A New Athena Polias Votive Inscription from the Phaselis’ Acropolis

Adalya 18:121-131 (2015)
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This article presents a newly discovered votive inscription found during the course of the 2013 survey conducted at the ancient city of Phaselis and in its territory. The inscription was found where the stairs to the acropolis from the southwest of the theatre end, in front of the west wall of the tower structure give access to the acropolis. This inscription in the Doric dialect, on a limestone block measuring 0.315 x 0.77 x 0.61 m., records a dedication to Athena Polias. The letters 0.03 m. high, exhibit Late Archaic - Early Classical Period features ( - - - - ) and, consequently the inscription can be dated to the Vth century B.C. Phaselis and its Chief Goddess Athena Polias From the earliest times of Athena worship, especially in the Aegean Islands and Hellas, this goddess was the protectress of cities, institutions and mythological heroes and she manifested this function in various ways. In one of the earliest recorded examples she carries the epithet ἐρυσίπτολις (guardian of the cities), and in another example, in a Linear B inscription discovered in the Palace of Knossos on Crete as Atana Potnia (a-ta-na-po-ti-ni-ja), the mistress of the palace. But perhaps the most striking myth relating to this role of Athena is undoubtedly that of the Palladion statue, the reason for the fall of Troy and for defeat in the Trojan War. In this context, Troy could resist the Achaeans for as long as it was protected by the Palladion, but after it was stolen by Odysseus and Diomedes, the city was captured by the Achaeans. Subsequently, Athens, Argos and Sparta, the most powerful Greek cities, as later the city of Rome, in order to obtain Athena’s protection and so to gain legitimization for the expansion of their empires, invented their own myths claiming that the Palladion statue from Troy was brought to their cities. In another myth the Goddess became the protectress of Tegea through giving Medusa’s hair as a protective image to a hero of the city. Athena’s frequently used epithets, Polias (Πολιάς), Poliouchos (Πολιοῦχος), and the epithet the protectress of the Athenians (Ἀθηνᾶ Ἀθηνῶν μεδέουσα), employed as a means of religious propaganda by the city of Athens when it established the Delian League which subsequently evolved into an empire, clearly indicate Athena was regarded as guardian of the cities. Particularly during the Archaic and Classical Periods, it was this aspect of Athena that, politically placed the Goddess amongst the most important of deities with Zeus and Apollo, and she is most commonly found with the epithet Polias. The epithet Polias or similar, refers in particular to the heart of these cities, to their acropoleis, where Athena Polias was usually worshipped. Her temples located on the heights of the cities made her role particularly visible as the main protecting goddess. One of the best examples of this “visibility”concerns the earliest record of the epithet Polias as, although she wasn’t the chief deity of Argos, within the sanctuary of Athena Polias located on Larisa hill an inscription was found which supplies us with the text of a cult regulation which is datable to the VIth century. B.C.. The Anatolian goddess of Malija, equal to Athena (in Lycia), was attested in Hittite texts from IInd millennium B.C.. This goddess worshipped in Lycia, close to the city of Phaselis, is similarly in a relationship with cities and acropoleis. The Inscribed Pillar of Ksanthos dating from the Vth century B.C. records that many acropoleis were seized with the help of Athena ptoliporthos (πτολίπορθος) “Sacker of Cities”. In the same inscription the city of Patara was named together with Malija and it may refer to the Patara of Malija as in the example of the Lindian Athena (Lindos, city of Athena). Moreover, the goddess Malija was named with the epithet Wedrẽñni (regional, municipal) the equivalent of the epithet Polias in Rhodiapolis. During the great colonization movements (750-550 B.C.) the colonists brought the cult of Athena Polias to many Mediterranean cities, as was the case for example for Lindos on the island of Rhodos. As a matter of fact the strongest ties between Lindos and the colonies which Rhodes founded was the cult of Athena. In consequence, these cities offered precious gifts to the Temple of Athena in Lindos as a demonstration of both their veneration of the goddess and of loyalty. According to myth, the city of Phaselis was colonized in 691/690 B.C. by a group under the leadership of Lakios from Lindos and the Athena cult of the mother city was brought to Phaselis. Thereafter the Phaselitai dedicated the helmets and sickles to Athena Lindia upon which was inscribed, “Having taken them from the Solymoi, the Phaselitai offered them to Athena Lindia, when Lakios was the leader of the colonists”. In addition to this, the other evidence concerning the presence of Athena in the city confirms that this deity was the chief goddess of Phaselis. During the Classical, and especially in the Hellenistic Period, depictions of Athena’s owl, of her Palladion and of Athena Promachos are found. As mentioned above, the epithet Polias usually draws attention to a city’s acropolis with the temple of Athena Polias located there. In the case of Phaselis, the find spot of these votive inscriptions, reused in a wall of a tower that was built in defense of the acropolis, provides an additional indication for the localization of Athena’s temple to the acropolis. This temple most probably was on the acropolis where there are the ruins of a columned building and large ashlar blocks possibly indicating the site of a temple; however, due to the dense vegetation and in the absence of excavations, at present this localisation cannot be stated with certainty. Another reference indicating that Athena Polias was the chief deity of the city was the presence of a holy relic in the Temple of Athena, the spear of the hero of the Trojan War Achilles. During his campaign against the Persians, Alexander the Great stayed in Phaselis in the winter of 334/333 B.C. and he left Achilles’ spear in the Temple of Athena at Phaselis. During the Hellenistic Period, Hellenistic Kings were mentioned with the chief deities of the Archaic and Classical periods as were the emperors in Roman Imperial Period. And according with this practice, the boule and demos of Phaselis worshipped Athena Polias together with the deified emperors, known from an honorific inscription for a certain Ptolemaios. Evidence from the Late Roman Period, especially from the IIIrd century A.D., records the Palladeios agons (ἀγὼν Παλλάδειος) were held in the city in honour of the Goddess Athena. Consequently, philological, epigraphic as well as numismatic evidence shows the Goddess Athena was the chief deity of the city of Phaselis from the Archaic Period into the Late Roman Period. As the epithet Polias on this votive inscription indicates, the goddess had a temple which should be located on the acropolis where the holy relic (Achilles’ spear) was kept and where the officials of the goddess conducted their functions. This new votive inscription provides record of the role Athena occupied in this early post-colonisation period of the city’s political and socio-cultural history. Further, it is also a physical document dating from the city’s Late Archaic-Early Classical Period, aiding in the evaluation of both Phaselis and of the wider region’s history of settlement.

Author's Profile

Fatih Yilmaz
Mediterranean Civilisations Research Intitute


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