The Stoa at Brauron

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This week in our investigation of the sanctuary to Artemis in Brauron, we are going to take a look at the form and function of the stoa.

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The plan of the sanctuary, in case you forgot!

First, you may ask, what is a stoa? A stoa is a feature of Greek architecture that typically consists of a covered walkway alongside a building, supported by columns. The stoa at the sanctuary is pi-shaped, meaning it has three sides – or at least, it was intended to have three sides. Only the north end was fully completed, the others left in stages of construction.

The stoa is dated to the end of the 5th century BCE, and is done in the doric style. Looking at the site plan you can see several evenly-sized square rooms in the structure. These are thought to be dining rooms, for they have raised levels around the circumference of the room which would support eleven full-sized dining couches, and tables stood before them made with local limestone and marble tops. The doors of the rooms are off-centre to accommodate the couches all fitting nicely.

The columns out front of the north side of the stoa. These photographs are from the Perseus Project.
The columns out front of the north side of the stoa. These photographs are from the Perseus Project.

I refer to these rooms as dining rooms, for it seems a reasonable assumption as to their function. Papadimitriou (the archaeologist of the site) thought that perhaps these rooms were the residences of the arktoi, the little girls that participated in coming-of-age rituals at the site. He based this assumption on the small statues of children that were found outside the doors. While this may be possible, others think that these rooms must have been used by adults, whether they be visitors to the sanctuary, or the priestesses that lived and worked there.

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One of the dining rooms. See the off-centre entrance (the light coloured rectangle), the base of a marble table, and the raised perimeter of the room for couches.

Along the back of the building is a long hallway – you can see it on the plan with a dotted line. In this hallway were stone bases where boards were placed, and offerings (mostly clothing) were left here. These were dedicated by women who sought aid in childbirth from Artemis. The clothes were thought to be those worn in pregnancy, or those of women who did not survive the childbirth experience.

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The back hallway of the stoa. See the columns in the background for orientation. This long area probably housed offering garments from women who sought the goddess’ help.

Texts reference there being stables in the area, and though they have not been located, there is some suggestion that they might be out in behind the stoa. If this was another open-air space then it may have faced some sort of stable location. However more investigation would be needed to say with any certainty.

Next week we are going to take a look at the ancient bridge that still stands over the nearby river. Thanks for reading!

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