Skip to main content
Apollo Hypoakraios Reconsidered
Archaeological Institute of America 99th Annual Meeting/ American Philological Association 131st Annual Meeting (1999)
  • Peter E. Nulton, Ph.D., Rhode Island School of Design

In 1897, the excavations of P. Kabbadias uncovered ten votive plaques in a cave on the northwest slope of the Athenian Acropolis, thereby fixing the location of the "sanctuary of Apollo in a cave" mentioned by Pausanias (I.28.4). The inscriptions indicated that they were meant as dedications to Apollo Hypoakraios or Hypo Makrais, and that the dedicants were invariably members of the college of archons. Although the corpus has increased steadily since then, the inscriptions have not been treated together since Kabbadias's original publication.

In this paper, I will offer some conclusions drawn from a thorough re-analysis of the corpus. Although most of the texts are short and formulaic, the plaques themselves, their decoration, prosopography, and dates offer revealing clues to the origins and functions of the cult.

The entire surface of the cave is covered with niches, into which the plaques were fitted. The form and layout of these niches closely resembles that seen in nearby rupestral sanctuaries of mainly Roman date, for example, the sanctuary of Zeus Hypsistos on the Pnyx.

Analysis of the formulae of the dedications sheds doubt on the pertinence of an archaic inscribed base, a chronologically isolated piece, lacking a cult epithet, and often cited as evidence of the great antiquity of the cult. Between the 6th century B.C. and the 1st century A.D., one is confronted by the total silence with regard to the cult in both the archaeological and epigraphical record. The disassociation of this base, combined with a thorough re-analysis of the literary record with regard to the sanctuary, carries important consequences in regard to the probable date of the establishment of the cult.

The typical form of the dedication makes it clear that these dedications relate to the office of archonship, as the better preserved dedications demonstrate in the text itself. This exclusivity, combined with the stephanoi of myrtle, symbol of the office, strongly suggests that the dedications were made by the archons in an official capacity. Keramopoulos (ArchDelt 12 (1929): 86-92) correctly associated the sanctuary with the oaths of the archons and emphasized the importance of Apollo Patroos in these oaths. The late date of the archaeological evidence for cult practice, however, offers opportunity for a new interpretation of the cult’s function.

The connection between Apollo and the emperor is well attested in Julio-Claudian Athens. Claudius, for example, was assimilated to Apollo Patroos, who shared the cult myth of Apollo Hypoakraios, inasmuch as both cults celebrate Apollo’s fathering of the hero Ion. In addition, a statue base from Athens (Peppas-Delmousou, AJP 100 (1979): 125-132) refers to Augustus Caesar as “the new Apollo”, an image that Augustus himself cultivated in his propaganda, and that was heavily exploited by the Athenians (Hoff, MusHelv 49 (1992): 223-232). Augustus not only identified directly with Apollo, but, like Ion, was said in one popular story to have been fathered by Apollo. Perhaps the Athenians saw it fit that their archons swear an oath that upheld tradition in its connection to Apollo Patroos, but simultaneously honored their “new Apollo.” Stamires (Hesp. 26 (1957): 263) points to Athenian desire to curry favor with the emperor following a period of civil unrest ca 21 B.C. This seems a likely circumstance for the late development of such an unusual official cult.

  • Athens,
  • acropolis,
  • Greek religion,
  • Archaeology
Publication Date
Winter December 28, 1999
Citation Information
Peter E. Nulton. "Apollo Hypoakraios Reconsidered" Archaeological Institute of America 99th Annual Meeting/ American Philological Association 131st Annual Meeting (1999)
Available at: