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Spartan Religion

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Rebecca Johnson

on 2 March 2015

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Transcript of Spartan Religion

• ‘Festival of the Unarmed boys’ – commemorating the Battle
of Thyrea in 550BC or to thank Apollo for military success

Features of the festival:
• Displays of strength and endurance
– athletic competitions,
musical events and dancing
- Anapale (wrestling dance)
- Embaterion (march accompanied by flutes)
- Bryallicha (women dance in honour of Apollo and Artemis)
- Hyporchema (religious dance performed in honour of Apollo)
• All Spartiates were expected to be involved
expect the unmarried, who were denied
the chance
• Annual festival lasting five days in July
• A rite of passage for young males
into a state of physical superiority
• Promoted social cohesion and the austere lifestyle
by making an example of
those who didn’t adhere to Spartan values.
- Those who did not follow Spartan laws were shunned and forced to sing
songs of their punishment
"Religious festivals were occasions of public display; they could be exploited as
opportunities of humiliation."
– Xenaphon.
- Ridiculous song and dance performances were forced upon Helots

Singing of military success and victories yet to come
"...Troops of boys, young men and old men sang one after the other."

– H, Michell
"Gymnopaediae, choruses of children in Sparta in Lakonia, singing hymns to the
gods (Apollo) in honour of the Spartiates who died at Thyrea."
– Suidas
• Enhance austere lifestyle of Sparta:
weeten the austerity of Spartan life."

– H, Michell.
Key Aspects
of Spartan Religion

Spartan Religion
Ares was the Greek god of war and the symbol of strength and victory. Although, it seems that he wasn’t the patron God of Sparta, despite the obvious link between the God of War and their militaristic lifestyle. Evidence of Ares in Sparta:
Pausanias mentions that
“of all the objects along this road (to Sparta from Therapne) is a sanctuary of Ares”.
Youths of Sparta are believed to have sacrificed puppies to Ares because
“the most valiant of tame animals is an acceptable victim to the most valiant of Gods"

An image of Ares depicted the God in chains to indicate that victory of war would never leave Sparta.
Zeus was the king of the Gods of Olympus, supreme ruler of gods and mortals. The two Spartan Kings held
"two priesthoods, of Zeus Lakedaemon and Zeus Uranius"
(Herodotus). This created a connection between the Kings and the all-powerful God which emphasised the strength and power of the Spartan Kings. It also accentuated the idea of a strong Spartan state as their leaders were connected to Zeus. He was also known as Horkios (oath keeper) and was renowned for always insisting on the sanctity of oaths, just like those passed between the kings and the Ephors every month.
By the Canopy is a circular building (in Sparta), and in it images of Zeus and Aphrodite surnamed Olympioi."

Artemis, Goddess of hunting and child birth, was admired in Sparta. She was also known as Artemis Orthia when combined with the earlier Spartan goddess. She was highly honoured because child birth was seen to be very important in Sparta, as children had to be born healthy and strong. Artemis Orthia was also connected with the agoge and the initiation of boys through the festival of Artemis Orthia. A sanctuary of Artemis Orthia was also located outside the centre of Sparta and housed temples, altars and an area for spectators.
Highly worshipped in Sparta, Apollo was the God of science, medicine, music and poetry. The motto of Apollo was ‘nothing in excess’ which suited the austere life of the Spartans. Much evidence has been found within Sparta to show his worship including the Hyapkinthia festival, the Gymnopaediae festival and the Karneia festival where he was honoured. Also, the sanctuary of Apollo at Amyclae was found with many coins depicting the God.
"Amyklai (in Lakedaimonia), where is the temple of Apollo."
When looking at the worshipped Gods of Sparta, an obvious connection can be made to their militaristic lifestyle. The fundamental Spartan Gods were Apollo, Artemis, Athena and Zeus, all who symbolised strength, victory, wisdom and skill. If the Spartans pleased the Gods, they would be rewarded but if not, they would be punished. They would also be looked to for guidance with decisions on important matters and consulted often by the kings and Ephors, such as the oracle of Delphi. Much evidence can be found for Spartan worship through sanctuaries, temples and festivals in honour of the Gods.
Athena was patron god of Sparta. She was depicted as a warrior, often holding a spear, and was the goddess of the arts, wisdom and handicrafts. She was worshiped highly as she symbolised the warriors which Spartans trained to become. She also represented the militaristic ideals of Sparta
Athena was also
"called both Polioukhos (city-protecting) and Khalkiokon (Lady of the Bronze House)"
[Pausanias]. Remains of a Temple of Athena have also been found and are referred to by Pausanias.
Lakedaemonians made of bronze both the temple and the image of Athena."
Poseidon, God of the Sea, horses and earthquakes, was a powerful god. There were a number of sanctuaries in his name with one at Tainaron where helots could take refuge. The earthquake of 464BC was believed to be punishment by Poseidon for murdering helots who sort his refuge.
Importance of Religion
• Kings held
two priesthoods, of Zeus Lakedaemon and of Zeus Uranius"

(Herodotus) and were seen as the connection between the people and the gods.
• Sacrifices were offered every month to Apollo, for the welfare of the city.
On the first and seventh days of every month each king was given a full grown animal to offer in sacrifice in the temple of Apollo."
• Before leaving on campaign, the King would make a sacrifice to Zeus, and if the omen was favourable, the army could proceed.
• Safe keeper of oracles. Oracles were important as the offered a chance to hear the messages of the gods.
(Kings) are responsible for the safe-keeping of all oracles."
• Religion was used to validate the actions of the King, if something went wrong, the gods were to blame.
• Kings were worshipped as semi-divine gods
• Religion was a source of authority as they derived power and prestige from sacrificial privileges
A king by virtue of his divine descent should perform all the public
sacrifices on the city’s behalf."

Dealings with the Gods are assigned to the kings"
• Ephors would look to the skies every nine years for the approval or disapproval of the gods
• Spartans believed they were descendants of Hercules (pictured) and Zeus, both symbols of power and strength, implying that the militaristic lifestyle of Sparta derives from their divine ancestry.
• Religion created a connection between gods and society, uniting the social and political organisations of Sparta.
• Provided a way of ensuring fertility and victory in battle and would bring the community together through festivals, forming a sense of belonging.
• Offered a chance of enjoyment and recreation, a release from the strict rules of Sparta
• Necessary to please the gods otherwise punishment would be ensured.
• Emphasised by the Gods of worship – Apollo, Artemis, Athena and Zeus. These were all powerful gods who symbolised strength and wisdom, demonstrating the militaristic nature of Sparta.
• Spartans would not participate in fighting or war during festivals.
For example, the Spartans could not come to the aid of the Athenians during the Battle of Marathon as it was during the Karneia festival.
• Religion promoted social conformity and control under the military state
• Used to justify decisions made on campaign
Festivals were an important aspect of Spartan religion. Entertainment and enjoyment was a rare chance offered by festivals which allowed for release under the normal austere/rigid lifestyle. Athens asked for help from the Spartans when the Persian King Darius invaded Greece but they were
unable to send it promptly because they did not wish to break their law"
This was during their festival and would not partake in fighting through this time. Similarly, at the Battle of Thermopylae, Leonidas and the Spartans did not want to upset the gods, and therefore did not interrupt the Karneia festival, taking only the available men.
The intention was, when the Karneia was over, to leave a garrison in the city and march with all the troops at their disposal"
This highlights the importance of religion and festivals in Spartan Society.
Festivals included:
Festival of Hyakinthia
Festival of Karneia
Artemis Orthia
Festival of Gymnopaedia
Features of the festival:
• Participants lived in barracks as though on campaign

• Celebration of military success, heroism and to glorify past victories. This promoted the success of the military state.

• Sacred truce during the festival and therefore couldn’t travel to war. This was the reason for the late arrival to the Battle of Marathon in 490BC.
…unable to send it promptly because they did not wish to break their law"
. This was also the reason for the small number of troops at the Battle of Thermopylae in 480BC.

"….the intention was, when the Karneia was over, to leave a garrision in the city and march with all the troops at their disposal…"

• Music was performed to celebrate military success. There was also a music contest known as the ‘agon’.

• A ram was sacrificed in honour of Karnos (which translates to ‘ram’)

• Foot race resembling the chase of prey. ‘Staphylodromoi’ (or grape-cluster runners) would chase a young man wearing a woollen headband, reminiscent of the prey. If caught, good fortune would be granted to Sparta, if not, it was considered a bad omen.
This festival linked the worship of Apollo with Karneios, an older Spartan God. Karnos was believed to have the ability to see into the future. Also, he was supposedly killed by a descendant of Hercules, a Herakleidai. Therefore, the purpose of this festival is believed to be:
A form of predicting the future -
The cult of Apollo Karneios has been established among all the Dorians ever since Karnos,... who was a seer of Apollo."
Or, a ritual to make amends for the crime against Karnos
The Karneia Festival
The festival is named after Hyakinthos, a young man who was loved by Apollo and died when hit by a discus. The red flower, called hyacinth, first sprung from his blood and Apollo ordained an annual festival in his grief.
Took place over three days in summer (July)
Held at the ancient shrine of Apollo at Amyclae, the location of a statue of Apollo, the tomb of Hyakinthos and an open area for festival dances.
"The festival Hyakinthia was at hand….perform the traditional rites in honour of Apollo and Hyakinthos."
The festival had two stages:
1. Stage of sorrow and mourning
in honour of Hyakinthos’ death
Ban of wearing of wreaths and joyful singing
Eating bread and cake was forbidden, instead a special funeral meal was allowed.
2. Stage of rejoicing
in honour of Apollo
Wreaths could be worn and joyful singing and dancing took place
A sacrifice to Apollo and a procession at Amyclae
Involved all social classes, including helots – "
The citizens entertain their acquaintances at diner and their own slaves as well. No-one is missing from the festivities."

The Hyakinthia Festival
The Gymnopaediae Festival
• Young Spartan males competed in a vigorous military test,
known as the 'cheese-stealing ritual'.

They attempted to steal cheese off the altar of Artemis Orthia while being harshly whipped.
• It was an endurance test
and those who could withstand the punishment would be honoured, moving onto the next stage of training.
• The youth who endured the longest would also have a statue erected in his honour.
• Occurred during May or June
• Interpreted as a
rite of passage for young males
and separated the strong from the weak.
"I have witnessed many of them dying under the lashes they received at the altar of Artemis Orthia"
– Plutarch
Performed at the sanctuary of Artemis Orthia which was located east of the acropolis near the Eurotas river
"And, after making it a matter of honour for them to snatch just as many chesses as possible from Orthia, he commanded others to whip them, wishing to demonstrate thereby the point that a short period of pain may be compensated by the enjoyment of long lasting prestige"

– Xenaphon
Items have been found at the site including lead figurines, votive offering, ivory objects, brooch plates depicting the goddess or animals and small statuettes of animals
"The sprinkling of the blood of the participants in this ceremony was the nature of a ‘blood-bond’ between gods and human beings."

– H, Michell
Artemis Orthia

Author. Date of publication. Title of book. Printed location: printing company
• Bradley, Pamela. (2001). Ancient Greece Using Evidence. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press
• Rodgers, Nigel. Everyday life in Ancient Greece People and Places. China: Hermes House

Author. Date of publication. Title of article. Title of website. URL:

• Lumb, Jeffery. Religion death and burial. HSC online. URL: http://hsc.csu.edu.au/ancient_history/societies/greece/spartan_society/sparta_religion/ancient_sparta_religion.htm
• (2007). Spartan Religion. Legends and Chronicles. URL: http://www.legendsandchronicles.com/ancient-civilizations/ancient-sparta/spartan-religion/
• (2012). Spartan Society Notes. TSFX. URL: http://www.tsfx.com.au/resources-results-page-2/
• Aaron, J. (2008). Theori Greek Mythology. URL: http://www.theoi.com/
• Cartwright, M. (May 2013). Sparta. Ancient History Encyclopaedia. URL: http://www.ancient.eu/sparta/
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