One of the most important sanctuaries of ancient Sparta is the sanctuary of Orthia Artemis or Borthia, or Limnatis, or Limnaion, built near the banks of the Evrotas river.
The site of the sanctuary of Orthia Artemis is located in the ancient Municipality of the Lakes of Sparta.
This sanctuary was the religious center of the Spartan education of the young, a matter of utmost importance to the Spartan state where discipline and adherence to specific rules was a matter of survival.
The Mycenaean deity Orthia, similar to the Mycenaean goddess of fertility, was originally worshiped in the temple. The goddess already from the early geometric times (8th century BC) was identified with Artemis, who was worshiped as a protector of fertility, increase, the saviour.
The sanctuary would initially be an open-air mosque with an altar, not a monumental one. The first temple was built in the 8th or 7th century. BC, it was destroyed in the 6th century BC probably from a flood and a new temple was built in its place.
The excavations revealed remains of the geometric (9th century) and the archaic temple (6th century) which later underwent repairs, while during the Roman years (2nd century BC) the temple was rebuilt from pedestals while its festivals were reorganized , so it gained great prestige.
However, the major intervention in the area took place during the 3rd century. A.D. Then a large horseshoe-shaped amphitheater was built to the east of the temple (where the worshipers and spectators of the children's games sat) and a new larger altar closer to the temple built of slab-like stones. The expansion is justified by the reputation the sanctuary had acquired in Roman times, when the flogging contest was held in it in honor of the goddess. During this contest of karteria, the teenagers, leaning on the altar and encouraged by their own relatives, endured the ordeal of public flogging - sometimes even to the point of death - and in the end those who remained standing (vomonics) were awarded. . Next to them stood the priestess of the goddess holding her xoano, which according to the sources, he encouraged those who whipped to show more zeal in the blows because he suffered from the weight of the statue in case it was not strong enough. The ceremony was in keeping with the era's preferences for bloody spectacles, and crowds flocked to witness it.
Pindar interpreted the goddess's title as Orthias as orthosia because "righteous in salvation or upright in birth". The traveler Pausanias gave a second interpretation: "they call her Orthian, but also Lygodesman because she was found curled up in a bush of lynx and the lynx made the upright statue".
Attempts to etymologize the name were also made by modern researchers, but no precise interpretation has been given. What is certain, however, is that it was a chthonic deity and protector of germination.
In the area of the sanctuary during the excavation, clay masks were found which seem to have been used in orgiastic rituals that took place in the sanctuary. The marble columns with the scythes and the inscribed altars are tributes to the children who successfully passed the test of flogging and managed to be classified in the adolescent groups.
Also in the sanctuary were found thousands of tiny lead figurines, humble offerings of poor Spartans and elots.
Representative samples of all of the above are exhibited in the archaeological museum of Sparta.
Editor: Fotini Anastasopoulou