From Darkness into Light: Caves and Religious Practices in Ancient Athens and Attica

Fall 2022 GGR Recipient

Caroline Carter (Program in Mediterranean Art and Archaeology, Department of Art)

On average, over 16,000 people ascend the rocky outcrop of the Acropolis in Athens, Greece each day. The main attractions are the remains of the monumental religious buildings, namely the Parthenon, a 5th century BCE temple to Athena. Yet, these ruins do not provide a complete picture of the religious landscape of ancient Athens. Imbedded into the crags of the Acropolis, there are numerous caves which were also once used as places of worship. Now dark and barren, these caves, and others like them elsewhere in Greece, are overlooked by tourists and understudied by scholars of Classical antiquity.  

Cater's proposed project, therefore, intends to shed light on the roles that caves played in ancient Greek religion. As a case study, it examines 22 caves that have evidence for religious ritual activity ca. 750-300 BCE in the city of Athens and its surrounding territory of Attica in central Greece. It utilizes an environmental approach that foregrounds the importance of nature in the ancient Greek religious landscape and a methodology that is landscape-based, interdisciplinary, and innovative in its use of digital resources to demonstrate the ways in which the caves, individually and as a possible network, enrich our understanding of ancient Greek religion.