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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The Acropolis and the Propylaea in an 1846 painting by Leo von Klenze.

The Panathenaea (Παναθήναια "all-Athenian festival") was the most important festival for Athens and one of the grandest in the entire ancient Greek world. Except for slaves, all inhabitants of the polis could take part in the festival.

This holiday of great antiquity is believed to have been the observance of Athena's birthday and honored the goddess as the city's patron divinity, Athena Polias ('Athena of the city').

The procession assembled before dawn at the Dipylon gate in the northern sector of the city. The procession, led by the Kanephoros, made its way on the Panathenaic Way through the Agora toward the Acropolis. Some sacrifices were offered on the Areopagus and in front of the Temple of Athena Nike next to the Propylaea.

Caryatid Porch of the Erechtheion, Athens, 421407 BC

Only Athenian citizens were allowed to pass through the Propylaea and enter the Acropolis. The procession passed the Parthenon, and stopped at the great altar of Athena in front of the Erechtheum.

Each year a newly woven peplos was dedicated to Athena.

In 566 BC, at the initiative of Peisistratus, a special aspect of this festival was created for every fourth year, extending over a number of days with many public events (Great Panathenaea). The Panathenaic Games were held as part of the fourth year of the festival.

A votive sculpture, copying the Athena Parthenos, Roman period, second century CE, National Archaeological Museum, Athens

The existing Parthenon is the most famous building of ancient Greece, and has been praised as the finest achievement of Greek architecture. The Parthenon replaced an older temple of Athena that had been destroyed by the Persians in 480 BC.

The Parthenon Frieze, some scholars suggest, represents the Panathenaic procession [1]. Its decorative sculptures are considered one of the high points of Greek art.

A monumental cult statue of Athena Parthenos was housed in the eastern room of the building. This statue was sculpted in ivory and gold by Phidias. A copy (shown at the right) taken from the statue, found in Italy dating from the second century, is thought to resemble the original closely.


  1. ^ Robin Osborne, Democracy and Imperialism in the Panathenaic Procession: The Parthenon Frieze in its Context. In W. Coulson et al. (eds.), The Archaeology of Athens and Attica under the Democracy (1994)

1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

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 have been a chariot race from the earliest times, in which Erechtheus himself won the prize. Considerable alterations were introduced into the proceedings by Peisistratus 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. At 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 the procession. Even the religious rites were celebrated with much greater splendour 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 1 So named from a note (1902) directed by Dr Don Louis Maria Drago, the Argentine minister of foreign affairs, to the Argentine diplomatic representative at Washington at the time of the difficulties of Venezuela incident to the collection of debts owed to foreigners by that country.

2 The Bureau is supported by contributions, varying in amount according to population, of the twenty-one American republics. Andrew Carnegie contributed $750,000 and the various republics $250,000 for the erection of a permanent home for the Bureau in Washington. The Bureau has a library of some 15,000 volumes, and publishes numerous handbooks, pamphlets and maps, in addition to its monthly Bulletins. Its executive head is a director, chosen by the Governing Board.

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 under 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 the 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 have 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 of 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 Kultusaltertilmer (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.

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