Lebadeia - Trophonios

Lebadeia, Pigés Kryas (Πηγές Κρύας): the oracle of Trophonios.



The hill above the gorge of the Herkyna River (now called Krya), where the oracle of Trophonios was located, was converted in the Middle Ages (the period of the Catalan rule, 1311-1380) into one of the strongest fortresses in Boiotia, with a long defensive wall on the north side (which is the only side that is accessible; the other sides are protected by steep cliffs / chasms). Through two independent entrance gates (nos. 2 and 4) one reached the central plateau, within a central refuge which protected the residents (with two large towers and  walls on the south and west sides.) The highest point of the fort (a beautiful tower) was located at no. 12, next to it is a small church (dating from after the independence of Greece in 1830. A much older church was converted by the Turks into a mosque and has been destroyed). At no. 18 is the lowest tower in the whole complex, which closes the entrance to the gorge of the Herkyna river. Just past this tower are numerous niches in the rock wall for gifts to Trophonios. Directly opposite this tower are two powerful flowing springs (no. 25), which played a part in the Oracle consultation:


Then he is led away by the priests, not directly to the oracle, but to the springs of the river, which are close together. (8) There he must drink water called “Water of Forgotting”, so that he forgets everything he was concerned about before. Then he drinks other water, the “Water of Memory”. Here the one who has descended remembers everything he saw there. (Pausanias 9.39.7-8)


Pausanias reports that the Herkyna river separated the city from the sacred forest. The place of the castle  probably served as the holy forest of Trophonios, while the actual city of Lebadeia (containing the House of Good God and Good Fate) can be found in modern Lebadeia. After all, in the classical period the city was “in the plain” (Pope 9.39.1), slightly lower than the modern city. Emergency excavations have revealed remains of buildings and countless l finds in the area between Christodoulou, Karagiannopoulou, Mpoufidou and Andreadaki streets, while an important burial site has been located on the site of the modern hospital. A look at Google Maps tells us that the area between the mentioned streets is indeed on the other side of the river compared to the castle.

The temple of Trophonios was located in the sacred forest and therefore cannot possibly have been far from the sources of the Herkyna. There are also dozens of niches, carved in the rocks, that served to house gifts to Trophonios (photo right).

The relief above from the NAM in Athens is a gift for Trophonios. On the left is the goddess Cybele, with a priestess next to her holding a key, then a veiled figure (the initiate) followed Dionysos (with goblet and tabove hyrsos), Pan and Hecate. In the center is Trophonios himself with the sacred snakes, 3 Chorets with shield and the two Dioskouren. At the bottom right and much smaller 4 human adorants.

The oracle of Trophonios near Lebadeia was already known in the 6th century B.C., when King Kroisos from Lydia wanted to test the famous oracles. In the 5th century, the initiate had brought honey cakes to feed the snakes in the cave of Trophonios. When the oracle seeker lies down and puts his feet (naked)through the opening  he is “grabbed” by certain spirits and dragged under the earth. After meeting demons, snakes and other creeping creatures there, they throw down their cakes to escape. From other sources we know that the visitor spent many hours (and sometimes even days) in the cave. The fact that the visitor’s laughing fadeds  even led to a proverb “in the Trophonion with the never laughing and frowning”. The description of Pausanias suggests that the oracle seeker got hallucinogenic drugs. Access to the subterranean spaces, and the associated ritual, is discussed by Pausanias, who was himself an “initiate.”

The oracle itself has not yet been identified, but must have been higher up from the sources of the Hercyna, given Pausanias’ comment:


When you climb the mountain to the oracle and from there further into the mountains, you come to the so-called “Hunting of Kore” and a temple for Zeus Basileus [King].


A statue, place or shrine called “Hunting of Kore” is unknown from other sources. Pausanias’ text may need to be corrected. In any case, it is a place that was reached on the way to the temple of Zeus Basileus (King). The temple of Zeus Basileus has been found higher up in the mountains, but only its foundations. Today, a small church dedicated to the prophet Elias serves the spiritual needs of local residents. As Pausanias points out, the temple was never completed. It is therefore not surprising that very little remains of this temple.

Below: the remains of this huge temple.