Nadine Pierce

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)




Celina Gray




The goal of this study was to examine the group of sacred caves located within the geographical area of Attica and in use during the historical period of antiquity for patterns in their locations and how they related to the polis of Classical Athens. These features of the caves revealed that there were patterns in their placement according to the dedication of the cave. Each of the groups of Attic caves has revealed a distinct pattern for their locations and each pattern is directly related to the functions of the cults and nature of the deities.

The first pattern to emerge from the sacred caved in Attica was the physical features and locations of caves dedicated to the Nymphs. These features are high elevation, previous use by ancient peoples, water sources and a closed-type entrance. Secondly, the appearance of cave cults in the city of Athens is explored in connection with the ideals of the polis. Both urban caves and the cult of Pan carry connotations of chaos, savagery and the wilderness all of which are elements that are in conflict with the civilized area-of polis. Thirdly, the connection between the-urban-and-rural is seen through the mirroring of the rural cults on the slopes of the Athenian Acropolis. This type mirroring of sanctuaries is unique to Attica and it is used for sanctuaries other than cave cults. In the cases where this mirroring is used, the primacy of the polis is symbolically asserted. Finally, the last aspect of caves that became apparent through this study is the chthonic connection. The placement of caves connected to chthonic deities is largely based on the pre-existing landscape and the legends and mythology concerning each figure and their association with death or the Underworld.

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