The Cult of Artemis at Brauron: History & Practices

Instructor: Margaret Moran
The Greek society worshiped several different deities. Artemis, the twin sister of Apollo, was the goddess of the forests and hills, womanhood, and fertility; she had many followers, but this lesson focuses on the Cult at Brauron, its practices, and its unique history.

Artemis Brauronia

The city of Brauron in Greece was settled as early as 3500 BCE, but it wasn't until the 8th century BCE that it became a place of worship for Artemis. The history of the Cult of Artemis at Brauron can best be explained by two separate myths.

Map of Ancient Greece
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The Sacrificial Priestess

The first recognized myth regarding the city is about Artemis taking offense at a sacrifice Agamemnon made to her—she believed it was beneath her. Agamemnon, who was the leader of the Greek empire, needed favorable winds so his army could leave Greece and sail towards the distant enemy city of Troy. But due to the offense, Artemis wouldn't grant them this blessing until they gave a proper sacrifice. Agamemnon agreed to sacrifice his daughter, Iphigeneia, to the goddess.

Artemis saved Iphigeneia, taking her to Scythian Tauris, where she became Artemis' priestess over time. It wasn't until many years later that Iphigeneia's brother, Orestes, would be sent by an oracle to steal the cult statue of Artemis. Sadly, Orestes would end up being caught by the Scythians and sentenced to a sacrificial death to please Artemis. Iphigeneia recognized who the man was and agreed to assist her brother in the theft.

Their theft, having been a success, would set up two cult cities for Artemis in Greece. One would be at Halae Araphenides and the second at the city of Brauron. These two locations were chosen by Athena herself who had ordered the cult statue be taken back to Greece. Orestes would set the groundwork for the Artemis Tauropolos cult while his sister, the priestess Iphigeneia, would set the plans for the Artemis Brauronia at nearby Brauron.

The Hunter's Mistake

The second myth is one that is far simpler to explain. It says that two hunters from Athens offended the goddess Artemis by slaying a bear. This simple bear turned out to be a sacred animal to Artemis and her retribution was in the form of a plague on the city. This plague would continue until the Athenians consecrated their daughters to her—every 5 years. This explains how Artemis was worshiped as the Great-She-Bear and required a period of wildness from the daughters before puberty. These daughters became her images, the arktoi, and in the semblance of the Great Bear.

The city of Brauron would remain a stronghold for the Artemis cult until the Erasinos River flooded its banks and buried the city in the 3rd century BCE. This actually helped preserve much of the history we know of the site today.

Columns of the city of Brauron, home to the cult of Artemis
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Practices

Now, the practices of the cult at Brauron are harder to find written evidence of. The temple at Brauron was one that worshiped Artemis as a protector of childbirth and fertility. This meant that most of those in the service of the goddess were female, while most historical records were written from the male perspective. The temple was a sanctuary for female children who had yet to enter puberty, and the practices of the cult were the guide to making young women ready for children and marriage. Many of the glimpses into temples practices are from artwork, vases, and murals.

Young girl statue from Brauron
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