ancient Greek gold

A Goddess’ Treasure in Crotone

Buried treasure brings to mind fanciful maps from childhood. X marks the spot of a chest overflowing with gold coins and precious jewels. It’s hard to imagine that riches await a simple turn of the shovel. But where’s the map? In 1987, the Tesoro di Hera, treasure of the Greek goddess, lay just where it should have, within the remains of an ancient temple in Crotone, a province of Calabria in Southern Italy. 

CAPO COLONNA – Cape Column

The discovery was made in the shadow of Calabria’s last column standing, one of 48 that once supported a magnificent Doric temple at the edge of a cliff on a cape extending into the blue waters of the Ionian Sea. The treasure was hidden within a smaller temple just next door. Today, these ancient ruins are part of Capo Colonna Archeological Park, about 13 kilometers south of the center of Crotone. Uncovering the artifacts may not have been as easy as picking up a shovel. Afterall, the Greek civilization was buried beneath the Roman, but it’s amazing to think what may yet be found.

Capo Colonna

The ruins of “Cape Column” Archeological Park with column and the Ionian Sea in the distance

The smaller edifice is thought to have been the promontory’s original Greek temple dating from the 8th century BC. With construction of the Doric temple three centuries later, it was used as a thesauros, a place for sanctuary donations in ancient Greece. (Next time you refer to a modern-day thesaurus, you can think of it as a lexical treasure trove.)

These temples, together with related structures and the surrounding land made up the sanctuary dedicated to Hera Lacinia. Hera is the Greek goddess of marriage, women and family. Lacinia is the promontory’s historic name. The Santuario di Hera Lacinia was famous in antiquity and known for its wealth. The likes of Hannibal slept there, and in fact, the Carthaginian general retreated to the sanctuary during the Second Punic War. Narrations conflict as to his motivation: religious contemplation or safe haven? And as the story goes, he was ready to sail off with a gold column from the temple, but after the goddess threatened the loss of his good eye in a dream, he left the column together with a golden cow fashioned from the shavings he gathered after drilling through it to ascertain whether or not it was solid.

Capo Colonna

Last of the 48 Doric columns of Hera’s Temple

TESORO DI HERA – Hera’s Treasure

Hannibal may not have taken the golden column, but much of the wealth was carried off by the Romans in the period that followed, so the discovery of the Tesoro di Hera during an excavation in 1987 was quite exciting over two thousand years later. Apparently, the intermittent generations had left a few stones unturned.

The objects in “Hera’s Treasure” date from the 7th to the 4th centuries BC and many are on display in the Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Crotone, located in the old town. This excellent museum traces the history of the city up to the medieval period and also features displays of other important Greek settlements of the area.

DIADEMA AUREO – Golden Crown

ancient Greek art

Golden Crown of Hera’s Treasure from Capo Colonna

The gorgeous Diadema Aureo, also known as the Corona di Hera or Hera’s Crown, is the crown jewel, so to speak, of the find. This ancient tiara in gold foil measures 37 centimeters in length (almost 15 inches) and 5 cm. in height (about 2 in.). Dating from the 6th century BC, the regal headpiece features myrtle branches and berries that have been attached with gold strands to the precious metal band embellished with a braided design. As the foliage covers much of the base decoration, the crown may have originated as a simpler, hammered headband with the more elaborate vegetation being added later. The larger leaves on the bottom part of the band are thought to be maple.

Who would have worn this golden diadem thousands of years ago? Most likely, it would have crowned a divine statue, Hera Lacinia. This beautiful piece is extraordinary both artistically and for its exceptional level of conservation.

BRONZETTI ARCAICI – Little Archaic Bronzes

As with the crown, most of the objects of Hera’s Treasure were imported from Greece. Several bronze statuettes stand out, notably, three archaic ex-votos or religious offerings.

archaic Greek bronze

Winged Gorgon from Hera’s Treasure

Although the winged gorgon doesn’t look all that frightening to me, this monster lived across the great river that encircled the world, in the abode of Darkness, and guarded the threshold between the world of the living and the dead.

archaic Greek bronze

Sphinx ex-voto from Hera’s Treasure

The sphinx, borrowed from Egypt, was a demon of destruction and misfortune with the body of a lion and the face of a woman. However, she counteracted evil, and offering this ex-voto to Hera was like asking the goddess for good fortune.

archaic Greek bronze

Siren ex-voto from Hera’s Treasure

The sirens, half-women and half-bird creatures, also lived at the edge of the underworld and were called upon to ease the grief of bereaved family members, joining their laments and assisting the deceased in the afterlife.

BARCHETTA NURAGICA – Little Nuragic Boat

An immensely interesting object found amongst Hera’s Treasure is a small bronze lantern in the shape of a boat. Dating from the 7th-century BC, the lamp would have had the function of lighting the way to the next world. Curiously, the boat was made by the Nuragic peoples from the island of Sardinia, an ancient civilization that lasted from about the 18th century BC up to Roman times. A pilgrim would have given it as a gift to the sanctuary of Hera Lacinia.

ancient Sardinian bronze

Nuragic boat from Hera’s Treasure

The boat measures 26 centimeters long (10. 2 inches) and 10.9 cm. (4.3 in.) across the widest part of the hull. Decorative details include two chariots pulled by oxen that represent earthly riches, and two doves, perhaps hearkening back to the use of birds in navigation before maps and compasses.

Hera's Treasure, Capo Colonna

Ancient bronze boat with oxen and doves


The Treasure of Hera makes up just part of the collection on display at Crotone’s national archeological museum. More artifacts are exhibited at the Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Capo Colonna, inaugurated in 2006, adjacent to the archeological park.

Capo Colonna

Visiting the archeological park on a tour with Karen’s Travel LLC

A walk amongst the ruins may conjure an imaginary chance meeting with Pythagoras, the great philosopher and mathematician. He lived in ancient Kroton, as the Greeks had named the city, and frequently visited Hera’s sanctuary. Perhaps, unbeknownst to the curators, there is already an everyday object of his amongst the artifacts in one of the museums. Distracted with lofty thoughts, he may well have dropped something…

The Sanctuary of Hera Lacinia was a highly revered place of worship for ancient peoples. Pilgrims flocked there from all over the Mediterranean. Today, you may come across school groups or a big bus tour passing through on occasion, but most of the time, you will have the place to yourself. No need to wait in line to visit these museums and to have the opportunity to walk in the footsteps of ancient warriors and scholars.

Karen's Travel LLC in Crotone

Author Karen Haid, selfie at Capo Colonna

See this beautiful treasure on my CASTLES AND WINES OF CALABRIA TOUR and visit Capo Colonna Archeological Park on my TRADITIONS AND FOOD OF CALABRIA TOUR.

Read all about the fascinating Calabrian region in my book Calabria: The Other Italy, described by Publisher’s Weekly as “an intoxicating blend of humor, joy, and reverence for this area in Italy’s deep south,” and explore Calabria’s northern neighbor in my book Basilicata: Authentic Italy, “recommended to readers who appreciate all things Italian” by the Library Journal.

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Comments 2

  1. The diadem reminds me again of how vibrant and colorful actual ancient cities and buildings were. So often their remains come to us in beige and white stone, brick, etc. and it often gives me a sepia-toned impression of the past.

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