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The Chthonic Cult of Aphrodite in Pisidia

This article concerns the terra cotta bust of a woman that was unearthed in an illegal tomb excavation in Pisidia and is today in the collection of the Yalvaç Museum. This bust was made from a reddish-pink clay, of a lime-sandy texture and was quite well-fired. It stands 13-5 cm tall and is 9 cm wide.

This figure, depicting a woman from slightly above the waist, a bust, was cast from a mould. The bottom of the bust is cut very smoothly. Both arms of the figure fall down freely, touching the body. This figure of a woman wears a tight chiton with long sleeves, with the collar of the chiton of a half-moon shape and the figure is quite well articulated with rich drapes, while similar drapes are also to be seen on the central part of the body. The hose-like puffy drapes have been given horizontal wavy and half-moon forms. Over the chiton there is a himation, which hangs over the shoulder like a shawl, with the edges of the himation hanging down covering the breasts and with the breasts articulated by triple plastic vertical folds on both sides. Similar but single vertical folds are also found where the arms of the figure join the body. The areas between these two groups of folds are left flat and are decorated with a vertical spray palmette frieze, designed to exhibit the richness of this fabric. The back of the body is to a large extent left plain, with only the folds of cloth over the right shoulder and the straight cut ends of the combed hair worked. There is, just below the neck, a small round shaped firing hole.

The bust also carries other ornamentation, with the female bust wearing a quite tightly braided necklace with a round shaped medallion pendant and another necklace with similar braiding, like a chain but longer and reaching below the breasts, which has as a pendant an oyster shell shaped medallion. In addition, she wears round shaped earrings on the lobes of her ears.

Other examples that are typologically similar to this bust are known from sacral areas related to the cults of Demeter-Persephone and Aphrodite, which date from the Archaic Period onwards, as well as many examples from tomb areas. It is not difficult to identify the divine characters that are represented by such figures that have been found in sacral areas; however, the examples from sepulchral areas have resulted in much discussion and, in the case of those from graves, it is necessary to study the other artifacts that are found with these figures. It is to be understood that our example, from the Yalvaç Museum, represents an important character because of the rich costume and jewelry depicted and her identity can be determined from the oyster shell medallion that she is wearing. The oyster shell is related to the iconography of the goddess Aphrodite as her attribute because, according to mythology, Aphrodite was born in an oyster shell off the island of Cyprus. Therefore, it is plausible to suggest that this bust is related to the goddess Aphrodite. A terra cotta bust of a woman, dating from the Late Hellenistic Period, from Patara is the nearest similar example that illustrates the connection of the Yalvaç bust with the goddess Aphrodite. Other examples that are similar to both of these terra cotta busts were produced in the Roman Period, but they are works of sculpture of greater size, some being full size figures. For example, a clothed statue of a woman statue from Perge, now on display at the Antalya Museum, wears an oyster shell hanging from the belt that is fastened around her body just below her breasts. The depictions of the priestesses of Aphrodite among the reliefs of the F2 and the F4 Nymphaions in Perge are also shown wearing a necklace with an oyster shell pendant.

However, from some other examples it is clear that not all those figures depicted wearing an oyster shell hanging from their necklace or on their bodies are related to the cult of Aphrodite. For example, the Artemis Pergaia relief that is carved on a column on the colonnaded street at Perge, holds a torch in one hand and a bow in the other and she also wears an oyster shell. A similar depiction of an oyster shell is also to be seen on the Kybele statue, now on display in the Gaziantep Museum, where the goddess Kybele wears a necklace in the form of a chain with an oyster shell pendant. Looking at the known dedications of temples, it can be seen that the cult of Aphrodite was not as widespread as the cults of other deities, as, to date, very few temples are known that are dedicated to Aphrodite in Anatolia or the West. It is known that her cult was the most widespread in Cyprus where she was born, however, by looking at small archaeological finds and the available epigraphic evidence, it can be inferred that the cult of Aphrodite was widespread across Anatolia throughout antiquity. In some regions, Aphrodite was worshiped together with other goddesses such as Artemis and Kybele.

In antiquity, some deities were venerated with votive offerings, especially chthonios due to the ancient tradition arising from the belief in the other world. Many examples are known of full size figures or busts of chthonic deities that were placed in tombs together with the deceased, as according to this belief, these chthonic deities were capable of providing the dead with a better life in the other world. It is known that the goddess Aphrodite was one of these chthonic deities and it was believed that she would give an eternal life to those people who, when they died, showed their faith in her. Consequently, figurines of Aphrodite were placed in many tombs as votive offerings. The depictions of Aphrodite on those Roman sarcophagi with friezes can be interpreted as another method of expressing belief in Aphrodite in her Chthonic aspect. These points together suggest that, just as with the Patara and other examples, the Yalvaç bust was a symbolic figure of Aphrodite that was placed in a tomb as a votive offering to Aphrodite Chthonios. The dating of the Yalvaç bust can be determined from the hair style and from other stylistic features of the work. The hair style of the back of the head and the three short and tiny curls of hair on both sides just by the ears are clear evidence of the toupet hair style widespread in the Flavian Period. The hair at the back is combed down towards the bottom of the neck in an archaistic style, as is generally found on examples of the toupet hair style. The contrasting proportions observable in the anatomy of the figure remind one of the sculptural style quite often seen in this period, for example, the quite heavy and stationary body supports only a small head and the big fleshy nose contrasts with the tiny modeling of the other parts of the face, that are typical of the stylistic features of the sculpture of this period. Consequently, on stylistic grounds the Yalvaç bust can probably be dated towards the end of the 1st century.

*Doç. Dr. Taner Korkut, Akdeniz Üniversitesi, Fen-Edebiyat Fakültesi, Arkeoloji Bölümü, Kampüs 07058 Antalya.

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