Terracotta statuette of a "temple boy"

Period: Early Hellenistic

Date: 3rd century B.C.

Culture: Cypriot

Medium: Terracotta; mold-made

Dimensions: H. 4 3/4 in. (12.1 cm)

Classification: Terracottas

Credit Line: The Cesnola Collection, Purchased by subscription, 1874–76

Accession Number: 74.51.1607


Some 300 statuettes of seated children, like this one, have been found in sanctuaries on Cyprus. The great majority depict boys about two years old, usually seated with one leg bent, and shown nude or wearing a short tunic that allows the genitalia to be seen. Many are bedecked with earrings, finger rings, and pendant amulets across the chest. The significance of these seated children is not known, although they are conventionally referred to as "temple boys" in scholarly literature. It has been suggested that they represent children consecrated as servants to a divinity, a custom well attested in Eastern civilizations. More likely, however, they were placed in temples to mark a rite of passage in a boy's life and to secure for him divine protection. This terracotta statuette is said to be from the temple of Apollo Hylates at Kourion. Herakles would have been a particularly apt protector for a young boy, having first displayed his great physical strength as an infant, when he strangled two serpents in his cradle.