On the island of Thasos, which lies close to the north shore of the Aegean Sea, archaeologists recovered dozens of burials dating to the Hellenistic period, or 4th to 1st centuries BC. One particular older male caught their attention because he was likely executed with a precise wound to his breastbone.

A. Agelarakis / Adelphi University

Since at least the 7th century BC, the island of Thasos was an important part of the Hellenistic world, as recorded by ancient authors Herodotus and Thucydides and as revealed through numerous excavations over the past several decades by archaeologists affiliated with the Hellenic Antiquities Authority. Residents of ancient Thasos built settlements and strongholds on the island and the nearby mainland, and through their control of regional sea routes, they became rich and powerful.
Excavation at an ancient cemetery on Thasos revealed clusters of Hellenistic and Roman period family graves that contained the skeletons of males and females of all ages. One specific skeleton, however, intrigued archaeologist Anagnostis Agelarakis of Adelphi University so much that he studied it in painstaking detail; his results are forthcoming in Access Archaeology.

Agelarakis discovered that the skeleton was male and that, based on the degenerative wear on his joints and teeth, he was likely more than 50 years old when he died. Further, his robust skeleton suggested that he had been involved in physically demanding tasks and activities. None of this was surprising to Agelarakis, as ancient Hellenic men were known to have engaged in much physical labor over their lifetimes. Once the bones were cleaned in the laboratories of the Archaeological Museum of Thasos Island, however, Agelarakis noticed something odd: a hole in the lower part of the man's sternum or breastbone.

The human body can have numerous variants, often extraneous holes or bones whose presence (or absence) is passed down in families. These variations are selectively neutral, so they don't get eliminated from the human species, but they are useful for bioarchaeologists interested in tracking genetic relationships without doing destructive analysis like DNA work. One of these common variants is a hole in the lower part of the breastbone, called the sternal foramen, which occurs in roughly 5% of the population.

"It became immediately apparent," Agelarakis notes, "that this case did not pertain to a developmental anomaly of sternal foramen, but to a multilevel mechanically caused orifice, one that had been sustained by a through-and-through gladiolar [lower breastbone] injury." A seven-sided entry wound could be seen, clearly suggesting a type of penetrating trauma, and there was no evidence of healing. The man had been stabbed.

To shed some light on the mechanics of the injury, I asked Patrick Randolph-Quinney, a forensic anthropologist at the University of Central Lancashire, to weigh in. "In my considered opinion, Agelarakis has a case," he says. "Penetrating peri-mortem trauma is consistent with some of the skeletal defects displayed." While he is not fully convinced of the seven-sided entry wound, Randolph-Quinney notes that the exit wound, or the back side of the sternum, is of particular interest.

This exit wound has sharp bone edges, which rules out both post-mortem damage and a sternal foramen. Flat bones like the sternum react differently to trauma compared to bones like the skull and long bones of the arms and legs. "In cases of arrow or crossbow wounds," Randolph-Quinney says, "it's my experience that they 'punch' their way through flat bone, leaving sharp margins on both entrance and exit surfaces, similar to the photos in Agelarakis' article. I think he's right about the injury -- but maybe for the wrong reasons."

Not content to simply diagnose this ancient Thasian man with a stab wound, Agelarakis set out to figure out what kind of weapon made the odd, seven-sided mark on the bone. To do this, he and his colleagues extrapolated the shape of the weapon from the injury, created a 3D model reconstruction in wax, and then generated mold from that in order to cast the weapon in bronze. Once this process was completed, Agelarakis was able to suggest that the weapon was a styrax, or the spike at the lower end of a spear-shaft. He and his colleagues then used their reconstructed weapon on a ballistic model of a human in order to approximate force and direction of the fatal blow.

Given the identification of the weapon, Agelarakis hypothesizes that this was a close-encounter sharp force injury, in which the man was immobilized, perhaps with his hands tied behind his back, "in order to receive a contact thrusting of an accurately anatomically calculated, precisely positioned, and well-delivered striking into the inferior mediastinum region of the thorax." Essentially, the deadly aim of the person wielding the spear caused a fatal wound to the Thasian man's chest, which put him into cardiac arrest as he bled out. Agelarakis suggests that this was almost certainly "a prepared execution event."

This older Thacian man was buried in an individual grave among clusters of family graves, without any indication that he was treated differently than others in death. Because of his simple burial, Agelarakis thinks that he was not condemned to capital punishment because he was a traitor or conspirator. Rather, "it may be postulated that his untimely and violent death could have been the result of a political-military turmoil or reprisals, possibly during forceful regime changes" that occurred during the Hellenistic era. Although this man was stabbed to death, he was likely of high standing and, as Agelarakis concludes, "would have been recognized as a worthy opponent."
The Attikos deme Erkhia was located near the modern Spata, approximately twenty kilometers (twelve miles) east of Athens, with the deme center located at Magoula. The deme of Erkhia is unique as we have recovered an elaborate sacrificial calendar--the Greater Demarkhia--listing sacrifices, costs and rules for the festivals held under the supervision of the demarch. The calendar prescribes 59 annual sacrifices to 46 separate divinities, including heroes, nymphs and Gods, and some of them seem unique to the deme.

The Gods most frequently honored at Erkhia were Zeus, Apollon, Kourotrophos ('She who raises the young') and Athena. A few times a year, the men traveled to Athens to sacrifice to Zeus an Athena 'of the city', to Apollon Lykeios, and to Demeter of Eleusis. For worship at the deme, Erkhia had its own Akropolis, where the same Theoi were worshipped as on the Akropolis at Athens, as well as more obscure Gods, like Zeus Epopetes, the Heroines, the Herakleidai, the nymphs, and the Tritopateres, as well as local heroes like Leukaspis ('he of the white shield') and Epops.

Two of these sacrifices are upcoming: the one to the Leukaspis on the 20th of Mounikhion and the sacrifice to the Tritopatores on the 21th of Mounikhion. This is an announcement for the PAT ritual for the sacrifice to Leukaspis.

Leukaspis is the name of a good few heroes in Hellenic mythology. The most famous is the one depicted here on a drachma from Syracuse--designed around 405-400 BC by Eukleidas. Leukaspis, 'He of the White Shield' was a famed warrior and hero and tied to the myth of Herakles:

“While Heracles was making the circuit of Sicily at this time he came to the city which is now Syracuse, and on learning what the myth relates about the Abduction of Kore, he offered sacrifices to the Goddesses on a magnificent scale, and after dedicating to Her the fairest bull of his herd and casting it in the spring Cyanê, he commanded the natives to sacrifice each year to Kore and to conduct at Cyanê a festive gathering and a sacrifice in splendid fashion. He then passed with his cattle through the interior of the island, and when the native Sicani opposed him in great force, he overcame them in a notable battle and slew many of their number, among whom, certain writers of myths relate, were also some distinguished generals who receive the honours accorded to Heroes even to this day, such as Leucaspis, Pediacrates, Buphonas, Glychatas, Bytaeas, and Crytidas.” (Diod. Sic. IV 23)

As he was a Sican of Sicily, and apparently non-Hellenic, it's quite unlikely he was the one worshipped at the deme of Erkhia. It was most likely another Leukaspis that was a local hero. What, exactly, the source of this Leukaspis' renown was has been lost to us.

Alternatively, Noel Robertson in 'Religion and Reconciliation in Greek Cities', page 173, notes:
“When we meet Leupaspis at Erchia, we should not imagine that a Sican hero was brought to Attica.  Instead, the same name has been given to similar powers in the two places.”

Leukaspis appears not to be so much a war hero in Erkhia but a, what Robertson describes as a 'functional hero'. In Hellenic warfare a hoplite presses on the enemy with his shield, so that a buffering wind may well be likened to a shield-bearing warrior. As such, Leukaspis might have been a power associated with winds and tied to the begetting of a good harvest. So we wrote the ritual in that sense and used the two Orphic Hymns that best fit, To Zephyros and To Notos.

According to the Greater Demarkhia, the sacrifice to Leukaspis was a ram, along with a 'libation not of wine'. In modern times, a libation of milk, honey, and/or water will most certainly do.

You can find the ritual for the PAT ritual to Leukaspis here and join the community page here. The sacrifice to Leukaspis will take place on April 26th at 10 am EDT.
On April 25th, Elaion will host a PAT ritual for the Olympieia, in honor of Olympian Zeus. Will you join us at the usual 10 a.m. EDT?

 

Most worship of Olympian Zeus took place around or during the Olympic games in Olympia. In 550 BC, however, the tyrant Peisistratos (Πεισίστρατος) decided to build a temple to Olympian Zeus in Athens. The temple, which became known as the Naos tou Olympiou Dios (Ναὸς τοῦ Ὀλυμπίου Διός), was demolished by his sons, Hippias (Ἱππίας) and Hipparchos (Ἵππαρχος), after Peisistratos' death, but replaced by the foundations of a grander structure. Hippias was expelled in 510 BC, and the project abandoned for three hundred years. The project--which was epic in scale--was seen as hubristic and bad form. Aristotle wrote about it in his Politics:

"Another art of the tyrant is to sow quarrels among the citizens; friends should be embroiled with friends, the people with the notables, and the rich with one another. Also he should impoverish his subjects; he thus provides against the maintenance of a guard by the citizen and the people, having to keep hard at work, are prevented from conspiring. The Pyramids of Egypt afford an example of this policy; also the offerings of the family of Cypselus, and the building of the temple of Olympian Zeus by the Peisistratidae, and the great Polycratean monuments at Samos; all these works were alike intended to occupy the people and keep them poor." (Part XI)

The temple project was revived from 174 BC to 164 BC, when King Antiochus IV Epiphanes, who presented himself as the earthly embodiment of Zeus, changed the design and put builders to work. The project halted again after his death. What followed was a period of disarray with looting, some minor attempts at restoration, and lots of neglect, until the project was finally completed in the second century AD, by Roman emperor Hadrian.

In 267, the temple was badly damaged during the Herulian sack of the city, and very few--if any--attempt was made to restore it. By 425, the worship of the Hellenic and Roman Gods was banned by Christian emperor Theodosius II, and the temple was slowly dismantled for building materials.

Even in its half finished state, Peisistratus and those who came after him, held a festival at the structure: the Olympieia, celebrated on the 19th of Mounikhion. For how long the festival was celebrated is unclear, but it died out somewhere during the reign of Hellas--most likely after the death of the Peisistratidae--before being brought back in the second century BC, as the temple was completed. The festival was a military one and featured a procession and contests by the Athenian cavalry. Also attested are large scale sacrifices of bulls to Olympian Zeus.

You will find the ritual for the event here and you can join the community page here.
I recently wrote how I visited the Acropolis in Athens when I was tiny. Someone messaged me asking how tiny and why I was there. I was there on vacation and I was TINY! I visited the country in 1995 and 1998, when I was ten and thirteen, respectively. Here are some family snap shots of that trip for your enjoyment!

Mini-me in front of the Parthenon (Athens, 1995)

Beautiful Athens, with its temples and statue of Athena (1995)

Mini-me with a member of the presidential guard (who is not allowed to move and of whom everyone who has ever visited Athens has a picture like this) (1995)

A wonderful and kind Orthodox priest who watched over a tiny temple way on top of a hill on the island of Crete. I remember this place--and him--vividly. I was very impressed by the way we were made to wear the robes you see hanging on hooks by the door before we were allowed to enter, and the sober sanctuary itself. We stayed for hours, although we were originally headed somewhere else. He had a donkey that I fed and he also tended to a field of olive trees. It was so hot that even the priest wished he could wear shorts. (Crete, 1995)

I don't remember, exactly, where this was, but it must have been somewhere around Thessaloniki. I remember this village having a square with a very old, very big, tree that you could stand in, because it was somewhat hollowed out. (1998)

A tiny fishing village around Thessaloniki. Watching a chef kill and clean a freshly caught squid in the warm afternoon sun. (1998)

A beach on that same vacation, driving my mother nuts by jumping the rocks. (1998)

I want to go back so badly. I was too small to really appreciate what I saw and experienced. I have incredibly fond memories of it all, and I saw so very much--most of which I still remember--but I would have such a different perspective these days. I would go for such different reasons and with so much more knowledge. It's impossible not to long for another chance to connect with the Theoi. So, one day, I will go back and visit the country properly, as a Hellenist, visiting the country of my Gods. May Zeus grant clear skies as I fly. 
A team of divers from Sidon has discovered the remains of what appears to be 11 ancient Hellenic ships thought to date from the third century B.C., a statement released by the group Tuesday said.
The team was led by Mohammad al-Sarji, head of the Lebanese Union of Professional Divers and director of the Sidon Diving Academy.

The ships were "probably involved in the campaign of Alexander the Great, who tried to enter and occupy the city of Tyre in 322 B.C. by building a road extending from the beach to the city walls of the island," Sarji said, according to the Sidon Diving Academy statement.

Professor of archaeology at the Lebanese University Jaafar Fadlallah, who has been conducting research on the site, told The Daily Star how remains from the over 2,000-year-old boats could tell academics more about the circumstances of their destruction.

"The spread of broken pottery on the seafloor suggests that the goods were aboard a group of Greek ships on their way to the city of Tyre ... when a storm destroyed the boats and scattered their contents across the ocean floor. We know that the Greek ships traveled in groups of 11, and the quantity of pottery suggests this was a full group of ships."

The main center of Tyre had been a heavily fortified island, forcing Alexander the Great to build a causeway allowing him to breach the fortifications after laying siege to the city for seven months.
Sarji expressed belief that the ships would have transported the stones required to create the road. The ships may have sunk due to the weight of the load combined with high waves and strong winds, he said.

"It is known that Alexander the Great besieged the island for several months, trying to storm it in many ways but without merit. In the end, he built a road from the mainland to the island which arrived on the [city’s] southeast side. He broke down the walls, entered and destroyed the city completely and took its inhabitants captive."

Fadlallah said exploration work had been underway on the site for three months but the excavation and documentation of items would take much longer.

"On land you can work whenever you want. But underwater, you can only work for periods of two hours at a time, so this work will take a long time."

Sarji called on the Directorate General of Antiquities to begin work excavating the site and documenting the finds.
I don't frequent Patheos, so I'm always grateful when someone points me to an article on there that is a must-read. Angelo Nasios recently wrote about "The heart of Hellenism," and it's a beautiful piece that reflects everything Elaion is about. I'll post the introduction here. Go read the rest over at Patheos, please.

"Are you waiting for an invitation to worship a God? If so, please stop – go worship! I say this because I have noticed that many pagans have a tendency to wait for the “call” to worship or, as many say, to “work with a God.” Some avoid certain Gods out of a notion that there is no connection between them and a particular God. I read one time how someone said they could not pray to Athena since they were ‘dedicated’ to another God. All of this is deeply problematic and within Hellenism could be understood as un-Hellenic behavior."

https://www.patheos.com/blogs/agora/2019/04/hearth-of-hellenism-are-you-waiting-for-an-invitation
Hera, Athena, and Iris in the Trojan War, attributed to Jacques Reattu. Image via Wikimedia.







The Mounikhia (Μουνιχιας), the festival after which the month was named, is celebrated on the sixteenth of Mounichion. On this day of the full moon, Artemis Mounikhia (Αρτεμις Μουνυχια) was honored at the hill of Munikhia, for granting the Hellenes victory in the Battle of Salamis (Ναυμαχία τῆς Σαλαμῖνος).

During the festival, young girls walked in procession to the temple on top of the hill carrying green boughs, while the rest of the celebrants followed, carrying special cakes called 'amphiphontes' ('shining all round’). These round white cakes were adorned with dadia (little torches)--lit candle--and were supposed to represent the full moon. A she-goat is also attested as a sacrifice.

During this festival, an amphiphon was sacrificed to Artemis. It was a cheese pie on which candles were lit. Most likely, the amphiphon was a type of popanon; this is a large, round, flat cake with one or more, upright, protruding, knobs made from flour and cheese. The flat version of the cake, the popanon kathemenon was offered to Artemis, amongst others, as well as one with twelve knobs. We've seen this before for the Delphinia.

If you want to learn more about the festival and its history, please read this blog post.

To honour Artemis on this day, Elaion is organizing a PAT ritual. Will you be celebrating the Mounikhia with us? There will be two times: just after your dusk on April 20th, or at our regular 10 a.m. EDT on April 21st. As always, we hope you will join us at your oikos to honour Artemis, our eternal protector. You can join the community page here and find the ritual here.