A mountainous and volcanic
island in the Saronic gulf, halfway between Attica and
the Peloponnesos. Its geographic position explains its importance in the commerce between the Greek states and
around the Mediterranean basin from the most remote
periods of history. The island had commercial relations
with the Cyclades, with the cities along the coast of Anatolia, and with Egypt.
Archaeological remains indicate that the most ancient
inhabitants of the island came from the Near East. The
first settlement, however, must have been the result of a
migration by Peloponnesian peoples around the end of
the 4th millennium B.C. Remains testify to uninterrupted
occupation and to a definite cultural unity with the centers of population in the Peloponnesos, as well as close
ties with the Cyclades and S Greece.
Two great periods about which little is known can be
identified: one ca. 2000 B.C. with the appearance of peoples who used Minoan ware, the other ca. 1400 B.C.
when another people, of Achaian stock, brought Mycenaean ware.
The historic period begins around 950 B.C., probably
after a brief abandonment by the population in the
12th-10th c. Classical sources indicate that the colonizers
probably came from the Peloponnese, perhaps from
Epidauros (Herod. 8.46; Paus. 2.29.9
). During the 7th
and 6th c. B.C., Aigina became a maritime power of the
first order. There is no evidence of strong land ownership, unlike the mainland where feudal concentration
could provoke serious social disturbances. Aigina had a
stable and developed mercantile aristocracy which spread
the fame of its products, particularly pottery and bronze
ware, throughout the Mediterranean basin. In this connection, it is significant that the oldest system of weights
in the Classical world was developed on Aigina between
656 and 650 B.C., and the spread of Aiginetan money
shows clearly her absolute supremacy.
At the beginning of the 6th c. B.C., Athens began to
oppose the supremacy of Aigina, and Solon passed special laws to limit the spread of Aiginetan commerce,
thereby causing the island to ally itself first with Sparta,
then with Thebes, and finally with Persia to oppose the
rising Athenian power. In 488 B.C. the Aiginetan navy
routed the Athenian ships, but 30 years later Athens defeated the combined naval forces of Aigina and of
Corinth, and in the following years forced the island to
surrender. In 431 B.C. Athens expelled the last of the
native population and apportioned the land among
Athenians. After the Pergamene conquest the island enjoyed a new period of prosperity (210 B.C.).
The most important archaeological sites on the island
are near Cape Colonna (named for the remains of a
single column of a temple), on Mt. St. Elia, and in the
area of Mesagro. In the zone of Cape Colonna, the most
important and the oldest area, the remains of the stereobate of the temple mentioned above are still visible, as
well as some pedimental decorations of Parian marble.
The building was constructed of a yellowish, shell-bearing limestone (a local poros), with a portico of
Doric columns (6 x 12). In front of the cella was a
pronaos and behind the cella an opisthodomos from
which the surviving column comes. The date of the temple must be 520-500 B.C. At a lower level traces of an
older temple were discovered, dating from between the
end of the 8th and the beginning of the 6th c. A semicircular antefix from this temple has been preserved. The
archaic temple was dedicated to Apollo (to whom some
inscriptions refer) or to Poseidon. In the Late Roman
period the temple was destroyed and replaced by a building of huge proportions, similar to a fortress. Its cistern
has been found between the temple and the sea.
There are remains, SE of the temple, of an archaic
propylon with reliefs on the walls and an altar in the
center, dating from the 6th c. It was probably the
Aiakeion. North of the archaic temple are traces of two
small naiskoi and of a round structure which was probably the tomb of Phokos (Paus. 2.29.9
). Farther W is a
Pergamene building, perhaps the Attaleion. At the foot
of the hill, to the E, are a theater and a stadium. The
outer wall of this sacred area is partially preserved.
Excavations on the slopes of Mt. St. Elia have brought
to light a Thessalian settlement of ca. the 13th c. B.C. The
site was abandoned at the same time as the destruction
of the Late Mycenaean centers of the area and was reoccupied in the Geometric period; it took on a monumental character only in the Pergamene era. In the
Byzantine period a sanctuary, resembling a monastery
in structure, was built on the mountain; its remains can
still be seen. With regard to Mesagro, there are some
Mycenaean ex-voto offerings, the oldest indications of a
religious practice. Around the middle of the 7th c., when
the thalassocracy of Aigina developed, a primitive sanctuary was built. Its sacred precinct included a small
altar, of which there are a few remains, and perhaps a
small structure for the image of Aphaia (Paus. 3.14.2
a divinity worshiped on the island in this period who
had a priestly service.
In the 6th c., when the thalassocracy of Aigina had
reached its greatest development, the sanctuary underwent modifications of a more monumental character. The
first temple (distyle in antis with a cella of three naves
and an adyton in two sections) was built; a second altar
was set behind the first; to the S, the monumental entrance to the sanctuary was constructed with an appropriate propylon. To this building phase (the second) we
may attribute a large inscription which refers to the
construction of an oikos of Aphaia during the hiereia of
a Kleoita or of a Dreoita.
The great building phase (the third) came at the beginning of the 5th c. The temple was enlarged and reoriented and the sacred area was tripled. A large ramp was built from the temple to the altar, which was also
enlarged and made more imposing by a double staircase.
The new temple was built on a krepidoma of three steps.
It was hexastyle, distyle in antis, with twelve columns on
the side; the cella had three naves with a double colonnade of five columns; the limestone of the walls was covered by fine stucco. The pediment was painted and the roof had marble tiles on the more visible portions and
terracotta tiles elsewhere. The acroterion consisted of an
architectural motif with palmettes flanked by two female
figures. The first propylon gave access to the sacred area
and a second led to an inner division, on the S, for the
The identity of the divinity to whom the sanctuary
was dedicated has been much discussed. The sculptures
on the front clearly refer to Athena, but an important
dedicatory inscription mentions the building of an oikos
of Aphaia, a divinity named on numerous other inscriptions cut into the rock. Probably the temple was dedicated to Athena but the local populace, assimilating this
divinity to their own autochthonous Aphaia, continued
to use the name of the old goddess to whom the archaic
temple must have belonged.
The most important sculptures from Aigina are those
of the front of the temple of Aphaia, discovered in 1811.
Seventeen statues from the pedimental decoration are
now in the Munich Glyptothek; they represent the first
European contact with archaic Greek art. Ten fairly well-preserved statues come from the W pediment and five in
less good condition from the E pediment; numerous fragments come from at least two other statues, but it is
impossible to establish their positions.
The subject on both pediments is nearly the same: the
struggle between the heroes of Aigina and Troy in the
presence of Athena. Comparison of the two pediments
reveals stylistic differences which raise the problem of
contemporaneous or successive production. The figures
on the E side appear freer and less exact in superficial
detail, and present a more mature study of masses and
of volumes. The so-called archaic smile, obvious on the
W side, is no longer present on the E. A different date
for the two pediments has therefore been proposed by
many scholars, but cannot be established with certainty,
given the poor preservation of the figures from the E
side. If one accepts different dates, the W pediment was
probably completed just before the Persian wars and the
E pediment after the battle of Marathon.
Recent restorations of the groups in the Munich Glyptothek, carried out by Italian experts under supervision
of the museum staff, have fundamentally changed their
external appearance. Both the groupings and the positions
of individual statues against the background of the pediments have been altered.
Fragments of a third pediment group, now in the National Museum at Athens, seem to complicate the problem of style. These fragments show obvious stylistic affinities with the sculptures of the W pediment, so that
we may reasonably suppose this third group to be the
original decoration of the E side of the temple of Aphaia
which was replaced by the new decoration mentioned
above. This would explain the obvious superiority shown
by the W pediment grouping compared to the E side.
The first pediment probably remained on view inside the
sacred precinct, where it suffered badly from the weather.
It is impossible, however, to substantiate this conjecture as to the problem of the differences in style between
the two pediments; the problem remains open to discussion.
A. Furtwängler, Aegina, das Heiligtum
(1906); R. Carpenter, Greek Sculpture
115ff; B. Conticello, EAA
(1960) 246ff; G. Grüben, “Die
Sfinx-Saule von Aigina,” AthMitt
80 (1965) 170ff; A.
Invernizzi, I frontoni del tempio di Aphaia ad Egina
(1965); B. Ridgway, The Severe Style in Greek Sculpture
(1970) Ch. 2, pp. 12-28.