A temenos (Greek: τέμενος; plural: τεμένη, temenē)[1] is a piece of land cut off and assigned as an official domain, especially to kings and chiefs, or a piece of land marked off from common uses and dedicated to a god, such as a sanctuary, holy grove, or holy precinct.[2] For example, the Pythian race-course is called a temenos; the sacred valley of the Nile is the Νείλοιο πῖον τέμενος Κρονίδα ("the rich temenos of the Cronide by the Nile");[1][3] the Acropolis of Athens is the ἱερὸν τέμενος ("holy temenos") of Pallas.[1][4] The word derives from the Greek verb τέμνω (temnō), "I cut".[5][6] The earliest attested form of the word is the Mycenaean Greek 𐀳𐀕𐀜, te-me-no, written in Linear B syllabic script.[7] The Latin equivalent was the fanum.

The concept of temenos arose in classical antiquity as an area reserved for worship of the gods. Some authors have used the term to apply to a sacred grove of trees,[8] isolated from everyday living spaces, while other usage points to areas within ancient urban development that are parts of sanctuaries.[9]

A temenos is often physically marked by a peribolos fence or wall (e.g. Delphi) as a structural boundary. Originally the peribolos was often just a set of marker stones demarcating the boundary, or a light fence, and the earliest sanctuaries appear to have begun as a peribolos around a sacred grove, spring, cave or other feature, with an altar but no temple or cult image. But as Greek sanctuaries became more elaborate large stone walls with gateways or gatehouses were built around important sanctuaries, though the most famous, the Athens Acropolis, was a palace and military citadel turned into a sanctuary.

A temenos enclosed a sacred space called a hieron; all things inside of this area belonged to the god. Greeks could find asylum within a sanctuary and be under the protection of the deity and could not be moved against their will.[10]

A large example of a Bronze Age Minoan temenos is at the Juktas Sanctuary of the palace of Knossos on ancient Crete in present-day Greece, the temple having a massive northern temenos.[11] Another example is at Olympia, the temenos of Zeus. There were many temene of Apollo, as he was the patron god of settlers.

In religious discourse in English, temenos has also come to refer to a territory, plane, receptacle or field of deity or divinity.

Carl Jung relates the temenos to the spellbinding or magic circle, which acts as a 'square space' or 'safe spot' where mental 'work' can take place. This temenos resembles among others a 'symmetrical rose garden with a fountain in the middle' in which an encounter with the unconscious can be had and where these unconscious contents can safely be brought into the light of consciousness. In this manner one can meet one's own Shadow, Animus/Anima, Wise Old Wo/Man (Senex) and finally the Self, names that Jung gave to archetypal personifications of (unpersonal) unconscious contents which seem to span all cultures.[12]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ a b c τέμενος. Liddell, Henry George; Scott, Robert; A Greek–English Lexicon at the Perseus Project.
  2. ^ Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Temenos" . Encyclopædia Britannica. Vol. 26 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 577.
  3. ^ Pindar (1937). "Pythian 4.56". The Odes of Pindar (in Greek). Translated by John Sandys.
  4. ^ Aristophanes (1907). "Lysistrata, line 483". In Hall, F.W.; Geldart, W.M. (eds.). Aristophanes Comoediae (in Greek). Vol. 2. Oxford: Clarendon Press.
  5. ^ τέμνω in Liddell and Scott.
  6. ^ Cf. Harper, Douglas. "temple". Online Etymology Dictionary.
  7. ^ "The Linear B word te-me-no". Palaeolexicon. Word study tool of Ancient languages.
  8. ^ David S. Whitley, Reader in Archaeological Theory: Post-processual and Cognitive Approaches, 1998, Routledge, 347 pages ISBN 0-415-14160-5
  9. ^ Carla M. Antonaccio. An Archaeology of Ancestors: Tomb Cult and Hero Cult in Early Greece. Rowman & Littlefield, 1995. ISBN 0-8476-7942-X
  10. ^ Mikalson, Jon. Ancient Greek Religion. pp. 1–31.
  11. ^ C. Michael Hogan, Knossos fieldnotes, Modern Antiquarian (2007)
  12. ^ Carl Jung (1968). Psychology and Alchemy, par. 63. See also: Individual dream symbolism in relation to Alchemy, 3. The Symbolism of the Mandala