 47
94 Samos Heraion Greater Temple of Hera 79 0.5 8 23
95 Samos Heraion Hekatombedon I 77 0.5 9 57
96 Sikyon Acropolis & Agora Temple of Artemis or Apollo 95 2 -2 49
97 Sounio Sanctuary of Poseidon Temple of Poseidon 105 1 -1137
98 Sounio Sanctuary of Poseidon Great Temple of Athena 98 1 -67
99 Sounio Sanctuary of Poseidon Small Temple of Athena 103 1 -10 3
100 Sparta Sanctuary of Artemis Orthia Temple of Artemis Orthia 100 4 -6 16
101 Tegea Temple of Athena Alea Temple of Athena 87 5 5 24
102 Tenos Sanctuary of Poseidon Building B 194 0 -5047
& Amphitite * .

103 Thermum Ancient Thermum Temple of Apollo 191 5 -45 26

104 Thermum Ancient Thermum Megaron A 194 5 -44 44
105 Thermum Ancient Thermum Megaron B 196 4 -45 9
106 Tiryns Palace Temple of Hera ISO 2 -50 42
107 Tiryns Palace Megaron 180 2 -50 42

of Hera in Samos). Sites on eoasts (e.g., Peraeiiora). before they were laid out have been included in the
in plains (e.g., Messene, Athens), and on hilltops or sample (e.g.. Rhodes).
mountains (e.g., the Menelaion near Sparta and the
temple of Apollo at Bassae) are also included in the Field Methodology
dataset. The sample contains not only temples that The measurements comprising this study were col-
belonged to settlements of various sizes but also those lected using a magnetic compass and clinometer over
with aecess to a number of different resources: some four field seasons. A compass, duly corrected for
have limited local trade routes, while others were magnetic declination, will only determine the direc-
cosmopolitan trade centers and therefore subject to a tion relative to true north to an accuracy of around
variety of cultural influences. The study also includes one degree. Taking into account the highest level of
temple measurements from sanctuaries located out- astronomical precision that the ancient Greeks would
side and on the boundaries of urban centers (e.g.. the have been capable ofmeasuring,this level of accuracy
Thesmophorion-Nymphaion in Amphipolis) as well is considered adequate. Local magnetic anomalies
as temples independent of the control of a certain city were tested in two ways. Minor anomalies were tested
(e.g., the sanctuary of Apollo in Delphi). Wherever by several measurements taken along each of the long
possible, cities that were planned from the outset walls of rectangular structures and from either end of
and followed town-planning concepts and principles the wall. Great magnetic anomalies that could have

" ' lathfTiia
Nemea Cortrim
iNBinea 00(10111 ml' i ) -^
^ A
Mantineia, ,ArgoB Afegina Soiinio
impja Gortyn lyns Poros y.
eassa Megaiopos

"3 o

SO 100 150 200 Miles

0 50 100 150 200 250 300 Kilon

FiURir; I. Map of ancient Greece showing the sites included in this study. One hundred and seven measurements ot temple
t)ricntations were collected from 42 sites. The map shows 40 sites. The two sites missing are located in Athens. The point
for Athens covers, therefore, three sites: the Acropolis, the south slope, and the Agora. Outline map created by R. A.
LaFleur and Tom Elliott. Copyright 2000-2001, Ancient World Mapping Center,

affected a large geographical area were examined by magnetic orientation of each point and the altitude of
studying the geology of sites prior to their survey. the horizon on that orientation. These measurements
The structures of this study were all of rectangular were repeated until the entire horizon profile was
shape. To determine their orientation the magnetic recorded, and all measurements were taken from the
bearing was recorded along each of the long walls center of the temple's entrance.
from either end. In those cases where only half of the I have attempted to ensure that data collection was
structure survived, the long and the short walls were as inclusive as possible. And although decisions had
measured from either end. This repetition of mea- to be made about what sites would be included, the
surements was necessary to ensure the most accurate decision to include temples was mostly driven by
readings of the temple's orientation. In addition to factors of site preservation and accessibility during
measuring the magnetic orientation of each structure, field work.
liorizon profiles were also recorded for the horizon
surrounding each structure.The horizon profiles were Data Reduction
measured using a compass and a clinometer, and This study improves the methods of analysis applied
ihcsc measurements involved the combination of the to the orientations compared with previous studies

VOLUME XXI 2007-2008

by accounting for the height of the local horizon The peak of the curve is the deduced declination. The
(altitude), refraction, and atmospheric extinction. curve of each declination is centered on the median of
The temple orientations have been converted to dec- all the measurements of the structure's orientation and
linations using the command-driven DOS program with a standard deviation determined by combining
GETDEC created by Clive Ruggles (http://www the standard deviation of those measurements with the uncertainty in the magnetic declination. These
which makes corrections for atmospheric refrac- eurves allow us, therefore, to investigate the patterns
tion and extinction (Table 1). In order to obtain the of emerging distribution, with the added advantage
declination of a structure, GETDEC requires the of avoiding the display of a false accuracy (given the
structure's latitude, the magnetic orientation, the limited precision of the instrument used) that a simple
horizon's altitude, and the magnetic correction. This point in the place of the curve would have offered.
means that each declination obtained is specific to the
particular horizon and location. The term declination The Orientation of Greek Temples
in this sense, used when discussing the orientation of Graph 1 shows the distribution ofthe deduced temple
a structure, needs to be explained. Declination is the declinations. Three general groups of orientations are
angular distance between a celestial object and the depicted in the graph. The largest group of measure-
celestial equator, whether to the north or the south; it ments points broadly east and west, spanning the
is the celestial counterpart of terrestrial latitude. As declination range -30 to -1-23 with distinct borders at
a result, a structure as sueh cannot have a declina- the northern and southern ends. The vast majority of
tion. This term is employed throughout this paper in this group falls within the solar range (Graph 2, high-
order to denote the exact part of the celestial sphere lighted section). Within this group there is a particular
toward which the structure is oriented and to therefore concentration of declinations between -8 and +H.
be compared to the celestial objects with the same This concentration, if interpreted in terms of sunrise
or similar declination or "celestial latitude." In the or sunset, represents a range of dates falling roughly
present context the declination is more informative within one month of the equinoxes. If we were to
than the azimuth (bearing of magnetic compass) of argue that the position ofthe rising or setting Sun on
a structure. This is because by using declination we the horizon at the time ofthe equinoxes was used as
instantly account for extinction, latitude, and the alti- a factor in orienting some Greek religious structures,
tude of the local horizon aligned with the structure's we would expect that the distribution of such a group
entrance. In addition, the use of declination enables a of declinations would show an accumulation of data
direct comparison between the orientation of a struc- at the time of the actual equinox (declination 0). As
ture and the position of a specific celestial object, or shown in Graph 1, the dataset includes no structures
a position on the horizon. oriented between 0 and 2, only two structures have
The declinations of horizon points indicate which declination -1, and one structure declination -2.
celestial bodies rise and set there and (once preces- This very distinct absence of data in the range of the
sion, refraction, atmospheric extinction, and proper Sun rising at the actual equinox may signify that the
motion are allowed for) which ones would have risen concentration of data around the equinoxes, although
or set there at any given era in the past. Furthermore, empirically real, could be an example of "unintended
by obtaining declinations for spcifie points along astronomical alignment by those who constructed it"
a horizon (horizon profiles), we can calculate the (Ruggles 2000b: 152).
declination of any point on the horizon profile and The declinations falling within the east-west
hence reconstruct the celestial bodies visible at that group comprise 65.3 percent ofthe total amount of
particular horizon at different times. The orientations data (70 measurements). Of the 70 measurements be-
were plotted in the form of cumulative frequency dis- longing to this group,eight face toward the west: the
tribution (curvigram). Each declination shown in the Poros temple of Apollo, the temple ofthe Athenians
following graph is represented by a computed curve. and Great temple of Apollo, the temples of Zeus

Temple declinations

TI I I I t i l I I I I I I r I I I I M I f i f i I I 11 t I I r n Tn I I I I fi M r r 111

GRAPH I. The distribution of the orientations of 107 Greek temples from 900 to 200 B.C. The Y axis shows the temple
count. The graph includes adjustments for standard deviation. Southern declinations are between -60 and -40 (to the left).
Western and eastern declinations overlap in the center, and northern ones are between +40 and -i-70 (to the right).


oxo p p p p p p p p p p p p p p p p p p p p p p
CM CM T- t -
(N t CJd o t o o m o i o o i o o
GRAPH 2. Reproduction of the distribution of data, displaying the range of declinations visited by the Sun during its annual
movement (-24 to +24) (highlighted section). In the highlighted area both eastern and western declinations are included.
This group comprises 58 percent of the total sample facing toward eastern declinations and 7.4 percent of the total sample
facing toward western declinations.

Hypsistos and Agathe Tyche on Mount Kythnos, the total data than earlier conclusions: Dinsmoor argued
temple of Isis and the Serapeion A in the Sanctuary that 73 percent of Greek temples were oriented within
of Foreign Gods, all from the islandof Delos.and the 60 of due east ( 1939:1 LS-116). The present sample
west entrance of the Thesmophorion in Pella. This indicates that the eastern-facing temples are not as
result deduces that the eastern declinations are there- predominant as previously thought, and in addition,
fot^ 62, comprising 58 percent of the total sample the distribution of the orientations shows a much
collected for this study. This result confirms earlier greater variation that cannot be ignored or explained
indications that a large number of Greek temples face by the movement of the Sun.
toward the east. However, the eastern orientations of Graph 1 shows the presence of a second group
this study comprise a considerably smaller part of the of data formed toward the southern part of the sky.

VOLUME XXI 2007-2008 11

Temple declinations

r "T
q q o q q q q q q q
o ci d d d d d o d d d
GRAPH 3. Declinations of twelve temples dedicated to Apollo.

ranging between declinations -55 and -34. This ples constructed over Mycenaean megara (Apollo in
group cotnprises 25.2 percent of the total sample Thermon [three structures] and Dionysos in Naxos),
(total number of measurements 27). As neither the a temple dedicated to a foreign deity (temple of Isis
Sun nor the Moon visit these declinations, if the in Dion), as well as the Heraion (two temples) and
orientation of these structures was related to astro- the Aphrodision in Delos.
nomical observations, this could only involve stellar Finally, a small cluster of data is observed in the
observations. The constellations rising and setting in northern declinations (-f-40 to -1-68) representing
the declinations covered by this group are Centaurus 8.4 percent of the total sample (nine measurements).
(KVTQvgo or XfLyiov for the Greeks). Lupus (for This cluster includes only cults of Apollo and chthon-
the Greeks a wineskin from which the Centaur was ic cults. The Apollo temples falling in this group are
about to drink, or the Therion [01]QLOV], meaning those in Delphi. Bassae,in Kameiros of Rhodes, and
"wild animal"). Ara (the Greeks called it Thytrion temple V in Delos. Although these form a significant
or Thysiasterion [0X)Tf]QLOV or 0DaLaoTf|Qiov], part of the surveyed temples dedicated to Apollo, it
meaning "altar"), Vela (for the ancient Greeks the sail should be noted that the remaining surveyed temples
of the constellation of Argo [Argo Navis]), the south- of Apollo are oriented toward different parts of the
em part of Sagittarius (for the Greeks Toxeutes or horizon (Graph 3). The temple of Apollo in Corinth
Toxotes [To^euTTi orTo^Tr)q], meaning "archer"), and that of Apollo Patroos in the Athenian Agora face
Phoenix (the Egyptian Bennu, possibly named the east: the temple of Apollo Erethymios in The-
Phoenix by the Greeks), and the southern part of ologos, in Rhodes, is oriented to the northeast; that
Eridanus (EpLOavc or I l o T a ^ in Greek, the latter of Calydon is toward the southeast; and the temples
meaning "river"). Although perhaps unintended, a of Apollo in Naxos and in Thermon face south. The
concentration of data is observed between declina- northern orientation of the Delian temple F. although
tions -42 to -46" of 13 structures. These structures of much earlier date, can he contrasted to the other
do not indicate a preference with regard to a specific Apollo temples on the island, all of which are oriented
deity, chronological period, or geographic location. toward the west. It is possible that Apoo being the
This subgroup includes hero cults (Pelopeion in only ouranic deity represented in this northern group
Olympiaand the temple of Herakles in Dodona).other could be a deliberate choice, but further investigation
chthonic cults like the two temples of Athena Pronaia is needed in order to examine possible reasons behind
in Delphi and the temple of Demeter in Nax.os, tem- such a choice. Such a study would need to contain

an in-depth analysis of each Apollo cult, the material the horizon do not seem to have been associated with
culture, and the local horizon and landscape. A study the orientation of the temples either. The Moon's path
of the Delphic temple of Apollo has indicated that along the horizon is similar to that of the Sun. hut it
its orientation may have been connected to stellar moves a little farther north and south (shaded darker
ohservations.and,morespecifically,it seems possible in Graph 4). As such, it appears difficult to determine
Ihat the orientation of the temple, the operation of the whether the orientations of the east-west group could
Delphic oracle, and the presence of Apollo in Delphi be associated with the movement of the Moon or that
for a certain number of months may have been related of the Sun. However, if the former were the case,
10 the movement of the constellation of Delphinus we would expect to find measurements falling also
(Salt and Boutsikas 2005). within the part of the horizon that is only visited by
This group of northern orientations includes the the Moon: declinations -24 to -30'' and +24*^ to +28
following hero cults: the Doric letnple of Asklepeios (extending on either side of the solar range). Graph 4
in Kos. the north porch of the Erechtheion in Athens, shows explicitly that only one structure (the letiiple
and the axis of the oracle of the dead in Acheron. of Apollo in Calydon) is oriented within the space
which also includes the underground palace of Hades between the end of the solar range and the southern
and Persephone. Although the evolution of the cult of and northern major lunar limits.
Asklepeios from a mortal physician to a Thcssalian The data have also been divided into chronological
hero, to a chthonic oracular demon to a Panhellenic periods in order to investigate whether a practice of
Apollonian deity with mantic character is complex deliberate general orientation of Greek temples was
(Compton 2002:320-321), in Kos his cult devel- introduced at a specific period or whether, if present, it
oped to an important state cult, retaining, however, declined afteracertain time. In the vast majority of re-
its chthonic character. The temples of Asklepeios in ligious sites we encounter continuity in the construc-
Kos have different orientations, but they all face the tion of religious buildings: the destruction of temples
altar (from different directions). With regard to the from natural disasters (e.g., the temple of Apollo at
Erechtheion. a recent study of the stnicture and the Delphi, destroyed in 373 B.C. by an earthquake) or
north porch indicates that the north porch and the west by human action {e.g.. the destruction of the temple
celia were of greater cultic significance to the east of Poseidon at Sounion by the Persians) was followed
porch and celia and that this northem orientation may by their replacement with new structures. The new
have been deliberate and associated with the move- temples were built either adjacent to or on top of the
ment of the constellation of Draco (Boutsikas 2001). old foundations, always dedicated to the same deity.
As is apparent from Graphs 1 and 2 and Table l.the As ritual practice changes on a slow timescale even in
datasel presented here displays no preference toward cases of rapid social change, the chances of identify-
the cardinal points. The largest number of data accu- ing trends are greater, as they may be sustained long
mulation toward a cardinal point is that facing east, enough to be picked up by the archaeological record
with, however.only five structures facing within 3 of (Ruggles 20(X)b: 163).
due east (jusl under 4.7 percent of the dataset). Three The investigation of changes in orientation as a
structures of the examined sample face due south result of the precession of the equinoxes between
(within 3), two in Tyrins and one in Calydon, and successive building phases cannot be examined at this
only one due north (Rhodes) and due west (Pella).The stage. In order to do so it is necessary to determine
analysis of the sample demonstrates a distribution of the celestial body toward which the structure was
orientations that is much wider than the range in the aligned, but such a conclusion needs to be determined
horizon visited by the Sun (Graph 2). It is evident through the examination of archaeological and liter-
that the movement of the Sun alone is not sufficient ary evidence rather than by using the orientation of
to explain the orientation of Greek temples. subsequent structures in order to fix on a celestial
In examining the possibility of lunar associations. body that simply shares the orientation. In the case
Graph 4 shows that the lunar rising or setting points in of Greece there is no single celestial body that could

VOLUME XXI 2007-2008 13

Temple declinations

eclinatiorT "

GRAPH 4. Reproduction of the distribution of the dataset. with the annual path of the Moon shaded darker (-30 to +28).
superimposed on the solar declination range.

Temple declinations

o p p p
d d d d

GRAPH 5. Distribution of sample dating to the Archaic period (700^80 B.C.) (30 structures).

have determined the orientation of all or the majority riod (Graph 6) is representative of those generated
of temples. for the other periods also. As demonstrated also in
The declinations from this study were split into these two representative graphs, this analysis shows
subgroups by chronological period as determined no visible shift between the consecutive periods.
by archaeological finds: Geometric (900-700 B.C.), The graphs generated by the division of the data into
Archaic (700^80 B.C.). Classical (480-330 B.C.), the aforementioned chronological periods depict the
and Hellenistic (330 B.C.-A.D. 14). The results of same three clusters of data that have been discussed
this analysis produce graphs that in terms of their dis- previously (east-west, north, south).
tribution patterns are similar to those of Graph 1. The A preliminary study of the sites included in this
two largest chronological groups were for the Archaic study indicates a frequent shift of orientation between
and Classical periods (Graphs 5 and 6, respectively). earlier and later structures. The dataset includes,
The distribution of the data from the Classical pe- among other cases, four sites with four successive

Temple declinations





GRAPH 6. Distribution of sample dating to the Classical period (480-330 B.C.) (27 structures).

reconstructions ofthe same temple (e.g., the Heraion apparent the need for examining sites with continuity
of Samos and the temples of Dionysos in Sagri, in the construction of religious structures individu-
Naxos), six sites with three successive reconstruc- ally and within their religious context, regardless of
tions (e.g.. the temples of Apollo and Artemis on modern views about the time frame of chronological
Delos), and nineteen sites with two reconstructions periods.
(e.g., the temples of Dionysos in Athens, the temples The general distribution of temple orientations
of Poseidon in Isthmia, and the temples of Demeter reveals clusters of data that may or may not be de-
in Dion). In a number of cases two or more succes- liberately placed by the groups who built them. For
sive temples with different orientations fall in the more conclusive arguments on either the dismissal
same chronological subgroup (e.g., the two temples of the possibility that Greek temples were astro-
of Poseidon at Isthmia and the two temples of nomically oriented or. alternatively, in support of a
Asklepeios in Kos). The general scheme of chrono- case for deliberate astronomical orientation, further
logical periods, as given above, rests on identified investigation of possible reasons and principles be-
changes in technology, the architectural development hind potential deliberate placing of temples would
of structures, and changes in pottery and art. It be- be necessary. The following section discusses such
comes apparent that the boundaries of these periods possibilities.
are not directly applicable to a study that investigates
successive religious structures. Discussion
Graph 7 shows the changes in the temple orienta- Previous research by Dinsmoor, Penrose. and Nissen
tions grouped according to successive structures. In focused on the significance ofthe Sun in the orienta-
the majority of the cases (18 out of 28) there is an tion of Greek temples. To this day this idea has been
observed change in orientation between successive offered as the explanation for the general principles
temples. It is intriguing that in 17 cases out of 18 the behind the orientation of temples. In doing so, how-
change in orientation occurs between the first temple ever, we overlook a very large body of data that falls
and the second. Only in one case (the temple of Athena outside positions in the horizon that are visited by
Pronaia in Delphi) do the first and second structures the Sun. Dinsmoor's ideas have persisted for years
have the same orientation with a change occurring without any attempt at verification or testing by other
in the third. The chronological division analysis and researchers who have used his results. This study
that ofthe orientation of consecutive structures makes forms the first systematic collection and analysis of

VOLUME XXI 2007-2008 15

First temple
Second temple
DThitd temple
Fourth te rrp le

S/te and deity

GRAPH 7. Changes in orientation between successive structures. Orientation measurements from 29 cults (of 72 successive

Greek temple orientations in more than a century. 7.3 percent within the points of the setting Sun. A total
This study takes a first step toward a systematic ap- of 34.7 percent of the sample falls outside the solar
proach by focusing on a geographically smaller area range. This also indicates that we need to explore
that has, however, been surveyed more thoroughly other ideas about temple orientation and that Panhei-
than before. The present dataset does not include lenic trends appear unlikely to explain this pattern.
temples from Asia Minor. Italy, and Sicily, as earlier Had the Sun been the predominant factor determining
researchers attempted. I believe that these areas need orientation, we would expect temples to be oriented
to be surveyed just as thoroughly and to be examined within the solar range alone or at the very least to find
independently before we can attempt to put forward only a few exceptions to this rule. The absence of
an all-encompassing model and interpretation of measurements between the solar range limits and the
Greek temple orientations. major lunar limits (shaded darker in Graph 4). with
This paper provides hard evidence in order to dem- the exception of one measurement. does not support a
onstrate that care should be taken when making gen- lunar explanation either. The Moon revisits positions
eral statements about the direction of Greek temples, in the horizon monthly. Exceptions to this are those
statements that unavoidably bear weight in what we declinations close to the major lunar limits that are
perceive as determining factors for this orientation. visited annually (shaded darker in Graph 4).The prob-
The data presented here suggest that the Sun alone lems of using the Moon as a marker have been noted
was not the all-encompassing phenomenon deter- by ancient writers (Aristophanes Clouds 615-626)
mining the placement of the vast majority of Greek and by modern researchers (Hannah 2005a:47-50;
religious structures. In fact, this appears to be a gross Ruggles 1999:60-63), as has the incompatibility
oversimplification of a much more complex and more of the calendars of the different Greek city-states
interesting pattern of temple orientation and religious (Hannah 2005a:48: Thucydides 5.19.1), and no fur-
practice. The general analysis shows that 58 percent ther discussion is necessary here.
of the temple orientations falls within the points on The general analysis presented here is understand-
the horizon that the rising Sun visits in a year and ably limited: it can enlighten insofar as it indicates

patterns in the material record but "tends to ignore timekeeping method in order for other cities to know
the rich variety and diversity of symbolism that was that the time for a certain festival was arriving.
almost certainly perceived in the celestial and terres- If we suppose for a moment that temples pointed
trial environment by a particular culture" (Ruggles toward a pan of the horizon in which a certain astro-
and Saunders 1993:16). Second, in addition to the nomical phenomenon was observed or predicted at
problems encompassed in the concept of objective the time when the annual festiva! was to be held, this
data,a general visual analysis {like the one presented phenomenon had to be annual, like the religious fes-
here) eliminates the human factor in the depiction of tivals, and connected either to stellar (i.e., the heliacal
trends and the creation of these trends as the result of rising or setting of stars, apparent acronychal rising,
social processes that cannot be subject to prediction apparent cosmical setting) or to solar observations
or universal laws (Ruggles and Saunders 1993:17). (i.e., the point on the horizon where the Sun rises on
Although it is acknowledged that the meaning and a specific day in the year). As the solar explanation
role of the night sky is neither self-evident nor com- can be eliminated at least for the data falling outside
mon between peoples and is, instead, subject to so- the solar range, we may examine the possibility of
cial processes and use (Saunders 1991:13), because stellar associations. Homeric references (circa 750
of the volume of data presented in this paper, only B.C.) to such stellar observations (Iliad 18.483^89,
an analysis of orientation patterns can be presented 22.26-31 ), Hesiod's Works and Ovi {383-384,609-
here. 611) (circa 100 B.C.), and the use of parapegmata
from at least the fifth century B.C. (Hannah 2005b)
New Directions testify that alternative timekeeping methods to the
Epigraphic, literary, and archaeological evidence lunisolar calendar were known and practiced by the
attest that several minor games, competitions, and Greeks since the Geometric period. These methods
celebrations were held in Greek sanctuaries. Usually were thus available in those cases when precise time-
there was one major festival that was considered the keeping was of the essence, such as the performance
largest and most important, held in honor of the deity of agricultural activities. In the religious sphere we
to which the sanctuary and the main temple within it know that the gods had to receive their sacrifices at
were dedicated.This festival would usually take place the correct time every year (Aristophanes Clouds
on a set day in the year, most commonly annually or, 615-626). The use of star calendars for religious
in the case of major Panheilenic sanctuaries, every purposes is much easier to demonstrate during and
twoorfouryears. with minorcelebrationson the same after the Classical period. Astronomical observations
day in the other years. It was important to ensure that based on the fourth-century paragegma of Eudoxos
festivals were held on the correct day and that the are displayed in an Egyptian papyrus from Hibeh,
calendar did not move out of season. Lunar calen- a festival calendar dating to 3{X) B.C. that recorded
dars make such a requirement difficult. The Greeks astronomical movements of interest to the religious
were well aware that the lunar cycle (approximately authorities, assisting in the keeping of the festival
29.5 days) does not fit into a year comprised of 365 celebrations: "in time with the agricultural seasons to
days. They compensated for this by intercalating an which the cults were attached" (Hannah 2(K)5a:62).
extra month approximately every three years. Each Parapegmata may have been used throughout the
polis had its own calendar, with different month Greek city-states in order to assist with the timing of
names and intercalation times. In addition, although the religious festivals (in addition to other functions).
the new months would always start with the sight- The example of the Pythais in Athens (the religious
ing of the new Moon, this was determined by local procession that the Athenians sent to Delphi every
observations, was far from fixed, and was subject to year) demonstrates clearly that watching the skies
manipulation {Aristophanes Clouds 1134; Trlimpy for a sign (in the case of the Pythais a meteorological
1997:1,5). Those festivals that attracted participants sign) before commencing a religious procession was
from across Greece demanded a more Panheilenic a reality in ancient Athens, at least from the second

VOLUME XXI 2007-2008 17

century B.C. (Dillon 1997:24,234nll8). Rising and rather than regional trends in cult practice, in other
setting stars span the entire range of declinations. words, whether the construction and orientation of a
The plethora of stars in the night sky means there temple were unique and historically situated within
is a strong iisk of identifying totally spurious cor- the particular group that built it.
relations between strticture orientations and stellar
bodies. Thus, it is essential that appropriate criteria Acknowledgments
are employed in order to avoid random and un- This project would not have been possible without
grounded associations. For a convincing case to be the cooperation of the following Greek Ephorates of
made, a study of the orientation of a structure must Classical and Prehistoric Antiquities who have kindly
draw upon epigraphic, historical, mythological, and given me permission to survey the archaeological sites
archaeological evidence when considering possible included in this study: A ' , B ' , P , A', E ' , Z ' , 0 ' , I',
correlations. The simple association of stellar bodies I B \ IZ , KA , KB , KST . K Z \ KH . AF , A Z ' ,
to a structure that is purely based on the structure's AH . I am also very grateful to the British School
orientation is no longer sufficient. at Athens for awarding me the Richard Bradford
Preliminary results from the oracle of Apollo in McConnell Fund for Landscape Studies in 2004,
Delphi (Salt and Boutsikas 2005), the sanctuary of which funded the survey of ihe majority of the sites in
Artemis Orthia in Sparta (Boutsikas 2008), and the the Aegean islands, and to Professor llias Mariolakos
Erechtheion (Boutsikas 2007:119-145) suggest that for his help with questions of a geological nature. Fi-
there may be a connection between the timing of a re- nally, but by no means least, I am indebted to Professor
ligious activity and a stellar event visible in the part of Robert Hannah. Professor Graham Shipley, and
the horizon toward which the main temple in the sanc- Professor Clive Ruggles for their feedback and valu-
tuary was oriented. The temples of Artemis Orthia in able comments on earlier drafts of this paper.
Sparta and Apollo in Delphi may well have been ori-
ented toward the heliacal rising of a particular star or References
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VOLUME XXI 2007-2008 19

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