The Sanctuary of Demeter Malophoros, Selinunte (Part I)

The ancient Greek community of Selinunte was founded as a sub-colony of Megara Iblea in 651-650 BCE. One of the first sacred sites in the western Sicilian city, which is considered one of the world’s largest archaeological zones, is the Santuario della Malophoros or the Sanctuary of the Fruit Bearer. “Malophoros” implies pomegranates or apples, and because among the ruins in the temple grounds dozens of small sacred feminine statues carrying pomegranates were found at the foundation of what archeologists deem was an altar, researchers have concluded that this site was dedicated to the mother goddess Demeter and her daughter Persephone. Some of these statuettes can be seen today in the Regional Archaeological Museum Antonino Salinas in Palermo (pictured).

(To be continued… )

3 Comments Add yours


    I have a written note in Italian which has drawn me to your website, It mentions “Ill Tempio della Malophoros” and “A Selinunte VI sec. A.C”
    The Temple of the Malophoros – City of Selinunte and 6th century B.C.

    There are some words which are vague that might make sense in context to the area of Selinunte or Malophoros.
    eg “Ex – voto” and “lea della frutta fiasciolle della Morte)” could be “della Monte I think is something to do with Fruit and of the mountain or of the dead.

    hope this makes sense, regards Michael Phillips, Sydney Australia.

    1. Allison Scola says:

      Hello Michael, My guess is as follows… “Ex-voto … of the … Dea della Frutta, fiasciolle della morte.”

      The Sanctuary of Demeter “Malophoros” was a sacred place to venerate the ancient Greek goddess Demeter, protectress of fertility and the harvest (i.e. fruit). Malophoros means fruit (pomegranates or apples… I think pomegranates because they are central to the story of Persephone and signify fertility… and seeds being planted underground/the underworld.).

      Being also the sanctuary of Persephone and by extension Pluto (who we call in English Hades), meant also a sacred place where one recognizes they cycle of life (i.e., life and death). So, death and accepting death as part of life was the theme of the mythology/story of Demeter/Persephone/Pluto, often known as the dark goddesses/gods. (Darkness meaning death/the underworld.)

      So saying something to the effect of a flask of dead fruit (Which could also be wine, since wine is fermented (dead) fruit. (Also, important to know that wine back in ancient times was only the must… only when they served it did they add water… i.e., it’s not the same as wine today. And this part of Sicily is a massive wine/grape growing region and has been for centuries.).

      So, a long story short… Ex-voto is the statuette of Demeter or Persephone (Like the ones pictured here.) used as an offering to the goddesses for protection or thanks for past protection. So, the hand-written note you have may have accompanied some kind of flask that was used as an ex-voto/offering (filled with fermented fruit) left at the sanctuary for the goddesses as a prayer. (Perhaps thanking the goddesses for help with the devotees fruit harvest?!)

      This site is special because at it, archaeologists in the last two centuries found hundreds of ex-votos for Demeter and Persephone, which is why we know the site was a sanctuary for them. It’s possible that your note was written by one of your Sicilian ancestors who found a ceremonial flask at the site in the past and took it home. Before the 20th century, these sites were not protected from “collecting artifacts” (i.e. what we consider pillaging) as they are today.

      I hope this helps! I find what you’ve written here fascinating!

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