9 Mar 2013

The Pagan Sites of Europe Remembered (21): The Temple Complex of Samothrace

One of the most important sites of pagan remains in Europe and the world is the temple complex on the Aegean island of Samothrace, located off the Thracian coast. Before the Christian apocalypse, this was connected to a cult that worshipped the "Cabeiri," a group of mysterious gods connected to the underworld. These gods are thought to have had pre-Greek influences, including Hittite, Thracian, proto-Etruscan, and Phrygian.

The gods included in this dark pantheon were:
(1) AXIEROS, a goddess identified with the Anatolian Great Mother Goddess, the Trojan Mother Goddess of Mount Ida, and the Greek fertility goddess Demeter. She was associated with rocks and veins of magnetic iron.
(2) ZERYNTHIA, a goddess identified with Hecate, and associated with witchcraft, necromancy, and sorcery.
(3) KADYMLOS, the spouse of Axiéros, a fertility god identified with Hermes.
(4) Two other male deities who accompany Kadmylos, identified by the Greeks with the Dioscuri, divine twins, also known as Castor and Pollux.
(5) AXIOKERSOS and AXIOKERSA, two underworld deities identified with Hades and Persephone.

The awe in which this temple complex was held is evident from Plutarch's Life of the Roman general and consul Paulus Aemilius. Following the defeat of the Macedonian army at the Battle of Pydna (168 BC) and the Roman conquest of Macedonia, the Macedonian king Perseus fled to Samothrace and found sanctuary at the temple of Castor and Pollux, where the Romans were unable to touch him. It was only after Perseus's children were betrayed into the hands of his enemies that he decided to surrender, later to die a miserable death in captivity.

Langhorne, my favourite translator of Plutarch adds the following footnote:

"The gods of Samothrace were dreaded by all nations. The pagans carried their prejudices so far in favour of those pretended deities, that they were struck with awe upon the bare mention of their names. Of all the oaths that were in use among the ancients, that by these gods was deemed the most sacred and inviolable. Such as were found not to have observed this oath were looked upon as the curse of mankind, and persons devoted to destruction. Diodorus tells us that these gods were always present, and never failed to assist those that were initiated, and called upon them in any sudden and unexpected danger, and that none ever duly performed their ceremonies without being amply rewarded for their piety. No wonder, then, if the places of refuge in this island were very highly revered. Besides the temple of Castor and Pollux, to which Perseus fled, there was also a wood, esteemed such, where those who were admitted to the holy rites of the Cabeiri, used to meet."

1 comment:

  1. Very interesting. Will have to put this on the wantogo list!