Planning Temples

One of the things that has kept me occu­pied recently is a series of trips down to Oxford chas­ing vari­ous plans and excav­a­tion reports. The series of plans I talked about last month can be found in a book Die griech­is­chen Tempel in Unteritalien und Sicilien by Robert Koldewey and Otto Puchstein. I say in a book, I mean more next to a book. The plans are massive and held in a case next to the ori­ginal book, which is equally large. The plans are in fact so large that I can’t pho­to­copy many of them on an A3 pho­to­copier. They’re really beau­ti­ful even more so than usual for me as they had north arrows, but I’ll get to that.

I’ll be hon­est they’re also a little odd. As I said the plans are large. One is so large is doesn’t fit onto one sheet, and so there’s an addi­tion slip of paper to attach to the bot­tom. It seems Koldewey worked to scale, but either he or his printer didn’t grasp that scales are scal­able. Hence the plan of the Temple of Olympian Zeus, the largest ancient Greek temple, is slightly lar­ger than A1 in size.

So any­way if they’re so won­der­ful and well drawn why the con­fu­sion? Here’s a com­par­ison. Below is Koldewey’s plan from 1892 of the Temple of Concord.

Temple F

…and now here’s a plan in De Miro’s 1994 book La valle dei tem­pli.

Plan of the Temple of Concord, Agrigento

It’s a scan of a pho­to­copy, so it looks a bit odd, but you can hope­fully see the prob­lem.

De Miro doesn’t use a north arrow, because he’s inter­ested in the lay­out of the temple rather than its ori­ent­a­tion, but by itself that makes the plan very con­fus­ing. It’s hard to think of a reason why someone would want to turn a temple plan through 180°. It could make sense if you wanted to dir­ectly com­pare plans and put all the entrances on the same side, but in this instance it’s not the case. The plans in De Miro’s book have entrances on the left and right of the plans. So did Koldewey rotate the plan? This is where the shad­ows con­fused me. Fortunately GoogleMaps has the temple in reas­on­ably high res­ol­u­tion to allow a comparison.

This has a knock-on effect because it raises doubt about the ori­ent­a­tion of the Temple of Hercules at Agrigento. De Miro’s plan has an entrance to the left.

Plan of the Temple of Hercules, Agrigento

…while Koldewey has…

Temple A

This is more of a nuis­ance. It would seem reas­on­able to assume Koldewey’s plan is the cor­rect ori­ent­a­tion. De Miro’s plans aren’t neces­sar­ily bad, but it’s simply that he inter­ested in the sort of ques­tions I’m ask­ing. Unfortunately when you look closer at Koldewey’s plans another prob­lem rises.

Koldewey marks the dir­ec­tion of North very pre­cisely, to within half a degree. Sadly while the dir­ec­tion is pre­cise, it’s not accur­ate. Koldewey’s ori­ent­a­tions tend to be around ten degrees to the south of my own meas­ure­ments. The same temples have also been sur­veyed by Aveni and Romano, whose meas­ure­ments are much closer to mine than Koldewey’s, which sug­gests that Koldewey is less accur­ate. That’s a shame as Koldewey also planned temples in Paestum and Metaponto, which I haven’t had chance to visit. If the error were con­sist­ent then I could still use Koldewey’s work, but it’s not.

The reason I’m tak­ing so long over this and double check­ing it is that it does make the res­ults look more impress­ive. Now only one of forty-four temples faces the west­ern half of the hori­zon. Usually archae­oastro­nom­ical res­ults aren’t so emphatic (unless you use the eye of faith). There are plenty of reas­ons other than astro­nomy for a temple to face in a cer­tain dir­ec­tion, and in Greece there are temples which face north and south as well as east, so the lack of non-easterly temples in Sicily is a puzzle. One pos­sible reason would be that temples in main­land Greece were built over older sites, like Mycenaean sanc­tu­ar­ies which may have had a very dif­fer­ent ritual use. In Sicily this earlier tra­di­tion doesn’t exist.

Or at least it’s not tra­di­tion­ally thought to exist — except when you look at the archae­ology you find pre-Geometric ware at many sites. This makes the earli­est Greek pot­tery at some sites a couple of cen­tur­ies older than the colon­ies. The usual explan­a­tion is that it’s evid­ence of trade, but there are prob­lems with that explan­a­tion which I’ll explore some time in the future.

All-in-all it does indic­ate that there’s still plenty of basic work to be done at vari­ous well-studied sites across the Mediterranean.


When he's not tired, ill 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.

3 Responses

  1. Heather says:

    Although my sense of spa­tial rela­tions is hardly my strong point, so this is very tent­at­ive, but can’t you mir­ror the second one and find it matches the first?
    Dare i sug­gest that one of these plans got reversed in the course of being pho­to­graphed and prin­ted at some point? Also, if it was engraved on a print­ing plate, for the ori­gin­nal pub­lic­a­tion, this seems very likely. There is no obvi­ous way for a printer to tell which dir­ec­tion should be which.

  2. Alun says:

    The nine­teenth cen­tury plans have all sorts of labels on them. You can’t see them on the scans here. Even on the largest plans I had to use a mag­ni­fy­ing glass to read them, so those plans appear to be prin­ted the way they were intended.

    On the other hand the reversal in De Miro’s book would make sense if it was a printer’s oddity. When he does record ori­ent­a­tions in his plans De Miro is excel­lent — which is what makes these plans such an oddity.

    It just goes to show the import­ance of labelling a plan.

  3. Alex says:

    I wondered why you were vis­it­ing Oxford so much!
    Ten degrees is a lot of an error to have made in gauging north — I won­der what Koldewey was doing to fig­ure it so inaccurately?

    Incidentally, I did try to reply to your puzzle about the shad­ows a few weeks ago but the inter­net crashed and after­wards I couldn’t quite remem­ber what my con­clu­sions had been!