Some time in the second century BC, Timotheus of Anaphe wanted to build a new sanctuary to Aphrodite. But where? In the sanctuary of Apollo Asgelates or that of Asclepius? He consulted an oracle. It instructed him to build within the sanctuary of Apollo, best known to us from literary accounts (Ap. Rhod. 4.1701-1745). An inscription tells much of the story, from oracular request, to response, to civic decree, along with specific instructions regarding the changes to the sacred topography (IG XII 3.248). This episode provides a unique view of the complexities of regulating the changing landscape of sacred space during the Hellenistic period.
Yet, this text has received scarcely any study in the century since its publication. In this paper I analyze this important document in the context of Hellenistic cult dynamics. The decree, for example, regulates the re-use of materials salvaged from Apollo’s sanctuary. What’s more, the new construction meant both temporary and permanent relocation of important cult fixtures: the altar, cult statue, lustral basin, and stelai. The decree, and the community, carefully regulated these operations, which would literally reshape the ritual experience of participants in the town’s most famous cult. This unique document shines a light on the tension, both legal and religious, between tradition and innovation, on the aesthetics of the Greek cult experience, and on the tensions between elites and their communities, illuminating the ways in which the legal instinct to conserve and the tendency of expanding piety worked together in delicate ways.
Although the detailed instructions evoke images of a dense urban landscape, the sanctuary is located a few kilometers from the city! Why would the community choose to disrupt sacred space? How would these alterations affect the cult of Apollo Asgelates? Just how flexible were communities in reconfiguring their sacred space?
By drawing on the epigraphic, literary, and archaeological evidence I address these and other questions to shed light on the complexities of regulating sacred space. I argue that this document shows a community working together in complex ways to negotiate its relationship with the divine and with its own powerful citizens: affording public discussion of the reconfiguration of the town’s sacred topography, tempering the pious enthusiasm of Timotheus with contractual obligations concerning the process, and codifying as ‘sacred law’ the precise scope of redefinition of sacred space within the sanctuary.
In the end, this paper will elucidate some of the most puzzling features of Hellenistic religion: how to deal with an ever-increasing number of new cults (already evident in Lysias 30.18-19). This paper also shows that the accumulation of cults resulted in crammed spaces as well as calendars. Hellenistic religions are often marked by such tension over innovation and preservation. This episode exhibits the distinct qualities of Hellenistic religion and leads us to rethink the dynamics of religious practices. It also shows how communities dealt with such tensions in ways that were beneficial to individuals and community alike.
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