When it comes to Greek gods, Poseidon is not one of the more beloved ones. The god of the sea, earthquakes, storms, and horses and is considered one of the most bad-tempered and greedy of the Olympian gods. Poseidon is forever linked to the island of Atlantis – it was his domain until he passed it to his son, Atlas, who became its first ruler. The god of the sea also had a number of temples -- at Lycosura, Mantineia, Methydrium, Pheneos, Pallandion. Then there was the temple on a hill in Aegae on the west coast of ancient Euboea, the second largest Greek isle, that was mentioned by Homer in Book 5 of the Odyssey and in Book 13 of the Iliad. However, it is the temple to Poseidon at the ancient fortress of Samikon on the west coast of the Peloponnese peninsula in southern Greece that has been in the news recently. That temple was mentioned by the geographer Strabo in his book, Geographica, which was written as he traveled parts of the world of his time during the late first century BCE and early first century CE.
“Then comes the mountain of Triphylia that sees Macistia from Pisatis; then another river called Chalcis, and a spring called Cruni, and a settlement called Chalcis, and, after these, Samicum, where is the most highly revered temple of the Samian Poseidon. About the temple is a sacred precinct full of wild olive-trees.” (from Geographica)”
Because of Strabo’s accuracy in other lands and structures mentioned in Geographica, it was assumed the temple really existed, even though it had never been found … until now. On the Facebook page of the Austrian Archaeological Institute Athens, the following was announced:
“The sanctuary of Poseidon of Samikon has been discovered!
A team of Greek and Austrian archaeologists from Ephorate of Antiquities of Elis and the Athens Branch of the Austrian Archaeological Institute of the Austrian Academy of Sciences have been excavating in southern Greece in the location mentioned by Strabo in the 8th book of his Geographica – specifically, in the plain below the ancient fortress of Samikon, which he described it as dominating the landscape from its position on a hilltop north of the lagoon of Kaiafa on the west coast of the Peloponnese in the area of Trihylia, Greek for “the country of the three tribes," was described by Strabo as part of the city of Elis, but its residents also had allegiance to Arcadia and Lepreum. The Temple of Samian Poseidon was thought to have been built during the Greek Archaic period from 700 to 480 BCE, and was the center of religious and ethnic identity for the “Amphictyonic League” – the alliance of neighboring states within the Triphylia area.
“During this year's first phase of the five-year research program in Kleidi-Samikon (2022-2026), remains of buildings were found that may have belonged to the sanctuary of Poseidon.”
The program is led by Dr. Erofili Kolia from the the Ephoria for Antiquities of Elis, and Dr. Birgitta Eder of the Austrian Archaeological Institute of the Austrian Academy of Sciences. What they found was part of the foundation of a large 30-foot (9.4 meters) wide building with walls that are 2.75 feet (.8 meters) thick – the space between the walls was filled with layers of roof tiles. According to the archeologists, a building of that size could have housed at least two interior rooms, a pronaos or vestibule, and an opisthodome or temple back room. With this size indicating this was the foundation of an Archaic period Greek temple, and the location matching the one described by Strabo in Geographica, the archeologists came to the confident conclusion that they had found the Temple of Samian Poseidon.
“The large marble vessel itself, imitating a bronze bowl, is characteristic of sanctuary inventory.”
Additional relics found in the sanctuary, plus the roof tiles and a marble perirrhanterion (a special type of louterion or water basin used for ritual washing in sanctuaries) further strengthens the belief that this is the Samian Temple of Poseidon. Photos of the foundation and relics can be seen here.
Is this discovery a big deal?
“This discovery opens up new perspectives on the political and economic importance of the amphictyony of the Triphylean cities in the 6th century BC. for whom the Samikon Sanctuary of Poseidon was the center of their religious and ethnic identity.”
That is a big 'yes' from the archeologists, whose five-year research project is being funded by the Gerda Henkel Foundation and the Austrian Archaeological Institute of the OeAW. Discoveries like this show the value of the ancient chronicles of historians and writers like Strabo – who spent decades traveling from his home in Turkey through Egypt and Kush, as far west as Tuscany and as far south as Ethiopia, to Asia Minor and Rome, throughout the Mediterranean and Near East, to the islands of the Aegean Sea and up the Nile Philae. He was able to do this because of the wealth of his family and the peaceful times he lived in – this was during the reign of Augustus (27 BC to 14 CE). He died around 24 CE and, although Geographica has survived, his other works like Historical Sketches (Historica hypomnemata), his first book written while he was in Rome around 20 BCE and thought to be a history of the known world from the conquest of Greece by the Romans, is sadly lost except for a fragment of papyrus now stored at the University of Milan.
What would Poseidon have thought of the discovery of his temple? Well, he had the ego of a Greek god so he undoubtedly felt one can never have enough temples. He would probably prefer to hear about the discovery of Atlantis – you don’t have to be a god to hope that one day this legendary island is finally proven to have existed … with or without Poseidon. Most likely, Poseidon would be most pleased if the archeologists spend the next four years digging up statues of him holding his magnificent and deadly trident.