It's time for a new constellation, and this one is entirely dedicated to two brothers. While there are many twins in Hellenic mythology--Artemis/Apollon, Iphikles/Hēraklēs, Amphion/Zethos, etc., this constellation is almost solely connected to one set of them: Kastor and Polideukes. In fact, the main stars of the constellation are named after them.


Hyginus briefly describes the constellation in his Astronomica, and focusses almost solely on the Dioscuri:

"These stars many astronomers have called Castor and Pollux. They say that of all brothers they were the most affectionate, not striving in rivalry for the leadership, nor acting without previous consultation. As a reward for their services of friendship, Jupiter [Zeus] is thought to have put them in the sky as well-known stars. Neptune [Poseidon], with like intention, has rewarded them for he gave them horses to ride, and power to aid shipwrecked men.
Those who speak of Castor and Pollux add this information, that Castor was slain in the town of Aphidnae, at the time when the Lacedaemonians were fighting the Athenians. Others say that when Lynceus and Idas were attacking Sparta, he perished there. Homer states that Pollux granted to his brother one half of his life, so that they shine on alternate days." [2.22]

The twins were born from Leda, Zeus, and mortal king Tyndareus. One of the twins was mortal, the other immortal, and both hatch from an egg. Accounts vary about who was the mortal one, and who was the immortal one; in some accounts they were even both mortal or immortal. During their lifetimes, the Dioscuri became great heroes, joining Iásōn in securing the Golden Fleece, and they both fought the Calydonian Boar.

I will discuss their mythology better another time, but for now, let me suffice in saying that eventually, they aspired to marry Phoebe and Hilaeira, who were already betrothed to cousins of the Dioscuri, a second set of twin brothers named Lynceus and Idas of Thebes, sons of Tyndareus's brother Aphareus. This sparked a feud between the cousins that left Polideukes the only one standing. He was given the choice by Zeus of spending all his time on Mount Olympus or giving half his immortality to his mortal brother. He opted for the latter, and thus the two divided their time between Olympos and the Underworld.

The Dioscuri were regarded as helpers of mankind and held to be patrons of travelers and sailors. Because they excelled in horseback riding and boxing, they were regarded as the patrons of athletes and athletic contests, and in all capacities, they had shrines throughout Hellas, and were worshipped well into the Roman era. As the twins lived on after death, they became emblems of the Eleusinian Mysteries, and were said to have been initiated into it during their lifetimes.

Hyginus also mentions a few other duos connected to the constellation:

"Others have called them Hercules and Apollo; some, even Triptolemus, whom we mentioned before, and Iasion, beloved of Ceres [Demeter] - both carried to the stars." [2.22]

Hēraklēs and Apollon earned this honor because, when Apollon commanded that Hēraklēs be sold into slavery to atone for the murder of his family, Hēraklēs became enraged and wrestled the Theos for the Delphic tripod. Their match was memorialized amongst the stars as the constellation Gemini.

Triptolemos and Iasion are the last candidates. The two were favorites of the Goddess Demeter. Triptolemos was a hero who first instructed mankind in the art of agriculture, while Iasion was said to be Her lover on the island of Samothrace. Demeter must have immortalized them out of love.

Gemini is visible at latitudes between +90° and −60°, and best visible at 21:00 (9 p.m.) during the month of February.

Ancient Hellas is known across the globe for its vast contributions to the very foundations of our modern world. Western ideals which we sometimes take for granted, such as Democratic rule, as well as what we see today as basic human rights, including the freedom of speech and to form societal organizations, find their origins in ancient Hellenic practices. Millennia ago, these ancient Hellenes concepts managed to reshape the way people viewed the world. However, there are many mysteries concerning the ancient Hellenic world, including the identity of some of its most illustrious members and events which either remain unknown or are controversial. Let’s explore four of these myriad mysteries which continue to cause controversy and disagreements over their very existence.

Was Homer even real?

Known as the scintillatingly brilliant author of two of the most influential pieces of literature in human history, the “Iliad” and the “Odyssey,” Homer has shaped the way generation upon generation has been educated, listening to the tales of bravery and tragedy of Odysseus, Agamemnon and other Hellenic heroes from the past.

But was Homer even real? Numerous scientists throughout the years have raised questions about whether Homer was an actual human being who wrote these stories, or was a fictional character.

Some say that these fascinating historical tales were actually the product of teamwork.

Unless archaeological evidence emerges one day, the “Homeric Question,” as it is known, will remain one of Hellas' most notable mysteries.

The Labyrinth of the Minotaur

Perhaps one of the most famous and most often referred to Hellenic myths focuses on the story of the Minotaur, the incredibly strong and fearsome creature whose nature was half-bull and half-human.

The Minotaur was allegedly held captive in a massive labyrinth created by King Minos on Crete.

However, up to this day, excavations at the site of the ancient Palace of Knossos have not yet revealed anything whatsoever to support the theory that a labyrinth had ever been constructed there.

Scientists have argued that a Labyrinth could not possibly have ever been constructed there since there is no evidence as of yet for such a structure.

However, recent research at a quarry near the Cretan city of Gortyna has raised hopes that the famous Labyrinth might soon be discovered.

Until then, the scientific controversy will continue to exist, offering us another mystery about where, or even if, the Minotaur’s labyrinth was an actual place.

The destruction of the massive statue of Zeus remains a mystery

Acknowledged as one of the seven wonders of the ancient world, the massive statue of Zeus was an exceptional example of the Hellenic art of sculpture. The statue must somehow have been destroyed at some point, but the specifics of this destruction remain vague up to this day.

After the abolition of the Olympic Games in 393 AD, the Temple of Zeus in Olympia declined. A few years later, it was set on fire and the statue was most likely destroyed and broken into pieces at that time.

However, some theories suggest that the statue survived the temple’s destruction. Emperor Theodosius allegedly ordered the transfer of the statue to Constantinople in 390 AD, where he put it in one of the city’s palaces for safekeeping.

Nonetheless, the statue apparently may have mysteriously disappeared a few years later because no one since that time has ever known for sure what happened to it.

Some suggest that a fire broke out in the palace, destroying it.

Others believe that it was transferred somewhere else, making it possible for it to even be intact up to this very day — although that is extraordinarily difficult to imagine.

Unfortunately, no one really knows what happened to one of the great wonders of the ancient world.

The Parthenon is home to many ancient Hellenic mysteries

An architectural landmark that connects the ancient to the contemporary world of today, the Parthenon has been an endless source of fascination, not only for its extraordinary history but also for the manner in which it was constructed and the splendor of the religious processions which once took place there.

Dedicated to the Goddess Athena, who was known as the protector of the city of Athens, the Parthenon still inspires the world with its style, perfect architectural proportions, and stunning beauty.

Massive and impressive by any measure, but still at the same time with an air of humility, it is still unknown exactly what the inside of the Parthenon looked like during ancient times.

The artistic content of the murals which decorated the interior of the temple around the great statue of Athena still remains a hot topic among scientists, who argue about what might have been depicted on those inner walls  — which now do not exist.

One of the predominant theories is that the murals could have been used to show representations of the people who helped build this architectural marvel, as a tribute to the individuals who changed the Athens skyline forever.

But until more solid evidence is found, the inside walls and murals of the Parthenon, like so many other aspects of the ancient world, will remain a mystery.

 It can come as no surprise to you that the ancient Hellenes were often at war. In fact, it was quite common for ancient Hellenic city-states to go to war against each other. For their naval battles, the ancient Hellenes built huge war ships called triremes. A trireme was rowed bij 170 oarsmen, three rows per side, who were either poor citizens or dolos--slaves. A trireme would try to sink an enemy ship by ramming it from the side with its bronze nose. Alternative, they would sail past and allow the soldiers to throw spears at their enemy. Sometimes, however, they threw pots filled with burning liquids, or even poisenous snakes like the Javelin Sand Boa.

The Javelin Sand Boa had not been officially recorded in Italy for 80 years, but a few years ago, sightings by locals suggested that it might still survive in a region of Sicily. Snake experts decided to investigate and found the species, officially known as Eryx jaculus, living in an area of sand dunes and woodland around the resort town of Licata, on the island’s south coast.

The shy, non-venomous snake is not native to Sicily but the researchers think the ancient Hellenes introduced it long ago because it is there in numbers and locals have names for it. The area where it was found is close to the sites of two ancient battles, one in the fifth century BC and the other in the fourth century AD. Gianni Insacco, one of the researchers, told the news agency Ansa:

"The Greeks used to use snakes as projectiles, hurling them at enemy ships before attacking in order to create confusion and fear. In general they used vipers that had had their venom removed. Alternatively they would use similar species, like the sand boa."

The javelin sand boa grows up to 84 cm (33 inches) but is usually 30 to 60 cm (12 to 24 inches) long. Its range is southeastern Europe, Greece, the Balkans, the Caucasus Mountains, into the Middle East and northern Africa. It was first reported in Sicily in the news media in 2006, but the researchers confirmed its presence there in their new study. They found six specimens—three live and three dead, two dead on the road and one drowned in a shaft, and there have been many reports over the years of other sightings.

Global French fashion brand Dior has received approval from Greece’s top archaeological advisory body on Wednesday to do model shots at some of the country’s ancient sites, AFP reported. A ministry official said that the photos will be presented during a runway show in Athens on June 17.

“This is not a runway show at the Acropolis,” the Greek official stressed.

According to AFP, the trip will pay homage to an iconic photo session at the Acropolis 70 years ago for an haute couture collection by Christian Dior.

Shooting locations include the Acropolis, the Odeon of Herodes Atticus, the Ancient Agora in Athens, the temple of Poseidon at Sounio and the temple of Zeus at Nemea.

 In Greek, the term 'Atlantis' means 'island of Atlas' (Ἀτλαντὶς νῆσος), and it may very well have applied to the island of Santorini. It was Plato who brought life--and myth--to Atlantis. According to him, Poseidon fell in love with Cleito, the daughter of Evenor and Leucippe, who bore him five pairs of male twins. The eldest of these, Atlas, was made rightful king of the entire island and the ocean--called the Atlantic Ocean in his honor--and was given the mountain of his birth and the surrounding area to rule over. It was also Plato who wrote that Poseidon made Atlantis--a huge island with a volcano at its center--His home after Zeus, Hades and He divided the world.

Plato's description of Atlantis would have fit the ancient hellenic version of Santorini well. It was a large, mountainous, island, with an active volcano at its center. The large settlement on the island was build around said volcano. Poseidon's influence on the island isn't a stretch of the imagination at all; there was sea and ocean all around and from time to time, the entire island would tremble due to the volcano.

The volcano eruption decimated the settlement, but from what archeologists and scholars have been able to piece together, the settlement was a sight to behold while it stood. It had walls eight meters tall, three story houses, beautiful frescos and a rich economic climate. The volcano eruption preserved much of the ancient city of Akrotiri, despite the huge lagoon the eruption left at the center of the island.

One of Atlantis' marvels was the much-praised and highly valuable metal called 'orichalcum'. It was called 'aurichalcum' by the Romans and is a metal mentioned in several ancient writings, including the story of Atlantis in the Critias dialogue, recorded by Plato. In it, he says:

"Some of their buildings were simple, but in others they put together different stones, varying the colour to please the eye, and to be a natural source of delight. The entire circuit of the wall, which went round the outermost zone, they covered with a coating of brass, and the circuit of the next wall they coated with tin, and the third, which encompassed the citadel, flashed with the red light of orichalcum."

The name derives from the Greek ὀρείχαλκος, oreikhalkos (from ὄρος, oros, mountain and χαλκός, chalkos, copper or bronze), meaning literally 'mountain copper' or 'copper mountain'.

In January 2015, a team of divers have discovered dozens of pieces of ancient metal from a shipwreck, aged 2,600 years, off the coast of Sicily island, in the south of Italy. The lumps of metal were arriving to Gela in southern Sicily, possibly coming from Greece or Asia Minor. The ship that was carrying them was likely caught in a storm and sunk just when it was about to enter the port. They were unlike any metal ever found. Analyzed with X-ray fluorescence, the 39 ingots turned to be an alloy made with 75-80 percent copper, 15-20 percent zinc and small percentages of nickel, lead and iron.

The mining of orichalcum would have made Atlantis (or Santorini) very wealthy as it seems the metal was only mined there, and orichalcum was considered second only to gold in value.

An upcoming animated television series about ancient Hellas will be called “Krapopolis,” Fox Entertainment announced on Monday.

At the company’s upfront presentation, it was also announced that the series would use cutting-edge technology, including blockchain and Non-fungible tokens (NFTs).

The show has been created and executive produced by Dan Harmon, who is no stranger to the TV screen. Emmy-winner Harmon has had highly successful shows in recent history, including “Rick and Morty”, which he co-created, and “Community”, which he created. His newest venture, “Krapopolis”, will be produced by Fox’s animation based studio, named Bento Box Entertainment.

The series is set in ancient Hellas, and is centered on a flawed family of humans, Gods and monsters that tries to run one of the world’s first cities without killing each other. It has broken ground for Fox Entertainment in multiple ways. Not only is this the first scripted show the network is fully financing — and therefore owns in entirety — it is also allowing Fox to venture into new business sectors. Fox Entertainment CEO Charlie Collier said of the new series about Ancient Greece when it was first green-lit:

“We have a Fox Entertainment fully owned and financed, animated show from Dan Harmon at the top of his game that Bento Box will produce, and it will be ours for the broadcast network and to stream on Tubi. The series also is the first to move forward under our broadcast direct model.”

'Krapopolis' is unique because it is the first television show to be curated fully on the blockchain. It is ushering in a new era for television shows as it allows Fox to expand into the NFT business. NFTs are a unit of data which can be stored on a blockchain and act as a guarantee that a digital asset is unique and authentic. They can store assets such as pictures, videos, audio, and other digital files, and cements their status as originals and therefore not interchangeable.

NFTs have ballooned in popularity in 2021, and have been embraced by the art world to allow digital artists to certify and sell the originals of their work on a medium which is generally unfriendly to exclusivity.

With the launch of the show comes the opening of a dedicated digital marketplace by the company. Show-runners will curate digital goods to go along with the show, which will then be sold online. The network will use NFT technology to certify the authenticity of a range of products, including one-of-a-kind character and background art and GIFs, as well as tokens that provide exclusive social experiences for super fans.

 I get a lot of questions from readers, and most of the time, the answers are fairly short. When I feel the question or the reply would be valuable to others as well, I make a post with a collection of them and post them in one go. Today is one of those posts.

"Do you know anyone with UPG into the personality of the river god Achelous or even who works with Greek river gods in general? Also, a popular source on Achelous says his worship was once widespread. I can't anymore detail on this though. I also can't find the source which speaks of the numerous wives and descents of this god. "

I don't think I do, but here is a shout-out to anyone reading this who does! Please get in contact with me so I can link you two...? Thanks! As for His children, Apollonius Rhodius, in the 'Argonautica', ascribes the sirens to Him as offspring:

"And soon they saw a fair island, Anthemoessa, where the clear- voiced Sirens, daughters of Achelous, used to beguile with their sweet songs whoever cast anchor there, and then destroy him. Them lovely Terpsichore, one of the Muses, bare, united with Achelous; and once they tended Demeter's noble daughter [Persephone]still unwed, and sang to her in chorus; and at that time they were fashioned in part like birds and in part like maidens to behold. And ever on the watch from their place of prospect with its fair haven, often from many had they taken away their sweet return, consuming them with wasting desire; and suddenly to the heroes, too, they sent forth from their lips a lily-like voice." [4.885]

Naiad nymphs of springs along the Gulf coast, such as Kastalia at Delphoi, and Peirene in Korinthos, were described as his daughters, as described by Pausanias in his 'Description of Greece':

"You reach, on the right of the way [to the sanctuary of Delphoi, Phokis] the water of Kastalia, which is sweet to drink and pleasant to bathe in . . . Panyassis [epic poet C5th B.C.] who composed an epic poem on Herakles, says that Kastalia was a daughter of Akheloios. For about Herakles he says:--`Crossing with swift feet snowy Parnassos he reached the immortal water of Kastalia, daughter of Akheloios.'" [10.8.9.]

As the largest of the rivers of southern Hellas Achelous was worshipped in many of the countries bordering the Gulf as the God of fresh-water springs. His largest cults were in Athens, Oropos, and Thespia:

Plato, in 'Phaedrus':
"Here, a fair resting-place, full of summer sounds and scents. Here is this lofty and spreading plane-tree [on the banks of the Ilissos river in Attica], and the agnus cast us high and clustering, in the fullest blossom and the greatest fragrance; and the stream which flows beneath the plane-tree is deliciously cold to the feet. Judging from the ornaments and images, this must be a spot sacred to Akheloios and the Nymphai. How delightful is the breeze:--so very sweet; and there is a sound in the air shrill and summerlike which makes answer to the chorus of the cicadae. But the greatest charm of all is the grass, like a pillow gently sloping to the head."

Pausanias, in his 'Description of Greece':
"[In the sanctuary of Amphiaraus in Oropos, Attika :] The altar shows parts . . . the third is to Hestia and Hermes and [the hero] Amphiaraus and the children of Amphilokhos . . . The fifth is dedicated to the Nymphai and Pan, and to the rivers Akheloos and Kephisos." [1.34.3.]

Philostratus the Elder, in 'Imagines':
"A youth [Narkissos] just returned from the hunt stands over a pool . . . The cave is sacred to Akheloos and the Nymphai, and the scene is painted realistically. For the statues are of a crude art and made from a local stone; some of them are worn away by time, others have been mutilated by children of cowherds or shepherds while still young and unaware of the presence of the god [i.e. Dionysos]." [1.23]

I would also like to point you to this page on about the cult of the Potamoi, the river Gods.

"I read your blog and found a blog post containing a video and information about ancient hellenic clothing. I would like to make a new himation as I am unhappy with my short one I made. I would like to wrap it around my body and, if I like to, even be able to cover my head with a piece of it, so I want to ask how large and how broad the piece of cloth should be to do this."

Let me give you the base measurements of all clothing items: the cloth for the chiton has to be your own height. For a peplos, the cloth has to be your height plus at least 18" (this will be the part you fold over). Both clothing items need to be twice your 'wingspan' in width. The himation was a rectangle of various sizes--in essence, if it's long or short enough for you to do with what you want, it is correct. For me, I try to choose a piece of cloth that reaches below my ass once I have pulled it up over my head. Again, this depends on your height.

"Have you heard about the great Hellenic mystic, Neopythagorean and possibly the prototype of Jesus Christ, Apollonius of Tyana?"

As far as I am aware, Neo-Pythagoreanism was a school of Hellenistic philosophy which revived Pythagorean doctrines. Ancient Hellenic philosophy is not my strongest knowledge base, but if I remember well, it focussed on spiritual purity and 'mind over matter'-type of behaviour in order to reach it. Religiously, I think its biggest influence/difference with mainstream thought was that prayer was more important than outward actions like sacrifice in worshipping the Theoi.
Apollonius of Tyana was a Roman philosopher and a Neo-Pythagorean. As he lived at the time of Christ and his teachings were partly similar, the two were compared by (Christian) writers from about the 4th century AD on. Both figures fit the mythic hero archetype, after all, and that archetype, specifically, is found in much of (Hellenic) mythology. Other examples include Theseus, Perseus, and Zeus himself. Outside of Hellenic mythology, Robin Hood comes to mind.
So yet, I have heard of both, but both are just a little outside of my usual time period of interest :)
"Could people like Hypatia (a wondorous Alexandrian female philosopher, mathematician and astronomer) or emperor Julian be considered the defenders of our faith or even martyrs, as some, like Hypatia, died in the name of ancient wisdom, culture and the gods from the hands of the Christians?"
I have trouble answering this question, and I will tell you why. Hypatia was definitely murdered by Christians, but she was murdered for her social associations, not for trying to re-institute Hellenic worship or life. In a feud between Orestes, the prefect of Alexandria and Cyril, the Bishop of Alexandria over the regulation of Jewish dancing exhibitions in Alexandria, she was blamed for influencing Orestes not to reconcile with Cyril after one of 500 monks who resided in the mountains of Nitria, and who sided with Cyril,  struck Orestes in the head with a rock. Whether she had was besides the point. The backlash was on the Christians, as the actions by the Christian mob that killed her was widely criticized.
Emperor Julian did try to reconcile Christianity and Paganism. It's important to realize though that in the Roman empire during his two years of ruling (361-363 AD), there was no consensus about a state religion. Followers of many religious traditions lived together, creating a religious melting pot. Julian was a follower of the ancient ways and he tried to push for a broader adoption of those. During his lifetime, neither pagan nor Christian ideology won out, and the merits of all were greatly debated. What Julian did accomplish--and that was a major shift--was that he made Paganism a religion, where previously it had been a collection of traditions. As such, it could be 'pitted' against Christianity. Emperor Julian was committed to fostering religions other than Christianity, and that included Judaism. Because of this, the Jews came to call him 'Julian the Hellene', as in that time the term 'Hellene' was given the meaning of 'pagan' by the early Christian church. Julian died during the war with the Persians in an effort to further the rule of the Roman empire.
Yes, these people were heavily influenced by either Hellenic thought or Hellenic tradition (logical for the time they lived in). They were also some of the later people we know of who did so. That said there are probably many people we haven't heard of who believed the same. These people were not people who spent 24 hours a day, seven days a week promoting Hellenic thought. They promoted Hellenic thought, but it was just the way they lived their lives. I think anyone can be a personal hero, or even one of a tradition, if their actions are inspiring to people who hear their story or live it up close. As such, yes, I think Hypatia and Julian can be heroes. Are they martyrs...? Per definition, a martyr is somebody who suffers persecution and/or death for advocating, renouncing, refusing to renounce, and/or refusing to advocate a belief or cause of either a religious or secular nature. Neither qualifies per definition, but if you want to view them as symbols of exceptional leadership and heroism, then you are free to do so. They did live with the principle teachings of ancient Hellenic thought and religion, so in that way, they can definitely be seen as inspirational. All I would ask is to not forget about all the regular people no one wrote about but who lived their life in the same way.

It's time for another constellation, and we are moving on to one of the larger ones: the sixth largest of Ptolemy's constellations, in fact. This one represents something that definitely exists: the Po river in northern Italy, or the Istros of Hungry, which was located in the mythical northern land of Hyperborea. The ancient Hellenes called the river 'Eridanos', and that's the name of the constellation as well.

Eridanos (Ηριδανος) is a river God, and one mostly identified with the story of Hēlios and His son Phaëton, which I will come to in a bit. This association comes from a possible translation of the name: 'early burnt'. Phaëton's myth, in fact, is the only myth this river s identified with, but not even in a big way. Lets look at the myth first:

The most famous piece of mythology concerning Hēlios regards His son Phaëthon (Φαέθων), by Klymene (Κλυμένη). The story is told to us by Ovid, a roman poet. In it, Klymene boasts to Phaëthon that his father is the sun God Himself, and so, Phaëthon goes up to Olympus to confirm. To prove His paternity, Hēlios swears of the river Styx to give Phaëthon anything he desires. Phaëthon grabs this opportunity to demand of his father to let him drive his golden chariot the next time the sun rises.

Hēlios tries to talk His son out of it, claiming that not even Zeus would attempt to drive the chariot, as it is hot with fire and the horses wild and fire breathing. Phaëthon will hear none of it, and so Hēlios must let him get on. He rubs his son's body with magical oil that will protect him from the heat and as Eos and Apollon leave the gates, so does Phaëthon.

The four horses of the chariot--Pyrois, Aeos, Aethon, and Phlegon--sensed Phaëthon's weaker hand and became virtually unsteerable. First, Phaëthon drove them too high, and the Earth below cooled and the people suffered. Then, he flew too low and entire cities burned, lakes and rivers dried up, and even the seas were affected. Mighty Poseidon tried to stop Phaëthon, but had to flee from the heat. It was Zeus who threw His lightning bolt and killed Phaëthon. In some versions of the myth, Phaëthon's burning body landed in the Eridanos river. The following example is from Philostratus the Elder's 'Imagines', a Greek writer who lived in the third century AD:

"Now the youth is thrown from the chariot and is falling headlong – for his hair is on fire and his breast smouldering with the heat; his fall will end in the river Eridanus and will furnish this stream with a mythical tale." [1.11]

Hygenius identifies Eridanos with another river: the Nile. From his 'Astonomica':

"Some call this the Nile, though many call it Ocean. Those who advocate the Nile point out that it is correctly so called on account of the great length and usefulness of that River, and especially because below the sign is a certain star, shining more brightly than the rest, called Canopus. Canopus is an island washed by the river Nile." [II.32]

Eridanos is visible at latitudes between +32° and −90°, and best visible at 21:00 (9 p.m.) during the month of December.
On the 19th of Thargelion, an Athenian festival for the Thrakian Goddess Bendis (Βενδις) was held. This festival, which went on into the night of the 20th of the month, was designed especially for Bendis, who was introduced to Attika by Thrakian métoikoi who took the opportunity to introduce their Goddess into the Athenian pantheon after the Oracle of Dodona decreed that Thrakian worshippers should be granted the right for ground to build a sanctuary on. Their shrine to Her was built on the hill Mounykhia, near to the temple of Artemis Mounikhia, with whom She was identified. The temenos was completed somewhere before 429 BC, and at least one Thrakian festival to the Goddess was held before the Athenians got involved. Would you like to involve yourself with Her worship as well? Elaion is hosting a PAT ritual for Her, Artemis and Hekate on May 31st at 11 am EDT.

The Goddess Bendis originated in Thrake, to the north of Hellas. Her cult was imported into Athens around 432 BC, at the outbreak of the Peloponnesian War between Athens and Sparta. Athens had always had close ties with Thrake, but besides the oracle's decree, it seems that the acceptance of the foreign cult into the city at this time was probably connected with Athens' military alliance with the Odrysian Thrakians, who supplied mercenaries throughout the war.

The Bendideia (Βενδίδεια) itself was celebrated in the port town of Peiraeeus. At first, only the Thrakians honored Her, but within a few years, the Athenians held their own procession alongside the Thrakians, theirs winding down from the Prataneion (Πρυτανεῖον)--the seat of government in ancient Hellas--in the morning  to the sanctuary of the Goddess in the Peiraios, while the Thrakian procession was entirely within the port town. The six-mile procession of the Athenians was so unusual, that a decree called for basins, water and sponges to bathe after it, and garlands. It seems obvious to place a meal here in the timeframe, followed by a period of rest until it became dark enough to perform the most telling of cult worship to the Goddess: an evening torch race on horseback; a true novelty. Plato, in his 'Republic' tells us a little it about this race:

"Polemarchus said to me: I perceive, Socrates, that you and our companion are already on your way to the city.
You are not far wrong, I said.
But do you see, he rejoined, how many we are?
Of course.
And are you stronger than all these? for if not, you will have to remain where you are.
May there not be the alternative, I said, that we may persuade you to let us go?
But can you persuade us, if we refuse to listen to you? he said.
Certainly not, replied Glaucon.
Then we are not going to listen; of that you may be assured.
Adeimantus added: Has no one told you of the torch-race on horseback in honour of the goddess which will take place in the evening?
With horses! I replied: That is a novelty. Will horsemen carry torches and pass them one to another during the race?
Yes, said Polemarchus, and not only so, but a festival will he celebrated at night, which you certainly ought to see. Let us rise soon after supper and see this festival; there will be a gathering of young men, and we will have a good talk. Stay then, and do not be perverse.
Glaucon said: I suppose, since you insist, that we must.
Very good, I replied."

What, exactly, Bendis presided over to either the Thrakians or the Athenians is unclear. She was identified mostly with Artemis, but not equated with Her, as She received a temple of Her own. Due to a connection with grain and the growth cycle of plants, she was identified with Demeter, and sometimes Persephone and/or Hekate. She was thus also associated with Selene.  Mostly, however, she was equated with Artemis Mounikhia.

In the Classical literature and in later traditions, Artemis was portrayed as a huntress; a savage and wild deity of nature, and a virgin maiden. Artemis Mounikhia, however, differed from this Classical image. The characteristics of this particular epithet of Artemis were in fact more similar to the cult of the moon Goddess Hekate. In Classical tradition, the holy day of Artemis was on the 6th day of the month, but the Mounikhia festival was instead held on the 16th day of Mounikhion, under the full moon, an element of the cult of Hekate. During the Mounikhia procession, round cakes with little torches were offered to the Goddess, corresponding directly to the torch races of the neighboring cult of Bendis.

It appears that Artemis Mounikhia was seen as a deity of protection, one connecting women with the moon cycle, and one which represents marriage, fertility and the protection of human life and nature. The physical proximity of the Bendis temple to that of Artemis Mounikhia, and the similarity of festival activities (such as the torch use in relation to the moon cycle) suggests their cults were similar and perhaps even linked. And through Artemis, Bendis is also linked to Hekate.

The worship of Bendis outside of Thrake and Athens never caught on; she was revered almost solely at these places. Yet, the Athenians seemed to have held Her in high regard for a Goddess not of their pantheon.

Will you be honoring Bendis with us on May 31st, at 11 am EDT? You can find the ritual here and the community page here.

An extremely expressive terracotta mask, thought to represent the Hellenic god Dionysos, was recently unearthed during excavations of the ancient Hellenic city of Daskyleion in Western Turkey. The newly-discovered treasure, which appears to represent a rather tipsy God, was located in the city’s acropolis, and is thought to have served as a votive offering of gratitude to Dionysos, according to archaeologists.

Widely known as the God of wine and revelry, Dionysos was also the God of theater and of ritual madness — the term “bacchanal” comes from his Latin name, “Bacchus” — and he served an important role in the development of ancient Hellenic theater.

In myth, Dionysos is known to free his followers from social and cultural restraints through wine or ritual, most notably in Euripides’ tragic play “The Bacchae.”

In the development of theater, it is believed that Dionysos’ freeing influence allowed actors to fully embody their roles, transforming into the characters on stage. Ancient Hellenic theater itself is thought to originate from early Dionysian festivals.

The Dionysia, a yearly festival honoring the God in Attica, featured ritual processions followed by theatrical competitions, including dramatic performances of plays written by the best playwrights of the day. Works by Sophocles, Aeschylus, and Euripides were known to have been performed at the festival.

Just last year, archaeologists uncovered an ancient cellar in a kitchen at the archaeological dig of Daskyleion. Scholars hope to use their finds to study ancient cuisine and eating habits. Surviving images on countless works of art, including pottery, frescoes, wine cups, and sculptures, frequently depict ancient Hellenes reclining on one side to eat and drink at a symposium. The habit of reclining to dine in ancient Hellas began at least as early as the 7th century B.C. and was later picked up by the Romans. 

Strangely, Hellenes are always pictured lying on their left side — never their right. The reason for this tradition is not entirely clear, but historians and classicists have debated the topic for decades.

The site of the ancient city of Daskyleion, which was first inhabited during the Bronze Age, was discovered in 1952. Since then, it has routinely produced important finds from many different historical periods. Located in the ancient region of Lydia, Daskyleion received its name around 750 BC from the king Daskylos, father of Gyges, a figure found in both history and myth.

A sacrifice to Menedeios was performed by the Attic deme Erkhia on the 19th day of the month Thargelion. Menedeios was an entirely local deitified hero and sacrifices to him seems to have been performed only at Erkhia. Because he was most likely a war hero, however, we will honour Him with the Theoi he would have prayed to for guidance and strength: Athena, Ares and Niké. Will you join us in honouring these Gods and this hero on May 31st, at 10 am EDT?

Heroes and heroines have a special place in Hellenismos, as they had in ancient Hellas. These were humans--most with at least a part divine heritage--who were considered so brave, so skillful, so extraordinary in their lifetime that they became revered. Some were priests or priestesses of a temple, some excelled in battle, others were skilled healers or good rulers. Once they passed to the realm of Hades, their names were remembered at least once a year on a special occasion, because the ancient Hellenes believed that if the name and deeds of a person were remembered, they would live forever and potentially look out for those they had looked out for before.

We, unfortunately, know very little about Menedeios. We know he must have been local to the Erkhian area. He received a ram that was to be consumed on site. His name means 'the One who Stands his Ground' and as such, he was most likely a war hero, famed for bravery, skill and his ability to protect his home town. For us, this is enough to honour him with sacrifices.

You can find the ritual for the event here and join the community page here. As a note, the ritual calls for an offering of barley cake (shaped like a sheep) with ash placed into a pit in the ground. If you don't have the time or means to make a barley cake, try to at least give sacrifice in an offering pit or on an altar lower than your usual one.

Ancient historians loved to write about warfare and famous battles. While these millennia-old stories still feed modern imaginations – Homer’s “Iliad” provides the plot for the movie “Troy,” while Herodotus’ “Histories Book VII” inspired the film “300,” for instance – there’s rarely any physical evidence that the events they describe really happened. But in 2008 a team of Italian archaeologists began to excavate outside the ancient city wall at Himera, a Hellenic colony on the north-central coast of Sicily, Italy. In the western necropolis, or cemetery, they found several mass graves dating to the early fifth century B.C. All the individuals in the graves were male, and many had violent trauma or even weapons lodged in their bones.

The evidence strongly suggests these men could have been soldiers who fought in 480 B.C. and 409 B.C. in the Battles of Himera, written about by ancient Hellenic historians. I’m part of an interdisciplinary team of anthropologists, archaeologists and geologists who analyzed the teeth of these people who lived more than 2,400 years ago to figure out who they were and where they came from. It looks like early historians didn’t pass down the whole story, and our findings might rewrite parts of what’s known about Hellenic military history.

Herodotus and another historian, Diodorus Siculus, both wrote about the Battles of Himera. They describe the first battle in 480 B.C. as a victory of an alliance of Hellenes from all across Sicily over an invading Carthaginian force from modern-day Tunisia. Three generations later, the second battle in 409 B.C. was more chaotic. The historians report that Carthage besieged the city of Himera, which this time had little outside assistance.

These ancient accounts tell of grand generals, political alliances and sneaky military tactics such as the Hellenic cavalry who pretended to be friendly aid to get into the Carthaginian camp.

The 21st-century discovery of what looked like the remains of soldiers from around the times of these two famous battles provided a rare opportunity. Once Italian researchers had done initial studies on the skeletal remains of the 132 individuals, including estimating their age at death and looking for signs of disease, I was able to travel to Sicily with the Bioarchaeology of the Mediterranean Colonies Project, co-directed by Laurie Reitsema and Britney Kyle, to collect samples for isotope analysis.

My colleagues and I were interested in figuring out whether the soldiers’ remains told the same story as the ancient historians. The historical sources say they were likely all Hellenes, with some possibly from other cities in Sicily, like Syracuse or Agrigento. Where had these soldiers really come from?

Different places on Earth have signature ratios of elemental isotopes in their land and water. Isotopes are versions of elements that have the standard number of protons but various amounts of neutrons. The trick is that as you consume these characteristic isotopes in your food and drink, your body incorporates them into your bones and teeth. Researchers know that the type of strontium in your body reflects the underlying geology or bedrock where the plants and animals you ate grew. The oxygen isotopes come from your water source. These elements become a physical record of your origins.

While bones are constantly growing – and incorporating elements from your environment throughout life – tooth enamel is like a time capsule. Scientists can use this outer layer of the tooth to figure out where an individual grew up, because it forms when you’re a child and doesn’t change over time.

The strontium and oxygen isotopes we measured on 62 of the individuals were incorporated into the soldiers’ teeth in childhood and preserved there, even after thousands of years in the ground. We used the combination of these elements to determine whether these soldiers were from Himera or not by comparing them to samples we collected to create a local isotopic profile for the city.

Interestingly, when we ran these analyses, we found that the majority of soldiers from the first battle in 480 B.C. were not local. Remember, that was the fight that reportedly had allied support from all over Sicily. These soldiers had such high strontium values and low oxygen values compared to what we’d expect in a Himera native that my colleagues and I think they were from even more distant places than just other parts of Sicily. Based on their teeth’s elemental isotope ratios, the soldiers likely had diverse geographic origins ranging through the Mediterranean and probably beyond.

On the other hand, the majority of soldiers from the later battle in 409 B.C. were in fact local. That finding supports the ancient sources that said the Himerans were mostly left unaided in the second fight, which allowed the Carthaginian force to overpower them.

The case of the soldiers from 480 B.C. suggests that Hellenic armies were more diverse than previously thought. Our results challenge earlier interpretations based on historical documents that the soldiers were Hellenic and points to the omission of foreign mercenaries in the historians’ accounts.

Modern historians know Hellenic soldiers frequently served as paid career soldiers, or mercenaries, in foreign armies. But there is little evidence that foreign soldiers fought for Hellenic armies.

Hellenic armies at this time were mostly the classic hoplite soldiers: heavily armed foot soldiers. They often fought in groups based on the town they were from, where part of being a citizen meant serving in the military when needed.

The large variation in isotope values between the soldiers from our study strongly implies that there may have been foreign soldiers who joined the Hellenic side. Hiring foreign mercenaries could have changed the composition of communities in the Classical period, possibly providing outsiders a pathway to citizenship not otherwise available.

While the populations of Hellenic colonies were likely diverse because of interactions with other groups of people, not all residents of the colony would have been eligible for citizenship. Citizenship meant having a role in political life and was often reserved for wealthier men with Hellenic heritage. It was rare for foreigners to have a way into this highly esteemed position because, traditionally, one had to be Hellenic.

Not only does the discovery of foreign mercenary forces change the history of the first battle of Himera, it also transforms our understanding who had power and privilege in Sicily during the Classical period.

On May 28th, which coincides with 16 Thargelion, Elaion will hold a PAT ritual to Zeus Epakrios as was done on this day in ancient Erkhia. Will you be joining us at the usual 10 AM EDT?

Zeus Epakrios (Ἐπάκριος) is an epithet of Zeus derived from 'epi akrios', literally 'on the height' or 'upon the high place'. Zeus Epakrios had an altar on Mount Hymettos (Υμηττός), along with an altar to Zeus Hymettios (overseer) and Zeus Ombrios (of the rain). The cult to Zeus Epakrios seems to have been separate from the cults of Zeus Hymettios and Zeus Ombrios, with the altars of Zeus Epakrios and Ombrios located on the very summit of the mountain and the altar to Zeus Hyettios further down the slope. The altar of Zeus Epakrios lay unused for a while, even though the altar of Zeus Hymettios remained in use. The altar to Zeus Ombrios remained in use well into the 8th-7th centuries BC. All ancient remains of the altar to Zeus Epakrios have been obliterated by recent military building operations.

The Princeton Encyclopedia of Classical Sites tells us about Mt. Hymettos:

"Separating the southern end of the plain of Athens from that of the Mesogaia to the east is the mountain range of Hymettos. In antiquity Hymettos was famous for honey and marble, and the scars of the worked-out quarries can be seen concentrated for the most part on the western slopes for a distance of 3 km south from Kaisariani. The bare summit performed a different function: even as today, it gave the Athenians a reliable indication of weather by the presence, or absence, of threatening clouds."

We are not entirely certain of the funtion of the sacrifice or the epithet. 'On the height' speaks for itself when taken together with the location of the altar, but it says nothing of its function. We do know that the altar was only visited once a year, for this sacrifice. It stands to reason that Zeus Epakrios oversaw the weather, as did Zeus Ombrios and Zeus Hymettios. In this time of year, sacrifices would have called for good weather for the continuation of the agricultural cycle and perhaps the herding of sheep and other grazers on the mountain who were presumably used to keep the area open for herbs and flowers for the honey creating bees to feast on.

The sacrifice was nephalios (wineless) and au phora (not carried – totally consumed (on site)).

The ritual for the event can be found here and you can join the community page on Facebook here.

I get a lot of questions from readers, and most of the time, the answers are fairly short. When I feel the question or the reply would be valuable to others as well, I make a post with a collection of them and post them in one go. Today is one of those posts, even when the answers weren't short. Because they could sort of be grouped together as 'Hellenic Gods 101'.

"Can you tell me where can I find a list of old Greek Gods and/or a brief detail regarding them. Kind of a family tree. I found a number of them of internet but not sure which one is correct."

The funny part about genealogies of the Gods is that they are all equally 'correct', as long as they stem from ancient sources. Genealogies of the Gods were all written down by humans about the Gods, and there are a variety of them. Which one is entirely true is unknown, and perhaps none of them are--or all of them. The most famous account of how the Gods came to be comes from Hesiod. His 'Theogogy' is a complete recounting of the story, starting with Khaos:

"Verily at the first Chaos came to be, but next wide-bosomed Earth, the ever-sure foundations of all  the deathless ones who hold the peaks of snowy Olympus, and dim Tartarus in the depth of the wide-pathed Earth, and Eros, fairest among the deathless gods, who unnerves the limbs and overcomes the mind and wise counsels of all gods and all men within them. From Chaos came forth Erebus and black Night; but of Night were born Aether and Day, whom she conceived and bare from union in love with Erebus. And Earth first bare starry Heaven, equal to herself, to cover her on every side, and to be an ever-sure abiding-place for the blessed gods. And she brought forth long Hills, graceful haunts of the goddess-Nymphs who dwell amongst the glens of the hills. She bare also the fruitless deep with his raging swell, Pontus, without sweet union of love. But afterwards she lay with Heaven and bare deep-swirling Oceanus, Coeus and Crius and Hyperion and Iapetus, Theia and Rhea, Themis and Mnemosyne and gold-crowned Phoebe and lovely Tethys. After them was born Cronos the wily, youngest and most terrible of her children, and he hated his lusty sire." [ll. 116-138]

He goes on to list a great many deities, cutting out a rough shape of the cosmos while doing so. There are many variations of this family tree, and in the ancient writings, there are also creation stories that range beyond this basic framework. In the Orphic Theogonies, for example, the universe does not start with Khaos, but with Thesis and Hydros, reaching back to Hómēros:

"Originally there was Hydros (Water), he [Orpheus] says, and Mud, from which Ge (the Earth) solidified: he posits these two as first principles, water and earth . . . The one before the two [Thesis], however, he leaves unexpressed, his very silence being an intimation of its ineffable nature. The third principle after the two was engendered by these--Ge (Earth) and Hydros (Water), that is--and was a Serpent (Drakon) with extra heads growing upon it of a bull and a lion, and a god’s countenance in the middle; it had wings upon its shoulders, and its name was Khronos (Unaging Time) and also Herakles. United with it was Ananke (Inevitability, Compulsion) , being of the same nature, or Adrastea, incorporeal, her arms extended throughout the universe and touching its extremities. I think this stands for the third principle, occuping the place of essence, only he [Orpheus] made it bisexual [as Phanes] to symbolize the universal generative cause." [Theogonies Fragment 54] 
So I can't point you to one account. At best, I can tell you that many of the ancient writers had their own thoughts on the subject, undoubtedly inspired by the community they lived in, the region they lived in, and the circles they moved in.
"Is it true that Greek and Roman gods are/were the same, and that only their names are different?"
I am distinctly not of this opinion, no. Personally, I think that the Hellenic and Roman deities share the same (Hellenic) base, but that the Roman deities differ from the Hellenic ones. Some not so much, other a great deal. In general, I regard the Roman Gods as epithets of the Hellenic ones, with a few notable exceptions--especially where there is no viable counterpart in Hellenic mythology. Why? Well, for one  the Theoi came first. The Roman empire came up about a thousand years after the rise of the Theoi.  Hellenic mythology featured the Hellenes, their stories and their cities, while Roman mythology focussed on the Roman people, their stories and their cities. The Hellenes had the Iliad as a major introductory and poetic text to introduce the Theoi, and the Romans had their own text: the Aeneid, a Latin epic poem, written by Virgil between 29 and 19 BC, that tells the legendary story of Aeneas, a Trojan who travelled to Italy, where he became the ancestor of the Romans.

Differences in the two societies also reflected on the Gods and Their importance. For one, the Hellenes valued  physical prowess, but it were poets and scholars who were held in the highest regards. For Rome, it were the warriors who received the most attention. This reflected in the Gods of both people as well: the Roman Gods resemble the Hellenic Gods, but they are stricter, harder and possess more bloodlust. At the same time, they were also pruder when it came to excesses of any kind. Ares, temperamental God of War, has his Roman counterpart in Mars, yet, Mars is a much stabler God, who is also in charge of agriculture and fertility. Bacchus, the Roman equivalent of Dionysos, lost all ecstatic rites that made the worship of Dionysos so famous.

Another major example of the differences between the two religions was that the Romans had no set shape for their Gods: they looked different to every individual. They were not revered for Their beauty, like their Hellenic counterparts. The Hellenes knew exactly how their Gods looked. They were often described as having muscular bodies (for the men), beautiful eyes and hair (both men and women), and delicate ankles (women). They were role-models to strive towards. Not so for the Romans.

The Roman culture also had a thing for the afterlife. Where the Hellenes focussed on this life and saw death as an inevitable conclusion of it, the Romans struggled to do good deeds and live good lives to be rewarded in the afterlife. They felt that, if they had been good enough, brave enough, warrior-like enough, they would take their place with the Gods after death. The Hellenes worried more about the judgement of the Theoi while they were still alive and knew they would go to the Underworld afterwards. Of course, things changed in that regard already: the mysteries brought the idea of awareness after reincarnation, and parts of the Underworld fell into disuse.

It seems to me, that the Romans tried becoming Gods their whole lives, while the Hellenes accepted their lot as mortals, and respected the Theoi as all-powerful and all-ruling. A frame of mind like that shows in Gods that get neatly packaged, made non-threatening and can be rivalled by mortals. Yet, because of the warrior mentality of the Romans, the Gods that became more predictable and less formed, also became harder. They still punished socially unacceptable behaviour, however, and myths from the Hellenic period got retold from the viewpoint of a warrior's society.

It's time for a new constellation post! This one is going to be all about horses, so if you're a horse lover, rejoice. If not, well, then there is at least some interesting mythology here.

Equuleus, or 'little horse' is the second smallest of all of Ptolemy's constellations. It is depicted by solely a horse's head, and seems almost hidden away behind the much larger horse constellation Pegasus. There is a mythological reason for this hiding behavior: Equuleus is said to represent Hippe (Ἵππη), or Melanippe (Εὐίππη), daughter of the kéntauros Kheiron. She became pregnant and could not let her father know. As such, she begged the Gods to be transformed into a mare. From Hyginus's Astronomica:
"Euripides in his Melanippe, says that Melanippe, daughter of Chiron the Centaur, was once called Thetis. Brought up on Mount Helicon, a girl especially fond of hunting, she was wooed by Aeolus, son of Hellen, and grandson of Jove, and conceived a child be him. When her time drew near, she fled into the forest, so that her father, who supposed her a virgin, might not see that she had given birth to a grandchild. And so when her father was looking for her, she is said to have begged the power of the gods not to let her father see her in childbirth. After the child was born, by the will of the gods she was changed into a mare which was placed among the stars."
He also gives another reason for her change:
"Some say that she was a prophetess, and because she used to reveal the plans of the gods to men, she was changed into a mare. Callimachus says that because she ceased hunting and worshipping Diana [Artemis], Diana changed her into the shape we have mentioned. For the reason above, too, she is said to be out of sight of the Centaur, who some say is Chiron, and to show only half her body, since she didn’t want her sex to be known."
The constellation is also known as Eguus Primus, the 'first horse' because it rises just before Pegasus. Because it rises first, it is sometimes identified as the offspring of Pegasus, Celeris, whom he had with his wife, Euippe (or Ocyrrhoe). The second child out of that marriage was Melanippe, a common female name when associated with horses, as it means 'mare'.
The third and last horse that this constellation is connected to it the horse that was born the moment Poseidon's trident struck the ground in the battle for patronage of the city of Athens:
"The common tradition about Poseidon creating the horse is as follows : -- when Poseidon and Athena disputed as to which of them should give the name to the capital of Attica, the gods decided, that it should receive its name from him who should bestow upon man the most useful gift. Poseidon their created the horse, and Athena called forth the olive tree, for which the honour was conferred upon her. [Serv. ad Virg. Georg. 1.12.]
The constellation Equuleus is visible at latitudes between +90° and −80°, and best visible at 21:00 (9 p.m.) during the month of September.

Istros, also known as Histria, was an ancient Hellenic colony located on the western Dobrudja coast of the Black Sea. Situated approximately 300 miles north of Byzantium, this small city was founded by Miletian traders around 657 or 656 BCE. As the oldest Hellenic colony on the Black Sea, Istros survived for some 14 centuries before its eventual abandonment in the mid-seventh century CE. It is unsurprising, therefore, that such a long-lasting settlement would produce several interesting and important numismatic types. Perhaps the most recognizable Istrian coin is the “unique” anti-parallel Apollonian silvers.

Struck in both drachmai and the associated fractional denominations, these coins portray “essentially identical” dual portraits of Apollon on their obverse. The inverted heads set these coins apart as a rarity not seen anywhere else in the ancient world. The only real design differences on the obverse come from the engravers’ skill level and artistry. Some of the obverses are finely engraved with highly realistic features, while others are rather crude, as demonstrated below. This design would not change during the entire span of this type’s production, from 434 BCE to approximately 300 BCE.

Similarly consistent, the reverse design shows an eagle in flight with wings outstretched as it clutches a dolphin in its talons. Since dolphins were, and still are found in the Black Sea, it is rather common to see them on Thracian and other Black Sea coins. Historians believe that the eagle represents Zeus and the dolphin the Black Sea. Due to the dolphin’s position as prey, it is logical to assume that the reverse image symbolizes either some unspecified military victory or Hellenic domination over the region and its vital trade routes.

But unlike the reverse imagery, the obverse has been a matter of interest and study for a long time. In all, numismatists and historians have suggested six possible meanings. The first and least likely is that the two heads represent the east-west trade routes along the River Danube and into Asia. This does not acknowledge the more important north-south trade routes into Hellas and the Mediterranean.

Another unlikely theory is that the Apollonian heads represent dual wind Gods. While possible, with their cheeks not puffed out and with their mouths open instead of closed, the obverse imagery does not match that of contemporary wind Gods.

The next theory is that the dual-headed imagery represents multiple branches of the Ister river, later to be known as the Danube. While these tributary branches no longer exist, it is possible that this interpretation is correct. Similar to the last theory, however, the iconography does not match. River Gods are usually depicted in profile, not facing forward, with beards and long flowing hair. With their short hair and beardless faces, these coins do not match this standard iconography.

A more “attractive” interpretation is that the two heads depict the rising and setting sun. Since the two Apollonian portraits are similar to those with radiate crowns from Rhodes, this is not an implausible idea. However, the “uniqueness” of the Istros imagery proves this false. The rising and setting of the sun is not a uniquely Istrian phenomenon and should therefore be seen on many coins around the ancient world, and not solely of coins from a small trading center on the periphery of the Hellenic world.

The most common theory about this interesting design is that the two heads represent Kastor and Polydeukes, the mythical Dioskuri. These identical twin brothers, sons of the princess Leda, participated in some of the most famous Hellenic mythical adventures and are known today as the Gemini twins. While this theory fits in broadly, and there are many numismatic examples of the Dioskuri being pictured on ancient coins, the Istrian type does not include many of the specific details. For example, the brothers are usually shown as full figures, and sometimes on horseback with their signature conical Dioskuri caps. More importantly, they are “seldom identical, never inverted and sometimes with stars above them.” The standard iconography is displayed on this quadrigatus from Bruttium.

We are forced to concede that while this theory is a partial fit, it cannot fully explain the enigmatic design.

In 2005, William Saslaw and Paul Murdin, noted academics at the Cambridge Institute of Astronomy, authored an influential article that argued that the double-headed Istrian coins were actually the earliest commemoration of a solar eclipse in numismatic history. Astronomers are able to predict the date and time of both future and past eclipses to within minutes. After searching for an eclipse that would have been visible from Istros between 450 and 300 BCE, Saslaw and Murdin discovered that at 6:30 am on the fourth of October, 434 BCE, there was a partial eclipse. Initially, the sun would have risen as a crescent with the two points facing up, like a bull’s horns. The sun and moon would have risen at differing speeds, thus as the sun gained altitude the horns would have “flipped” with the horns later facing down. “Clearly the Sun God was up to something astonishing.” This would have been “memorable” and “worth recording”. Since “solar eclipses are rare in both space and time,” it would not be unusual for it to be commemorated on a coin.

In fact, in the following centuries, many societies commemorated such events on their coins. The Roman emperor Vespasian included a “star” on the reverse of a denarius to commemorate the eclipse of January 5, 75 CE, and Hadrian’s mint produced the “Star and Crescent” series after the September 3, 118 CE eclipse. Hundreds of years later, the English king John included a crescent sun after there were eclipses in 1201 and 1207 CE, just to name a few.

Not only are partial eclipses “relatively rare”, a once-in-a-century phenomenon, but Istros happened to have witnessed two of them within three years. This dual occurrence should be considered “sufficient to initiate the coinage.” Since as I have discussed in past articles, coins were used to “spread news or propaganda,” it would be logical that the Istrian authorities would include “an emblem advertising Apollon’s favor” as a result of these two astronomical events. Why wouldn’t the locals take “these events as signs of good times”?

A century later on the 14th of July, 337 BCE, there was a third celestial event: a much rarer total eclipse. However, by this time, the city was beginning to decline in economic and cultural importance. Though full eclipses occur every 375 years on average at any given location, the double-headed coinage was already thought mainly to have been discontinued. There are some examples that are believed to have been struck later, but this is disputed, and they are given a date range of between 313 and 280 BCE.

One reason these dates are disputed is the general difficulty in dating this series. Unlike many other ancient coins, this Apollonian series is “never dated specifically, nor is there any datable historical reference.” Usually, there is one of these factors or the other to help numismatists date a specific example. Numismatists must therefore rely on a four-step process to date these coins.

The first step is to analyze their alloy and weights. Before the discovery of the lunar connection, this was used to date the beginning of the series to 480 to 430 BCE. The next step is to look at their production method. In the earlier issues, the mint workers employed a narrow incuse die for the reverse. This was common in Hellas during the fifth century BCE but fell out of use around 340 BCE in Istros. Another dating tool is the reverse lettering font. Between 359 and 336 BCE, it morphed to closely resemble the text on Phillip of Macedonia, the regional hegemon’s, coinage. Lastly, numismatists can use hoard membership to help date specific examples. For example, coins from the Orgamé-Argamum Necropolis Hoard were found in a ceramic pot dated to between 380 and 360 BCE. Therefore, the 39 coins inside were all struck before those dates.

Despite the difficulty in dating and the unsettled iconography, these interesting coins are fairly common and enjoyed a “relatively long run” of 150 years. They must have been intended for circulation beyond the city walls because the “variations in weight, size, and purity of the coins were small.” We can therefore infer that they were “important and reliable for commerce.”

If a collector were interested in acquiring an example of this type, they are very affordable. Examples of the full drachmai can cost as little as $80 USD and as high as $750. Fractional examples also fall within this range, with examples valued between $100 and $500.

Elaion is proud to announce that on the sixth and seventh of Thargelion, 18 and 19 May, we will be hosting another PAT ritual, this time for the Thargelia. The Thargelia (Θαργήλια) was, as said, held over the course of two days. It was an agricultural festival as well as a kathartic one. The purpose was to purify the city in order to please the Theoi and ensure a successful harvest come harvesting time. It also celebrates the birth of the divine twins Apollon and Artemis.

The first day, a sheep was sacrificed to Demeter Khloe on the Acropolis, and perhaps a swine to the Fates, but most telling about that first day was the following that took place:

In ancient times, two poor, ugly men (or a man and one woman) were chosen each year to be Pharmakoi.  They were fed for a while at public expense and were then paraded around Athens as scapegoats for the people, one wearing a string of black figs to represent the men, the other white figs to represent the women. At the end of the procession, they were driven out of the city by flogging and beaten them with branches and squills (sea onions), and killed. The bodies were burned and the ashes thrown into the sea or land, to fertilize.

This sacrifice became symbolic as time wore on, first with banishment, then with play acting where they were beaten with branches of figs and pelted with squills instead of beaten with branches and stoned to death. What matters was that they were driven out and with them, so was the pollution of ever man and woman in the city.

The first day focused on purification and appeasement but the second day was a lot less gruesome: a great pot of vegetables was prepared as an offering of the first fruits to Apollon. A panspermia was ritually sown into the earth. The Thargelia also featured choral contests among pairs of phratriai, and was recognized by phratriai as a day of festival and sacrifice. An eiresione (olive branch of supplication) with fillets of white wool and first fruits attached was carried in procession along with a winnowing basket full of fruit.

Sources tell us clearly that Apollon was linked to the festival as well as the sun, Helios, and the seasons, the Horai. With Apollon's birth, so came the light that grew the vegetation, that ripened the corn and barley. And in line with Apollon is Helios who journeys across the sky every day and the Horai who precede over the lengthening and shortening of the days, giving Apollon and Helios more or less time with us to ripen our crops.

At its core this festival is a festival of Apollon, but myth tells us Artemis helped bring Him into the world and thus She is honored as well. And we bring Demeter offerings because She taught us how to grow crops and once Persephone leaves for the Underworld again, She will kill them all. Add to that the Horai and Helios and you have a very involved and intricate festival that was absolutely essential to ensure a good harvest. And so we shall celebrate it as well and honor to all these Theoi in appeasement.

You can find the rituals for the events here, for both days, and the community page here.