Researchers discovered a gem seal featuring a portrait of Apollon in the drainage channel of the City of David late last month. It was found in archaeological soil that was removed from the foundations of the Western Wall during work on the Archaeological Sifting Project in Tzurim Valley National Park. The excavations were carried out under the auspices of the City of David and the Israel Nature and Parks Authority.


The gem features an engraved portrait of Apollon. According to researchers, this surprising and rare find is only the third secured gem sealing (intaglio) from the Second Temple period to have been discovered in Jerusalem.

The gem is cut from dark brown jasper and has remnants of light yellow, brown and white layers. In antiquity, jasper was considered a precious stone. The gem sealing was embedded in a ring, and it dates from the first century CE (Second Temple period).

The oval-shaped gem is 13 mm. long, 11 mm. wide and 3 mm. thick. Because it is an intaglio – having a design carved into the upper side of the stone – its main function was a seal to be stamped on soft material, usually beeswax, for use as a personal signature on contracts, letters, wills, goods and bundles of money.

The intaglio features an engraving of Apollon’s head in profile to the left, with long hair flowing over a wide, pillar-like neck, large nose, thick lips and small, prominent chin. The hair is styled in a series of parallel lines directed to the apex and surrounded by a braid above the forehead. One line of hair marks a strand that covers the ear; long curls flow over part of the neck, reaching the left shoulder. Thin diagonal lines at the base of the head mark the upper end of the garment and the body.

Although Apollon is an Olympian deity of the Hellenic and Roman cultures, it is highly probable that the person wearing the ring with Apollo’s portrait was a Jew, according to the researchers, archaeologist Eli Shukron, Prof. Shua Amorai-Stark and senior archaeologist Malka Hershkovitz. SHUKRON, who conducted the excavation in which the gem was found, said in a press release: 

“It is rare to find seal remains bearing the image of the god Apollo at sites identified with the Jewish population. To this day, two such gems [seals] have been found at Masada, another in Jerusalem inside an ossuary [burial box] in a Jewish tomb on Mount Scopus and the current gem that was discovered in close proximity to the Temple Mount. When we found the gem, we asked ourselves: ‘What is Apollo doing in Jerusalem? And why would a Jew wear a ring with the portrait of a foreign god?’ The answer to this, in our opinion, lies in the fact that the owner of the ring did so not as a ritual act that expresses religious belief, but as a means of making use of the impact that Apollo’s figure represents: light, purity, health and success.”

Amorai-Stark, a researcher of engraved gems, added: 

“At the end of the Second Temple period, the sun god Apollo was one of the most popular and revered deities in Eastern Mediterranean regions. Apollo was a god of manifold functions, meanings and epithets. Among Apollo’s spheres of responsibility, it is likely that association with sun and light – as well as with logic, reason, prophecy and healing – that fascinated some Jews, given that the element of light versus darkness was prominently present in the Jewish worldview in those days. The fact that the craftsman of this gem left the yellow-golden and light brown layers on the god’s hair probably indicates a desire to emphasize the aspect of light in the god’s persona, as well as in the aura that surrounded his head,” he said. “The choice of a dark stone with yellow coloring of hair suggests that the creator or owner of this intaglio sought to emphasize the dichotomous aspect of light and darkness and/or their connectedness.”

The Archaeological Sifting Project at Tzurim Valley National Park, sponsored by the City of David and the Nature and National Parks Authority, is a large-scale archaeological project that offers the public an opportunity to experience and appreciate archaeological activity without the need for advanced training or specialized knowledge.

The sifting has been supervised closely by archaeologists. It allows participants to become “archaeologists for a day” as they process archaeological material unearthed in City of David excavations, where they often find ancient treasures. The findings discovered thus far in the project include an imprint of King Hezekiah, coins from different periods, arrowheads and jewelry.

Due to the current nationwide closure of tourist sites, the site is closed. But it will be reopened to the public as soon as conditions permit.

The Maimakteria is one of those festivals not a lot has survived about. We know it was in honor of Zeus Maimaktes, the Blustering, and that it was connected to the weather and protection of crops. Protecting our crops is a desire we have to this day so we will celebrate the Maimakteria, regardless. Will you join us on November 2, at the usual 10 am EST?


The months of late fall and early winter are relatively light on the festival agenda. This could have at least three reasons: It's getting cold and wet out and the ancient Hellenes held their rituals outdoors, most of the harvesting was done so food was assured or there was nothing that could be done to decrease the shortage, and with the fall of winter, warfare came to a halt; the seas were too rough to go on campaigns and it would soon be too cold to exist comfortably in a war camp. Seeing as these two latter two reasons were the major ones to have festivals, these months are quiet ones. In the Athenian calendar, only two festivals are attested to take place this month: the Maimakteria and the Pompaia.

Most likely, the Maimakteria was connected to the Pompaia, which took place at a later date in the month. I say 'a later date' because we are not sure of the dating. Parke (in 'Festivals of the Athenians', page 96) states that the Pompaia in honor of Zeus Meilichios was held during the last third of Maimakterion which would be on or after 20 Maimakterion. Parke cites the treatise on the Pompaia by Polemon of Ilion so we're fairly confident he is correct on the date. He also states that the Maimakteria took place 'mid-month'. The sixteenth is as viable a date as any other around this time.

The Pompaia was linked to purification. During this rite a white sheep's fleece--the 'Diòs Koidion', as it was called--was placed on the ground and the priests who took part in the rite stood on it with their left foot to be purified and blessed. We believe the Maimakteria was when this sheep was sacrificed.

If the rite followed the standard practice of Hellenic ritual, the sheep was led to the altar--most likely that of Zeus--in procession and then sacrificed. The animal was skinned and the fleece cleaned. The Diòs Koidion was said to have purifying and other magical qualities that would rub off on he who interacted with it, if he stood on it with his left foot.

The sheep skin was most likely not connected to Zeus at the start of the practice. The connection with Zeus most likely happened through assimilation: the rite fell in a month where people prepared for winter and where the weather got harsher. As such, Zeus had a major impact on the inhabitants of Athens; he controls the weather after all. The sheep from which the skin was used became sacrificed to Him as an appeasement, and then the ritually charged skin made its way through the city.

We hope you will join us for the Maimakteria on November 2. You can download the ritual here and join the community for the event here.

 Busy, busy, busy day! Please have some nice, relaxing music on me, inspired by ancient Hellenic music. 

A large number of grave offerings and high-quality burial items were discovered during the five-year excavation programme at the Mycenaean necropolis of Trapeza, seven kilometers southwest of Aegion. The findings testify to the region’s amazing cultural and social vitality. The plateau is identified with the city of Rhypes, the metropolis of Croton in Magna Graecia during the colonization of the 8th century BC.


The Mycenaean necropolis is located on the southwestern slope of the plateau and on the ancient road leading to the citadel of historical times. The excavated tombs are arranged on at least three levels of terraces along the south side of Trapeza, a few meters from each other, in a parallel arrangement and with a north-south orientation. These are chamber tombs carved into the soft rock of the subsoil.

The necropolis comprises tombs with chambers no wider than 3.5-4 meters and streets not exceeding a length of 6-7 meters and a width of 1.5 meters. The burial chambers have various shapes; circular, rectangular and even almost quadrangular with rounded corners and walls with irregular contours. Elongated pits were unearthed below the chambers, carved niches in the streets’ retaining walls for the secondary deposition of older burials, as well as elliptical or square pits dug in the street surfaces which were found to be empty and could have been originally been carved for concealing ritual ware. The side chambers in the streets of the tombs where children were buried are of particular importance.

The tombs were used repeatedly and over a long period of time. The tomb chambers collapsed in historical times, between the Geometric and Archaic period, as indicated by the artefacts found in “craters” formed in the ground owing to the collapse of the chambers’ roofs.

The necropolis, founded in the LH IIIA 1 period, experienced its heyday during the Early Palatial period of the Mycenaean world, i.e. in parallel with the heights reached by the great centers of Mycenae, Tiryns and Pylos. A significant reuse of the tombs dates back to the 12th century BC, during the Post-Palatial period, probably after the early LH IIIC, when the tombs were repeatedly reopened, being at the same time a place of burial customs and complex ritual practices until the end of the Bronze Age, probably in the advanced Sub-Mycenaean period.

The quality of the finds of the Mycenaean necropolis of Trapeza is proved by the valuable sets of vessels that show a dependence on palace standards but also autonomous links with other regions, from the western Peloponnese to Crete. The grave goods are enriched with numerous seal stones and all kinds of beads and tesserae from various materials – glass, faience, gold, carnelian, rock crystal – that make up necklaces and ornate jewelry, ox head shaped gold-amulets indicating trading relations with the eastern Aegean and Cyprus.  A few tombs show elements of elitism, declaring social prestige and a possible connection with the palaces especially by a valuable combination of weapons and tools.

The Post-Palatial period from the 12th century BC.and after includes various phases of use, which impress mainly for their ritual practices. These relate to the treatment of the bones and remains of the former deceased, who are regarded as glorious ancestors and become the recipients of offerings. The purpose of these ceremonies is to create a genealogical bond by activating the memory of a past perceived as an integral part of the community.

Moreover, the findings from the backfills of the streets of tombs provide exclusive evidence of social practices that are a milestone in the conducting of a funeral, but also of rituals such as offerings and libations in front of the sealed chamber doors during posthumous visits to the tombs. Thus, the necropolis also becomes a place for transmitting traditions and a collective memory.

The location of the Mycenaean settlement of Trapeza is not yet clear. During the early cycle of use of the necropolis, the settlement was possibly situated on a hill, about 100 meters south of Trapeza. Today, research of a Middle Helladic settlement is in progress at this site, yielding sporadic evidence of Mycenaean pottery.

The systematic excavation of Trapeza in Aigion, is headed by Dr. Andreas G. Bordos of the Ephorate of Antiquities of Achaia. Participating in the interdisciplinary research programme of the Mycenaean necropolis are Elisabetta Borgna, Professor of Aegean Archaeology at the University of Udine, with a group of students from the Universities of Udine, Trieste and Venice, as well as postgraduate students from Greek universities.

The months of late fall and early winter are relatively light on the festival agenda--Maimakterion, the month we are in now, wasn't even on the sacrificial calendar of Erkhia, for example. This could have at least three reasons: It's getting cold and wet out and the ancient Hellenes held their rituals outdoors, most of the harvesting was done so food was assured or there was nothing that could be done to decrease the shortage, and with the fall of winter, warfare came to a halt; the seas were too rough to go on campaigns and it would soon be too cold to exist comfortably in a war camp. Seeing as these two latter two reasons were the major ones to have festivals, these months are quiet ones. Elaion will host a PAT ritual for the Pompaia October 27, at the usual 10 AM EST.


Let's start with something obvious we do not know about the Pompaia: the actual date of the festival. Parke (in 'Festivals of the Athenians', page 96) states that the Pompaia in honor of Zeus Meilichios was held during the last third of Maimakterion which would be on or after 20 Maimakterion. Parke cites the treatise on the Pompaia by Polemon of Ilion so we're fairly confident he is correct on the date.

What we do know is that the Pompaia was not originally celebrated by the people of Athens, but solely by its priests. Potentially, it was only celebrated by the priests of Zeus. It was linked to purification. It was one of the festivals that, by Classical times, had already lost much of its original meaning, but which was repeated year after year because it had always been repeated year after year--and in general these had been good years. Not having the rite on the calendar could have devastating effects, so it was performed.

The Pompaia followed the Maimakteria during which a sheep was most likely sacrificed and the fleece collected and cleaned. During the Pompaia a second procession took place with the fleece. The fleece--the 'Diòs Koidion', as it was called--was said to have purifying and other magical qualities that would rub off on he who interacted with it, if he stood on it with his left foot. In fact, a sheep skin was used in the Eleusinian Mysteries in this fashion to absolve those who had a lot of guilt to carry around--or a lot of grief. The Homeric Hymn to Demeter mentions her sitting down in a chair covered by a fleece, and there is also artwork of initiates shrouded in a fleece.

The sheep skin was most likely not connected to Zeus at the start of the practice; as we have seen, it had much stronger ties to other deities. The Pompaia rite simply called for a sheep skin. The connection with Zeus most likely happened through assimilation: the rite fell in a month where people prepared for winter and where the weather got harsher. As such, Zeus had a major impact on the inhabitants of Athens; he controls the weather after all. The sheep from which the skin was used became sacrificed to Him as an appeasement, and then the ritually charged skin made its way through the city.

In the same fashion, the kērukeion (κηρύκειον)--better known as the caduceus--the snake-entwined staff that was the symbol of Hermes, was carried through the city. Most likely Hermes was not part of the actual rite; the kērukeion, like the Diòs Koidion, was a powerful symbol which was used to offer protection and purification to the city now winter was upon them. After all, the kērukeion was said to ward off all evil--and the cold, dark, days of winter most certainly had those. Hermes was added through the procession solely by association, but it is doubtful that He also received an animal sacrifice. 

The Pompaia--meaning 'to exorcise'--was not popular, and in general these minor festivals were performed by the priests, for the city, without its inhabitants taking part. A small group of priests most likely walked the city with the objects and those who came upon the group would have said their prayers, spoke their wishes, and paid their respects. Yet, they were not included in the ceremony. This rite fell to the priests, so they could ask the Gods to continue placing their blanket of protection over the city.

As we have no ancient priests of Zeus hanging around, we take this responsibility upon ourselves instead. Will you join us on November 7, at 10 AM EST? You can join the community here and download the ritual here.

A marble altar with an ancient Greek inscription has been discovered at the site of Patara, close to the south-west coastal city of Antalya in Turkey. The altar, which features a relief of a snake wrapped around the ancient stone, is thought to be over 2,000 years old.

Speaking to Turkish media, Mustafa Koçak, an archaeologist working at the site, noted that such an altar has never been found in the area, but similar finds have been discovered at other ancient sites. He hypothesized that the snake motif relates to the worship of the Gods, as people would make sacrifices and give offerings to the Gods at altars like this one.

Koçak added that archaeologists have encountered sculptural forms of large snakes throughout their excavations that resemble the one found on the altar, and theorized that they may have also been others present in the city during ancient times.

Further study and translation of the Greek inscription may reveal more information about the use and historic context of the altar. However, in descriptions of the impressive find, the Turkish press has not even mentioned the presence of the ancient Greek inscription on the column.

The ancient city of Patara, located in Lycia, where the altar was found, was a hub for commerce and maritime activity in antiquity. Taking its name after its mythological founder Patarus, son of Apollo, Patara served as an important site in Greek and Roman antiquity. In 333 BC, Alexander the Great conquered the city, and it was governed by a series of emperors throughout its long history.

Patara’s strategic location in modern-day southwest Turkey helped it preserve its economic and cultural importance through the Byzantine period as well, and it has significance to Christians, since it was the birthplace of St. Nicholas, the bishop of Myra, in 270 AD.

With its ancient history, and because it was continually inhabited for so many centuries, the site is home to many Greek and Roman ruins, including an impressive Roman-era theater.

The Acropolis is the crowning jewel of the Greek capital and one of the most important cultural sites not only in Greece but the entire world. This astonishing archaeological site was the birthplace of democracy and one of the most important centers of ancient Hellas.


For anyone heading to Athens, it’s a definite must-see and Greekcitytimes.com has put together some interesting facts about the Acropolis that shine even more light on a monument which is a universal symbol of civilization and one of the greatest architectural complexes to ever be built.

-The term “Acropolis” comes from the Greek words “akron” (which means the “highest point or extremity” and “polis” (which means “city”). Acropolis can be taken to mean “High City”, “City on the Extremity”, or “City on the Air”. Greece has many other acropoleis, but the term most often refers to the Acropolis of Athens.

- Three main structural edifices of the Acropolis are the Parthenon, the Erechteion and the Temple of Athena Nike. The Parthenon, which literally means ‘the apartment of the virgin’, is dedicated to the Goddess Athena, who is also considered as the patroness of the city of Athens. The Erechteion is said to be located on the most sacred corner of the Acropolis Hill, and was a place where all holy ceremonies linked to Goddess Athena and God Poseidon were held.

-The Acropolis suffered extensive damage during the Morean War. The Parthenon was used to store gunpowder during this time, and it was hit by a cannonball when the Venetians lay siege to the area in 1687. The Turks had also demolished the Temple of Athena Nike to create space for a canon battery.

-This temple to Athena was built in 447 BC and completed 9 years after, although it took another 6 years to decorate the structure. It was constructed during the time when the Athenian Empire was at its most powerful.

-The temple was the first on Acropolis to have a fully Ionic order form. It has been dismantled to remove its friezes, which are now on display in the Acropolis Museum. The friezes depict several scenes such as the deeds of Hercules and involves various sculptures like the statue of Moscophoros.

- Christians converted the temples of Acropolis into churches in the 6th century, with the Parthenon becoming a church that was dedicated to Panagia (Virgin Mary). It then became known as the Church of the Parthenos Maria.

- When the Ottomans conquered the city in the 1460s, the Parthenon was transformed into a mosque.

- The Parthenon is often called “the world’s most perfect building.” Architectural tricks like a slight angling of the temple pedestal correct the optical impression that the building sags in the middle, and barrel-like curves on the columns counteract the illusion that they narrow in the middle. So in a way, one might say the Parthenon’s perfection is only achieved through a series of deliberate imperfections.

- The Greek flag flying on the Acropolis today has special historic significance. In 1941, two young men pulled down the swastika flag flying there during the Nazi occupation, leaving it empty. Incredibly, they’d reached the Acropolis using ancient passages they’d learned about in Greek history books. It was a powerful act of defiance that set the tone for the fierce Greek Resistance movement. Today, you can see the Greek Presidential Guard, the Evzones, perform a flag-raising and flag-lowering at dawn and dusk on Sundays.

- The Acropolis is one of the earliest known settlements in Greece. Built sometime around the fourth millennium, the Acropolis was an ancient city that still retains much of its original Classical architecture and temples, including the Parthenon. The Parthenon was built between 447 and 432 BC as a sacred temple for the goddess Athena, and it’s a true marvel to behold. The entire complex of statues, temples, pillars, and structures is stunning.

- The Acropolis rises 490 feet above sea level and covers a surface area of about 30,000 square meters.

- The earliest instances of human occupation of the Acropolis belong to the Neolithic phase of the 4th millennium B.C., where evidence shows human occupation in the caves around Attica.

- In 1806, Lord Elgin took permission from the Ottomans and managed to remove some of the marble sculptures which survived the explosion. These are now currently housed in the British Museum in London. Greece has tried very hard to try and gain the Marbles back.