The Treasuries

The Treasuries and Ancient Olympia’s Foreign Relations, by Peter Baumeister (p. 119, Olympics – Past & Present)

© 2013 Qatar Olympic & Sports Museum, Qatar Museums Authority and Prestel Verlag, Munich-London-New York.

In the northeastern section of the Altis grove, at the foot of the Kronos hill, there rises a narrow terrace, widening slightly to the east, which extends from the Gaion hill to the beginning of the stadium wall. Originally a natural land gradient, it was reshaped at an early stage into a regular terrace layout by means of embankment works. To the north the Kronion wall, still clearly visible to today’s visitor, serves to counteract the incline pressure of the Kronos hill and to keep the terrace clear of landslides. A second supporting wall stabilises the terrace towards the Altis below, with the effect that this elevation at the foot of the Kronos Hill strikingly delimits the holy grove to the north (Fig. 2).

A dense row of south-facing buildings came to light on this terrace during the excavations of the 19th century, but these buildings were in large part destroyed.(1) In total, twelve ground plans can be distinguished on the blueprint, provided by the excavators with the numbers I–XII ((Figs. 3 and 4).(2) Considerably smaller foundation remnants were documented at the western end of the terrace, described by means of the letters A, B and O, while two of the foundations were destroyed or entirely built over already in antiquity owing to the later exedra of Herodes Atticus and the associated water installations.

On account of the buildings’ location and their ground plan shape, it was certain straight after the excavation that what we have before us is the row of buildings Pausanias deals with extensively in his description of the Zeus Sanctuary of Olympia and entitles “thesauroi.”(3) We are familiar with treasuries of this kind from various sanctuaries in the Greek world: first and foremost from Delphi, where the Athenians’ treasury still provides today’s visitor with a good impression of a building of this type.(4)

Pausanias names ten cities as donors of the Olympian treasuries: Sicyon, Carthage, Epidamnos, Byzantium, Sybaris, Cyrene, Selinus, Metapontum, Megara and Gela. There is much to indicate, though, that the treasury of Carthage was in fact founded by Syracuse, and that Pausanias was misled in his naming by the Carthaginian loot that was stored there during the Roman imperial period.

Pausanias’ accounts may be precise in their detail, but still it is difficult to align his descriptions with the archaeological findings, as the number of discovered foundations is greater than the number of dedications he passes down. Added to this is the fact that the building parts known to us and which need to be allocated to the individual treasuries were, to a large extent, put to a secondary use already in ancient times – primarily in the so-called Heruli wall, but also in other buildings of the Roman imperial period – and, therefore, in many cases it has to remain unclear what above-ground architecture once belonged to what foundation.

The problem of allocation has preoccupied research since the first excavations, as doubt-free identification is possible in only two cases.(5) Only two building parts, which can be allocated to Foundations I and XI, bore inscriptions that prove beyond doubt that we are dealing with the treasuries of Sicyon (I)(6) and Megara (XI)(7) (Figs. 5-8).Therefore, the only way to discuss further allocations is to form a synopsis of historical records, archaeological findings, and interpretation of the building decoration that can be allocated. Based on the different methods a mosaic of clues is thus created, allowing precise statements in some cases at least. For example, the identification of the treasury of Gela (foundation XII) is held to be assured. For one thing, it is the last one on Pausanias’ list. For another, it is possible to ascribe the richly decorated roof that lay on top of the main structure to a Geloan workshop.(8)

As the two easternmost buildings are thereby identifiable with some degree of certainty, Foundations IX and X can only be the treasuries of Selinus and Metapontum, as Pausanias’ description at this point leaves little room for interpretation.

Now, however, we face the dilemma that Pausanias names a further five donations, but there are seven more foundations located on the terrace. Several explanatory models have been discussed by research in this context. For example, it is conceivable that not all the foundations belonged to treasuries, but that the row of buildings possibly was broken up by largish altars which were not, however, mentioned by Pausanias.(9) There is a strong case, though, that this gap in the information passed down by Pausanias is due to the possibility that not all treasuries were still intact at the time he visited the Sanctuary,(10) or that he described only the buildings about which he could obtain information.

(1) On the research background see Herrmann 1976, 321-322

(2) See on this subject the excavation publication: Curtius – Adler 1892, 40–56. 206–208, in detail: Foundation I (40–44), building behind the exedra (44-45), Foundation II and III (45), IV (46), V (46-47), VI (47), VII (47-48), VIII (48), IX (49-50), X (50), XI (50–53), XII (53–56); Adler et al. 1897, 28–31, 74–76; cf. also Curtius 1896; Herrmann 1988.

(3) Pausanias 6, 19, 1–15.

(4) Compare generally Büsing 1992; Partida 2000.

(5) Compare the table with allocation proposals in Herrmann 1972, 240 note 390; Herrmann 1988, 26; Heiden 1995, 163–165 fig. 39; Baitinger 2001, 84 note 772.

(6) See Curtius – Adler 1892, 41. On more recent research on the building see Herrmann 1980b; Herrmann 1991, 83–89.

(7) The inscription (‘ΜΕΓΑΡΕΩΝ’) is found here on the associated architrave, see Curtius – Adler 1892, 51; cf. also Herrmann 1974, 75–83.

(8) Heiden 1995, 97–102; see also on this subject Schleif – Süsserott 1944, 83–110; Herrmann 1976, 343–348.

(9) Herrmann 1972, 99. It is also conceivable that sections of texts have been lost from the later information passed down by Pausanias.

(19) Compare also on this subject Herrmann 1992, 28; there also concerning the allocation of Foundation III to the treasury of Syracuse.

(continues to page 125)