The Ritual of Time 

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Practice of Time in Ancient Greece

The Ritual Practice of Time

In Ancient Greece

Researched & written by Emma Greenwood, MA in Heritage Management

How did ancient Greeks celebrate the change of year?

There was no New Year’s celebration as we know it today, but instead, ancient Greeks held festivals throughout the year influenced by polytheism to honor the gods as well as celebrate the change of time and change of seasons.

Astronomy played a vital role in religion, mythology, cosmology, and astrology of antiquity. All of which were intertwined with calendrical practices. The rituals and celebrations give insight into important cultural purposes and the ritual practice of the time.

Calendars and festivities were used to maintain temporal order and mark the changing of seasons, as well as the flow of time. The celebrations were used to give a sense of community and unity through shared memories.

Festivals involved much preparation, commitment and participation as there were often many activities in involved including religious rites, sacrifices, processions, performances, competitions, and feasts.

Calendars & Festivals

The astronomical technology we have today was not available to ancient Greeks to assist with accuracy. This does not undermine the ingenuity of antiquity’s astronomers as they laid the groundwork from which astronomy, as we know it today, emerged.

There was no uniformity between ancient Greek calendars as every city-state had their own, meaning that each calendar was systematically different from the other according to each polis. Despite the differences, each polis used the moon phases as a means of regulation. As a result, many different types of calendars emerged, also for different purposes.

The calendar most often referred to and of which most information is retained to this day, is known as the Athenian (Civil) Calendar, otherwise referred to as the Attic Calendar, Ancient Greek Calendar, or Festival Calendar.

The importance of the Athenian Calendar was to coordinate the abundance of festivals that took place throughout the year. The calendar begins after the Summer Solstice and was marking the beginning of the year during Summer for ancient Athenians, with each consecutive month beginning with the new moon. Each Greek calendar had its own constituents and the beginning of the year varied per city-state.

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