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p454 Eleutheria

Article by Leonhard Schmitz, Ph.D., F.R.S.E., Rector of the High School of Edinburgh
on pp454‑455 of

William Smith, D.C.L., LL.D.:
A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities, John Murray, London, 1875.

ELEUTHERIA (ἐλευθέρια), the feast of liberty, a festival which the Greeks, after the battle of Plataeae (479 B.C.), instituted in honour of Zeus Eleutherios (the deliverer). It was intended not merely to be a token of their gratitude to the god to whom they believed themselves to be indebted for their victory over the barbarians, but also as a bond of union among themselves; for, in an assembly of all the Greeks, Aristides carried a decree that delegates (πρόβουλοι καὶ θεωροί) from all the Greek states should assemble every year at Plataeae for the celebration of the Eleutheria. The p455town itself was at the same time declared sacred and inviolable, as long as its citizens offered the annual sacrifices which were then instituted on behalf of Greece. Every fifth year these solemnities were celebrated with contests (ἀγῶν τῶν Ἐλευθερίων) in which the victors were rewarded with chaplets (ἀγὼν γυμνικὸς στεφανίτης, Strab. IX. p412). The annual solemnity at Plataeae, which continued to be observed down to the time of Plutarch (Aristid. 19, 21; Paus. IX.2 § 4), was as follows:— On the sixteenth of the month of Maimacterion, a procession, led by a trumpeter, who blew the signal for battle, marched at daybreak through the middle of the town. It was followed by waggons loaded with myrtle boughs and chaplets, by a black bull, and by free youths who carried the vessels containing the libations for the dead. No slave was permitted to minister on this occasion. At the end of this procession followed the archon of Plataeae, who was not allowed at any other time, during his office, to touch a weapon, or to wear any other but white garments, now wearing a purple tunic, and with a sword in his hand, and also bearing an urn, kept for this solemnity in the public archive (γραμμαφυλάκιον). When the procession came to the place where the Greeks, who had fallen at Plataeae, were buried, the archon first washed and anointed the tombstones, and then led the bull to a pyre and sacrificed it, praying to Zeus and Hermes Chthonios, and inviting the brave men who had fallen in the defence of their country, to take part in the banquet prepared for them. This account of Plutarch (Aristid. 19 and 21) agrees with that of Thucydides (III.58). The latter, however, expressly states that dresses formed a part of the offerings, which were probably consumed on the pyre with the victim. This part of the ceremony seems to have no longer existed in the days of Plutarch, who does not mention it, and if so, the Plataeans had probably been compelled by poverty to drop it. (See Thirlwall's Hist. of Greece, II p353, &c.; Böckh, Expl. Pind. p208, and ad Corp. Inscript. I p904.)

Eleutheria was also the name of a festival celebrated in Samos, in honour of Eros (Athen. XIII p562).a


Thayer's Note:

a The Parallela Minora of ps‑Plutarch (312F) record a few details about yet another Eleutheria, in Smyrna; but it should be noted that the Parallela are suspect as some kind of joke or parody, so the truth of any individual statement in them is hard to vouch for.


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