The Pelopion in Olympia was a significant structure in the ancient Greek sanctuary of Olympia. It was traditionally believed to be the tomb of Pelops, a legendary figure in Greek mythology.
Remains of the Pelopion in Olympia, Greece
Here are some key points about the Pelopion:
Tomb of Pelops
According to Greek mythology, Pelops was a prince who won a chariot race to marry the princess Hippodamia. His tomb, the Pelopion, was a commemorative structure in the sanctuary.
The Pelopion was surrounded by a pentagonal (five-sided) structure. This shape was not common for Greek temples or altars and added to the uniqueness of the monument.
Function as an Altar
The Pelopion had a dual function. It served as both a tomb and an altar. During Archaic Greece and continuing into the Roman era, it was used for animal sacrifices. Each year, a black ram was sacrificed on the altar in honor of Pelops.
The structure of the Pelopion consisted of a mound made of ashes and compacted earth. Sacrifices took place at the top of this mound. To reach the altar’s peak, priests would carve steps into the mound.
The packed earth form of altar used in the Pelopion was quite ancient and distinct from the later stone altars found in other Greek sanctuaries, such as Delphi and the Acropolis of Athens.
Disuse with Christianity
The Pelopion continued to be used for sacrificial purposes until the advent of Christianity in the Roman period. As Christianity spread, many pagan practices, including animal sacrifices, were abandoned.
Today, the Pelopion is part of the archaeological site of Olympia, which is famous for the ancient Olympic Games. Visitors can explore the ruins and gain insight into the religious practices and mythology of ancient Greece.
Location of Olympia in Greece
Who is Pelops in Greek mythology?
Pelops was the son of Tantalus, a mortal king, and Dione, a nymph or oceanid. He hailed from the region of Lydia in Asia Minor.
One of the most famous stories involving Pelops is the tale of his father Tantalus inviting the gods to a feast. Tantalus served them the flesh of his own son, Pelops, as part of a gruesome test of the gods’ omniscience. The gods, however, realized the deception and punished Tantalus for his crime by condemning him to eternal torment in the Underworld.
READ MORE: Rivers of the Underworld in Greek Mythology
The gods, moved by the tragedy, restored Pelops to life. They replaced the missing shoulder, which Demeter had unknowingly eaten during the feast, with an ivory prosthetic one made by Hephaestus, the blacksmith god.
Pelops later traveled to Greece and sought the hand of Hippodamia, the daughter of King Oenomaus. Oenomaus had a habit of challenging the suitors of his daughter to a chariot race, with the condition that the winner would marry Hippodamia, while the losers would be killed.
Image: Pelops, mythological king of Pisa and namesake of the Peloponnese, depicted in Promptuarii Iconum Insigniorum.
To secure victory in the chariot race, Pelops sought the assistance of Myrtilus, the charioteer of Oenomaus. Myrtilus agreed to help Pelops on the condition that he would be allowed to sleep with Hippodamia. Pelops agreed, and Myrtilus sabotaged Oenomaus’s chariot, leading to his death.
Before dying, Myrtilus cursed Pelops and his descendants due to his betrayal. This curse would later bring misfortune to Pelops and his descendants.
How did Pelops become significant in ancient Greece?
Pelops became a prominent figure in the Peloponnesian Peninsula, which was named after him. He was credited with establishing a dynasty in the region.
As stated above, Pelops is sometimes associated with the legendary founding of the Olympic Games. According to some versions of the myth, he organized chariot races in honor of the gods and initiated the tradition of the Olympic Games.
READ MORE: 15 Lesser-Known Deities in the Greek Pantheon