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Festivals in Ancient Greece

Would you like to know about some of the festivals in Ancient Greece? Festivals were not held just to compete or to have a good time, but they were an important part of the worship of the gods.

Festivals in Ancient Greece

About Festivals in Ancient Greece

Festivals in Ancient Greece occurred every year, or every two, four, or even eight years. Most of them had something to do with the Greeks' relationship with the gods. In Athens alone, there were 60 days in the year set aside for festivals.

Although this is not a complete list, here are the translations of the months and the number of most of the festivals held during that month:

  • July - Hekatombaion - 3
  • August - Metageitnion - 1 (for 4 days)
  • September - Boedromion - 3
  • October - Pyanopsion - 11
  • November - Maimakterion - 1
  • December - Poseideon - 2
  • January - Gamelion - 2
  • February - Anthesterion - 2
  • March - Elaphebolion - 2
  • April - Mounichion - 2
  • May - Thargelion - 4
  • June - Skirophorion – 3

Festivals for the Gods

Here is a list of festivals in Ancient Greece grouped by god or goddess:

  • Apollo - Stepterion, festival of the wreaths at Delphi, held every eight years, Pythian Games
  • Athena - Arrephoria, Panathenaea
  • Dionysus - Aiora (Attica), Agrionia, Anthesteria, Iobakcheia, Greater Dionysia, Lenaea, Oschophoria, Rural Dionysia, Theoinia (Athens)
  • Poseidon - Posidea (winter agricultural festival in Athens), Isthemian Games (every two years in April or May)
  • Zeus - Bouphonia, Lycaea (Arcadian festival), Olympic Games, Nemean Games

Major Festivals

Since there are too many festivals, this article examines the major ones:

  • Anthesteria was the festival of Dionysus and the new wine held in the spring in Athens.
  • Greater Dionysia was also celebrated in Athens in the spring to honor Dionysus and had drama competitions and general merrymaking.
  • Lenaea was a festival of comedy in January which had drama competitions.
  • Rural Dionysia was celebrated in December in areas outside of Athens. It included drama competitions, songs, dances, and feasts.
  • The Thargelia festival occurred in May and celebrated Apollo and the new harvest.
  • The Pyanopsia was a bean festival in October which honored Apollo and the Horae, goddesses of the seasons, with an offering of bean stew.

Panhellenic Games

Four games are held for all Greeks: Olympic Games, Pythian Games, Isthmian Games, and the Nemean Games. The Olympic Games were held every four years, the Nemean Games and the Isthmian Games took place the year before and the year after the Olympic Games, and the Pythian Games were held two years before and after the Olympic Games. Here is a brief summary of each one.

The Olympic Games honored Zeus and Pelops and consisted of athletic, combat, and chariot racing events. According to legend, Hercules named the games and decided to hold them every four years. He also built the Olympic stadium after his 12 Labors to honor Zeus. The games ran from 776 BC to 393 AD and winners received olive wreaths or crowns.

The Pythian Games were held between the Olympic Games and honor Apollo. They take place in Delphi at the sanctuary of Apollo. They held all the same events as the Olympic Games but included competitions in music, acting, dancing, and poetry. These games began in the 6th century B.C.E. and winners were awarded a laurel twig because it was sacred to Apollo.

The Isthmian Games were held at the Isthmus of Corinth and honored Poseidon. They were held one year before and after the Olympic Games. Events were similar to the Pythian Games. The first games were held in 582 BC and the winners received a wreath of celery leaves when the games began and later they received a pinecone wreath. Sometimes victors would get a statue or an ode and the city of Athens gave each Athenian who won 100 drachmas.

The Nemean Games honored Zeus and were held the year before and after the Olympic Games. They began in the 6th century BC and were held at Nimea. The city of Argos presented the winners with a wreath made of wild celery leaves. The events were similar to the events of the Pythian Games.