Like frogs around a pond: Reconstructing the Rituals of Ancient Greek Maritime Religion


Haury Room 125
1009 E South Campus Dr
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Mon, 05/01/2017 - 12:00pm to Wed, 05/25/2022 - 5:09am


Amelia Brown, University of Queensland


The ancient Greeks took part in a common religious culture all around the Mediterranean sea, ‘like frogs around a pond’ (Plato Phaedo 109b). The rituals and technologies of maritime culture were central to this Panhellenic religion, especially everyday rituals practiced at harbors and aboard ships for safe arrival ashore. I argue that the religious system of sailors helped the ancient Greeks in unexpected ways to establish, develop and spread their common culture, especially in the Hellenistic era. Cults of seafaring gods like Aphrodite, Apollo, Hera, Poseidon and the Dioscuri were carried from port to port around ancient Greece, to the Greek colonies, and into foreign cities intertwined with technologies for launching, navigating and anchoring ships safely. Chief among the latter were lead anchor stocks, some with names of gods or 4 astragaloi, knucklebones used as dice. Each bone is shown with a different face up, forming a throw sacred to the goddess Aphrodite-Venus, good luck, especially at sea, which would have been enacted and replicated whenever ancient sailors cast this anchor overboard. These artefacts connect us with ancient makers, who cast the dice upon the stock, and users, who threw it overboard and hauled it back in. Bringing this evidence back together reveals a durable yet flexible network of maritime rituals and technological practices which bound the ancient Greeks together in unexpected and close-knit ways, even across great distances.