Brauron: The Ancient Sanctuary of Artemis

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Brauron. View of the sanctuary of Artemis from the southwest. On the left is the Doric stoa built in the last quarter of the 5th century B.C. The propylon or main entrance to the sanctuary is where the people are standing just to the left of the center of the photo. This photo is 1 of 4 in a panorama moving northeast to southeast (left to right). June 1, 2000.


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By Dr. Kevin T. Glowacki
Associate Professor of Architecture
Texas A&M University

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Brauron is located in eastern Attica, approximately 38 km. from Athens. It was supposedly one of the 12 ancient cities of Attica prior to the synoikismos of Theseus, during which all of these communities were unified with Athens. In the historical period, Brauron was best known as the site of a sanctuary of Artemis, part of which has been excavated. To judge from the numerous votive offerings, the sanctuary seems to have been founded in the 9th or 8th century. The early cult may have focused on a sacred spring and on a cave (sometime identified as the tomb or heroon of Iphigeneia). The first stone temple to Artemis is thought to date to the 6th century B.C. (A subsidiary shrine [“branch campus”?] of Artemis Brauronia may have been established on the Acropolis of Athens in the 6th century by Peisistratos or his sons). Most of the buildings on the site today date from the 5th century, and include a stone bridge and an elaborate stoa with dining rooms. The Temple of Artemis was also probably rebuilt in the 5th century.

Numerous votive reliefs and statues were dedicated in the sanctuary in the late 5th and 4th centuries. An inscription dated to the 3rd century B.C. orders the inspection and repair of several buildings at the sanctuary, perhaps implying some sort of damage or a period of neglect. Sometime later, the sanctuary seems to have been largely abandoned, and the site was buried (and therefore preserved) by the flooding of the nearby Erasinos river. The evidence for any activities in the sanctuary during the Roman period is minimal. Pausanias (1.33.1) mentions an old wooden statue at Brauron in the 2nd century A.D.

The cult of Artemis Brauronia was especially important to women. Artemis was worshipped here as the protectress of childbirth, and women who had successfully given birth dedicated a set of clothing to Artemis. The clothes of women who died in childbirth were dedicated to Iphigeneia. The Athenians celebrated a major state-sponsored festival every 4 years called the Brauronia that involved a procession from Athens to the sanctuary at Brauron. We also learn from a combination of ancient sources and artistic evidence that young Athenian girls between the ages of 7 and 10 (there is some disagreement about the age) “played the bear” for Artemis by serving as attendants in the sanctuary for a year and participating in a ritual that involved dancing or running around an altar. This ritual service, known as the arkteia (“arktos” = bear) is usually interpreted as a rite of passage preparing the girls for puberty and marriage.

Select Bibliography: Archaeology

  • Alavanou, A. 1972. Brauron and Halai Araphenides. Athens.
  • Antoniou, A. 1990. “Vravron. Sumboli stin istoria tou ierou tis Vravronias Artemidos” (diss. University of Thessaloniki), Athens.
  • Camp, J. 2001. The Archaeology of Athens, New Haven and London, pp. 276-281.
  • Bouras, Ch. 1967. I Anastylosis tis stoas tis Vravrovos, Athens.
  • Ekroth, G. 2003. “Inventing Iphigeneia? On Euripides and the Cultic Construction of Brauron,” Kernos 16, pp. 59-118.
  • Hollinshead, M. 1985. “Against Iphigeneia’s Adyton in Three Mainland Temples,” American Journal of Archaeology 89, pp. 419-440.
  • Kahil, L. 1983. “Mythological Repertoire of Brauron,” in Ancient Greek Art and Iconography, ed. W. Moon, Madison, pp. 231-244.
  • Kontis, J. 1967. “Artemis Brauronia,” Archaiologikon Deltion 22 (A’), pp. 156-206.
  • Linders, T. 1972. Studies in the Treasure Records of Artemis at Brauronia found in Athens, Stockholm.
  • Mitsopoulou-Leon, V. 1997. “Tonstatuetten im Heiligtum der Artemis von Brauron,” in Epainos Ioannou Papadimitriou, P. Petrakos, ed., Athens, pp. 379-404.
  • Mylonopoulos, J., and F. Bubenheimer. 1996. “Beiträge zur Topographie des Artemision von Brauron,” Archäologische Anzeiger, pp. 7-23.
  • Papadimitriou, J. 1963. “The Sanctuary of Artemis at Brauron,” Scientific American 208:6, pp. 110-120.
  • Simon, E. 1983. The Festivals of Attica: An Archaeological Commentary, Madison.
  • Themelis, P.G. 1973. Brauron: Guide to the Sanctuary and the Museum, Athens.
  • Themelis, P.G. 2002. “A Contribution to the Topography of the Sanctuary at Brauron,” in Le orse di Brauron. Un rituale di iniziazione femminile nel santuario di Artemide, eds. B. Gentile and F. Perusino, Pisa, pp. 103-116, 223-232.
  • Travlos, J. 1988. Bildlexikon zur Topographie des antiken Attika, Tübingen, pp. 55-80.

Select Bibliography: Ritual

  • Brulé, P. 1987. La fille d’Athènes, Paris.
  • Calame, C. 2001. Choruses of Young Women in Ancient Greece: their Morphology, Religious Role, and Social Functions, trans. D. Collins and J. Orion, Lanham.
  • Cole, S. 1984. “The Social Function of Rituals of Maturation: the Koureion and the Arkteia,” Zeitschrift für Papyrologie und Epigraphik 55, pp. 233-244.
  • Dowden, K. 1989. Death and the Maiden: Girls’ Intitiation Rites in Greek Mythology, London.
  • Faraone, C. 2003. “Playing the Bear and Fawn for Artemis: Female Initiation or Substitute Sacrifice?” in eds. D. Dodds and C. Faraone, Initiation in Ancient Greek Rituals and Narratives: New Critical Perspectives, London and New York, 2003.
  • Gentile, B., and F. Perusino, eds. 2002. Le orse di Brauron. Un rituale di iniziazione femminile nel santuario di Artemide, Pisa.
  • Kahil, L. 1977. “L’Artémis de Brauron: Rites et mystère,” Antike Kunst 20, pp. 86-98.
  • Marinatos, N. 2002. “The Arkteia and the Gradual Transformation of the Maiden into a Woman,” in Le orse di Brauron. Un rituale di iniziazione femminile nel santuario di Artemide, eds. B. Gentile and F. Perusino, Pisa, pp. 29-42, 207-209.
  • Sourvinou-Inwood, C. 1988. Studies in Girls’ Transitions: Aspects of the Arkteia and Age Representation in Attic Iconography, Athens.
  • Sourvinou-Inwood, C. 1990. “Ancient Rites and Modern Constructs: On the Brauronian Bears Again,” Bulletin of the Institute of Classical Studies 37, pp. 1-14.

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Brauron. The Doric stoa in on the left. On the right is the stepped retaining wall that supported the temple of Artemis. View of the sanctuary from the west. This photo is 2 of 4 in a panorama moving northeast to southeast (left to right). June 1, 2000.

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Brauron. The stepped retaining wall that supported the temple of Artemis (c. 500 B.C?) is on the left. On the right is another stone platform (5th century B.C.) near the Sacred Spring, which is visible in the foreground. The Church was Ayios Georgios (15th century A.D) may have been built on the same location as an another sacred building, perhaps an earlier temple of Artemis. View from the northwest. This photo is 3 of 4 in a panorama moving northeast to southeast (left to right). June 1, 2000.

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Brauron. Stone platform, Sacred Spring, and Church of Ayios Georgios. View from the northwest. This photo is 4 of 4 in a panorama moving northeast to southeast (left to right). June 1, 2000.

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Brauron. Another view of the stepped retaining wall supporting the foundations of the temple of Artemis. At right, the platform, Sacred Spring, and Church of Ayios Georgios. View from the northwest. June 1, 2000.

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Brauron. View from the south, standing on the terrace of the temple of Artemis. On the right side of the photo, among the tall grasses, if part of a stone bridge built in the 5th century B.C., before the construction of the stoa. In the center of the photo you can see a series of stone bases with cuttings to support inscribed stelai. Just where the line of the bases ends, where the workman is cutting grass, is the formal entrance to the sanctuary. This photo is 1 of 7 in a panorama moving north to south (left to right). June 1, 2000.

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Brauron. View from the southwest. In the middle of the left side of the photo is the propylon (main entrance) into the sanctuary from the west. The room immediately south of the propylon was dining room. The function of the next room to the south (at the lower right of the photo) is unknown. This photo is 2 of 7 in a panorama moving north to south (left to right). June 1, 2000.

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Brauron. View from the southwest. This photo is 3 of 7 in a panorama moving north to south (left to right). June 1, 2000.

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Brauron. View from the southwest. This photo is 4 of 7 in a panorama moving north to south (left to right). June 1, 2000.

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Brauron. Foundations of the temple of Artemis. View from the west. This photo is 5 of 7 in a panorama moving north to south (left to right). June 1, 2000.

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Brauron. Foundations of the temple of Artemis. View from the northwest. This photo is 6 of 7 in a panorama moving north to south (left to right). June 1, 2000.

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Brauron. Foundations of the temple of Artemis. View from the north. This photo is 7 of 7 in a panorama moving north to south (left to right). June 1, 2000.

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Brauron. The Sacred Spring. Numerous votive offerings were found in the spring, including jewelry, objects of wood and ivory, and pottery. View from the southeast. This photo is 1 of 4 in a panorama moving northwest to northeast (left to right). May 31, 2002.

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Brauron. View from the south. This photo is 2 of 4 in a panorama moving northwest to northeast (left to right). May 31, 2002.

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Brauron. On the right side of the photo you can see part of the foundations of the temple of Artemis. In the background is the Doric stoa built in the last quarter of the 5th century B.C. View from the southwest. This photo is 3 of 4 in a panorama moving northwest to northeast (left to right). May 31, 2002.

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