HERCULES’ SANCTUARY IN THE QUARTER OF ST THEODORE, PULA

Alka Starac describes the surprise discovery of a Roman temple in Pula, Croatia

The Roman colony of Iulia Pola Pollentia Herculanea present-day Pula-Pola Croatia
The Roman colony of Iulia Pola Pollentia Herculanea, present-day Pula-Pola, Croatia

The rescue excavations during 2005-2009 in the northern part of the ancient centre of Pula, Hrvatska, conducted over an area of 4000 square meters and at an average depth of 6 meters, revealed at first the foundations of St Theodore’s Church along with a female Benedictine monastery built in the 15th century. The church was pulled down during the construction of Austro-Hungarian barracks at the end of the 19th century. It was the only building complex which had definitely been expected to be revealed during the excavations, as it was the only one recorded in historical sources. It was considered likely that there might be Roman city ramparts as well, but it turned out that the assumed ramparts were in fact the wall of a Domus and a sewer situated inside the adjacent Public Thermae, destroyed in Late Antiquity and completely forgotten since then. In addition to the rich and well-preserved Domus and Public Thermae, the remains of an Early Christian and pre-Romanesque church were found below and inside St Theodore’s Church.

The biggest surprise, however, was the discovery of the foundations of a Roman temple surrounded by portico, containing the deposit of more than 2000 almost fully preserved amphorae of Lamboglia 2 type, placed for drainage and levelling of the temple terrace. Excavations at the end of the 19th century only just reached the rear temple foundation wall without entering the sacred enclosed area, so no one could assume the existence of a temple located within the barracks yard and hidden beneath the foundations of the monastery. Also, no one could know that the southern foundation wall of the 15th-century church, reaching five meters in depth, in its lower parts was the southern wall of the Early Christian church and the outer foundation wall of the northern portico wing surrounding the Roman temple, dividing the sacred terrace from the adjacent Thermae located at a lower level. At this point, the continuous sacred verticale measuring five metres in depth was documented, comprising the historical period of 2000 years since the Roman colony of Pola was founded.

But this exciting archaeological story did not end there. Descending into the lower stratigraphical layers in the sacred temple yard, the pre-Roman continuity of the cult place worshipped by the ancient Histri during the Hellenistic period was documented. It turned out that the Histrian cult place, active throughout three centuries until the foundation of the Roman colony, was placed next to a water spring in the karst terrain. A well, four meters deep, was built at the spring during the construction of the temple terrace, appearing above the ground beside the entrance to the temple. A limestone square building block with a club in relief is the only clear link with a certain deity found in the excavations, and this is obviously Hercules. Hercules is well known for having a strong ties with the Roman colony of Pola, honoured as a divine patron of the colony that carried his name among other titles, and a protector of the city Gate of Hercules decorated with his head and club in relief.

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Location of the Hellenistic rectangular paved sanctuary inside the Roman walls of the portico of the sanctuary and a well at the spring on the left side

My new book, dedicated to the sanctuary of Hercules, deals with the urban history of the Roman temple with portico, the role of Hercules in local tradition and gives an interpretation of the archeological remains. It offers a hypothetical reconstruction of the temple and portico based on the excavated foundations, scarce fragments of architectural decoration and Vitruvian rules. The inscriptions possibly related to the sanctuary are discussed, and finally the hypothetical calculations of the building period duration and construction costs are added.

Block with a club in relief
Block with a club in relief

The discovery of a completely-unknown Roman temple with temenos and portico rarely happens. The entire structure was demolished to the ground and replaced by much more modest buildings in Late Antiquity, so the lack of historical information is unsurprising. This sequence of events resulted in the loss of elements of the architectural decoration; only a few fragments secondarily used in later buildings survived. Instead of a typical Late Republican sanctuary enclosed by a three-winged portico with open front side, Hercules’ sanctuary shows an inverse plan with a portico wing closing the front side of the temple. The foundations of two portico wings were identified, while the third wing remains an assumption. The temple was a tetrastyle prostyle, only a little smaller than the Temple of Rome and Augustus at the forum of Pola. Following the collection of data of the cult of Hercules in Pola, Hercules emerges as the central figure of the sanctuary, which is also related to the presence of a spring as well as an ancestor, hero and founder cult.

I am grateful to David Davison and Rajka Makjanić, who gave me the opportunity to publish the results of my work concerning Hercules’ sanctuary.

Alka Starac
Archaeological Museum of Istria
PhD, Senior Museum Counselor, Head of excavations
alkastarac46@gmail.com

9781784918736

Sincerest thanks to Dr Starac for providing this blog. Her book, Hercules’ Sanctuary in the Quarter of St Theodore, Pula (Archaeopress Archaeology, 2018), is available now in paperback (£32.00) or PDF eBook (from £16+VAT).

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Special Place, Interesting Times: The Island of Palagruža and Transitional Periods in Adriatic Prehistory

Stašo Forenbaher introduces his forthcoming Archaeopress publication, due Spring 2018

May you live in interesting times! While nobody knows the origin of this alleged old Chinese curse, its meaning is clear: in times of upheaval and radical change, most people’s lives are neither safe nor easy. Many archaeologists are drawn to such turbulent periods, marked by rupture and innovation which they can detect in the archaeological record, try to grasp their origin, and explain their consequences.

One might say that prehistory of the Adriatic was always in transition. Step-by-step changes continued in all ages, but their rhythm was not always the same. On several occasions, a series of changes over a relatively short time period resulted in dramatic transformations. Three crucial episodes of change marked the later Adriatic prehistory. The first one, which took place around year 6000 BC, was a transformation of subsistence strategy, transition from hunting and gathering to farming. The second one, which in the absence of a better term I prefer to call the raise of elites, was a social transformation that played out in the third millennium BC, when for the first time we can see the power of individuals clearly expressed by material culture. The third and the last episode, inclusion into the Mediterranean world system and the classic Mediterranean civilization, coincided with the end of prehistory in the Adriatic region.

During all of those episodes, travel and connectivity with distant lands played an exceptionally important role. Under the circumstances, some places gained particular importance due to their unique geographic location. Palagruža is among the most prominent such places, its importance being out of all proportion to its physical size. Adriatic prehistory cannot be told without mentioning Palagruža, and prehistory of Palagruža cannot be understood without knowing Adriatic prehistory. Due to its strategic position in the very center of the Adriatic Sea, due to the mystery born of distance and isolation, due to its wild and spectacular landscape, Palagruža indeed is a special place. A reflection of its specialty is an unexpected abundance of high-grade archaeological evidence, dating precisely from the three aforementioned periods marked by radical change.

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Palagruža.

 

I first came to Palagruža in May 1993 as a member of an international archaeological team, led by Branko Kirigin and Timothy Kaiser, that carried out test excavations on the island. But we were not the first archaeologists on the scene: Sir Richard Burton and Carlo Marchesetti have beaten us to it by more than a century. They paid a visit to Palagruža in 1876, only a year after the great lighthouse had been built on its rocky summit. The island’s remoteness fascinated them, and they described in some detail its geology, flora and fauna, as well as the surprisingly abundant evidence of prehistoric, Greek and Roman visitors. Thanks to Burton and Marchesetti, we knew that there were ancient remains on Palagruža waiting to be discovered.

Figure 2
Impressed Ware potsherds, early sixth millennium BC.

Beginning in 1993, many excavation seasons followed over the next fifteen years, at first with multiannual breaks, later on a regular annual basis, and sometimes even twice within the same year. During four of those seasons, I was privileged to take part in those excavations and to experience the magic of Palagruža in the company of a small Robinsonian community of archaeologists. Thanks to that, Palagruža is a special place for me at a very personal level.

Many of the ideas that I elaborate in my book about prehistory of Palagruža were conceived during frequent periods spent together with Timothy Kaiser. Our friendship, which grew out of joint fieldwork at a series of Dalmatian prehistoric sites, goes back to my beginner’s days. The way I do archaeology owes very much to Tim. But my somewhat unusual orientation of an inlander who does Adriatic prehistory I owe mostly to Branko Kirigin, the main ‘culprit’ for my first fieldwork experiences in Dalmatia. When systematic excavation began on Palagruža, Branko entrusted me with the analysis of prehistoric finds. I admit that I kept him waiting for a long while: a quarter century has passed since his first, unforgettable and decisive visit to Palagruža (as he once vividly described it to me). I hope that my book justifies his expectations.

Figure 3
Incised-and-impressed Cetina style potsherds, second half of the third millennium BC.

 

The first, introductory part of the book discusses geographic location, natural environment and resources of Palagruža, offers an attempted reconstruction of its appearance during Holocene, and describes archaeological investigations that preceded our own work, including the archaeological evidence recovered by the early investigators. The second part of the book provides detailed descriptions of prehistoric sites and finds accumulated during our investigations that lasted from year 1992 until 2007. Most of it is dedicated to Salamandrija, the central and most important prehistoric site on the island, which is dominated by pottery, flaked stone, and ground stone assemblages from the third millennium BC. Among other sites that follow, Jankotova njiva stands out due to its few, but very characteristic, finds from the first half of the sixth millennium BC.

The contributions written by Zlatko Perhoč and Robert H. Tykot on sources of the raw materials for the lithic artifacts from Palagruža are crucially important for our understanding of long-distance connections. Zlatko’s petrographic analyses of chert demonstrated the existence of intensive and persistent trans-Adriatic interaction, while Rob’s analyses of obsidian confirmed occasional contacts with much more distant Mediterranean islands: Lipari in the Tyrrhenian, and Melos in the Aegean Sea.

Figure 4
Archery equipment: ground stone wristguards, arrow points, and crescent microlithic armatures, third millennium BC.

The third part of the book begins with an analysis of environmental characteristics of all small and remote Adriatic islands, and of peculiar circumstances that predetermined Palagruža’s special role. Discussions follow of its role in the crucial episodes of Adriatic prehistory, eight thousand years ago during the spread of farming into the Adriatic, and five thousand years ago during the rise of the first Adriatic elites. These are accompanied by an additional chapter on Adriatic pottery styles of the third millennium BC, without which it would not have been possible to write coherently about Palagruža, or about the Adriatic, during that period. The fourth part of the book, an appendix containing summary information about more than 150 sites that yielded characteristic finds, supplements the discussion of those styles.

Header image: The author excavating at Palagruža, September 2004.

 

Stašo Forenbaher is Senior Research Advisor at the Institute for Anthropological Research in Zagreb, Croatia. He studied archaeology at the University of Zagreb (Croatia), and received his PhD from the Southern Methodist University in Dallas (TX). His research interests cover Mediterranean Prehistory with a focus on the Adriatic, and include transition to farming, formation of early elites, archaeology of caves, and lithic analysis. He has excavated at many prehistoric stratified cave sites in the eastern Adriatic, including Pupićina Cave in Istria, Vaganačka Cave in Velebit Mountain, Grapčeva Cave on the island of Hvar, and Nakovana Cave on Pelješac Peninsula. His current fieldwork is focussed on the excavation of Vela Cave on the island of Korčula.

Forthcoming from Archaeopress, due Spring 2018:

Special Place, Interesting Times: The Island of Palagruža and Transitional Periods in Adriatic Prehistory by Stašo Forenbaher (with contributions written by Zlatko Perhoč and Robert H. Tykot). Archaeopress Archaeology, 2018. More details soon.