A quick look at: Greek votive offerings, with a particular focus on those of the Archaic period from Olympia.
“Since we have received everything from the Gods, and it is right to pay the giver some tithe of his gifts, we pay such a tithe of possessions in votive offering, of bodies in gifts of (hair and) adornment, and of life in sacrifices.” -Sallustius in ‘On the Gods and the Cosmos,’ XVI (translation by Gilbert Murray).
A ‘votive offering’ is essentially a gift to a god. Once dedicated, the object is thought to become the “inalienable property of that god” (Whitley 2001). In theory, almost any kind of object could be used as a votive, we even have literary accounts which speak of captured ships being dedicated as a thank offering to a god (see Herodotus VIII.121).
Here I won’t be exploring the psychology of giving such offerings, however, it is likely that the motives were not quite so straightforward as suggested by the Latin phrase ‘do ut des' (I give that you may give). While the concept of reciprocity, a cycle of exchange between human and god, is of course relevant here, one must also not underestimate the value ancient Greek society placed on visibly showing one’s piety.
The shown Greek votive offerings are from Olympia, and consist largely of tiny animals made of bronze, stone, and clay. These objects date from the 10th century BCE, though those from the 8th century are the greatest in number. From the 9th century BCE, we can see a distinct increase in the range of votive offerings, and their quality.
When writing up this article, James Whitley’s book The Archaeology of Ancient Greece (Cambridge University Press, 2001) was of use, and is recommended for those interested Greek history. Photos taken by Richard.