There are many festival cycles in the ancient Hellenic festival calendar. Some are related to cults, like the Eleusinian or Dionysian Mysteries, some tied to the weather and other to the harvest. Of the non-Attic festivals, we have very little knowledge available, let alone of the cycles. But I recently came across a set of festivals tied to the barley growth cycle and I have been fascinated ever since. Today, I would like to share the findings of my research.

Agriculture was the foundation of the Ancient Hellenic economy. Nearly 80% of the population was involved in this activity. The Mediterranean climate is characterized by two seasons: the first dry and hot, from Mounichion to Metageitnion (April to September) when river beds tended to dry up, the second is humid and marked by often violent rain storms brought in by west winds, with mild, frost free temperatures.

During the early part of Hellenic history, as shown in the Odyssey, Hellenic agriculture and diet was based on cereals: barley (κριθαί, kritaí), durum wheat (πύρος, pýros), and, less commonly, millet or common wheat. The generic term sitos (σῖτος), usually translated as wheat, could in fact designate any type of cereal grain. In reality, 90% of cereal production was barley. Even if the ancients were aware of the better nutritional value of wheat, the growing of barley was less demanding and more productive. Various attempts have been made to calculate Attican grain production in the period, but results have not been conclusive.

It seems that rituals were held for each stage in the development of the barley crop beginning with the Proerosia (before sowing), followed by the Khloaia (sprouting), then the Kalamaia (shooting of stalks), the Antheia (blossoming), and ending with the Thalysia (first-fruit offering). The Plerosia (fulfillment and satiation) was perhaps connected to this cycle as well.

To date these festivals, we must look at the growth cycle of barley in a Mediterranean climate. In modern times, it takes fall-planted barley about 60 days after spring growth begins to mature, for a total of about three months growth time. We have ancient records by botanist Theophrastos that attest that--except in Khalkeia on Rhodes where they sowed wheat and barley together in the autumn, then harvested the barley early and sowed more which they reaped 'with the remaining crops'--barley in his time took seven to eight months to ripen (and wheat a bit longer). If the Proerosia--as a pre-sowing festival--was held in what roughly equates to (mid) October, this cycle would extend to Skirophorion, or (late) Thargelion in a good year.

Interestingly enough, we don't have an attested harvest festival on the calendar for either month. The closest we come is a sacrifice to Demeter Khloe on the 6th of Thargelion--too early for this purpose, nor the 'right' epithet. 'Khloe' (Χλοη) means 'Green'; and epithet of Demeter the protectress of the green fields. Not a sowing festival, as the straw of fully matured barley will be brittle and golden in color. The other option is the Skirophoria--which is, indeed, a festival often associated with this the harvest cycle.

The Skiraphoria was one of the few days when the women of ancient Athens would gather in public to honor Demeter and bless the harvest. They refused to sleep with the men on this day and took part in a very odd tradition: casting piglets down into a chasm where they were left to rot until the Stenia. In short, it was not a harvest festival as such, but a post-harvest festival with the purpose to make the ground fertile for the next cycle. Connected, yes--all festivals were connected, especially those of Demeter--but not solely and directly linked to the barley harvest.

I propose the entire growth cycle of the barley took place between the Proerosia and the Skiraphoria, so between 6 Pyanepsion and 12 Skirophorion. We have one other thing going for us in dating the remainder: we know the modern day growth cycle of winter barley.

Barley goes through four stages of development: Tillering, stem extension, heading, and ripening. the Khloaia would have most likely been celebrated very early on, at the start of the tillering stage. The Kalamaia was most likely also celebrated early on, when the shoots grow into stalks (kalamos is a reed or cane). I would place this during the stage of stem extension. The Antheia would have been celebrated in the 'heading' stage, when the barley flowers, and the Thalysia during ripening, just before the harvest.

So when are these stages? Sprouting depends greatly on the moment of planting--as do all stages--but a safe guestimation is late October. Early tillering tends to take place by the end of November. By mid April, stem elongation tends to take place. Flowering takes place around mid to late May. Winter barley is harvested in June in warmer climates like the Mediterranean. Translating this to the ancient Hellenic calendar, here are my best guesses for the dating of the festivals within the months:

Proerosia: 6 Pyanepsion
Khloaia: (late) Pyanepsion / (early) Maimakterion
Kalamaia: (late) Maimakterion
(Plerosia: 5 Poseideon)
Antheia: (early) Thargelion
Thalysia: (early) Skirophorion

Can we, then, determine actual dates? No. There is a clear reason for this: it depended on the year when the barley reached the desired development stage. This could be earlier or later than a set date. As it was not outside the realm of the ancient Hellenic religion to set dates for floating events, here are my suggestions should you want to observe this cycle, based on existing and known festivals and the research provided above:

Proerosia: 6 Pyanepsion
Khloaia: 6 Maimakterion
Kalamaia: 24 Maimakterion
(Plerosia: 5 Poseideon)
Antheia: 6 Thargelion
Thalysia: 6 Skirophorion

If you look at the ancient Hellenic calendar, you can see that the attested festivals Demeter often fall on a sixth day, or a multiple of it. This is why the Khloaia is placed as such, as well as the Kalamaia and the Thalysia. The Antheia is placed on the previously mentioned 6th of Thargelion as there is already an attested sacrifice to Demeter Khloe that matches very well.

I will most likely revisit this theory at a later date, if and when more information becomes available. Feel free to comment on this theory; I would love the input.