The healing god Asclepius
Asclepius was the most important of the healing gods of antiquity. He was the son of Apollo and a mortal woman (Coronis or Arsinoe) but soon became a god himself. Asclepius was married to Hygieia (Health) and became so skilled at his art that he could bring the dead back to life, an action for which he was killed by Zeus. The largest sanctuary to Asclepius was at Epidaurus, but sanctuaries were established also in Athens and Corinth – even in Rome.
The marble head from Butrint is characteristic of depictions of Asclepius. He is shown as a mature man with a rich mass of wavy locks loosely held in place by a plain band around his head. He has a finely curled beard and moustache, and his eyes are rendered expressive by the firm outline of both upper and lower lids. The head was found in 1932 near the staircase to the east of the theatre; its statue body has never been found.
Asclepius’ main attribute was a staff with a snake coiled around it, and this symbol appears several times on the coinage of Butrint – indicative of the importance of the cult for the city. In fact, already the first two known Roman magistrates of Butrint – P. Dastidius and L. Cornelius – depicted Asclepius on their coins. On the obverse is a bust of the god, bearing a strong resemblance to the marble head with his curly hair and plain band around his head; behind him is his symbol of the serpent-staff. The reverse of the same coin depicts a standing bull – a reference to the mythological foundations of Butrint. In other words, the cult of Asclepius was from the first considered an image epitomising the identity of Butrint.
The marble head was stolen from the Butrint museum in 1991 but its whereabouts has now been traced and the bust located to Italy. Negotiations are ongoing for its return to Butrint.
The Sanctuary of Asclepius
The healing god Asclepius
The sanctuary and the ritual
QTVR of the Sanctuary
In Greek and Roman religion snakes were regarded as guardians and are often depicted coiled around sacred trees or altars. They could be associated with the underworld, or with that emerging from the earth – like trees or springs – as a regenerative symbol. In cults they are rarely shown as fearful symbols; however, they could be painted on shields or carried into battle to strike terror into the enemy. Snakes appear as the attribute of several gods, like Demeter or Athena, but only associated with Asclepius were they associated with healing power. The snake-staff symbol of Asclepius is still used today as a common image of pharmacies.
Head of Asclepius from the Theatre
Butrint coin with bust of Asclepius and snake-staff symbol
Box: Butrint coin with snake-staff symbol
koken me gjarperinj te Asclepius-it e vodhen nga butrinti ne 91