Ephyra's Nekromanteion

In ancient times Epirus was famous for its two oracles: in the first, located in Dodona and devoted to Zeus, lord of the living and celestial world, soothsayers could disclose man's destiny and divine will by interpreting the rustle of leaves or observing the flight of the wild pidgeons nesting among the trees; in the second, the Ephyra's Nekromanteion, (see etymology), devoted to Pluto (or Hades or Aidoneus), lord of the underworld, and to his spouse Persephone (Proserpine for the Romans), pilgrims, could come into visual and verbal contact with the dead by means of rites, sacrifices, initiatory and purification praticeslitanies.
Photo from publication in reference 1 of bibliography
  Persephone's bust (3-d century b.C.), now in Ioannina Archaeological Museum, discovered inside Nekromanteion. The veiled Goddess wears a tall hat, decorated with flowers and fruit in relief, symbol of fertility granted to mankind by Mother-Earth.
People consulted the oracle to know which sacrifices they should make and which gods invoke to receive light or to meet practical purposes.

The "Book of the dead" from Odyssey, written around the end of the 8-th century b.C. but referring events dating back to the late Mycenaean period (13-th century a.C.), does not mention the Nekromanteion, therefore it is supposed that during Mycenaean period there was an oracle in the area, may be located in a cave.

Ephyra's oracle was directly related to the topography of the area: the stagnant waters of the Acherousian lake, the three rivers, Acheron, Cocytus, Pyriphlegethon, the caves on the hill which could be considered as access points to the Underworld, the noises from the subsoil which gave a living sensation of some presence from underground, the fresh water springs in the bay of Ammoudia near at hand.

The Nekromanteion, as it appears to us today, is a building of the 3-rd century b.C.; very few remains date back before the 4-th century. That's due to the fact that, when the sanctuary was built, the top of the hill was levelled and anything older was lost.

Anyway, on the western slope of the sanctuary hill, fragments and clay statuettes of Persephone of the half of the 7-th century (see the photo a few lines ahead) came to light. They originate from a sanctuary pre-existing in the nearbies and no more operating when the ellenistic one was built on the top of the hill or rather from a votive deposit belonging to an archaic sanctuary.

That this impressive building is really the Nekromanteion can be inferred from the following considerations:

Photo from publication in reference 1 of bibliography
Clay heads of Persephone discovered on the western slope of the Nekromanteion hill (7-th century b.C.).

  • the underground crypt (the house of Hades) and the structure above the ground recalling the eastern mausolea and the prehistorical Mesopotamian ziggurats (see image on the right);
  • and finally the reference to Periander's legates visit to the Nekromanteion, by the banks of the Acheron river, in the Thesprotian land (Herodotus 5, 92).
Photo from publication in reference 3 of bibliography
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