Limestone ‘temple boy’ in Ancient Greece

November 16, 2015 § Leave a comment

Statuettes like this, of a crouching child, were regularly dedicated in Cypriot sanctuaries from about 450 BC into the Hellenistic period. Their meaning is not obvious, but they are commonly known as ‘temple boys’.

Ancient Greece | Limestone 'temple boy' via British Museum

Ancient Greece | Limestone ‘temple boy’ via British Museum

The boy’s dress is raised to reveal his private parts. He wears earrings and a band of amulets across his chest. The amulets comprise a demonic head, perhaps of the Egyptian god Bes, four pendant-rings and four tubular beads. Bes was regularly used as an apotropaic figure (to drive away evil). The pendant-rings may have contained scarabs which would have had protective powers, while the beads were most probably tubular boxes for tiny figurines or papyrus or a rolled metal sheet with magical or superstitious properties.

Another type of amulet regularly worn by Cypriot temple boys is in the form of a club, which must relate to Herakles, who, like Bes, was thought to have apotropaic qualities (that is, the ability to ward off evil). The band of amulets with their magical or superstitious qualities, together with the evidence that some were dedicated to a specific god, suggest that the temple boys were ordinary dedications to place children under the protection of the divinity.

While most temple-boys come from sanctuary sites on the island of Cyprus, they have also been found elsewhere, for example at Carthage, northern Africa.


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