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Dodona – Most prominent Oracle in the Ancient Greek World

Dodona in Epirus, in northwestern Greece was an oracle devoted to a Mother Goddess identified at other sites with Rhea or Gaia, but here called Dione, who was joined and partly supplanted in historical times by the Greek god Zeus.

map of preveza ionian sea greece
Click to enlarge map – Coordinates: 39°32′47″N 20°47′16″E

Where to find the shrine of Dodona?

Location of Dodona valley

You will find the shrine of Dodona a few kilometres southwest of the city of Ioannina, following the road towards Igoumenitsa.

Dodona – regarded the oldest Hellenic oracle

The shrine of Dodona was regarded as the oldest Hellenic oracle, possibly dating to the second millennium BCE according to Herodotus. Situated in a remote region away from the main Greek poleis (cities), it was considered second only to the oracle of Delphi in prestige. Priestesses and priests in the sacred grove interpreted the rustling of the oak (or beech) leaves to determine the correct actions to be taken. Aristotle considered the region around Dodona to have been part of Hellas and the region where the Hellenes originated. The oracle was first under the control of the Thesprotians before it passed into the hands of the Molossians. It remained an important religious sanctuary until the rise of Christianityduring the Late Roman era.

History of the Dodona oracle

Ancient Theatre of Dodona, Epirus

Though the earliest inscriptions at the site date to ca. 550–500 BCE, archaeological excavations over more than a century have recovered artifacts as early as the Mycenaean era, many now at the National Archaeological Museum of Athens, and some in the archaeological museum at nearby Ioannina. Archaeologists have also found Illyrian dedications and objects that were received by the oracle during the 7th century BCE. Until 650 BCE, Dodona was a religious and oracular centre mainly for northern tribes: only after 650 BCE did it become important for the southern tribes.

Worshipping Zeus

Horse_Dodona_Louvre©Marie-Lan-Nguyen_Wikimedia-Commons
Horse from Dodona, Louvre ©Marie Lan Nguyen, Wikimedia Commons

At Dodona, Zeus was worshipped as “Zeus Naios” or “Naos” (god of the spring cf. Naiads) — there was a spring below the oak in the temenos or sanctuary — and “Zeus Bouleus” (Counsellor). Originally an oracle of the Mother Goddess, the oracle was shared by Dione (whose name, like “Zeus,” simply means “deity”) and Zeus. Many dedicatory inscriptions recovered from the site mention both “Dione” and “Zeus Naios”. Elsewhere in Classical Greece, Dione was relegated to a minor role by classical times, being made into an aspect of Zeus’s more usual consort, Hera, but never at Dodona. (read more about the history of Dodona…)

Plan of the sanctuary in Dodona
Plan of the sanctuary