The Thesmophoric cult

3d model and reconstruction

The Thesmophoric cult

For the reconstruction of Thesmophoria processions very valuable work was done by the archaeologist De Miro, as well as comparisons with paintings of the ancient age. More specifically inspiration has been drawn from the comparison with the famous fresco of the Dancers’ Tomb in Puglia, dating to the 5th century BC.

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Short history of

The Thesmophoric cult

The three sectors described above appear to be a complete and integrated sanctuary complex, either from the topographical point of view or from the cult point of view, and it seems incontestable that this was the area devoted to the Thesmophoria. On the other hand also a literary source, Polyaenus, in a passage about the tyranny of Phalaris reports of the existence of the celebration of the festivities in Akragas.

The votive materials which have been discovered leave no doubt. In addition to the splendid marble head of Demeter, discovered inside one of the cisterns of the sanctuary, there are numerous figurines representing the worshippers with the piglet and the figurines of Athena Lindia, characteristics of the archaic sanctuaries of Demeter, as well as the miniature pots and the oil lamps which constituted the most frequent offerings to the goddesses; furthermore the presence, in such remarkable numbers, of oil lamps allows us  to suggest that the  rituals practiced here had a nocturnal element.

The Thesmophoria were solemn religious festivities celebrated every year exclusively by married women and were diffused all over the Greek world. The literary sources contain precious information on the festival, which took place over three separate days, and presented the mythical history of the two chthonic deities.

According to the myth, Persephone was abducted by the god of the Underworld, Hades, while she picked flowers with the nymphs, and was forced to become his bride and to remain underground. Following this, on earth the natural rhythms presided over by the two divinities were interrupted. Demeter, after having wandered for a long time in search of her daughter, arranged for Persephone to spent half of the year with the groom and the remaining part with her, so that the seasonal cycles of nature were restored on earth.

The topographical arrangement of the three terraces on the Hill of the Temples may be compared with the three days of the Thesmophoria festival, during which the ritual performed by the devoted retold the mythical stories of Demeter and Persephone.

The first day of the festival was called the anodos, or “scent” and it probably included the processional walk of the women toward the sanctuary. It can be hypothesized that the procession reached the sacred area through Gate V.

The second day of the festival was called the nesteia, or “fast” and represented the most dramatic moment of the festival, when the pain of Demeter for her daughter’s disappearance and the cessation of the seasonal rhythms on the earth were celebrated. The third day of the festival, called the kalligeneia, or “of the beautiful generation” represented the happy conclusion of the mythical story and it could have taken place in the terrace of the donors above the Colymbethra. Here the women concluded the cult ritual with the offer of votive deposits and of bloody sacrifices and with the consumption of the community sacred meal.