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AIGINA Greece.

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 priests.

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 der Aphaia (1906); R. Carpenter, Greek Sculpture (1960) 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.


hide References (2 total)
  • Cross-references from this page (2):
    • Pausanias, Description of Greece, 2.29.9
    • Pausanias, Description of Greece, 3.14.2
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