Archaic period: The development and the heyday of the Sanctuary

Monuments flanking the Sacred Way
©Ephorate of Antiquities of Phocis, Ministry of Culture and Sports
The role of the Sanctuary during the Second Colonization

The earliest structures associated with the worship of Apollo date back to the late 7th c. B.C. However, votive offerings which came to light in Delphi allow the conclusion that the sanctuary attracted pilgrims even from remote lands, already since the end of the 10th century B.C. The growth of the sanctuary is interwoven with two factors that shaped the social and economic evolution of Greek society: colonization (especially the so-called Second Colonization of the 8th-6th centuries B.C.), and the social and political reforms within the Greek cities, especially the tyrannis. 
The sanctuary of Delphi played an important role in the establishment of the Greek colonies. It is believed that before each mission for the foundation of a colony the city would send an embassy to the sanctuary of Delphi. It is possible, however, that the metropolis itself, i.e. the city from which the colonists originated, had already decided upon the foundation of a colony and then requested approval of the process. In any case, before attempting to establish a colony one would consult Apollo. The oracle was addressed personally to the colonist and was accompanied by a mandate based on which the latter would take on various offices such as that of the king, the religious leader, the military leader and the legislator. The sanctuary continued to monitor the development of the colonies even after they were established. Indeed, in times of social crisis, it would recommend a person to intervene as a judge and restore order. Such was, for example, the case of Demonax from Mantineia who was appointed as katartester (mediator judge) at Cyrene.


The role of the Sanctuary in the sociopolitical developments within Greece

Throughout the Archaic period the Delphic sanctuary was continuously active and involved in the sociopolitical changes, especially those related to societal organization. Sparta maintained very close ties with the Oracle. Despite current doubts concerning Lycurgus and the reforms attributed to him, it is certain that, even since the time of the poet Tyrtaeus (late 7th century B.C.) the role of Delphi in these profound changes had been significant (Her. 1, 65; Plutarch, Lycurgus 29).

There seems to be a close connection between Delphi and tyranny given the fact that in many cases the priests supported the tyrants. The prophecy of the Oracle regarding Cypselus as the future tyrant of Corinth is a characteristic story delivered by Herodotus (5, 92). Cylon enjoyed similar support in his attempt to become tyrant of Athens, but failed because he did not interpret the oracle correctly (Thucydides 1, 126, 5). At times, however, the sanctuary opposed tyranny, as in the case of the Orthagorids at Sicyon (Her. 5, 67).
But as soon as tyranny had served its purpose and could no longer meet the increasing demands of the middle and lower social layers, the sanctuary of Delphi would not hesitate to take a clear opposing stance against it.

In Cyrene, during the reign of Battos III (ca. 550 B.C.), the Cyreneans, who had suffered major disasters during the rule of the previous king, ‘sent (an envoy) to Delphi to ask what regime they should adopt in order to live in a better way. Pythia commanded that they should invite a legislator from Mantineia in Arcadia’ (Arist. Politika 7, 1319b 18-22). The Oracle adopted a similar stance in regard to the late Peisistratid Tyranny: it supported the Alkcmaeonids -the Peisistratids’ primary opponents-, urged the Spartans to overthrow the Athenian tyranny and assisted Cleisthenes in achieving a smooth transition from tyranny to democracy.
The priests of Delphi were also involved in military conflicts: for example, during the Persian Wars their attitude, at least in the beginning, was markedly pro-Persian.

 

The heyday and prestige of the Panhellenic sanctuary

From the 8th until the early 5th century B.C., the sanctuary’s authority and influence reached its peak. The more people sought advice or information from it, the wider its range of expertise became on issues of geography, political balance and social frictions. Successful colonization broadened its influence and reputation and strengthened its leading position as a Panhellenic sanctuary. Furthermore, colonies as well as tyrants endowed the sanctuary with offerings brought by sacred envoys. Despite its conservative attitude on matters of religion and worship, the sanctuary almost invariably supported changes dictated by social needs.
The validity of Apollo’s oracles granted the legislation of the cities authority, as the role of Delphi was to guarantee social peace. The sanctuary did not invest the leaders with prestige by invoking divine command, it supported however their decisions by legitimizing them. 

The earliest temple constructions
The Archaic period is considered to be the time in which the sacred site of Delphi began to take the form known today. The first poros stone temple was built in the sanctuary of Athena Pronaia, but was later abandoned due to damages caused by earthquakes. Similarly, the first historically documented Apollo's temple, also made of poros stone, was built within Apollo’s sanctuary.

The first votive offerings-8th and 7th c. B.C.

In late 8th c. B.C., along with the offerings from all over Greece, imports from the East began to arrive in Delphi. These imported offerings were brought by Greek seafarers from Asia by way of the Greek trading posts of northern Syria (Al Mina, Tyre) and the islands of Crete, Cyprus and Rhodes. During the next century, the temple of Apollo became overwhelmed by a large number of luxurious metallic wares of innovative techniques and unusual decorative patterns. These artifacts originated either from the Near East which was home to the early Assyrian civilization, the Hittites and the state of Urartu (Armenia), or were imitations of eastern originals. Among those early offerings, the bronze tripods stand out: the Delphic tripod bears a particular symbolic value as it is associated with the oracular capacity of Apollo. It also played an important role in the very process of providing oracles, since Pythia could capture and transmit the divine knowledge only when sitting on the tripod that connected her with the chthonic powers.

The temples of the 6th c. B.C.

The first temple of Apollo was destroyed around the mid-6th c. B.C., most probably by an earthquake. Shortly thereafter, the prominent family of the Alcmaeonids fled from Athens to Delphi after their unsuccessful attempt to prevent Peisistratus from establishing tyrannis in their city. Apparently, the Alcmaeonids were seeking to resume their involvement in politics as well as making alliances. Therefore, they took the initiative to raise money from the Greek cities in order to build a new temple, which was completed in 510 B.C. Accordingly, in the sacred space of Athena Pronaia a new poros stone temple replaced the old one that had been demolished due to landslides.


The votive offerings of the 6th c. B.C.

During the 6th c. B.C. Delphi was flourishing. In 590 B.C. the dedication of the Krissa region to Apollo, as a result of the First Sacred War, vastly increased the Sanctuary's wealth. This is the period when the Sanctuary’s political power grows, and rulers seize this opportunity to flaunt their wealth and power by dedicating expensive offerings and statues or even entire buildings. Thus, the large numbers of pilgrims had the opportunity to admire offerings of high artistic value.

The first treasuries were constructed during the 6th century along the Sacred Way leading up to the temple of Apollo. Treasuries were small buildings-dedications to the god, which housed precious ex-votos from the donor city. The first treasury on one side of the Halos, the small open-air square where outdoor rituals took place, was that of the Corinthians. It was dedicated by the tyrant of the city, Cypselus, inaugurating a tradition followed initially by other dynastic families and eventually by the cities as well. In ca. 560 B.C. Sicyon dedicated a monopteros (i.e. single-winged) building. The upper part was adorned with a doric frieze with metopes and triglyphs. The sculptural decoration of this treasury is an excellent example of the archaic art of Sicyon, renowned in antiquity, in which painting with precise contours and details of forms dominated over sculpture. Parts of this frieze were discovered later in the foundations of the Treasury of the Sicyonians. As far as the initial use of the monopteros is concerned, it has been suggested that it was used as a shelter for the chariot with which Cleisthenes won the chariot races of the Pythian Games of 582 B.C.
Next to the austere Doric buildings within the sanctuary of Delphi, the construction of which was ordered by the cities of mainland Greece, one finds the Treasury of the Siphnians which is dated to ca. 524 B.C. and, with its emphasis in architectural decoration represents the style of the eastern Greek islands and the Ionic order. Its remains allow for a rather detailed reconstruction. On the temple’s façade, instead of two columns in antae, the architrave was supported by two Caryatids, precursors to the Caryatids of the Erechtheion.
In the sacred space of Athena Pronaia, just before the dawn of the 5th c. B.C., the inhabitants of Massalia (Marseilles), a Phocaean colony, dedicated a very elegant treasury with exceptional sculptural decoration, probably in order to express their gratitude to the goddess for their victory over the Ligurians.

In terms of the movable artifacts, the city of Argos was the first to dedicate identical oversize statues, the pair of kouroi now exhibited in the Museum of Delphi. This is the oldest monumental ex voto at Delphi and one of the early examples of "great" Archaic sculpture, bearing the signature of the sculptor Polymedes of Argos. Initially, they were identified as Kleobis and Biton, two brothers from Argos, so strong and devout that they carried their priestess mother to the temple of Hera by pulling her cart the entire way. However, according to more recent research the two statues most probably represent the Dioscuri whose cult was widespread in the Peloponnese.
Around 560 B.C. Naxos, the rich island of the Cyclades, sent a magnificent offering to Apollo at Delphi. It is the statue of the mythical Sphinx whose colossal size, imposing form and position in the sanctuary (near Sibyl's rock) highlights the political and artistic prevalence of Naxos during the Archaic period. The demonic creature with the face and enigmatic smile of a woman, the body of a lion and a bird’s plumage, was set upon the capital of an extremely tall ionic column, which is considered the oldest specimen of Ionic order in Delphi. Its colossal size and the height from which it commands the entire Delphic landscape must have been a source of awe for the pilgrims of the Archaic period.
From the same period come the renowned chryselephantine ex votos depicting Apollo, Artemis and Leto, now in the Museum of Delphi.
However, the most famous gifts which are described in detail by Herodotus (A, 51, 1-5) are the votive offerings of the Lydian King Croesus. These include, among others, two oversize craters, a golden and a silver one, four silver pithoi (jars), two perirrhanteria (sprinklers), also a golden and a silver one, and a golden statue of a female, apparently the woman who used to knead Croesus' bread. Some of these offerings were destroyed during a fire; those which were preserved were kept in the treasuries of the Clazomenians and the Corinthians.
“When these offerings were ready, Croesus sent them to Delphi, with other gifts besides: namely, two very large bowls, one of gold and one of silver. The golden bowl stood to the right, the silver to the left of the temple entrance. [2] These too were removed about the time of the temple's burning, and now the golden bowl, which weighs eight and a half talents and twelve minae, is in the treasury of the Clazomenians, and the silver bowl at the corner of the forecourt of the temple. This bowl holds six hundred nine-gallon measures: for the Delphians use it for a mixing-bowl at the feast of the Divine Appearance. [3] It is said by the Delphians to be the work of Theodorus of Samos, and I agree with them, for it seems to me to be of no common workmanship. Moreover, Croesus sent four silver casks, which stand in the treasury of the Corinthians, and dedicated two sprinkling-vessels, one of gold, one of silver. The golden vessel bears the inscription ‘Given by the Lacedaemonians,’ who claim it as their offering. But they are wrong, [4] for this, too, is Croesus' gift. The inscription was made by a certain Delphian, whose name I know but do not mention, out of his desire to please the Lacedaemonians. The figure of a boy, through whose hand the water runs, is indeed a Lacedaemonian gift; but they did not give either of the sprinkling-vessels. [5] Along with these Croesus sent, besides many other offerings of no great distinction, certain round basins of silver, and a female figure five feet high, which the Delphians assert to be the statue of the woman who was Croesus' baker. Moreover, he dedicated his own wife's necklaces and girdles.”
Text: Dr. Cleopatra Ferla, Historian
Translation: Dr. Metaxia Papageorgiou, Archaeologist