Samothrace Temple Complex

In antiquity, the fame of Samothrace, a tiny windswept island in the northern Aegean, emanated from its mystery cult of the Megaloi Theoi, the Great Gods, whose rites of initiation promised protection at sea and the opportunity to “become a better and more pious person in all ways” (Diodorus).  The Sanctuary itself has the unmistakable aura of sacred ground.  Set facing the sea in a cleft at the base of Mt. Phengari, the Sanctuary of the Great Gods physically integrates the divine forces of earth, sky, and sea that played a fundamental role in the mysteria.  Within its sacred landscape events occurred that shaped both the mythic and historical ancient world.   The island’s legendary family sired the Trojan race, gave form to the personification of Harmonia, and taught humans the sacred rites of the mysteria.  Here, legend has it that the parents of Alexander the Great first met; here, the last Macedonian king held out against the Romans.  The nature of the rites of initiation was held in silent trust by the community of initiated.  However, their power to transform is well attested by ancient authors, by the lists of initiates who came to the sanctuary, by the innovative architecture that sheltered the rituals, by the splendid dedications offered to the Gods, and by the humble but crucial detritus of cult—pottery and animal bones—that built up over centuries of use spanning from the 7th century BC to the 4th century AD.  The sanctuary thus provides a key point of access into the spiritual, political, and cultural psyche of the classical world.

The transformative power of the Mysteries is most palpably signaled today by the deployment of the innovative buildings that once framed the rites within the sacred landscape—a dozen extraordinary monuments, each distinct within the history of Greek architecture, each deftly positioned within the terrain to heighten the experience of the initiate, each archaeologically well-preserved although no longer standing.  In concert with the landscape, they justifiably make Samothrace one of the most important expressions of Hellenistic sacred space in the ancient Mediterranean.  .

In antiquity, the fame of Samothrace emanated from its mystery cult of the Megaloi Theoi, the Great Gods, whose rites of initiation promised protection at sea and the opportunity to “become a better and more pious person in all ways” (Diodorus). The Sanctuary itself has the unmistakable aura of sacred ground. Within its sacred space events occurred that shaped both the mythic and historical ancient world. The island’s legendary family sired the Trojan race; here, the parents of Alexander the Great first met and the last Macedonian king held out against the Romans. The nature of the rites of initiation was held in silent trust by the community of initiated.

As in the Mysteria of Eleusis, first-time participants in the Samothracian Mysteries were called mystai (μύσται, derived from the verb μύω, “to close the eyes”) and second-time participants were called epoptai (επόπται). A kind of preliminary myesis (initiation) presumably took place at the Theatral Circle. After undergoing this preliminary rite, the initiates, blindfolded, wandered through the darkness in search of the goddess Harmonia, the daughter of Zeus and Electra, whom, according to the Samothracian legend, Kadmos had carried, presumably by sea, when, in the course of his quest for Europa, he sailed by Samothrace. Harmonia was saved and brought back to Samothrace by her brothers, Dardanus and Iasion/Eetion, figures closely associated with the mysteries and with (the well-known role of the Great Gods) saving people in peril at sea. The happy outcome of the search for Harmonia, taking the form of her epiphany and of a sacred marriage, the wedding of Kadmos and Harmonia, was represented in the rite of Samothrace, enacted within the great Hall of Choral Dancers and reflected in the frieze which surrounded the building. 


The Sanctuary of the Great Gods, where the famous statue of Nike (Nike Precict: 12) was found in 1863, covers an area of ca. 12 acres, ca. 400 m. from the present NW coast of the island. The most important and earlier structures are crowded together on the gentle slope between two streams: the Hall of Choral Dancers (17, ca. 340 BC), the Altar Court (14, ca. 340-330 BC), the Hieron (15, 325-150 BC), the Dedication of Philip III and Alexander IV (24, 323-317 BC), the Rotunda of Arsinoe II (20, 288-270 BC). On the western periphery of the site the Stoa (11, first half of the 3rd c. BC), the Neorion (29, second quarter of the third c. BC), the Milesian Dedication (6, second half of the 3rd c. BC), and on its eastern extremity the Propylon of Ptolemy II (26, 285-281 BC) are located. Indications of religious activity date from the 7th century BC, but construction of monumental buildings began only in the 4th century BC and is associated with the munificence and the political interests of the royal house of Macedon, already from the reign of Philip II. The sanctuary, which attained its greatest glory in the 3rd and 2nd centuries BC, was abandoned towards the end of the 4th century AD. Archaeological research has provided a picture of its development, although neither archaeological data nor literature are able to penetrate the veil of secrecy that covers the mysteries.

Although explored as early as 1444 (Cyriac of Ancona), the Sanctuary was first systematically excavated in 1873 and 1875 by two Austrian expeditions directed by A. Conze. Since 1938, work at the site has been conducted under the auspices of the Institute of Fine Arts of New York University (K. Lehmann, J. R. McCredie, B. D. Wescoat) supervised since 1964 by the ΙΘ΄ Ephorate of Prehistoric and Classical Antiquities. Efforts have been directed toward excavation, publication, and presentation of the ancient monuments. During the last two decades the ΙΘ΄ Ephorate of Prehistoric and Classical Antiquities has undertaken an active role in conservation and site management.

Site Monuments

Unidentified Late Hellenistic Buildings
Three relatively small, rectangular buildings made of local sandstone are aligned along the western perimeter of the Sanctuary, north of the Stoa on the Western Hill and west of the large unfinished Hellenistic structure (Building A) of an earlier date.  The northern two buildings (1 and 2) faced each other, while the southern-most building (3) was oriented toward the south. Building 1, the largest, had a hexastyle prostyle porch, most likely of the Doric order.  Building 2 had a porch composed of two columns in antis.  In Building 3, pillars rather than columns formed the two supports of the façade.  In scale and design these three buildings resemble treasuries found at other Greek sanctuaries such as Delphi, Olympia, Nemea and Delos.    However, their function at Samothrace remains uncertain.

 Byzantine Fortification
 Centuries after the cult of the mysteries had been abandoned and the Sanctuary of the Great Gods had fallen into disrepair, the area was reoccupied.   During the tenth century A.D., Byzantine inhabitants constructed a roughly square, unroofed military fortification with towers along the north and south corners.  The erection of this defensive building along the northern terrace of the Western Hill covered the unfinished Building A and the foundations of three smaller Hellenistic buildings, reusing spoiled marble and sandstone blocks from these much earlier structures, as well as blocks from other buildings in the vicinity, including the Stoa, Neorion, and Milesian Banquet Hall.  The builders of the fortification used cement to bind these materials as needed. The fortification seems only to have served a military purpose for about 100 years, and it was later repurposed as a domestic building with the construction of additional walls. Although 19th and early 20th century investigators of the Sanctuary were careful to preserve the ancient structures, the Byzantine fortification suffered intentional destruction in the quest to recover the ancient materials imbedded within it.

Banqueting Hall dedicated by a Woman from Miletos
 This unusual three-chambered building occupies the northern side of the Western Hill.  It faces south and consists of a central open chamber with a hexastyle (six columns) prostyle Ionic façade, which provides access to the slightly smaller chambers that flank each side.  The west and central chambers rest on natural soil, but a deep foundation of 14 courses had to be constructed for the eastern chamber, which crossed into the ravine cut by the central torrent through the center of the Sanctuary.  The foundations of the building consist of a variety of materials including porous sandstone, andesite, reused andesite porphyry, and a highly friable gray limestone.  The ordered part of the superstructure was built of Thasian marble.  Some marble wall blocks also survive, but it is possible that sections of the wall were composed of porous sandstone covered with stucco.  The design of the entablature follows Samothracian tradition in combining epistyle, frieze, and dentils.  The proportions and design of this part f the building reflect Hellenistic and particularly Macedonian practice. The remains of the epistyle and anta prove that while the side rooms were smaller, they rose to the same height as the main chamber and were tied together aesthetically by the entablature which wrapped around the entire structure.  The side chambers were entered from the main chamber through large, off-center doorways.

Dining Room Building /Additional Dining Rooms to the North
Along the lower ridge of the Western Hill below the Stoa, stood a large dining complex divided into three chambers, each measuring approximately 6.50 m on each side.  The square plan of the three rooms, along with a raised marble border on the floor of the two lateral rooms provides evidence that dining couches once lined the walls of these chambers. Inside the marble border, the lateral rooms were paved with marble chips in set cement, while the central room was entirely paved with black and white pebbles set in cement. Here pilgrims could recline and dine as part of the ceremonies accompanying initiation. 
The dining rooms faced the nearby Hall of Choral Dancers on the opposite side of the central torrent. Given the very limited passage around western side of the Hall of Choral Dancers to the southern part of the Sanctuary, it is likely that the torrent was canalized and covered, at least in large stretches through the center of the Sanctuary.  If so, the dining rooms would have communicated directly with the center of the Sanctuary.  Although no longer preserved, either a porch or paved terrace on the eastern side of the building provided access to this complex of dining rooms.
In the late Hellenistic period a small square room with fieldstone walls was attached to the northern end of the central dining complex.  Its off-center threshold indicates its function.  The surviving floor was composed of roughly cut tessarae set in cement.
Yet another larger square room, measuring approximately 9.60 m on each side was added to the north of this smaller chamber during the Roman expansion of the Sanctuary, using mortar to bind fieldstone masonry.  It may replace an earlier room on the northern side of the complex.  Based on its shape and location, it most likely served as an additional dining room. 


As the longest building in the Sanctuary of the Great Gods, the Stoa dominated the western side of the temenos and provided shelter for the many visitors to the Sanctuary.  One of the longest stoas in the Northeastern Aegean, the Samothracian Stoa stood ca. 104 m north to south, and ca. 13.40 m east to west. It was first excavated by the Austrian expedition led by A. Conze in 1875, who determined its plan and identified its date.   The team from New York University further excavated the site in the 1960s.
The construction required alteration of the hill with terraced walls to provide a suitable site for the Stoa. The building consisted of walls to the north, south, and west, and was open on the east side. The eastern facade had a single step, upon which rested 35 Doric columns, topped by a Doric entablature. The foundation was constructed of limestone, with a sub-foundation of boulders and pottery shards used as fill in the northern end. The roof consisted of terracotta roof tiles and a rinceau gutter with lion's head water spouts and palmette antefixes. Doors probably existed on the rear western wall, leading out to the open area behind the Stoa. The walls of the Stoa were built with limestone masonry, covered in white marble stucco.   
Inside the Stoa, a row of 16 Ionic columns runs parallel to the eastern facade, with an engaged Ionic half column at each end. These columns supported a wooden architrave upon which the roof timbers lay. The interior walls were plastered, and painted in red, white, and blue-grey or black to resemble masonry. Inscriptions of what seem to be a list of initiates into the cult were scratched into the plaster on the walls. The floor consisted of earth.
Foundations for statues or monuments stood on the terrace in front of the eastern facade. One of these foundations supported the monument of Philip V, dedicated by the Macedonians to the Great Gods around 200 B.C. The base and capital of its supporting Doric column are now kept in the courtyard of the Samothrace Archaeological Museum.
Nike Monument
 The most famous monument of Samothrace—and one of the earliest discoveries--is the great marble Winged Victory (Nike in Greek) lighting on the prow of a ship that appears to move swiftly forward.  She touches down lightly on her slightly bent right leg while her left leg trails behind. Her torso twists, leaning to her right as her shoulders incline slightly towards her left. Her wings are blown back behind her, the right, as we now know, rising higher and more windswept than the left. Her dress billows over her thigh, chest, and stomach, clinging to her body while it gathers between her striding legs and around her hips, creating a contrast between smooth skin and textured cloth.  The ship’s prow, set at angle to the rectangular precinct, emerged from the monument as though it were actually sailing through water, with the statue turned slightly inward toward the Sanctuary.  The statue exemplifies the movement, gesture, and rich texturing of the finest Hellenistic sculpture. The Nike is carved from creamy colored Parian marble, while the ship is made of dark blue Rhodian marble from Lartos. 
The famous statue of Nike (Winged Victory of Samothrace), stood above the theater


A place of performance and witness, the Theater was located on the Western Hill of the Sanctuary, cut into the hillside to the east of the southern end of the Stoa.  At the time of the French excavations in 1923, multi-colored seats made of white limestone and red porphyry were visible.  Little of the Theater’s structure remains today, in part due to the pillaging of these stone seats between 1927 and 1937.  However, the contours of the cavea, or semi-circular seating area, as well as very fragmentary remains of the seating, are still visible within the slope of the ridge.  Typical in the design of Greek theaters, the hill provided support for the cavea, integrating the built structure into the natural topography of the site.  Because a streambed was channeled directly in front of the Theater in antiquity, it seems likely that the orchestra would have been covered with a wooden floor during the summer festival season.
Performances honoring the Great Gods and retelling the mythology of Samothrace were probably enacted in the Theater.  We have some suggestion of their subject in two decrees (ca. 200 BC) honoring Dymas of Iasos for his dramas concerning Dardanos, member of the mythological family of Samothrace and founder of Troy.  It is possible that the theater served for ritual dramas connected to the cult as well as for festival performances. The Theater directly interacted with monuments around it.  Walking up to the Theater from the east, pilgrims could see the Nike rising from behind, as the digital model now confirms.  When audience members were seated and facing toward the west, they would have a good view of the façade of the nearby Altar Court.   The Theater does not appear to have had a stone skene, but the façade of the Altar Court may have provided a backdrop for rituals or other performances viewed in the Theater.

Altar Court
The Altar Court, an unroofed rectangular enclosure, stands to the south of the Hall of Votive Gifts, between the Hieron and the Theater. The structure rests on a foundation composed of large blocks of local gray-brown marine limestone. The building faces westward toward the Theater, and its Thasian marble facade consists of a Doric colonnade of four columns framed by returning walls.  The side (northern and southern) and back (eastern) walls were built with local limestone blocks finished with plaster.  On the facade, metal grills ran across the the intercolumniations to control access into the enclosed precinct. The walls were capped with a marble course (epikranitis) that carried the crown molding of anta capitals around the entire structure. Although unroofed, the building carried a full entablature.
According to the excavator, Karl Lehmann, the precinct enclosed a large outcropping of dark red porphyry, which had served as a sacrificial platform in the Archaic period.  When the Altar Court was built, the outcropping was covered with marble slabs to create a monumental altar approaced by an ascending staircase.  The floor of the front part of the enclosure was covered with small, diamond-shaped marble plaving stones, in a pattern similar to the central section of the floor of the Dedication of Philip III and Alexander IV.
Although several large fragments of the dedicatory inscription carved on the epistyle survive, there is some debate concerning the donor. K. Lehmann restored the name of the donor as Arrhidaios and linked the building with Philip III Arrhidaios, the half brother of Alexander the Great.  However, noting that Lehmann’s restoration of the extant letters required an unusual spelling, P.M. Fraser suggested a simpler interpretation of the extant letters, instead restoring the dedicator’s name as Adaios.
The Altar Court’s orientation and proximity to the Theater suggests the buildings were in close communication.  The Altar Court may have provided a kind of skene, or backdrop, for theatrical performances.  The Theater may also have served as a gathering place to witness the rituals performed in the Altar Court.  
In current investigations, we are exploring more precisely the relationship between the Altar Court, the Theater, and the large terrace to the south of the Heiron and Altar Court.   


The Hieron, one of the most impressive buildings in the Sanctuary, stands in the southern end of the central valley, adjacent to the Altar Court. Although the centerpiece of the Sanctuary today, in antiquity the Hieron was obscured almost entirely from view by the broad Hall of Choral Dancers. Rounding the corner from the central plateia, which surely afforded a carefully choreographed, dramatic approach for the ancient visitor who would have been delighted by the sudden appearance of such a grand structure.
The Thasian marble building is oriented on a north-south axis and rests on limestone foundations measuring c. 13 m. wide by 40 m. long. The building features a Doric double colonnade of six columns before a long cella terminating in a hidden apse that is not betrayed by the rectilinear design on the exterior. Elaborate architectural embellishments and sculptural additions adorn both the inside and the outside of the building. The roofline was enhanced on both the north and south sides with akroteria, in the form of floral motifs at the apex and sculpted figures of Nike, the goddess of victory, in the corners. Both pediments contained figural sculpture; the front in the round and the rear in relief. A decorative gutter with palmette antefixes and lion-head waterspouts framed the structure. In addition to the main door, the Hieron had two lateral doors, each decorated with meander patterns. The walls of the interior were painted to imitate coursed masonry. The marble ceilings of the porch and pronaos featured a complex system of coffers, some of which were crowned with magnificent prancing centaurs that were impressive enough to elicit the praise of the Hellenistic poet Kallimachos. The long interior had wooden coffers adorned with bronze fittings. 
Aside from its unusual orientation, planned approach, and fine decorative program, the architecture of the Hieron included a number of unusual features that must respond to the needs of the Mysteries. Two long rows of marble benches supported by sculpted lion’s legs one stood along the side walls, affording seats for spectators and/or participants in the initiation ceremonies. The main cella leads to an apse at the southern end. In addition to the main door on the central axis, leading from the pronaos to the cella, two lateral doors provided access from the sides of the building. Just outside the eastern doorway, two stones were placed on either side of a torch base, an installation that led Karl Lehmann to propose a preliminary ceremony that included a confession of sins prior to the completion of the initiation rites. Inside the cella, evidence exists for both burned sacrifices and poured libations in the form of an eschara and bothros.
The date of the Hieron’s construction is somewhat problematic because we have clear evidence for multiple phases of construction and renovation. Phyllis Lehmann discerned the foundations of two apsidal predecessors beneath the curved foundations of the Hellenistic structure, but these are probably related to the present structure. According to Lehmann, it was begun in the late fourth century, c. 325 BCE, although other scholars place the building in the early third century. There is clear evidence that the porch was added at a later date from the main building. Major renovations took place in the Imperial period, c. 200 CE. Five of the columns belonging to the porch were re-erected in 1956, giving today’s visitors an evocative glimpse into what an ancient viewer must have seen.
In the vicinity of this building, the Lehmanns found an inscription forbidding the uninitiated to enter “to hieron.” Working with a passage from Kallistratos using the same descriptive language, they determined the name of the building to be the Hieron. Given the unusual configuration of the structure and its obvious emphasis on communal gatherings, scholars have proposed that perhaps it was the site for the second stage of initiation, known as the epopteia.

Hall of Votive Gifts
The building known as the Hall of Votive Gifts stands to the west of the Hieron and north of the Altar Court.  The three buildings are aligned with one another to form a tight cluster.  The excavator, Karl Lehmann, interpreted the building as an archaic structure used for the display of votives to the Great Gods.  However, most of the architectural elements he assigned to the structure appear to be recut elements.  Georges Roux has proposed that the structure served as a dining hall.  The building is currently under reinvestigation.

 Hall of Choral Dancers

The construction of the Late Classical Hall of Choral Dancers in the middle of the fourth century B.C. signaled the beginning of a period of great prosperity for the Sanctuary of the Great Gods. The shape of the sanctuary changed dramatically with the substantial remodeling of this building, which became the largest and first entirely marble structure in the sanctuary.
            Although parts of the elegant frieze of dancing women that give this building its name were known even to early travelers, such as Cyriacus of Ancona, who toured the island in 1444, the full extent of its architecture and decoration were not fully understood until very recently. The Austrians uncovered the precinct during their excavations in the 1870s.  Following further excavations in the 1950s, Phyllis W. Lehmann reconstructed the structure as an unroofed temenos with a marble-paved terrace and an elaborate Ionic marble propylon with distyle projecting wings (left).  She identified Skopas as designing architect-sculptor and placed the famous statue of Aphrodite and Pothos mentioned by Pliny (Natural History 36.5.5) within the open precinct.
Further excavation by James R. McCredie during the 1990s re­vealed that the building was radically different from Lehmann’s reconstruction. The building did have an Ionic façade with wings, but it belonged to a much grander and more complex, fully roofed building, twice as big and facing north. The revised plan demonstrates that the structure measured an imposing c. 34 m. long by c. 23 m. wide across the façade.  Neither a temenos nor a propylon, the building now has been renamed the Hall of Choral Dancers.
The structure consisted of two deep chambers connected across the northern side by a deep Ionic porch with two projecting wings. The western chamber incorporated an earlier, Archaic predecessor, had a paved marble floor, and included cultic installations like those found in the earlier building, including an eschara (hearth for sacrifices) and a bothros (pit for liquid offerings).  The eastern chamber was newly constructed in the fourth century, a situation underscored by the difference in the elevation of its floor, which was made not of marble pavers but of marble chips.
The building is remarkable in both architecture and sculptural embellishment. The slender monolithic shafts of the columns were capped with a decorative necking band and and the finely carved capitals had elegant vegetal bands running across the bolster. The entablature is among the earliest examples combining the traditions of sculpted frieze and banded epistyle of the Attic Ionic order with the dentils characteristic of the Asiatic version of the order. The geison and sima courses were decorated with an elaborate rinceaux pattern carved in relief and lion’s head waterspouts. The porches were crowned with floral akroteria, and there is evidence that the porches also bore sculpted pediments.
The most elaborate element of the sculptural program is the continuous frieze of hundreds of dancing maidens encircled the entire building. Female musicians, including a citharist, a tympanum player, and a woman with a flute, accompany the dancers. The archaizing style and the circular movement of the procession around the building, converging from opposite directions, may allude to a long tradition of choral dancing on the site.  Lehmann has proposed that the dancing was also suggestive of the legendary wedding of Kadmos and Harmonia.
Another special feature of the Hall of Choral Dancers is the marble coffered ceiling that crowned its porch. The beams of the central section of the porch spanned an impressive 6.35 m. from the inner colonnade to the door wall. At least part of the ceiling was covered with marble coffer lids decorated with sculpted heads in frontal, profile, and three-quarters view positions. Figural motifs in coffer lids were highly unusual, particularly before the Hellenistic period. The choice of materials also speaks to the significance of the sculpted heads; while the rest of the structure was built of Thasian marble, the carved coffer lids were made of marble from Paros. The inclusion of such an extensive ceiling arrangement must have been must have been chosen deliberately to enhance the initiates’ experience of entering the building, because it surely added considerable weight, expense, and effort to its construction.
             Every aspect of the building suggests that a wealthy and influential donor commissioned it. Philip II of Macedon comes immediately to mind, for we know he had a great interest in the sanctuary after he met his future wife (and mother of Alexander), Olympias, there during their initiation. The splendid buildings and monumental dedications later erected in the Sanctuary by the Hellenistic successors of Alexander strongly suggest that Samothrace was a key element of the Macedonian legacy. As the first and largest of these lavish buildings, the Hall of Choral Dancers marks a turning point in the fortune of the Sanctuary of the Great Gods.

Rotunda of Arsinoe II
 The Rotunda stands to the north of the terminus of the Sacred Way, between the Hall of Choral Dancers and the Anaktoron.  An inscription carved into the architrave above the door identifies the building’s dedicator as Arsinoe II of Egypt. However, the section of the inscription naming her husband does not survive.  Scholars are therefore divided as to whether the building was constructed when Arsinoe was married to her first husband, King Lysimachos of Thrace (between 288-281 BC), or to her third husband, Ptolemy II (after 278, and certainly between 273 and 270 BC).  If the former, the building would stand as a monument to Ptolemaic alliances with Thrace and the northern Aegean.  If the latter, it most likely was given in gratitude for the protection Arsinoe received on Samothrace after fleeing from her second husband, Ptolemy Keraunas.  The function of the Rotunda remains obscure.  It might have been intended as a place for sacrifices and important gatherings during the festival. Walter Burkert raises the possibility that the rite of thronosis was enacted in the building.
The Rotunda is the largest enclosed free space in a round building in the Greek world.  The building rests on a deep limestone foundation, while most of the superstructure is constructed in Thasian marble.  Above the foundation, a smooth, enclosed drum, making up roughly two-third of the building, supports a gallery formed by Doric pilasters on the exterior and Corinthian half-columns on the interior.  Between the pilasters are panels decorated with sacrificial imagery of bucrania flanking rosettes.  On the interior, the relief panels take the form of altars decorated with pairs of buchrania or pairs of rosettes.  The original conical roof was covered with scale-shaped terracotta tiles.  Following a massive earthquake in the Roman early Imperial period, the roof was converted to an octagonal shape and covered with a Corinthian tile system.  Whether or not the structure had windows in the gallery remains debated.  A single Doric doorway located on the southeastern side of the Rotunda, provided the only entrance.  The floor probably was made of earth, as no trace of pavement or under-pavement survives.

Three large, rectangular structures successively occupied the same general region at the northern end of the Central Sanctuary: the Orthostate Structure, the Proto-Anaktoron, and the Anaktoron. All three buildings are comparable in size and shape, and therefore likely served a similar purpose.  The foundations of the earliest of these buildings, the Orthostate Structure, stretch from the southernmost part of the Anaktoron beneath the Rotunda of Arsinoe, breaking off south of the latter’s foundations. The structure is oriented north-south.  Two cross walls divide the space into a large, square central section (10 m x 12 m) and two small sections (10 m x .75 m each), one on the north end and one on the south end.  The cross walls, which survive only in the lowest courses, are composed of tufa ashlars arranged as orthostates forming each face of the wall, bound by headers at regular intervals and capped by a string course.  Only the groundplan of the structure is clear. It cannot be determined whether the divisions created walled rooms, nor can it be determined whether the structure was a roofed building or an open precinct.  Along the eastern side of the structure is a low terrace formed by of boulder retaining wall.  It could be earlier than the main structure and most likely functioned as a viewing area for those who attended the ceremonies.  In the southern section of the Orthostate Structure, excavators discovered the remains of a sacrificial pit.
To the north of the Orthostate Structure, but not as well preserved, lies the building called the Proto-Anaktoron. It too was a large, rectangular structure, approximately 31 m long.  The eastern foundation of this structure is so eroded that it is impossible to estimate its width. It is hypothesized that the Proto-Anaktoron corresponds with the construction of the Rotunda, replacing the Orthostate Structure when it was covered by the construction of the Rotunda.
It is likely that the same earthquake that caused widespread damage throughout the Sanctuary in the early Imperial period also destroyed the Proto-Anaktoron.  The Anaktoron was then built in its wake.  The Anaktoron faced west and could only be approached from the south. It was set deeply into the hillside in such a way that when approached in antiquity, the lower parts of its eastern and southern walls were not visible. Three doorways pierce the western wall. The walls were constructed with polygonally shaped limestone blocks, held together by mortar and supported by stone piers along the interior long walls.  The walls and piers provide evidence that a timber roof enclosed the space and that the interior was covered by white stucco. The floor was higher in the northern section of the building and formed an inner sanctuary into which, Lehmann hypothesizes, pilgrims were only allowed to enter after initiation. The evidence for this assertion is a marble stele found in the vicinity, bearing an inscription that prohibited the entry of the uninitiated.  Benches lined the eastern and northern walls of the main chamber. 
The fact that three buildings of very similar design were successively built in the same area indicates the significance of this location and structure to the initiation rituals of the Samothracian mysteries.  K. Lehmann identified the latest of these structures with the first level of initiation, myesis.  However, in light of the discovery of the Hall of Choral Dancers, this function has been called into question. 

 Dedication of Philip III and Alexander IV
An impressive Doric building constructed of marble took the place of the Fieldstone Building along the northwestern side of the Theatral Circle early in the last quarter of the 4th century B.C.  Although eventually overshadowed by the Propylon of Ptolemy II, at the time of its construction, this hexastyle prostyle monument would have been the first major building to come into view as visitors entered Sanctuary.  Rising some nine meters in height and oriented in an easterly direction, the facade would have welcomed pilgrims into the Sanctuary as they crossed the eastern torrent.  A dedicatory inscription preserved on two epistyle blocks and on other smaller fragments proclaiming, ΒΑΣΙΛΕ|ΙΣΦΙΛΙΠΠΟΣ|Α[ΛΕΞΑN]Δ[Ρ]|Ο[Σ ΘΕΟΙΣΜΕΓ]|Α[ΛΟΙΣ] (Kings Philip [and] Alexander to the Great Gods) commemorates the donation of this building by Alexander the Great’s successors: his half brother, Philip III Arrhidaios, and his posthumous infant son, Alexander IV.  The inscription provides critical evidence for the date of the building, as this pair ruled coevally, each with the title Basileus, between 323 and 317 B.C.
The building was composed of two different types of marble, worked by two different sets of masons maintaining their local traditions of construction.  The façade, from the six columns to the raking geison at the top of the pediment, was constructed entirely of Pentelic marble from Attica.  A material less common on Samothrace, the Pentelic marble links the Dedication with important Attic monuments, most notably the contemporary Choregic Monument of Nikias.  The krepis, back, and side walls were constructed of Thasian marble quarried on the nearby island of Thasos.  This material was more widely employed on Samothrace. With returning steps behind the antae of the prostyle porch, the Dedication fit nicely into the topographical constraints of the Eastern Hill, while ultimately emphasizing the facade of the building.  The open interior chamber preserves a mosaic floor with a central panel made up of finely worked marble rhomboids, surrounded my more irregular chips in trapezoidal fields.
In terms of function, the Dedication seems to have served chiefly as a pavilion on the Eastern Hill.  The donation of this major monument by the Macedonian kings (or someone acting on their behalf), was a tangible effort to reinforce the legitimacy of Alexander the Great’s natural successors.  Significance was also conveyed through material.  The thoughtful selection of Pentelic marble for the façade of the Dedication makes reference to the great monuments city of Athens, as well as Athenian dedications in other locations.  In the context of a growing Sanctuary with visitors from across the Mediterranean, the Dedication is a symbolic claim to the legacy of mainland Greece on the part of its Macedonian donors.

Ionic Porch
A large Ionic Porch was added to the western side of the Dedication of Philip III and Alexander IV.   Roughly centered along the Dedication’s western foundations, the porch formed a broad, shallow structure facing north onto the Sacred Way.  The porch is not especially well-preserved, so we must leave open the possibility that the columns and walls combined in either a tetrastyle prostyle (four columns across the façade) or distyle in antis (two columns between the walls) plan.  On top of limestone foundations, the porch was constructed mostly of Thasian marble; the column capitals are of Proconnessian marble.  The back wall of the Dedication also served as the back wall of the Ionic Porch, but we have no surviving evidence for a door connecting the two chambers.
Perhaps its most striking feature, the porch was decorated with an elaborate coffered ceiling with sculpted floral decoration.  In keeping with local practice, the coffer blocks were employed in multiple sizes, with separately worked lids decorated florals carved in relief.  The floral designs vary.  They include both open and closed buds, and the open flowers are configured with four and six petals.  Although no traces of color remain today, the florals were likely painted to enliven their individual petals and leaves.
The primary function of a porch is to provide shelter, but, in this case, it is difficult to determine exactly what the Ionic Porch would have covered and with what type of roof.  On the one hand, the elaboration of the Porch in a strategic location along the Sacred Way, but outside the main cultic center of the Sanctuary, may indicate that it functioned as a naiskos, or shrine.  The coffered ceiling is suggestive of a shrine, which recommends a ridge roof.  On the other hand, the shallow plan and design of the sima are more appropriate for a portico with a shed or hipped roof, for a structure that might shelter sculptural dedications, or provide a viewing platform.  In its function as a viewing station, the Ionic Porch provided immediate vantage of the procession along the Sacred Way, and it offered framed vistas back to the ancient city, across the Aegean Sea, and down toward the heart of the Sanctuary. The structure itself claimed a prime topographical location, for the Porch (and its contents) was immediately visible to visitors entering the Sanctuary from the Theatral Circle.  It could clearly be seen looking up the Sacred Way from the center of he Sanctuary.  And as the northernmost building on the crest of the Eastern Hill, it may well have been visible from the more distance prospect of the Aegean Sea.  
Fieldstone Building
 Soon after the remodeling of the Theatral Circle in the first half of the 4th century, the Fieldstone Building was constructed against its northwestern perimeter.  Although destroyed by the later construction of the Dedication of Philip III and Alexander IV, enough of the Fieldstone Building remains for a reconstruction of a rectangular building, with the entrance probably located on the building’s east side, which faced into the Theatral Circle.

Built of andesite rubble quarried from the outcrop on which it stood, the Fieldstone Building was of relatively humble construction but possessed elegant interior decoration.  Its exterior and interior walls were covered with painted plaster in imitation of more lavish stone constructions.  Like the interior walls of the Stoa, built later on the western side of the Sanctuary, the Fieldstone Building preserves fragments of graffiti and dipinti.  Recognizable Greek letters remain on its exterior stucco where individuals marked their presence in the Sanctuary with this small but public display.

The interior walls are better preserved, and surviving pieces show that the plaster was painted to imitate drafted margin masonry of stone construction, with both flat and raised courses.  Beginning at the bottom, the wall was made up of three zones painted white: a projecting base fascia zone, a taller orthostate zone, and a projecting string course. Both the orthostate and stringcourse were lightly incised and painted with red lines to emulate the drafted margins of masonry blocks.  Above the string course, the wall was painted a deep solid red, giving the walls an impressive graphic quality.  The earliest example at Samothrace, the wall painting preserved in the Fieldstone Building is one of only a few examples of architectonic mural decoration on a public building or within a sanctuary prior to the Hellenistic period.  The close emulation of a costly marble construction shows an endeavor to raise the status of the Sanctuary through its built monuments.

Given its proximity to the Theatral Circle, the Fieldstone Building must have related to actions performed there, although its precise functions are up for speculation.  Three terracotta female figurines, which were found in and likely to be associated with this building, suggest that it may have been used to store votives and cult implements.  Moreover, the elaborate interior indicates that it was meant to be seen.  Perhaps certain people, officials of the cult or new initiates, gathered inside this building at some point before or during the rites of initiation.
Theatral Circle
 Originally constructed at the end of the fifth or beginning of the fourth century B.C., the Theatral Circle is the earliest preserved permanent ritual gathering space for pilgrims to the Sanctuary of the Great Gods.  Although the region was increasingly embellished with additional buildings and dedications, the Theatral Circle remained the center of ritual activity on the Eastern Hill for over five hundred years.
After passing over the eastern torrent, officials of the cult and prospective initiates would descend into this sunken open-air theatron framed by bedrock outcroppings, located at the edge of a ravine that bounded the Sanctuary to the northeast.  This circular court has an orchestral shape and is paved with flagstones of andesite. Although only three rows of steps survive today, five tiers of concentric limestone steps originally framed the Theatral Circle.  They are too narrow for seats, but appropriate for a standing audience.
The design of the Theatral Circle has two distinct phases.  In its original configuration, the orchestral space, ca. 9.07 to 9.21 m in diameter, was surrounded by at least four tiers of concentric limestone steps, supported by a packing of andesite fieldstone.  The steps were interrupted by a passageway approximately 2 m wide that cut through the northwestern side, roughly opposite the place where the visitor would have entered the complex.  A major renovation carried out in the first half of the fourth century B.C. closed this passageway with a continuous circle of steps, giving the structure its present form.  The remodel also added new fourth and fifth rows of steps, this time on top of sandstone packing.  Although parts of the structure and hillside along the northeastern edge have since fallen into the ravine, in antiquity the circle was continuous.  In each of its iterations, the Theatral Circle defined a station along the Sacred Way and a distinct staging ground for the ritual experience against the natural backdrop of a deep ravine to the northeast, the Ayios Giorgios ridge to the southeast, and a panoramic view of the Aegean Sea to the north.
The Theatral Circle was a place of both performance and witness.  The enclosed round space carries a semantic significance that suggests that the rites performed inside may have included song, dance, ritual theater, judgment, and/or sacrifice.  No written source describes what actions were performed here, but the form of the circle with surrounding tiers of steps relates orchestra of the Greek theatron, a site in which to watch performed actions, the Greek khoros where dancing would occur, as well the Greek halos, or threshing floor, where the celebration of the harvest would take place.
Although less common, some altar complexes in ancient Greece also can be found in a similar circular form.  James McCredie, the excavator, proposes that a cylindrical, molded block found on the Eastern Hill was the sacrificial altar that would have originally been placed at the center of the Theatral Circle.  Given the Theatral Circle’s location, Susan Cole proposes that here prospective initiates received the praefatio sacrorum to exclude the unfit, as well as sacred instructions for what was to follow deeper in the Sanctuary.  Kevin Clinton suggests that the purificatory rite of thronosis may have been performed in this space and constituted preliminary initiation, or myesis.  These actions are not mutually exclusive. The preliminary position of the Theatral Circle along the path of the Sacred Way indicates that the rites performed here must have prepared visitors for what was to come during initiation.
Whatever actions took place inside the circle, it is clear that the surrounding steps were meant to accommodate an audience.  Approximately 240 people could stand together to witness and take part in rites performed in the Theatral Circle.  The relatively small scale of the circle, just over nine meters in diameter, combined with the fact that audience members would stand, rather than sit, indicate that audience participation was integral to the experience within the Theatral Circle.  In such an intimate space, pilgrims watched the actions performed against the backdrop of their fellow initiands, forming a communal bond before proceeding to the main rites below in the heart of the Sanctuary. 
Monument Platforms and Stepped Retaining Wall
 The Eastern Hill was an important locus for sculptural dedications within the Sanctuary of the Great Gods.  Just beyond the concentric steps of the Theatral Circle, on its southwestern perimenter, two sweeping arcs, one composed of  Monument Platforms and the other formed by a Stepped Retaining Wall framed the complex from the Dedication of Philip III and Alexander IV to the stepped ramp of the Propylon of Ptolemy II.  An impressive unified whole, the larger complex is a product of accumulation over time.  The first concentric arc was composed of six sequentially built platforms, which served primarily as the bases for life-sized bronze statues and stelai.  The individual platforms were made in rhyolite tuff, friable coquina, limestone, and the distinctive red andesite porphyry.  In the late Hellenistic period, a new outer grandstand was formed with the addition of the Stepped Retaining Wall.  This nonconcentric structure, made of fossiliferous limestone on top of andesite packing, swung around from southern side of the Dedication in southeastwardly direction.  The structure added grandstands for as many as  220 more visitors within the complex, although their view of events in the Theatral Circle would have been restricted by the statues on the earlier Monument Platforms.  Responding to the natural landscape, the Stepped Retaining Wall has four steps on the north side, while rising to six steps on the south.  Like the lower tier of Monument Platforms, the Stepped Retaining Wall also carried sculptural dedications, including larger groups set on orthostate bases, on its upper level.
Over 22 simple statue bases with foot-shaped and/or rectangular cuttings for the insertion of a bronze statue indicate that numerous life-sized bronze statues once populated this place. The majority appear to have been male.  Precious little of these statues remains today, but the bases combined with small finds, including fragments of sculpted bronze toes and eyelashes, allow us to reconstruct something of their appearance and placement.  These motionless, life-sized standing figures served as dedications to the Great Gods, as a welcoming audience for those entering the Sanctuary, and as permanent witnesses to the rites that occurred in the Theatral Circle. Their presence reinforced the ceremonial nature of the place and gave visual continuity to the past, present, and future gatherings of initiands in the Theatral Circle.
Propylon of Ptolemy II
 The Propylon of Ptolemy II served as the gatehouse into the Sanctuary of the Great Gods.  Located along the eastern boundary of the Sanctuary, this monumental entryway bridged the ravine of a seasonal torrent and directed visitors into the Sanctuary, marking the transition from unconsecrated to sacred space.  The gatehouse stood at the highest topographical point in the Sanctuary.  It was therefore visible from the northern shore of the island, as well as the southern gate of the ancient city, which was located northeast of the Sanctuary.  Inscriptions on the epistyles of the east and west facades of the Propylon proclaim, “King Ptolemy, son of Ptolemy and Berenike the Saviors, to the Great Gods,” indicating that Ptolemy II Philadelphos commissioned this monument during his reign over Egypt from 283-246 B.C.
The substantial limestone substructures, which are visible today, originally supported a Thasian marble building with two sizeable pedimented hexastyle porches on either side of a double doorwall wall pierced by a narrow entrance passage.  On the east side nearest the ancient city, the porch is constructed in the Ionic Order, while on the west side it is Corinthian.  The column capitals were carved of Proconnessian marble.  In addition to the inscribed epistyle, the entablature included a frieze decorated with bukrania decorated with knotted fillets and rosettes approximating libation dishes, symbols of sacrifice and libation, as well as a course of dentils.
When the Propylon was constructed, the builders erected a diagonally oriented barrel vault that re-routed the nearby torrent so that stream, which formed the natural boundary of sacred space, would flow directly beneath the building.  This feat of engineering harnessed the natural environment in order to meet sacred necessities: visitors literally crossed over the boundary to enter the sacred precinct as they passed through the Propylon.  The remains of a staircase on the southern side of the interior door wall of the Propylon gave access to the attic.  We remain uncertain as to the purpose of this staircase.  Did it function to allow for pilgrims to experience some sort of event from above, perhaps noises or calls, as another way of marking their passage into the sacred space of the Sanctuary?  The difference in architectural order on each side of the building likewise served to mark the transition from profane to sacred space.  When entering the Propylon from the ancient city, pilgrims passed through an Ionic porch, while they exited into the Sanctuary through a Corinthian porch.  Not only was the mixing of orders novel, but up until this time, the Corinthian order had also been reserved chiefly for interiors.  Here, structural Corinthian columns are employed monumentally and on the exterior.  Conceptually, the Corinthian order may have also signaled to visitors who passed through the gatehouse that they were now inside the Sanctuary, a distinctive space in its own right.
Doric Rotunda
In the late fourth century B.C., a small Doric rotunda, measuring approximately 4.10 m in diameter, was built north of the Sacred Way on the slope to the west of the later Rotunda of Arsinoe II.  On top of a fieldstone foundation and floor, the marine limestone walls were constructed as two superimposed drums, creating a structure that was much taller than it was wide.  The lower drum was molded at its base with a large torus, topped with a cyma reversa and an astragal.  Rising from a simpler molding, the upper drum was decorated in the Doric order with eighteen engaged columns and a frieze of triglyphs and metopes.  The roof was made of the same limestone that comprised the walls.  Piercing the lower drum, a door faced the northwest to meet a rectangular ramp approximately 2.70 m wide, which extended from the building.  Inside the rotunda, three steps descended to a solid floor, paved with fieldstone.  A later remodeling covered the top two steps with wedge-shaped bricks or tiles to create a single shelf or bench.
Although considerably smaller than the later Rotunda of Arsinoe, the Doric Rotunda resembles its shape and design with a solid lower drum and Doric upper drum.   Although the descending steps are suggestive, the paved floor rules out the possibility that this building served to honor chthonic deities or for a burial, where an earthen floor would be more appropriate.  Noting similarities with monumental tombs of Classical and Hellenistic Asia Minor, J.R. McCredie suggests that this building may have functioned a cenotaph.

Neorion (Ship Monument)
The Neorion built on the Western Hill originally sheltered and displayed an entire ship dedicated to the Great Gods.  Set on a terrace between the higher Stoa to the south and the unfinished Building A to the north, this enormous votive stood in close proximity to the plateia in the heart of the Sanctuary formed by the Hall of Choral Dancers and the Rotunda.  A broad flight of stairs led from the main plateia to the terrace in front of the building.   At the time of the Neorion’s construction, work on Building A had been abandoned and the construction of the Milesian Dedication had not yet begun, so the pilgrim would have had an excellent view of the sea from this terrace.
The building consists of a rectangular hall divided into two equal longitudinal chambers by a row of five columns connected by a wooden grill set on marble rails.  Visitors entered the northern chamber through two monumental doors with full Doric entablatures that were set on the long north face of the structure.  While most of the structure was constructed in local porous sandstone covered with plaster, these handsome doorframes were made of imported Thasian marble.  Their design reflects Macedonian architectural ideas.
The ship occupied the full length of the southern chamber.   Seven Thasian marble supports, graduated in size, held the hull in place. The orientation of the building and the position of the grill and columns restricted the view of the ship to only one side.  The dimensions of the chamber allow for a ship up to 27 m in length, but not much more than 4 m in width.  The supports indicate that the ship had a roughly symmetrical keel.  The precise type of ship dedicated in the Neorion remains uncertain.  If it were a military vessel, it would have been a lighter class of ship such as a hemiolia or a lembos. However, we should not rule out the possibility of other kinds of vessel.
In terms of construction, the ship must have been hauled into the Sanctuary and set up on the marble supports; the building was then constructed around it.  The interior walls were decorated with colored plaster imitating drafted margin masonry.  There is evidence for several large windows but their exact position remains conjectural.  The northern chamber contains a small base that was found in the eastern corner of the room, indicating that this chamber also held dedications.
Offering an entire ship to the Great Gods was an act of great largess, one that strongly suggests a prominent and powerful patron.  Unfortunately, it is difficult to fix on the donor or the occasion.  Several theories are possible. The Neorion could have housed a ship captured in battle, or one that brought victory, salvation or profit.  While stone bases supporting ships have been found in the Sanctuary of Hera on Samos and on the island of Thasos, the only other known building designed to house a votive ship is in the Sanctuary of Apollo at Delos (the Monument of the Bulls). 

Sacred Way
The formal Sacred Way led pilgrims from the ancient city to the Propylon of Ptolemy II, into the Theatral Circle, around the Dedication of Philip III and Alexander IV, past the Ionic Porch, and down the steep slope to the center of the Sanctuary.  The path was necessarily altered as the Sanctuary developed.  Originally, the Sacred Way passed through the center of the Theatral Circle, exiting through a passage in the steps.  In the early 4th century, however, the passage was blocked (with stones that are not quite the same material, as one can see on the model) and the path was taken around the great bedrock outcropping.  In its most developed form, the Sacred Way was paved, mostly with reused materials, to become a stepped ramp.  To maintain the most direct descent, it cut rather deeply into the hillside, which was retained on both sides with boulders.  This configuration both allowed for a less steep descent and gave the pilgrims the feeling of walking into the earth as they descended into the central valley.  The Sacred Way ended with a narrow passage between the Hall of Choral Dancers and the Rotunda, where it opened into a small plateia. 

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