The nature of cult: visualizing continuity on the Greek cultic landscape in the Argolid and Messenia, c. 2800 - 146 BCE
Susmann, Natalie Marie
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This dissertation presents a systematic study of the relationship between sanctuaries, visualscapes, and the changing cultural valence of landscape in ancient Greek culture. The ancient Greeks situated their deities within the natural word; godly encounters were particularly expected on mountains. Despite significant archaeological and textual data confirming the important connection between sacred spaces and the natural world, no consistent, systematic framework exists for determining which natural environments were preferred for worship. It is not known whether the Greeks sought elevated, noticeable, or rugged environments, and if their locations changed over time and space. This dissertation answers those questions by offering a chronological model of ancient Greek worship in the natural world. Geospatial and 3D technology were used to measure the visual and topographic qualities of over 300 cultic places in the Peloponnesian regions of the Argolid and Messenia. These analyses convey that later Greeks shared Bronze Age preferences for worshiping in elevated, visually prominent locales that afforded vast viewsheds. Beginning in the 10th/9th century BCE, worshipers formed new sanctuaries at former Mycenaean cultic places – but only the most noticeable ones. Over time, the conjoined aspects of vision and view changed in significance. By the 5th century BCE, as worshippers moved to larger spaces downslope, the number of visitors to certain peak sanctuaries declined, yet visual prominence remained an integral part of worship. Historic peak sanctuaries remained important landmarks, guiding worshipers’ movements along sacred ways. At particular moments during the year, lower-lying sanctuaries became more noticeable; festival days meant more noise, smells, and smoke. And, despite the growing popularity of lower-lying locales, new sanctuaries like Bassae, Nomian Pan, and Skilloundia suggest that prominence and viewshed remained important for worship. By placing over 2500 years of Greek religion into the natural landscape, this dissertation presents new and important arguments about place-making; it describes how natural features remained highly influential in the siting of cult. Particular beliefs, practices, and structures changed over time, but the same sorts of physical environments remained revered. This dissertation thus provides a model for scholars to identify, measure, and describe natural features as artifacts of human behavior.