Religion and Death
Votives and Sacrifice
Votives were gifts offered to the gods by their
worshippers. They were often given for benefits already conferred or in anticipation
of future divine favors. Or they could be offered to propitiate the gods for
crimes involving blood-guilt, impiety, or the breach of religious customs.
They could be given either voluntarily or in response to demands by the cult's
priesthood that the donor fulfill a religious vow or honor some religious
Votives were kept on display in the god's sanctuary for a set period of time
and then were usually ritually discarded. Bronze tripods,
prize cauldrons and figurines, terracotta tablets and figurines, lamps, and
vases are typical examples. Armor, weapons,
jewelry and other more personalized items were
dedicated in large numbers, along with marble statuettes and reliefs. Some
of the healing sanctuaries housed replicas of body parts donated in thanks
for or in hope of cures. Large sculptural monuments in bronze, marble and
other costly materials were routinely dedicated by either private donors or
individual city-states in the great Panhellenic sanctuaries like Olympia and
Sacrifices were also thought of as gifts to the gods. They took the form of
bloodless offerings such as grasses, roots, cereal grains, fruits, cheese,
oil, honey, milk and incense, or were blood-offerings like wild and domesticated
animals, birds and fish. The foodstuffs and liquids were either burnt on raised
altars so that their aroma could rise heavenward or dropped or poured into
wells, holes or tombs. What was left was usually consumed by the sacrificers.
Click here for cult statues.
||Attic Red Figure Kylix
ca. 480 BC
By the Foundry Painter and the potter Euphronios
A centauromachy or battle between two armed Greek warriors and an elderly
centaur armed with the limb of a tree.
H. 9.7; L. 31.2; Dia. 23.8 cm. Photo by Maria Daniels for the Perseus
||South Italian Greek Terracotta Votive Figurine
ca. 450-425 BC
Either a Demeter or Persephone figurine or a priestess. The low polos
headdress is associated with both, but the apron suggests a priestess.
Carrying a piglet, she holds aloft a circular box or kanoun. Inexpensive
terracottas depicting female subjects turn up in very large quantities
in sanctuaries dedicated to female goddesses
throughout the Greek world. Women were especially active in all aspects
of Demeter's cult.
H. 32.5; W. 13.0; Th. 8.0 cm. UM neg. S8-55808. (99k)
||Attic Red Figure Kylix
ca. 490-480 BC
By the Antiphon Painter and the potter Euphronios
Perhaps Chiusi, Italy
A youth walks along with a piglet and a sacrificial basket. The piglet
was the favorite animal to sacrifice to Demeter and her daughter, Persephone,
but could also be offered to other deities. In the autumn Demeter's Eleusinian
initiates walked to the Saronic Gulf, each carrying a piglet. The animals
were purified in the sea before being sacrificed. It may be a moment from
this familiar annual event that is pictured here.
H. 10.0; L. 31.0; Dia. 24.0 cm. Photo by Maria Daniels for the Perseus
||Apulian Red Figure Krater
4th century BC
On loan, Philadelphia Museum of Art
Scene of sacrifice, perhaps from a play. A grotesque bearded man, perhaps
a slave, wearing a short chiton, high sandals and pointed straw hat, stands
in front of an altar. He holds a libation pitcher and large knife. A second
comic or bearded, mustachioed male, wearing a tall felt hat and short
chiton, holds a sheep over an altar. A woman holds out a ritual winnowing
basket, used in the rites of Demeter and Dionysus.
Photo courtesy Mediterranean Section, Univ. of Pennsylvania Museum.
© Copyright 2002