Information about the place ASKLEPIEION OF EPIDAURUS (Ancient sanctuary) ARGOLIS - GTP - Greek Travel Pages

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The Princeton Encyclopedia of Classical Sites


  A city in a recess of the S arm of the Saronic Gulf. Its territory reached to the Gulf of Argos on the W, on the N to the boundaries of Corinth, and on S and E to Hermione and Troezen. In its few well-watered valleys the vine flourished (vine growing Epidauros in Hom. Il. 2.561).
  The city was founded on the rocky hill of the small peninsula of Akte (Nisi) near modern Palaia Epidauros. There are remains on the acropolis of the peninsula (walls and houses), in the sea (submerged remains of the ancient harbor and several buildings belonging to the lower city), and in the neighboring area at Nea Epidauros. Numerous prehistoric and Geometric finds have come from these areas.
  Epidauros took part in the Trojan War (Il. 2.561) and was a member of the Kalaurian Amphictyony during the 7th and 6th c. B.C. (Strab. 8.374). At the end of the 6th c. B.C. its ruler Prokles married his daughter Melissa to Periander, the tyrant of Corinth, who murdered her and annexed Epidauros (Hdt. 3.50-52; Paus. 2.28.8). In the Persian Wars Epidauros sent eight ships to the sea battle off Artemision, 800 men to the battle of Plateia, and ten ships to the battle of Salamis (Hdt. 8.2, 43, 72; 9.28, 31). Afterwards the city was consistently unfriendly to Athens and continued steadfastly in alliance with Sparta throughout the Peloponnesian War and later on, even after the battles of Leuktra (371 B.C.) and Mantinea (369 B.C.). Epidauros was involved in the Lamian War (323-322 B.C.: Diod. Sic. 18.11.2), and in 243 B.C. was a member of the Achaian League (Paus. 2.8.5; Plut. Arat. 24). From 115-114 B.C. on, Epidauros was allied to Rome as a friend. The last mention of Epidauros is in the 6th c. A.D. when it was included in the Synekdemos of Hierokles.
  The Sanctuary of Asklepios
  This was always under the management of the city. It lies SW of it, in the middle of the Argolid peninsula, near the modern town of Ligourio (9 km by the old road, 18 km by the new highway). It comprises 160 sq km in the verdant valley enclosed by Mt. Arachne together with the lower peak of Titthion which lies in front of it, and by Mts. Koryphaion and Kynortion. Here in archaic, perhaps even in prehistoric, times the god or hero Malos or Maleatas was worshiped. He had his own sanctuary, which is a little outside the Sanctuary of Asklepios on the slope of Mt. Kynortion above the theater. Long before the cult of Asklepios and his father Apollo was established the inhabitants of the area gathered at the Sanctuary of Malos in spring to celebrate the regeneration of nature and the end of winter. These festivals, as in Delphi and Delos, were associated with teleological and metaphysical ideas as well as with the operation of the temple as an oracle. The evident relation of this cult to that of Apollo very early allowed a merging of the two. In historic times, Apollo, already the dominant god in the precinct, took on the surname Maleatas.
  Asklepios, the mythical hero-doctor, son of Apollo and Korone, learned medicine from the centaur Chiron. It is not known when the worship of Malos was superseded by that of Apollo and Asklepios. The contention of the Epidaurians that the worship of Asklepios was autochthonous there and not introduced from Trikka in Thessaly, a view which the poet Isyllos also tried to promote in the 4th c. B.C., is not proved. When other places, like Messenia, however, claimed the oldest cult, the temple of Delphi ruled for the Epidaurians (Paus. 2.26.7). Nevertheless, up to the present, the finds from the excavations in the Asklepieion are not older than the end of the 6th c. B.C.
  In the last quarter of the 5th c. B.C. the cult of Asklepios enjoyed a sudden upsurge in Epidauros, to reach its peak in the 4th c. B.C. The Panhellenic Games and horse races, the Asklepieia, which were traditionally held every four years, were enriched around 400 B.C. by poetry and music contests (Pl. Ion 530). At that time the cult spread throughout the Greek world, so that more than 200 new Asklepieia were built, the most notable being in Athens (420 B.C.), in Kos, in Pergamon (4th c. B.C.), and in Rome (293 B.C.)--all under the patronage of the sanctuary in Epidauros. In the 4th c. B.C. the Hellenistic world, under the influence of radical internal and external changes now clung with especial fervor to this new philanthropic god, a healing doctor and savior. The manifest reverence towards the god resulted in the metamorphosis of the sanctuary's enclosure, which had been unadorned up to the 5th c. B.C., into a place filled with countless offerings and monuments, most of them remarkable examples of 4th c. B.C. Greek art. The prosperity of the sanctuary continued through the Hellenistic period. Treasures and choice works of art were ceaselessly heaped up in it. The treasures were looted by Sulla in 87 B.C. (Plut. Sull. 12.6; Paus. 9.7.5) and again by pirates in 67 B.C. (Plut. Pomp. 24.5).
  The sanctuary enjoyed a new flowering in the 2d c. A.D. when, because of the reigning climate of spiritual anxiety, there grew a strong inclination towards religious salvation. In consequence of this inclination new gods were introduced into the sanctuary: Ammon, Sarapis, and Isis, as evidenced by the discoveries there of dedicatory inscriptions. In A.D. 163 the senator Sextus Julius Antoninus gave generously for the repair of many ruined buildings and for the erection of new ones to meet the needs of the sanctuary and of the worshipers. Among these was the Temple of Apollo and Asklepios under the Egyptian epithet (Paus. 2.27.7). It is worthwhile to note that even in the great days of the sanctuary in the 4th and 3rd c. B.C., and again in the 2d c. A.D., while the religious buildings were all of small dimensions, the buildings necessary for visitors and patients (enkoimetenon, baths, gymnasium, katagogeion, stoas, etc.) were two-storied and large, thus surrounding and hiding the others. In A.D. 395 the Goths under Alaric raided the sanctuary. The triumph of Christianity ended the sanctuary's rites in mid 5th c., but Christ and the saints took the place of the healer-god. In the N part of the sanctuary a five-aisled early Christian basilica was built in the end of the 4th c. A.D. Religious healing evidently continued there.
  Ancient literary sources and relevant inscriptions found in the sanctuary give a great deal of information about the cures. Therapy was based on the belief that, since an individual's sickness had a psychosomatic origin, the power to restore health was likewise to be sought within him (Democr.: Diels, Dox. Graec. Vorsokr. II 183.7; 192.4; Galen: Diels II 339.5). The therapy of the doctor-priests, therefore, aimed at the rousing and augmentation of an inner power of restoring health, which was, in fact, the harmony of soul and body (Diels 451; II 463.25). This type of therapy was also practiced by the Pythagoreans, whose founder was held to be the son of Apollo. Although this therapy often led to superstition, it nevertheless presented a basis for scientific medicine and proved the importance of psychosomatic factors in the control of health. Consequently, in the Hellenistic and Roman periods, although the practice of medicine was generally taken away from religious control, doctors traced their lineage and inspiration to Asklepios, and called themselves his descendants.
  The Excavations
  From the middle of the 17th c. travelers came to see the sanctuary. A systematic excavation of it was undertaken in the 19th c., during which most of the remains now preserved were uncovered, as well as important literary inscriptions on stone, among them the Paean of Isyllos. In 1946 a small trial excavation was made in the sanctuary and a small part of the Temple of Apollo Maleatas was studied.
  In the sanctuary a museum houses the fragments of the most noteworthy buildings (the tholos, and the Temples of Asklepios and Artemis) and much of the sculpture, although the rest of the sculpture, particularly that from the Temples of Asklepios and Artemis is in the National Archaeological Museum in Athens.
  The Temple of Asklepios 380-375 B.C.
  Only the foundations are preserved, but the architectural fragments discovered and an inscription concerning the building of the temple allow the reconstruction of its original form. It was the work of the architect Theodotos, and although it was one of the smallest Doric peripteral temples in Greece (6 x 11 columns; 23.06 x 11.76 m) with no interior colonnade and no opisthodomos, still it was one of the most splendidly ornamented, with a floor of black and white marble slabs, and inlays of ebony, ivory, gold, and other precious materials on the door and elsewhere. In the temple stood the chryselephantine statue of Asklepios by Thasymedes of Paros (Paus. 2.27.2).
  In the W pediment was an Amazonomachy. In the E pediment was the Sack of Troy, apparently with 22 figures, 11 male and 11 female, which were perceptibly larger than those of the W pediment. The two groups are basically of a different technique. The figures of the W pediment, although in active conflict, have a soft and flowing form. On the other hand, the figures of the E pediment with their harshly geometrical articulation and forceful constriction, with their drapery schematically rendered in deep folds and sharp-edged ridges or planar surfaces, create an intense chiaroscuro effect.
  The W acroteria, filled out by new fragments, have a central Nike figure, as may be inferred from a new fragment with feathers carved in relief which fits into her left shoulder. The two lateral acroteria are Aurai. The central acroterion on the E side must have been a group of male and female figures, the females represented now only by a left hand. This group must be placed in this position since, unlike all the others, it is worn on all sides, and does not have the cutting necessary for fixing it to the tympanum of the pediment. The corners of the pediment must have been occupied by figures of Nike.
  The above observations on the sculpture are reinforced also by the building inscription discovered in the sanctuary. According to this inscription, Timotheus did the typoi, which must be interpreted as small models of the statues. The making of one pedimental group was entrusted to Hektorides, the other to a man whose name is not preserved. It is also noted that one of the two acroterial groups was entrusted to Timotheus, and the other to a sculptor of whose name only the first three letters, Theo . . . , are preserved. Unfortunately the inscription does not specify which end of the temple each of these men worked on.
  Temple of Artemis
  Late 4th c. B.C. The temple is small, Doric, hexastyle prostyle. Ten columns, which ran around the inside of the temple, were Corinthian. The gutter spouts, of marble like the roof, took the form of dog heads.
  The Tholos or Thumele
  A circular building whose underground center is labyrinthine (diameter ca. 13.36 m), composed of three concentric walls, each of which has a door and beside it a partition running crosswise, closing off the circular passageway in one direction. To get from the outside to the center one must traverse the whole circuit of each passageway, and reverse direction in the next. This building, whose purpose remains unknown, was built in the 6th c. B.C. and is closely associated with the cult of Asklepios. In the years 360-320 B.C. the Argive architect and sculptor Polykleitos the Younger enlarged the building and encircled the original part with three concentric rings (diameter 21.68 m). The outer ring is a Doric peristyle, the next is the wall of the building, and the inner one a Corinthian colonnade. In the center the well-like opening was left. The peak of the conical roof was crowned by an exquisitely worked acanthus. In this new version of the tholos there was abundant use of black and white marble as well as poros. The numerous floral and geometric decorations in the paneling, the orthostates, the parastades, the doors, and the cornice establish this building as one of the most beautiful and most representative of 4th c. architecture. The interior was decorated with painted panels, the work of the painter Pausias.
  Enkoimeterion or Abaton
  A large poros porticoed building of the 4th c. B.C. (70 x 9.50 m), which is divided near the middle into two sections: the E had a single story; the W, which was a little later, had two stories owing to the steep slope of the ground. The building was closed off at the rear by a wall, and in front an open colonnade of 29 Ionic columns supported the roof. An inner row of columns divided the building in two lengthwise; the interspace between the columns was filled by a wall. The sleeping-in of believers took place in this closed-off inner room, which communicated with the open portico through doors. The sleeping-in also took place in the lower floor of the W section. In the SE corner of the enkoimeterion was discovered a well filled with inscribed tablets describing miraculous cures. A square structure at the W end was a fountain of the 4th c. B.C.
  This sacred building, known from inscriptions of the 4th and 3d c. B.C., seems to have been rebuilt by the senator Antoninus (Paus. 2.27). It may have been the temple-style building W of the Temple of Artemis.
  This was a sanctuary dedicated to the Dioskouroi, which is known from inscriptions of the Roman period. Some authorities place it near the Temple of Artemis, others to the NE of it.
  The Old Abaton
  An almost square building (24.30 x 20.70 m) of the second half of the 6th c. B.C., with closed passageways surrounding it on three sides.
  Baths of Asklepios and the Library
  Located at the NE corner of the enkoimeterion, they were probably built by the senator Antoninus.
  Temple of Aphrodite (?)
  This name is applied to a temple which is unique in the Peloponnese. It is pseudoperipteral, set on a krepidoma of four steps. Across the front are four Ionic columns, and in back of each corner column is another single column. Around the outside of the cella walls ran a row of columns connected to the wall like pilasters. They were placed one at each corner of the E wall, four along the W wall, and five each on the N and S walls. The columns which ran around the inside of the cella were Corinthian. The fine workmanship and the decoration of the architectural members were clearly inspired by those of the tholos, and date this building to the end of the 4th or the early 3d c. B.C. The statue of Aphrodite with a sword, which was found in the sanctuary, may have stood by this temple. It is Hellenistic, possibly the work of Polykleitos the Younger.
  The Cistern
  This is Hellenistic. The baths are NW of it and W of them is a large building of unknown purpose, consisting of a portico, a peristyled court, and a room.
  The Propylaia
  This lies on the NW side of the sanctuary, where the Sacred Road from Epidauros comes ln. The sanctuary, however, was not enclosed by a peribolos wall, and only in the 4th c. A.D. was it protected by a double wall. To the E of the propylaia, a villa was built in the 5th c. A.D. and an Early Christian basilica at the end of the 4th c. The five-aisled basilica with a narthex was dedicated to St. John. To the N of the propylaia was the necropolis of the sanctuary.
  A Large Porticoed Building
  Of the Classical Greek period, with two colonnades, the outer Doric and the inner Ionic. It was repaired by Antoninus (Paus. 2.27.6). West of it were baths built in the Roman period. SW of these is the Sanctuary of the Egyptian Gods (?), which is a square building with a portico on the front and a square court with three entrances behind. Near this shrine was a house of the Late Roman period.
  Palaistra (?). A rectangular structure of the Classical period with a four-sided interior courtyard. The stoa along its N side was perhaps the Stoa of Kotys (Paus. 2.27.6).
  The Gymnasium or Palaistra
  A square building with an inner peristyled court and porticos and rooms along the four sides, like the palaistra at Olympia. The entrance is through a monumental propylon on the NW side. An odeum was constructed in Roman times on the site of the gymnasium.
  Baths of the Classical Greek Period. A rectangular building poorly preserved.
  The Katagogeion
  A two-storied hostelry for the use of visitors to the sanctuary. It contained 160 rooms arranged around four peristyled courts. It is of the 4th c. B.C.
  The Theater
  This is the best preserved theater in Greece, celebrated in antiquity for its beauty and harmonious proportions. The elliptical cavea in the lower story with 34 rows of seats, the entrances to the paradoi, the proskenion, and scene-building, the sloping steps, and the orchestra in the form of a full circle were built of local limestone in the second half of the 4th c. B.C. by Polykleitos the Younger of Argos (Paus. 2.27.5). In the 2d c. B.C. the cavea above the diazoma was added, which, with the lower section, makes 55 rows of seats, giving about 14,000 places. The acoustics of the theater are remarkable, and spectators in the highest seats can hear the actors clearly. At this period additions and changes were made to the scene-building. The W parados entrance was restored with the original materials, while some new material was incorporated in the E.
  The Stadium
  The length is 181 m. It was built in the later 5th c. B.C. and underwent numerous changes and additions from then to the Roman period. At both ends of the track the two stone starting posts are preserved. In the lower part of the sides of the stadium, in the middle, are rows of stone seats dedicated by private individuals, and also the remains of seats for judges and officials of the games. In the N side is an underground passage for athletes. The hippodrome lies SW of the stadium about an hour's walk away. It has not been excavated. To the W of the stadium are the remains of a house of the Later Roman period with peristyled courts.
  The Sanctuary of Apollo Maleatas
  This is much older than the Sanctuary of Asklepios. Its site was inhabited from the Early Helladic period. The finds show a continuous inhabitation to historic times. The Mycenaean finds from a deposit (a steatite rhyton with the representation of a procession, terracotta idols, etc.) show that even at that period the site was sacred. The excavated structures, include a large Temple of Apollo and two smaller buildings (treasuries?) of the 4th c. B.C., a stoa of 300 B.C., an altar and a fountain of the Roman period, etc. The latest of these other buildings was erected by the senator Antoninus.

N. Yalouris, ed.
This text is from: The Princeton encyclopedia of classical sites, Princeton University Press 1976. Cited Nov 2002 from Perseus Project URL below, which contains bibliography & interesting hyperlinks.

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