Panathenaic Festival

Panathenaic Festival

Panathenaic Festival

Panathenaic Festival, observed by the ancient Greeks, was one of the most important religious celebrations for people of Athens.[1] This significant religious festival included numerous activities performed by participants from various parts of the Greek World. All Greek citizens were allowed to participate irrespective of their age and gender. Thus, all the men, women, and youths from the ancient Greece took part in various athletic activities such as foot races, discus throw, horse chariot races, wrestling, boxing, pentathlon, javelin, and long jump among others. However, unlike any other Greek public activity, women (especially virgins from noble families) played significant roles during the festivals. They carried the sacrificial meat put in a basket into the ceremony. It was only during this festival when women were allowed to mingle with men who attended the festival freely.[2]As a result, the festival earned them respect from the female members of society due to the role they played. All the citizens of Greece and adjacent parts were allowed to participate in the celebrations except slaves who were under masters’ command at the time of the festival. Free slaves were permitted to attend to a limited extent. The festival took place every four years. Since 556 BCE, the Panathenaic Festival was important in enhancing religious and political connections between various tribes and communities from different parts in the Greek World. [3]Through the participation of people from various parts of Athens and other parts of Greece, the festival was a binding activity that translated into peaceful coexistence between people.[4]At the same time, the Panathenaic Festival enabled religious activities to take place in Athens through the inclusion of the Peplos during the festival presentations. Throughout the festival period, participants honored Athena Polias and her birthday as the goddess in-charge of Athens. This festival was an excellent representation of Athens’ power as well as the commitment to its patron goddess. Through the inclusion of the participants from Athens and other parts of the Greek Empire, the festival created unity and a sense of purpose. People gathered to celebrate their religion and politics. Therefore, the ancient Greeks viewed the Panathenaic Festival as an activity that carried a significant impact in the religious events and the politics of the region.

The Panathenaic Festival and Religious Connections

In the world of the ancient Greeks, worshippers considered religion as personal, direct, as well as a way of presenting various areas of life.[5] To begin with, formal rituals including libations, animal sacrifices, and myths account for the origins of humankind. Besides, ancient Greeks gave gods individual images, built temples in the urban landscape, and participated in the festivals. All these practices indicate that religion was inherent to ancient Greek’s mind. Ancient Greeks believed that the gods were watching them and that they responded to worship and piety acts. Old Greek Empire had different gods such as Hades, Apollo, and Athena and people took part in Panathenaic Festival with the aim of pleasing these gods.

Initially, King Theseus started the Panathenaic Festival.[6] Consequently, the society viewed him as an Athenian hero. King Theseus was related to the cult of Athena. Therefore, he started the festival as a cult to observe and show respect to Athena Polias and other gods such as Erechtheus. The festival also found its roots from the early sacrifices to Erechtheus. It had two crucial stages including the procession and the sacrifice. Through the observance of these steps, with the inclusion of various activities, the Panathenaic Festival expressed its religious significance. The event, which took place every four years, evoked different spiritual connections among the citizens of the Greek Empire and tribes who participated.

Firstly, the festivals took place in the temples which were also used as places of worship because ancient Greeks believed that gods dwelled in the temple or visited it during rituals. During the Panathenaic procession, the sacrificial meat was presented to the gods by the noble virgins in the cults. The Greeks often constructed these sects on an acropolis which dominated a city or a neighboring region. Similarly, Christians conducted various religious ceremonies in an altar built in the temple. Sacrifice and pouring libations were the most common practices observed during ancient Greek era. These two occasions were used to express respect and prayers as a way of honoring their gods. Religious believers usually sacrificed sheep, pigs, goats or cows to the honored god. The sacrificial meat was either wholly burnt or cooked. Some of the meat was given to the gods while the worshippers took the rest. Therefore, the temple was an essential element of religious practices during the Panathenaic Festival.

Secondly, the festivals involved priests who performed various rituals. Similarly, priests conducted religious rituals and ceremonies which include offering sacrifices, pouring libations and delivering prayers. However, the position of the priest was open to all worshippers, since the body of the priest became inviolate upon wearing the sacred headband when conducting the ceremony. Although priests served a specific god, they were not necessarily religious experts. Therefore, in case the worshippers had theological questions the priest could not answer, they were supposed to consult an exegete, who was a state official knowledgeable in religious matters. Both genders had equal chances of serving as priests and conducting religious ceremonies. However, often the priest on duty was supposed to be of the similar sex as the god they represented. However, the leaders restricted priestesses; they were to be either virgins or beyond menopause stage. On the other hand, worshippers constituted of both genders though certain restricted rituals excluded either female or male.

Thirdly, women played a significant role during Panathenaic procession. Likewise, women served as priests and preceded religious ceremonies despite them having no other public position.[7] Besides, in both cases, virgins from great family backgrounds were appointed. Consequently, the priestesses of Greek religion were accorded much respect as compared to their fellows in the society. Due to their dedication to their religious duties, they were regularly given valuable properties, paid and most importantly, accorded respect by other society members due to their contributions. Other community members viewed the priestesses of the Greek religious cults as celebrities and role models. Athena Polias marked the most significant religious function in Athens. Athena served as the patron goddess of Athens whereas Athena Polias served as the incarnation of Athens to guard the polis. Besides, the high priestess of Athena Polias represented the most senior religious position in Athens. A woman from Eteoboutadae’s noble family held the position and exerted considerable religious and political influence in the community. Besides, other females played crucial roles in both the cult and its overall activities.

Moreover, Athens celebrated the Panathenaia every year before commemorating Athena’s birthday. This festival was an excellent representation of Athens’ power as well as the commitment to its patron goddess.[8] In addition to the yearly Panathenaic celebration, they held a more significant Panathenaia celebration in every four years. This festival was more celebrated and had more significance than other common festivals. Consequently, the festival was inclusive of the Panathenaic Procession. During the preparation of the Acropolis’ procession, the believers made a new peplos for Athena’s cult statue housed on the Acropolis. Archon Basileus chose from noble families two young girls to serve as arrephoroiI.[9]They were supposed to stay with Athena’s priestesses for a specific duration to assist in weaving the new attire.[10]During the Procession which took place in the streets of Athens, the cult leaders dropped the peplos ceremonially. Meanwhile, the kanephoroi, who were young virgins of noble blood, carried sacred baskets which contained pieces of meat meant for sacrifices.[11] They presented the sacrificial animals at the altar of Athena together with the peplos.[12] These virgin females were allowed to mingle freely with Athenian men from noble families during the procession, which was very exceptional for the typical women of the Greek community.

Therefore, it is evident that women played significant roles during the Panathenaic Procession as well as in Athenian religion. As a result, these women were respected and valued by other society members, unlike ordinary Greek women. Besides, it is an indication that women contributed towards connecting the rest of the society with their religion through participating in the festivals.

Besides, feasting characterized the Panathenaic festival since it was the primary part of the ceremony. All participants from different part of the Greek empire and their neighbors participated in the festival. During the celebration, the participants feasted on animal meat which was mostly slaughtered to appease their gods. Similarly, sacrificial animal characterized other religious ceremonies. The animals were meant to please the gods and bringing people together as they shared them. Finally, all individuals were allowed to take part in the Panathenaic festival irrespective of their origin, unlike another festival which had exceptions. As a result, individuals participated in the ceremony regardless of their race, gender, ethnicity as well as their age. Likewise, people were allowed to take part in religious traditions in the society despite their diversities. Therefore, these similarities show connection between this festival and religious activities of the ancient Greeks.

The Panathenaic Festival and Political Connections

Just like with religious activities, Panathenaic festival had a close connection with political matters. That is, Panathenaic festival activities had an impact on the politics of the ancient Greek in various ways.

Firstly, all citizens from the early Greek world and the adjacent parts were involved in the event.[13]However, slaves who were under their masters’ command were not allowed to participate in the festivals. Besides, the freed slaves were allowed to attend to a limited extent. Consequently, the festival unified the entire Greek empire and their neighbors since worshippers were able to come together to observe similar religious ceremonies and rituals during the festival. Besides, the festival enhanced coexistence peacefully among the society members by bringing them together and more so through sharing the sacrificial meat. Similarly, the political goal of the political leaders was to unify the entire empire and ensure there was peaceful coexistence among the citizens and the residents of other parts surrounding them. Besides, during the festival, the leaders engaged in political propaganda discussing the issues taking place in the ancient Greek Empire. Leaders utilized the festival since all citizens were gathered together to attend the ceremony. Therefore, such celebrations and the political world of the ancient Greeks were interrelated.

Furthermore, the gods offered protection to all worshippers during the festivals. During the festival, the Greeks and citizens from their neighborhood offered sacrifice to their gods to appease them.[14]In return, the gods protected the society members from evil spirits as well as any form of attack by their enemies. Similarly, in the Greek empire, political leaders were charged with the responsibility of protecting their citizens from any attack either internal or external. This action shows the connection between the festival and political world of the Greek people during the Athens arena.

Thirdly, the festival leaders taught the civic education to the worshippers who attended the ceremony. Most residents valued the Panathenaic festival, and therefore they participated in large numbers. As a result, the festival was the best platform for the political leaders to teach citizens civic education.[15]Besides, the citizens attentively listened to teachings during the festival which implies they were likely to understand the civic education better. The collective knowledge was meant to strengthen democracy in the empire.[16]The political leaders were assigned the responsibility of teaching political education in the empire. Besides, civic education was a significant factor in the political matters of the early Greek community. Therefore, it is evident that the festival activities connected the festival with the political world of the ancient Greek.

Conclusion

Panathenaic festival was the most valued ceremony among the residents of the ancient Greek world. All the old Greek citizens gathered to celebrate the festival which occurred in every four years irrespective of their gender and age. Also, people from adjacent parts participated in the celebration. However, unlike other Greek public festivals, women were allowed to take an active role during the ceremony. Virgins from noble families were assigned the responsibility of carrying the sacrificial meat placed in baskets. Most importantly, festival connected the ancient Greek people to both religious and political matters. The festival took place in an altar built outside the temple similarly to religious activities. Also, the festival involved the offering of sacrifice and libation to please the gods which characterized most religious activities. Besides, just like religious activities where women served as a priest, during the festival women were directly involved. The festival included sharing of the sacrificial meat which they shared during religious ceremonies. In addition to spiritual connection, the festival had relationships with political matters of the ancient Greek community.

Bibliography

Cartwright, Mark. “Ancient Greek Religion.” Ancient History Encyclopedia. Last modified April 11, 2013. https://www.ancient.eu/Greek_Religion/.

Charles, Waldstein. The American Journal of Archaeology and the History of the Fine Arts

David, Wiley-Blackwell. “A Brief History of the Olympic Games.” (2004).

Fantham, Modern Greece.” (2006).Elaine. Women in the Classical World. Oxford University Press, New York, Oxford, 1994.

Feeney, Denis. Caesar’s Calendar: Ancient Time and the Beginning of History. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2007.

Haland, Evy Johanne. “Athena’s Peplos: Weaving as a Core Female Activity in Ancient and Modern Greece.” (2006).

Hugh Bowden, Mystery Cults of the Ancient World Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press 2010.

Jennifer Neils, “The Political Process in the Public Festival: The Panathenaic Festival in Athens,” in Greek and Roman Festivals (2012), 199–215.

Parker, Robert. Polytheism and Society at Athens. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005

Pomeroy, Sarah. Goddesses, Whores, Wives, and Slaves: Women in Classical Antiquity. Schocken Books, New York, 1995.

See Pickard-Cambridge, The Dramatic Festivals of Athens, 1968, 40–42, for features of the festival.

Stevenson, Tom. “The Parthenon Frieze as an Idealised, Contemporary Panathenaic Festival.” (2003): 233-280.

Venetus, A. “Recapturing a Homeric Legacy.” (2009).

Vol. 1, No. 1 (Jan. 1885), pp. 10-17.

Walter Burkert, Homo Necans: The Anthropology of Ancient Greek Sacrificial Ritual and Myth (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1983), 153–161.

writer873. “The Women of Athena’s Cult.” Ancient History Encyclopedia. Last modified January 18, 2012. https://www.ancient.eu/article/74/.

[1]Cartwright, Mark. “Ancient Greek Religion.” Ancient History Encyclopedia. Last modified April 11, 2013. https://www.ancient.eu/Greek_Religion/.

[2]“The Women of Athena’s Cult.” Ancient History Encyclopedia. Last modified January 18, 2012. https://ww.ancient.eu/article/74/.

[3]David, Wiley-Blackwell. “A Brief History of the Olympic Games.”  (2004).

[4]. Charles, Waldstein. The American Journal of Archaeology and the History of the Fine Arts

Vol. 1, No. 1 (Jan. 1885), pp. 10-17.

[5]Cartwright, Mark. “Ancient Greek Religion.” Ancient History Encyclopedia. Last modified April 11, 2013. https://www.ancient.eu/Greek_Religion/.

[6]Feeney, Denis. Caesar’s Calendar: Ancient Time and the Beginning of History. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2007.

[7]Fantham, Elaine. Women in the Classical World. Oxford University Press, New York, Oxford, 1994.

[8]Parker, Robert. Polytheism and Society at Athens. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005.

[9]Pomeroy, Sarah. Goddesses, Whores, Wives, and Slaves: Women in Classical Antiquity. Schocken Books, New York, 1995.

[10]Haland, Evy Johanne. “Athena’s Peplos: Weaving as a Core Female Activity in Ancient and Modern Greece.” (2006).

[11]See Pickard-Cambridge, The Dramatic Festivals of Athens, 1968, 40–42, for features of the festival.

[12]Walter Burkert, Homo Necans: The Anthropology of Ancient Greek Sacrificial Ritual and Myth (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1983), 153–161.

[13]Stevenson, Tom. “The Parthenon Frieze as an Idealised, Contemporary Panathenaic Festival.” (2003): 233-280.

[14]Hugh Bowden, Mystery Cults of the Ancient World (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press 2010

[15]Jennifer Neils, “The Political Process in the Public Festival: The Panathenaic Festival in Athens,” in Greek and Roman Festivals (2012), 199–215.

[16]Venetus, A. “Recapturing a Homeric Legacy.” (2009).


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