With their status between the human and the divine, heroes were part of local mythologies and identities, contributing to the coherence of the community and reinforcing the people’s bond to their land, as a hero’s bones were usually believed to be kept in the sanctuary where he was worshipped.
The Heroon of Olympia is located at the west part of the sanctuary, among the auxiliary buildings of the sanctuary complex, between the Theikoleon and the Greek baths. Initially a ‘sweat room’, the equivalent of a present-day sauna, it was built during the first phase of the Greek baths and was used as a heroon in the Hellenistic and Roman Era.
The modestly-sized building consists of two rooms; in the north one, there is a circular structure of just above 8 metres in diameter, which must have been the main space of the earlier sweat room. This is where the very small altar (0.54 x 0.38 x 0.37), made of ash and clay, was found. The dedication to the unknown hero commemorated and honoured at the altar was written on the ash layer in paint and decorated with olive branches. Given the quality of the surface material, the dedication was re-inscribed every time the ash on the altar was renewed, possibly after a sacrifice. According to the Greek travel writer Pausanias (2nd century AD), an altar dedicated to the god Pan existed in the same room when he visited the Heroon.