August 26, 2008

Soil and Greek temples

This is a fascinating paper, which examines the soil on which Greek temples dedicated to different deities were built, and comes up with an unexpected discovery:
This study of sites of 84 temples of Classical (480-338 BC)Greece found no clear relationship of their sites with geological or topographical setting, or with compass orientation but there was a consistent correlation of soil type with particular deities (Figure 6). Temples to Athena and Zeus on soils of citadels (Anthrept) contrast with those of Artemis and Apollo on rocky soils (Orthent, Xerept) of wilderness. Hera and Hermes were worshipped on clayey soils (Xeralfs) suited to cattle grazing. Sanctuaries of Demeter and Dionysos are on fertile soils (Xerolls) suitable for mixed farming, whereas alluvial soils (Fluvents) of large farming estates were sacred to Hestia, Ares and Hephaestos. Temples of Aphrodite and Poseidon are on arid soils (Calcids) near fishing harbours, but caves were sacred to Persephone and Hades.
The author suggests that this pattern is explained by the coming together of tribes with different economic activities. This is a very interesting paper to read, not least for the beautiful illustrations which accompany it.

Antiquity 82 (2008): 640–657

Rocks, views, soils and plants at the temples of ancient Greece

Gregory J. Retallack

This study explores bedrock geology, topographic setting, compass orientation, soil profile and plant cover at 84 temples of Classical (480-338 BC) mainland Greece, several Aegean islands and Cyprus. A striking pattern emerges: the soil and vegetation matches the dedications to particular deities, suggesting an economic basis for particular cults.

Link

7 comments:

Charles Iliya Krempeaux said...

Is there no link for the article: "Rocks, views, soils and plants at thevtemples of ancient Greece"?

-- Charles Iliya Krempeaux
    http://changelog.ca/

McG said...

This appears to be quite different than the chinese "feng shui". It is interesting to ask why don't the older Greek classics mention this association of soil quality with god/goddess. Feng shui stresses harmony with nature and only doing those things that are in accord with nature. Astronomy and Magnetic fields are believed to have been earliest "forces" in the practice of feng shui.

I don't have access to the full article, but from what you say, the Greek "process" only considered soil type and not other factors like I mention above.

terryt said...

My first reaction was that it was nothing to do with anything like feng shui. Possible it indicates the original association of the different gods with different farming, or at least worshipping, practices. There's no reason to believe all the gods were adopted by the ancient Greeks at a single moment in history.

For example "Hera and Hermes were worshipped on clayey soils (Xeralfs) suited to cattle grazing". And "Sanctuaries of Demeter and Dionysos are on fertile soils (Xerolls) suitable for mixed farming", etc.

terryt said...

Dienekes writes, "The author suggests that this pattern is explained by the coming together of tribes with different economic activities". Makes total sense.

McG said...

I have a little "story" about religion and alcohol. People don't know which came first???

Chinese philosophy is permeated with the concept of energy flow, "chi". Magnetism is the earths energy flow??

Its not clear to me why the early Greeks associated gods/goddesses with soil fertility?? Certainly it had to be after the hunter/gatherers had been displaced? I think there is something more to this which may not be apparent in the data analyzed. Is this some form of nature worship??? Is that how the Greek gods evolved? Sparse as the real Druid literature is, it suggests, like the chinese, an intense belief and observance of nature as they understood it? Astronomy played a strong role in both cultures! JMHO

terryt said...

"Is this some form of nature worship???" That would be my guess.

Antigonos said...

Amazing news!
Thus there was a symbolic meaning of the terrain in the ancient Greeks!
Interesting!
Is there any refference of this attitude to ancient writers though?