2,100 Year Old Head of Ancient Greek Goddess Hygieia Unearthed

Ancient Greek Goddess of Health Hygieia Returns: 2,100-Year-Old Statue Head Unearthed

After 2,100 years, the missing head of a statue of Hygieia, the Greek goddess of health and cleanliness, has been discovered by archaeologists in the ancient city of Laodicea in Turkey. The exciting find was made during ongoing excavation efforts in the city’s Western Theatre area.

Hygieia, revered in both ancient Greek and Roman mythology, is known for her association with health, cleanliness, and hygiene—a term derived from her name. Statues of Hygieia were often placed in healing centres and temples dedicated to her father, Asclepius, the god of medicine. This discovery adds to Laodicea’s historical significance as a major cultural and medical hub during the first century B.C.

The excavation project in Laodicea, which began in 2003, aims to restore and explore the ancient city. The statue head was found by a team led by Professor Celal Şimşek of Pamukkale University. Professor Şimşek shared his excitement on social media, writing, “Goddess Hygieia meeting the sun and us after 2,100 years in Laodikei.”

Hygieia’s prominence in mythology stems from her role in preventive medicine and cleanliness. Classical depictions often show her holding or feeding a large snake, a symbol associated with Asclepius. Statues of Hygieia were common in major healing centres, particularly in temples dedicated to Asclepius, such as those in Epidaurus, Corinth, Cos, and Pergamon.

Laodicea, known historically as “Laodicea on the edge of the Lycus,” was founded by Antiochus II around 261 B.C. and named after his wife. Situated near the Lycus River in southwestern Turkey, the city thrived due to its strategic location on a major trade route. It quickly rose to prominence, especially under Roman rule.

The ancient city boasted numerous impressive structures, including the largest stadium in Asia Minor, two theatres, four baths, five fountains, and a variety of temples and decorative streetscapes. However, Laodicea was frequently beset by earthquakes. A significant quake in 60 A.D. during Emperor Nero’s reign destroyed much of the city, though it was rebuilt by its inhabitants. Subsequent earthquakes in 494 A.D. and around 602 A.D. eventually led to the city’s decline and abandonment.

Laodicea is also known for its religious importance as it is mentioned in the Bible as one of the seven churches in the Book of Revelation.

The discovery of Hygieia’s statue head follows the earlier finding of a statue of Asclepius in the same area. Professor Şimşek highlighted the significance of these discoveries, noting that both statues were crafted in the classical style during the late Hellenistic to early Augustus periods. He also mentioned the Herophileion medical school in Laodicea, where the ancient writer and physician Strabo was trained.

"Both statues were made in the late Hellenistic-early Augustus Period in the classical style," Şimşek noted. "The statues of the god and goddess of health reveal the presence of the Herophileion medical school in the ancient city of Laodicea and the ancient writer Strabo, one of the important doctors trained there. All statues have very fine workmanship and are of high artistic quality.”

These findings further cement Laodicea’s historical role as a centre of culture, medicine, and religion. The ongoing excavations continue to reveal the rich and intricate history of this ancient city, which has been on Turkey’s Tentative List of World Heritage Sites since 2013.

Photos: Celal Simsek Instagram Page: @aodikeiakazisi

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