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PANATHENAEA, the oldest and most important of the Athenian festivals. It was originally a religious celebration, founded by Erechtheus (Erichthonius), in honour of Athena Polias, the patron goddess of the city. It is said that when Theseus united the whole land under one government he made the festival of the city-goddess common to the entire country, and changed the older name Athenaea to Panathenaea (Plutarch, Theseus, 24). The union (Synoecism) itself was celebrated by a distinct festival, called Synoecia or Synoecesia, which had no connexion with the Panathenaea. In addition to the religious rites there is said to be a chariot race from the earliest times, in which Erechtheus himself won the prize. Considerable alterations were introduced into the proceedings by Peisistratus (q.v.) and his sons. It is probable that the distinction of Greater and Lesser Panathenaea dates from this period, the latter being a shorter and simpler festival held every year. Every fourth year the festival was celebrated with peculiar magnificence; gymnastic sports were added to the horse races; and there is little doubt that Peisistratus aimed at making the penteteric Panathenaea the great Ionian festival in rivalry to the Dorian Olympia. The penteteric festival was celebrated in the third year of each Olympiad. The annual festival, probably held on the 28th and 29th of Hecatombaeon (about the middle of August), consisted solely of the sacrifices and rites proper to this season in the cult of Athena. One of these rites originally consisted in carrying a new peplus (the state robe of Athena) through the streets to the Acropolis to clothe the ancient carved image of the goddess, a ceremonial known in other cities and represented by the writer of the Iliad (vi. 87) as being in use at Troy; but it is probable that this rite was afterwards restricted to the great penteteric festival. The peplus was a costly, saffron-coloured garment, embroidered with scenes from the battle between the gods and giants, in which Athena had taken part. As least as early as the 3rd century B.C. the custom was introduced of spreading the peplus like a sail on the mast of a ship, which was rolled on a machine in procession. Even the religious rites were celebrated with much greater splendor at the Greater Panathenaea. The whole empire shared in the great sacrifice; every colony and every subject state sent a deputation and sacrificial animals. On the great day of the feast there was a procession of the priests, the sacrificial assistants of every kind, the representatives of every part of the empire with their victims, of the cavalry, in short of the population of Attica and great part of its dependencies. After the presentation of the peplus, the hecatomb was sacrificed. The subject of the frieze of the Parthenon is an idealized treatment of this great procession.

The festival which had been beautified by Peisistratus was made still more imposing the rule of Pericles. He introduced a regular musical contest in place of the old recitations of the rhapsodes, which were an old standing accompaniment of the festival. This contest took place in the Odeum, originally built for this purpose by Pericles himself. The order of the agones from this time onwards was—first the musical, then the gymnastic, then the equestrian contest. Many kinds of contest, such as the chariot race of the apobatai (said to have been introduced by Erechtheus), which were not in use at Olympia, were practised in Athens. Apobates was the name given to the companion of the charioteer, who showed his skill by leaping out of his chariot and up again while the horses were going at full speed. There were in addition several minor contests: the Pyrrhic, or war dance, celebrating the victory of Athena over the giants; the Euandria, whereby a certain number of men, distinguished for height, strength and beauty, were chosen as leaders of the procession; the Lampadedromia, or torch-race; the Naumachia (Regatta), which took place on the last day of the festival. The proceedings were under the superintendence of ten athlothetae, one from each tribe, the lesser Panathenaea being managed by hieropoei. In the musical contests, a golden crown was given as first prize; in the sports, a garland of leaves from the sacred olive trees of Athena, and vases filled with oil from the same. Many specimens of these Panathenaic vases had been found; on one side is the figure of Athena, on the other a design showing the nature of the competition in which they were given as prizes. The season of the festival was the 24th to the 29th Hecatombaeon, and the great day was the 28th.

See A. Mommsen, Feste der Stadt Athen (1898); A. Michaelis, Der Parthenon (1871), with full bibliography; P. Stengel, Die griechischen Kultusaltertümer (1898); L. C. Purser in Smith’s Dictionary of Antiquities (3rd ed., 1891); L. R. Farnell, Cults of the Greek States; also article Athena and works quoted.