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p593 Heraea

Article by Leonhard Schmitz, Ph.D., F.R.S.E., Rector of the High School of Edinburgh
on pp593‑594 of

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

HERAEA (Ἡραῖα) is the name of festivals celebrated in honour of Hera in all the towns of Greece where the worship of this divinity was introduced. The original seat of her worship, from which it spread over the other parts of Greece, was Argos; whence her festivals in other places were, more or less, imitations of those which were celebrated at Argos (Müller, Dor. II.10 § 1). The Argives had three temples of Hera; one lay between Argos and Mycenae, 45 stadia from Argos; the second lay on the road to the acropolis, and near it was the stadium in which the games and contests at the Heraea were held (Paus. II.24 § 2); the third was in the city itself (Paus. II.22 § 1). Her service was performed by the most distinguished priestesses of the place; one of them was the high-priestess, and the Argives counted their years by the date of her office (Thucyd. II.2). The Heraea of Argos were celebrated every fifth year, and, according to the calculation of Böckh (Abhandl. der Berl. Akad. von 1818‑19, p92, &c.) in the middle of the second year of every Olympiad. One of the great solemnities which took place on the occasion, was a magnificent procession to the great temple of Hera, between Argos and Mycenae. A vast number of young men — for the festival is called a panegyris — assembled at Argos, and marched in armour to the temple of the goddess. They were preceded by one hundred oxen (ἑκατόμβη, whence the festival is also called ἑκατόμβαια). The high-priestess accompanied this procession, riding in a chariot drawn by two white oxen, as we see from the story of Cleobis and Biton related by Herodotus (I.31) and Cicero (Tuscul. I.47). The hundred oxen were sacrificed, and their flesh distributed among all the citizens (Schol. ad Pind. Ol. VII.152, and ad Nem. X.39). The sacrifice itself was called λεχέρνα (Hesych. s.v.) or "the bed of twigs" (comp. Welcker on Schwenck's Etymologische Andeutungen, p268). The games and contests of the Heraea took place in the stadium, near the temple on the road to the acropolis. A brazen shield was fixed in a place above the theatre, which was scarcely accessible to any one, and the young man who succeeded in pulling it down received the shield and a garland of myrtle as a prize. Hence Pindar (Nem. X.41) calls the contest ἀγὼν χάλκεος. It seems that this contest took place before the procession went out to the Heraeon, for Strabo (VIII p556) states that the victor went with his prizes in solemn procession to that temple. This contest was said to have been instituted, according to some traditions, by Acrisius and Proetus (Aelian, V. H. III.24), according to others by Archinus (Schol. ad Pind. Ol. VII.152).

The Heraea or Hecatombaea of Aegina were celebrated in the same manner as those of Argos p594(see Schol. ad Pind. Isthm. VIII.114; Müller, Aeginet. p149).

The Heraea of Samos, which island also derived the worship of Hera from Argos (Paus. VII.4 § 4), were perhaps the most brilliant of all the festivals of this divinity. A magnificent procession, consisting of maidens and married women in splendid attire, and with floating hair (Asius, ap. Athen. XII p525), together with men and youths in armour (Polyaenus, Strat. I.23, VI.45), went to the temple of Hera. After they arrived within the sacred precincts, the men deposited their armour; and prayers and vows were offered up to the goddess. Her altar consisted of the ashes of the victims which had been burnt to her (Paus. V.13 § 5).

The Heraea of Elis were celebrated every fifth year, or in the fourth year of every Olympiad (Corsini, Dissert. III.30). The festival was chiefly celebrated by maidens, and conducted by sixteen matrons who wove the sacred peplusendapfor the goddess. But before the solemnities commenced, these matrons sacrificed a pig, and purified themselves in the well Piera (Paus. V.16 § 5). One of the principal solemnities was a race of the maidens in the stadium, for which purpose they were divided into three classes, according to their age. The youngest ran first and the oldest last. Their only dress on this occasion was a χιτών, which came down to the knee, and their hair was floating. She who won the prize, received a garland of olive-boughs, together with a part of a cow which was sacrificed to Hera, and might dedicate her own painted likeness in the temple of the goddess. The sixteen matrons were attended by as many female attendants, and performed two dances; the one called the dance of Physcoa, the other the dance of Hippodameia. Respecting further particulars, and the history of this solemnity, see Paus. V.16 § 2, &c.

Heraea were celebrated in various other places; e.g. in Cos (Athen. XIV p639, VI p262), at Corinth (Eurip. Med. 1379; Philostrat. Her. XIX.14), at Athens (Plut. Quaest. Rom. VII.168), at Cnossus in Crete (Diod. V.72), &c.


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