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Roussa Ekklesia
Category: Town-Village
Prefecture: Lassithi
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Roussa Ekklesia

Analysis of votives from a sanctuary site near Roussa Ekklesia village in east Crete, Lassithi prefecture, sheds valuable light on archaic, classical, and Hellenistic cult practices. Part 1 of this study, (an excerpt is the present article), presents a large collection of terracotta plaques and figurines from the sanctuary (ca. 630–450 B.C.E.).

Part 2, to appear in a forthcoming issue of the AJA, will deal with a mostly later assemblage of lamps and pottery (ca. 500–150). These assemblages span a critical period in Cretan religious history and mark a transition from an orientalizing to a classical form of worship. Discussion here focuses on the art historical and religious significance of the terracotta plaques and figurines as well as the political dimensions of cult. The iconography of the plaques hints at male rite of passage ceremonies at a simple spring sanctuary of a goddess charged with natural fertility and human growth. She is depicted in the seventh century as a frontal nude crowned by a polos, an assimilation of a Near Eastern type. It is argued that Roussa Ekklesia functioned as a territorial marker for the state of Praisos, with the beginning of cult activity coinciding with the rise of this polis as a regional power. This study also examines the impact of representational styles as constituents of civic and ethnic identity.

One aim of this study-article is to establish preliminary chronologies for local lamps based on shape, decoration, and other stylistic features. Another aim is to track religious history: this assemblage documents a transition from an archaic to a classical form of worship. Whereas symbolic offerings with representational imagery are the chief manifestations of cult in the Archaic period, Classical and Hellenistic worshipers at Roussa Ekklesia left utilitarian objects, hinting at a wider range of sanctuary activities. These collective rituals featured light at nocturnal ceremonies and libation offerings to a goddess charged with natural and human fertility.