Temple to Herakles identified
Inscription on a bronze flask links the sanctuary with the legendary hero
Bronze vases, lead and clay objects, weapons, iron tools and figurines are among the harvest of finds from an archaic-era sanctuary on the hill of Spartia, Sesklo, in the prefecture of Magnesia.
One outstanding find was a bronze, navel-shaped flask bearing the inscription “Tilephilos dedicated me to Herakles.” This rare discovery identifies the sanctuary with the altar to the mythical hero. In any case, the cult of Herakles is directly linked to the ancient city of Pherae, and is documented in the area by commemorative inscriptions from the Hellenistic era. It is also linked, as Ephor Argyro Doulgeri-Intzesiloglou said, with the myth of Alceste and Admetos which we know from the work of Euripides.
Written in the local archaic alphabet, from right to left – which enhances its value – the inscription and flask were discovered in excellent condition, to the delight of the archaeologists. This will make it the prime unpublished find that the ephorate presents, along with other objects, at the Fifth International Pherae-Velestinos-Rigas Conference being held October 4-7 in Velestinos.
The bronze flask was found some years ago during work on a natural gas pipeline at the hill of Spartia near the ancient Pherae-Pagasses road, now the Volos-Velestinos-Larissa highway. Doulgeri-Intzesiloglou, who was jointly in charge of the excavation along with Evangelia Stamelou, explained to Kathimerini how it came to light along with scores of other rare finds in 1999. As the XII Ephorate of Prehistoric and Classical Antiquities had a heavy workload at that time, the finds were put in storage awaiting study. The surprise came when the flask was cleaned during conservation work.
The Spartia-Latomeio archaeological site was made known in 1922 by the first Ephor of Thessaly, A. Arvanitopoulos, who showed that it was a prehistoric settlement that was also inhabited in the Archaic, Classical and Byzantine eras. As Stamelou explained, Arvanitopoulos had hypothesized on the basis of a small excavation he conducted that there was a 5th- or 4th-century temple on the site which revealed black-figured roof tiles and ceramics with black tin.
Other finds – clay metopes with yellow veneer, bronze commemorative vases, spearheads and part of the arm of a marble statue – were among other discoveries that he attributed to the existence of an earlier phase of the same temple.
In 1999, a rescue dig by the ephorate confirmed his hypothesis, revealing part of a plate made of large limestone slabs. “It was 3 meters wide and around 4 meters of its length was visible. It probably continued beneath the Volos - Larissa road,” she said.
Around the base was a dense layer of stones that covered the spaces where the objects were found. Burnt animal bones found nearby were another confirmation that this was an altar.
Stamelou added that observation of the layers uncovered during the excavation, the presence of a lamp, Hellenistic pottery and an Istiaian coin (3rd century-146 BC), were indications that the monument was built during that period on top of the ancient temple.
Elsewhere on the site, excavators found pottery dating from Neolithic to Ottoman times, and part of the road linking Pherae and Pagasses.