Et kongebud til Ikaros


  • Kristian Jeppesen


Royal message, Ikaros, royal besked, Failaka, Hellenistic temple, hellenistisk, tempel, Sa'ad, tell, byhøj, konstruktion, construction of


A Royal Message to lkaros

The Hellenistic Temples of Failaka

The 1960 spring campaign on Failaka fulfilled all expectations of a rich archeological harvest. Work was carried on at three main sites. At the "tell" of Sa'ad (cf. Kuml 1958 p. 173 Fig. l) virgin soil was reached and the stages determined in the gradual growth of the mound through the Bronze Age and some way into the lron Age. A new excavation on a low ridge north of the mound of Sa'id widened our knowledge of the local cultures, particulary in the field of pottery. And finally it was determined that the fortified site under Sa'id (cf. Kuml 1958 p.186 seq.), which represents the lron Age in the narrowest and most cosmopolitan sense - the Hellenistic Period - was the earliest occupation there. Museumsinspector Albrectsen continued his project of tracing the extent of the widespread complex, while museumsinspector Kjærum and the author, assisted by E. Sander-Jørgensen and S. Fisker, commenced research inside the walls. In the previous campaign museumsinspector Kunwald, in cutting an east-west section trench across the entire site, had met a finely ornamented pillar-base associated with floors and walls of well-cut stone; together with the discovery of a large centre acroter ornamented with palmettes this pillar-base tempted to further investigation in this area (Kuml 1959, p. 236, Fig. 4). The preliminary diagnosis of a temple proved to be correct (Temple A), while in addition the altar belonging to this temple was found, and the remains of a second, somewhat smaller temple (Temple B), standing besides the first. In the same area lay the prize of the season, a 'large limestone slab bearing a long Greek inscription, thrown to the ground not far from its original position in front of one of the antae of Temple A. Within the cella there was moreover a fragment of another smaller inscription. There was also a very considerable quantity of small finds, terracotta statuettes, much pottery, and a number of coins, in particular the massive lump comprising 13 Hellenistic silver tetradrachmas which are described by Otto Mørkholm.

Fig. 2 shows the placing of the temple within the walls. The irregular fortifications of the upper levels (cf. Kuml 1958, p. 175 Fig. 3) are late in date, and under them soundings taken by Kjærum and the author have discovered remains of an earlier and apparently more regular plan, to which the stretch of wall exposed in front of the temples belongs. At this point the wall is quite solid without any gate-opening. In other words access to the temples was from the side, along a street or passage running along the inner side of the wall. Close around the temples remains could be traced of several less sophisticated buildings, constructed of rough stone set in clay and containing occupation levels - apparently ordinary dwelling houses. No clear city plan, however, has been recoverable. Admittedly only a single gateway has yet been found in the original wall, but this gate lies considerably off-centre in the southern section of wall. That the site nevertheless in the main was of fairly regular shape is probably due to the fact that the plan for the whole construction could be marked out on almost completely flat terrain. Such a wall, unsupported by variations in terrain, is normally of little protective value, and the remains discovered suggest that this fortification has in fact been destroyed and rebuilt and strengthened on several occasions, in the course of which a broad and very deep moat was dug around the site (Fig. 4, x-x).

Albrechtsen's hypothesis, that the whole complex was constructed as a single project on the orders of Alexander the Great, is in the main supported by further investigation. The wall and the temples are stratigraphically at the same level, and under them lie no older settlement levels. Whether it was Alexander or one of his immediate successors who took the initiative, it is clear that the expedition has discovered one of the many new constructions which the Hellenistic kings are known to have sited at intervals in their oriental provinces. A complex measuring only a good 60 metres a side can scarcely be termed a town, but the newly discovered Greek inscription shows clearly that here lay the island's cultural and administrative centre in the Hellenistic period, as well as its closest link with the world outside, and probably also its religious centre. There was of course no need for any considerable degree of local administration, and it is therefore not surprising that the inscription is adressed directly to the population of the island as a whole (cf. p. 196).

Fig. 3 illustrates the method of excavation of the temple area. Large rectangular areas were dug on either side of the section trench of 1959 and, after sections had been drawn in both directions (figs. 4--5), the baulks were removed, leaving an open oblong field of 15½ metres in width and about 22 metres in length, bordered to the east by the enclosing wall. Beyond the wall excavation was only carried down to the upper edge of the stone-set moat, lying slightly higher than the foot of the wall. In the centre of this oblong Temple A now stands majestically (Figs. 6,7).

lts dimensions are modest. The exterior dimensions of the walls are a scant 7.5 ms. in width by 11.5 ms. in length. The cella in only 5.6 ms. square, while the depth of the entrance hall is a little over 4 ms. The temple is only slightly larger than, for example, the Athenians' treasury at Delphi, which, moreover, it also resembles in plan, which is of the exceedingly well known type with two pillars "in antis", i. e. between the frontal projections of the side walls. Buildings of this type, which have an ancestry running far back into the Second Millenium BC, were still far from being out of fashion in Hellenistic times. Genuinely Greek, too, is the positioning of the altar outside and in line with the centre of the temple front, which faces to the east; and as could be expected, we discovered in the centre of the cella the remains of an oblong plinth for the cult statue. Other features typical of Greek architecture are the widening of the antae opposite the intervening pillars, and the exterior two-step construction of the base on which the walls rest all the way round.

The floor of the entrance hall was presumably merely of clay. At least no remains were found of any more durable form of paving, which is all the more striking as the stone floor of the cella, consisting of well-cut and well-fitted flags, is completely intact (Fig. 7). It is unlikely that the whole floor would be taken in one room and left in the other. That especial treatment should be given to the holy of holies of the temple moreover is quite natural, and a preferential treatment is in fact shown by the cheap construction of the stylobate in the entrance hall (the foundation below the pillar bases), where, as in the crepidoma (the two-step foundation under the walls), the stones only join on the vertical outer face, while on the upper surface there are large gaps which had to be filled with clay and lumps of stone. In the floor of the cella the flags fit closely together despite their considerable variation in size; they have been cut individually to shape, and the small gaps which did appear through difficulties of fitting or through damage to the flags have been filled in with carefully shaped stone oblongs.

The walls are technically of somewhat intermediate quality. From the outside they give the impression of ashlar construction to the Greek model, but local tradition shows itself in the use of clay as a binding medium, not only in the core of the wall, but also in the visible joints. A certain amount of inaccuracy could therefore be permitted in the stonecutting, to the relief of the local stonemasons who, to judge by the surface treatment of the stone, must have used the same primitive pointed chisels as had been used 2000 years before in the construction of the temples at Barbar on Bahrain. The overall effect has not been directly offensive to the eye. The stone used, a soft whitish limestone of fine coral structure, which in the course of time acquires a greyish surface nuance, matches quite naturally the colour of the clay.

The walls are preserved in up to two courses above the stylobate and the crepidoma, and up to three- courses above the floor of the cella which is considerably lower (Fig. 4). The height of the courses is 43.5-44.5 cms., while the length of the blocks varies. But there were in addition found many blocks loose in the fill, with a height lying about 32 cms. or 42-46 cms. From this it can be concluded that the walls consisted of stone to their full height, and that there can be no question of the upper portion having been of sun-dried brick. It is therefore questionable how one is to explain the layer of practically clean clay, up to a metre in thickness, which covered the floor of the cella before excavation (Fig. 4). Some of it may have derived from the inner core of the wall, and some from a roof constructed in the flat oriental manner.

In the southeastern corner of the cella a short stretch is preserved of a projection at the height of the first course but only up to 25 cms. broad, which must be assumed to have continued the full length of the inner wall. It is definitely too narrow to have been used as a seat, and can only have been employed for the setting up of temple gifts and other small objects of cult use.

The lowest part of the base for the cult statue consisted of a single step, preserved on three sides and part of the fourth. It covers an area of 1.97 by 1.82 cms., and inside it is filled with earth and rough stones. The actual base must have rested upon this, and its approximate dimensions can be deduced from a single stone block which was found immediately beside the base-step (Fig. 3,R), next to the side to which it presumably belonged. One edge of this block is formed as an outer corner, and the other as a junction surface, and its thickness at the outer corner is about 18 cms. If one assumes a similar thickness for the adjoining block, and lay to this the length of the surviving stone, 115.5 cms., then the length of the base-side must have been at least 115.5 + 18, about 134 cms., which must mean that the base rested upon one and the same step, the existing one. The width of this step which was visible can be deduced: from the surviving remains of the inner core, which consisted of a mixture of clay and stone-cutting chips. Against the back of the step still lie two shaped but clearly rejected blocks which project above the upper surface of the step. Block R and the other facade blocks must therefore have rested in their full width on the step, from which it again follows that the body of the base has had approximate dimensions of 1.55 X 1,70 ms., and that the visible width of the step was about 16 cms. The total height of the base must have corresponded to the height of Block R, 59.5 cms., + the height of the underlying step, ahout 11 cms., + the thickness of a covering slab above, thus an estimated minimum height of 80 cms. And as the covering slab must have projected somewhat beyond the body of the base, it must have measured at least about 175 X 190 cms. (Fig. 8). This is no bagatelle in such a little temple! A statue, a standing figure corresponding to this format, must have been far over lifesize, while a throned figure could at least not be less than lifesize. The almost square base would hardly he appropriate for a sculpture-group, and the statue has therefore been in either case a really monumental piece of sculpture. That such a work could have been produced locally is theoretically not unthinkable. But if whatever a local sculptor could produce in local stone was considered sufficient, or even preferable, what has happened to this curiosity? Not a fragment has been found which could derive from such a figure, while it is not likely that an artistically-minded conqueror would be tempted to carry off a provincial work in poor material. On the other hand it would have been expensive to acquire a first-class work of art. Large-scale bronze casting requires special experts who were scarcely to be found on the island, while to judge by the architecture there was not exactly a surplus of craftsmen of satisfactory Greek schooling, and stone of quality must be imported over a distance. It appears to me to be most probable that the cult statue was imported ready­made, a gift from one of the protectors of the island, and that thereafter it was left to the local labour force to create a worthy architectural frame for the masterpiece as best it could (If mischievous fate destroys this hypothesis by producing from the earth during the next campaign an immense statue of hitherto unknown rusticality the result will at least be positive).

Nothing suggests that there were windows in the cella. We can be sure that the cult statue stood in the dark, only weakly illuminated by the daylight which came through the 158 cm. wide doorway out to the entrance hall In the well-preserved threshold there are oddly enough no holes for door-posts nor any recess against which a door could close. Either there was no door (curtains?), or else there was a loose threshold and doorposts of wood or stone.

It has proved possible, by reason of fortunate discoveries of representative single pieces, to reconstruct the facade of the temple in its most important details (Fig. 9). On the stylobate two pillar bases stood in situ. The southern is complete and consists of three separately formed members: lowest a square stone slab, upon this a circular base section ornamented with leaf decoration of a type known from Achæmenid architecture (Persepolis and Susa), and above this a low round disc (Fig. 10). The latter feature is missing on the northern pillar-base, and here excavators found a pillar drum secondarily standing upon the ornamented base section, while a fragment of the missing disc turned up in the cella. On the upper side of both discs there is a slight projection, which clearly marks the diameter of the lowest pillar drum (45 cms.). This diameter is considerably greater than that of the surviving pillar drum (42.6 cms. at bottom). The lowest drum must therefore have possessed a little bulbous projection at the foot, which would form a suitable transition between the base and the shaft of the pillar. The total height of the pillar must he estimated, but fortunately one of the capitals (Fig. 11) was found on the floor of the entrance hall. Only the ante-capitals are missing.

A combination of all these elements gives the surprising result shown in Fig. 9. While the bases are, as has been said, of Persian style, the capital with its spirals in very low relief resemble most closely a capital of Ionic, i. e. Greek, type. Is it permissable then to talk of a mixed Persian-Greek style? Hardly. It would he more correct to regard the phenomenon as an architectonic caprice, on the principle of using the nails that come to hand. The Persian bases are clearly reused, and doubtless brought from the ruins of an older building on the island constructed in purely Persian style. This is shown partly by the material, an imported dark stone which stands out sharply against the light limestone used in the other parts of the temple, including the rest of the pillars; and partly by the fact that the upper surface of the bases still bore considerahle quantities of the bitumen with which they had been attached to the original pillar shafts 3). Traditions from the period under Persian rule before Alexander the Great have clearly still been in the blood of the craftsmen of the island at the time when Greek styles became modem in these distant regions, even though nothing actively was done to continue pre-Greek building methods.

Of the beams - the architrave - above the pillars nothing has been found, but on the other hand chance has decreed that all the free-standing ornaments (the acroters) which originally stood on the top of the gable of the temple front should survive, both the central one (found fallen besides the northern pillar (cf. Fig. 4)) and the two corner pieces. Similarly it has been possible to identify two whole pieces and one fragment of the roof cornice (Figs. 12-14). The acroters rested directly upon the sloping gable cornice, and were therefore cut to a slope at the base. The slope of the gable is given by the angle of the incision in the base surface of the centrepiece. Of the portions of the cornice one whole block (Y) was found in the cella behind the statue-base, and the other (BZ) lay together with a fragment of a cornerstone (AM) close to the southeast corner of the temple, where they belonged. All three have the same somewhat clumsy profile on the front, but differ in certain other respects sufficiently to show their function. Y and BZ, which are both 108 cms. long, have lain along the sides of the temple, the clear divergence between the upper and lower surfaces (especially clear on Y) showing that the top of the wall on which they rested was sloped parallel to the slope of the gable. On both adjoining sides of the cornerstone the profile is the same, but their slope is different, and this difference is only cancelled when the block is tipped somewhat from the horizontal, corresponding to the angle of the gable (Fig. 13). On this block the upper and lower surfaces are parallel, and the back is fairly flat, whereas the back of Y and BZ is very uneven. The small depth of the stones shows that the projection of the cornice must have been quite inconsiderable, only some few cms., and it is therefore doubtful whether there was any real horizontal cornice to close the gable field. A slight moulding at the upper edge of the architrave would have been sufficient to mark the transition to the roof construction.

In none of the blocks were there spouts or even simple holes to lead off rainwater from the roof, and it is doubtful whether the triangular front was carried back in a true saddle roof of Greek type. No roof-tiles have been found, and it is not improbable that the roof was flat, consisting of one or more layers of rafters covered with palm-leaf mats and clay. In that case the gable was merely a false front.

The decorative effect of the temple was heightened in Greek fashion by painting in strong colours. On the acroters the palmettes showed up against a bright red background (clear traces of colour were found on the side acroter EF), and it would be reasonable to assume that the Ionic spirals of the capitals were similarly emphasized. Other colours were certainly also used, but no certain traces of these have been found.

On the face of it, it seems unlikely that a building as unprecisely erected as Temple A could have been planned to any accuracy; yet it can hardly be chance that the cella is precisely square, 5.60 X 5.56 ms., and this circumstance suggests that some calculation lay behind the plan of the building. In Fig. 15 one of the possibilities is suggested, proposal based on a quadratic system of 2½ foot units (1 foot = 32 cms.), as it is known from the monumental architecture of the time of Alexander in the original Greek area 4).

In front of the temple lay the altar belonging to it (Figs. 6-7). The greater part of its step-formed base is preserved, in addition to part of the core of the altar, which, like the base of the cult statue, consisted of stamped clay and stone-cutter's rubbish. This core was faced with stone slabs, of which several fragments were found in the vicinity (U, AS, AU, EB), of varying length but of approximately the same thickness and all of 57 cms. height. Above these there must have been a covering slab - the altar table - and the construction was finished off by a palmette-ornamented gable at the ends and perhaps also a low protective ledge along the eastern side (Fig. 9, 16-17). Both gable-ends were discovered (AF & CB + CD) close to their original position. The base dimensions of the altar are 4.50 X 2.48 metres.

On one of the first days of the campaign a fragment of a little capital of Doric type (Z) was found immediately behind the cella of Temple A, and somewhat later a similar but better preserved capital appeared in the area on the other side of the town wall (CE. Fig. 18). The building to which these features must have belonged was not, however, located until the closing days of the campaign, when the diminutive step foundation below the one side of the building was successfully traced about 3 metres south of and parallel to Temple A (Fig. 3). It was then too late to commence further investigations in this direction. For the present we entitle this building Temple B, and expect in the following season to uncover a structure similar to Temple A, but on a smaller scale and with Doric instead of Ionic capitals. To this building presumably belong also two smaller corner acroters which were found in front of Temple A and within its entrance hall (AE & AQ). The interval between the temples is blocked by a connecting structure built of broken stone set in clay mortar and originally plastered. The floor of this enclosure, to which no entrance has yet been found, is noteworthy in being paved with stone flags (Fig. 5, Y-Y, 14), but these are admittedly irregular in shape and not nearly so finely laid as those in the cella of Temple A. A more detailed description of the various house remains, contemporary and later, found around Temple A must await further excavation. And we must hope, too, that further excavation will also enable us to explain a number of loose building blocks, the architectural placing of which it has not yet been possible to determine.

But on the whole we have already sufficient material to draw a number of important conclusions. On Failaka in Hellenistic times there existed a local school of building, accustomed to working with relatively simple tools in a soft and easily worked material, and inspired by a certain knowledge of the formal repetoire of Greek architecture. This knowledge appears to have rested more on visual impressions gathered from travels to larger cities 5) than on servile studies of available stylistically pure monuments, of which there were probably none on the island. On this basis arose, in similar fashion to the peasant crafts of ornamentation, a sort of rustic style of architecture in which the three-dimensionally conceived details of Hellenistic architecture were simplified and debased into a purely linear ornamentation: as exemplified by the palmettes on the acroters of Temples A and B, the Ionic capital of Temple A, the palmettes on the acroters of the altar, and the garlands on the still homeless block which gave its name to Albrectsen's article in. KUML 1958 (p. 186 seq., and figs. 4-5). All these are placed in relation to a flat surface as in the frontally and two-dimensionally conceived facade art of Classical Greece. It was enough to copy the most superficial features of the foreign building style, and no understanding was reached of the interest in the third dimension, in architecture regarded as sculpture, which had developed in the time between Pericles and Alexander. But not even the linear execution is always equally successful. It is best in the palmettes, considerably weaker in the capital and in the block with the garlands.

It is not altogether easy to place this provincial architecture in time and milieu. The sharply curved and back-bent tips of the palmette leaves are typically enough Hellenistic, but no dating can thereby be deduced which would satisfy the historian, other than a terminus post quem which would approximately coincide with Alexander's lifetime. Much the same is true of the Doric capitals, the "cushion" (echinus) of which, unlike the classical type, has a slightly convex curve. The Ionic capital appears, to be an extremely simplified copy of the type characteristic of 4th century Asia Minor. The connecting line between the two volutes in the front is pulled down into an exaggerated, almost garland-like, curve, invading the field which would normally be occupied by an egg-and-dart design, while the volutes do not hang freely, but are restrained completely within the cube of the capital block. Parallels to the simple double moulding which forms the only ornamentation of the sides can be found as far back as the Early Classical period 7), while the precisely spuare form of the slightly raised supporting surface (abacus) on the upper side of the capital (42 X 42 cms.) is in accordance with the practice from the 5th century onwards. The Hellenistic taste for contrast shows itself once more in the striking opposition between slender pillars and massive antae, which Classical architects normally avoided 8). The section of the roof cornice is a combination of two simple profiles, a cyma recta above and a cyma reversa below. The cyma recta is quite frequently used for sima (gutters) around the middle of the 4th century BC and is thus not out of place here 9). But its combination with a cyma reversa, which is normally used, in similar fashion, to mark the upper termination of some architectonic whole, is against normal Greek practice and appears illogical. This combination must certainly be ascribed to the local builders' inventiveness, or rather lack of more profound understanding of the syntactical principles of Greek architecture. Finally, the altar of Temple A, with its steep end gables, is of a type with striking parallels from the Hellenistic period 10) (Fig. 20), but a more accurate dating can scarcely be given.

A solution to the problem of dating must thus be sought by other roads. The large quantities of local glazed pottery found on the site will be of some value in this connection when they have been finally classified, as will the remaining "small finds", terracottas, pottery lamps and a number of small coins. Nevertheless it is doubtful whether these objects will be able to give a more firm basis for the chronology of the site than has already fallen to the good fortune of the expedition in the shape of the coin hoard discussed on pp. 199. This comprises a depot of silver coins which, according to Mørkholm, must have been hidden in the period around 200 BC. It was found concealed in the floor levels of a house which was clearly built somewhat - but not much - later than Temple A and its altar (Fig. 3 and Fig. 5, z-z). The walls of the house rest on the thin plaster layer which formed the first surfacing of the open area between the temple and the altar, and which is at a level corresponding to the lowest foundation step of both structures. These structures therefore are of a date prior to 200 BC. But the question remains, whether the large insription stele which stood originally in front of the southern anta of the temple may not be susceptible to even closer dating. Here a stone base was found in situ, resting upon the lowest step. It was somewhat wider than the step, and was therefore supported at the front by a stone packing corresponding to the height of the step (Fig. 14). A large rectangular mortice-hole in the upper surface had clearly been designed to hold an inscription stele of quite ample dimensions, but it was nevertheless a surprise to find this stele still in existence, lying 7-8 metres further to the east.

It lay almost flat, at a level a good half metre above the lowest altar step. It had clearly been dragged from its place in one piece, but it had then, when the attempt to drag it further had been abandoned, been smashed into several large pieces. Fortunately only very few small fragments had been carried so far away that they escaped discovery. The other fragments lay close together and could all, with one exception, be replaced in their original position. The surface proved to have suffered severely from wear and deliberate damage, and it was a difficult task for the expedition's conservator, Lange-Kornbak, to put together and consolidate the stele in such a way that it could be moved (Fig. 22). When this delicate task had been successfully performed a "Latex" impression was taken, and a reproduction of the stone has since been made from this impression. The original was flown by helicopter to Kuwait at the conclusion of the campaign and amid much public interest erected in the State Museum, where it - naturally enough - will be exhibited as a national monument.

The appendix p. 194 deals with the interpretation of the inscription on this stele, and with the historical conclusions which can be deduced from it. Future discoveries of further inscriptions may further extend our knowledge of the history of Ikaros. During this campaign a votive inscription was also found, which though brief is eloquent enough (Fig. 26): " .... the .... coming from I(ndus?) founded the altar''. One recalls Nearchos' adventurous voyage from the Indus river to Mesopotamia, which may have provided an opportunity for some of his reconnaissance units to pay a short visit to Ikaros.

Kristian Jeppesen.





Jeppesen, K. (1960). Et kongebud til Ikaros. Kuml, 10(10), 153–198. Hentet fra