AIA Lecture: Columbia University's Excavation Project at the Sanctuary of Poseidon at Onchestos, Boeotia

Ioannis Mylonopoulos

Columbia University

In the summer of 2014, Columbia University’s Department of Art History and Archaeology initiated, under the auspices of The Athens Archaeological Society, the excavation of the sanctuary of Poseidon at Onchestos, the seat of the Boeotian Confederacy and one of the few Greek sacred places mentioned in the Iliad. The excavation has focused on two large areas (Site A: 0.6 ha; Site B: 1.03 ha) between Thebes and Haliartos. During the first campaign, a geomagnetic survey provided much information on architectural remains still hidden in the ground including the existence of a substantial round structure with a diameter of over 131 feet at Site B. Site A corresponds to the sanctuary’s center, the site of the temple. Here, an impressive rectangular building with three, probably wooden, interior columns is currently explored. The structure dates back to the 6th century BCE and was enlarged in the late 4th, perhaps shortly after 338 BCE, when Philip II moved the center of the Confederacy to Onchestos. Site B seems to have been the sanctuary’s administrative center and includes a large square building with an interior courtyard surrounded by colonnades. In addition, a large part of the northern wall of a monumental building from the late 4th century was unearthed. The wall is over 13.1 feet wide and 91.8 feet long. The excavation has already yielded a rich array of finds: vases and vase-fragments (several bearing graffiti), countless bronze objects (including several strigils), bronze and silver coins, weapons (among them a fully preserved sword), objects associated with horse- and chariot races, and many architectural elements (including several architectural terracottas bearing floral and abstract decoration in black, white, and red color on a beige background; fragments of Ionic columns; two Ionic corner capitals). After only three years of excavation, the questions are still far more numerous than the answers, but we can securely state that the site was one of the major sanctuaries of Central Greece.

Ioannis Mylonopoulos is Associate Professor of Art History and Archaeology at Columbia University. He was educated at the University of Athens and the Ruprecht-Karls University Heidelberg (Ph.D. summa cum laude 2001). Prior to his position at Columbia, he was Research Associate at the University of Heidelberg, Assistant Professor at the University of Vienna, Junior Professor at the University of Erfurt, and Fellow of the Harvard Center for Hellenic Studies. He has received fellowships and grants from the Alexander S. Onassis Foundation, the Ernst-Kirsten Society, the Friedrich-Naumann Foundation, the Gerda-Henkel Foundation, and the German Research Council. His book, Πελοπόννησος οἰκητήριον Ποσειδῶνος. Heiligtümer und Kulte des Poseidon auf der Peloponnes, Kernos supplement 13, Liége 2003, which won the Margarete Häcker Award for the best dissertation in Classical Studies in German language in 2002, examines the archaeology and architectural development of sacred sites on the Peloponnese dedicated to Poseidon.

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