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The Importance of Sanctuaries in Greek Culture




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The Importance of Sanctuaries in Greek Culture

In ancient Greece, the value of social interaction made for a platform upon which noble men and tycoon in society could discuss the development of polis. A polis describes a city or urban center in ancient Greece. Sanctuaries were therefore made for influence in implementing policies and discussion of issues that affected society. The political, social and cultural ergonomics of Greek culture was dependent on the value of sanctuaries. The interactions that were made at these sanctuaries sought to acknowledge the common identity between notable people in society, and acquire a basis upon which the elite in society could define the culture and future of polis.

Looking at the structure and fundamental principles of sanctuaries can make for a deeper understanding of their value to Greek societies. Some of the physical structures that defined sanctuaries include an altar, temples, treasuries, and Temenos walls.  They also had ancillary buildings where priests lived. Each of these structures was guided by underlining cultural practices, architecture, and religion. Sanctuaries had different geographical locations that defined their structure. For instance, suburban sanctuaries were found close to residential areas.

Extramural sanctuaries on the other had were located further from the residential areas. There were different political influence the value of sanctuaries all across Greece. For instance, some of the extramural sanctuaries were meant to build monuments that united the people in the countryside. Some of them were even built in rural areas and unnavigable geographical settings like hills. The idea was an appreciation of the natural scenery. The difference in location realized different meaning in social and cultural contexts. For instance, intermural sanctuaries were located between cities. They were therefore not specifically associated with any one polis. Intramural sanctuaries, on the other hand, were found within the wall of a city. Examples of intramural sanctuaries include the Athenian Acropolis (Pedley, 2005).

Sanctuaries were social, cultural and religious grounds. It, therefore, made for the perfect location for different festivals. Greek culture saw several festivals that were irreproachable from the Greek (“Sanctuaries (Early Greek)”, 2017). Their calendar saw the acknowledgment of both lunar and seasonal cycle calendars. Some of the most famous festivals included a procession, sacrifice, and revelry. Other festivals were also celebrated as a result of managing a good harvest. The Thesmophoria, for instance, celebrated the sowing of seeds and ensured to pay homage to different deities in Greek mythology (“Sanctuaries (Early Greek)”, 2017).

Procession festivals marked the physical acknowledgment of the Gods. The Greek were very religious. This made them very sensitive to the value of their faith. Votive, for instance, marked the offering of non-perishable ornaments and objects to the Gods. The idea was to ensure that all persons who came to the sanctuary saw the offering (Pedley, 2005). It also marked the eternal nature of their sacrifice. Sacrifices, on the other hand, were meant to be made sacred. The separation of an offering from the mortal world was the ultimate acknowledgment of the existence of the spirit world. Blood sacrifices involved live animals while bloodless saw the offering of smoke scents up to the heavens (Pedley, 2005).

A prime example of a sanctuary and its function is Olympia. Olympia is a rural sanctuary that was found between Elis and Pisa. Its activity came to light in the 10th B.C. Archeologists have found traces of bronze votives as old as pre-800 BC (Pedley, 2005). Items like the Tripod are significant votives of the 8th Century. The tripod was an influential votive as it was a mark of wealth and social class. It can be defined as the first competitive form of the votive.  In fact, it was used as prizes for the winner in the contest and funeral games. The differences in the design and artistry of tripods made for different meanings. Some of these votives cost as much as 12 oxen at the time (Pedley, 2005). The Greek culture in Olympia, however, became more and more diversified towards the late 8th century. This Renaissance saw a gradual decline in the use of tripods as prestige votives or otherwise. The culture developed a passion for pottery, dining, and drinking.

It is important to note that the use of votives is an important function of the Greek Culture. For instance, some of these votives were used for documentation of Greek mythology. For instance, the Mycenaean Gods were documented on votives. Some of the most prolific Greek Gods, including Zeus and Apollo are documented in some of the linear tablets (Pedley, 2005). It is important to note that the use of the votives during the Dark Ages, (8th-9th Centuries), inspires a communally practiced form of worship. People no longer relied on their rules to define their religion but rather the inscriptions on the votives. This however also led to the increased diversification of votives (Pedley, 2005).

It is important to note that the sanctuaries that were formed in ancient Greek held important functions in the Greek culture. It is in these sanctuaries that much of the Greek culture is documented and was practiced. Political power was also found in these sanctuaries as a result of the value they held to the elite in society. It is through these sanctuaries that a lot of the principles and religious practices that the Greek culture was based on were taught and passed on to the younger culture. Sufficed to say the sanctuaries remain an inherently important historical mark and defining influence on Modern Greek culture and social structure. It is in these settings that they were able to explore different factions of their society and build on it.





Pedley, J. (2005). Sanctuaries and the sacred in the ancient Greek world (1st ed.). New York: Cambridge University Press.

Sanctuaries (Early Greek). (2017) Retrieved 29 January 2017, from