The months of late fall and early winter are relatively light on the festival agenda--Maimakterion, the month we are in now, wasn't even on the sacrificial calendar of Erkhia, for example. This could have at least three reasons: It's getting cold and wet out and the ancient Hellenes held their rituals outdoors, most of the harvesting was done so food was assured or there was nothing that could be done to decrease the shortage, and with the fall of winter, warfare came to a halt; the seas were too rough to go on campaigns and it would soon be too cold to exist comfortably in a war camp. Seeing as these two latter two reasons were the major ones to have festivals, these months are quiet ones. Elaion will host a PAT ritual for the Pompaia November 28, at the usual 10 AM EST.


Let's start with something obvious we do not know about the Pompaia: the actual date of the festival. Parke (in 'Festivals of the Athenians', page 96) states that the Pompaia in honor of Zeus Meilichios was held during the last third of Maimakterion which would be on or after 20 Maimakterion. Parke cites the treatise on the Pompaia by Polemon of Ilion so we're fairly confident he is correct on the date.

What we do know is that the Pompaia was not originally celebrated by the people of Athens, but solely by its priests. Potentially, it was only celebrated by the priests of Zeus. It was linked to purification. It was one of the festivals that, by Classical times, had already lost much of its original meaning, but which was repeated year after year because it had always been repeated year after year--and in general these had been good years. Not having the rite on the calendar could have devastating effects, so it was performed.

The Pompaia followed the Maimakteria during which a sheep was most likely sacrificed and the fleece collected and cleaned. During the Pompaia a second procession took place with the fleece. The fleece--the 'Diòs Koidion', as it was called--was said to have purifying and other magical qualities that would rub off on he who interacted with it, if he stood on it with his left foot. In fact, a sheep skin was used in the Eleusinian Mysteries in this fashion to absolve those who had a lot of guilt to carry around--or a lot of grief. The Homeric Hymn to Demeter mentions her sitting down in a chair covered by a fleece, and there is also artwork of initiates shrouded in a fleece.

The sheep skin was most likely not connected to Zeus at the start of the practice; as we have seen, it had much stronger ties to other deities. The Pompaia rite simply called for a sheep skin. The connection with Zeus most likely happened through assimilation: the rite fell in a month where people prepared for winter and where the weather got harsher. As such, Zeus had a major impact on the inhabitants of Athens; he controls the weather after all. The sheep from which the skin was used became sacrificed to Him as an appeasement, and then the ritually charged skin made its way through the city.

In the same fashion, the kērukeion (κηρύκειον)--better known as the caduceus--the snake-entwined staff that was the symbol of Hermes, was carried through the city. Most likely Hermes was not part of the actual rite; the kērukeion, like the Diòs Koidion, was a powerful symbol which was used to offer protection and purification to the city now winter was upon them. After all, the kērukeion was said to ward off all evil--and the cold, dark, days of winter most certainly had those. Hermes was added through the procession solely by association, but it is doubtful that He also received an animal sacrifice.

The Pompaia--meaning 'to exorcise'--was not popular, and in general these minor festivals were performed by the priests, for the city, without its inhabitants taking part. A small group of priests most likely walked the city with the objects and those who came upon the group would have said their prayers, spoke their wishes, and paid their respects. Yet, they were not included in the ceremony. This rite fell to the priests, so they could ask the Gods to continue placing their blanket of protection over the city.

As we have no ancient priests of Zeus hanging around, we take this responsibility upon ourselves instead. Will you join us on November 26, at 10 AM EST? You can join the community here and download the ritual here.
I promised to stop posting about the new Assassin's Creed, but goodness, they did well capturing an ideal ancient Hellas! I came across this video yesterday and had to share. Could someone take me there, please? 

 

Assassin's Creed is a franchise centered on an action-adventure video game series developed by Ubisoft. It depicts a centuries-old struggle pitting the Assassins, who fight for peace and free will, against the Templars, who believe peace comes through control of humanity. The series features historical fiction mixed with real-world historical events and figures. The series took inspiration from the novel Alamut by the Slovenian writer Vladimir Bartol, while building upon concepts from the Prince of Persia series.
Two highly prized ancient coins from the times of Alexander the Great were seized when a Palestinian man attempted to smuggle them into Israel from the Gaza Strip through the Erez Border Crossing. The ancient coins were dated to 325-323 BC.

 

The coins are made of silver and are equivalent to the tetradrachm, an Ancient Hellenic silver coin. They were coined during the late days of Alexander the Great’s reign, or shortly after his death.

One was coined in Babylon—modern day Iraq—and the other in Amphipolis, an Athenian colony in modern day Greece. The two coins are highly prized and sought after and are of vast historical and cultural importance.

This isn’t the first attempt to smuggle coins into Israel from Gaza. In July 2017, a Palestinian man entering Israel was caught carrying four coins from the time of Alexander the Great.

Alexander the Great, 356-323 BC, was the King of Macedonia and is considered one of the greatest leaders in history. He conquered the land of Israel and Egypt without encountering any major resistance. He established a city named after him in Egypt—Alexandria—and then returned to Syria and Mesopotamia, where he famously beat the Persian King Darius in the battle of Gaugamela in 331 BC. In 323 BC, at age 33, Alexander died of a fever, after conquering vast lands from Europe and all the way into India. His empire was split to three after he died and never returned to its former glory.
The Maimakteria is one of those festivals not a lot has survived about. We know it was in honor of Zeus Maimaktes, the Blustering, and that it was connected to the weather and protection of crops. Protecting our crops is a desire we have to this day so we will celebrate the Maimakteria, regardless. Will you join us on November 24th, at the usual 10 am EST?


The months of late fall and early winter are relatively light on the festival agenda. This could have at least three reasons: It's getting cold and wet out and the ancient Hellenes held their rituals outdoors, most of the harvesting was done so food was assured or there was nothing that could be done to decrease the shortage, and with the fall of winter, warfare came to a halt; the seas were too rough to go on campaigns and it would soon be too cold to exist comfortably in a war camp. Seeing as these two latter two reasons were the major ones to have festivals, these months are quiet ones. In the Athenian calendar, only two festivals are attested to take place this month: the Maimakteria and the Pompaia.

Most likely, the Maimakteria was connected to the Pompaia, which took place at a later date in the month. I say 'a later date' because we are not sure of the dating. Parke (in 'Festivals of the Athenians', page 96) states that the Pompaia in honor of Zeus Meilichios was held during the last third of Maimakterion which would be on or after 20 Maimakterion. Parke cites the treatise on the Pompaia by Polemon of Ilion so we're fairly confident he is correct on the date. He also states that the Maimakteria took place 'mid-month'. The sixteenth is as viable a date as any other around this time.

The Pompaia was linked to purification. During this rite a white sheep's fleece--the 'Diòs Koidion', as it was called--was placed on the ground and the priests who took part in the rite stood on it with their left foot to be purified and blessed. We believe the Maimakteria was when this sheep was sacrificed.

If the rite followed the standard practice of Hellenic ritual, the sheep was led to the altar--most likely that of Zeus--in procession and then sacrificed. The animal was skinned and the fleece cleaned. The Diòs Koidion was said to have purifying and other magical qualities that would rub off on he who interacted with it, if he stood on it with his left foot.

The sheep skin was most likely not connected to Zeus at the start of the practice. The connection with Zeus most likely happened through assimilation: the rite fell in a month where people prepared for winter and where the weather got harsher. As such, Zeus had a major impact on the inhabitants of Athens; he controls the weather after all. The sheep from which the skin was used became sacrificed to Him as an appeasement, and then the ritually charged skin made its way through the city.

We hope you will join us for the Maimakteria on November 24. You can download the ritual here and join the community for the event here.
Today we will look into the little talked about practice of the washing of feet within the context of xenia. It's something I have been curious about ever since I first read the Odysseia. 


When I first read the Odysseia, I was struck by a two of the later passages, where Odysseus is home, but in disguise, waiting to take his revenge on the suiters of his wife Penelope. During these passages, Penelope offers xenia to Odysseus, disguised as beggar.

"But, come, my maids, wash the strangers’ feet and make his bed, with blankets and bright rugs over the bedstead, so he may rest till golden-throned Dawn in warmth and comfort. In the morning early, bathe and oil him, so he is ready to breakfast in the hall, sitting by Telemachus’ side. And if any man vexes him and pains his spirit, so much the worse for that man’s prospects: he’ll gain nothing here, rage as he might."

A little later on, Odysseus has refused the washing of his feet by anyone but Eurykleia, his nursemaid whom is still alive, and living at the house. Penelope agrees to have the old woman wash Odysseus' feet, which she does while she laments the fate of Odysseus:

"Perhaps the women of some great house mocked at him in a far-off foreign land, just as these shameless hussies here mock you, sir.  You will not let them wash your feet, for fear of their insults, but wise Penelope, Icarius’ daughter, knowing my willingness, has asked me to wash them. So I shall wash your feet for Penelope’s sake and yours, while my heart is stirred with sadness. But listen to one thing I must say. Many a long-suffering traveller have we welcomed here, but never a man resembling another as you resemble Odysseus in looks and voice – even your feet.’

Then resourceful Odysseus answered her, saying: ‘That is what everyone says who has met us both, old woman, that we are very alike, as you remark.’

With this, the old woman, preparing to wash his feet, poured cold water into the shining basin then added hot. Odysseus swiftly sat down by the hearth, and turned towards the shadows, though he had a sudden premonition that as she handled him she would notice his scar and the truth would be out. As she approached and began to wash him, so it was: she immediately knew the scar Odysseus had received from a white-tusked boar, while hunting on Parnassus, when visiting his mother’s father, noble Autolycus, the greatest of all in thievery and oath-making.

[...]

It was this scar the old woman felt as she passed her hands over his leg, and recognising it she let his leg fall. The bronze rang as his foot struck the basin, upsetting it, and spilling the water on the ground. Joy and pain filled her heart at the same moment, her eyes filled with tears and her voice caught in her throat. She touched Odysseus’ face and said: ‘It is Odysseus, it must be. Child, I did not know you, until my hands had touched my master’s limbs."

Acient evidence suggests there were three major contexts in which foot-washing was important: body hygiene, xenia, and religion. The first is easy to grasp: the ancient Hellenes rarely wore shoes. They tended to travel barefoot, or with light, open sandals. Boots were only for the rich. As roads were unpaved, and often dusty in the dry and hot climate, a traveler's feet tended to get dusty and dirty. Upon arrival at their destination, it was customary--and part of xenia--to offer the traveler a chance to wash their feet. Those with female serfs could offer the service of one of them to have their guest wash the guest's feet for them. In cases where no serfs were precent, in case of very special guests--especially those above the host in standing--or between great friends, the host could offer to wash the feet of his guest for them.

Foot-washing was often the chore of female serfs, and was considered lowly work. For the ancient Hellenes, honor was very important. To wash the feet of those below themselves in standing was a breach of societal rules and would most likely be looked upon negatively, or even outright refused. I have found no ancient texts to support this, but I suspect that washing the feet of one of equal standing would be done only between dear friends, perhaps between those who had fought together and saved each other's lives. I suspect that, if this is true, this would extend also to the son(s) of one of the men: the son of the deceased host would extend these honors to the family guest to whom the father was indebted.

At home, washing the feet of elderly family members was considered a form of respect. Aristophanes, in The Wasps (Sphēkes/Σφῆκες ), mentions the pride and joy felt by a rich man when his daughter washes and anoints his feet upon his return from a day of hard work:

"But I am forgetting the most pleasing thing of all. When I return home with my pay, everyone runs to greet me because of my money. First my daughter bathes me, anoints my feet, stoops to kiss me and, while she is calling me "her dearest father," fishes out my triobolus with her tongue; then my little wife comes to wheedle me and brings a nice light cake; she sits beside me and entreats me in a thousand ways, "Do take this now; do have some more." All this delights me hugely." 

Women rarely traveled--if at all--so as far as I can tell, no record of the washing of feet of women, or between women, has survived. I also suspect that this has to do with modesty: in an age where women often went around baring one or two breasts, the ankles and feet were almost always covered up. To bare one's feet--to a man--might have been a sign of seduction. In the rare event of a woman traveling, she would travel with her husband, father, brothers, and/or female serfs. Once arriving at her destination, she would undoubtedly have been allowed and encouraged to wash up and change her clothing. If she had serfs, she would be assisted by them. Else, serfs of the hosting household might have lend a hand, or even the wife of the host. I do wonder if they would ever was the feet of one another.

It seems it was also considered unclean and disrespectful to the Theoi to enter a temple with unwashed feet. Some temples, therefor, offered special basins which a traveler could make use of. It's difficult to find proper information about this, however, because the washing of feet in a religious context is now considered a near-solely Abrahamic thing, and bible quotes are far easier to find than ancient Hellenic texts on the subject. I'm still picking apart Christian and Jewish writings for clues about the Hellenic practice.

I am not sure why this subject interests me so. There is something so very intimate and humbling in the practice; it speaks to me in a way that goes beyond the intellectual. I imagine that having your feet washed upon arrival would make you feel both welcome and respected--as that was what it was, a sign of respect. I would also imagine it would be wonderful to bestow a honor like this to a valued guest. If shared between host and guest--or simply very good friends, or even lovers--it would strengthen the bond between them, and be a wonderful way to practice strong xenia. I think it's a beautiful practice, although not very applicable in modern Hellenismos. Agreements could be made about this, though, like the giving of gifts--another vital part of xenia.
Before we get started, a little note. I'm sorry I'm sharing so much archaeological news instead of other things related to Hellenismos or ancient Hellas. I've been absolutely swamped and these posts come easiest. I'm getting a bit more breathing room in my days, so hopefully, I can go back to posting all types of posts soon!


Greece’s culture ministry said Tuesday that archaeologists have located the first tangible remains of a lost city that the ancient Hellenes believed was first settled by Trojan captives of war after the sack of Troy. A ministry statement said excavations from September to early October in the southern Greek region of the Peleponnese turned up “proof of the existence of the ancient city” of Tenea, until now known mostly from ancient texts.

Finds included walls and clay, marble or stone floors of buildings, as well as household pottery, a bone gaming die and more than 200 coins dating from the 4th century B.C. to late Roman times.
A pottery jar containing the remains of two human fetuses was also found amid the foundations of one building. That was unusual, as the ancient Greeks typically buried their dead in organized cemeteries outside the city walls.

Lead archaeologist Elena Korka, who has been excavating in the area since 2013, told The Associated Press that her team had only been digging in the rich cemeteries surrounding Tenea until this year. In one, antiquities smugglers dug up two remarkable 6th century B.C. marble statues of young men in 2010 and tried to sell them for 10 million euros.

Excavation work continues on the cemeteries, located near the modern village of Hiliomodi about 100 kilometers (60 miles) southwest of Athens. Archaeologists discovered nine burials there this year, finding gold, copper and bone jewellery, pottery and coins dating from the 4th century B.C. to Roman times.

The citizens seem to have been remarkably affluent. The city probably did well out of trade, standing on a key route between the major cities of Corinth and Argos in the northeastern Peloponnese.
So far, not much was known about Tenea, apart from ancient references to the reputed link with Troy and to its citizens having formed the bulk of the Greek colonists who founded the city of Syracuse in Sicily. Korka said more should emerge during the excavations, which will continue over coming years.

"(The city) had distinctive pottery shapes with eastern influences, maintained contacts with both east and west ... and had its own way of thinking, which, to the extent that it could, shaped its own policies."

Tenea survived the Roman destruction of neighboring Corinth in 146 B.C., and flourished under Roman rule. It appears to have suffered damage during a Gothic invasion in the late 4th century A.D. and may have been abandoned around the time of Slavic incursions two centuries later.
The Antikythera wreck is a shipwreck from the 2nd quarter of the 1st century BC. It was discovered by sponge divers off Point Glyphadia on the Hellenic island of Antikythera in 1900. The wreck manifested numerous statues, coins and other artefacts dating back to the 4th century BC, as well as the severely corroded remnants of a device that is called the world's oldest known analog computer, the Antikythera mechanism.


The Antikythera mechanism is an ancient analog computer designed to predict astronomical positions and eclipses. The computer's construction has been attributed to the Hellenes and was originally dated to the early 1st century BC. Technological artefacts approaching its complexity and workmanship did not appear again until the 14th century, when mechanical astronomical clocks began to be built in Western Europe.

The mechanism was housed in a wooden box and is made up of bronze gears (that we know of). The mechanism's remains were found as eighty-two separate fragments of which only seven contain any gears or significant inscriptions. Today, the fragments of the Antikythera mechanism are kept at the National Archaeological Museum of Athens.

Since 2012, divers have been returning to Antikythera to scour the steep underwater cliff-face for more treasures. The wreck was severely damaged by explorer Jean-Jacques Cousteau in the 1970s when he hauled a multitude of marble and bronze statues from the seabed. What remains has been scattered about, or tumbled further into the deep.

Now, a new article in the Israeli publication Haaretz has sent a quiver of anticipation around the world. It declared it to be a lost cog from the Anikythera mechanism itself. And, as it carried the sign of a bull — Taurus — it proves the machine was more complex than many dared dream. The bronze disc, however, seemed promising. It had four protrusions, large ‘cog’-like teeth spaced at regular intervals. It’s since been X-rayed and scanned. The new disk, if it belonged to the device could confirm its ability to predict the position of the groups of stars so important to the priests and seers of the era.

But the bull-engraved plate is very unlikely to be part of the device’s complex workings. If the four protrusions were cogs, they’re unusually crude for such a intricate device. Most likely, they were practical attachments for whatever the disc adorned. At best, the bull-disc could have been an ornamental piece attached to the Antikythera Mechanism’s case. But it’s just as likely to have decorated some long-decayed panel of wood, or even priestly robes. Meanwhile, the hunt for more pieces of the mechanism continues.