Priests and Priestesses in ancient Attica…

This is an ‘open article’: new informations will be added from time to time…


A decree states that the priestess is to be elected by lot from either branch of the genos of the Salaminioi, i.e. both from those in Heptaphylai and those in Sounion. The appointment
was pluralist, i.e. that there was only one priestess and that she served two separate cults: that of Aglauros and Pandrosos, and that of Kourotrophos. The priestess enjoyed a proedria, and did receive a portion of the sacrifices in the shrines in which she presided, as did all the other priests and priestesses of the Salaminian genos. In addition she received a loaf of bread at the Oschophoria.

On the evidence of Philochoros and others, the cult of Apollo Pythios is believed to have first grown up on the north-east coast of Attica, specifically in the deme of Prasiai under the
auspices of the Erysichthonidai. Apollo Pythios was closely assimilated to Apollo Patroos, to whom a shrine was erected in the household of every true-born Athenian citizen.

It seems that by the end of the fourth century, Artemis Brauronia had a priest as well as a priestess; a fragmentary inventory of the Goddess’s treasury refers cryptically to ‘priestesses’. The importance of the cult is indicated by the fact that room was made for it on the Acropolis, probably at the instigation of Peisistratos.

Two priests were elected annually, one in charge of the city and the other of the Peiraic cult. The method of appointment in the third century was by sortition rotating in tribal cycles,
i.e. allotments drawn each year from a single tribe, following the official order of tribes. Priests of Asklepios dressed in white and bound their hair in a white fillet. The priests of
Asklepios had proedriai.

The priestess of Athene Nike was to be elected by lot ‘from all Athenian women’. The office was for life; from c. 450 the priestess received a salary of 50 dr. per annum, together with
the legs and hides from public sacrifices.

Since Athene Polias was the most important deity in the Athenian state, it is very probable that her priestess outranked all other priests and priestesses- this priesthood is perhaps
the oldest connected with the city of Athens. Like the priest of Poseidon Erechtheus, the priestess of Athene Polias was appointed from the Eteoboutadai for life. Since there is no
mention of an independent priesthood for Athene Parthenos, it is tempting to assume that she served both cults and was a pluralist. There was perhaps a tendency to appoint women
who were married or widowed. The priestess was rigorously debarred from eating fresh cheese or any cheese made in Attika; for some obscure reason she was only permitted to eat imported cheese. According to Athenaios (ix. 375 c) she was not allowed to sacrifice ewe lambs. A fragment from the Erechtheus of Euripides states that the priestess must perform the preliminary rites in the case of any burnt offerings made upon Athene’s altar (fr. 65. 95-7 Austin).
The only evidence regarding her income is provided by the Oikonomika attributed to Aristotle (ii. 2. 4, 1347 A), in which it is stated that Hippias legislated that she should receive one quart of barley, one of wheat, and one obol on the occasion of every birth or death.

An inscribed decree states that the priestess is to be elected by lot from either branch of the genos of the Salaminioi, i.e. both from those in Heptaphylai and those in Sounion (Other
Attic cults entrusted to the same genos were those of Eurysakes and the hero at Hale, and of Herakles at Porthmos). She did receive a portion of the sacrifices in the shrines in which
she presided, as did all the other priests and priestesses of the Salaminian genos. In addition she received a loaf of bread at the Oschophoria.

The matter to decide is whether the priestess of Bendis should be required to be the wife of a priest or whether she could be the wife of any Athenian citizen.


The priest of Dionysos had a proedria in the centre of the front row of the theatre of Dionysos.

The priest is to be elected from either branch of the genos of the Salaminioi, i.e. both from those from Heptaphylai and those from Sounion. The priest was a pluralist, i.e. he served
two separate cults. The priest received an hierosyna of 6 dr.; an allowance for pelanos (sacrificial cake) for both cults of 7 dr.; in lieu of legs and skins sacrificed in the Eurysakeion,
13 dr.; the leg and skin of victims sacrificed to the hero at Hale. Like all priestly officials of the Salaminian genos, he received a portion of the sacrifices in the shrines in which he

The priest is to be elected from either branch of the genos of the Salaminioi, i.e. both from those from Heptaphylai and those from Sounion.
The priest received an hierosyna of 30 dr.; an allowance for pelanos of 3 dr.; of sacrificial victims, the skin and leg of pelted animals, of singed animals the leg, of an ox nine pieces of
flesh and the skin. He also received a loaf at the Oschophoria. Like all priestly officials of the Salaminian genos, he received a portion of the sacrifices in the shrines in which he

Like the priestess of Athene Polias, the priest of Poseidon Erechtheus was appointed from the genos of the Eteoboutadai; there was a stele in the Erechtheion listing the members of the genos who held the priesthood. He enjoyed a proedria.


He enjoyed a proedria.

He enjoyed a proedria.

The cult was placed under the management of the eponymous archon and not the basileus;

The basileus directed ‘almost all the ancestral sacrifices’. In particular, he supervised the Mysteries and the festival of the Lenaia with the assistance of the epimeletai; heard cases
of asebeia, arbitrated in disputes over gentile priesthoods and disagreements regarding priestly privileges, and issued the proclamation banning excommunicates from participating
in the customary sacrifices. He was responsible for maintaining the state calendar.

The archon did not administer any of the ancient rites (τα πατρια), as did the basileus and polemarch, but only the more recent (επιθετα) festivals.

The pythochrestos exegetes  was selected by Pythian Apollo operating through the Delphic Oracle, probably from a list of nominees first selected by the demos; ‘the exegetaito whom
the State applied in all those cases in which she, or her officials, were in need of expert advice’. Both Timaios and the Suda state that they were in charge of purification. On the
evidence of Plato’s Laws we may surmise that he (or they) offered expert opinion on the purification of polluted water supplies, purification after murder or suicide, and the
purification of houses in which a murderer had set foot. The pythochrestos exegetes enjoyed a proedria;  pythochrestoi are ncluded among those given the privilege of maintenance in the prytaneion.


The most important Eleusinian priesthoods were retained either in the genos of the Eumolpidai or in that of the Kerykes.
A treasury account issued by the epistatai in 329/8 refers to the fact that they all received a portion of the proceeds from the sale of the harvest from the Rarian field; they also
received portions of the sacrifices made at the Mysteries; all the Eleusinian priesthood were granted free maintenance in the Prytaneion.

The dadouchos was elected from the Kerykes; he was the chief male priest after the hierophant.
The dadouchos wore colourful vestments, probably purple, a strophion or headband, and a myrtle crown. His hair, which was worn long, was tied into a krobylos or knot at the nape
of his neck. He enjoyed a proedria.

Elected from the genos of the Philleidai and held office for life; it was the earliest priesthood to be attached to the Eleusinian sanctuary.
An inscription of unknown date from Olympia on Kos states that the priestess of Demeter must keep herself pure from the following: hero-meals, graves, death, and childbirth.
According to a law passed c. 460, the priestess was to receive one obol from each initiate at both the Lesser and the Greater Mysteries; the law code of Nikomachos states that the
priestess of Demeter is to receive 500 dr. as apometra for her sacrificial duties. She was eponymous at Eleusis (i.e. events and inscriptions were dated from the year in which she
succeeded to office) and she dwelled in the precinct of the temple.

Elected for life from the genos of the Eumolpidai; age was an important requisiste for appointment to the hierophantia.
The hierophant was the chief priest in the cult, he was the interpreter of the unwritten laws governing the staging of the Mysteries; his duties were adminstrative as well as religious-
Dio Chrysostom (xxxi. 121) indicate that the hierophant was the most important Athenian priesthood in the Roman period. He had hieronymy (the replacement of the personal name
of the priest by the title of the priesthood).
A fragmentary law set up in the City Eleusinion dated c. 460 referst to a priest who preceded the priestess of Demeter receiving at least half an obol per day from each initiate at the Mysteries; he enjoyed a proedria; he wore a mantle, probably of purple, a strophion or headband surmounted by a wreath of myrtle, and carried a staff.

The altar-priest was elected from the family of the Kerykes for life; he received one obol from every initiate.

The keryx was elected from the Kerykes; it seems inevitable that a good speaking voice was at least a desirable, if not a necessary attribute for the keryx.
He  enjoyed a proedria; the keryx is among those who are to receive payment from each initiate.

It is possible that the title was merely descriptive of all priestesses who practised chastity for the duration of the festival; it is consistent with references to segregated dwellings for the panageis.

Of the two hierophantids one was the hierophantid of Demeter and the other the hierophantid of Kore. Certainly in the Hellenistic and Classical period they were not
as prominent in the cult as the priestess of Demeter and Kore, nevertheless, they did play an important part in the cult. Ister mentions the hierophant, the hierophantids, the
daduch, and the “other priestesses” without specifically mentioning the priestess of Demeter and Kore. Hieronymy seems to be in force for them from the time they begin appearing in epigraphical sources.

This priest’s function was concerned with maintaining the sacrificial fire of altars and hearths; it was an important priesthood, supplied by the Kerykes. The pyrphoros had a
prohedria seat in the theater, was included among the aeisitoi and sometime in the first or second century began practicing hieronymy, all of which were privileges only of the most
prestigious priesthoods.

His title suggests that he was charged with the care of statues. It is possible that he was mentioned among the Eleusinian officials who were to receive payment at the Mysteries from each initiate.

The Eumolpid exegetai were either two or three in number ; their manner of appointment is not known, although given the requirements of the office, it is a reasonable inference that
they were elected. ‘In accordance with the exegesis performed by the Eumolpidai’ was a standard formula in the fifth century. The exegetai of the Eumolpidai offered expert advice on the patria and nomoi of the Eleusinian Mysteries, which were reckoned to be of such standing that ‘no one has yet had the authority to abolish them or contradict them’

According to a law found in the City Eleusinion, there were four epimeletai of the Mysteries, two elected ‘from all the Athenians from men over thirty years of age’, and one of each
genos from the Kerykes and Eumolpidai. They would appear to have been elected on merit; the City Eleusinian law states that ‘it is the duty of epimeletati to assist the basileus in
taking charge of the festival of the two Goddesses and to organize the Mysteries according to ancestral practice with him and the Eumolpidai and Kerykes’. In addition, they had to
maintain law and order by imposing fines on the disorderly, or, in the case of more serious offenders, bringing them to the heliaia to stand trial.

The purpose of the board was ‘to take charge of the Two Goddesses’ property in the same way as those in charge of the work on the Acropolis had charge of the temple and statue’; the epistatai were to receive from the logistai an audited account of the finances of the Eleusinian Goddesses, which they then transferred to Athenian tamiai for safe keeping.

They are described as making sacrifices and exacting dues from initiates; they were to receive first fruits, keep an official record of the offering made by each city and deme, negotiate with the architect in selecting a site for the granaries in which the first-fruits were to be housed, sell the left-over offerings after the sacrifice, and make a dedication jointly with the boule.

(LSG 35. 16-20; IG II2 163, 410, 1078, 1231, 1232, 1283, 1672, 5022, 5023, 5024, 5025, 5028, 5043, 5053, 5152; IG I2 6, 24, 387; Hom. Il. .iii. 271 ff. and xix. 252; Ar. Birds 862 f.; Aeschin. 3. 18; Herond. iv. 79 f.; LSG 36. 5; Hdt. v. 72; vi. 81; Paus. ii. 28. 7; SIG3 581, 1003; IG I2 5, 44, 76; Paus. 1, 22, 3, vii. 24. 4 and ix. 10. 4; GGR3 V. 2. 2, p. 78; Ferguson, no. I.I2 f.; Philochoros in Schol. S. OC 1047; SEG x. 24-. 1-13, x. 6. 89-92; Dem. xviii. 14’I; Harp, s.v. Apollo Patroos; Poll. viii. 122; Arist. AP 55-3; Strabo 9. 1. 11; Andok. i. 127; Schol. Aeschin. iii. 18; Aristid. Eleus. Or. 4 Keil; Aristeid. Or. 22. 4 Keil; FGrH 334 F29; Jul. v. 173 c; Pseudo-Plutarch Mor. 843 f; Arist. AP 3.3, 57. I; cf. P1. Plt. 290 E; Ps.-Lys. vi. 4; And. i. III; Plato, Laws VI 759c)

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