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ELEUSIS (Ἐλευσίς, or Ἐλευσίν: Eth. Ἐλευσίνιος).


Lepsína), a demus of Attica, belonging to the tribe Hippothoöntis. It owed its celebrity to its being the chief seat of the worship of Demeter and Persephone, and to the mysteries celebrated in [p. 1.813]honour of these goddesses, which were called the Eleusinia, and continued to be regarded as the most sacred of all the Grecian mysteries down to the fall of paganism. As an account of these mysteries, and of the legends respecting their institution, is given elsewhere where (Dict. of Ant. art. Eleusinia), it only remains now to speak of the topography and history of the town.

Eleusis stood upon a height at a short distance from the sea, and opposite the island of Salamis. Its situation possessed three natural advantages. It was on the road from Athens to the Isthmus; it was in a very fertile plain; and it was at the head of an extensive bay, formed on three sides by the coast of Attica, and shut in on the south by the island of Salamis. A description of the Eleusinian (also called the Thriasian) plain, and of the river Cephissus, which flowed through it, is given under ATTICA The town itself dates from the most ancient times. It appears to have derived its name from the supposed advent (ἔλευσις) of Demeter, though some traced its name from an eponymous hero Eleusis. (Paus. 1.38.7.) It was one of the 12 independent states into which Attica was said to have been originally divided. (Strab. ix. p.397.) It was related that in the reign of Eumolpus, king of Eleusis, and Erechtheus, king of Athens, there was a war between the two states, in which the Eleusinians were defeated, whereupon they agreed to acknowledge the supremacy of Athens in every thing except the celebration of the mysteries, of which they were to continue to have the management. (Thuc. 2.15; Paus. 1.38.3.) Eleusis afterwards became an Attic demus, but in consequence of its sacred character it was allowed to retain the title of πόλις (Strab. ix. p.395; Paus. 1.38.7), and to coin its own money, a privilege possessed by no other town in Attica, except Athens. The history of Eleusis is part of the history of Athens. Once a year the great Eleusinian procession travelled from Athens to Eleusis, along the Sacred Way, which has been already described at length. [ATTICA p. 327, seq.] The ancient temple of Demeter at Eleusis was burnt by the Persians in B.C. 484 (Herod. ix. p. 395); and it was not till the administration of Pericles that an attempt was made to rebuild it (see below). When the power of the Thirty was overthrown after the Peloponnesian War, they retired to Eleusis, which they had secured beforehand, but where they maintained themselves for only a short time. (Xen. Hell. 2.4. 8, seq., 43) Under the Romans Eleusis enjoyed great prosperity, as initiation into its mysteries became fashionable among the Roman nobles. It was destroyed by Alaric in A.D. 396, and from that time disappears from history. When Spon and Wheler visited the site in 1676, it was entirely deserted. In the following century it was again inhabited, and it Ad is now a small village called Λεφῖνα, which is only a corruption of the ancient name.

“Eleusis was built at the eastern end of a low rocky height, a mile in length, which lies parallel to the sea-shore, and is separated to the west from the falls of Mount Cerata by a narrow branch of the plain. The eastern extremity of the hill was levelled artificially for the reception of the Hierum of Demeter and the other sacred buildings. Above these are the ruins of an acropolis. [ ‘Castellum, quod et imminet, et circumdatum est templo,’ Liv. 31.25.] A triangular space of about 500 yards each side, lying between the hill and the shore, was occupied by the town of Eleusis. On the eastern side the town wall is traced along the summit of an artificial embankment, carried across the marshy ground from some heights near the Hierum, on one of which stands a castle (built during the middle ages of the Byzantine empire). This wall, according to a common practice in the military architecture of the Greeks, was prolonged into the sea, so as to form a mole sheltering a harbour, which was entirely artificial, and was formed by this and two other longer moles which project about 100 yards into the sea. There are many remains of walls and buildings along the shore, as well as in other parts of the town and citadel; but they are mere foundations, the Hierum alone preserving any considerable remains.” (Leake.)

Pausanias has left us only a very brief description of Eleusis (1.38.6): “The Eleusinians have a temple of Triptolemus, another of Artemis Propylaea, and a third of Poseidon the Father, and a well called Callichorum, where the Eleusinian women first instituted a dance and sang in honour of the goddess. They say that the Rharian plain was the first place in which corn was sown and first produced a harvest, and that hence barley from this plan is employed for making sacrificial cakes. There the so-called threshing-floor and altar of Triptolemus are shewn. The things within the wall of the Hierum [i. e. the temple of Demeter] a dream forbade me

  • 1. Temple of Artemis Propylaea.
  • 2. Outer Propylaeum.
  • 3. Inner Propylaeum.
  • 4. Temple of Demeter.
  • 5. Well of Callichorum.
  • a,a,a. Outer Inclosure of the Sacred Buildings.
  • b,b,b. Inner Inclosure of the Sacred Buildings.
  • H. Harbour.

[p. 1.814]to describe.” The Rharian plain is also mentioned in the Homeric Hymn to Artemis (450): it appears to have been in the neighbourhood of the city; but its site cannot be determined.

The present state of the antiquities at Eleusis is described by the Commission of the Dilettanti, of whose researches a brief account is given by Leake. Upon approaching Eleusis from Athens, the first conspicuous object is the remains of a large pavement, terminating in some heaps of ruins, which are the remains of a propylaeum, of very nearly the same plan and dimensions as that of the Acropolis of Athens. Before it, near the middle of a platform cut in the rock, are the ruins of a small temple, 40 feet long and 20 broad, which was undoubtedly the temple of Artemis Propylaea. (See plan, 1.) “The peribolus, which abutted on the Propylaeum, formed the exterior inclosure of the Hierum (plan, a, a, a). At a distance of 50 feet from the propylaeum was the north-eastern angle of the inner inclosure (plan, b, b, b), which was in shape an irregular pentagon. Its entrance was at the angle just mentioned, where the rock was cut away both horizontally and vertically to receive another propylaeum (plan, 3) much smaller than the former, and. which consisted of an opening 32 feet wide between two parallel walls of 50 feet in length. Towards the inner extremity this opening was narrowed by transverse walls to a gateway of 12 feet in width, which was decorated with antae, opposed to two Ionic columns. Between the inner front of this propylaeum and the site of the great temple lay, until the year 1801, the colossal bust of Pentelic marble, crowned with a basket, which is now deposited in the public library at Cambridge. It has been supposed to be a fragment of the statue of Demeter which was adored in the temple; but, to judge from the position in which it was found, and from the unfinished appearance of the surface in those few parts where any original surface remains, the statue seems rather to have been that of a Cistophorus, serving for some architectural decoration, like the Caryatides of the Erechtheium.”

The temple of Demeter itself, sometimes called δ μυστικὸς σηκός, or τὸ τελεστήριον, was the largest in all Greece, and is described by Strabo as capable of containing as many persons as a theatre (ix. p. 395). The plan of the building was designed by Ictinus, the architect of the Parthenon at Athens; but it was many years before it was completed, and the names of several architects are preserved who were employed in building it. Its portico of 12 columns was not built till the time of Demetrius Phalereus, about B.C. 318, by the architect Philo. (Strab. l.c.; Plut. Per. 13; Dict. of Biogr. vol. iii. p. 314a.) When finished, it was considered one of the four finest examples of Grecian architecture in marble. It faced the south-east. Its site is occupied by the centre of the modern village, in consequence of which it is difficult to obtain all the details of the building. The Commission of the Dilettanti Society supposed the cella to be 166 feet square within; and “comparing the fragments which they found with the description of Plutarch (Plut. Per. 13), they thought themselves warranted in concluding that the roof of the cella was covered with tiles of marble like the temples of Athens; that it was supported by 28 Doric columns, of a diameter (measured under the capital) of 3 feet 2 inches; that the columns were disposed in two double rows across the cella, one near the front, the other near the back; and that they were surmounted by ranges of smaller columns, as in the Parthenon, and as we still see exemplified in one of the existing temples at Paestum. The cella was fronted with a magnificent portico of 12 Doric columns, measuring 61 1/2 feet at the lower diameter of the shaft, but fluted only in a narrow ring at the top and bottom. The platform at the back of the temple was 20 feet above the level of the pavement of the portico. An ascent of steps led up to this platform on the outside of the north-western angle of the temple, not far from where another flight of steps ascended from the platform to a portal adorned with two columns, which perhaps formed a small propylaeum, communicating from the Hierum to the Acropolis.”

There are no remains which can be safely ascribed to the temple of Triptolemus, or to that of Poseidon. “The well Callichorum may have been that which is now seen not far from the foot of the northern side of the hill of Eleusis, within the bifurcation of two roads leading to Megara and to Eleutherae, for near it are the foundations of a wall and portico” (plan, 5). Near Eleusis was the monument of Tellus, mentioned by Herodotus (1.30).

The town of Eleusis and its immediate neighbourhood were exposed to inundations from the river Cephissus, which, though almost dry during the greater part of the year, is sometimes swollen to such an extent as to spread itself over a large part of the plain. Demosthenes alludes to inundations at Eleusis (c. Callicl. p. 1279); and Hadrian raised some embankments in the plain in consequence of an inundation which occurred while he was spending the winter at Athens (Euseb. Chron. p. 81). In the plain about a mile to the south of Eleusis are the remains of two ancient mounds, which are probably the embankments of Hadrian. To the same emperor most likely Eleusis was indebted for a supply of good water by means of the aqueduct, the ruins of which are still seen stretching across the plain from Eleusis in a north-easterly direction. (Leake, Demi of Attica, p. 154, seq., from which the greater part of the preceding account is taken.) The annexed coin represents on the obverse Demeter in a chariot drawn by winged snakes, and holding in her hand a bunch of corn, and on the reverse a sow, the animal usually sacrificed to Demeter.



An ancient town of Boeotia, on the river Triton, and near the lake Copais, which, together with the neighbouring town of Athenae, was destroyed by an inundation. (Strab. ix. p.407; Paus. 9.24.2; Leake, Northern Greece, vol. ii. pp. 136, 293.)

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