The cult of Artemis Brauronia had two sanctuaries; one at the ancient site of Brauron (from which it the goddess derives her name), the other is situated at the heart of Athens, on the Acropolis. The tyrant of Athens Pysistratus was originally from Brauron, is credited for setting the cult up on the Acropolis therefore changing from a local to a state cult.
On the Eastern coast of Attica, in a small inlet lies the early ancient site of Brauron (modern day Vravrona). The inlet has silted up since antiquity and now the coast has been pushed further away from the site. It was one of the 12 ancient settlements of Attica that existed prior to the mythological synoikismos of Theseus.
The sanctuary at Brauron consists of a small temple, a unique stone bridge, sacred caves, a spring, and a pi shaped stoa for feasting. It was used until the 3rd century BC when tensions increased between Athens and Macedon and the unfortified sanctuary was abandoned.
View today of the remains of the stoa and sacred spring
The only example of a Classical period bridge.
Dedications start from the 8th century BC with dedications in the spring, the temple is built in the 6th century, and in the 420’s BC work begins on the stoa and bridge. This last spurt of building may have been a direct result of the plague that struck Athens at this time as Artemis was a deity (along with her brother Apollo) associated with plagues and healing.
Finds from the site include a high number of statuettes of young children, many objects we classify as “feminine” (jewellery boxes, mirrors, spindle whorls, loom weights etc.), and a large number of kraters depicting girls racing and dancing, both clothed and naked.
As the Greeks were preparing to sail to Troy to recapture the stolen queen Helen from Paris, King Agamemnon killed a stag while out hunting. Unfortunately this stag was sacred to the goddess Artemis and she became very angry. She sent the winds against the King so the Greeks could not sail. Only when the king decided to sacrifice his own daughter, Iphigeneia did the winds change. In the version of the myth linked to Brauron, Artemis rushed in at the last second and took the young girl away from her father’s sacrificial knife, replacing her with a beast.
She took the girl away to Taurus to be a priestess their and serve the goddess who had saved her. Iphigeneia eventually returns to Greece with the help of her brother Orestes and goes to Brauron to serve as priestess. It is here she is said to have died and been buried.
Every 4 years a procession of young girl wound it’s way from the Acropolis in Athens to the rural sanctuary at Brauron. As the girls approached marriageable age they were formed into groups of arktoi ”she bears” and spent time in the service of the goddess, dancing in saffron robes, racing and making sacrifices.This was a ritual of “wildness”. Where girls hormones are running high they were said to be in the grip of the wild independent goddess herself, Artemis. By performing these rituals it was hoped that the goddess would guide the girls to maturity. During a final ritual the girls “shed” their saffron robes (representing their bear skin) to symbolise their maturation. These robes were then, probably, dedicated to Artemis.
The goddess presided over girls transition from the onset of puberty to marriage. At the Brauronia festival, girls approaching puberty were initiated into the cult.
Childish things would be dedicated to the goddess here as the girls were seen to be leaving her care (in the capacity of protector of young girl (i.e. virgins)) and entering womanhood and marriage (the realm of the goddess Hera). The goddess would also be called up on for aid in childbirth. If a woman died in childbirth her robes would be dedicated to at Brauron.