The island of Samothrace in northern Greece is well known for its impressive scenery and awe-inspiring atmosphere. And since antiquity, it has been considered a place of secrets and unknown mysteries. It's no wonder that Samothrace was one of the main sites of the Ancient Greek Mysteries, together with Eleusis, closer to Athens.
Secrets of these mystery cults of Ancient Greece will never be completely revealed, as one of the conditions was that they remain unknown. Insiders were strictly prohibited to ever divulge the contents of the sacraments, so the amount of information available is not enough to form a detailed impression of events.
It's important to remember that the ancient Greeks had a close relationship with their gods, which was part of their daily life. The mystery rites, however, were strictly guarded and only those who had passed certain trials were allowed to participate.
Waterspout in the form of a lions head from the Stoa — Photo courtesy of © Acropolis Museum. Photo Socrates Mavromatis
The exhibition “Samothrace. The Mysteries of the Great Gods,” held at the Acropolis Museum of Athens until January 10th 2016, allows visitors to glean more information on this fascinating subject, observing a number of important archaeological finds from excavations made on the island.
This exhibition is the first of a series from regional Greece, which will bring items of interest from remote museums to Athens, where they can be presented to a large audience. The exhibition is organized in cooperation with the Ephorates of Rodopi and Evros and the expert in Samothracian antiquities, Mr. Dimitrios Matsas.
The initiates of the Mysteries believed that by invoking the Great Gods, they would be safe from dangers at sea and would become more just and pious. During the rituals, which were held at night, the Sanctuary was illuminated by torches and the initiates went through a purification ceremony, confessed their sins, attended a sacred speech which included mythological stories and witnessed the unveiling of sacred symbols.
An assortment of artifacts from the site of Mikro Vouni, southwest of the Sanctuary, forms the introduction to the exhibition. A settlement with an organized social structure of the 2nd millennium B.C was revealed during excavations in this location, making it especially interesting. Minoan stamp seals and seal impressions with the symbols of a double axe and fish are among the most impressive finds, counterparts of which have been found at Knossos in Crete.
Drinking vessels of the 7th century B.C. were found in a pit beneath the floor of the Hall of Choral Dancers, another mysterious location. These sacred utensils – together with coffer panels decorated with reliefs, sections of a frieze and other objects – form a second section of the exhibition.
The final phase of the secret rites is believed to have been held in the Hieron building, where a test accompanied by the revelation of secret symbols took place. The third group of exhibits contains items from this sacred building, which was believed to have been the main temple of the Sanctuary.
Last but not least, a section of the exhibition is devoted to archaeological discoveries from the necropolis of Samothrace, which include a series of black figure vases, ceramic figurines and gold jewelry.