Hekate in Magna Graecia: Akrai



Akrai was a colony located in the province of Syracuse in Sicily (in or near modern-day Palozzolo Acreide). The ancient ruins of this once-thriving colony are now part of an archaeological park and are home to many important archaeological remains.

One of the most notable remains of this area are that of the temple remains dedicated to the cult of “Magna Mater”, Latin for “Great Mother”, dated to approximately 4th or 3rd  century BCE. There, you will find the Santoni, a great collection of carved statues set into a rock face near this temple. There are twelve large reliefs; eleven of them depict a seated/enthroned woman, surrounded by other figures. The twelfth carving, found on the level beneath the one containing the eleven seated representations, is a life size depiction of a woman standing. All of these are believed to be Cybele. In all of these carvings, Cybele is depicted with lions. Some of the carved images show Cybele holding offering bowls or drums/tambourines.

In the carvings of the enthroned Cybele, she is depicted with other deities, including Hekate, Hermes and the Korybantes, among others. Hekate and Hermes are closely linked as they are both “Psychopomps” (guides of souls) and are known to guard roadways/travelers. Most curious is the inclusion of the Korybantes; their counterparts are known as the Kouretes/Kharites – nine dancers known to venerate Rhea. Interestingly, there is a 3rd century BCE Attic statue depicting a triple-bodied Hekate surrounded by the Kharites holding hands. This statue is known as a “Hekataion”; triple-bodied Hekate is against a central column with the Kharites surrounding Her. This statue is currently in the Glyptothek Museum in Munich, Germany.

In the Santoni relief carving that includes Hekate, She is carrying what is believed to be a long torch in one hand. This carving connects to another relief depicting Cybele, Hekate, and Hermes together. Demeter and Persephone are also believed to be depicted among the various Santoni reliefs.

The Santoni are found before the Templi Ferali, otherwise known as the “Feral Temples”, dedicated to chthonian deities. It is also believed that the great temple for the cult of Magna Mater is dedicated to Cybele, a great mother Goddess with Anatolian origins. Her Greek counterpart is Rhea. It is widely known that Hekate and Rhea/Cybele are very closely related. Hekate and Cybele are believed to be Anatolian in origin, and both have been depicted with lions. Hekate’s temple in Lagina had friezes depicting Her flanked by lions. Hekate’s association with lions is also documented in the Greek Magical Papyri (also known as the PGM) in the “Prayer to Selene for any spell”, PGM IV.2811-12. In the Chaldean Oracles, Hekate is described as appearing in lion form.

The Feral Temples also was a place for honoring the dead, in conjunction with chthonian deities. The stone walls are filled with niches to hold votive offerings. Nearby, there are stone grottoes containing dozens of oval shaped tombs. Other archaeological finds at this site include painted plaques, pottery lamps, and libation bowls.

As with many ancient cults, not much information is known about the cult of Magna Mater in Akrai. All that remains are the archaeological finds that lends some clues as to the purpose of the temple sanctuary. Akrai is also home to remains of temples belonging to Aphrodite, Artemis, and Kore-Persephone.


Cybele – Temple of Magna Mater at Akrai – from Wikimedia

I hope you enjoyed this essay on Hekate in  Magna Graecia: Akrai.

© Melissa McNair / The Torch and Key


One thought on “Hekate in Magna Graecia: Akrai

  1. Pingback: Hekate, Sekhmet, & Lions | The Torch and Key

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