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Terracotta figurine of Athena Ergane enthroned, from circa 550BC, National Archaeological Museum, Sibari.
Terracotta figurine of Athena Ergane enthroned, from circa 550BC, National Archaeological Museum, Sibari.

III.B.6. Terracotta figurine of Athena Ergane enthroned, Athenaion, Timpone della Motta

The figurine illustrated here is composed by Elizabeth Weistra (PhD student Groningen University) from fragments in the former Bern-Getty collection that were looted from the Timpone della Motta and subsequently returned to the National Archaeological Museum at Sibari, and one fragment that is still on the art market.

The fragments do not fit and clearly came from different moulds, which shows that several different moulds for - and consequently several different series of - this figurine must have existed. Sadly, only a few tiny fragments survived the intensive looting of the Athenaion.

The position of the goddess’ hands is unusual, since most enthroned deities are depicted with their hands flat on their knees. Similarly clenched hands can be seen in the ‘Athena Ergane in naiskos’ (cf.  Museum no. III.A.5.) and the ‘women with textile offering’ (cf. Museum no. III.B.7.). This is the first argument for a reconstruction of this figurine as holding an object on her lap (Fig. A). By analogy with the examples mentioned above this object was probably a woven piece of cloth, presumably a peplos.

The second argument to presume there was an object on the lap of this figurine is the obvious lack of detailing of that section of the figurine.

The figurine is decorated with a large multi-petal rosette in a position where the goddess Athena normally wears her Gorgoneion, an indication that the coroplast thought this detail highly significant.

It is certainly highly significant to us, who inherited this ancient image, because it allows us to interpret the figurine more accurately. Such rosettes are characteristic decorative elements of cult statues, one of the most informative examples of which is the chryselephantine statue (=made of ivory and gold) from Delphi (cf.  Museum no. 0.A.1).            

The combination of this iconographic evidence and the presence of actual gold foil rosettes on the Timpone della Motta  (cf. Museum no. O.A.1.) strongly suggests that the Athenaion possessed a cult statue of an enthroned Athena Ergane in the 6th c. BC, and most likely a chryselephantine one.

Thus far the excavations at Sibari haven’t unearthed much evidence of the legendary wealth of Sybaris, probably because of the difficulties of the terrain. Here, however, at nearby Francavilla Marittima, the postulated presence of such a precious cult statue seems to offer ample proof.

The fragments come from the former Bern collection, the Scavi Stoop, the Scavi Luppino and the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek and are now in the National Archaeological Museum at Sibari, except for the one on the art market.

Fig. A. Reconstruction of the cult statue of Athena Ergane with a folded peplos on her lap (drawing Marianne Kleibrink).