Heraion Sanctuary

Location: Heraion   

Heraion of Samos, Greece: On the Greek island of Samos, there are the ruins of what is called a Heraion. A Heraion is a temple dedicated to the Greek goddess named Hera. Hera was the wife as well as the sister of Zeus. Their parents were Rhea and Kronos. She was said to be even more beautiful than the goddess of love, Aphrodite. She seemed to spend most of her time trying to prevent Zeus from having affairs with mortals and other maidens. She also liked to torture the children that he had from those affairs like Hercules. She was deeply into defending marriage and monogamy, even though she married a god who definitely could be called the Casanova of gods. Samos is where Hera and Zeus had a honeymoon for three hundred years.

The Heraion, where Zeus and Hera may have had their honeymoon, is now in ruins and can be found seven kilometers southwest of the city called Pythagoreion, actually called Samos in the past. It is near the coast and the river called Imbrasos. The only remains of the temple are in the form of a column called the Kolona. This temple is actually quite away from other settlements. The reason for this isolation is not known. The only explanation is that the builders did not want it moved due to the whims of politics or development. It is still considered to part of the city of Pythagoreion.

The Sacred Road to the Temple. What did connect the temple to the city was a road called the Sacred Road. The road is on a straight course from the city. The road passes the temple on its northeast corner. The road was paved with stone during the Roman Empire. It was the main way to go from the city to the temple. As it is close to the sea, the temple received many visitors who arrived directly by sea. There is pebble strand near the temple that is very well suited to the landing of Greek ships.

People have wondered why the temple was built in a swamp near a river. The land would have made it difficult in laying down the foundation for the temple. There had been attempts in ancient times to explain its awkward location. One of the legends from the local Hera cults is that Hera was born on the banks of the river close to the temple under a Lygos willow tree. This type of willow is found in the area that surrounds the temple.

The first traces of a Hera cult practice at this temple date to the latter part of the 2nd millennium BC. A late Mycenaean ceramic and numerous cult bowls were found in the area near the temple. This implies that this temple was already active in Mycenaean times. A Mycenaean burial mound was also found directly north of the temple. These people lived in the hills near Myli and walked to the temple. This temple is the most famous site in Greece for the worship of Hera. In the middle of the 6th century BC, it was very popular as can be seen by the votive offerings that it got during this time.

Despite its popularity, there is actually not much known about the cult of Hera. There are not many written accounts. If there are any written accounts, they did not come until Hellenistic Age or the period of the Roman Empire. For some unknown reason, there is no first-hand written account on the Hera cult in Samos.

Hera was not just worshiped by the Greeks. Before the Greeks, she was considered to be a nature and fertility goddess. This is probably one of the reasons that this temple is in a broad, fertile plain. The land is an expression of a trait of the goddess. She was supposed to have power over vegetation and fertility. This also explains why most votive offerings at this temple were ivory or clay representations of poppy heads and pomegranates. These were symbols of fertility.

Other votive offerings were clay oxen. Hera was also supposed to be protector of herds and agricultural wealth. The image of the Hera cult was made of wood. The image of Hera was placed on a plank of wood. Smilis, a son of Eucleides of Aegina and a contemporary of Daedelus, was said to be the person who created the image of the cult on the plank of wood. Daedelus was a famous Greek sculptor.

The cult image of Hera can be found on coins from the Roman Empire with what is considered to be the typical daedelian friseur of the 7th century. Based on accounts from that time, the cult image could even go back to 2nd millennium BC. This image could be the same image that was worshiped in the Mycenaean age. The ancient Greek poet named Callimachus in the 3rd century BC was familiar with this image in the form of a wooden plank. An artist, who was a Greek immigrant to Samos, carved this plank into a human-looking goddess.

There is another local myth about the temple. The myth begins with Admete, the daughter of Erystheus, coming to Samos from Argos. She had a vision of Hera and became part of the priesthood of the Hera cult. She had been fleeing from Argos and the Argives sent Etruscan pirates to steal the Samian cult image. They had no trouble getting the image as the temple had no door. For some reason, the pirate ship with the stolen image could not leave its mooring.

The pirates tried to solve the problem by taking the image off the ship and leaving sacrificial cakes with the image. When they found the image, they thought that the image had managed to escape by itself. To make sure that the image would not escape, they bound it with rods from the Lygos willow tree. It is this incident that gave rise to the tradition of the image being dragged to the pebble strand near the temple and washed. They would then place sacrificial cakes with the image.

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