Researchers at the Zinman Institute of Archaeology at the University of Haifa have come across an ancient Roman gate that possibly leads into a sanctuary of the ancient Greek god Pan. From the mythological scope, Pan resided along the wild mountainsides, and was chronicled as the guardian of pastures, sheep and goats – so much so that he himself was depicted with goat-horns and goat-legs. Pertaining to the latter part, archaeologists had already come across a substantially large bronze mask of Pan (with his horns) in the proximate building during last year. And now with the discovery of this portal (propylaeum) by the ancient city of Hippos (Sussita), situated east of the Sea of Galilee, Israel, the researchers might have some clue about the ambit of worshiping Pan in the area.
The bronze mask in question here (pictured above) was judged to be larger than similar extant specimens, which rather fueled the curiosity of the archaeologists last year. The object was found inside the ruins of a stone structure, and hence the researchers focused on finding the rest of this mysterious building. In the consequent excavation project, they were successful in uncovering a large Roman gate which was originally 20 ft tall, and dates from the time of Emperor Hadrian (circa 117-138 AD). Interestingly enough, the researchers believe the actual building to be even higher than 20 ft, thus alluding to a sanctuary-like arrangement. Dr. Michael Eisenberg, who headed the expedition, said –
When we found the mask on its own, we assumed that it had filled a ritual function. Since we found it outside the city, one of the hypotheses was that we were looking at evidence of a mysterious ritual center that existed outside the city. However, as we all know, monumental gate structures lead to large compounds. Accordingly, it is not impossible that this gate led to a large building complex – perhaps a sanctuary in honor of the god Pan or one of the other rustic gods – situated just before the entrance to the city of Hippos.
He further added –
The mask, and now the gate in which it was embedded, are continuing to fire our imaginations. The worship of Pan sometimes included ceremonies involving drinking, sacrifices and ecstatic rituals, including nudity and sex. This worship usually took place outside the city walls, in caves and other natural settings. We are very familiar with the city of Paneas to the north of Hippos, which was the site of one of the best-known sanctuaries for the worship of Pan. But here we find a monumental gate and evidence of an extensive compound, so that the mystery only gets stranger. What kind of worship of Pan or his fellow Dionysus, the god of wine, took place here in Hippos? To answer that question, we will have to keep on digging.
Quite intriguingly, the English word ‘panic’ is actually derived from Pan. To that end, in terms of mythological characterization, Pan was considered cheerful, flirtatious as well as irritable, and his hobby was to play on his favorite pipe, the syrinx. But more importantly, he could also turn frightening (especially when he was disturbed in his naps) – which perhaps explains his association with the word ‘panic’.
Here is the Sketchfab virtual reconstruction of Hippos excavated site pertaining to the possible compound –