ActaAth-4°, 60: From snout to tail


Published by the Swedish Institute at Athens. Distributed by AB at All content is available with open access, use links below.

From snout to tail. Exploring the Greek sacrificial animal from the literary, epigraphical, iconographical, archaeological, and zooarchaeological evidence

Edited by Jan-Mathieu Carbon & Gunnel Ekroth

Animal sacrifice fundamentally informed how the ancient Greeks defined themselves, their relation to the divine, and the structure of their society. Adopting an explicitly cross-disciplinary perspective, the present volume explores the practical execution and complex meaning of animal sacrifice within ancient Greek religion (c. 1000 BC–AD 200). The objective is twofold. First, to clarify in detail the use and meaning of body parts of the animal within sacrificial ritual. This involves a comprehensive study of ancient Greek terminology in texts and inscriptions, representations on pottery and reliefs, and animal bones found in sanctuaries. Second, to encourage the use and integration of the full spectrum of ancient evidence in the exploration of Greek sacrificial rituals, which is a prerequisite for understanding the complex use and meaning of Greek animal sacrifice. Twelve contributions by experts on the literary, epigraphical, iconographical, archaeological and zooarchaeological evidence for Greek animal sacrifice explore the treatment of legs, including feet and hoofs, tails, horns; heads, including tongues, brains, ears and snouts; internal organs; blood; as well as the handling of the entire body by burning it whole. Three further contributions address Hittite, Israelite and Etruscan animal sacrifice respectively, providing important contextualization for Greek ritual practices.

Chapter abstracts and author affiliations listed below.


‘Preface’, 7

Download PDF - Size: 142.18 KB - Downloads: 93 (since 2024)

Jan-Mathieu Carbon & Gunnel Ekroth, ‘From snout to tail. Dividing animals and reconstructing ancient Greek sacrifice’, 9–20

Download PDF - Size: 266.94 KB - Downloads: 95 (since 2024)

Jake Morton, ‘From the butcher’s knife to god’s ears. The leg and tail in Greek sacrifice’, 21–32

Download PDF - Size: 780.57 KB - Downloads: 82 (since 2024)

Flint Dibble, ‘Beyond burned thighbones. The anatomy of ancient Greek sacrifice’, 33–54

Download PDF - Size: 859.91 KB - Downloads: 113 (since 2024)

François Lissarrague, ‘Vous trouvez sabot ? Sur la table et sous la table, un morceau peu choisi’, 55–65

Download PDF - Size: 580.87 KB - Downloads: 96 (since 2024)

Michael MacKinnon, ‘Animal heads and feet in ancient Greek ritual contexts. Their relationship between sacred and profane’, 67–91

Download PDF - Size: 856.87 KB - Downloads: 75 (since 2024)

Tyler Jo Smith, ‘Taking the bull by the horns. Animal heads in scenes of sacrifice on Greek vasess’, 93–109

Download PDF - Size: 507.95 KB - Downloads: 69 (since 2024)

Vasiliki Zachari, ‘Bucrane stylisé. Au-delà de l’ornementalité’, 111–132

Download PDF - Size: 701.03 KB - Downloads: 66 (since 2024)

Stella Georgoudi, ‘Heads, tongues and the rest. The kephale and its parts in the sacrificial practices’, 133–150

Download PDF - Size: 373.69 KB - Downloads: 68 (since 2024)

Bartek Bednarek, ‘Μέχρι σπλάγχνων. When is that?’, 151–164

Download PDF - Size: 303.32 KB - Downloads: 70 (since 2024)

Vinciane Pirenne-Delforge, ‘The viscera (splanchna) and the “Greek way” of sacrificing’, 165–178

Download PDF - Size: 320.12 KB - Downloads: 65 (since 2024)

Jennifer Larson, ‘Blood and ritual killing: Exploring intuitive models’, 179–192

Download PDF - Size: 296.00 KB - Downloads: 72 (since 2024)

Gunnel Ekroth, ‘To burn it all? The practice of holocausts and moirocausts in ancient Greek religion’, 193–206

Download PDF - Size: 402.81 KB - Downloads: 71 (since 2024)

Alice Mouton, ‘Burnt animals for the Hittite gods. Cremation as a type of animal sacrifice in Hittite Anatolia’, 207–217

Download PDF - Size: 318.02 KB - Downloads: 57 (since 2024)

Jonathan S. Greer, ‘From flock to temple to table. The sacrificial animal of the fellowship offering in Ancient Israel in text and archaeology’, 219–231

Download PDF - Size: 381.61 KB - Downloads: 49 (since 2024)

Katie A. Rask, ‘Animal sacrifice in parts. Theorizing bodily division in Greek and Etruscan ritual killing’, 233–254

Download PDF - Size: 745.38 KB - Downloads: 52 (since 2024)

‘Indices’, 255–270

Download PDF - Size: 318.79 KB - Downloads: 60 (since 2024)

Bibliographical information

Jan-Mathieu Carbon & Gunnel Ekroth, eds, From snout to tail. Exploring the Greek sacrificial animal from the literary, epigraphical, iconographical, archaeological, and zooarchaeological evidence (Skrifter utgivna av Svenska Institutet i Athen, 4°, 60), Stockholm 2024. ISSN 0586-0539. ISBN 978-91-7916-069-2. Hardcover: 270 pages.

Chapter abstracts

From the butcher’s knife to god’s ears. The leg and tail in Greek sacrifice

By Jake Morton (Carleton College)

This paper argues that, throughout the process of Greek sacrifice, the leg and tail formed a single integrated unit that was both practical and deeply religious. It has long been accepted that thighs and tails were burned on altars in ancient Greece and that this act was where communication with the gods took place, thus forming one of the most important elements of ancient Greek sacrifice. However, up to this point the leg and tail have not been treated as elements of a single holistic unit. Through reinterpretation of textual and iconographic evidence, combined with my study of butchery and an extensive experimental archaeological project involving the burning of thighs and tails, the thigh and tail are shown to form a single sacrificial unit from the butchering of the sacrificial animal, through being burnt on the altar, until they conveyed communication with the divine.

Beyond burned thighbones. The anatomy of ancient Greek sacrifice

By Flint Dibble (Cardiff University)

This paper examines the relationship of anatomical patterns of burned and butchered bones to ancient sacrificial ritual. The anatomical patterns in sanctuary contexts are compared to those found in settlement contexts in the Greek world. The pattern of burned upper hindquarters (thighs and tails) is found in assemblages from many sanctuary sites. However, a pattern of burned lower limbs (and sometimes heads) is found in several private contexts dating from the Late Bronze Age through the Hellenistic period. The burning of these less meaty elements potentially relates to a passage in the Homeric Hymn to Hermes. Large-scale sacrificial feasting assemblages at several sites show the use of large cleavers to efficiently butcher animals. At Azoria, this pattern contrasts with residential butchery conducted with smaller knives. The tight anatomical patterning of cleaver-chops found in communal dining middens are indicative of professionally trained butchers. At the Athenian Agora, the relative absence of cutmarks on unburned femora, indicates that commercial butchers treated these parts specially. These contexts reveal butchery as an important spectacle within the setting of sacrificial feasting.

Vous trouvez sabot ? Sur la table et sous la table, un morceau peu choisi

By François Lissarrague (École des hautes études en sciences sociales, Paris)

This paper discusses the iconography of hooves as they appear in Attic vase-painting, in relation with sacrifice and meat consumption. Three groups of images are considered. The first group shows dogs gnawing a bit of the leg, recognizable by the hoof, which is regularly depicted. A second, more limited group deals with shield devices showing a bird holding in its beak the same kind of leg; this episema is tentatively related to bomolochia. The third and most abundant group is related to the distribution of boneless legs, again identified by the hoof, which is always visible. It is argued that the insistence on the hoof is a pictorial strategy which makes clear the nature of the object manipulated, and the reference to meat distribution. The importance of this anatomical detail, used as a semantic element, is also revealed by some other vases which are analyzed in conclusion.

Animal heads and feet in ancient Greek ritual contexts. Their relationship between sacred and profane

By Michael MacKinnon (University of Winnipeg)

Although traditional demarcations for sacrificial faunal remains among ancient Greek sites—(i) altar offerings; (ii) consumption debris; (iii) butchery refuse—provide a basis for study, the reality is not always so simple. This chapter re-examines the representation of heads and feet within zooarchaeological data for Greek ritual sites in light of the cultural and natural biases that can affect these samples. Attention here focuses upon aspects including (1) taphonomic factors shaping assemblage formation; (2) the association of heads and feet with an animal’s hide, and, in turn, the role of the hide in ritual operations; (3) the relationship between holocaust sacrifice and expected representation of heads and feet; (4) consumption of heads and feet in feasting; (5) symbolism (whether expressed or not) surrounding the use, display or role of animal heads and feet in antiquity. Where possible, comparisons are made with the evidence for heads and feet among non-ritual zooarchaeological assemblages in Greek antiquity to provide a wider context for their distribution among ritual sites and to explore further the relationship between sacred and profane in this respect.

Taking the bull by the horns. Animal heads in scenes of sacrifice on Greek vases

By Tyler Jo Smith (University of Virginia)

While a great deal has been written about the choice and types of animals shown in scenes of sacrifice in ancient Greek art, there has thus far been no study of heads and horns as an isolated category. Many vases portray horned animals as victims and there is surely much to be gleaned by careful observation of their body postures, function in the scenes, and interaction with other figures, be they human or animal. Thus, this paper investigates horned animals in representations of sacrifice in the artistic repertoire of Archaic and Classical Greece, with careful attention to their heads. The evidence will be drawn from the black- and red-figure vases of Athens, with a few examples and comparisons drawn from other regions, such as Corinth, Boeotia, and East Greece. After reviewing the evidence of horned animals on the “animal style” vases of the 7th century BC, the various positions of horned heads in pre-death sacrificial scenes are presented, as well as the ways that the humans and objects present in the scenes interact with and draw attention to these particular animal parts.

Bucrane stylisé. Au-delà de l’ornementalité

By Vasiliki Zachari (École des hautes études en sciences sociales, Paris)

The purpose of this paper is to analyze the close relation between the altar and the bucranium in order to explore the Greek sacrificial animal, and more precisely its head, from an iconographical point of view. Bucranium, meaning literary the ox’s skull in ancient Greek, is a term widely used to describe an ornamental motif attested in architecture and more abundantly on marble cylindrical altars dating from the 3rd century BC and on. Evidence from Attic vase paintings of the 5th century BC representing bucrania casts doubt upon their decorative use and interpretation and opens a debate about their role and meaning. By analyzing images where the animal’s head is depicted before and after sacrifice, as well as the images where a bucranium is combined with an altar, or not, the present article will shed more light on the treatment and uses of the head of sacrificial animals on vases, as well as on the ways Attic painters make of the bucranium a meaningful symbol of sacrifice and time.

Heads, tongues and the rest. The kephale and its parts in the sacrificial practices

By Stella Georgoudi (École pratique des hautes etudes, sciences religieuses, Unité de recherche ANHIMA, Paris)

Based on literary and epigraphical evidence, this paper offers a reflection on the vocabulary which denotes the head of the sacrificial animal and its parts—especially the tongue. Terms such as kephale, hemikraira or glossa are taken into account, but also words such as koryphaia, kephalaion (the meaning of which is not clear), egkephalos (“brain”), rynchos (“snout”), ota or ouata (“ears”), and even siagones (“jawbones”). An effort is made to clarify the meaning of these terms and to understand how and to whom the relevant parts were distributed. At the same time, it is useful to verify the presence or the absence of these terms in Aristotle’s works on animals; and to examine the possible nuances of a word found both in literary and epigraphical sources (for example, the term hemikraira, which is found in Aristophanes and in Athenaeus, but also in the sacrificial regulations of the Phrearrhioi in Attica).

Μέχρι σπλάγχνων. When is that?

By Bartek Bednarek (Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität)

The following paper discusses the role of σπλάγχνα (splanchna—the victim’s entrails) within standard sacrificial procedures in ancient Greece. As literary and iconographic sources indicate, from Homer until Late Antiquity these internal organs were perceived as distinct from ἔντερα (intestines) and κρέας or σάρξ (meat). As such, they received special ritual treatment, being roasted over the fire in which the gods’ share was burned. Consumption of at least a symbolic quantity of victim’s entrails was an indispensable sign of the worshippers’ participation in the ritual. As I argue, in spite of its social and economic importance, meat usually did not convey similar religious meanings as σπλάγχνα.

The viscera (splanchna) and the “Greek way” of sacrificing

By Vinciane Pirenne-Delforge (Collège de France)

The discovery of a remarkable cult regulation at Marmarini in Thessaly has recently brought to light an exceptional mention in our epigraphic documentation: the statement that a sacrifice could be performed “according to the Greek norm”. As this sacrifice highlights the splanchna (“viscera”) of the animal and the parts placed in the fire (on the altar), the present study offers a thorough analysis of the role of the viscera in the sacrificial process attested in Greek narratives as well as in ritual norms, in order to test the hypothesis that the combustion of a part for the gods and the specific manipulation of the viscera constitute, beyond local variations, the essential characteristics of the “Greek way of sacrificing”.

Blood and ritual killing: Exploring intuitive models

By Jennifer Larson (Kent State University)

Greek sphagia (“blood victims”) are the objects of a category of ritual killing which emphasizes the shedding of blood. Using cognitive theory, I will attempt to identify the conceptual models that allow practitioners of ritual sphage to infer that their methods are efficacious. In the agentive model of ritual sphage, blood is used to facilitate interaction or reciprocity with an intentional agent (typically a god or hero). In the mechanistic model, blood is used to achieve a result automatically, through the Laws of Similarity and/or Contact (that is, through sympathetic magic). Dual activation of agentive and mechanistic models occurred in Greek rituals of sphage on the battle-line, in oaths, and in some types of purification. In Greek culture, mechanistic models were intuitive and implicit, with the partial exception of oaths, where the mechanistic analogy was sometimes stated as part of the ritual. These two factors (dual activation and the implicitness of mechanistic models) have made it more difficult for scholars to recognize the extensive role of sympathetic magic in rituals of sphage, and the structural similarities among rituals. Battle-line sphagia, oath sphagia, and purificatory bisections, for example, all rely on magical action per the Law of Similarity.

To burn it all? The practice of holocausts and moirocausts in ancient Greek religion

By Gunnel Ekroth (Uppsala University)

This paper offers a review of holocaustic rituals in written and material sources arguing that this type of sacrifice was rare. It further addresses if the animal was burned whole or if the carcass was flayed, emptied of blood and intestines, and sectioned before being placed onto the fire. Since the evidence suggests that holocausts did not necessarily mean the burning of an intact animal, the relation between holocausts and moirocausts, sacrifices at which a larger part of the animal was burned, is also explored. Finally, the ancient evidence for holocausts is considered in the light of the results of the experimental cremation of a lamb and a pig performed at Uppsala in 2014. It is argued that a Greek holocaust may have aimed at burning the meat beyond human means of consumption rather than at a total annihilation of the carcass by fire, and that the long time it seems to have taken to perform a holocaust can be linked to the purpose of the ritual.

Burnt animals for the Hittite gods. Cremation as a type of animal sacrifice in Hittite Anatolia

By Alice Mouton (Centre national de la recherche scientifique, Paris)

The aim of this paper is to provide an overview of the Hittite textual evidence (Anatolia of the 17th–12th centuries BC) for sacrificial cremation of animals or animal body parts. Besides several occurrences of Hittite verb warnu-, “to burn”, the Hurrian term ambašše “(something) that is burnt” is examined in context. Sacrificial cremation occurs during various types of rituals: invocations, substitutions, and others. In the form of the ambašše rite, it originates from Kizzuwatna, a region of Southern Anatolia that was under Hittite rule at least since the 16th century BC. Twenty-two excerpts of Hittite cuneiform texts are provided in order to illustrate the great variety of burnt sacrificial procedures.

From flock to temple to table. The sacrificial animal of the fellowship offering in Ancient Israel in text and archaeology

By Jonathan S. Greer (Grand Valley State University)

This chapter describes the “sacrificial animal” of the “fellowship offering” (šǝlāmîm) in ancient Israel, focusing on the various activities surrounding its selection, slaughter, associated rituals, butchering, distribution, preparation, and consumption. Biblical texts from the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament in its various forms (focusing on the Masoretic Hebrew tradition and with special attention to the Septuagintal texts as well) and the available archaeological sources for Israelite temple sacrifice (focusing on Tel Dan in northern Israel) are synthesized to reconstruct details about this Israelite sacrifice as it might have been practiced during the period of the Hebrew kingdoms during the first half of the 1st millennium BC. The aim is to describe the “sacrificial animal” of the šǝlāmîm in a way that will be useful for Classicists as a point of comparison between Israelite and Greek sacrificial systems.

Animal sacrifice in parts. Theorizing bodily division in Greek and Etruscan ritual killing

By Katie A. Rask (Ohio State University)

Evidence from Etruria and Greece suggests that sacrificial practices involved a rich, flexible collection of activities. Most forms of animal sacrifice hinged on the manipulation of the animal body in some way, frequently with division or disarticulation. This article addresses the theoretical background to bodily division in studies of Greek sacrifice, before exploring Etruscan practices with a similar focus on partition and processing. From animal skins worn by haruspices to blood used in funerary rituals, the various animal parts had religious potency, symbolism, and social significance. Zooarchaeological material is crucial for reconstructing how the animal body was divided and employed, but the religious use of organic portions, otherwise prone to decomposition, can be studied using other archaeological sciences such as lipid analysis. The surviving data suggests that Etruscans found religious value in skins, skulls, meat, bones, organs, and blood. This article utilizes, but also modifies, insights from David Frankfurter and Kathryn McClymond in order to theorize the efficacious aspects of sacrificial bodies, as well as procedural flexibility within sacrificial processes.

No Comments

Comments are closed.