Hekate at Lagina

When talking about ancient sites associated with Hekate one site in particular is referenced to, and discussed, over and above all the rest. Lagina, located not far from the modern day border of Greece and Turkey, hosted one of the most recognisable in literature about Hekate because it is was probably one of the most significant ancient cult associated with her. Usually when Lagina is mentioned it is in relation to the kleidous agoge, also kleidophoria, meaning “procession of the key” and authors typically describe a yearly procession involving a maiden carrying a key in celebration of the local Mysteries surrounding Hekate but this is rather one part of the cult of at Lagina which makes its stand out.  

Whilst the kleidos agoge was undoubtedly a seminal event in the religious calendar at Lagina it was one of a number of important rituals which were overseen by the temple at Lagina. Additionally, focusing on this singular event detracts from the overall importance of the cult centre to the local area, particularly the polis of Stratonikeia, and its connection to both Empire and the identity of the region. First of all I want to talk a little about the temple itself, its location and dimensions as it sits within the modern landscape, before I talk a little about the civic priesthood of Stratonikeia and Lagina and how city and temple interacted. Next I will give a slightly fuller account of the ritual itself and how it inter played with the nature of the priesthood before moving on to discuss important rituals, particularly the Hekateria-Romaia. Finally I will look at the role of Hekate as a civic goddess, a role which initially seems somewhat incongruous to her 


Semi-circular Propylon. Original CreditOriginal Credit

The Temple at Lagina

Lagina was first excavated in 1891 by Osma Hamdi Bey, the so called father of Ottoman archaeology. The site then remained untouched until the Mugla Museum began excavations in 1993 and the site is now under investigation by an international team led by Konya Selcuk University. 

One reason the temple at Lagina stands out so clearly as a cult centre is it is the only temple dedicated to Hekate which remains upstanding. Although other temples are referenced to they are usually referred to in conjunction with temples dedicated to other deities, such as the Artemision at Ephesus and Selinus, or they simply have not been located in the modern landscape. Inscriptions and artefacts found within the area of the temple indicate that a Cult to Hekate  had been present at Lagina from the 14th century BC however the temple we see today, with its Doric stoa and Corithian order temenos, were not built until at least the end of the second century BC.

The site is made up of five areas including the Propylon, the Temple of Hekate itself, the Altar, the Byzantion Basilica and the Stoa 

1 Propylon – the Propylon is situated at the East of the temple complex and is oriented along a north-south axis. The building has a semi-circular shape, which consists of 5 columns, which can be reached by three large steps. There are a total of four doors within the Propylon, one large monumental doorway and three smaller ones, one of which leads to the main temple stoa (5).

2 Temple of Hekate – as a structure the main temple is made up of a cella surrounded by single row of columns, also known as a perisytle, and a stoa. The cella itself contains a structure of two rooms, one presumably being a public space and the second being available to members of the cult, which were accessible by a flight of stairs. The temple was constructed sometime between the end of the 2nd century BCE and the beginning of the 1st century BCE. The temple was highly decorated and the monumental friezes which graced its walls were removed to Istanbul, Turkey where they can still be viewed. The friezes depict four different subjects and are arranged according to the cardinal points

South East – Birth of Zeus

North West – Titanomachy (specifically depicting the battles between Zeus and Typhon and Apollo and Efialtes)

South West – Meeting between the (local) Karian Gods and Heroes

North East – Meeting between an Amazon and a Greek Warrior, with Hekate stood behind the Amazon



(3) Altar – the main altar stands almost opposite and separate from the main temple complex. Between the two structures sits a later Byzantine Basilica (4) however if the temple and altar were contemporary with each other it is likely that there would have been a processional pathway between the two. The altar is constructed on two levels and consists of a double set of columns of different styles, Corinthian and Ionic, and a large U shaped altar. It is important to note that the altar is similar in style and dimension to that of the one raised to Zeus in Pergamon, raised in the reign of Emperor Augustus, and it is likely that the two are contemporary. 

Temenos – The enclosed temenos area is large, 140x 130m following a northwest-southeast axis. Along the southwest wall a bank of seats, 11 rows in all, could have accommodated around 2000 people wishing to watch and/or participate in the sacred rites and rituals of the cult. In addition to the main temple structures there is also a sacred pools located within the temenos, located 300m to the south east, the waters drawn from a fountain located 50m to the south of the structure and the water brought in along a marble channel. The pool is nearly circular in shape and presumably featured in the processes of ritual purification.

Since preparing this archaeologists in Turkey have announced the excavation of the sacred way linking the temple with the nearby town of Stratonikeia, including the associated gate way and tombs. There are some beautiful mosaics that have been uncovered so check out the pictures in this article.

Priesthood and Polis

Now we’ve talked about the temple itself lets locate it in the local landscape. The temple itself is located within the Karian region of Greece, now near modern Turkey, amongst the northeastern foothills of the Akdaǧ. Further down the gentle slope lies the junction of the Hayırhdere river and the Çine (ancient Marsyas). This places the sanctuary within a series of well travelled trade routes, reflecting Hekate’s traditional domain of crossroads and wayside 

The closest settlement to the temple is Stratonikeia, located 8km away, and much of the priesthood for both Lagina and cult of Zeus Panamera, located some 8km further south of Stratonikeia, were drawn from the elite of this city. This may account for the notoriety of the celebrations at Lagina, as those elected to the role of priest of the cult felt that they were obliged to out do their predecessors in terms of expense and lavishness when it came to religious celebrations. 

The details of the celebrations, and the rules that had to be followed, were recorded for all to see in the stones of the town and temple, which were likely constructed around the same time given their similarity in scale. This would have kept the  “keeping up with the Joneses” competition firmly in the minds eye of the next priest of the cult but also ensured that no extreme variations in the keeping of the ritual were permitted.

There is no indication that the post of priest and various attendants or ritual participants were intended to be hereditary, or even kept within the family, but nepotism was strong. Priest would hold positions of power within both within the cult of Hekate as well as the cult of Zeus Panamera and it was not unusual for a man to hold a post on more than one occasion, only to be followed by his son a few years down the line. Similarly their wives, daughters and even nieces, would act as priestesses for the duration of their tenure as Priest. This inadvertent familial holding of religious titles played no small part in the identity of the city elite, with religious office being held in high regard.


Kleidous Agoge

The most significant ritual from the first century BC was the Kleidous Agoge, also Kleidos Pompe, known as the Procession of the Key. This was an annual festival and whilst  dates cited for this celebration vary however the most commonly referenced date appears to be the first new moon in spring. During this ritual a cult object, presumable a sacred key, was processed from the main temple sanctuary into the civic centre of Stratonikeia. 

It is not clear if this key was a symbolic cult object or one which also served a practical function in the temple itself, such as being the key to the main temple door or the temple treasury, Certainly we modern practitioners of western magical traditions associate keys with locks and doors, envisaging that such keys open the way to deep occult knowledge. Keys have also had a long standing association with womanhood and the ability to manage a household and the household “wealth”. It is likely that the key served both a physical and metaphysical purpose for the Cult, perhaps being the means by which initiates could access the cults hidden mysteries. 

The key was carried by the Kleidophoros or “Key Bearer”, one of Hekate’s own epithets applied to the young (usually unmarried) woman chosen from amongst the population to carry the key on behalf of Hekate. These young women were usually related to the Priest and it is likely that the role was considered some level of social accolades. Placed at the head of the procession the young woman would walk along the sacred road between the two which passes through the mountains to the north of the city, a distance of about 8km, accompanied by pageantry and torch light given that it is believed that procession took place at night during the new moon. 

The procession itself may have represented a reenactment of the population of the region or even the establishment of Stratonikeia itself from an older settlement around the area of Lagina. Once the key reached the city itself it was installed within the bouleuterion, central council or civic assembly house, for several days whilst celebratory feasts and games were held. As we have already mentioned above the priesthood for the temple seems to have been drawn from the wealthiest sections of Stratonikeian society, and ostentatious displays of wealth through feast and festivity would be consistent with a connection to social elevation placing the temple, and Hekate, at the centre of civic identity. 


Another important ritual which was inaugurated at Lagina during the first century BC was the Hekatesia-Romania. During the Mithridatic Wars of the 80’s BC Stratonikeia displayed such loyalty to the Roman Empire that it was rewarded with a large area of Karia being placed under the control of the city. At the same time the sanctuary of Hekate being given the status of asylia, the practice of declaring a religious area a precinct of asylum ie they were immune to violence and civil authority. In response to these honours and accolades the city and sanctuary instigated an interweaving of the cult of Hekate with the cult of Thea Roma and the ritual of Hekatesia-Romania was established. 

This festival, unlike the annual Kleidous Agoge, occurs every four years though it similarly involve feasting and games. These games served a second purpose, not too dissimilar to the original Olympic games, as they were not limited to the local population of Stratonikeia but rather drew together other cities and city states which now lay under their protection. These cities were able to participate in the games under the protection of the asylia of the temple and it its high point drew around 57 cities in to participating, giving them a forum to display their loyalty to the Roman empire. With this Stratonikeia and the temple of Lagina became the central point of a regional crossroads through which loyalty to Rome was celebrated.

It is sometimes suggested that the north eastern frieze of the meeting between warriors, presided over by Hekate, is symbolic of the political alliance between Stratonikeia and Rome however stylistically the date of the 2nd century BC is more consistent. It is possible that, like the interpretation of the other three friezes, the north easter depiction was an attempt to solidify the local civic identity, blending narratives regarding Hekate with those of the preceding Karian culture to create a common heritage. 


Great Altar of Zeus – Pergamon: Hekate with her Molossian Dogs and Artemis battle the Giants Klytios and Otos. Original Credit

Hekate as a Civic Goddess 

The role of Civic Goddess is an unusual one for Hekate. Whilst there are other instances of her being given a position of honour in other cities, be that because of a perceived favour granted or because she was held as being an attendant to another goddess, Lagina is the only place which built its civic identity upon its connection to Hekate. The extensive and lavish temple complex elevated what was effectively a local shrine to the level of a major civic space, blending local Karian influences with Green rhetoric, iconography and architecture to create a unifying social identity. From this the Kleidous Agoge was established as a way of building on that shared local identity whilst solidifying the social hierarchy which would allow it to function. 

Participation in the priesthood a form of social recognition based on wealth and the ability to fund increasingly lavish events. For the position of Key Bearer to be bestowed the young woman needed to be related to one of these men of power. On the other hand even the very foundation of the Hekatesia-Romania was rooted in the civic connection to the wider Roman Empire, lynch pinned off the temple and it’s resident goddess. As a result Hekate is then trust front and centre into civic life and identity, an unusual position for a Goddess more often associated with the lonely crossroads and cave dark entrances of the Underworld. 

What this meant to the identity of Hekate as it developed is not entirely clear, perhaps we will never know, but I find this historical connection to civic identity important for a couple of reasons. Hekate has long been considered an outcast, a Goddess Alone more often found out in the darkness on the edge of the settlement be that hovering around the nighttime crossroads or silently haunting the graveyard. We tend to pain her in a very dim light, seeking to hide her in the deep shadows created by the light of her torches. Because we have this ingrained assumption that she can only be found in places which are silent and seldom travelled. Many who are beginning in their devotions to Her seem hesitant to use local crossroads, particularly when they live within the city, as they feel that Hekate is not present or to be found within such bright lights and bustle. 

When we start to look a little deeper however we see that she does not shun the city. We might not see Hekate as a Civic Goddess in the same way we think of Athena as being the Goddess of Athens (and Leeds) she is a Goddess who can be found within the bright lights of the city and who has thrived there. At Lagina we find Her cult being used as the basis of civic identity, with annual celebrations bring the most sacred objects into the heart of the temple, whilst at Ephesus  we find her located in the very centre of the city at one of its most liminal points. Even the ritual of Depinon, so central to modern ritual practice, took place in the heart of the city with her offerings being placed on the street corner or at a city shrine. The research I have done over these past few months has shows that, despite popular belief, Hekate often descended into the centre of civic life to be recognised and celebrated, confirming by personal praxis and UPG that offerings can be left anywhere representative of her sacred spaces so long as it is safe and discreet to do so, even if it is to add the offerings to the bin as you pass (Borborophorba – Eater of Filth). 


Hellenistic Architectural Sculpture By Pamela A. Web pg108-1118 

Civic Producers at Stratonikeia the Priestess of Hekate at Lagina and Zeus at Panamara by Christina G Williamson. Pg 2019 – 246 Cities and Priests edited by Marietta Horster, Anja Klöckner

Instituto Hermes for dimensions and detail and maps

Bike Classics

About knotmagick

Weaving Magick and Crochet in the madhouse I call home. I am a devotee of Hekate and a follower of Pan.
This entry was posted in Archaeology, Hekate, History, Musings and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Hekate at Lagina

  1. Pingback: Hekatesia – Hekate’s Night | Knot Magick

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