Recent Excavations Unearth Colossal Statue

Sidebar to: Conversion, Crucifixion and Celebration

During the August 2009 excavations carried out by the Italian Archaeological Mission of Hierapolis in Phrygia, an important discovery was made in the area of the sanctuary built around the thermal springs, next to the oracle of Apollo at Hierapolis.

The excavations brought to light two huge marble blocks of a colossal statue, measuring about 13 feet high, of a god sitting on a throne. The figure is a male dressed in a chiton (a sleeveless Greek tunic) and a mantle, which rests on his shoulder and leg.

The statue was initially identified as Apollo sitting on his throne, following the style in which he was usually represented at Claros, the other main oracular sanctuary of Apollo in Anatolia. Further study of the statue, still underway, allows us to offer another possible interpretation of the figure, however: Hades (known as Pluto to the Romans), the god of the underworld, who also had a significant cult following in the city of Hierapolis.

Near the area of the statue’s discovery was the grotto of the Plutonion, the legendary entrance to the underworld. Poisonous gases spout from the cave here, and tradition holds that this was the site of the mythic abduction of the goddess Persephone (or Proserpina to the Romans) by Hades. The fame of the sanctuary and of its chthonic cult was celebrated in Hierapolis through the imagery on local coins and in the group of statues displayed in the theater.

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