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Blood on the altars?: On the treatment of blood at Greek sacrifices and the iconographical evidence
Stockholm University, Faculty of Humanities, Department of Archaeology and Classical Studies.
2005 (English)In: Antike Kunst, Vol. 48, 9-29 p.Article in journal (Refereed) Published
Abstract [en]


This study discusses the handling and use of blood at Greek sacrifices as depicted in Greek vase-painting. Modern scholars have usually assumed that the blood from the animal victims was completely discarded by pouring it on or at the altar, since the blood belonged to the divine part of the sacrifice. However, a more comprehensive analysis of the literary and epigraphical evidence shows that it is more likely that the blood at regular thysia sacrifices was kept and eaten by the human worshippers.

The analysis of the iconographical evidence can be taken to further support the suggestion that the blood at Greek animal sacrifices was usually collected, in order to be prepared as food, after a small quantity had been sprinkled on the altar. The main support for this proposal is how and when blood is shown or referred to on the vases, and when it is not. Blood pouring out of the victim is never part of the iconography of thysia but instead confined to representations of sacrifices, at which the blood had to be discarded, or set in a mythical context and with little or no correspondence to actual, practised rituals. The sphageion, the vessel used for collecting the blood, most frequently occurs in scenes showing the mageiros cutting up the meat, indicating the use of this vessel when preparing the blood for consumption. The bloodstains on the altar, finally, are not found on all altars and, when depicted, there are only a few stains on the vertical side of the altar, and the altars are never shown as covered with blood.


Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
2005. Vol. 48, 9-29 p.
National Category
Archaeology Classical Archaeology and Ancient History
Research subject
Classical Archaeology and Ancient History
URN: urn:nbn:se:su:diva-26623OAI: diva2:210750
Available from: 2009-04-05 Created: 2009-04-05 Last updated: 2010-02-05Bibliographically approved

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Ekroth, Gunnel
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