Do Greek temples in Sicily face the rising sun?

In a pre­vi­ous post I looked at whether or not Greek temples faced East. The defin­i­tion I used of East was very broad, the east­ern half of the sky. No-one, as far as I know, has sug­ges­ted that this was suf­fi­cient for the Greeks. Penrose, writ­ing in the late nine­teenth cen­tury and Dinsmoor in the mid twen­ti­eth cen­tury both thought that the temple could face sun­rise on the feast day of the god of the temple.

This sun­rise will not always be due East. Because of the tilt of the Earth’s axis and the motion around the sun this sun­rise will vary in loc­a­tion on the hori­zon. In my thesis this will be dealt with at an early stage. If you want a graphic illus­tra­tion then there’s this nice anim­a­tion you can play with at the Nebraska Astronomy Applet Project.

Below con­tin­ues from the earlier post.

To test the applic­ab­il­ity of this method fur­ther I shall now con­sider a mar­gin­ally dif­fer­ent hypo­thesis, that Greek temples faced sun­rise. This is dif­fer­ent to facing the east­ern half of the sky as the sun only rises and sets within a spe­cific range. For the lat­it­ude of Sicily, assum­ing the local hori­zon is flat, this range would be between 59° and 119°. This is a range 58° wide, approx­im­ately one-sixth of the hori­zon. Within this range thirty-eight of the forty-two temples face within this range. This would be rather like throw­ing a typ­ical die forty-two times and throw­ing a six thirty-eight times. This is highly unlikely to be due to chance. Typically on aver­age in any set of forty-two ran­domly aligned temples, seven would be expec­ted to face within the range due to chance. The stand­ard devi­ation would be approx­im­ately 2.42. Therefore 95% of sets would have between four and ten temples facing within this range. This there­fore appears to be sig­ni­fic­ant but raises the ques­tion of how this fea­ture is to be explained.

One aber­rant temple is obvi­ously the temple of Hekate at Selinunte, which has already been dis­cussed. If it does not face East then clearly it will not face sun­rise and there are good reas­ons to expect a temple of Hekate not to face East. Another temple out­side the set is found along the coast at Eraclea Minoa. As men­tioned in the sur­vey, this is a colony foun­ded by the cit­izens of Selinunte and the name Minoa refers to it being the sup­posed site of King Minos’s death. There are two temples on site, one thought to be ded­ic­ated to Aphrodite and the other to Minos. One is there­fore to a deity and one to a hero, as well as one facing a sun­rise and the other not. Vitruvius in De Architectura (get ref) spe­cific­ally says that temples should be aligned to the rising sun so that gods face the rising sun (IV.5?). It is there­fore tempt­ing to con­clude that the temple facing at 142° is the temple to Minos. There is no cer­tainty in this though, and so the attri­bu­tion remains questionable.

The remain­ing two temples out­side of sun­rise are both found at Eloro. This was a Syracusan colony and so if there were a pen­chant for pecu­liar ori­ent­a­tions amongst Megaran des­cend­ants as at Selinunte and Eraclea Minoa, this would not be a suit­able explan­a­tion for Eloro. The two temples are both odd in that neither may be a temple. The Koreion faces 125°, but this is only an approx­im­ate ori­ent­a­tion as it is not a colon­naded temple (ref sur­vey). Elements of it would face the winter sol­stice sun­rise, and so it could be argued that this is related to Kore/Persephone’s rela­tion­ship with Hades, king of the dead, or that as it is not a temple like the oth­ers that it should not belong in the sample set.

The other temple faces too far to the north, but it is argued that it is in fact a treas­ury rather than a temple (x-ref). This would explain its size as well as its ori­ent­a­tion. It would there­fore seem reas­on­able to con­clude that the sig­ni­fic­ance in find­ing the temples facing towards sun­rise is plausible.

In fact it argu­ably explains the ori­ent­a­tions of the temples too well. Examination of Greek temples in the home­land indic­ates there is noth­ing like the adher­ence to this ori­ent­a­tion as found in Sicily. If both regions were home to Greeks, why should the west­ern colon­ies be more Greek? The answer may be that the colon­ies in Sicily are new sites, and so rep­res­ent the cos­mo­logy of the time they were built. In con­trast in the home cit­ies the Classical cit­ies are built on the Archaic, Geometric and earlier plans. As well as cur­rent thought, the cit­ies of the Greek home­land were also bound by tra­di­tions of earlier times.

There is also the prob­lem of to prove a place is Greek. A city in the Peloponnese is unlikely to have insec­ur­it­ies of its Hellenic nature. In con­trast a city on the edge of the Greek world, where the men are sons of Greek men, but pos­sibly also non-Greek women, there is a new to show Hellenicity. Greek temples in the west are slightly lar­ger than their usual home­land coun­ter­parts (get ref Boardman?). Similarly there may have been less tol­er­ance for not doing things the right way in ancient Sicily.

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When he's not tired, fixing his car or caught in train delays, Alun Salt works part-time for the Annals of Botany weblog. His PhD was in ancient science at the University of Leicester, but he doesn't know Richard III.

2 Responses

  1. Perhaps the ori­ent­a­tion of the Koreion is linked to cel­eb­ra­tion of Haloa in December …

  2. Alun says:

    I think that’s a reas­on­able hypo­thesis. To be truth­ful I’m not sure the Koreion should be in the sample as it’s more of a sac­red area than a temple, and cer­tainly not a colon­naded temple. I’ve included it because the rest of the res­ults are dis­turb­ingly good.

    125° is a very rough fig­ure, but it’s also 6° too far south for the sol­stice. That’s about twelve sun widths. How wide should the error bars be? If they’re too wide then all sorts of things are arguable.

    It might how­ever face the latest cres­cent of a winter Old Moon, but I’m not sure if there’s a con­nec­tion between the Haloa and the moon. I see the Haloa was held on Poseideon 26. Greek fest­ivals would be held first thing, and this would be the day that the cres­cent moon would rise around the time that the stars dis­ap­pear­ing from view. It’s very tempt­ing to draw a con­nec­tion, but because of the way the Moon moves this line of sight would only work for a few years out of every nineteen.

    It’s cer­tainly some­thing to think about.