Hellenic Festival Year

On this page, Baring the Aegis presents an overview of the sacred month, as well as a list of the festivals of ancient Hellas, arranged in sequence to the year. Throughout this document, the names of the months are used as used by the ancient Hellens. For my personal Gmail calendar with all these sacred days and festivals--which is based off of the HMEPA calendar and which you can use yourself--go here.

The Hellenistic base of worship is the monthly lunar calendar (the 'Mên kata Theion', 'sacred month'). This calendar is constructed from various ancient sources, and is recognized by many Hellenists today. Note, that this schedule was conglomerated with Hesiod's auspicious days, so--for example--the thirteenth of the month is sacred to Artemis, and a bad day for sowing, where the reference to Artemis comes from ancient Hellenic practice, and the reference to sowing from Hesiod.

First Decad - Waxing Moon - Mên Histámenos
1. Noumenia - Selene, Apollon Noumenios, Zeus Herkios and Ktesios, Hestia, and the other Theoi of the Household
2. Agathós Daímōn - Agathós Daímōn
3. Tritomênís - Athena
4. Tetrás - Aphrodite, Eros, Herakles, and Hermes, as well as perhaps Poseidon, Apollon, and Hermaphrodites | Good day to bring home a bride, good day to begin building narrow ships; open a jar on this day
5. The Erinyes, Eris, and Horkos
6. Artemis
7. Apollon
8. Poseidon, Asklēpiós and Theseus | Good working day, good day to castrate boars and bulls
9. General holy day to honor the Theoi; special day to the Muses, Helios, and Rhea | Good working day
10. -- | Good for the birth of males

Second Decad - Middle Moon - Mên Mesôn
11. (1.) The Moirae: Klotho, Lakhesis, and Atropos | Good working day - shearing sheep, reaping fruit
12. (2.) -- | Good working day - shearing sheep, reaping fruit, female works, castrating mules
13. (3.) Athena | Best day for setting plants, good day to set out supplies; worst day for the start of sowing
14. (4.) -- | Good for the birth of a female, good for taming sheep, shambling, horned oxen, guard dogs and mules
15. (5.) Dikhomênía - The Erinyes, Eris, and Horkos
16. (6.) Artemis | Good for the birth of males (though he will be 'fond of sharp speech, lies, and cunning words, and stealthy converse'), good day for castrating sheep and children, good day for fencing in a sheep-cot; unfavorable for plants, bad for the birth of a female, bad day to get married
17. (7.) -- | Throw down grain on the (threshing) floor for Demeter; good for cutting beams for houses and ships
18. (8.) Day of purification
19. (9.) Day of purification | Improves towards the evening, harmless to men in the month Hekatombaion; good day to get pregnant or to give birth to either boy or girl; never an unkindly day
20. (10.) -- | Wise men should be born on this day

Third Decad - Waning Moon - Mên Phthínôn
21. (-10) Eikás - Apollon
22. (-9)
23. (-8) Athena
24. (-7) -- | Good day in the morning, less so towards evening
25. (-6) The Erinyes, Eris, and Horkos
26. (-5)
27. (-4) Triseinás - Impure day | Good day for opening wine-jars, good day for putting yokes on oxen, mules and horses, good day for bringing ships out of dry dock
28. (-3) Impure day
29. (-2 - omitted in Hollow month) Impure day
30. Triakás, Hene kai Nea (Hekate's Deipnon) - Hekate and the dead

Celebrating these sacred days is usually done with a libation of diluted red wine and a hymn to the Theos or Theoi in question. An offering of incense may also be appropriate. Noumenia, Agathós Daímōn and the Hene kai Nea are special celebrations which are celebrated more abundantly. The days of purification are linked to miasma, and katharmos should be applied on these days. Due to the influence of the Underworld on the last days of the month, they are impure, and major celebrations are rarely held on these days.

Certain days bear special names, based upon their placement within the month. Noumenia (First of the month), Agathós Daímōn (Second), Tritomênís (Third), Tetrás (Fourth), Dikhomênía (Mid-month--on the full moon), Eikás (Twentieth), Triseinás (thrice-ninth (27th)), and Triakás (Thirtieth).


In ancient Hellas, days in the first decad are labeled 'the [number] of the waxing moon', or 'the waxing [number]'. Days in the second decad are labeled 'middle [number]', either from 'middle first' to 'middle ninth', and then on to 'early tenth', or from 'middle one and tenth', to 'middle nine and tenth', then on to 'middle twentieth' (or 'early tenth'). The proper labeling of the last decad is 'the [number] of the waning moon', or 'the waning [number]', but they could be counted back from the coming new moon. 'The waning third', for example, is often considered the twenty-third day of the month, but could be interpreted as the twenty-eighth.

Note that the ancient Hellens started a new day at sundown the day before. Instead of starting a new day at midnight--or in the morning--like we do today, they started it at sundown of the previous day. This means that--when applied to modern practice--the Deipnon starts on the day of the suspected new moon, and the new month follows after. For more on this, see this post about the Deipnon, Noumenia and Agathós Daímōn.

The ancient Hellenic ritual calendar recognized twelve months. In Athens, and surrounding areas, the new year started with the first sighting of the new moon after the summer solstice. In other parts of ancient Hellas, like Boeotia, the new year started with the first sighting of the new moon after the winter solstice.

Hellenic months were either twenty-nine or thirty days in length, since the moon orbits the earth in roughly 29.5 days. Hollow months had twenty-nine days, full months had thirty. The ancient Hellens chose not to alternate the hollow and full months according to a set schedule ("Hekatombaion is a hollow month"), but instead, the duration of each month was declared just before month's end. The thirtieth day was always included; in a hollow month, the twenty-ninth day was left off of the calendar.

A full lunar year is 354 days long. Because the earth rotates around the sun in roughly 365 days, an extra month was inserted into the calendar every few years--usually every third year. This month was usually a repeat of the previous month, most frequently Poseideon, but there are references to repeats of Hekatombaion, Metageitnion, Gamelion, and Anthesterion. It is unknown if the festivals which fell in this month were repeated as well, if other festivals were held, or if no festivals were celebrated at all. How long this month was, depended on the previous years. The ancient Hellens had a tendency to repeat days to suit their needs, usually to postpone the arrival of a certain date. Assembly meetings, for example, were not held on festival days, so if the meeting was urgent, the previous day was repeated and the festival day postponed. A standard extra month would have been thirty-three days long, but it rarely was.

In Athens, Asia Minor and surrounding areas, the months carried the first names listed, in Boeotian and Theban they are said to carry the second set of names. The last listing gives a reference point to the Gregorian calendar.

Hekatombaion (Ἑκατομϐαιών) - Creteon - July/August
Metageitnion (Μεταγειτνιών) - Diomedeon - August/September
Boedromion (Βοηδρομιών) - Hippeon - September/October
Pyanepsion (Πυανεψιών) - Gereon - October/November
Maimakterion (Μαιμακτηριών) - Hespereon - November/December
Poseideon (Ποσειδεών) - Cerbreon - December/January
Gamelion (Γαμηλιών) - Nemeaneon - January/February
Anthesterion (Ἀνθεστηριών) - Lerneon - February/March
Elaphebolion (Ἑλαφηϐολιών) - Archaedeon - March/April
Mounichion (Μουνιχιών) - Erymantheon - April/May
Thargelion (Θαργηλιών) - Augeon - May/June
Skirophorion (Σκιροφοριών) - Stymphaleon - June/July

In ancient Hellas, years were marked with the name of the Archon (ἄρχων, meaning 'ruler'). One could, for example, say 'in the year when [name] was Archon'. Modern Hellenistic practitioners note the years in a four year cycle based off of the Panhellenic Games. The most famous of the Panhellenic Games were the Olympic Games, which were held every four years, from 776 BC. to AD. 394. They were, however, part of a cycle of sports events. Olympic Games were dedicated to Zeus, were held in Olympia, Elis, and were held every four years. The Pythian Games were dedicated to Apollon, were held in Delphi and were held every four years, starting three years after the Olympic Games. The Nemean Games were dedicated to Zeus also, were held in Nemea, Corinthia, and were held every two years. Lastly, the Isthmian Games were dedicated to Poseidon, were held in Corinth, and were also held every two years. Counting up from the first Olympic Games, we have now reached the forth year of the 697th Olympiad.

What follows next is the festival calendar of the ancient Hellens, with the focus on Athens unless otherwise noted. The days are numbered by way of the Gregorian calendar; one through twenty-nine or thirty. When the exact date is unknown, the festival is marked with a '(?)' where the date should be. They are listed at the start of the month.

Hekatombaion
4 - Aphrodisia - festival of Aphrodite and Peitho (Persuasion), where the temple was purified with dove's blood, the altars cleansed, and the two statues washed.
12 - Kronia - festival in honor of Kronos
16 / 15-16 - Sunoikia - community festival in Athens. Sacred to Athena. Two-day celebration every other year.
21 - Sacrifice to Kourotrophos, (Hekate &) Artemis at Erchia
23-30 - Panathanaia - main celebration on the twenty-eighth in honor of Athena. Greater held in the third year of each Olympiad, Lesser held annually for fewer days.

Metageitnion
(?) Metageitnios - most likely a festival of neighborhood, dedicated to Apollon Metageitnios ('changing neighbors').
(?) - Herakleia - in honor of Herakles at Kunosarges gymnaisium outside Athens
12 - Sacrifice to Demeter at the Attic deme of Erchia
12 - Sacrifice to Zeus Polieus, Athena Polias, and Apollon Lykeios in Athens
15-18 - Eleusinia - games held on forth year of every Olympiad, and on a lesser scale on the second year.
16 - Sacrifice to Kourotrophos, Hekate & Artemis at Erchia
19 - Sacrifice to The Heroines at Erchia
20 - Sacrifice to Hera 'Telkhinia' at Erchia
25 - Sacrifice to Zeus Epoptes at Erchia

Boedromion
2 - Niketeria - festival in honor of Athena, Nike, and perhaps Poseidon
3 - Plataia - festival of reconciliation, sacred to Hera Daidala
4 - Sacrifice to Basile in Erchia
5 - Genesia - public festival for the dead in honor of Gaea
5 - Sacrifice to Epops at Erchia
6 - Kharisteria - festival in honor of Artemis Agrotera
7 - Boedromia - a festival of thanksgiving for Apollon as a god who rescues people in war.
12 - Democratia - festival in honor of Democracy
13-23 - Eleusinian Greater Mysteries - in honor of Demeter
17 - Epidauria - in honor of Asklēpiós
27 - Sacrifice to the Nymphs, Achelous, Alochus, Hermes & Gaea at Erchia
27 - Sacrifice to Athena at Atic deme of Teithras

Pyanepsion
6 - Proerosia - agricultural festival for Demeter held at Eleusis, after the oracle of Delphi told the Athenians to commence this festival to end the current famin. First fruits (mostly grain) were given to Demeter.
7 - Pyanepsia - festival in honor of Apollon and Theseus
8 - Theseia - festival in honor of Theseus
8 - Oskhophoria - festival of the vintage (grapes)
9 - Stenia - women's festival in honor of Demeter and Persephone
11-13 - Thesmophoria - festival in honor of Demeter
14 - Sacrifice to The Heroines at Erchia
19-21? Apatouria - paternity festival. The first day (Dorpia) was celebrated with a communal feast within the brotherhood, the second day ('Anarrhusis') sacrifice were made to Zeus Phratrios and Athena Phratria, and the third day ('Koureotis') young boys admitted to their father's brotherhood.
30 - Khalkeia - festival in honor of Athena and Hephaestus.

Maimakterion
(10?) - Pompaia - festival in honor of Zeus Meilikhios ('Kindly') and Hermes.
(16?) - Maimakteria - festival for Zeus Maimaktes ('Blustering') to be gentle come winter.

Poseideon
(?) - Rustic or Lesser Dionysia in honor of Dionysus
5 - Plerosia festival at Attic deme of Myrrhinus
8 - Poseidea - festival in honor of Poseidon
16 - Sacrifice to Zeus Horios at Erchia
26 - Haloa - fertility festival in honor of Dionysus and Demeter. Pomegranates, apples, eggs, fowls, and some species of fish were not to be consumed during the festivities.

Gamelion
8 - Sacrifice to Apollon Apotropaius, Apollon Nymphegetes, & the Nymphs at Erchia
9 - Sacrifice to Athena at Erchia
12-15 - Lenaia - festival in honor of Dionysus in the Attic deme of Limnai
27 - Theogamia/Gamelia - celebrating the sacred marriage of Zeus Teleios and Hera Telei
27 - Sacrifice to Kourotrophos, Hera, Zeus Teleius, and Poseidon at Erchia

Anthesterion
2 - Sacrifice to Dionysus at Erchia
11-13 - Anthesteria - wine festival in honor of Dionysus
20-26 - Lesser Mysteries in preparation for the Eleusinian Mysteries
23 - Diasia - festival in honor of Zeus Meilichios

Elaphebolion
6 - Elaphebolia - festival in honor of Artemis
8 - Asklepieia - in honor of Asklēpiós
10-14/10-17 - Greater (City) Dionysia in honor of Dionysus
15 - Sacrifice to Kronos
17 Pandia - festival in honor of Zeus, following the Greater Dionysia

Mounichion
4? - Sacrifice to Eros
6 - Delphinia - in honor of Artemis, and perhaps Apollon and Theseus
16 - Mounikhia - festival in honor of Artemis as the moon Goddess and Mistress of the animals
19 - Olympieia - festival in honor of Olympian Zeus
20 - Sacrifice to Leucaspis at Erchia
21 - Sacrifice to Tritopatores at Erchia

Thargelion
4 - Sacrifice to Leto, Pythian Apollon, Zeus, Hermes & Dioskuri at Erchia
6 - Sacrifice to Demeter Khloe
6-7 - Thargelia - birthday of Apollon and Artemis
16 - Sacrifice to Zeus Epakrios at Erchia
19 - Bendideia - festival in honor of Thracian Goddess Bendis
19 - Sacrifice to Menedeius at Erchia
Between 20 and 25 - Kallunteria - spring cleaning of the Temple of Athena
25 - Plynteria - festival of washing, where the statue of athena was removed from the city of Athens to be cleaned. Auspicious day.

Skirophorion
3 - Arrephoria - festival in honor of Athena; or, Arretophoria. Ending of the priestess term at the temple of Athena, for young handmaidens
3 - Sacrifice to Kourotrophos, Athena Polias, Aglaurus, Zeus Polieus, Poseidon & possibly Pandrosos at Erchia
12 - Skirophoria - festival in honor of Athena, Poseidon, Apollon & Demeter; the Tritopatores were worshipped at Marathon on the eve of this festival
14 - Dipolieia/Bouphonia - festival in honor of Zeus Poleius
28/29 (last day) - Sacrifice to Zeus the Savior and Athene the Savior

Important to note is that monthly and annual festivals were rarely held on the same day. This means that every month had an opening and end section where very few--if any--festivals were held, and then the body of the month where festivals stacked (especially around the Athenian new year). Exceptions could be made if the Theos honored during the monthly sacred day corroborated with the Theos honored during the annual festival. The days that we know counted towards days where no festivals were held are bolted in the above list of the sacred month. 9, 11, 13, 15, 16, 21, 23, and 25 may have counted as well.

2 comments:

Kore said...

Hello,
great articel, but i have a qustion dealing with the lunar cycle. Th calendar counts 30 days, but the mouun needs sometimes 28, 29 and sometimes 30 days.
How do you deal with this?
thank you

Elani Temperance said...

@Kore: In most city-states, the 29th day on the calendar was pulled out of the calendar to make up a 29-day month, thus leaving Hene kai Nea intact. 28-day months did not occur in ancient Hellas as far as I am aware; the 28 day month we experience every four years is used to make up for the slight irregularity within the solar calendar we inherited from the Romans and would have been completely unknown to the ancient Hellenes. The variation between ancient Hellenic lunar calendar and the solar cycle was so large that they inserted an extra month every few years. More on that can be found here: http://baringtheaegis.blogspot.nl/2013/08/solstices-and-calculations-on-hellenic.html .
If you have any further questions, let me know.
Gods bless,