Greek goddesses unearthed in Crete
September 30, 2005
The life-sized marble statues of two ancient Greek goddesses have emerged during excavations of a 5,000-year-old town on the island of Crete, archeologists said Friday.
The works, representing the goddesses Athena and Hera, date to between the 2nd and 4th centuries AD – a period of Roman rule in Greece – and originally decorated the Roman theatre in the town of Gortyn, archeologist Anna Micheli from the Italian School of Archaeology told the Associated Press.
“They are in very good condition,” she said, adding that the statue of Athena, goddess of wisdom, was complete, while Hera – long-suffering wife of Zeus, the philandering king of gods – is missing her head.
“But we hope to find the head in the surrounding area,” Ms. Micheli said.
A team of Italian and Greek archeologists discovered the statues Tuesday while excavating the ruined theatre of Gortyn, about 45 kilometres south of Iraklion in central Crete.
The goddesses, each standing two metres tall with their bases, were toppled from their plinths by a powerful earthquake around AD 367 that destroyed the theatre and much of the town, Ms. Micheli said.
“The statues fell off the stage, and were found just in front of their original position, seven metres from ground level,” she said. “This is one of the rare cases when such works are discovered in the building where they initially stood.”
Hopes were running high that other parts of the theatre's sculptural decoration would emerge during future excavations.
Gortyn, the Roman capital of Crete, was first inhabited around 3000 BC and was a flourishing Minoan town between 1600-1100 BC. It prospered during classical and Roman times, and was destroyed by an Arab invasion in AD 824.
Greek mythology has it that the town witnessed one of Zeus's many affairs – with the princess Europa, whom the god, disguised as a bull, abducted from Lebanon. Europe was named after Europa, who conceived her first son with Zeus under a plane tree in Gortyn.
The Italian School of Archaeology has been digging at the site since the early 20th century, in co-operation with Greek state archeologists. So far, excavations have revealed fortifications, temples, baths, a stadium and an early church of St. Titus, who preached Christianity in Gortyn.