The Temple of Asclepius was a sanctuary in Epidaurus dedicated to Asclepius. It was the main holy site of Asclepius. The sanctuary at Epidaurus was the rival of such major cult sites as the Sanctuary of Zeus at Olympia and Apollo at Delphi. The temple was built in the early 4th century BCE. If still in use by the 4th century CE, the temple would have been closed during the persecution of pagans in the late Roman Empire, when the Christian Emperors issued edicts prohibiting non-Christian worship.
Pausanias described the myth around the foundation of the temple, as well as its religious significance to the worship of Asclepius in the 2nd century:
Before you reach Epidauros itself [in Argos] you will come to the sanctuary of Asklepios ... That the land is especially sacred to Asklepios is due to the following reason. The Epidaurians say that Phlegyas came to the Peloponnesos . . . accompanied by his daughter [Koronis mother of Asklepios], who all along had kept hidden from her father that she was with child by Apollo. In the country of the Epidaurians she bore a son [Asklepios], and exposed him on the mountain called Titthion (Nipple) at the present day, but then named Myrtion... There is other evidence that the god was born in Epidauros; for I find that the most famous sanctuaries of Asklepios had their origin from Epidauros. In the first place, the Athenians, who say they gave a share of their mystic rites to Asklepios, call this day of the festival Epidauria, and they allege that their worship of Asklepios dates from then. Again, when Arkhias, son of Aristaikhmos, was healed in Epidauria after spraining himself after hunting about Pindasos, he brought the cult to Pergamon [in Asia Minor]. From the one at Pergamos has been built in our own day the sanctuary of Asklepios by the sea at Smyrna. Further, at Balagrai of the Kyreneans there is an Asklepios called Iatros (Healer), who like the others came from Epidauros. From the one at Kyrene was founded the sanctuary of Asklepios at Lebene, in Krete. There is this difference between the Kyreneans and the Epidaurians, that whereas the former sacrifice goats, it is against the custom of the Epidaurians to do so. That Asklepios was considered a god from the first, and did not receive the title only in the course of time. I infer from several signs, including the evidence of Homer, who makes Agamemnon say about Makhaon:--'Talthybios, with all speed go summon me hither Makhaon, mortal son of Asklepios'. As who should say, 'human son of a god'.
The temple had major religious importance in the cult of Asclepius. It was a site for holy pilgrimage from the entire ancient world, and influenced the worship of Asclepius in many other sanctuaries dedicated to him. Pausanias described how serpents were considered sacred to the god on the site: "The serpents, including a peculiar kind of a yellowish color, are considered sacred to Asklepios, and are tame with men."
Pausanias described the worship and the site's importance as a pilgrimage in the 2nd century:
Over against the temple is the place where the suppliants of the god sleep. Near has been built a circular building of white marble, called Tholos (Round House) . . . Within the enclosure stood slabs; in my time six remained, but of old there were more. On them are inscribed the names of both the men and the women who have been healed by Asklepios, the disease also from which each suffered, and the means of cure. The dialect is Doric. Apart from the others is an old slab, which declares that Hippolytos dedicated twenty horses to the god. The Arikians tell a tale that agrees with the inscription on this slab, that when Hippolytos was killed, owing to the curses of Theseus, Asklepios raised him from the dead. On coming to life again he refused to forgive his father; rejecting his prayers, he went to the Arikians in Italy... There were many legends, stories and miracles said to have taken place in the temple during the centuries of pilgrimage to it. Cicero alluded the merciful nature of Asclepius when he recounted how Dionysius of Syracusa allegedly committed sacrilege at the sanctuary without divine punishment: "He gave orders for the removal of the golden beard of Aesculapius at Epidaurus, saying it was not fitting for the son to wear a beard when his father [Apollo] appeared in all his temples beardless... Nor did Aesculapius cause him to waste away and perish of some painful and lingering disease."
In the 3rd century, Aelian describes a legendary miracle taking place in the sanctuary:
A woman suffered from an intestinal worm, and the cleverest doctors despaired of curing her. Accordingly, she went to Epidauros and prayed to the god [Asklepios] that she might be rid of the complaint that was lodged in her. The god was not at hand. The attendants of the temple however made her lie down in the place where the god was in the habit of healing his petitioners. And the woman lay quiet as she was bid; and the ministers of the god addressed themselves to her cure: they severed her head from the neck, and one of them inserted his hand and drew out the worm, which was a monstrous creature. But to adjust the head and to restore it to its former setting, this they always failed to do. Well, the god arrived and was enraged with the ministers for undertaking a task beyond their skill, and himself with the irresistible power of a god restored the head to the body and raised the stranger up again. For my part, O King Asklepios, of all gods the kindliest to man, I do not set Wormwood [as a cure for intestinal worms] against your skill (heaven forbid I should be so insensate!), but in considering Wormwood I was reminded of your beneficent action and of your astounding powers of healing. And there is no need to doubt that this herb also is a gift from you.
The temple could not have been in function to a later date than the 4th or 5th century, when all pagan shrines were closed during the persecution of pagans in the late Roman Empire.
View over the sanctuary. (1251k) Theater (4th to 2nd century BCE). (1445k) Propylon, the entrance to the Hestiatorion, (~300 BCE). (765k) Propylon, the entrance to the Hestiatorion, (~300 BCE). (1108k) Altar of Asclepius (4th century BCE). (1.5M) Doric Fountain (3rd century BCE). (1403k) Katagogion (Hostel) for patients and companions (4th century BCE). (1215k) Greek baths (~300 BCE). (1.7M) Akoai (bath complex). (1424k) Stoa of Kotys (3rd century BCE). (1226k) Sanctuary for the Egyptian Gods. (1.7M) Remnants of the Temple of Artemis (4th century BCE). (1374k) Stadium (5th century BCE). (1174k)
Abaton and Baths of Asclepius (4th century BCE - 2nd century CE)
Columns along the Abaton. (1014k) Upper level of the Abaton. (771k) Intricate marble stonework. (831k) Intricate marble stonework. (804k) Upper level of the Abaton. (983k) Upper level of the Abaton. (1235k) Lower level of the Abaton. (996k) Baths of Asclepius. (1044k)
Museum of the Sanctuary of Asclepius
Marble statue of Asclepius, leaning on his staff (5th to 4th century BCE). (852k) Marble statue of Asclepius, leaning on his staff (late 4th to late 1st century BCE). (923k) Plaster cast of a statue of Asclepius, leaning on his staff (CE 160). (794k) Marble statue of Hygieia with a snake around her shoulder (CE 160). (1021k) Plaster cast of a statue of Hygieia (4th century BCE). (1014k) Plaster cast of a statue of Hygieia (2nd to 3rd century CE). (635k) Marble statue of Aphrodite (1st century CE). (967k) Plaster cast of a statue of Aphrodite (1st century CE). (859k) Marble statue of Athena with an aegis decorated with a gorgonion (1st century BCE). (848k) Marble statue of Athena wearing a peplos (CE 160). (950k) Plaster cast of a statue of Athena (CE 180-300). (1108k) Marble statue of Hermes (CE 250-275). (792k) Marble statue of Roman official wearing an cuirass (CE 117-138). (968k) Marble statue of Hellenistic official. (704k)
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