Rainfall exposes bronze bull at Olympia

A small bronze figurine of a bull from the Geometric Period (1050-700 B.C.) has been discovered at the Temple of Zeus in Olympia. Heavy rainfall had exposed one its horns which caught the sharp eye of archaeologist Zacharoula Leventouri. The bull was excavated and removed to the laboratory of the Ephorate of Antiquities of Ilia where it was cleaned and conserved.

The figurine is intact and in excellent condition. Atop its stylized slim form are comparatively large forward-facing horns like an aurochs, the iconic wild bull which at the time this figurine was made still roamed southern Greece. It was found in the sacred grove of Alteos, the open-air enclosure that was the earliest precinct dedicated to Zeus at the site in the 10th-9th century B.C. (The classical Doric temple was built much later in the 5th century B.C.) The wee bull was a votive offering, one of thousands made by the devout of Zeus at the Olympia sanctuary during the Geometric Period.

The bull, like the horse, was one of the most important animals for human survival and the creation of civilization until modern times. Thus he acquired this special role in the worship of the gods of antiquity, that is, to be a beloved object which was dedicated by the faithful to their consolation, by supplication or as a sign of pleasure.

Like dozens of similar figurines depicting animals or human figures, the bronze bull seems to have been offered by a believer at the time of the sacrifice, as evidenced by the strong burn marks on the sediments and sediments removed during its purification. A large number of figurines found in the thick layer of ash from the altar of Zeus that covered the entire ​​Alteos area is exhibited in the second room of the Archaeological Museum of Olympia and is indicative of the importance of the Sanctuary of Olympia as a Panhellenic center.

The figurine will now be studied by archaeologists to narrow down its typology and chronology.

7 thoughts on “Rainfall exposes bronze bull at Olympia

  1. It takes more than big horns to make it a bull. Cows get horn too. I agree though it is most likely a bull.

  2. Great find. Traditionally, real bulls were sacrificed, but to the best of my knowledge no cows. However, there were probably either not enough real bulls of immaculate condition, they were too expensive for the individual, or, there were simply too many of them to orderly process, and consequently the whole thing too gory:

    cf. “Hecatomb”, (ἑκατόμβη, from ἑκατόν/hekaton = 100, βοῦς/bous = bull). Also, in Minoan Crete, there seems to have been “Bull-leaping”, and a cult around a beast with similar horns:


    Julius Caesar, in Bk.6.28, writes about the beasts in the Hercynian Forest:

    “Tertium est genus eorum, qui uri appellantur […] magnitudine paulo infra elephantos [in size close to an elephant][…] neque homini neque ferae, quam conspexerunt, parcunt [that bull spares no animal nor human][…] amplitudo cornuum et figura et species multum a nostrorum boum cornibus differt. haec studiose conquisita ab labris argento circumcludunt atque in amplissimis epulis pro poculis utuntur [the amplitude of its horns and their shape and look differs from the horns of our cattle. They are keenly searched after and silver is mounted around the edges, and the horns are used at very splendid parties as drinking cups].”

    Even some people’s own hometown is named after the terms for ‘Aurochs/Ur’ and ‘Water’
    :hattip: –MOO!

  3. Being no native speaker of neither Greek nor English myself, it seems to me that the Google translator is completely unaware of “Altis” (Ἄλτις, and a feminine noun) as the open-air enclosure or grove at Olympia.

    Instead, it talks of “Holy Alta” (στην Ιερή Άλτη της Ολυμπίας) and “the thick layer of ash from the altar of Zeus that covered the entire area of ​​Altea” (παχύ στρώμα της τέφρας από το βωμό του Διός που κάλυπτε ολόκληρη την περιοχή της Άλτεως εκτίθεται [“Alteos” is here its (female!) genitive]), cf.: perseus.tufts.edu/Olympics/site_1.html (with a picture of the ‘Altis’). “The Greeks referred to the Sanctuary of Zeus as the Altis. The name Altis came from a corruption of the Elean word for grove, alsos.”

    Also, what I did not fully understand myself, there is -or has been- the city of Pisa close to the Olympia area, and a certain “Pelops”, the ancient dude that the ‘Peloponnesos’ peninsula has its name from, tricked the father of his future wife, in essence killing him, in chariot racing [an idea not unheard of in e.g. bike racing: “rather be dead than second finisher!”].

    The “Pelopion”, a tumulus from the Early Brone Age, which allegedly Heracles helped the aforementioned Pelops to build, (under which, however, never a real grave has been found), seems to have played a role. As it reads, “at the sanctuary at Olympia, chthonic night-time libations were offered each time to dark-faced Pelops in his sacrificial pit (βόθρος) before they were offered in the following daylight to Zeus”

    :confused: Very confusing! –Let’s hope that no bulls were harmed, at least not by Pelops.

    PS: It is actually the fourth picture, and its name is “Bull-side.jpg” instead. Just give it a go.

  4. I’m a little surprised at the cleaning process, despite how robust the piece appears to be. Perhaps a water jet type of method might have avoided the possibility of scratches as well reduced the amount of handling.

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