Abstract: Goddess of Death or Goddess of Grain? A Seventh-Century B.C.E. “Snake” Goddess from the Athenian Agora

In 1932, a large Protoattic votive deposit was discovered lying directly atop the ruins of a Geometric period oval building, located near the southwest corner of the Athenian Agora. This deposit is among the largest and best preserved seventh-century B.C.E. votive assemblages found in all of Attica. Included within the deposit are a number of terracotta tripods, shields, horses, and chariots, as well as a remarkable terracotta plaque of a goddess with snakes. The consensus among archaeologists today is that these terracotta votives are indicative of hero or ancestor worship. A reexamination of the deposit suggests a rather different conclusion: the votives came not from a hero or ancestor shrine, but from a sanctuary to Demeter. The “snake” goddess on the plaque is none other than Demeter herself.

This conclusion has broader implications for the study of religion in early Athens. An examination of terracotta votives at contemporary deity sanctuaries in Athens and Attica suggests that dedications of votive tripods, shields, horses, and chariots provide the earliest evidence that ritual processions and competitions, common at elaborate Late Geometric funerals, became part of festival life at some deity sanctuaries by the beginning of the seventh century B.C.E. As such, these terracotta votives provide valuable insight into a period in which the center of the Athenian ritual world shifted from the grave to the sanctuary.


Short bibliography and/or website on lecture topic (for lay reader):

Hägg, R. 1987. “Gifts to the Heroes in Geometric and Archaic Greece,” in Gifts to the gods: Proceedings of the Uppsala Symposium 1985, ed. T. Linders, and G. Nordquist, Uppsala, pp. 93-99.

Thompson, H. 1978. “Some Hero Shrines in Early Athens,” in State Documents in Archaic Athens, ed. W. A. P. Childs, Princeton, pp. 96-108.

Thompson, H. 1968. “Activity in the Athenian Agora: 1966-1967,” Hesperia 37, p. 60.

Burr, D. 1933. “A Geometric House and a Proto-Attic Deposit,” Hesperia 2, pp. 542-640.

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