The spirit of emulation was not confined to the racing course of the Stadium and the hippodrome; it also spread to the sanctuary of Delphi, where a number of votive offerings by various city-states represented their people collectively, as municipalities, and never as the privileged members of an elite class. Also represented were the artistic and architectural traditions of the respective city-states, manifesting each region’s advance in technical know-how, achievements in design, stone-cutting, carving and engineering.

Offerings were set up to commemorate some political or historic outstanding event, or even an athletic distinction. Therefore the pilgrim was able to ‘read’ history through the ex-votoes, just as we are able to read it in their remains today. Ascending the processional way, the dedicatory epigrams and numerous finds revealed by archaeological research with the invaluable aid of the minutely descriptive accounts of ancient travelers (Pausanias), historians (Herodotos, Diodorus, Justin), poets (Pindar, Hesiod) and Apollo’s high priests (Plutarch), unravel episodes of military conflicts, memorable political acts but also aspects of society in ancient Greece, milestones in a region’s prosperous orbit. Corfu dedicated to Apollo Pythios a tithe of her revenues from a successful catch of fish, while the people of Siphnos celebrated the inauguration of silver mines by erecting a treasury at Delphi rather than on their home island. Here, in a highly frequented panhellenic sanctuary, their dedications would be admired by a lot more people and the velocity of the news’ dissemination would be incomparably higher.

Votive offerings made ethnic statements, they publicized an accomplishment, gloried heroes, ancestors, champions and commanders via durable luxurious monuments, which would perpetuate the reputation, ensuring its everlasting and indelible overtones. Furthermore, dedications disclose the mortals’ desire to share the celebration of their welfare with the deities. This should be taken neither as a pious performance of duty to the gods, nor as a burdensome obligatory commitment to reciprocate; instead, the commission of an offering expressed the mortals’ gratitude for this momentarily good fortune, which – as a rule- lasts no longer than an instant.

Prompting the exercise of the body and the spirit alike within its agonistic and intellectual installations, Delphi epitomized philosophical doctrines, moral ideals and the quintessence of the ancient world. Whether Delphi geodetically was the navel of the earth or not, it certainly was a cradle where cultural and artistic traits were funneled, different trends, styles, techniques and materials were fused through the setting up of diverse original ex-votoes.

Soon the oracular sanctuary turned into a locus of noble rivalry in the ingenious commemoration of moments in time, worthy of remembering, spreading and endowing. The treasuries became the vehicles, the ambassadors and the legacies of the respective city-states; architectural offerings, which embodied a piece of history and a token of cultural progress.

Neighbouring within the sacred precinct, the treasury of Siphnos predated its counterpart of the Athenians by approximately three decades. The “ornate Ionic order versus the austere Doric” is merely a superficial observation, since both edifices are expressive in their own, allusive and allegoric way.

The maidens replacing columns in the porch of the Siphnian treasury have little in common with Caryatids or other prop figures (e.g. Atlantes/Telamones) rising rigid/stiff as if convicted to carry this load in eternity; here the maidens pick their garment graciously and extend their forearm holding a small offering, as if to visually allude to the act of dedication per se. Besides the fact that these scaled-down effigies of temples introduced novelties in architecture to be adopted later on a monumental scale, their upper zones/registers (friezes and pediments chiseled in relief ) narrated whole episodes of mythology potentially bonding with contemporary political situations/circumstances. The east pediment of the Siphnian treasury, depicting the quarrel of Heracles and Apollo for the possession of the prophetic tripod, has been interpreted (by H.W. Parke and J. Boardman in 1957) as a hint at the First Sacred War,
which had broken out some 65 years before the erection of the treasury in 525 BC.

Below: 3D reconstruction of the treasury of the Siphnians. @2020. Model: John Goodinson. Scientific advisor: Professor Elena C. Partida.

Below: 3D reconstruction of the treasury of the Athenians. @2020. Model: John Goodinson. Scientific advisor: Professor Elena C. Partida.

Similarly, the blessing of Theseus by goddess Athena at the outset of his deeds and the relevant cycle of duels carved on the metopes
of the Athenian treasury is considered to be an explicit hint at the mythology of Athens and her local hero. “Answering” to the Siphnian treasury’s maidens, the Athenian treasury featured apex figures (acroteria) in the form of Amazons riding a horse or just about to dismount.

Palmettes and lotus buds decorating in relief the cornice-soffit and frieze (at superstructure level) of the Siphnian treasury occur also around the door-frame, thus forming a consistent decorative pattern, which, together with the consoles flanking the door-lintel, brought to the mountainous Delphi something from the Aegean architectural tradition.

Notably, however, both the Siphnian and the Athenian treasury were built of fine white marble from the Cyclades. Seeing their variety and originality, with pre-planned attention to detail, the interpretation of treasuries as depositories for ex-votoes would be rather simplistic.