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7 th International Colloquium of Funerary Archaeology

Al 7-lea Colocviu internaţional de arheologie funerară

Topic : “The society of the living – the community of the dead” (from Neolithic to the Christian era)

Tema: „Societatea celor vii”- „comunitatea celor care dorm” (din neolitic la epoca creştină)

Sibiu 6-9 october / octombrie 2005

Goddesses or Mortals. Some Remarks on the Iconography and Symbolism of the Female Heads on Red-figure Vases from the Necropolis of Apollonia Pontica (abstract)

Lyubava Konova (Sofia – Bulgaria)

The paper discusses a group of representations, which is one of the most numerous among these, attested during various years of excavations in the necropolis of Apollonia Pontica. The reason of their overwhelming number seems to be in the fact, that they appear mainly on lekythoi - the common 5th and 4th century funeral gifts in the necropolis. The rest of the shapes with similar images are some pelikes and lekanis’ lids deriving from offering places and ritual hearths.
In spite of the various archaeological contexts of the finds, there are several common features to all images. These are the simple subject schemes and the relatively cursory style of depiction. The iconographical pattern represents a female head or bust, growing out from the ground. There are several variants to distinguish within this group. The scenes vary between one or two female heads appearing in combination with floral motifs, one or two smaller human figurines in long himatia, or with an ellipsoidal object represented between the heads. Similar iconographic schema has been attested on a range of red-figure vases originating from Olynthos, the northern Pontic regions and Magna Graecia as well. In spite of more complicated iconography of the latter, comprising an additional variety of figurines and decorations, the identification of the central female image seems to be rather puzzling matter. The interpretations range from Aphrodite, Kore-Persephone, Ge, to at last a mortal woman. There is, however, one point of consensus of opinions, which is the chthonic character of the represented figure. Furthermore, the total absence of concretization allow suggesting me, that the purpose of the scenes was far beyond the efforts to discern any mythological personage, but rather to express more abstract ideas as the one of the anodos. The first argument pertains to the floral motifs, appearing as symbols of the nature’s rebirth being a scope of the activities of Ge, Demeter, Kore and Aphrodite as well. On the other hand the occurrence of this symbol expands and completes the anthropomorphic rendered characteristics of the image/idea with the inspiring the conception of the perpetual cycle Life – Death – Beyond – Rebirth. Thus, the scenes acquire a symbolical meaning, which would be appropriate to their function in the funeral context of the necropolis.One additional opportunity to the hypothetical interpretation of the ideas in the iconography of the female heads represents one epigraphic attestation of Ge Chthoniae from the Pontic city. The name and the epithet find their most comprehensive literary explanation within the ideas of the Pherekydes’ “Theogony”, reflecting the dual nature of the deity. Thus far the scenes represented on the funerary vases from the necropolis denote probably the chthonian (the invisible in Beyond) and at the same time the terrestrial (corporeal) entity of the goddess. It seems also reasonable to accept, that in some cases this unity has been divided and represented by means of the twin images female heads. Since the phenomenon of the dual appearance of the Great Goddess has its literary and visual parallels within the realm of the Eleusinian themes, it is possible to interpret the twin images on the Apollonian vases in the context of the hellenized personifications Demeter and Kore. The hypothesis could be reinforced by the iconographical interpretation of the ellipsoidal object depicted between the female heads and by the juxtaposition with other finds from the necropolis, which show clear Eleusinian features.


International Union for Prehistoric and Protohistoric Sciences


The 30th comission

"Lucian Blaga" University Sibiu

Research Centre:

„BRUKENTHAL” National Museum


History Museum (MNBS)

Directia judeţeană pentru Cultură, Culte şi Patrimoniul Cultural Naţional Sibiu



For further information, please contact:

Prof.univ.dr. Sabin Adrian Luca: E - mail: sabinadrianluca@hotmail.com

Dr. Valeriu SIRBU: E - mail: valeriu_sirbu@yahoo.co.uk