Did Greeks offer human sacrifices?

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Eoghan

Puritan Board Senior
Reading Xenophon's anabasis I am repeatedly coming across "victims" in the context of sacrifices. This strongly implies human sacrifices - am I wrong?
 

Pergamum

Ordinary Guy (TM)
Yes.

The sacrifice of King Agamemnon's daughter Iphigenia before sailing to attack Troy was a central element of Greek drama surrounding the Iliad. Upon his return, he and his poor captive girl Cassandra were killed for this deed as we read in Orestes.

Some historians said that Greek human sacrifice was merely fiction, but they also said Herodotus was a liar and that Troy did not exist.

Plus, why would Xenophon lie to us?

https://www.newsweek.com/ancient-gr...d-human-skull-reveals-ritual-sacrifice-755549

Here is a further Googlebook, "The Strange World of Human Sacrifice" by Jan Bremmer, which references Anabasis 1.2.10 referring to Lykaian Games and the human sacrifices which occurred there (page 67):

https://books.google.com.my/books?id=0tPjVJF8roYC&pg=PA67&lpg=PA67&dq=xenophon+anabasis+human+sacrifice&source=bl&ots=r4HiQ63QEB&sig=ACfU3U1uNulOmpPsKliSAdFlqWSmCWvgSg&hl=en&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwirqLatk77oAhWfyDgGHQGsD-gQ6AEwEHoECAsQAQ#v=onepage&q=xenophon anabasis human sacrifice&f=false

This Smithsonian article references those games: https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/did-ancient-greeks-engage-human-sacrifice-180960111/

"The remains uncovered at an altar to Zeus on Mount Lykaion may confirm legends about human sacrifice at the shrine."
 
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py3ak

Unshaven and anonymous
Staff member
I don't think the use of the word victims of itself necessitates that humans be in view. "The sacrificial victim" can be any living thing which is to be offered in sacrifice. There would need to be more than that in the context to identify the victim as human on any particular occasion.

Now the incident with Agamemnon shows that it did happen. The reaction to it may show that it didn't happen as often or routinely as in some other places.
 

Pergamum

Ordinary Guy (TM)
I don't think the use of the word victims of itself necessitates that humans be in view. "The sacrificial victim" can be any living thing which is to be offered in sacrifice. There would need to be more than that in the context to identify the victim as human on any particular occasion.

Now the incident with Agamemnon shows that it did happen. The reaction to it may show that it didn't happen as often or routinely as in some other places.

In Anabasis victims usually denotes goats or other animals. I do not remember any human sacrifice in the book, but it has been awhile. In 7.8.4-5 he speaks of burning piglets for example, and lambs in other places.

Here is an article about various sacrifices: https://books.openedition.org/pulg/503?lang=en

And here is a book from Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Sacrifice-Ancient-Greece-Dennis-Hughes/dp/0415034833

Human Sacrifice in Ancient Greece, by Dennis Hughes:

"Numerous ancient texts describe human sacrifices and other forms of ritual killing: in 480 BC Themistocles sacrifices three Persian captives to Dionysus; human scapegoats called pharmakoi are expelled yearly from Greek cities, and according to some authors they are killed; Locrin girls are hunted down and slain by the Trojans; on Mt Lykaion children are sacrificed and consumed by the worshippers; and many other texts report human sacrifices performed regularly in the cult of the gods or during emergencies such as war and plague. Archaeologists have frequently proposed human sacrifice as an explanation for their discoveries: from Minoan Crete children's bones with knife-cut marks, the skeleton of a youth lying on a platform with a bronze blade resting on his chest, skeletons, sometimes bound, in the dromoi of Mycenaean and Cypriot chamber tombs; and dual man-woman burials, where it is suggested that the woman was slain or took her own life at the man's funeral. If the archaeologists' interpretations and the claims in the ancient sources are accepted, they present a bloody and violent picture of the religious life of the ancient Greeks, from the Bronze Age well into historical times. But the author expresses caution. In many cases alternative, if less sensational, explanations of the archaeological are possible; and it can often be shown that human sacrifices in the literary texts are mythical or that late authors confused mythical details with actual practices.Whether the evidence is accepted or not, this study offers a fascinating glimpse into the religious thought of the ancient Greeks and into changing modern conceptions of their religious behaviour."

I think there were, in fact, many human sacrifices in early ancient Greece, but the humans slowly got replaced by animals.

Regarding the OP: I think (1) Yes, human sacrifices did exist in Ancient Greece, but (2) "Victims" mentioned in the Anabasis were lambs and piglets used in sacrifice. I don't recall any human sacrifice.
 

Tom Hart

Puritan Board Senior
Though I am admittedly unfamiliar with, specifically, the ancient religious customs of the Greeks and their forebears, I might suggest, based on the textual and archaeological evidence above, that human sacrifice did occur among those peoples.

There is common to all men, I think, a basic understanding that blood sacrifice is somehow necessary to approach the divine. This goes all the way back to Genesis 3. Blood sacrifice has been found in religions all over the world since the most ancient times.

The pagan peoples surrounding the ancient Hebrews were known to practice sacrifice, even human sacrifice. The Romans, themselves particular to sacrificing chickens and goats, observed human sacrifice among the Celts. Archaeological evidence indicates that human sacrifice was at least occasionally practiced among the pagan Germanic peoples. The Carthaginians are thought to have practiced child sacrifice on a large scale.

In ancient China, royal tombs were filled with animals and men and women, who were killed just before the tombs were sealed. (Confucius spoke against these practices.)

The Aztecs' spectacles of human sacrifice are well known. Further south, in the Andes, numerous mummified remains have been found of human sacrificial victims.

What is the common theme to all these? Somehow or other, sacrifice is a means of approaching the divine. Offer a bird, or a sheep, or an ox - and takw care that it is unblemished - and the divine will surely take heed. Too, it was apparent to ancient peoples that human life, even that of the lowliest slave, was of more worth than many animals. And, of course, of especial value was the life of one's own child.

There is the natural, though hideous, progression pf thought from a certain starting point. "I must offer something of value to my god(s)," they say, "and what is of more value than human life?"

Where there is animal sacrifice among pagans, then, you are more than likely to find human sacrifice practiced on some scale.
 
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