The sanctuary of Artemis Orthia

At the east end of the city, near the banks of the river Evrotas, it is worth visiting the Sanctuary of Artemis Orthia (9th century BC), one of the most important sanctuaries of ancient Sparta, which was the religious center of Spartan “Agoge” (training of the young).
The Mycenaean deity Orthia was originally worshiped in the temple, which in historical times was identified with Artemis.

The excavations of the British School of Athens from the beginning of 1900 proved the continuous worship of the goddess from the geometric era until the Roman times, when the sanctuary acquired a monumental form with an altar of 24 m in length and 7 m. width. In the geometric era, here was a small shrine with an altar which during the 8th c. BC was replaced by a temple that was later destroyed and gave way to a new one, built on the same foundations, in the 2nd c. BC. The Romans in the 3rd century AD added a theater to the east with a diameter of 54 m, with the temple taking the place of a stage. Externally, the construction was supported by a series of pillars and arches. The sanctuary was the place where the ritual of whipping was performed. During the ritual, which was based on the bloody customs of the time, Spartan teenagers, with the encouragement of their family, stood the whipping bravely even until death. Written sources state that the priestess of the temple holding the wooden statue of the goddess encouraged the whippers to hit harder. Those who remained standing were named winners. During the Roman era, the whipping ritual lost its religious character and became a bloody spectacle that attracted crowds of spectators.

As far as we know, the rituals in honor of the goddess had an initiating role and had the form of theatrical events with the participation of the public. The discovery of a large number of clay votive masks, led archaeologists to the conclusion that the participants either wore them during the rituals or they were imitations of others made from perishable materials. The figures of these masks vary as they depict warriors, young people, satyrs, gorgonia, and caricatures of the elderly, with the latter being the most numerous. Other finds include a large number of vases and thousands of small lead figurines with a huge range of subjects such as warriors, animals, mythological beings and many others that are considered offerings of ordinary citizens.