Hero-cult in Archaic and Classical Sparta: a study of local religion
Pavlides, Nicolette A.
This dissertation examines the hero-cults in Sparta in the Archaic and Classical periods on the basis of the archaeological and literary sources. The aim is to explore the local idiosyncrasies of a pan-Hellenic phenomenon, which itself can help us understand the place and function of heroes in Greek religion. Although it has long been noted that hero-cult was especially popular in Sparta, there is little known about the cults, both in terms of material evidence and the historical context for their popularity. The first, second and third chapters query the origin and development of herocults and challenge the traditional assumption that Helen, Menelaos and Hyakinthos were 'faded gods‘. They also question the Dorian Spartan adaptation of Achaian heroes for political propaganda. Instead, the evidence at the Menelaion and the worship of Agamemnon and Alexandra/Kassandra, Orestes and others who remain anonymous to us, are viewed as a local phenomenon reflective of the developing communal and social consciousness in Archaic and Classical Sparta. The fourth chapter deals with the heroisation of the recently dead in the context of the possible posthumous heroisation of the Spartan kings and other important communal personalities. Thus, hero-cults are explained and interpreted as a changing phenomenon, which are influenced and shaped by societal dynamics at any given time. It is concluded that in Sparta the boundaries of the divine/heroic/mortal were fluid, which allowed a great variation in the expression of cults. The fifth and sixth chapters study the more intimate relationship of the individual to the hero through a survey of the votive deposits dedicated to heroes and an iconographical analysis of the votives, such as the stone and terracotta reliefs. The study of the archaeological record permits an analysis of the kinds of offerings to hero cults and an evaluation of the architecture that housed such cults. Because of the material and spatial distribution of the votive deposits, I conclude that Sparta had a large number of hero shrines scattered throughout the polis which attests to an enthusiastic and long-lasting local votive practice at a popular level.