Statue of Asklepios

Statue of Asklepios

Statuette of ancient Greek god Asklepios, bust of Serapis(Zeus) found in Turkey

A statue of the Ancient Greek god of health Asclepius and a bust of the god Serapis (Zeus) were found during the excavations in the ancient city of Kibyra in the Gölhisar district of the southern province of Burdur in Turkey.

One of the statues was determined to depict Asclepius, evident from his serpent-entwined staff, Jan. 6, 2021. (DHA Photo)

Stating that the discovery of the statuette of god Asclepius and the bust of god Serapis in Kibyra is very important, the head of excavations, Mehmet Akif Ersoy University (MAKU) Archeology Department faculty member Şükrü Özüdoğru said, “The Asclepius statue was found during excavations in the Kaisarion [Emperor Cult Temple] structure in Kibyra. This 38-centimeter-high figurine was unearthed in six pieces in a fire layer during excavations. These pieces were integrated after careful cleaning, conservation and consolidation by experts.”

The statue was determined to be depicting Asclepius, evident from his serpent-entwined staff, Jan. 6, 2021. (DHA Photo)

Stating that it is known that Kibyra was once a very famous city in the field of medicine according to ancient sources and the inscriptions found in Kibyra, Özüdoğru said, “The statue has verified what we know about it. The figurine was traced back to 2nd century A.D.”

Stating that during the excavations carried out in the Roman Bath Complex in Kibyra in 2019, a bust without a head made of Afyon marble was found and it was taken under protection in the excavation house, Özüdoğru said, “In the 2020 excavation season, a bearded head was found during the short-term cleaning and excavation work in the same part of the Roman Bath Complex. This head merged with the bust found in 2019 so that the bust of Serapis was completed in full. It is an Egyptian god with many attributes such as the god of light.”

He said that the statue of Asklepios and the bust of Serapis, delivered to the Burdur Archeology Museum, will be displayed in the coming days.

Greek Doric Temples

Epidauros had a temple dedicated to Asklepios where the sacred snakes were kept. It was a small temple developed during the 4C and 3C BC in the Doric style and designed by the architect Theodotos. A statue made of gold and ivory of Asklepios seated on a throne with his left hand placed on the head of a snake once stood inside. Pausanias writes that: "The image of Asclepius is, in size, half as big as the Olympian Zeus at Athens, and is made of ivory and gold. The god is sitting on a seat grasping a staff, the other hand is held above the head of a serpent there is also the figure of a dog lying by his side." [2.27.2]

The Sanctuary is the earliest organized sanatorium and is significant for its association with the history of medicine, providing the transition from a belief in divine healing to the science of medicine.

The temple was originally excavated by the Greek Archaeological Society from 1881 and 1989. One corner of the temple has been rebuilt with the original pieces.

Dream Incubation

Present within most of these sleep temples were elaborate systems of fasting, dedication, lustration, purification, ritual drama, sensory deprivation or over-stimulation, invocation and dream interpretation. These institutions prevailed for thousands of years, so clearly the sleep temple methods were fruitful for many (there are countless testimonies and votive offerings proclaiming successful treatment) but how did they work? Would these old methods of dream incubation work today?

The practice of ‘Temple Sleep’ is well-evidenced in ancient Egyptian, Greek and Roman archaeology and literature. I believe the practice of ‘dream incubation’ reveals many secrets regarding the journey of human consciousness, the evolution of memory and language, the mind-body connection, the placebo effect and the unconscious mind’s potent response to imagination, story and symbolism.

What cosmic, earthly and human forces have influenced the way we experience the relationship between the inner and outer worlds? How might our perception have shifted since the days of sleep temples?

A Buddhist monk in a state of sleep. (CC0)

Statue of Ancient Greek god Asclepius and bust of Zeus-Serapis found in Turkey

A statue of the Ancient Greek god of health Asclepius and a bust of the god Zeus-Serapis were found during an excavations in the ancient city of Cibyra (Greek: Κιβύρα), also referred to as Cibyra Magna, in southern Polydorion (Πολυδώριον, Turkish: Burdur) province.

Stating that the discovery of the statuette of Asclepius and the bust of Zeus-Serapis in Cibyra is very important, the head of excavations, Mehmet Akif Ersoy University (MAKU) Archeology Department faculty member Şükrü Özüdoğru said:

“The Asclepius statue was found during excavations in the Kaisarion [Emperor Cult Temple] structure in Kibyra. This 38-centimeter-high figurine was unearthed in six pieces in a fire layer during excavations.”

“These pieces were integrated after careful cleaning, conservation and consolidation by experts,” he added.

Stating that it is known that Kibyra was once a very famous city in the field of medicine according to ancient sources and referring to the inscriptions found in Kibyra, Özüdoğru said:

“The statue has verified what we know about it. The figurine was traced back to 2nd century A.D.”

Stating that during the excavations carried out in the Roman Bath Complex in Kibyra in 2019, a bust without a head made of Afyon marble was found and it was taken under protection in the excavation house.

“In the 2020 excavation season, a bearded head was found during the short-term cleaning and excavation work in the same part of the Roman Bath Complex,” Özüdoğru said.

“This head merged with the bust found in 2019 so that the bust of Serapis was completed in full. It is an Egyptian god with many attributes such as the god of light,” he added, omitting that by this time the worship of Serapis was combined with Zeus.

He said that the statue of Asklepios and the bust of Zeus-Serapis, delivered to the Burdur Archeology Museum, will be displayed in the coming days

Asclepius was the ancient Greek god of medicine, and he was also credited with powers of prophecy.

Statue of Asclepius (not the recently discovered one).

The god had several sanctuaries across Greece.

The most famous was at Epidaurus which became an important centre of healing in both ancient Greek and Roman times and was the site of athletic, dramatic, and musical games held in Asclepius’ honour every four years.

Zeus-Serapis is a Greco-Egyptian god of the Underworld and fertility. He is also the main deity of Alexandria in northern Egypt, established by Alexander the Great.

Why was Epidaurus in Ancient Greece so important?

Most visitors know Ancient Epidaurus for its superb theatre with the incredible acoustics. However, few people realize that the site was a lot more than this.

The famous ancient Greek geographer Pausanias describes the site in detail. The theatre was built around 340 – 330 BC to host musical and theatrical shows. These would be performed to honour the god of medicine and healing, Asklepios or Asclepius. But what’s the connection between a theatre and the god of medicine?

To answer this question, we need to go back in time. A few decades before the theatre was constructed, the site was already an Asklepieion, a sanctuary of Asklepios. A grand temple dedicated to the god had been built around 380 – 370 BC.

However, Asklepios wasn’t the first god worshipped in this area. His cult followed that of his father, Apollo Maleatas, who was known to cure the diseased since around 1000 BC. In turn, Apollo Maleatas had replaced the earlier deity of Malos / Maleatas, worshipped during the Mycenean era. This is undoubtedly related to the presence of therapeutic springs in the area.

Gradually, the healing powers of Asklepios became more and more famous. Other buildings and monuments were built over the next few years, to accommodate the growing numbers of visitors.

The ancient complex became the equivalent of a modern hospital, or a healing / wellness centre if you prefer. Patients and pilgrims travelled from far and wide to be treated. The sanctuary of Asklepios in Epidaurus became the most important therapeutic establishment in Ancient Greece.

The Ancient Theatre of Epidaurus

For most visitors, the main attraction in the archaeological site is the ancient theatre of Epidaurus. This is understandable, as the acoustics are simply incredible.

As for its location, the word “impressive” is really an understatement. The theatre is surrounded by the typical Peloponnesian landscape, and the area is surprisingly calm if you visit off-season.

As mentioned earlier, the theatre of Epidaurus was built during the Hellenistic times, in 340 – 330 BC. The main materials used were limestone and poros.

Originally, its capacity was around 8,000 people, but it increased in the 2nd century BC. It is estimated that it could fit audiences of 13,000-14,000 people. Surprisingly, it wasn’t modified during the Roman era, unlike many other Greek theatres.

The theatre was divided into a lower and an upper tier. In order for the audience to move around, several corridors separated the rows of seats into smaller sections.

The theatre’s design, which was unique in Greece, aimed to enhance the viewing experience. As for its world-famous acoustics, they still impress visitors in this day and age.

Excavation works in the ancient theatre of Epidaurus began in 1881. Extensive restoration works have been performed, and the theatre is almost fully recovered. Since 1954, it has been used for various open-air performances.

The sanctuary of Asklepios in Ancient Epidaurus

Many visitors are overwhelmed by the theatre, and tend to quickly run through the rest of the archaeological complex. If you are planning to visit, make sure you set some time aside to explore it properly. The whole area is fascinating, and shows how advanced the Ancient Greeks were.

We should note that the Asklepieion in Epidaurus was not the only one in Greece. Several sanctuaries of Asklepios existed in different areas, operating as healing institutions in a similar manner. In some regions, it was believed that Asklepios could even bring people back from the Underworld.

We already mentioned the temple of Asklepios, where the God of Medicine was worshipped. The temple was made out of limestone, and a gold-and-ivory chryselephantinestatue of Asklepios was placed inside.

If this rings a bell, you are right – several gods had similar statues made in their honour. For example, the grand statue of Zeus in Ancient Olympia was one of the seven wonders of the world. The temple of Asklepios was probably destroyed in the 5th century AD, and only a few ruins are visible today.

Alongside the temple and the theatre, the complex included a stadium, where athletic games were held to honour Asklepios. Seats made out of clay, stones and limestone have been discovered.

Apart from sporting competitions, other events were held in the stadium. Just like the ancient Great Panathenaia in Athens, the Great Asklepieia included athletic competition, music, drama and rhapsody contests.

Aside from honouring the popular god of medicine, the theatrical performances served another purpose. Interestingly, the ancient Greeks believed that artistic performances could improve the physical and psychological health of patients. Maybe drama and art therapy aren’t as new as we thought!

Epidaurus – An ancient treatment centre

A number of other buildings existed in the area, to facilitate the treatment and accommodation of patients and their escorts.

The Tholos, also known as Thymele, was a perfectly designed circular building, crucial to the cult of Asklepios. The construction hosted the god’s underground residence, where he was believed to heal the diseased. Marble, poros and wood were used for its construction, and it was lavishly decorated with sculptures and paintings.

Another important building was the Stoa of the Abaton, also known as the Enkoimeterion, where patients were brought for therapy. After being purified with holy water, they were led to an area where they would be able to sleep.

Asklepios would visit them in their dreams, often providing a remedy for their ailments. When a solution wasn’t possible through dreaming, patients had to further consult the priests of Asklepios.

The biggest construction in the Asklepieion was a large guesthouse with 160 rooms, known as the Katagogio. This is where all visitors, pilgrims, patients and their escorts were hosted. It was built around the end of the 4th century BC and was reconstructed during the Roman Era.

Another building found nearby was originally believed to be a gymnasium. Recent research shows that it was a banqueting hall, where ceremonial meals were served in the presence of Asklepios. The nearby odeon was constructed during the Roman Era and was used for performances.

Several other buildings, sanctuaries and statues existed in the area. Apart from Apollo’s temple, there was also one dedicated to the goddess Artemis. There were the magnificent Propylaia, the baths, the priest’s residences etc.

In line with other ancient complexes, Ancient Epidaurus was abandoned after 426 AD, when Theodosius II banned the non-Christian cults. It was rediscovered and first excavated towards the late 18th century.

The museum in Ancient Epidaurus

If you have been to other museums in Athens or Greece, you may find the museum of Ancient Epidaurus a little old-fashioned. You are right, as the museum was built in the beginning of the 20th century.

It seems that no particular effort has been made to bring it up to modern standards. This doesn’t mean, however, that the museum is uninteresting – quite the contrary.

The exhibits in the museum range from the Archaic period to the Roman era. Visitors can see various ancient medicinal tools such as scalpels, proving the advanced medical knowledge of the Ancient Greeks. There are also statues, sculptures, figurines and ruins of several buildings.

What I found extremely interesting were the ancient inscriptions, indicating the healing powers of Asklepios. Additionally, you can learn more about therapeutical practices, remedies and popular diets of the time.

For example, to eliminate digestive issues, a diet of cheese, bread, milk, honey and celery was recommended, alongside moderate exercise. Who would have thought!

Performances in the Ancient theatre of Epidaurus

As mentioned above, the Ancient theatre of Epidaurus has been hosting performances since the mid-1950s. Hundreds of famous Greek and international actors have performed here over the years.

Performances are held during Greece’s biggest cultural festival, the Athens and Epidaurus Festival. The Festival is hosted in several venues, including the Ancient Theatre of Epidaurus.

The site comes alive on summer weekends, when thousands of people arrive to witness an unforgettable experience. Performances usually come with English surtitles.

If you are visiting Greece in summer, you should aim to see a performance here. Check out the Greek Festival’s official website for more information.

You may not be head over toes over a specific performance. Our advice is to not worry too much about the performance itself. It’s absolutely worth experiencing the Ancient Theatre of Epidaurus at night – trust me on that!

Note that there are also performances in the nearby Little Theatre of Ancient Epidaurus. This is a completely different theatre, located to the south-east of Palaia Epidavros.

Visiting the Ancient Epidaurus Theatre

You can easily visit the site on your own. If you are happy to drive around Greece, the best option may be to rent a car. Alternatively, there are a few buses per day from Athens, Nafplion and other places in the Peloponnese. Have a look at the official KTEL Argolida bus website for options.

The site closes at 20.00 in summer, and at 17.00 in winter (November – March). If you are visiting during the shoulder season, check out the exact closing time on the official website. Summer performances in the theatre typically start at 21.00.

In terms of where to stay in Epidaurus, I have stayed in both Palaia Epidavros and Tolo. They are both lovely for a night or a few days. Tolo tends to get busy in summer, as it’s right on the coast and a short drive from Nafplion. If you are planning to visit on a summer weekend, plan your accommodation in advance.

Have you been to the Ancient Theatre in Epidaurus?

Have you been to this impressive site? Were you aware of Asklepios and his cult? Let me know in the comments!

Since you are here, you will probably enjoy these other articles

Here is a short bio! I am Vanessa from Athens, and I really enjoy helping visitors find out more about Greece. In the last few years, I’ve become really interested in our ancient civilization and history. I was absolutely fascinated with the story behind Ancient Epidaurus and the Asklepieion, and I hope you will be too!


AESCULA&primePIUS (Asklêpios), the god of the medical art. In the Homeric poems Aesculapius does not appear to be considered as a divinity, but merely as a human being, which is indicated by the adjective amumôn, which is never given to a god. No allusion is made to his descent, and he is merely mentioned as the iêtêr amumôn, and the father of Machaon and Podaleirius. (Il. ii. 731, iv. 194, xi. 518.) From the fact that Homer (Od. iv. 232) calls all those who practise the healing art descendants of Paeëon, and that Podaleirius and Machaon are called the sons of Aesculapius, it has been inferred, that Aesculapius and Paeëon are the same being, and consequently a divinity. But wherever Homer mentions the healing god, it is always Paeëon, and never Aesculapius and as in the poet's opinion all physicians were descended from Paeëon, he probably considered Aesculapius in the same light. This supposition is corroborated by the fact, that in later times Paeëon was identified with Apollo, and that Aesculapius is universally described as a descendant of Apollo. The two sons of Aesculapius in the Iliad, were the physicians in the Greek army, and are described as ruling over Tricca, Ithome, and Oechalia. (Il. ii. 729.) According to Eustathius (ad Hom. p. 330), Lapithes was a son of Apollo and Stilbe, and Aesculapius was a descendant of Lapithes. This tradition seems to be based on the same groundwork as the more common one, that Aesculapius was a son of Apollo and Coronis, the daughter of Phlegyas, who is a descendant of Lapithes. (Apollod. iii. 10. § 3 Pind. Pyth. iii. 14, with the Schol.)

The common story then goes on as follows. When Coronis was with child by Apollo, she became enamoured with Ischys, an Arcadian, and Apollo informed of this by a raven, which he had set to watch her, or, according to Pindar, by his own prophetic powers, sent his sister Artemis to kill Coronis. Artemis accordingly destroyed Coronis in her own house at Lacereia in Thessaly, on the shore of lake Baebia. (Comp. Hom. Hymn. 27. 3.) According to Ovid (Met. ii. 605, &c.) and Hyginus (Poet. Astr. ii. 40), it was Apollo himself who killed Coronis and Ischys. When the body of Coronis was to be burnt, Apollo, or, according to others (Paus. ii. 26. § 5), Hermes, saved the child (Aesculapius) from the flames, and carried it to Cheiron, who instructed the boy in the art of healing and in hunting. (Pind. Pyth. iii. 1, &c. Apollod. iii. 10. § 3 Paus. l. c.) According to other traditions Aesculapius was born at Tricca in Thessaly (Strab. xiv. p. 647), and others again related that Coronis gave birth to him during an expedition of her father Phlegyas into Peloponnesus, in the territory of Epidaurus, and that she exposed him on mount Tittheion, which was before called Myrtion. Here he was fed by a goat and watched by a dog, until at last he was found by Aresthanas, a shepherd, who saw the boy surrounded by a lustre like that of lightning. (See a different account in Paus. viii. 25. § 6.) From this dazzling splendour, or from his having been rescued from the flames, he was called by the Dorians aiglaêr. The truth of the tradition that Aesculapius was born in the territory of Epidaurus, and was not the son of Arsinoë, daughter of Leucippus and born in Messenia, was attested by an oracle which was consulted to decide the question. (Paus. ii. 26. § 6, iv. 3. § 2 Cic. De Nat. Deor. iii. 22, where three different Aesculapiuses are made out of the different local traditions about him.) After Aesculapius had grown up, reports spread over all countries, that he not only cured all the sick, but called the dead to life again. About the manner in which he acquired this latter power, there were two traditions in ancient times. According to the one (Apollod. l. c.), he had received from Athena the blood which had flowed from the veins of Gorgo, and the blood which had flowed from the veins of the right side of her body possessed the power of restoring the dead to life. According to the other tradition, Aesculapius on one occasion was shut up in the house of Glaucus, whom he was to cure, and while he was standing absorbed in thought, there came a serpent which twined round the staff, and which he killed. Another serpent then came carrying in its mouth a herb with which it recalled to life the one that had been killed, and Aesculapius henceforth made use of the same herb with the same effect upon men. (Hygin. Poet. Astr. ii. 14.) Several persons, whom Aesculapius was believed to have restored to life, are mentioned by the Scholiast on Pindar (Pyth. iii. 96) and by Apollodorus. (l. c.) When he was exercising this art upon Glaucus, Zeus killed Aesculapius with a flash of lightning, as he feared lest men might gradually contrive to escape death altogether (Apollod. iii. 10. § 4), or, according to others, because Pluto had complained of Aesculapius diminishing the number of the dead too much. (Diod. iv. 71 comp. Schol. ad Pind. Pyth. iii. 102.) But, on the request of Apollo, Zeus placed Aesculapius among the stars. (Hygin. Poet. Astr. ii. 14.) Aesculapius is also said to have taken part in the expedition of the Argonauts and in the Calydonian hunt. He was married to Epione, and besides the two sons spoken of by Homer, we also find mention of the following children of his : Janiscus, Alexenor, Aratus, Hygieia, Aegle, Iaso, and Panaceia (Schol. ad Pind. Pyth. iii. 14 Paus. ii. 10. § 3, i. 34. § 2), most of whom are only personifications of the powers ascribed to their father.

These are the legends about one of the most interesting and important divinities of antiquity. Various hypotheses have been brought forward to explain the origin of his worship in Greece and, while some consider Aesculapius to have been originally a real personage, whom tradition had connected with various marvellous stories, others have explained all the legends about him as mere personifications of certain ideas. The serpent, the perpetual symbol of Aesculapius, has given rise to the opinion, that the worship was derived from Egypt, and that Aesculapius was identical with the serpent Cnuph worshipped in Egypt, or with the Phoenician Esmun. (Euseb. Praep. Evang. i. 10 comp. Paus. vii. 23. § 6.) But it does not seem necessary to have recourse to foreign countries in order to explain the worship of this god. His story is undoubtedly a combination of real events with the results of thoughts or ideas, which, as in so many instances in Greek mythology, are, like the former, considered as facts. The kernel, out of which the whole myth has grown, is perhaps the account we read in Homer but gradually the sphere in which Aesculapius acted was so extended, that he became the representative or the personification of the healing powers of nature, which are naturally enough described as the son (the effects) of Helios,--Apollo, or the Sun.

Aesculapius was worshipped all over Greece, and many towns, as we have seen, claimed the honour of his birth. His temples were usually built in healthy places, on hills outside the town, and near wells which were believed to have healing powers. These temples were not only places of worship, but were frequented by great numbers of sick persons, and may therefore be compared to modern hospitals. (Plut. Quaest. Rom. p. 286, D.) The principal seat of his worship in Greece was Epidaurus, where he had a temple surrounded with an extensive grove, within which no one was allowed to die, and no woman to give birth to a child. His sanctuary contained a magnificent statue of ivory and gold, the work of Thrasymedes, in which he was represented as a handsome and manly figure, resembling that of Zeus. (Paus. ii. 26 and 27.) He was seated on a throne, holding in one hand a staff, and with the other resting upon the head of a dragon (serpent), and by his side lay a dog. (Paus. ii. 27. § 2.) Serpents were everywhere connected with the worship of Aesculapius, probably because they were a symbol of prudence and renovation, and were believed to have the power of discovering herbs of wondrous powers, as is indicated in the story about Aesculapius and the serpents in the house of Glaucus. Serpents were further believed to be guardians of wells with salutary powers. For these reasons a peculiar kind of tame serpents, in which Epidaurus abounded, were not only kept in his temple (Paus. ii. 28. § 1), but the god himself frequently appeared in the form of a serpent. (Paus. iii. 23. § 4 Val. Max. i. 8. § 2 Liv. Epit. 11 compare the account of Alexander Pseudomantis in Lucian.) Besides the temple of Epidaurus, whence the worship of the god was transplanted to various other parts of the ancient world, we may mention those of Tricca (Strab. ix. p. 437), Celaenae (xiii. p. 603), between Dyme and Patrae (viii. p. 386), near Cyllene (viii. p. 337), in the island of Cos (xiii. p. 657 Paus. iii. 23. § 4), at Gerenia (Strab. viii. p. 360), near Caus in Arcadia (Steph. Byz. s. v.), at Sicyon (Paus. ii. 10. § 2), at Athens (i. 21. § 7), near Patrae (vii. 21. § 6), at Titane in the territory of Sicyon (vii. 23. § 6), at Thelpusa (viii. 25. § 3), in Messene (iv. 31. § 8), at Phlius (ii. 13. § 3), Argos (ii. 23. § 4), Aegium (ii. 23. § 5), Pellene (vii. 27. § 5), Asopus (iii. 22. § 7), Pergamum (iii. 26. § 7), Lebene in Crete, Smyrna, Balagrae (ii. 26. § 7), Ambracia (Liv. xxxviii. 5), at Rome and other places. At Rome the worship of Aesculapius was introduced from Epidaurus at the command of the Delphic oracle or of the Sibylline books, in B. C. 293, for the purpose of averting a pestilence. Respecting the miraculous manner in which this was effected see Valerius Maximus (i. 8. § 2), and Ovid. Met. xv. 620, &c. comp. Niebuhr, Hist. of Rome, iii. p. 408, &c. Liv. x. 47, xxix. 11 Suet. Claud. 25.)

The sick, who visited the temples of Aesculapius, had usually to spend one or more nights in his sanctuary (katheudein, ineubare, Paus. ii. 27 § 2), during which they observed certain rules prescribed by the priests. The god then usually revealed the remedies for the disease in a dream. (Aristoph. Plut. 662, &c. Cic. De Div. ii. 59 Philostr. Vita Apollon. i. 7 Jambl. De Myst. iii. 2.) It was in allusion to this incubatio that many temples of Aesculapius contained statues representing Sleep and Dream. (Paus. ii. 10. § 2.) Those whom the god cured of their disease offered a sacrifice to him, generally a cock (Plat. Phacd. p. 118) or a goat (Paus. x. 32. § 8 Serv. ad Virg. Georg. ii. 380), and hung up in his temple a tablet recording the name of the sick, the disease, and the manner in which the cure had been effected. The temples of Epidaurus, Tricca, and Cos, were full of such votive tablets, and several of them are still extant. (Paus. ii. 27. § 3 Strab. viii. p. 374 comp. Dict. of Ant. p. 673.) Respecting the festivals celebrated in honour of Aesculapius see Dict. of Ant. p. 103. &c. The various surnames given to the god partly describe him as the healing or saving god, and are partly derived from the places in which he was worshipped. Some of his statues are described by Pausanias. (ii. 10. § 3, x. 32. § 8.) Besides the attributes mentioned in the description of his statue at Epidaurus, he is sometimes represented holding in one hand a phial, and in the other a stalf sometimes also a boy is represented standing by his side, who is the genius of recovery, and is called Telesphorus, Euamerion, or Acesius. (Paus. ii. 11. § 7.) We still possess a considerable number of marble statues and busts of Aesculapius, as well as many representations on coins and gems. There were in antiquity two works which went under the name of Aesculapius, which, however, were no more genuine than the works ascribed to Orpheus. (Fabricius, Bibl. Graec. i. p. 55, &c.)

The descendants of Aesculapius were called by the patronymic name Asclepiadae. (Asklêpiadai.) Those writers, who consider Aesculapius as a real personage, must regard the Asclepiadae as his real descendants, to whom he transmitted his medical knowledge, and whose principal seats were Cos and Cnidus. (Plat. de Re Publ. iii. p. 405, &c.) But the Asclepiadae were also regarded as an order or caste of priests, and for a long period the practice of medicine was intimately connected with religion. The knowledge of medicine was regarded as a sacred secret, which was transmitted from father to son in the families of the Asclepiadae, and we still possess the oath which every one was obliged to take when he was put in possession of the medical secrets. (Galen, Anat. ii. p. 128 Aristid. Orat. i. p. 80.)

Source: Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology.

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The nineteen papers in this volume stem from a symposium that brought together academics, archaeologists, museum curators, conservators, and a practicing marble sculptor to discuss varying approaches to restoration of ancient stone sculpture.

Contributors and their subjects include Marion True and Jerry Podany on changing approaches to conservation Seymour Howard on restoration and the antique model Nancy H. Ramage’s case study on the relationship between a restorer, Vincenzo Pacetti, and his patron, Luciano Bonaparte Mette Moltesen on de-restoring and re-restoring in the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek Miranda Marvin on the Ludovisi collection and Andreas Scholl on the history of restoration of ancient sculptures in the Altes Museum in Berlin.

The book also features contributions by Elizabeth Bartman, Brigitte Bourgeois, Jane Fejfer, Angela Gallottini, Sascha Kansteiner, Giovanna Martellotti, Orietta Rossi Pinelli, Peter Rockwell, Edmund Southworth, Samantha Sportun, and Markus Trunk. Charles Rhyne summarizes the themes, approaches, issues, and questions raised by the symposium.

Table of Contents

  • Preface
    Marion True
  • Changing Approaches to Conservation
    Marion True
  • Lessons from the Past
    Jerry Podany
  • Restoration and the Antique Model: Reciprocities between Figure and Field
    Seymour Howard
  • Ein Apoxyomenos des 5. Jahrhunderts: Überlegungen zu einer von Cavaceppi ergänzten Statue in Los Angeles
    Sascha Kansteiner
  • From the Need for Completion to the Cult of the Fragment: How Tastes, Scholarship, and Museum Curators’ Choices Changed Our View of Ancient Sculpture
    Orietta Rossi Pinelli
  • The Creative Reuse of Antiquity
    Peter Rockwell
  • Restoration and Display of Classical Sculpture in English Country Houses: A Case of Dependence
    Jane Fejfer
  • The Role of the Collector: Henry Blundell of Ince
    Edmund Southworth
  • Piecing as Paragone: Carlo Albacini’s Diana at Ince
    Elizabeth Bartman
  • The Investigation of Two Male Sculptures from the Ince Blundell Collection
    Samantha Sportun
  • Vincenzo Pacetti and Luciano Bonaparte: The Restorer and His Patron
    Nancy H. Ramage
  • “Secure for Eternity”: Assembly Techniques for Large Statuary in the Sixteenth to Nineteenth Century
    Brigitte Bourgeois
  • Plates
  • Reconstructive Restorations of Roman Sculptures: Three Case Studies
    Giovanna Martellotti
  • Restoration Techniques and Sources for the Statues of the Giustiniani Collection
    Angela Gallottini
  • De-restoring and Re-restoring: Fifty Years of Restoration Work in the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek
    Mette Moltesen
  • Possessions of Princes: The Ludovisi Collection
    Miranda Marvin
  • The Ancient Sculptures in the Rotunda of the Altes Museum, Berlin: Their Appreciation, Presentation, and Restoration from 1830 to 2000
    Andreas Scholl
  • Restoring Restored Sculptures: The Statues of Zeus and Asklepios in the Rotunda of the Altes Museum, Berlin
    Wolfgang MaBmann
  • Early Restorations of Ancient Sculptures in the Casa de Pilatos, Seville: Sources and Evidence
    Markus Trunk
  • Themes, Approaches, Issues, and Questions
    Charles Rhyne
  • Index

About the Authors

Janet Burnett Grossman and Marion True are associate curator and curator, respectively, at the J. Paul Getty Museum. Jerry Podany is a conservator of antiquities at the Museum.


Imhotep (also known in Greek as Imouthes or Asklepios) was many things to many different people, depending on when they lived. During his lifetime (fl. 2667 – 2648 B.C.) he was the chief architect to King Djoser. By the New Kingdom he had become a god to the Egyptians. Today he shows up in the movies as a mummy determined to wreak havoc.

Imhotep in the Movies

Boris Karloff played Imhotep in the original 1932 movie, The Mummy. In this film, Imhotep is an Egyptian priest who reawakens after 3000 years, determined to be reunited with his long-lost love, Anck-Su-Namun, who was also the Pharaoh’s mistress.

The more recent movie, The Mummy (1999), follows this same theme. Imhotep is Seti I’s high priest and keeper of the dead, living around 1290 B.C. Imhotep is again carrying on an affair with Anck-Su-Namun, Seti’s mistress. When they are discovered, the high priest kills the pharaoh. Imhotep’s apparent ability to work magic is evidenced by Anck-Su-Namun’s willingness to kill herself rather than surrender to the murdered pharaoh’s guards, believing that he has the power to bring her back to life. After her burial Imhotep steals her body and starts the process to bring her again to life, but before her spirit can quicken, he himself is captured. As punishment, Imhotep is buried alive with flesh-eating beetles. When his mummy comes to life in modern times, he unleashes a series of plagues. In the sequel, The Mummy Returns (2001), Imhotep is again resurrected, this time to defeat the Scorpion King.

So who was Imhotep? An Egyptian high priest? An Egyptian god capable of raising the dead and unleashing plagues upon the land? To learn what is known about Imhotep, we must first go back to the Old Kingdom.

The Step pyramid at Saqqara

Imhotep in the Old Kingdom

King Djoser (or Zoser, also known as Netjerikhet or Tosorthros), the first king in the 3rd Dynasty of the Old Kingdom, ruled from c. 2687-2668 B.C. Imhotep was his advisor and chief architect, as well as a physician and the high priest of Heliopolis.

Before Djoser, the kings were buried in mastabas, which were rectangular buildings of mud-brick. Over time they came to have underground rooms for the king’s use in the afterlife. That changed with the Step Pyramid at Saqqara. This first pyramid was built during Djoser’s reign, and was almost certainly planned and constructed by Imhotep. It had six building phases, and went from a small mastaba to a step pyramid more than 60 meters high. The base, which was rectangular rather than square as in later pyramids, covered 12,000 square meters. In addition to its being the very first pyramid, it’s also notable for having been constructed in limestone blocks (over 330,000 cubic meters of them!). Prior to that time, sun-baked bricks were used for building.

Imhotep also held the position of Chief Lector Priest, or Kheri-heb her tep. Lectors were considered magicians, as they recited the religious texts which contained magical powers. Imhotep took part in many ceremonies dealing with the dead, such as The Liturgy of Funerary Offerings and The Opening the Mouth. 1 Lectors were held in high regard as they held influence in the afterlife. It is from this role that we can see how Imhotep became a likely candidate for a movie character with magical powers.

Imhotep was revered during his lifetime for his achievements as architect, priest, and physician, and also for the proverbs that he wrote. He was given the singular honor of having his name inscribed on a statue of Djoser: “Imhotep, Chancellor of the King of Lower Egypt, Chief under the King, Administrator of the Great Palace, Hereditary Lord, High Priest of Heliopolis, Imhotep the Builder, the Sculptor, the Maker of Stone Vases”. His exact burial place is unknown, but is thought to be in North Saqqara, near the temple of Djoser. It is likely that Imhotep’s tomb was unearthed during the 26th Dynasty when the Step Pyramid was being restored.

Imhotep Deified

Glorified as a physician and healer, Imhotep’s fame continued to grow long after he died. His deification took places in stages, with him becoming a demigod first before reaching full godhood status. The Oxyrhynchus Papyri (c. 2nd century A.D.) relates that in the 4th Dynasty King Mycerinus built temples for Imhotep, the son of the god Ptah, and others. A religious revival at the beginning of the New Kingdom, about 1580 B.C., brought renewed interest in Imhotep. As a hero of the past he was considered to be accessible to the common people, and was elevated to the status of demigod with other heroes from legend. 2 Statues from this time often show him with a papyrus, but without ankh or sceptre.

In the Turin Papyrus (c. 1300 B.C., also known as the Turin King List or Turin Royal Canon) he is again referred to as the son of Ptah, the chief god of Memphis. By about 525 B.C. Imhotep was fully deified as the god of medicine, and a member of the triad of Memphis gods together with Ptah and Sekhmet. At least three temples were built for him. In statues from this period he is often carrying an ankh or sceptre.

Imhotep is also associated with the first temple of Edfu, which was said to be based upon plans which fell from heaven and landed near Memphis. According to the legend, Imhotep and Ptah joined their divine forces to build the temple.

His legend lived on even after the Greeks conquered Egypt. Mention of Imhotep showed up in the History written by Manetho (fl. 290-260 B.C.). It is Manetho who ascribes to Imhotep the honor of being the first builder to use stone.

Tosorthros [Djoser], reigned twenty-nine years, in whose time was Imouthes [Imhotep], who is equated by the Egyptians with Asklepios because of his medical skill and his invention of building with hewn stone also for the excellence of his writings. 3

His reputation lived on until the Arab invasion of North Africa in the 7th century A.D.

Images from the top: Imhotep * the Step Pyramid * an Egyptian sarcophagus * Ptah * the temple at Edfu

  1. Imhotep, the Vizier and Physician of King Zoser, and Afterwards the Egyptian God of Medicine, p. 30-32.
  2. Ibid, p. 29-30, 34-35.
  3. Reflections of Osiris, p. 17.

Photographs of the Step Pyramid and Edfu temple taken by Jayhawk
Other images from

  • The Ancient Gods Speak, by Donald B. Redford.
  • A History of the Ancient Egyptians, by James Henry Breasted.
  • Imhotep, the Vizier and Physician of King Zoser, and Afterwards the Egyptian God of Medicine, by Jamieson B. Hurry.
  • The Oxford Encyclopedia of Ancient Egypt, v. 2-3, Donald B. Redford, editor in chief.
  • Reflections of Osiris, by J.D. Ray.
  • When Egypt Ruled the East, by George Steindorff and Keith C. Seele.

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