The Sanctuary of Asclepius at Epidaurus

In his dissertation on the site, David R. Hoot says, “The Sanctuary of Asclepius at Epidaurus was the most famous healing sanctuary of the ancient world,” (Hoot 2014).  That is what drew me to the site. The history is rich, and the site can be considered one of the birthplaces of modern medicine. The archeological site of the sanctuary of Asclepius is located near the town of Epidaurus, a mountainous region of Greece in the prefecture of Argolis. It is believed that the nearby hill is the birth place of Asclepius (Hoot 2014).

The sanctuary and surrounding buildings have had a broad and varied history with a long occupation by both the Greeks and Romans. According to UNESCO, who has designated it as a world heritage site, “in the 2nd millennium BCE it was a site of ceremonial healing practices with curative associations that were later enriched through the cults of Apollo Maleatas in the 8th century BCE and then by Asklepios in the 6th century BCE” (Sanctuary). Chronology was used to identify the dates associated with different artefacts throughout the site. The site was occupied until it’s abandonment in the 5th Century AD. (Hoot 2014)

The archeological inquiry at the site is ongoing, and efforts to conserve and protect the artefacts and structures continues currently. (Sanctuary) Much scholarship has been done on the site, even during its occupation, it was a destination for scholars. (Hoot 2014) Anthropologist Theodore Wiegand was the first to discover the site in the 1920’s and anthropologists have been working at the vast site almost continuously since that time.  

Asklepion Temples are associated with the worship houses of Apollo representing the duality of prophesy and healing (Ioannis et al. 2017). So, the sanctuary was much more than just a religious site, though this was the primary function. The site showcases excellent examples of classical and Hellenic architecture, which include a theater, a hospital, a banquet hall, baths and several temples honoring healing gods (Sanctuary). It appears that many modifications were made later by the Romans as well, including the addition of a Roman cistern (Hoot 2014). Found at the site there were also examples of ancient sculpture, medical tools and reliefs. All the artefacts were in exceptional condition for the time period and give us great insight into the purpose of the site as well as the activities that might have occurred there. 

Archeologists and classical historians were able to determine a lot about the people and the events that took place in this amazing site, due to the types of artefacts found there. It is clear that the individual temples were made for the purpose of warship to the gods, specifically Asklepius, Apollo, and Artemis (Sanctuary).  The people who occupied this site had a complex metropolitan culture. The buildings were engineered to align to specific astronomical positions and are mathematically advanced, “astronomical orientation of the temples is studied for their azimuth, angular altitude of the horizon and celestial declination,” (Ioannis et al. 2017). Researchers have used Google Earth and other GPS imaging software to determine more about how the site aligns with ancient astrological ideas. In addition to this, the artefacts found indicate the advances in medicine that the people made during different time periods. Surgical instruments, as well as other medical devices have been found and dated, giving us understanding into the development of different healing practices.  The theater would have been used for performances of dramatic plays (Sanctuary), and a gymnasium and baths for social interaction as well as general health and hygiene. 

The site of the sanctuary of Asclepius at Epidaurus is a unique window into the past for archeologists and historians alike. It helps us to connect the practices and lifestyles of the Greek, Romans and Hellenistic peoples. It has given us valuable information about healing practices of the ancient world, and how those practices evolved into what we know today as modern medicine. The people left us records in the form of stone tablets, medical reliefs and art made to honor their gods, showing us a complex and well-developed culture. Due to all of this combined, this fascinating site is considered one of the most important in the ancient world. 

References Cited

Feder, Kenneth L.  

2017.  The Past in Perspective: An Introduction to Human Prehistory, 7th Ed. Oxford University Press. 

Sanctuary of Asklepios at Epidaurus.

 https://whc.unesco.org/en/list/491/. Accessed 9/24/2019

Hoot, David R. 

2014.   The Sanctuary of Asclepius at Epidaurus in Roman Times, University of Florida, Ann Arbor, ProQuest, https://searchproquest.com.ezproxy2.library.colostate.edu/docview/1710396669?accountid=1022

Ioannis Liritzis, Evgenia Bousoulegka, Anne Nyquist, Belen Castro, Fahad Mutlaq Alotaibi, Androniki Drivaliari. 

2017.   New evidence from Archaeoastronomy on Apollo oracles and Apollo-Asclepius related cult. Journal of Cultural Heritage, 26:129-143

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