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by Dr Alena Trckova-Flamee Ph.D.

Brauron, in the ancient times called Vrauron, situated on the east coast of Attica, was one of the oldest sacred-places in Greece, where the goddess of nature and the protector of fertility and childbirth, Artemis was worshipped. According to the myths Iphigenia, the daughter of the Mycenaean king Agamemnon, established this sanctuary.

Iphigenia had to be sacrificed before the beginning of the Trojan War, but the goddess Artemis saved her by abducting her to Tauris, where Iphigenia became her priestess. Seventeen years later she fled away to her homeland with her brother Orestes and his friend Pylades, taking with her a cult statue of the goddess Artemis. They arrived on the southern-eastern shores of Attica and Iphigenia there founded in Vrauron the Sanctuary of Artemis Vrauronia, spending the rest of her life there in service to the goddess. After her death she was deified and she became to be honored as a heroine in Vrauron, where she was probably also buried.

After the fall of the Mycenaean period this place was for a certain time deserted, but from the 9th century BCE the region was again inhabited and the sanctuary became to be again in use. In the 6th century the older temple of Artemis existed there and the cult of Artemis Vrauronia played an important part in Attica. Peisistratos, who was born in Vrauron, transferred the cult of Artemis Vrauronia to the Athenian Acropolis. The sanctuary in Vrauron was flourishing also during the 5th and the 4th centuries BC.

The present form of this sacred place exists from the 5th century BCE, when it was rebuilt above the earlier structures. The temple of the goddess Artemis, the shrine of Iphigenia located amongst the rocks, the Sacred House which was the residence of the priestess and a monumental propylon with the so called "Stoa of the Bears" were constructed at this period. According to some opinions part of this stoa (in the NW) was the residence for some children (5 - 10 years old girls), who served in the sanctuary.

These small girls were called arktoi ("the bears"), commemorating the mythical story about the sacred female-bear of Artemis, killed by the brother of one of these girls, serving in the sanctuary. Due to this reason arktoi were also wearing the clothes of crocus color, to remember an appearance of this sacred animal. Finally, during the festivities in honor of the goddess Artemis, the young girls were performing the sacred dances disguised as bears.

Many statuettes of children representing "the bears," were discovered in this place and they can be seen in the museums (Museum Brauron, British Museum London). The sculptors were also depicting the children taking a part in the cult of the goddess Artemis and the vase-painters were picturing arktoi, learning music, teaching dancing and rhythm courses.

Concluding, we have to note, that "a maiden as a victim for the animal which has to be killed" is a widespread motif in the hunting cultures. In the mythology the maiden was presented usually as the bride of the bear or of another animal. We could suppose, that similar scenes were performed also in the sacred dances during the festivities in honor of Artemis in Vrauron.

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