Ancient Athenian

1. Hekatombaion

The New Year begins on the first Noumenia after the Summer Solstice, but it wasn't a single day celebrating the New Year as we do in the modern day, but rather an entire month-long celebration that began on the last day of the year in the Athenian month, Skirophorion, as a sacrifice to Zeus Soter and Athena Soteria, ancestral saviors of the city. The sacrifice was held by the state officials, as it was also the day their terms came to an end and the new officials began theirs. It was not, however, a sacrifice attended by the citizens. The sacrifice thanked the gods for their protection over the previous year and asked for their continued blessings for the new year.

The month Hekatombaion was named after the Hekatombaia festival in honor of Apollon of the Hekatombs (large-scale city-state sacrifices of hundreds of animals, usually bulls), but the festival had completely disappeared by Classical times. Only the name survives. Interestingly the Ancient Athenians believed that the month had once been called Kronion after the Kronia festival that did manage to survive. In fact, Samos' last month of the year was Kronion.

4*  Aphrodisia

Our information for this festival is obscure, but we know that a dove was sacrificed on the altar of Aphrodite Pandemos to cleanse it of past pollution from animal sacrifice (the dove as a sacred animal is exempt as a pollutant), the altars were then anointed, and the cult images for Aphrodite Pandemos and Peitho (Passion) were taken in procession to a place to be washed, most likely to a nearby stream or the sea. Mythic tradition says that Aphrodite Pandemos' cult was brought to Athens by Theseus due to her role in the Unification of Tribal Athens, celebrated later in the month as the Synoikia festival, and indeed while "Pandemos" is often seen as a "Vulgar Aphrodite", through her ancient cult she was seen as "the common Aphrodite of the united Attic people" and her face used to be on one of the sides of their archaic coinage alongside Athena.

Theoi Honored: Aphrodite Pandemos (of the common people) and Peitho (Passion)

12  Kronia

The Kronia is a festival in honor of Kronos, a god of the grain harvest and often depicted with a reaping hook. It is likely that this festival originally marked the end of the grain harvest and was of some importance as we know that the month of Hekatombaion was once called the Kronion. By classical times, however, most of the rites for the festival had been lost, save for a banquet dinner for all the enslaved throughout Athens in which their enslavers served their meals in a ritual role reversal. Since the timing of the festival aligns with the end of the grain harvest, it seems the dinner was likely "a celebration of the end of the farmer's activity, and a kind of harvest supper in which all who worked on the farm took part."[1] It was likely a civic holiday as Athens' would have struggled to function without enslaved labor, according to Burkert, who were reportedly permitted to celebrate ecstatically through the streets with little restriction for this single night.

Theoi Honored: Kronos

16  Synoikia

The Synoikia is the annual celebration in honor of Athena and of the Synoecism (unification) of Athens and the other cities ruled by kings surrounding them. Mythic tradition cites Theseus, Athens' cult hero, as the one responsible for the unification. However, historically, this would have placed the Synoecism occurring before the Trojan War, which scholars find unlikely. Regardless, the families said to descend from the old Ionian tribes still performed symbolic religious functions throughout Athens' history and their participation in this festival holds hallmarks of the old archaic traditions, implying the festival is old indeed.

Every other year the Synoikia likely was a larger affair taking place on the 15th as well as the 16th, and we know that Attic demes contributed minor sacrifices for the festival, but by classical times the festival wasn't widely celebrated and had become a formality between the state and the tribes as part of their ancestral duty in honor of Zeus Phratrios. After the (albeit temporary) peace treaty with Sparta the goddess of Peace, Eirene, increased her worship in Athens and became associated with the day even after the treaty with Sparta ceased.

Theoi Honored: Zeus Phratrios (of the tribal brotherhoods), Athena, and Eirene (Peace)

Heroes Honored: Theseus

21 - Sacrifice to: Artemis and Kourotrophos [2]

28  Panathenaia

Tradition marks this as the day Athena burst from Zues' head fully armored, Athena's birthday. The chief celebration was an elaborate procession of her new peplos which maidens began weaving at the Khalkeia festival 9 months prior. The peplos traditionally depicts the goddess' victory over the giant Enceladus in bright blues and yellows. While there was a light competition held for the initial design of the peplos, there was heavy superstition over changing the overall theme, as tragedy struck the one time the Athenians deviated and they never dared to again. Initially, the peplos would've been human-sized but after the arrival of the massive Pallas Athena icon the peplos grew to the size of a ship's sail and in fact, was taken in procession mounted as such on a wheeled boat rolled through the city.

At the head of the procession would be the 100 maidens who wove the tapestry, followed by foot-soldiers, cavalry riders, chariots, kanephoroi (noble maidens carrying the sacrificial animal's grain), thallophoroi (old men carrying olive branches), skaphephoroi (tray-bearers) carrying offerings of cakes and honeycomb and metics' daughters carrying water jars. After the procession, Athena's altar would be lit from the fire at Eros' altar and would be delivered via torch race and the sacrifices would be performed, usually including animals that had been delivered from all over the Athenian empire, and provided a free meat meal for all citizens. The festival would culminate in an all-night service of dancing and merriment.

The Greater Panathenaia
Every 3rd year of the Olympiad the Panathenaia would become a grand athletic event on par with the Olympian and Pythian games. Competitors from all over Greece would come to compete in sailing, horse races, foot races, pentathlons, wrestling, boxing, beauty contests, recitations of Homer, and other musical contests. The winners received gilded olive leaf crowns, money, and amphoras of olive oil with designs unique to the games. One tradition of the Greater Panathenaia was the performance of the Pyrrhic dance in full hoplite armor. It was said that this dance was first performed by Athena to celebrate the end of the Titanomachy. The Greater Panathenaia would just so happen to fall within days of the Pythian Games also held every 4 years in Delphi, but competitors often competed in both, traveling directly from one to the other.

Theoi Honored: Athena Polias (of the City)

Sacrifices to: Athena Hygeia (of cleanliness & sanitation) and Athena Nike (of Victory) on Nike's altar

2. Metageitnion

Metageitnion is meant to be a period of rest after the boisterous affairs of the Panathenaia, and so the month mostly consists of simple sacrifices. Originally, there was a Metageitnia festival likely on the 7th. The month gains its name from a cult title of Apollon Metageitnios and other city-states also celebrated this festival but no other information survives.

4*  Herakleia

A men's feast in the gymnasium (as this was traditionally a space of nude men, women were excluded) at the Kynosarges temple in southern Athens, in honor of Herakles. Men and boys engaged in camaraderie and friendly athletic competitions, and of course, feasting. A show of strength was made of the traditional offering of a bull by lifting it onto the altar for sacrifice, and the men rejoiced in a hearty beef dinner with wine and other traditional accompaniments. Twelve men would be appointed as Herakles' feasting companions as it was well known that the hero enjoyed good food and good company.

Theoi/Hero Honored: Herakles

7 - Sacrifice to: Apollo Patroos (ancestor), Leto, Artemis, and Athena

12 - Sacrifice to: Apollon Lykeios and Demeter at the Eleusinion, and to Zeus Polieus (of the City) and Athena Polias (of the City) at the Acropolis

15-18*  Eleusinia

The Eleusinia is an agricultural and athletic festival in honor of Demeter and Persephone in thanks for the gift of corn. For the first year of the Olympiad the festival was celebrated as a Lesser Eleusinia, with the third year being the Greater Eleusinia. The second and fourth years consisted of only minor sacrifices to Demeter. Tradition claims it is the oldest athletic festival and included horse-riding and music competitions with gifts of Demeter's sacred grains for the winners. There was an athletic competition for both the Lesser and Greater Eleusinia but other than that we don't know how the two differed.

Theoi Honored: "The Goddesses" - Demeter and Persephone Pherrephatta

Heroes Honored[3]: Triptolemus, Telesidromos, Dolichos, Melichos, Archegetes, Eumolpos, Polyxenos, Dioklos, and Keleos

Sacrifices to: Plouton, Gaia, Themis, Zeus Herkeios, Hestia, Athena, the Kharities, Hermes Enagonios, Hera and Zeus, and Poseidon and Artemis

16 - Sacrifice to: Kourotrophos [2] and Artemis-Hekate in Hekate's sanctuary

19 - Sacrifice to: the Heroines

20 - Sacrifice to: Hera Thelkhinia (most likely an alternate or misspelling of Hera Telkhinia/ of Telkhinia; of Charm)

25 - Sacrifice to: Zeus Epopetes (the Overseer)

3. Boedromion

3 or 4* - Sacrifice to: Sphragitic Nymphs

4 - Sacrifice to: Basile [4]

5  Genesia

A festival of the fathers (ancestors). The name of the festival denotes that it was once a smaller family festival, perhaps a festival of the clans of Athens, but later became a state festival as Solon's laws transitioned Athens from a clan state to a citizen's state (in other poli the festival stayed private and never became a state festival), though even in Athens it seems was still celebrated at a smaller family level. 

Sacrifices to: The Ancestors, Gaia, Erechtheus, and Epops "the hoopoe" (hero)[5]

6  Kharisteria | Commemorative Victory at Marathon

Already an ancient festival celebrating Artemis, but also the day that Athens most likely voted on battling at Marathon and as such became the day to celebrate the victory. Artemis was promised a goat sacrifice for every Persian killed, but after the war, the grand total of 6400 enemy soldiers would have irreparably damaged the goat population, so it was decided that Artemis would receive 500 goats on this day every year instead. This practice was continued well after the amount had been satisfied. Largely a military festival, the epheboi [6] (young boys in military training) would march in procession to Artemis' sanctuary. [7]

Theoi Honored: Artemis Agrotera (the Huntress)

Sacrifice to: Enyalios [8]

7  Boedromia

General thanksgiving to Apollon Boedromios (to-run-to-help-in-response-to-a-shout) as the god who rescued in war (the festival took place towards the end of the war campaign season). The myth goes that the Athenians were losing a battle in a war against the Eleusinians during the reign of King Erechtheus when Ion, closely associated with Apollon and sometimes said to be his son, came to their rescue and won the battle. In thanks, the Athenians put him on Erechtheus' throne since he'd died in battle. However, this myth is not generally believed and it is more likely it was adopted sometime after the festival was already a tradition. [9]

Theoi Honored: Apollon Boedromios (to-run-to-help-in-response-to-a-shout)

12  Demokratia

In Athens, the Demokratia is listed in an inscription as a festival, but it seems to have been merely a sacrifice by the military generals to the goddess of Democracy, Demokratia. The Athenian festival correlates with another festival in Salamis, the Aianteia, in honor of their cult hero Aias/Ajax. Mentions of the festival seem to confuse the two and it is difficult to distinguish the rites between them [10]. In at least one year we know the Athenians celebrated Demokratia by sailing to Salamis to celebrate their Aianteia. The Athenian epheboi (young soldiers) competed against Salamis in a boat race from one city to the other and back, participated in the procession in honor of Demokratia, and then ran the torch race in honor of Aias/Ajax. It is unclear if the Athenians sailed to Salamis for the festival annually or if it was a unique incident. [11]

Theoi Honored: Demokratia

Sacrifices to: Aias/Ajax and Asklepios (at Salamis, unclear if in Athens)

15-21  Greater Eleusinian Mysteries

There was a 55-day truce throughout Greece to ensure safe travel to the Mysteries since any Greek (men, women, non-citizens, and enslaved) was allowed to participate, though only those previously initiated in the Lesser Mysteries at Agrai could be initiated in the Greater Mysteries at Eleusis, and may return again the following year to be initiated in the final stage. The day before the Mysteries the Athenian epheboi (young soldiers) would have brought the covered 'Holy Things' from Eleusis back to Athens in a procession. After the Mysteries, many initiates stayed to enjoy the Eleusinian Games before returning home.

Theoi Honored: "The Two Goddesses" - Demeter and Persephone

Sacrifices to: Iacchos and Pluton (at Eleusis)

17 or 18*  Epidauria

It was said that when Asklepios' cult was moved to Athens from Epidaurus, there was not yet a temple to place his icon. Thus his icon was temporarily placed with the Eleusinian Demeter and this is why Asklepios' festival is in the middle of the Greater Mysteries. There was likely a procession re-enacting the god's arrival in the city with women carrying baskets of offerings. A feast was spread out for the god along with a couch where he was thought to sit during the banquet.

Theoi Honored: Asklepios and (probably) Hygieia

27 - Sacrifice to: Hermes, Gaia, Acheloos (local river god), Alochos (hero), and the Nymphs


Pyanopsion                                              Oct-Nov

The Attic Month gains its name from the Pyanopsia festival in honor of Apollon early in the month, but in other city-states the month was called Demetrios on account of how many festivals Demeter has during this month, some of which are exceptionally ancient agricultural rites. This was traditionally the month for plowing the fields and sowing seeds.

6*  Proerosia 

The Proerosia is an agricultural festival in honor of Demeter and the first-fruits (in this case cereal grains) of the season. It was likely initially a festival local to Eleusis, and later adopted by Athens. The legend goes that all of Greece was stricken with a terrible plague, and so the Pythia was consulted. She told them that Lord Apollon wanted the Athenians to make sacrifices to Demeter on behalf of all of Greece, and so every year the Athenians collect donations of first-fruit offerings of cereals from neighboring city-states to ensure Demeter's blessings in the coming plowing and sowing season. The festival name in fact translates to 'preliminary to the plowing'.

Theoi Honored: Demeter, Persephone/Kore, and in some city-states Zeus
Sacrifices to: Daeira [12]

7  Pyanopsia
A festival of thanks to Pythian Apollon for advising the Athenians to establish the Proerosia. The name of the festival comes from the words for "beans" and "boiling", referring to the traditional panspermia (all seeds) dish. Mythic tradition connects this with Theseus' return to Athens when it is said he and his men, starving, threw whatever seeds they had in a pot and offered it in thanks to Apollon for their safe return. During the Pyanopsia worshipers would make their panspermia from a mixture of next season's seeds to be sown and then offered to Apollon as a blessing for the seeds to grow again next year. In order to bring additional blessings to the household, eiresione branches would be stationed outside the homes covered in first-fruits, pastries, hung vials of honey or olive oil, and other offerings.

Theoi Honored: Apollon Pythios
Sacrifices to: Artemis & Konnidas

7  Oskhophoria
The festival in thanks to Dionysos' divine gift of grapes during the time of the vintage and wine pressing. A procession from Dionysos' sanctuary to the temple of Athena Skiras. The procession was led by oskhophoroi, young boys selected from the traditional noble family and dressed as women, and behind them a group of boys carrying branches with grapes on them. The grape branches were called oschoi, which is where the festival gets its name. Once the procession arrived at the temple of Athena Skiras they continued to the Oskhophorion altar for Dionysos where the offerings were made, followed by a night of dancing and singing, some sad, some joyful. 

Theoi Honored: Dionysos
Sacrifices to: (probably) Athena Skiras

8  Theseia | Thesian Games
A festival celebrating Athens' ancestral hero, Theseus. The 8th is traditionally Poseidon's Sacred Day, and as Theseus is heavily associated with Poseidon his festival is appropriately on the 8th. It was mainly a festival for the Athenian Military complete with procession, sacrifice, and the Thesian Games. The Thesian Games were only for Athenian citizens in honor of their ancestral hero and featured events such as herald and trumpeting competitions, "Manly Excellence", Good Military Equipment, 3 different kinds of torch races, track and field, armored races, and horse races. There was a special type of porridge made with milk known as athara that was unique to the Theseia.

Hero Honored: Theseus
Sacrifices to: The Amazons*

9  Stenia
A women's festival connected in some fashion to the Thesmophoria, but the nature of the rites hasn't survived. We know only that it involved women insulting each other, much like at the Thesmophoria.

Theoi Honored: Demeter & Persephone

11-13  Thesmophoria
A three-day agricultural festival in honor of Demeter in which only married women took part. The festival was believed to bring fertility to the fields and married women, as well as official recognition to the wives that attended. On the first day, Anodos (Ascent), there was a procession led by the basket-carriers to Demeter's sanctuary at the top of a hill. Once arrived the women camped in skenai (booths) near the sanctuary for the next two days. On the second day, the Nesteia (Fast), the women ritually enacted Demeter's grief by fasting. They sat on mats woven from plants thought to inhibit lust and the women gained the title of "bees" (unclear if this is permanent or for the duration of the festival).

Sometime presumably that evening in the early hours of the third day, the Bailers (required to be ritually pure for 3 days prior) would perform the Chamber Rite, in which the bodies of the piglets and grain cakes thrown into the chasm during the Skira festival, now thoroughly putrid, would be retrieved after scaring the sacred snakes away. Once placed on the altar, the rotted offerings were called thesmoi, and it was believed that if the thesmoi were taken from the altar after the festival and combined with the seeds to be sown at the end of the month they would bring good growth to the crop (perhaps as an ancient fertilizer). Because thesmoi were etymologically linked with laws as "things laid down", Demeter Thesmophoros later became known as a goddess of laws due to the connection between agriculture and civilization. The last day was called Kalligeneia, meaning "Fair Birth" or "Beautiful Offspring", and was understood to be the name of a goddess (presumably Demeter or perhaps Kore/Persephone), and a sacrifice was given to her. The festival concluded with a feast.

Theoi Honored: Demeter Thesmophoros
Sacrifices to: Kalligeneia (probably), and Ploutos/Plouton

14 - Sacrifice to: the Heroines

16 - Sacrifice to: Zeus and Zeus Horios (of the Boundary)

19-21* or 26-28*  Apaturia
A family reunion festival of the Phratria (family/tribes of Athens) in which the new babies and wives would be introduced into the family and a coming-of-age ceremony performed for those who'd recently reached manhood. On each occasion, the father would provide an animal for sacrifice with the rest combined going towards the barbeque for a family dinner. Etymologically the name for the festival means "the feast of common fatherhood" and one would imagine plentiful libations for the Wine God. Subsequently, an unofficial 4th day was known, Epibda "the morning after", a euphemism for the hang-over.

Theoi Honored: Zeus Phratrios, Athena Phratria, and Dionysos

30  Khalkeia

The day the loom for Athena's peplos for the Panathenaia festival in Hekatombaion would be set up. Due to the sheer size of the peplos meant to cover the Pallas Athena icon in the Parthenon (it was said to be the size of a ship's sail), and with the complexity of setting up the warp-weighted looms of the time such a task would have taken hours if not the entire day. The peplos would take 9 months to weave, and according to strict tradition would depict Athena's victory over the giant Enceladus in beautifully dyed blues and yellows. It was said that the one time the Athenians deviated from this tradition they were met with tragedy and so never dared deviate again.

Theoi Honored: Athena


Maimakterion                                           Nov-Dec

Maimakterion is the beginning of the bad weather season, and as such festivals were severely dialed back. Farming and seafaring were stopped for the season, and any festival processions came with a chance of rain. The name for the month comes from an epithet of Zeus meaning "Blustering" in his role as storm god referring to the blustering and cold winds of the season that in primitive times could have meant serious damage to the home. Following tradition the name of the month implies there was a festival to Zeus Maimakterios, likely a propitiatory one for safety in the coming storms.

Last third of the month - Pompaia
The Pompaia, meaning "procession", was a purificatory and propitiatory festival in honor of Zeus Meilichios involving an apotropaic procession of priestly officials and sacred objects meant to protect the city through the ominously looming winter, and was not a festival attended by the average citizen. The most important element of this festival was the Dion Koidion, the Sheepskin of Zeus, which was a sacred object believed to hold purifying abilities, a recurring theme in Ancient Greek praxis and mythos.

The rite involved the sacrifice of a sheep to Zeus Meilichios. The sheepskin would then be taken in procession, presumably around the city, in addition to a caduceus (Hermes' rod) to cleanse, ward, and protect the city. This was linked in antiquity to the festival of Zeus Maimakterios in season and function but there is no reason to suppose they were the same festival. Unfortunately, we don't have an exact date for the festival, only that it occurred in the "last third of the month" which would mean somewhere between the 23rd-28th. However, due to the apotropaic nature of the festival, I believe the 25th to be a suitably educated guess.

Theoi Honored: Zeus Meilichios, possibly Zeus Maimakterios 


Posideon                                                Dec-Jan

? - Rural Dionysia
This festival is one of the oldest Dionysos festivals, inspiring the Lenaia and City Dionysia, but was such good local fun that it persisted on its own even after the grander state-celebrated versions were adopted. Since it was a local festival, there was no official set date and each village would set their own. This may have allowed for a tour of the villages bar-crawl style, wandering from one village's Rural Dionysia to another's. Plutarch describes a "cheerful" procession of carrying wine, vines, a wicker basket of raisins, someone leading a he-goat, and a phallus. Traditional games unique to each village would be played while drinking ensued, usually accompanied with a few tragedies and comedies in typical Bacchic fashion.

Theoi Honored: Dionysos

8*  Posideia
Most of our surviving information for the Ionian festival comes to us from Delos as a list of expenses. We know there was a procession for Poseidon sometime in this month presumably for the Poseidea (but maybe referencing the Haloa) and the sheer number of animals sacrificed points to a large public banquet of about 1,500 as well as a monetary reward for some kind of contest. In Athens, a sacrifice of a certain type of cake commonly given to many gods was offered to Poseidon Kamaixelos (Earth-Bound) on the 8th, but sources neglect to say further of the cake.

Theoi Honored: Poseidon Asphaleios (Steadfast) & Poseidon Orthosios (?)
Sacrifice to: Poseidon Kamaixelos (Earth-Bound)

16 - Sacrifice to: Zeus Horios

26  Haloa
A women's festival in Eleusis in which there was a procession for Poseidon and then the magistrates prepared a feast of any and every kind of food except for those prohibited by the Mysteries (pomegranates, apples, eggs, poultry, certain kinds of fish) and left. The women celebrated uninhibited behavior, with much drinking, obscene jokes, and even the hiereiai [13] whispering to the women to take lovers. The altars were lined with phallis-shaped cakes and offerings of first-fruit grains were given. "Haloa" is likened to the Ancient Greek word for the threshing floor, and scholars link the Haloa to a rite in Eleusis in which clay phalloi are placed upright in a row in the corn field with fresh corn leaves decorated around the bottom. Grain (presumably) is then strewn on the clay phalloi to encourage fertile growth.

Theoi Honored: Demeter & Dionysos


Gamelion                                                    Jan-Feb

The month of Gamelion translates as "The Month of Weddings", and shares a name with the Gamelia festival at the end of the month honoring the Hieros Gamos, or "Sacred Marriage" of Hera and Zeus. Because of this, it was considered an auspicious month for weddings in general, though not on the festival day itself. The Gamelion Full Moon was considered the ideal time for a wedding due to its taking place at the end of winter towards the cusp of spring when the symbolism of new life is heaviest [14]. The sacrifices given throughout the month follow this theme.

7 - Sacrifice to: Apollon Delphinios (of Delphi/ of the womb), Apollon Lykeios (of the Wolves), and Kourotrophos (goddess of nurturing children; associated with fertility, childbirth, and the care and protection of children) [2]

8 - Sacrifice to: Apollon Apotropaios (Averter of Evil), Apollon Nymphegetes (Leader of the Nymphs), and the Nymphs

9 - Sacrifice to: Athena

12-19  Lenaia
Festival in honor of Dionysos Lenaios lasting at least four days involving a procession of theater contests for tragedies and comedies. The celebration took place at the Lenaion, a major cult site in Athens. 'Lenaia' most likely comes from the ancient Greek word lenai referring to maenads and women worshipers of Dionysos or from lenos meaning wine-press or vintage.

This celebration is one of the older Dionysos festivals, and possibly the early origins of the Rural Dionysia. Typical for Dionysos festivals, ancient writers speak of people riding on carts singing abusive and mocking songs. At the theater before the plays began the Daiduchos (Torch-bearer) would shout "Call on the god!" and the audience would return "Son of Semele, Iacchos, giver of wealth!". Based on pottery evidence the midnight celebration was a women's revelry with ecstatic dancing and every second year the women of Athens and Delphi would come together to celebrate the festival together.

Theoi Honored: Dionysos Lenaios (of the maenads/ women worshipers; of the wine press/vintage; of Lenaion)
Sacrifices to: [in Mykonos] Zeus Khthonios, Ge Kthonia, (and Semele the day before)

27  Gamelia | Hieros Gamos | Theogamia
A women's festival honoring Hera Teleia and Zeus Teleios' sacred marriage. Included ritual bathing of icons, bridal processions, and celebratory feasting. While Zeus receives offerings the celebratory focus was on Hera in her role as goddess of marriage. Gamelia is the primary festival of the month and falls under Hera's grace making the entire month, but particularly the full moon, an auspicious time for marriage.

Theoi Honored: Hera Teleia (the Accomplisher; of/providing perfection)
Sacrifices to: Zeus Teleios (the Accomplisher; of/providing perfection), Poseidon, and Kourotrophos [2] in Hera's sanctuary at Erchia


Anthesterion                                         Feb-March

2 - Sacrifice to: Dionysos

11-13  Anthesteria | Older Dionysia
A three-day festival in honor of Dionysos, celebrating children, the return of spring, blooming flowers, and the divine gift of wine. The wine that had been stored before winter is brought to the god's sanctuary to be poured as a libation and then shared amongst worshipers, transitioning into the next day as an increasingly drunken and joyous affair. The night culminated in a re-enacted bridal procession of Dionysos and Ariadne as part of the sacred mysteries. The last day of the festival is an ominous tone, as it was believed that keres (harmful spirits) walked the earth and offerings were made to Hermes Khthonios. Meals of grain were left out to remember and placate the dead and lift the hanging miasma.

Theoi Honored: Dionysos, likely Ariadne, and Hermes Khthonios
Heroes Honored: Ikarios, his daughter Erigone, and their dog Maira

20-26*  Lesser Mysteries | Mysteries at Agrai
The Lesser Mysteries, held every year at Agrai, was likely once a more distinct purification festival, connected in myth to Herakles as the founder of the purification rites as he wouldn't have been able to return from his last labor in the underworld if he came face to face with Persephone without being initiated. As the Eleusinian Mysteries grew in popularity, it became a largely educational and preparatory festival for the Greater Mysteries held later in the year to accommodate the influx of initiates, while still maintaining its purification rituals. Those that took part in the later Greater Mysteries, would have first gone through the rites of the Lesser Mysteries.

The rites of the Lesser Mysteries were called myesis meaning "to teach" or "to initiate" and were focused primarily on Persephone's return from the underworld and the return of Spring and her myths were dramatically portrayed. The Greater Mysteries, in contrast, focused primarily on her mother Demeter and were held every four years. The exact date of the Lesser Mysteries remains contested, but we know it likely occurred between the 20-26th Anthesterion and was celebrated across several days.

Theoi Honored: Pherrephata (another name for Persephone denoting she is kind and wise as opposed to 'Dread Persephone') and Persephone Hagne (Pure); Demeter was likely honored as well but was not the focus
Heroes Honored: Herakles

23  Diasia
An essential old Ionian festival that took place in the middle of the Mysteries in honor of Zeus Melichios "kindly, open to propitiation, mild one" [15]. It was considered to be the most important festival of Zeus in Athens and demes across Attica would send offerings to Athens in preparation. Melichios was an older epithet of Zeus' referring to a khthonic serpent who was considered a purifying god and bringer of wealth but also carried feelings of dread similar to the Erinyes. Zeus Melichios is also considered by some scholars to be another name for Haides.

The festival was celebrated as a picnic for families outside the city with local and vegetarian offerings. Stalls selling children's toys would be present and families and kin feasted together. Despite the festivities, the festival was said to have had a gloominess to it.

Theoi Honored: Zeus Melichios
Sacrifices to: Apollo Lykeios, Demeter, Zeus Polieus and Athena Polias


Elaphebolion                                       March-April

Elaphebolion spans across early spring which reflects the theoi honored in these months (namely Artemis and Dionysos, though Asklepios plays a part in Dionysos' festival as well). The month was named after Artemis' Elaphebolia festival as that was a major festival for quite some time before the City Dionysia gained in popularity and became the principal festival of the month.

Spring Equinox* - Galaxia
An annual feast in honor of The Mother of the Gods, Kybele (identified as Rhea, Gaia, and/or Demeter). The goddess received offerings of galaxia, a barley, flax, coriander and milk porridge. The dating for this festival is speculative, relying on the dating for the corresponding Roman festival, and the fact that Delos' name for this month was Galaxion. The Spring Equinox falls roughly on March 21st in the Gregorian Calendar, meaning the festival may fall anywhere from the beginning to the end of Elaphebolion depending on the year.

Theoi Honored: "Mother of the Gods" Kybele (Rhea, Gaia, and/or Demeter)

6  Elaphebolia
Once a major festival for which the month gains its name in celebration of Artemis for helping the Athenians gain a victory over the Persians. The festival is specifically in honor of Artemis Elaphebolos "The Shooter of Deer", and was celebrated with each oikos offering her a stag hunted from the perimeter of the city. However, as the city expanded and deer became harder and harder to find nearby, and the City Dionysia later in the month gained prominence, the festival's celebrations declined to a smaller household sacrifice in which stag-shaped cakes would be offered to the goddess instead.

Theoi Honored: Artemis Elaphebolos (Deer-Shooter)

8  Asklepieia
Asklepios had two festivals celebrated in Athens, both tied to various Mysteries. In addition to this one close to the Great Dionysia, there is another in the middle of Demeter's Greater Mysteries, the Epidauria. This speaks to the significance of his cult, namely tied to Life, Death, and Healing, all of which hold importance in both Demeter's and Dionysos' Mysteries. Asklepios is intimately tied to Demeter's Mysteries, but the tie is not as strong with Dionysos. His temple did, however, overlook Dionysos' Theater. While the Asklepios festival held near Demeter's festival is a grand affair with athletic competitions rivaling the Olympics and a massive feast, little is known about the celebrations held for the Asklepieia other than a sacrifice was performed, likely followed by a feast.

Theoi Honored: Asklepios


10-16  City Dionysia | Great Dionysia
A festival celebrating Dionysos' Mysteries and the cultus' arrival in Athens after it was moved from Eleutheria during a tense political time. The first day of the festival mainly consisted of a massive procession through the city to the sanctuary with phallic symbols, a sacrifice of bulls for feasting, as well as drinking, singing, dancing, and revelry through the night. The City Dionysia is a massive theater festival and many of the famous Ancient Greek Plays known today were first performed at its competitions. Therefore the next 3-4 days of the festival would be filled with dithyrambic and dramatic theater competitions with intermittent satyr and comedic plays to offer relief from the tragic poets. Though the performances were by nature religious rites, the audience was known to be particularly rowdy (and likely drunk), often shouting, hissing, and hooting at the performers from their seats where they drank wine and snacked on street vendor foods. 

Theoi Honored: Dionysos Eleutherios (of Eleutheria)

16 - Sacrifice to: Semele and Dionysos

17  Pandia
Little is known of this festival other than it was held during this month directly after the City Dionysia, and that it was held in honor of Zeus of the Brightening Sky.

Theoi Honored: Zeus of the Brightening Sky


Mounichion                                             April-May

4*  Adonia & Eros Festival
A women's festival mourning the death of Aphrodite's young lover, Adonis, who died too soon. Women from every class, including non-citizens and prostitutes, would meet on the rooftops for a private festival. They would bring with them "Gardens of Adonis", shallow broken pots with a bed of lettuce or fennel planted a few days before (perhaps related to the myth where it is said Aphrodite mourned Adonis after laying his body on a bed of lettuce). A little doll meant to represent Adonis was laid to rest in the garden and the women lamented loudly "Woe for Adonis! Beat your breasts for Adonis!" and continue the night in ritual mourning, drinking, and dancing. In Cyprus, the Adonia included a procession to the sea or other body of water to toss the Gardens of Adonis in a mock burial. Since Solon's Laws restricted women's mourning so severely, it is probable that mourning Adonis served as a substitute for lost loves, brothers, and sons.

We know from a lone surviving inscription that Eros had a festival on this date as well, but no further information survives. Interestingly, there is plenty of pottery paintings portraying Adonis and Eros together, perhaps in their connection to Aphrodite.

Theoi Honored: Aphrodite and Eros
Heroes Honored: Adonis
Sacrifices to: the Herakleidai (descendants of Herakles)

6  Delphinia
A procession of maidens to the Delphinion, the shrine on the banks of the Ilissos near the Olympieion where both Artemis and Apollon were worshiped. According to Plutarch, who is the only source for this festival, the maidens carried boughs of olive branches wrapped in white wool to make supplication. Plutarch ties this festival to the myth of Theseus since he was thought to sail to Crete on this day to challenge the Minotaur, however, scholars speculate as to Apollon's involvement in the festival since Theseus is normally tied to him rather than Artemis. Most likely it was a women's festival in which they went as supplicants on behalf of the community to Artemis as a protector of girls and women.

Theoi Honored: Artemis and (possibly) Apollon
Heroes Honored: (Possibly) Theseus

16  Mounikhia
Dedicated to Artemis the Queen of Beasts and goddess of the wilds and the presiding goddess of the steep slope of Munichia which neared a port town, perhaps why the festival retained its local cultus. The founding myth tells that a she-bear wandered into the sanctuary of Artemis and was killed by the Athenians. Spilling the blood of her sacred animal in her own temple angered the goddess and she sent a plague in punishment. Seeking the advice of the Pythia, the Athenians were told that a daughter must be sacrificed to the goddess in propitiation. One man, Embaros, agreed to do so in exchange for him and his family becoming the goddess' priests for the rest of their lives. He led his daughter to the altar, but instead of sacrificing her he dressed up a goat as his daughter and sacrificed that in her place. This story follows a long mythic tradition of girls being sacrificed to Artemis (famously Iphigenia), whereas she-goats were a typical sacrifice for her in general.

She was also given special moon-shaped cakes, amphiphontes ("shining all round") which were carried in the procession with lit candles in a circle around them, and served as a general offering for Artemis throughout the year.

Theoi Honored: Artemis Potnia Theron ("Queen of the Beasts")
Heroes Honored: Likely Munichos as the founder of the sanctuary and/or Embaros as a possible cult-hero, though we have no evidence of this

19  Olympieia
Mainly a stream of athletic and horse riding competitions (the military's cavalry unit would perform as well as soldiers and soldiers in training to develop better horse handling) followed by a massive bull sacrifice for a communal beef dinner.

Theoi Honored: Olympian Zeus

20 - Sacrifice to: Leukaspis (khthonic hero)

21 - Sacrifice to: the Tritopatreis "third-fathers" (forgotten or nameless ancestors from three generations back, sometimes said to be wind-spirits)


Thargelion                                              May-June

The month of Thargelion saw a curious tradition in which the authority of Athena's temple, the patron of Athens, would be transferred from her hiereia [13] to the women of the Praxiergidai family, who by ancient tradition were responsible for the Washing and Adorning Rites associated with the Plynteria and Kallynteria festivals through the 25th-28th of the month. In preparation for these festivals, a rope would close off Athena's temple from the public for the duration of the month until the conclusion of her rites on the 28th. Athena's Rites and the Thargelia Festival from which the month gains its name both focus on the ritual purification of the city.

4 - Sacrifice to: Zeus, Hermes, Leto, Apollon Pythios (Pythian), Apollon Paion (the Healer; referred to both healing, averting evil, and hymns), and the Anakes/Dioscuri

6-7  Thargelia
The Thargelia is a two-day festival celebrating mainly Apollon as an ancestral protector of the city of Athens and an early corn festival, and according to the Delians was also the annual birthday of the divine twins. There is not much evidence of Artemis' involvement in the festivities other than her heavy association with the 6th day of every month, which was the first day of the festival. 

The first day is largely a purifying day in which two Pharmakoi are selected as scapegoats for the men and women of the city, and with their eviction, the city was purified. Children would go door-to-door carrying an olive branch of first-fruits, bread, and flasks of olive oil, singing songs and asking for Thargelia offerings, while Demeter Kloe ("of the green shoots") also received a ram sacrifice on the first day. 

The second day of the festival was a day of offerings in which first-fruits of corn and vegetables would be baked into bread or boiled in a large pot and carried in procession to Apollon's temple, and a hymn singing contest would be held among the boys and men of Athens' 10 tribes. The winners would be presented with a tripod, which was expected to be left as an offering at Apollon's sanctuary.

Theoi Honored: Apollon (and likely Artemis) and Demeter Kloe
Sacrifices to: The Eleusinian goddesses (Demeter and Persephone) and Athena

16 - Sacrifice to: Zeus Epakrios (On the Heights)

19  Bendideia
The Bendideia was an imported festival for the Thracian goddess Bendis, who the Athenians identified with Artemis. The first celebration of her festival in Athens was the setting for Plato's Republic, discussed only tangentially. The festival would begin with a 6-mile procession from Athens to the Peiraeus where they would meet up with the Thracian procession and rest, wash, don their festival garlands, eat lunch, and wait for dusk. At dusk, there would be a horse race with the riders carrying torches. Athens had seen both horse and torch races, but this festival was considered a spectacle for combining the two (the Thracians were well-known as gifted horsemen). After the race, the festival would continue through the night, but we don't have any information detailing the events. Likely it was the same as any other all-night Athenian festival.

Herodotus mentions the custom of Thracian women offering the goddess wheat, and Parke notes that the timing of the festival in late May aligns with the Athenian agricultural cycle and that Thrace was an important polis in Athenian corn imports. Likely, she was celebrated in this festival for general blessings and protection.

Theoi Honored: Bendis
Sacrifices to: Menedeios (hero)

25-26  Plynteria | Washing Rites
At some undisclosed time before the festival, Athena's hiereia [13] gave the temple key and Athena's peplos to the women of the Praxiergidai family who then immediately re-dressed her statue in a simple chiton.

On the 25th the Praxiergidai would take the peplos to the sea for washing. Athena's statue may have received a simple washing as well. On the 26th Athena's statue would be veiled and escorted by the epheboi (young soldiers in training) to the sea to be bathed and purified. Women carrying baskets of sweetmeats made with figs would lead the procession, relating to the myth that figs were the first food cultivated by mortals.

As the patron of the city was absent, it was considered an inauspicious day for Athens and there would have been an air of unease. Meanwhile at the Acropolis young women of marriable age would wash the fresh wool for the next peplos. By the time of most of our records, Athena received a new peplos annually, but it was thought that in older times it may well have been only once in every 4 years. The statue presumably spent the next day at the local temple by the sea.

Theoi Honored: Athena

28*  Kallynteria | Adorning Rites
Come evening (new days were counted at sundown) the statue would be clean and covered again and escorted home by torchlight. Upon arriving back at her temple in Athens entrance sacrifices were commanded by the Pythia to be performed to the Fates, Zeus as leader of the Fates, and Gaia. After the entrance sacrifices an all-night revelry and spirited celebration would ensue until sunrise.

Come morning the Praxiergidai cleaned the temple and relit the sacred lamp which held enough oil to last until the next Kallynteria. After sunset, Athena's statue was restored to her rightful place, re-robed in her peplos with all her jewelry and finery, and the key finally returned to the hiereia thus officially reopening the temple.

Theoi Honored: Athena
Sacrifices to: The Fates, Zeus as leader of the Fates, and Gaia


Skirophorion                                             June-July

3*  Arrhephoria | Arrephoria

It is unclear if the Arrhephoria was a public festival or if it was only a private rite. As it is, only evidence of the private rite exists. Two young girls, known as Arrhephoroi ("dew-carriers", perhaps symbolizing impregnation or new offspring as in the myth of Kecrops' daughters), who've been serving as hiereiai [13] for Athena and living in her temple for a year conclude their annual service by carrying two covered baskets (kistai) down an underground passage to a spring near the shrine of Aphrodite of the Garden and an altar to Eros.

According to strict tradition, the Arrhephoroi were not by any means to look at the contents of the baskets. Once they reached the spring they left the baskets behind and carried out new baskets, thus concluding the rite. History does not tell us the contents of the baskets, though some have theorized they may contain snake-shaped loaves.

Theoi Honored: Athena

Sacrifices to: Pandrosos, Poseidon, Kourotrophos [2], Aglauros, and Zeus Polieus and Athena Polias at the Acropolis

12  Skira | Skiraphoria
A festival in which three distinct rites were performed. A rite of the mysteries, in which the women went to the Thesmophorion and sacrificed piglets in a gorge (which would be ritually retrieved for the Thesmophoria). A somber procession from the Acropolis to the suburbs carrying a large white canopy, led by hiereiai [13]. And finally, a footrace from Dionysos' sanctuary to the temple in the Phaleron carrying vine branches. It was important for the mysteries that the women remain celibate for the day and to enforce this would eat and replace their perfumes with garlic.

Theoi Honored: Athena Skiras and Demeter

14  Dipolieia

A curious and ancient festival, even in Classical times. It was said that one day an ox wandered into Zeus' shrine and ate an offering. Offended at the sacrilege, a farmer slew the ox. The ox in question was a plow-ox who were held in a certain esteem due to their partnership with farmers and not a common sacrificial animal. A plague befell the city, and the Pythia ordered a festival be held every year with an ox sacrifice and the animal then be restored and the blood-guilt assuaged by sewing the hide back together, stuffed with straw, and placed back on the yoke hitched to the plow as if alive.

Thus every year at the end of the plowing season the Bouphonia ("ox-killing") Rite takes place in which an ox is led straight from working in the fields to the altar of Zeus Polieus where it will, according to tradition, consent to being sacrificed by eating a seed-cake from the altar. The ox is struck with a double-ax and the murderer immediately flees the scene, and the ox cooked and consumed for a feast.

After eating the meat the participants feign shock and appall at the blood crime and a comedic trial is held to charge the murderer. First, the girls who fetched the water used to sharpen the ax are accused, but they blame the men who sharpened the tools, who blame the man who wielded the ax, who finally blames the ax. The ax, unable to speak for itself, is finally charged with the murder of the ox and thrown into the sea. To appease the crime of blood-guilt, just as the Pythia charged, the hide was sewn back up and stuffed with straw and the ox once more hitched to the yoke and plow in symbolic resurrection. 

Theoi Honored: Zeus Polieus (of the city)

Last Third of the Month - Diisoteria

Festival in honor of Zeus Soter (Savior). Though the accounts for this festival are scant, it is clear that it was celebrated on a grand scale. There was a typical procession with a maiden carrying a basket at the head, and in the Hellenistic period, the Epheboi (military youths in training) also took part, presumably as a military escort. At the sanctuary, a couch and table would be laid out and furnished for the gods to banquet and a large number of bulls sacrificed. The Epheboi held a sailing race around the cape to the harbor in Munichia.

Theoi Honored: Zeus Soter (Savior)

Sacrifices to: Athena Soteria and the other gods at the Peiraeus, such as Asklepios

Last Day of the Year - Sacrifice to: Zeus Soter (Savior) and Athena Soteria (Savior) giving thanks to them as protectors of the city and in supplication for the new year. This was not a day celebrated by the average citizen and was instead the duty of the state officials. The King Archon would lead the city magistrates and council to Zeus' icon in the Agora for the sacrifice. This was also an inaugural ceremony in which old terms ended and new officials began theirs, and the courts would be closed for the day. 

Colorful fresco of Apollo sitting on a chair with his lyre

*Speculative Dates

Obscure Festivals

An incomplete (working) list of the festivals that are impossible to date, often with little information on praxis surviving;
pulled from Parker (see Bibliography)


The sacrifice dates have been taken primarily from the surviving calendar from the Attic deme of Erchia unless otherwise noted. Where the sacrifice days coincide with festivals I have listed them under the accompanying festival. I have omitted the particular (animal) sacrifices and the area the sacrifice is meant to be made (normally "the hill" or on the Acropolis) as it isn't actionable information for modern worshipers (see Bibliography).

Photo Credits


My information on the festivals in general is taken primarily from Parke's 'Festivals of the Athenians', Burkert's 'Greek Religion', and Parker's 'Polytheism and Society at Athens'. The primary dating information is taken from Mikalson's 'The Sacred and Civil Calendar of the Athenian Year' or the journals provided below.