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.