Ancient Greece Festivals

From primitive to modern times, man has always stood in some awe of nature. The rising and setting of the sun, alternating light and darkness, the miracle of vegetation, all are awe-inspiring, cyclical events. Many peoples worshipped nature by building temples and holding ceremonies and sacrifices to appease it. The Greeks, however, brought the unknown divinity closer, and fashioned it in their own human image. They gave it a voice, passions, jealousies and kindnesses; they filled their surroundings with multitudes of both gods and demons, each of which had their own responsibilities and demands.

In the myths of other countries, one encounters fierce, remote gods representing fundamental values in the society, reflecting its needs and structure. For the Greeks, mythology was the story of everyday life. The gods loved and hated, fell in love and lusted after other people’s wives, with mortals watching events curiously like well-intentioned neighbours, with perhaps an ordinary man’s affection and admiration for a special friend. In the diaphanous light of Greece, the gods couldn’t really have been different, and this was why in the 4th century AD a special law had to be passed to compel the people to convert to Christianity on pain of death. In Greece, it was very difficult to impose worship of a patient god who suffered insults and humiliations, went barefoot and refused the pleasures of the flesh that allow one to forget the day’s tribulations. It was very difficult for such a God to replace proud Apollo, who was always dressed in the light of the sun, or Aphrodite who promised so much, not in some unknown future life but right now, or even Dionysus who urged his followers to express what they saw in their unconfessed solitary dreams.

But behind this airy view of myths addressed to the many, there were some serious reflections and insights into life, together with a judicious classification of the divine among the human. All these familiar gods had one special feature: they were immortal. And perhaps all their stories represented the eternal longing on the part of mortals to learn the mystery of life and death, the desire for immortality, because myth is the product of the imagination, like the dreams without which we cannot live.

Thus Greek mythology became a source of inspiration for art. It helped build dreams out of stone, it dressed feelings with words, laying down the principles of universal order with morality and moderation; the violation of these principles revealed hybris, and brought inescapable punishment. Myths thus brought ideals and values, but mainly freedom of thought and choice, because one is truly free when one can approach a god, look him straight in the eye without fear and then in admiration, attempt to emulate him. It was for this reason that Greek temples were such marvels of simplicity and beauty: open to the light and rain and the souls of the faithful who would go in and out offering sweets and fruit from their harvest, meeting their friends and acquaintances and taking part in ceremonies and processions, while the philosophers regarded all of this with some condescension. Pericles, in his Epitaph, the speech paying homage to those Athenians who were killed in the war, mentioned how lucky they had been when they were alive to belong to a state which had so many religious feasts and celebrations. In his play Clouds, Aristophanes used his caustic pen to satirize his fellow citizens for the same reason. But the people enjoyed these feasts and attended them enthusiastically all year round.

The first month of the Athenian yearwas Hekatombaion, i.e. that of the hekatombes (sacrifices of many animals), which began with the new moon preceding the summer solstice, during the last ten days of what is now June. No significance whatever was attached to the first day of the year, although three important feasts followed soon after: the Kronia, Synoikia and Panathenaia. The first was dedicated to Kronos, a local festival associated with the wheat harvest. TheSynoikia, as reported by Thucydides, reminded the residents of some older tribal ceremonies.

But the greatest of all festivals was the Panathenaia: the Minor annual feasts celebrating the anniversary of the birth of Athena, the city’s protectress, and the Major Panathenaia held during the third year after every Olympiad, i.e. every four years, to celebrate the founding of the city when Theseus formed a confederation of all the demes (municipalities). The Major Panathenaia was the most important event in the life of the city, which lived the remaining period in preparation for its magnificent ceremonies.

The first person to organise the Panathenaia is believed to have been a man named Hippokleides, who served as Archon in the year 566-565 BC. His name is chiefly known to us through the story of the time he went to Sikyon as a prospective groom to win the lovely Agariste, daughter of the local archon. Absolutely certain of his success, the arrogant Athenian got drunk and began to do silly things. When his host remarked that these actions were “unmannerly”, he replied “¿Å ÆÁ¿½Äµ¯Â (TM)ÀÀ¿º»µ¯´·” (don’t worry about Hippokleides), a phrase which lost him the bride and made his name synonymous with frivolity.

Peisistratos was the man who made the festival famous throughout the land of the Hellenes, enhancing it with a brilliant procession and various contests, where the prizes were especially-produced amphoras full of oil from the sacred olives of the goddess. We can see examples of such Panathenaic amphoras in museums all over the world today; on one side they depict the goddess Athena fully armed and on the other a scene from the contest in question. Being an admirer of Homer, Peisistratos instituted music and song competitions, which later obliged Pericles to build an odeion in which to hold them. There were also dancing contests for boys, youths and men in which the Pyrrichios was presented, a military dance performed in full war dress, in remembrance of the Dorians who first danced it in Crete. From Xenophon we learn about the contest called Evandreia, a unique innovation instituted by the Athenians, with their fanatic devotion to beauty, in which the handsomest and strongest man would win a prize of 100 drachmas and a plump calf.

In addition to the contests of the classical Olympic events, the Panathenaic festival also included chariot races and an individual torch race, in which the winner was the first person to carry in the torch with the flame from the sacrificial fire, having managed to keep it alight. The runners started out from the altar of Eros, in the Academy outside the walls, and finished at the altar of Athena within the city. In this way, the eternal adversary goddesses, Athena-reason and Aphroditepassion, co-existed in a harmonious duality.

The highlight of the festival was the magnificent procession which set out from the city gates and ascended to the sacred Rock of the Acropolis, carrying on the sails of the sacred vessel the richly embroidered robe of the goddess which had been woven by selected noble maidens, the Ergastines. As Pausanias tells us, the vessel was kept near the Areopagus and was shown to strangers like a tourist attraction.

On the day of the great procession, all the people in the city would flock into the streets to watch as selected citizens, noble maidens and distinguished young men took active part. It was likewise an opportunity to demonstrate the preparedness of the Athenian army, with troops of horse-soldiers, well-drilled young men and acrobat-charioteers who with consummate skill would jump on and off the swiftly moving chariots, showing the harmony of their exuberant young bodies. That was also the only day on which the ladies of Athens and their daughters could look freely upon the young men and perhaps select from among them. The Panathenaic festivals ended with sacrifices of carefully chosen animals and with feasting, dancing and singing.

Another significant month in the Athenian year was Boedromeion, which coincided approximately with our September. A feast was held to commemorate those fallen in battle for their homeland, particularly after the battle of Marathon which had taken place that month. But the greatest event of the season was the Eleusinian Mysteries which were organised annually by the Archon and carried out by the Hierophant. This high priest had to be a member of the ancient ruling family of Eleusis, the Eumolpidae, the only hereditary priests in all of Attica. Two days before the ceremonies were to begin, the sacred objects were transferred from Eleusis to Athens in sea led cases, called kystes, carried by the priests. The celebrations lasted for a week and all but foreigners were accepted for initiation, although during Roman rule, this ban fell into disuse.

The ceremonies started with the “Alade mystai” (To the sea, initiates!), the symbolic purification of all those who wished to be initiated. They were required to have a piglet with them which they would offer for sacrifice the next day. This was followed by a day of meditation before the faithful returned to Eleusis, crowned with myrtle and strands of wool, with the priestesses holding the kystes in front of them. Along the way, they would stop at certain bridges and exchange gefyrismous, i.e. obscene jests. Those who followed the procession in carts were likewise free to utter whatever imprecation they wished, the well-known “ex amaxis”, a term still current today! During the next two days the actual Mysteries took place in the Eleusinian Telesterion (initiation hall); these included secret rituals, rites and a revelation. Perhaps the initiates were witnesses to a recreation of the myth of Persephone and Pluto, but the secret was kept well up to the end of the 4th century A.D. when these rituals were banned and the sacred precinct of Demeter was abandoned.

The fourth month of the Athenian year, which corresponded to present-day October, was called Pyanepsion after Pyanepsia. This feast formally commemorated the myth of Theseus’ return from Crete, when the fruits left over from the journey were baked for the common meal of the comrades; it was in essence, however, an act related to the preparation of the fields. Something similar can be seen in the present day autumn custom in Greek villages, especially in Crete, where the seeds are first blessed all together in the church before the sowing of the crops begins. On the same day as the Pyanepsia, the Oschophoria was celebrated: this was the procession of young men of noble birth who, dressed in women’s clothing, brought the oschous, i.e. branches of vines loaded with grapes, to Phaleron. This feast, too, was related to Theseus, as we know that he dressed two young Athenian men in women’s clothes to take the place of two girls on the mission to eliminate the Minotaur.

But if the above original ceremony had aristocratic roots, the Thesmophoria which followed was broadly popular. It was a three-day feast exclusively for married women devoted to their protecting goddesses Demeter and Persephone. The first day the women would “take to the streets”, which meant that they left their homes and families for worship in the open air, and to sleep in huts built especially for the occasion. On the second day they fasted, seated upon the ground, exactly as Demeter had done when she arrived in Eleusis looking for her daughter, and refused all nourishment. Even the licentious language which women used on these days was an allusion to the myth of Demeter, and to the slave Iambe who, by her immodest but humorous discourse, managed to make the frowning goddess smile. The third day of the Thesmophoria, was called Kalligeneia (good birth), showing clearly that the rituals had to do both with the fertility of the women and with the desired good harvest of the earth.

During the month of Maimakterion (November) there was one ceremony, to Zeus Meilichiios, obviously to secure good weather in the period of early winter storms. For the same reason, the following month, the season of stormy seas, was dedicated to Poseidon. Towards the end of the month came two feasts which characterise the absence of false modesty in the ancients’ attitude. The first was called Aloa and featured a women’s ritual supper accompanied by saucy talk and phallus-shaped sweets which may later have been buried in the fields, rather like an exhortation to the frozen earth to awaken. This was followed by the feast of the Minor Dionysia en agrois (in the fields), with drunkenness, lewd symbols and vulgar songs sung by villagers. There is no better source of information about this rural feast than Aristophanes’ play The Acharnians. In it, an overwrought villager named Dikaiopolis tries to keep order in a parade of enormous phalluses, giving instructions to his friends, his daughter, and his wife before he himself sings a coarse hymn to Dionysus.

The month which roughly corresponds to present day January, the month of weddings in ancient Athens, was dedicated to the goddess Hera and called Gameleion. In addition to weddings, however, there was also the Lenaia, another feast dedicated to Dionysus which featured a public symposium, performances and the inevitable drinking of wine with all it entails. The name was derived either from the lenoi (wine-presses) or from the lenes (maenads) who were always identified with the fun-loving god.

The month of Anthesterion was the beginning of spring, around February and early March, when the almond trees were in bloom. This was the time of one of the Athenians’ major feasts, the Anthesteria, during which parents would crown their three-year-old children with blossoms; perhaps because they had survived the first, most dangerous years of their life. The main festivities lasted for three days, starting with the Pithoigia, which was the opening and testing of the jars containing the new wine which would then be ready, to the enjoyment of all. The second day was the Choes, re-enacting the sacred wedding of Dionysus. The god was played by the annual priest-king while his wife, the Basilina, had the role of the priestess assisted by women selected for the occasion: the Gerares. The following day was the Hytres, a feast of the dead; at that time, an offering was made to Hermes the conveyor of souls, of pots in which all types of seeds, fruits and vegetables, the panspermia, had been cooked. This custom has survived down to our days as the boiled wheat on Psychosawato (Soul-Saturday on which the souls of the dead are remembered), in mid-spring at exactly the same time of year.

A particularly significant feast was the Elaphebolaion, dedicated to the goddess Artemis, whose symbol was the deer. In spring, the most important religious event was the Great Dionysia which, as of the mid-sixth century BC, took place in town and was celebrated with a procession of the Dionysian Thiasos (troupe) and with performances for the public. The feasting lasted for six days, on three of which there were performances of new plays, after a long process of selection and preparation. These presentations were open to foreigners as well, since at precisely that time of year, shipping that had stopped during the winter would begin again.

During the next few months, there were no major feasts, perhaps because the people were busy with agriculture, trade or with skirmishes against neighbouring cities. The feast of Plynteria was held during the month of Thargelion; it was dedicated to the statue of Athena which was taken to the sea for a ritual cleansing. On that day no Athenian would begin doing anything important, since the goddess was absent from her position and could not monitor what was happening; it was a bad luck day. And in the last month of the Athenian year, Skiraforion-May or June – the Bouphonia was celebrated, with the sacrifice of an ox which took upon itself all the sins of the people; a scapegoat calling to mind very ancient totemic rituals.

The Athenians always participated in these many feasts and celebrations with abundant enthusiasm. The most important feasts, the Panathenaia and the Dionysia, were centred around the sacred rock of the goddess Athena: the Acropolis. The temples atop the rock had been built for religious ceremonies and processions, while on the slopes of the hill was the sanctuary and theatre of Dionysus for the more popular cults, which with the evolution of speech became the moving force of the Athenian intelligentsia.

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The Role of Poseidon In Ancient Greece

Poseidon is one of the more famous of the deities of ancient Greece. Here is an overview of who he was, what he did and his position the Pantheon.

The Role of Poseidon In Ancient Greece

The many gods and goddesses of the ancient Greek culture played important roles in every Greek’s life. From the family hearth, to the life-giving sun, to the water they bathed in, Greek gods were seen to govern all aspects of daily life. While some regions of the Greek realm were actual cults, which meant they worshiped one god or goddess above all others; others prayed to specific figures at different points in the year or for different strengths. If a mariner was about to go to sea, it is pretty certain that he would have prayed to Poseidon.

While Poseidon’s largest governance was the sea and ocean, he was also considered the god of horses, and the “Earth-Shaker”, creator of earthquakes. In Mycenaean culture, Poseidon was seen as the most powerful of all the gods, even above Zeus – he was the most frequently written about god in the entire pantheon. At this point, he was associated with “Two Queens”, Demeter and Persephone, although in later Hellenic Greece he was not at all related to these goddesses. He was also seen in this culture as the “Earth Father” with Demeter being the “Earth Mother”.

Poseidon was also a major patron god of several large cities within Greece. In Athens, he was second in line only to Athena, and in Corinth he was the main god of the city. Apollo was a close associate god, and while Poseidon’s realm was generally seen to be in the areas of the Earth and bodies of water, he also had another trait that was a bit more sinister. Poseidon was also blamed for causing mental disturbances, such as epilepsy. He shared this ability with both the god Dionysus, and the creatures known as the Maenads.

When sailors embarked on voyages, they prayed heavily to Poseidon. Occasionally, they would even sacrifice horses by drowning (as he was also known as the god of horses). It was said that when Poseidon was in his benevolent aspect, he created both calm seas and new islands. When the god was displeased or angered, however, he would cause earthquakes and shipwrecks by striking the ground with his trident. Poseidon was often pictured in a chariot being pulled by horses or sea horses, holding a trident, and associated with dolphins.

While Zeus was known as the originator god in later parts of Greek culture, Poseidon was the first “head god” of note. His later appearances as the duel god of water and earthquakes meant that he had the ability to affect many people at once, so he garnered many prayers, sacrifices and attention from all of Greece.

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Women of Ancient Greece

In ancient Greece, boys were educated in schools while girls were educated at home. In fact, evidence supports that women were educated at home except for music and dance lessons. Often educated by their husbands, brothers, or fathers some Greek women became famous throughout history due to their advanced education level. But this was not common. Women in ancient Greece were considered essential in order to take care of their families’ well-fare, but education was not something they were allowed to invest time in pursuing. The main idea behind this concept was that women did not need a formal education because they did not need to compete with men. The fallacy of this is that women need to support the work of the men and if they are not educated then they cannot provide support and will not be able to educate their children.

A specific category of ancient Greek women, who attended special schools where they learned entertaining, conversation, and rhetoric, was the Hetaera group. Since these women kept company to men while they discussed and enjoyed long food festivities, they needed to be better educated so as to converse with the privileged men, but were not considered citizens. The ones who never received the privilege of being educated were slaves (men or women). The interesting thing is that in case they had been educated before they became slaves, they were able to work and be considered to win back their freedom.

In principal boys learned grammar, rhetoric, and dialectic; these were selected so as to help students communicate effectively. Moreover, the classic ancient educational system included a study of literature and language, apart from arithmetic, music, geometry and astronomy. On the other hand, girls were taught weaving and other household chores, like dancing, music, and physical education. The girls that were intended to become hetaerae-as mentioned above-also learned grammar, rhetoric and dialectic.

Although today’s women who read the educational system of ancient Greeks can be lead to believe that Greeks did not care about their women, historic evidence suggests that in fact Greek women seem to have been the best educated women of any culture up until fairly recently, into the 19th century. As sociologists and anthropologists support, culture involves skills that are passed on by education and training and are developed by discipline and practice. Ancient Greek women have always been involved with their own culture related to the family and child upbringing. But the interesting fact remains that they have always been involved in early childhood education as well. According to evidence, other societies involved women in later aspects of education later in history, but in ancient Greece the distinction between women and men in education emphasized a separate women’s culture that had its special religious holidays and festivals devoted to the worship of the female spirit. In fact, music was one of the main subjects for the education of women and some ancient Greek women became important in the area of entertainment-not in ancient Greek theater where all the roles were played by men. In relation to music, ancient Greece laid the theoretical foundation for contemporary polyphonic music so it is probable that the women of Greece enjoyed success in that field.

Furthermore, before the Trojan War women in Greece were permitted to vote, but they lost this privilege because men felt that they voted irresponsibly. Unfortunately, Greek women did not regain their voting privileges until the twentieth century as a result of various political, cultural and social misjudgments.

Finally, it should be noted that the schools of ancient Greece were so effective and well-known that they have been widely copied. This is true even for today’s schools. Like ancient Greek schools, the day is divided by subject periods and a teacher presents his or her subject matter to students, who are divided by age.

Kadence Buchanan writes articles on many topics including Women [], Arts [], and Cosmetic Surgery []

Ancient Olympia Greece – Pelops and Hippodamia

The first evidence relevant to the worship of Pelops and Hippodamia, in the area of Olympia, appeared during the Mycenaean period.

The mythological tradition of the area is connected to the ancient king of Pisa, Oenomaus, son of the god Ares. Oenomaus had received a prophecy that the end of his life would come with the marriage of his daughter Hippodamia, whom he begot with his wife Sterope. In an attempt to avoid the prophecy, the king announced that he would give his daughter to the one who would beat him in a chariot race. He, however, used unbeatable weapons and immortal horses, gifts from his father. During the races, many brave young men were killed. Oenomaus buried their bodies close to the Hippodrome of Olympia and nailed their heads over the gates of his palace. The last suitor was Pelops, son of Tantalus, who fell instantly in love with Hippodamia and she with him. The only person who could help them was Oenomaus’ charioteer, Myrtilus, son of Hermes and gifted with his father’s cunning. Pelops promised to give Myrtilus half of Oenomaus’ kingdom if he would help him win. Myrtilus accepted and, before the start of the race, he replaced the axle-pins of the king’s chariot with wax pegs which, once the race had started, melted and the wheels fell off. Oenomaus became tangled up in the reins and was killed. Pelops, therefore, won the race and took Hippodamia for his wife along with the whole kingdom of Oenomaus. When Myrtilus later tried to rape Hippodamia, Pelops killed him and then went to Oceanus where he was purified by Hephaestus and returned to become king of Pisa, wise and strong. He also renamed the land, which was formerly called Apia, to Peloponissos (the Island of Pelops), or the Peloponnese.

Without doubt, Pelops was the most important mythical person of the Peloponnese. In the sacred grove of Olympia, the inhabitants founded a sanctuary to honour him at which they would offer sacrifices every year. The belief that the Olympic games were established and took place in memory of Pelops was also very popular.

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Ancient Greece – Political System

In 6th century Athens, three groups of inhabitants were created after the changes initiated by Solon. First there were the Pedinoi, i.e. the land-owning aristocrats who lived on their estates like forgotten feudal lords. The second group was the Paralioi, who worked in trade and shipping. Among their ranks, a new class was evolving on the basis of money, which provided all the comforts of life, and would sooner or later inevitably create the craving for power. The third group was called the Diakrioi; they were the many. Among them were shepherds, peasants and freemen: i.e. people who had suffered oppression for centuries, but when they suddenly acquired freedom, were easy prey for demagogues.

Solon never became a tyrant, although the state had given him the rights of a dictator. Perhaps he had a strong sense of personal freedom. But Peisistratos, with his implacable thirst for power, knew how to stir the masses, and managed to gain office by using populist promises, flattering the mob and employing unscrupulous strategems. He went as far as to present a false Athena to the dazzled people to persuade them that he had been sent by heaven, and at the same time introduced an election campaign without restriction.

Like a true deceiver of the people, Peisistratos exploited ordinary human weaknesses to stay in power. By playing on the citizens’ religious feeling, he built magnificent temples. To keep potentially dangerous dissidents occupied, he organised feasts and gave official sanction to popular cults where zealous crowds could express all their grudges against the aristocracy, under the pretext of customary rituals. But like the clever, flexible politician he was, Peisistratos also took care of artists and supported the arts and letters. He also initiated many public works, irrigation and road projects, changing Athens from a town to a city.

When he died in 527 BC, Peisistratos left two sons as his heirs, Hippias and Hipparchos, who continued their father’s policy with the naiveté of a hereditary ruler and the natural decline of a public figure. The positive results of Peisistratos’ policy were eroded by the sons’ dizzying ascent to office and the sufferings inflicted on them by the trappings of power. Hipparchos was murdered for personal reasons by Harmodios and Aristogeiton, whom the desperate Athenians regarded as saviours of the state. Hippias held on for a few more years, in a grim climate of terror and taxation: it was said that he taxed births and even deaths. In 511 he was forced out of Athens and after a period of wandering, sought refuge at the King of Persia’s court, in betrayal of his country. Unrelenting to the end, Hippias always hoped that he would return to power. This was obvious during the battle of Marathon when, now an old man, he stood on the Persian ships waiting for the defeat of the Athenians so that he would be restored to office.

With the fall of the tyranny in 511, two new parties emerged, the Oligarchoi or land-owners and the Democrats or merchants. The powerful old families of Athens, ignoring the rights given to the people under Solon, now controlled political life and cultivated leaders within these two groups who were fighting fiercely for power. Fortunately a man named Kleisthenis came forward at that time, who brought radical changes to the state organisation, building firmly on the foundations laid by Solon. Even though he was born into the large and powerful family of the Alkmeonids, Kleisthenis came closer to the democratic method of government than any of his predecessors. His greatest achievement was that with the fundamental reforms he instituted, he deprived the clans, families and tribes of power.

This charismatic politician divided the three regions of Attica into 30 virtually autonomous demes (townships): ten along the coast, ten in the mountainous districts and ten in the middle. Some townships took their names from the regions in which they were located, others from local heroes. These place names became the citizens’ surnames, used together with their own names and those of their fathers (patronyms). Thus, in the near future, Pericles, for example, would be called Pericles Xanthippou (son of Xanthippos) Cholargeus (from the township of Cholargos).

Kleisthenis’ next step was to rearrange the population. One township was selected at random from every region, and ten new groups were formed, the citizens of which were from all three different points of Attica. In this way, the Ten Tribes were created, whose members were not related in any way by blood, nor did they have the same occupation, and thus they had no common vested interests. Each of the Ten Tribes elected fifty representatives to the Council of Five Hundred, and one General to the Supreme Council of the Ten. From the Council of the Ten the best person was elected, on the basis of merit alone, to the supreme office of Polemarch (military chief). To make the most important state decisions, the Assembly of Denies (Ecclesia) was established, in which all adult Athenian males took part. But Kleisthenis, in a clever political manoeuvre, did not touch the jurisdiction of the Areopagus, the supreme court, even though he was well aware that it was a bastion of the old aristocracy, consisting of persons who had been elected Archon in the past. This older generation had a completely negative attitude toward the innovations of the democratic politician. Despite this, the changes went ahead, and in about 500, the Councillor’s oath was instituted.

A few years earlier, in 508 BC, Kleisthenis had introduced the concept of ostracism which was not applied until 488. The purpose of ostracism was to protect the state from individuals who, after acquiring great power, might try to become dictators. This preventive measure could be applied to just one citizen every year. The Assembly of the Deme gave its members the right to scratch the name of any politician regarded as being dangerous to the Republic on a piece of ceramic tile, an ostrakon. If any name was written on six thousand ostraka, that person was exiled for ten years. Ostraka have been found in the Agora bearing the names of the best known public figures in ancient Athens, thus indicating both the ambition of each one, and the changeable mood of the people.

With the participation of so many citizens in public matters, Kleisthenis’ political system was for the first time more popular than that of Solon. It helped simple citizens to hold office and at last to make their opinion respected by the all-powerful Boule (Assembly). But the Athenians still had a long way to go to deal with envious neighbouring states, divisions among the professional classes, problems with the colonies and, above all, the expansionism of the Persian empire. Added to these were the eternal personal quarrels of the politicians who still came from the old aristocratic families.

The first Athenian politician to come from an ordinary background was Themistocles. His father’s name was Neokles and his mother’s Avrotonon, which sounds very much like the neutral names given to hetaeres (courtesans) in the closed Athenian society. It is said that Themistocles attended school in the Kynosargos region, where the children of mixed marriages, considered almost illegitimate, were educated. Perhaps this peculiar feature of his upbringing helped make him so decisive in his goals. Even as an adolescent he knew how to convince other people. For example, he managed to bring Athenian youths to the gymnasium in Kynosargos, which would have been inconceivable earlier for children of true citizens. Themistocles very cleverly kept away from the enmities between the great political families; he knew how to wait for the right moment; like all ambitious men, he always wanted to distinguish himself, never letting anything stand in the way of his plans. Herodotus reported that when Themistocles went to collect money from Andros, he told the inhabitants of the island that he had come together with two protecting goddesses, Peitho (persuasion) and Via (force). In various ways, not always orthodox, he managed to ostracise his opponents, even the mild and just Aristeides, thus remaining the dominant figure in the political arena.

From the outset of his career, Themistocles, a man of great discernment, had seen the tremendous importance of the sea. As Plutarch said, it was naval strength which gave birth to democracy, since rural societies feared change and supported the oligarchy so that they would feel protected by the strong. With great courage, the Athenian politician convinced his fellow citizens to put aside the dividend they were receiving from the Lavrion silver mines, and by collecting these funds for just a year, he was able to build ships. In this way he changed the Athenian troops from footsoldiers to navy. Pushing his plans forward, he manned the Athenian trirenes with freemen from the poorer groups, the theses, who were serving their state for the first time in a public capacity; this was certainly one more important step toward democracy. For it was these free citizens, who as oarsmen in the fleet of their homeland, ensured a brilliant naval victory for the Greeks at Salamis on 22 September 480 BC.

The Persian wars united all Athenians, irrespective of their personal quarrels and political differences, in an invincible common front which won the final victory and changed the course of history. The full participation of the people at that time was what brought an end to the remaining vestiges of the Athenian aristocracy, and the abolition of the privileges of the Aeropagus in 462.

The Athenian political system took on its final form under the Republic, when the city began to be ruled by archons originating from and elected by the people. Then, everybody had the same opportunity to rule if the lot fell to them. There were no permanent officials, judges, priests or military leaders. If last year’s soldier was capable, he might become this year’s general. This participation in public matters meant that the citizens acquired vitality and personal experience by serving in different capacities. It alsoo meant the development of the sound judgement required to elect future officials, to make judicial decisions, and to chart the course of the state. From the first laws of Solon, which made the Skythian philosopher Anacharsis wonder how it was possible for the Greeks to gather knowledge by listening to wise men and at the same time to permit the ignorant to judge, up to Pericles who told the Athenians about the benefits of democracy, more than a century of evolution and adaptation had elapsed. It was Pericles’ funeral oration for those killed during the Peloponnesian war which laid the foundation for this respect for individual freedom that was unprecedented in history.

Pericles argued that their fathers who had always lived in Athens handed down to them a free city which did not need to adopt foreign laws. On the contrary, it constituted an example for all, with a political system under which everybody participated and everybody enjoyed. And whoever hesitated to participate actively was useless. Because all the roads were open on land and sea making Athens a school for all of Greece, and causing the Athenians to learn to love what is beautiful, to philosophize, to live in a comfortable but not unmanly way, and to be ready to die for their homeland if necessary. He exhorted them to obey the maxim “eminent men are at home all over the earth” and the admonition that only a sense of honour is ageless and enviable in humans.

This ideal political system, democracy, was a purely Athenian invention, as was the Polis. Citizens lived and acted as part of a whole, as was the case in families, because the Polis was like a big family with its different branches and oddities. But the political system so extolled by Pericles had some peculiar features which may leave contradictory impressions. Athens was an independent city-state but it wanted to subjugate other cities; it did not accept the existence of an official priesthood but did show great respect for things sacred and indeed condemned Socrates to death as an impious citizen; it supported the ideal of freedom with frontiers open to all, but the Polis was jealously kept for its citizens alone; it protected loyal allies, but did not grant the title of citizen to anyone other than a native-born person; it provided an opportunity to anyone with talent to utilise it and reap benefits, but the oars of Athenian ships were manned solely by Athenians. Certainly the unchallenged power derived from the stability of the political system was what permitted Athens to cast expansionist glances, to set its own conditions in alliances, and to make them accepted by adversaries.

It is very possible that the Athenian Republic has become immortal because it lasted for such a short period and thus avoided being eroded by time. Between the Persian and Peloponnesian wars, the Polis and its political system lived, created, established, challenged and passed into immortality. But the colonies were already prospering; trading ships transported oil in attractive amphoras, Attic workshops were generating incomparable art and the Athenian drachma was respected and sought after all over the known world.

Central Hotel Athens and Dorian Inn Hotel are among the greatest Athens hotels along with Hotels in Plaka area of Athens.

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Ancient Greece

The Greek civilization is considered by historians as the first one in the history of mankind. A study of their archeological remains confirms that the ancient Greeks were a highly developed community. Their lifestyle and inventions indicate a high sense of order and aesthetics.

The ancient Greeks built houses along the shores of the land. They were dependent on the Aegean seas for their food supplies and other trade. Traveling brought them in contact with other cultures. They gained exposure to various agricultural methods and different types of metal work.

Different communities arose from the ancient Greece civilization. Some of them were the Aegean, Achaeans and the Pelasgians. Crete was the center of the Aegean civilization and was the dominant community in 2500 BC. The Achaeans made Mycenae their capital. A volcano caused the destruction of the Aegean community around 1400bc. The Mycenaeans absorbed the culture of the Aegean community.

In course of time, Greek settlements were transformed into city-states or poleis and each city-state was ruled by a king. The government was usually unstable due to the tyranny of the aristocrats. Democracy was hardly ever practiced.

The ancient Greeks were very keen on sports. The great athletic contest called the Olympic games began in 776 BC, which marked the beginning of the rise of the Greek civilization. At that point of time, Greek ideas were greatly influenced by many different foreign cultures. Artists were focusing on recreating human figures of mythology. The civilization saw its zenith around 500 BC. Excellence was seen in the fields of philosophy, art and literature. Wars with other civilizations began in 490 BC and the superior Greek armies overran their opponents to establish their supremacy. The ancient age of Greek civilization saw the birth of great philosophers like Pluto, Socrates, and the great emperor, Alexander.

The ancient Greeks were pagan. They prayed to the various elements of nature. They believed that favorable climate and good crops occurred when the gods were pleased. When things turned bad, they attributed it to the wrath of the gods. They performed sacrifices to appease the enraged gods.

Ancient Greeks were essentially simple-minded folks who left behind a beautiful legacy of art, philosophy and literature.

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Ancient Greece of Delphi

The fame and power of Delphi was based on its oracle, which was one of the oldest in Greece. Nearly all ancient authors mention it at some point, or record some story or incident relating to it. Nevertheless, it would be a mistake to believe that we possess all the information we would wish to have, of all the details we consider necessary, concerning the procedure of divination at Delphi. A great many problems remain unsolved and numerous questions have not yet found an answer. We shall try, therefore, to set down as briefly as possible the results of recent research into the methods of divination at the Delphi oracle.

According to ancient tradition, Panassos, the eponymous hero of Mount Parnassos, discovered the art of reading auguries in the flight of birds: Delphos, the hero of the city Delphi, was the first to teach entrail-reading. and Amphiktyon, the hero of the Amphiktyony, introduced oneiromancy (dream-interpretation). We also know that there existed in the Delphic sanctuary a body priests named Pyrkooi, who could read auguries in the flames of sacrificial pyres. The Delphic myths mention the existence of nymphs known as Thriai – in ancient Greek this word denotes the pebbles used in divination; one can therefore assume that these nymphs were simply the personification of divination by lot. The Delphic myths provide clear enough evidence that every known method of divination was practised at Delphi. But Delphi owed its fame to the oracles delivered by the Pythia, who received direct inspiration from Apollo and spoke in his name; in other words, the god of divination himself delivered the oracle, using the Pythia as a medium.

The Pythia was a woman over 50 years old. She was not necessarily a virgin, bur from the moment she undertook this highest of duties – serving the god – she was under the obligation to abandon her husband and children, to move into a house destined for her alone, within the sacred precinct, to be chaste and irreproachable, and to observe certain religious rules. In spite of her age, she wore the garments of a young girl, as a mark of the virginal purity of her life. We do not know how the Pythia was selected; but it is quite certain that she did not have to belong to a noble family, like the priests and priestesses who served at other Greek sanctuaries; nor did she have to go through special training or education. She was a simple, ordinary peasant woman, without any distinguishing mark until the moment Apollo allowed his inspiration to descend upon her. In the beginning there was only one Pythia; but when the requirements of the oracle grew more numerous, two more Pythias were added.

Until the Classical period, nobody had ever thought of questioning the Pythia’s sudden -transformation and the fact that Phoibos spoke through her. All that has been written about the natural vapours emanating from the chasm in the sanctuary, or about the laurel leaves the Pythia munched and the water she drank is but an attempt to find answers to the mystery, at a time when the faithful began to lose their faith, thinking they could explain the divine miracle with the cold instrument of reason and encompass the supernatural within a recognizable human measure. However, the ancient Greeks were certain of one thing alone: the importance of Apollo’s sacred tripod, in other words, his throne, which had once been equipped with wings and carried him across land and sea. Why had Apollo chosen such an unusual throne, nobody knew and nobody dared ask; nor have any modern scholars provided a certain answer to that question. It was upon this throne that the Pythia sat in order to become the god’s instrument. It was enough for her to take Apollo’s place, to shed her ordinary identity, fall into a trance and deliver the divine messages in a series of mysterious, inarticulate cries. But before the Pythia took her seat upon the tripod, it was necessary to find out whether the god consented to her practicing divination. A goat was therefore brought to sacrifice; but before sacrificing it, the animal was sprinkled with cold water: if it shivered from head to foot, it meant the god consented; if it did not, then the Pythia could not sit on the oracular tripod.

In early antiquity, before the 6th century B.C., divination took place only once a year, on the seventh day of the month Bysios (February-March), on Apollo’s birthday. Later on it took place every month, again on the seventh day of the month, except for the three winter months, because during that time the god left the Delphic sanctuary in order to travel far away to the land of the Hyperboreans, conceding his place to Dionysos, who was worshipped next to Apollo in his own temple. On the sacred day appointed for divination, the Pythia was the first to visit at dawn the Kastalian Spring to cleanse herself. Then she burnt laurel leaves on the sacred hearth and immersed herself in smoke. Meanwhile the priests prepared the sacrificial goat; if the god gave his consent, the animal was sacrificed on the great altar – a dedication of the Chians – in front of the temple, and thus all the pilgrims knew an oracle would be delivered that day at Delphi. In the meantime, the Prophetai and the Hosioi (priests of both Apollo and Dionysos) and certain delegates from the township of Delphi also cleansed themselves in the sacred waters of Kastalia. Finally, all the pilgrims who wished to consult the oracle similarly purified themselves at the spring.

When everyone was ready, they advanced in a festive procession towards the temple, filled with awe and anticipation. Delegates from the cities (theopropoi) and private individuals stood outside the temple and offered the pelanos at the altar – a kind of consecrated bread sold on the spot at a high price, the pilgrims’ first contribution to the sanctuary. Then they each advanced in turn towards the temple and placed a slaughtered animal as an offering upon the inner altar, where the undying flame burned. It was considered a great privilege to be the first to receive an oracle; this was known as ‘promanteia’. The priority was always retained by the people of Delphi for their own city, but second place was offered as the highest sign of honour to cities and individuals who had proved worthy of it.

The Pythia was already seated on the tripod in the adyton or inner shrine. The Prophetai stood nearby, and the pilgrim – it could only be a man – sat in a corner at some distance from her, having already posed his question to one of the Prophetai, either in writing or orally. The Pythia, hidden by some kind of partition, was not visible to anyone. The Prophetes put the question to her and she would give the god’s response, deep in her trance. This was apparently unintelligible to others, but the Prophetes was able to comprehend it and write it down in hexameter verse; it was this written reply that was handed over to the pilgrim. The equivocal replies of the Delphic oracle have become famous in history; they were so obscure, so incomprehensible that additional divinatory gifts were required to interpret them correctly and avoid unfortunate mistakes. The case of Croesus is a good example: in answer to his question, the god said that if he waged war on the Persians, he would destroy a great power; he never suspected that Loxias (a surname of Apollo, meaning the Oblique One, because of the ambiguous replies he was giving) meant to convey that he would destroy his own kingdom if he fought the Persians.

Those nine days of the year when the Pythia spoke with the voice of the god must have had a tremendous impact on the pilgrims fortunate enough to be present in the Delphic sanctuary. Only a very small percentage of those who wished to consult the divine oracle had the privilege of receiving an answer within those nine days in the year when divination was performed. For this reason, since the Archaic age, most of the pilgrims’ questions were answered in a different manner: by drawing lots. This kind of divination took place every day of the year, not in the adyton, but in public view; it was the most common method of divination as regards simple and concrete questions, that is to say questions that could be answered by a simple affirmative or negative. But when we refer to the Pythia and the celebrated oracles delivered at Delphi, we have in mind those great days, when the god himself let his voice be heard through the mouth of the entranced prophetess.

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Delphic Oracle – Ancient Greece

The first diviner to occupy the Delphic oracle was the mother of the gods, Gaia. She was succeeded by her daughter, Themis. The third occupant was another daughter of Gaia, the Titaness Phoibe, who gave Apollo the surname of Phoibos as a birthday present. We have this information from the Pythia’s own mouth, in the opening lines of Aischylos’ tragedy Eumenides. As regards the rest of the story: how Apollo founded his first temple at Delphi, and how he slew the fearful dragon (a female serpent) near a spring, this is recounted in the ancient Homeric hymn to Apollo. In later times, men believed this serpent to have been male and even more redoubtable, none other than the famous Python, guardian of Gaia’s oracle; the battle that the young god who had come from the north – from the valley of Tempe – fought against the serpent was indeed a great and terrible one. They also believed that although a god, Apollo complied to the divine rule which he himself had set: that whoever defiled his hands with the blood of murder should be sent into exile. Thus the god departed for eight years and worked in the service of Admetos, King of Pherai, in order to cleanse himself of the pestilent blood of murder; then he returned, purified and clean at last, sole master of the Delphic oracle.

This is what the ancients had to say about the beginnings of the legendary oracle. But concerning the site itself, that unique site which overwhelms whoever visits it for the first time, they had another story to tell. Zeus, wishing to find the centre of the earth, let loose two eagles from the two ends of the world; the sacred birds met at Delphi, which meant that there was the “navel” of the earth. Hence, Apollo’s sanctuary contained, since remotest times, an omphalos (navel-stone), and votive offerings in the shape of the omphalos were presented to the god by pious pilgrims from all over the world. The Apollonian oracle was indeed celebrated and venerated throughout the inhabited world. Not only Greeks, but barbarian monarchs as well sent envoys to consult the oracle and expressed their gratitude by dedicating sumptuous gifts and votive offerings to the god.

The Site: Such are the myths of the ancients concerning Apollo, Delphi and the celebrated oracle. However, before we come to the Delphic sanctuary and speak of the Delphic cult, we must first take a look at the place itself – the place which was once behind to be the centre of the earth. The usual approach to Delphi by land is by means of the road climbing up from Boiotia towards Arachova and then descending westward; it is the same road which the god himself followed when he first came to Delphi, as we are informed by the Homeric hymn to Apollo. Another approach is by means of the Corinthian gulf, and that was the one used by the first priests of Apollo, who were Cretans. Now the visitor encounters a landscape vividly described in the Homeric hymn: “You climbed rapidly (Phoibos is being addressed here) running across the hill-tops and you reached the regions of Krisa below Mount Parnassos which is covered with much snow, at the point where it forms a knee to the west, and a large rock overhangs the spot, while below a wild valley stretches out; this was the spot where the Lord Phoibos Apollo decided to have a beautiful temple…”

Anybody coming upon the holy site for the first time is struck with awe. “It is as if the earth had been cleft asunder by some cosmogonic spasm; the valley is a vast and profound chasm… And as soon as we reach the foot of the Phaidriades, at the exact spot of the Kastalian Spring, we are faced with something that appears like the chasm of chasms: the two rocks are separated by a tremendous gorge, narrow and impassable – the Arkoudorema (the Bear’s Gully) as it is known today – which continues all the way down the slope, deep into the thicket”. And there, at the point where the two rocks meet, in the deepest recess of the gorge and at the foot of the east rock (known anciently as Hyampeia and presently as Flempoukos), the most limpid water gushes forth: it is the water of the celebrated Kastalian Fountain where both priests and pilgrims cleansed themselves before entering the temple. On the western side, at the foot of the rock named Rhodini, Apollo’s sanctuary, the most famous in ancient Greece, extends across the opening on the rising ground. And down below, the deep valley of the Pleistos river spreads out, green and silver with olive-groves, and merges with the plain of Itea stretching all the way down to the sea-coast.

The history of Delphi: The history of Delphi is inextricably bound with the history of the sanctuary and the oracle; to be more precise, Delphi only existed as a township under the shadow of the sanctuary. Archaeological excavations have revealed the existence of an insignificant settlement on the site of the sanctuary and further east, dating back to c. 1400 B.C. This settlement was destroyed at the end of the Mycenaean period, but came back to life in Geometric times, when Apollo’s cult began to take root in that region. Hence-forward, Delphi acquired world fame and power of a kind unparalleled in Greece, although it remained a small town, sparsely populated. Over the course of 250 years, four sacred wars were waged for this small town, and at the end it caused the annihilation of the Phokians.

Among the best Athens Tours is the Tour to Delphi and a tour to Delphi and Meteora.

Slavery In Ancient Greece

That golden age when, according to writers of later comedy, no slaves yet existed, must be sought in a very early age. As far back as tradition reaches, slaves have always existed in the countries around the Aegean Sea, where capture of and traffic in slaves were so easy and where the Phoenicians had been the teachers and precursors.

Homer attired slavery in a peculiar greatness in two figures: Eumaeus, who resists robbers and outlaws despite his own status as a piece of property, and the glorious Eurycleia. Homer, it is true, is concerned only with royal courts and great leaders. It is hard to determine to what extent Hesiod in Works and Days regarded farm hands as slaves; without a doubt, however, the poet viewed honest farm work not as banausic but as beneficent. Apart from the subjected people just considered, it is likely that farming was almost exclusively in the hands of free people as late as the ninth century.

At the other end of the scale, the possessing classes came to despise work and workers, acquiring that anti-banausic attitude which regarded the noble athletic games as the only worthy purpose of life. This aristocracy somehow got possession of the best land, now and then of all the land within the city-state territory, and got the landless free men to farm it for them. But these menial farm hands may have preserved the memory of better days their fathers once enjoyed while still living in hamlets, before the merciless polis was founded.

Once colonizing was in full swing, many doubtless went along to escape serfdom and bondage. And the readier the colonies were to supply slaves, the easier the gaps in the ranks of farm labor were to fill, for these colonies lay mostly on coasts where captured slaves from the interior were traded off. In wars of Hellenes against Hellenes, the victors killed the grown men and sold the wives and children, apparently abroad. When they spared the men, they did not keep them as domestic slaves but to work the mines, or held them for high ransom.

Since many regions were fully dependent on slave labor, war was too irregular and uncertain a source for supplying the need; only trade assured regularity. To keep an adult Greek captive as a slave in one’s home was surely hard and dangerous. In most instances we find that the slaves kept in the homes or in the fields were of barbarian origin.

In rural areas where people lived predominantly in hamlets, laborers remained free for quite a while; among the Locrians and Phocians the younger members of the family customarily served the older or the first-born one. They did not keep slaves until shortly before the holy war of the fourth century. When a polis fully developed its potential, it did so by means of slave labor. And whoever, as a free man, worked on farms or in the city for wages found the idea of citizenship out of his reach. Indeed, the free man could hardly find any market for his services because the slaves and metics [resident aliens] filled the need. Such a fellow preferred looking for work from day to day to being under a pledge, which to him would have been a kind of servitude, in that it made him feel dependent.

Where and in what states did slaves first come to be the servants in households and the workers on farms and in handicrafts? When and where were galleys first manned by slaves? Large enterprises exploiting masses of workers, like mines for instance, presumably were always operated by slave labor.

Slaves came from a variety of sources. Scythians, Getaeans, Lydians, Phrygians, Paphlagonians, Carians, Syrians filled Greek homes and farms. Cautious buyers tried to get each slave from a different nationality, which was easy to do where only three or four were used. It is not certain whether the barbarian slave dealers drew more upon their own people or upon war captives or on slave-hunting to supply the market.

During the heyday of Greece, even a highly cultivated Hellene could become the slave of another Greek falling into the clutches of a powerful enemy or a pirate. Once one had become a slave, citizenship or high birth availed naught. Phaedo and Plato both suffered this fate, the former in his youth, the latter when already a famous philosopher. Both were redeemed. Now and then a second owner might speculate on the chance of redemption. Diogenes remained with his buyer Ceniades of Corinth, later obviously voluntarily.

In the fifth century, the average price for an ordinary slave was two minas, the mina being worth a hundred drachmas. In the fourth century one and one half minas was regarded as reasonable, showing that the supply was steady and plentiful. Else more slaves would have been raised at home to supplement the purchases abroad. But breeding slaves was not considered profitable; indeed, wedlock among slaves (little more than concubinage and barely tolerated by the masters) was not considered expedient, unless it was desired to attach the better slaves by means of their children to the service of the house and to its welfare.

One did not expect much of slave children. The yearly attrition was reckoned at ten per cent, and one naturally wished to keep one’s slaves as useful animals. One saw one’s friend suffer hardships or perish without being much concerned; but one took one’s slave to the doctor and nursed him, if he died, one lamented and regarded it as a loss.

We may ask what happened when a region became so impoverished that it could no longer afford to buy slaves, and especially when the number of free-born laborers dropped as they became more loath to work. Most likely the country soon turned into a waste.

Later on, Cappadocians, Phrygians, and Lydians usually did the baking because of their skill in it. On large estates a slave was made an overseer of the others, and from among the female slaves one became the stewardess who was carefully instructed and treated gently and discreetly. Aristotle supposed that one should respect and deal fairly with slaves entrusted with the more responsible jobs, while giving the ordinary ones plenty of good wholesome food. Larger households needed doorkeepers to check on things carried in and out. A slave no longer useful for other work might well have handled this.

The slaves of Sophocles’ father were all builders and braziers, those of Isocrates’ father were all flute makers. Some workshops might employ hundreds of slaves, depending on the business and the condition of the times. In mines, there were many thousands of slaves, being the property either of the state or of a private owner. The citizens grew concerned about the wretched existence of these slaves only when they threatened to become dangerous. A document one wishes Xenophon had not written glowingly portrays to the Athenian citizens how profitable it would be to employ more slaves in the silver mines, for with ten thousand they would take in one hundred talents a year, and by sufficiently increasing that number they could all live without working.

As if the number of slaves in the homes and on the fields of Attics were not enough, Xenophon thinks the state should have at least three slaves in the silver mines for every citizen, a good sixty thousand at that time; then Athens would be even more orderly and more efficient in war. These proposals are just as foolish as the encouragement given to resident aliens or metics, who were to be lured to Athens in great numbers. How costly it would have been for Athens to live on this kind of income! A single unlucky battle taking the lives of many citizens would have enabled the metics to become masters of the state already undermined in the literal sense.

These metics were Lydian, Phrygian, and Syrian in origin, as were many of the slaves; in part they may have been the offspring of slaves who had been freed, and a number of household and silver-mine slaves who presumably also were freed. Xenophon finally wonders whether approval of his proposals should not be sought in Dodona and Delphi, and if approved, under the protection of which gods they should be carried out.

It is hard for us to think of Greece as harboring amid four to five million free men twelve million slaves, nearly all of foreign extraction (Hellwald); of Attics as having four times as many slaves as free men (Curtis), to say nothing of individual industrial cities like Corinth where the free men comprised about one tenth of the population; the state of Corinth is supposed to have had 460.000 slaves and Aegina fully 40,000.

Nobody has ever been blind to the great dangers all this slavery involved. To be sure, the mobs which at times took over whole cities were not slaves as the word used to describe them suggests, but suppressed natives. The big slave wars in Sicily really took place under Roman rule when the system of latifundia had enormously increased the number of slaves. Concurrent with the second uprising in Sicily, the slaves in the mines of Attics, now grown into many myriads, revolted (about 100 B.C.), and having killed their guards and seized the Acropolis at Sunium they proceeded to lay waste the land.

The greater the number of slaves in a state, the more severe was the discipline and the more urgent the desire for escape and vengeance. In every war, people feared that large masses of slaves would burst their shackles. More than twenty thousand slaves, mostly skilled craftsmen, hence the more valuable ones, ran away from their Athenian masters, hard pressed by their defeat in Sicily and the occupation of Deceleum by King Agis and his Spartan troops. Strategy in war included provoking the enemy’s slaves to revolt; hence everyone who could somehow manage it would remove his slaves along with the rest of his family over the border for safety when an enemy threatened to invade. The victor at a naval engagement freed the galley slaves and fettered their masters.

Even in time of peace, the nation had to bear the consequences of the fact that all free men in the more highly developed cities and country districts spurned work with all their might. As will be seen, there existed in some places better and more comfortable conditions, but in Attica one knew that as a rule the slaves were malevolent toward their masters. Basically, a slaveholder was protected by the nearness of his neighbor who also owned slaves.

Says Plato: The citizens serve each other as voluntary bodyguards. Rich townspeople who have many slaves live without fear because the whole city is ready to come to the aid of every single individual. But if some god should transfer an owner of fifty slaves along with his family and all his property out of the city into a wilderness where no stranger would come to his help, what fear he would have that his slaves would dispatch him. He would have to be nice to some, making them promises and freeing them without any cause; he would be the flatterer of his thralls or their sacrificial victim.

A slaveholder whose slaves knew of a wrong he had committed could look upon himself as the most unhappy of all men, being their lifelong hostage and in no position to punish them, no matter what they did; on occasion they might have been liberated for informing on him. It follows that an intelligent slave was even regarded as dangerous, and especially so when tainted with the mentality of free citizens.

The fact that the slaves were barbarians or semi-barbarians a priori qualified the treatment they received. This fact also induced Plato and Aristotle to class them in a low theoretical rank even though their motive is not expressly phrased. That Aristotle was gentle and kindly disposed toward them, as is evident from his last will and testament, redounds all the more to his honor. The slaveholders steeled themselves against pity for the hordes they surrounded themselves with, whose life admittedly was worse than death. Laws prevented the master from deliberately killing and raping his slaves, perhaps less for their protection than to keep him from brutalizing himself; otherwise he could discipline and mistreat them any way he wished.

A misfortune for all slaves was the very presence of that most wretched class, the mine slaves, who for centuries were ill treated in any way human beings could be. They were provided only with the things needed to keep them alive and in some strength; when not at work, they must have been permanently shackled. Even ordinary slaves were often shackled, not for reasons of discipline but to prevent their escape.

That a slave preferred to be a drudge on a farm to being a menial in a city household was no doubt due to his generally rural origin, and under a sensible master his lot was as bearable as any he could expect if he were to return home. The shepherd slave was probably treated just as well as a hired hand today, because the care of animals depended so much on his good will.

The shepherds of Sicily and lower Italy mentioned by Theocritus were slaves without doubt, but still they, like the farm slaves of Xenophon, had their own property, including sheep and goats, and were able to make pretty gifts. Arcadians gave lavish entertainments to which they invited both masters and their slaves, serving them the same dishes and mixing their wine in the same bowl [krater]. Now and then the masters served the slaves at feasts and played dice with them. When the Greeks learned about the Roman Saturnalia, where such was the custom, they found it was a thoroughly Hellenic feast.

The common way of dealing with slaves, according to Xenophon, was to check exuberance through hunger, banish indolence by whiplashes, forestall flight by fetters, and stealing by locking up everything that could be.

Following the Peloponnesian War, the slaves of Athens were bold and free in their demeanor. Their frocks were like those of the metics and poorer citizens, so that one could hardly tell them apart because they all had pretty much the same shabby appearance. Often they were better off, thanks to their property, which, to judge by the later comedies, must often have been quite considerable. After the defeat at Chaeronea, the populace at Athens was intent on freeing the slaves, enfranchising the metics, and restoring their honors to the dishonored.

At the time of Demosthenes, the slaves were more boldly vocal than the citizens in many cities; it appears that they also attended the theater, now and then took part in the Attic mystery rites, and when partisan spirit ran high, they even pushed their way into the popular assembly.

In highly cultivated Athens, however, the slave could at any moment be most bitterly reminded of his true status. Some, says Plato, do not trust their slaves at all and so goad and whip them much and often, whereby they really enslave their souls. Moreover, there was also the judicatory torture of slaves, to which one must suppose the Athenians resorted rather often. In lawsuits, even in civil suits, a litigant could submit his own slaves to testify in his behalf under torture or demand that his opponent bring his slaves into court to testify against him under torture.

In connection with his demand that the slaves of his victim Leocrates be tortured, the orator Lycurgus, whose coarse emotional appeals tell us so much about court procedure in the fourth century, calls the torture of slaves by far the most just and appropriate means for getting at the bottom of a case in court. Leocrates refused and thereby supposedly betrayed his bad conscience, as if a humane disposition and kindly feelings for his slaves could have played no part. Perjury and bearing false witness were rife in Athens at that time. To be sure, once torture of slaves became legitimate in court proceedings, it was merely a matter of time before torture could be applied to non-slaves.

The slave remained a commodity, and occasional favors tossed him were only apparent; as for example, putting him as a pedagogue in charge of the children, until they were well along in adolescence. We must also remember that the duty of the pedagogue was essentially negative, that is, to guard and defend the child, while the teachers proper were free men, and especially that, while it was possible to hire a free man as a teacher for a while, particularly if he was a fellow citizen, it was very hard to keep him long, because he was not accustomed to, and hence not fit to live in, this kind of dependence. To pick from a few or many slaves the one best suited for the task should have been fairly easy over a course of years; no doubt mutual trust and attachment obtained between some masters and slaves, as attested by various epitaphs to outstanding slaves, as also to faithful nurses who were likewise bondwomen.

On the whole, slaves who had been freed were not in good odor. It is self-evident that when bad and ungrateful slaves were freed, they hated their master above all people because he had known them in their servitude. In the newer Attic comedy, the freed slave appeared rather frequently as an accuser in court (without doubt against his master), as though the enjoyment of free speech consisted in lodging accusations, and what was typical in comedy must have been commonplace in life. The slave so vexatiously freed in Lucian’s Timon must no doubt be relegated to the days of Imperial Rome, as well as Trimalchio in Petronius.

Of course there were instances when a slave was given free rein for having mastered a particular skill in a handicraft, skills appearing occasionally but not necessarily as hereditary in a free Greek family.

And finally, it is self-evident that slaves performed all special routine work which the state, particularly the highly organized Athenian state, had to have done. They were the secretaries, lower officials, policemen, etc. The ambitious free man wanted nothing to do with a little office; he was either going to be a demagogue or starve. A man of the demos snatched only at such offices as promised to line his pockets.

Learn about Athens Greece and Ancient Greece through Greece Guide

Holidays in Greece Are a Cultured and Ancient Experience

Around the coast of Greece you will find hundreds of small uninhabited islands, the same islands that were years ago visited by the heroes of ancient Greek legend. Battles took place on the rocky shores and wonderful Greek myths were born. Forward to the 21st century and you have people from all around Europe and the rest of the world visiting Greece to see what’s these islands have to offer.

A holiday in Greece is perfect way to explore the wonders of the Greek way of life, while battles no longer rage there is still plenty to occupy the modern tourist. Whether you visit to see the ancient ruins that are scattered around the Greek mainland and its islands or war you prefer just to relax on one of the luxury beaches around its peninsula you will find something for everyone in Greece.

Food wise the Greeks really have a good way of cooking, they’re homely style brings people coming back to Greece year after year. People love the fresh Mediterranean diet is which includes Greek salad with feta cheese and the old favourites Moussaka a wonderful Greek dish of aubergine and lamb. The Greek diet has always been very healthy and the Greeks extra high life expectancy is possibly one reason some believed they were God’s in ancient times.

This stunning turquoise water and beaches of true golden sands the islands around Greece are a wonder to behold-Lesbos, Kefalonia, and Poros are just some of the wonderful islands tourists flock to, Kefalonia even has one of the best beaches (voted number five) in the world.

While the credit crunch is on you may think that it is a bad time to visit Greece however Greece has particularly suffered during this time meaning you get more for your UK pound in Greece than you would have previously. Hopefully the prices of Greek holidays will continue to fall giving the holidaymaker, from the UK in particular more value for money on a holiday.

Whether you look for a hotel or villa one thing in Greece is assured, culture. Everywhere you go in Greece will not miss the cultured influence of the ancient times. This makes Greece and the Greek Islands the perfect place to take a holiday.

Holidays in Greece was written by Russell Beech, an expert on Kefalonia Holidays. For more information you could visit the website