Clay Miniature Altars from Olbia

Keywords: Hellenistic period, Olbia Pontica, terracotta, altar, thymiaterion, botros

Abstract

Аrulae bearing four standard relief scenes on their sides are discussed in the paper and mapped on the area of their spread in Pontic region. Their origin is being discussed for almost a century. According to number of finds, Southern Italy was believed to be the place of their production, while according to the analogies on mouldmade pottery it was Athens. However, a find of such item made of imported clay in Athens, as well as quantitative prevailing of them in the Black Sea region allow presuming the additional centres of their production.

Most of published here terracottas from Olbia were found in a botros at the Central temenos where a coroplast’s workshop had functioned. No mould for arulae production was discovered there, but their significant number, the variations in décor and size of the upper part, finds of smaller size arulae of the next generation of mould, as well as manufactural techniques peculiar for Olbian coroplastics of the 2nd century BC allow presuming the local production of these items.

It is revealed that the height of the area above the denticule between the palmettes depended on processing by hand and varied significantly. It means that such an indicator as size of the altars should not be considered as decisive in determining of their origin.

The publication of Olbian finds brings corrections also into the discussion on the interpretation of relief scenes on the altars. There are various versions of attributing the kitharode and a god with a trident, as well as their companions. Temples of Zeus an Apollo functioned at the temenos where the published items were found. Relief scenes on analyzed arulae at least for habitants of Olbia depicted the gods worshipped here. The god with a trident was Zeus for them, not Poseidon, while the god with a kithara was Apollo, not Orpheus. Accordingly, the order of personages on such thymiateria for Olbian worshippers was as following: Zeus, Nike, Dionysus and Apollo.

Images of various gods on a single item could reflect the need to worship many gods at once during the cultic practices at home. The arulae could be produced within the sacral precinct for the needs of family cults, as they are often found in houses. Probably the very scenes as a set of main cults were the reason of rapid spread of such arulae in the Greek world.

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Published
2022-06-28
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Publication of Archaeological Material