Skip to content

ADONIS: The deified toy boy…

Dying Adonis by Vincenzo di Raffaello de’ Rossi. Photo Yiorgos Nimkiteas

The cult of Adonis seems to have been imported in Greece from Cyprus and even there it was not a native one. The island had received strong influences from its Middle Eastern neighbors, especially the Syro- Canaanites who were commercial partners but it had also been subjected to the power of the Assyrians during the 8th century BC. It also had a number of Phoenician settlements whose population seemed not to have been hellenized until the 3rd century BC. There is no wonder that the middle-eastern religions influenced the Cypriots who in their turn influenced the people of mainland Greece. The name Adonis is believed to be from the shemitic root “adon” meaning “lord” Adonis himself is being identified with the Babylonian god Tammuz It also appears that the cult of Adonis seem to have spread in mainland city stated during the Hellenistic-Roman period. Our major literary sources about Adonis and his cult come from the roman period.


Adonis was the product of the incestuous love of Smyrna with her father Cinyras, king of Paphos who committed suicide when he discovered the abominable act. (Hygin. Fab. 58, 242; Antonin. Lib. 34; Ov. Met. x. 310, &c.). But according to the cyclic poet Panyasis Smyrna was the daughter of Theias, king of the Assyrians who tricked her father into incestuous union with the aid of her nurse. On discovering this Theias attempted to kill her but the god transformed her into a plant. (ap. Apollod. l. c.) Both versions of the myth take a story, which might have been inspired by events that might have taken place in an Assyrian or Phoenician Iron Age harem. Both possible fathers of Adonis are described as having Asiatic origins so this testifies to the introduction of a foreign cult into the Greek world.


Adonis was famed for nothing more than his external appearance, which got him into trouble. He survived birth only because Aphrodite, for the sake of his beauty, hid him in a box and entrusted it to Persephone, queen of the Underworld. When the boy grew up in a very handsome and Aphrodite wanted him back but Persephone who had become infatuated with him refused to let him go. To avoid the calamities of the two goddesses conflict Zeus decreed that the lad should spent a third of a year with Persephone, a third with Aphrodite and a third to do as he pleases. (Hygin. Poet. Astron. ii. 7.) But the goddess of love being who she was, made him spent that time also with her. Aphrodite and Adonis spent many hours together, as lovers do, hunting and telling tales. Aphrodite also told Adonis not to hunt wild beasts but to hunt only those, which are safe to hunt meaning birds and herbivores. Adonis though took advantage of his good looks and had relations also with Apollo “being like a woman to him”. (Ptolemy Hephaestion, New History Book 5 summary from Photius, Myriobiblon 190) Another story has it that Dionysus, inflamed with lust carried off Adonis. (Phanocles ap. Plut. Sumpos. iv. 5.)

Adonis & Dionysos from Getty Images

But Aphrodite surprisingly was not jealous of Adonis and the couple spent many hours together, as lovers do, hunting and telling tales. Aphrodite again was cautioning Adonis not to hunt carnivores. Her toy boy though was not much of a hunter either for the goddess of love had the Cupid assisting him with his bow when Adonis missed his shots, and also to ward of any dangerous animals in his path. (Nonnus, Dionysiaca 48. 264 ff) So the lover boy thought he was a great hunter and in his arrogance offended Artemis by boasting of superior hunting prowess compared to her. (Ovid, Metamorphoses 10. 522 & 705 ff ) Artemis who was never hesitant to punish those who offended her reminded her brother Apollo that Aphrodite was the cause of his son Erymanthus blindness. She also informed the god of war Ares that his paramour was not only cheating on her husband Hephaestus but also on him with a mortal! (Apollodorus 3.14.4,)

Venus and Adonis Abraham Bloemaert National Gallery of Denmark

Angered the gods put a wild boar in Adonis path when he was hunting in the Lebanon forests. Throwing his lover’s cautions away as toy-boys always do, Adonis cast a javelin and wounded the boar This served only to get the beast enraged so it attacked the wannabe great hunter who promptly fled. (Athenaeus, Deipnosophistae 2. 69b-d) But the boar managed to reach him and mauled him badly. Adonis died in Aphrodite’s arms, which came to him, having heard his screams of pain.

Sebastiano del Piombo Death of Adonis La Spezia, Museo Civico „Amedeo Lia. Source: wikimedia

The cult of Adonis was popular among women for some legends said that he had come back to life. It has also been linked to shemitic a god of vegetation. This seems to be the only divine element in his cult for Adonis was just a mortal plaything of gods and most importantly goddesses and according to his legend he had done nothing important to be elevated to god status unlike Hercules or other heroes who had protected people by standing their ground in the line of combat.



Ioannou, Christina, “Cypriotes and Phoenicians”, in the website: Kyprios Character. History, Archaeology & Numismatics of Ancient Cyprus:

Karel van der Toorn, Bob Becking & Pieter Willem van der Horst, Dictionary of Deities and Demons in the Bible, 1999, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing,.

Richard Watson, A Biblical and Theological Dictionary: Explanatory of the History, Manners, 1832, B. Waugh and T. Mason Publisher.

Stephanie Dalley, The Legacy of Mesopotamia, 1998, Oxford University Press.

H. Roscher: Ausfürliches Lexikon der griechischen un römischen Mytologie.Leipzig 1890 Teubner


IFHEMA Athens 2017

The annual General Assembly of the International Federation of Historical European Martial Arts (HEMA) for 2017 was successfully completed in Athens under the auspices of the Hellenic Federation of HEMA. Representatives and observers from 15 countries participated in the sessions. Sweden officially joined the Federation. Swedish experience and assistance will be useful in organizing and further disseminating the Historic European Martial Arts. The International Federation is pleased to announce that the International Federal Cup (IIC) for 2018 will be held next December in Lisbon, Portugal. The Hellenic Federation will ensure that Greece will have a strong presence in the Contests.


Convention members after the sessions end

At the end of the meeting, the participants were offered a guided tour at the Athens War Museum and had the opportunity to get acquainted with the Greek Military Tradition. Both the Hellenic and the International HEMA Federations wish to express their warm thanks to the BoD and the staff of the Athens War Museum for allowing us to examine swords of the Greek War of Independence thus allowing us an invaluable vivid sense of the heroic past of Greece.

IF HEMA Athens 2017

Being able to touch History… Priceless!!!

IFHEMA Αθήνα 2017

Ολόκληρώθηκε με επιτυχία η ετήσια γενική συνέλευση της Διεθνούς Ομοσπονδίας Ιστορικών Ευρωπαϊκών Πολεμικών Τεχνών (International Federation of HEMA) για το 2017 η οποία έλαβε χώρα στην Αθήνα υπό την αιγίδα της Ελληνικής Ομοσπονδίας Ι.Ε.Π.Τ.

Συμμετείχαν αντιπρόσωποι και παρατηρητές από 15 χώρες. Η Σουηδία ενετάχθει επίσημα στην Ομοσπονδία. Η Σουηδική εμπειρία και αρωγή θα είναι χρήσιμη σε θέματα οργάνωσης και περαιτέρω διάδοσης των Ιστορικών Ευρωπαϊκών Πολεμικών Τεχνών. Η Διεθνής Ομοσπονδία βρίσκεται στην ευχάριστη θέση να ανακοινώσει ότι το Διεθνές Ομοσπονδιακό Κύπελο Ι.Ε.Π.Τ. (IIC) για το 2018 θα γίνει τον επόμενο Δεκέμβριο στην Λισαβώνα της Πορτογαλίας. Η Ελληνική Ομοσπονδία θα φροντίσει ώστε η χώρα μας να μια ισχυρή παρουσία στους αγώνες.


Τα μέλη του συνδρίου μετά την λήξη των εργασιών

Μετά το πέρας των εργασιών της συνέλευσης οι Σύνεδροι ξεναγήθηκαν στο Πολεμικό Μουσείο Αθηνών και είχαν την ευκαιρία να γνωρίσουν από κοντά την Ελληνική Πολεμική Παράδοση. Η Ελληνική και η Διεθνής Ομοσπονδία εκφράζουν τις θερμές ευχαριστίες τους προς το το ΔΣ και το προσωπικό του Πολεμικού Μουσείου Αθηνών γιατί μας επέτρεψαν να εξετάσουμε από κοντά κειμήλια του Αγώνα του 1821 και μας έδωσαν μια ανεκτίμητη ζωντανή αίσθηση του ηρωϊκού παρελθόντος της Ελλάδος.

IF HEMA Athens 2017

Να μπορείς να αγγίξεις την Iστορία… αξία ανεκτίμητη!!!

The Siculonorman Army, The unknown enemy of Byzantium

siculo-norman knight

Modern reconstruction of Sicilian Norman knight Source:

The Normans were descendants of Scandinavian raiders. The Frankish kings gave them the northern provinces of their kingdom in exchange for paying tribute and obligation for military service. The former raiders accepted the French language and Frankish feudal customs, and their heavily armed infantrymen evolved into knights. According to the custom of the time, the first-born son inherited the father’s estate, and the younger ones, if they did not secure a marriage with a wealthy heiress, would leave to seek their fortune by their skill in arms. At that time the Christian kingdoms were hard pressed by Islamic invasions, and determined warriors fighting horseback were precious. The temptation to descend to the mythical South to find their fortune there was great. The arrival of the Normans in Italy took place in the first decades of the 11th century.


Reconstruction of a 12th century Siculo-Norman helmet

Chronicler Geoffrey Malaterra wrote about the Normans that: «They are particularly distraught by cunning, despising their inheritance in the hope of gaining bigger property, willing to gain and dominate, prone to all sorts of hypocrisy, striding between generosity and greed, and combining peculiarly these two seemingly opposite properties. Their leaders are particularly generous in their desire for reputation. They are also a breed skillful in flattery, absorbed in the study of eloquence, so that even the boys are skillful orators, an unruly breed, unless the yoke of righteousness restrains it. They endure fatigue, hunger, and cold whenever fate throws it upon them. They are absorbed in hunting and falconry, and they especially like horses and all the weapons of war … »

Thanks to their ruthless energy and determination, the Hauteville family managed to be recognized as the Kings of Sicily by the Pope. The Normans retained the Byzantine bureaucracy, but also some elements of the former Islamic rulers. Together with the Norman notion of feudalism, the new sovereigns set up a unique for its time state, maintaining the balance between their Orthodox, Catholic and Muslim subjects, all of whom found a place in the army of the new state.


The Ηauteville coat of arms from the Μonreale Cathedral in Palermo

The main shock weapon was of course the cavalry, consisting of armored knights. As mentioned above, most of the horsemen were harsh nobles from Normandy but with the passage of time Lombard aristocrats and wealthy Italian bourgeoisie found their way in the heavy cavalry units. The Normans had not forgotten the lesson of the Battle of Ofante where the Byzantines had soundly defeated them. They adapted themselves to the Byzantine tactics, and many of these methods, such as charging with the lance couched, were adopted by them. Initially, most horsemen were Normans, but slowly Sicily began to be flooded with Latin-speaking Lombard refugees who had been persecuted by the Byzantines and the German emperor. However, the recruitment of French-speaking knights seems to have never ceased, nor were the suitable Italian or Greek speaking warriors dissuaded from joining the army of the Sicilian kings.

The wealthy citizenry of the towns formed small cavalry units with the main task of guarding the surroundings from bandits and the repulse of Saracen raiders. These horsemen usually carried a fabric made cuirass or no armor at all, helmet, and shield and were armed with javelins. The Muslim horse-archers began to disappear gradually and being replaced by Lombard settlers, but as long as they existed, they provided light cavalry service.


Detail from the Palermo Cathedral with a depiction of Norman fighters.

The infantry was usually the militia of the Italian and Sicilian cities. The Calabreans and several Sicilians were Greek-speaking, but the Apulians were mostly Italian speaking in their majority. The infantrymen, armed with helmets, shields, spears, and a single edge short sword usually covered the archers and were a support element for the knights. Most Muslims who remained in the Norman’s Italian holdings were forced into a serving as light infantry archers, in exchange for their religious freedom. It is believed that Sicilian monarchs did not allow them to convert to Christianity in ordered to maintain good light infantry. Various mountain herders armed with clubs and slings were specially recruited in wartime and their sole motivation was to pillage. The infatrymen were useful as a guard in fortified sites and in siege warfare.

The Normans also inherited the well-organized engineer corps of the Byzantines and the Arabs, as well as the siege and anti-siege techniques of their predecessors. Most craftsmen and operators of the siege machines were bourgeois of Italian cities or Sicilian-Muslim conscripts. Another element of support for the army was Salerno’s medical school, which was flourishing away from Western European religious prejudices, resulting in that health care at least for those being able to afford it, was far superior to other armies of the period.

The naval cities of Lower Italy and Sicily provided ships and crews for the Sicilian-Norman navy. Marines originated as mentioned above from the coastal city militias. The most effective officer of the Hauteville was, Admiral Margaritis from Brindisi (from Greek descent), who dominated the Ionian and Aegean Sea, turning the area into Sicilian-Norman lake. This efficient naval power conflicted with the interests of Venice and this explains the Venetian willingness to ally with the Byzantines against the Sicilian-Normans. The kingdom and its army passed through royal marriage under Hohenstaufen domination until their overthrow by the House of Angevin (Anjou)

2abfaLucania - Basilicata - Sepolcro di Roberto il Guiscardo nella Chiesa della Santissima Trinità a Venosa

The grave of Robert «Guiscard» D’Hauteville at Venosa


Norwich, John JuliusThe Normans in the South 1016-1130. Longmans: London, 1967.

Vincenzo Salerno Sicilian Peoples: The Normans Best of Sicely magazine Oct. 2007

Carlo Trabia  The batte of Palermo Best of Sicely magazine Mar. 2005

Ο γιαλαντζί πατριωτισμός και η…δικαίωση των κομιτατζήδων! (sic)

Τελικά πρέπει να παραδεχτούμε ότι όχι μόνο η ημιμάθεια είναι χειροτέρα της αμαθείας αλλά και η μανία του Ρωμιού για προβολή μπορεί να δημιουργήσει ακόμα χειρότερες καταστάσεις.

Ο αμφιλεγόμενος στρατηγός Θεόδωρος Πάγκαλος δήλωσε σε κάποια δίκη του: «..ποιος Ρωμιός δε θέλει να γίνεται ντόρος για το όνομά του;». Η μανία λοιπόν κάποιων Ρωμιών αναβιωτών για προβολή έβαλε και πάλι την ιστορία της χώρας μας με αρνητικό τρόπο στο προσκήνιο.

Ας τα πάρουμε όμως από την αρχή. Η Βουλγαρική Αρχαιολογική Υπηρεσία έχει διεξάγει μεγάλες ανασκαφές και έχει φέρει στην επιφάνειά ένα μεγάλο αριθμό εντυπωσιακών τάφων Θρακών βασιλέων στην νότια Βουλγαρία. Σύμφωνα με τα διεθνή νόμιμα όλα αυτά αποτελούν ιδιοκτησία του Βουλγαρικού Δημοσίου. Για να προβάλουν τη χωρά τους και να προωθήσουν τον τουρισμό τους οι Βουλγαρικές Αρχές διοργάνωσαν μια έκθεση με τον τίτλο »Legends in Gold, Thracian Treasures from Bulgaria», ήγουν «Θρύλοι από Χρυσό, Θρακικοί Θησαυροί από τη Βουλγαρία». Για το σκοπό αυτό συγκεντρώθηκαν αντικείμενα από 12 Βουλγαρικά Μουσεία και η έκθεση άρχισε μια παγκόσμια περιοδεία.

Το μουσείο του Μπέργκεν στη Νορβηγία είχε την έμπνευση να καλέσει αναβιωτές για να είναι πιο εντυπωσιακή η παρουσίαση της έκθεσης. Κάλεσε λοιπόν κάποιους Ρωμιούς αναβιωτές που έχουν μια μια μακρά παράδοση κακοποίησης της ελληνικής ιστορίας στο Εξωτερικό όπως στην Τουρκία και τη Ρωσία παλιότερα. Οι απίθανοι αυτοί τύποι αφού οργανώθηκαν «στο γόνατο» και επέλεξαν μεταμφιέσεις που θα συναγωνίζονταν επάξια τις υπερβολές της πάλι ποτέ «Τσινετσιτά» του περασμένου αιώνα αποβιβάστηκαν στην Νορβηγία για να βοηθήσουν στην προώθηση της…Βουλγαρίας. (sic) Φυσικά παρέλειψαν να διαβάζουν την αφίσα της διοργάνωσης που αναφέρει ξεκάθαρα ότι η έκθεση είναι για Bulgaria Treasures , ήγουν  Θησαυροί Βουλγαρίας. Μάλλον δεν ήξεραν… Αγγλικά! Αλλά όπως έχω ξαναγράψει¨αλλο ιστορική αναπαράσταση και άλλο τουρισμός πολυτελείας (high end tourism)

Κατόπιν οι Ρωμιοί έβγαζαν απρόσεκτα φωτογραφίες. Η φωτογραφία εδώ είναι από τη νορβηγική ιστοσελίδα της έκθεσης «Legender i gull» και η λεζάντα γράφει: «Bulgarere i Bergen er kjempe stolte!» ήγουν: Οι Βούλγαροι έχουν κάθε λόγο να είναι υπερήφανοι! (sic). Φυσικά κάθε Νορβηγός που τη βλέπει όλους Βούλγαρους θα τους θεωρεί γιατί η Ελληνική σημαία δεν φαίνεται κάπου ή μήπως κάνω λάθος.


Κι όταν οι επισκέπτες που έφταναν φυσικά θαύμαζαν «βουλγαρικούς θησαυρούς» και κάποια Βουλγάρα μετανάστρια μίλησε στα παιδιά της για αυτό, οι Ρωμιοί αναβιωτές της είπαν ότι αυτά είναι Ελληνικά. Προκλήθηκε λογομαχία που πήρε διαστάσεις και οι υπεύθυνοι του Μουσείου «πακετάρισαν» τους Ρωμιούς κακήν κακώς και είπαν ότι θα γίνει διοικητική εξέταση για το ζήτημα. Οι αγγλόφωνες βουλγαρικές σελίδες βεβαία βρήκαν ευκαιρία να μιλήσουν για «άξεστους Έλληνες».

Έξοχα θα αναφωνήσουν οι απανταχού «Ελληναράδες», καλά τους κάνανε και υπεράσπισαν την κληρονομιά μας! Μόνο για ποια υπεράσπιση μπορεί να μιλήσει κάποιος που σιγοντάρισε ένα έθνος επίλυδων, με το οποίο έχουμε πολεμήσει τον περασμένο αιώνα, και το βοηθά να παρουσιάζει αντικείμενα της Ελληνιστικής Περιόδου σαν να ήταν δικά του; Μα καλά το ΔΣ των αναβιωτών, που διαθέτει ακόμα και Μυκηναινολόγο, πως δέχτηκε την πρόταση χωρίς να εξετάσει τα δεδομένα; Μέλη του με εμπειρία σε θέματα ασφάλειας δεν εξέτασαν τις “κακοτοπιές”; Αν διαφωνούσαν με τις βουλγαρικές θέσεις γιατί δε φρόντιζαν ώστε οι Νορβηγοί να υπογραμμίσουν την ελληνικότητα αν όχι όλων, τουλάχιστον κάποιων αντικειμένων;.

Είναι γνωστό ότι σε πολιτιστικές εκδηλώσεις αν επιδείξεις συμπεριφορά ούγκανου χάνεις το δίκιο σου και απλά ρεζιλεύεις τη χώρα σου. Αν σε προσκαλούν κάπου όπου διαφωνείς με τη θεώρησή τους για το πολιτιστικό δρώμενο , ή δεν πας καθόλου ή απλά σε περίπτωση που πας γιατί σου βάζουν τα έξοδα κάνεις ότι.. σου λένε! Επίσης καλό είναι να μην πηγαίνουν κάπου άτομα με ανεπαρκή μόρφωση και ανεπαρκέστερη γνώση ξένων γλωσσών.

Θλίβομαι στη σκέψη ότι οι κομιτατζήδες στον άλλο κόσμο θα γελάνε με τα χάλια μας αλλά θλίβομαι περισσότερο γιατί οι αρνητικές προβλέψεις που είχα κάνει το 2015 σχετικά με την πορεία της αρχαιοελληνικής ιστορικής αναβίωσης στο εξωτερικό επαληθεύονται με τόσο άσχημο τρόπο.

Το “Αιδώς Αργείοι” που ειχα γράψει το 2014 μάλλον πέφτει σε ώτα κωφών. Μήπως πρέπει να γράψω “Αιδώς ..Κομιτατζήδες”… Ελεος πιά!

The modern trireme rower’s experience

It is a difficult thing for the historian to attempt and describe events of the past especially as in most cases it is humanly impossible to have first hand experience on the items that our forefathers used in order to execute the task at hand. This is especially true about the ancient times where a few museum artifacts and some text fragments of the ancient literature are the only things we have at our disposal.

In my case I was fortunate that the Hellenic Navy has a working reconstruction on an ancient trireme and even allows access to the general public. So in July 2017 after dealing with the red tape that is always required to get access in a military installation and allowed to handle military equipment I found myself in Trocadero in the Attic coastline ready to board on trireme “OLYMPIAS”.


Under instructions and the watchful eye of the crew we were boarded on the vessel in groups of ten persons. Not many choose to go to the thalamitae lowest row of oars. While us modern people had the choice of boarding easily and choose our place since our enjoyment rather than an important military mission was our main concern. I imagine thought that the ancient crews would board in the following manner. First the thalamitae and they would start manning their posts starting from the prow. The zygitae oarsmen who would be handling the middle row of oars and last the thranitae who would operate the upper row of oars would board and man their posts in the same manner as the first men who boarded. Then the deck crew would board to start preparing the vessel and the last ones would be the hoplites and archer marines. This is the most logical order of things and it would have been time consuming even with trained men which means that our boarding took more time that it would probably take in Antiquity.


on my post as a tharanites

When each one took its place and sat facing the rear of the trireme the crew gave instructions on how to respond simple word commands. The simplest was “pteroson” (literally: spread the wing) which means bring the oar across your knees and use your hands to keep it parallel to the surface of the water. The next command was “apantes proso” which requires every one to row forward. To execute this command you bend forward and push your oar in front of you so that it makes a 30 to 40 degree angle to the side of the ship, looking backwards and then at a second tempo you put the oar in the water and you pull yourself backwards. The other command is “apantes prymna” which requires every one to row backwards. To execute this command you stretch you self backwards and drag your oar in front of you so that it makes a 30 to 40 degree angle to the side of the ship, looking forward and then at a second tempo you put the oar in the water and you push yourself forward.


oars in «pteroson» position

We executed both commands sometime while the trireme was docked. There were almost all of us fumbling and the worrying sound of wood knocking wood was heard at the dock. It was at that moment when I realized the importance of the texts of Herodotus who describes the insistence of Dionysius of Phocea who forces the Ionian crews to row a lot and was so persistent that the crews voted to remove him from leader!   And I also understood why Plutarch wrote that Cimon kept exhausting training of his crews despite their complaining.

Finally the ship was ready to leave and despite the fumbling, all rowers felt proud of ourselves that we manage to make the 35-tone trireme move forward. Though the souls of the elite oarsmen of the ancient “Salaminia” trireme would probably had a great laugh at our expense. At intervals the captain would order pteroson for some much-needed respite and a quick gulp of water. Needless to say we were all very relived when the crew unfolded the sails and those brave enough of us attempted to walk across the deck.


the rowers joy!

If any landlubber thinks it’s an easy thing to walk on a deck without rails even on a calm sea he better think it again. Bare feet help a lot! There is a reason most fishermen do not wear shoes on their boats that they swing even on the calmest sea surface! And there was an even bigger reason that the ancient Athenians insisted on training their whole hoplite force to the rigors of deck fighting. Load a trireme deck with men who have never experience of the sea and your marines complement is as good as useless. This might explain the issues that the Peloponnesians faced during their struggle against Athens.   Also after walking near the prow I have serious doubts that a man wearing 25 kilograms of armor would cover the distance from there to the deck of a rammed enemy ship with a jump. It would be possible if the ramming took place at a very narrow angle, but how mach chance of this happening would be possible in the chaos of the battle? The boarding plank theory should be researched further according to my opinion.


The ram,trireme’s main weapon

Finally much to the detriment of some we were required to go back to our posts, as the trireme needed the help of the rowers in order to dock. Better not to imagin what would have happened if we were also required to drag her to the shore as was the case in antiquity. Even the slight swinging of the vessel made it an effort for most of us to go below deck. Somehow we made it though and I couldn’t help feeling amused for I read the online postings of some people, who have no idea what is it to be on a slippery deck without rails, and propose weird exotic theories on the usage of various troop types during a naval fight


The reason why some people had enough

As the more determined of us took our place there was less fumbling as now there was some distance between the oars due to the gaps left by those who couldn’t continue. Trireme “OLYMPIAS” returned to the dock and we all were happy for our little cruise.

I want to thank the Hellenic Navy and especially the officers and the crew of the trireme “OLYMPIAS” for allowing me a glimpse in the ancient oarsman’s world. I also thank my instructors at the Hoplomachia Academy for assisting me to keep fit and be able to do first hand research on ancient warfare.

Centaurs and Centauromachy in the Greek world

Hybrid forms of human beings and beasts exist in the myths of different peoples and cultures throughout the centuries but the hybrid of man and horse, despite its adoption by the Romans and the Ortocid Turks , remained an element that constantly refers to Greek Mythology. The Greek Myth makes a distinction between the noble and divine origin of the Centaurus Chiron, who was the teacher of the heroes of Antiquity, and all the bestial human-horse hybrids that considered them appropriate only to be crushed by the illustrious heroes of Ancient Greece.


Theseus as centaurslayer. Source:


According to the famous French dictionary «Petit Larousse» (1920) the word «hybrid» (coming from the Greek word «hubris» that means insult) is used for words derived from two languages, such as cholera-morbus, bureaucratia but also for plants, or animals derived from two different species, such as the «hemionos», the mule) Hybrids are rarely fertile. The word «hubris» therefore means: «Sudden violence resulting from excessive sentiment of power or passion, indolence, arrogance, savagery, procrastination, frequently used in Homer’s Odyssey mostly on the suitors of Penelope. Also the «Papyrus – Larousse » encyclopedia (1963) goes even further by saying: Hybrid: (from the Greek » Hubris» in its usage for describing lewdness) Animal or plant derived from two different species of a subject. More specifically in biology, the term hybrid is also used for every biological structure, cell, gene, enzyme, DNA, derived from two corresponding structures, e.g. two cells containing different genetic material. «(Encyclopedia» Malliaris-Education «) And As we will see below, lewdness is interwoven with the myth of centaurs.


Statues of the Geometric Period that show the difference between Chiron and the other centaurs of Met. Museum New York (left) Museum of Eretria (right)

The Ancient Greeks believed that Centaur Chiron was born from the union of Cronus (Saturn) and the Nymph Phylira (Apollodorus.1.2.4). He was not a demigod then but a completely divine being. Unfortunately, he was born bizarre and abandoned by his mother, but he was given a god’s upbringing as Apollo and Artemis adopted him. Being properly raised, he undertook the training and education of the main heroes of Antiquity. He unfortunately became «collateral loss» of an arrow of Hercules, because of the savagery of the other Centaurs, and he voluntarily gave up his immortality in order not to suffer. Even from the Geometric period, the Greeks emphasized Chiron’s distinctiveness as a man with an attached horse body rather than a horse with a human extension like the other Centaurs. This type of depiction for Chiron continued until the Hellenistic Period.


Peleus delivers Achilles to Chiron (Louvre G 186)

Although initially the trust that the Heroes’ fathers placed on a hybrid is strange to us, the Florentine political philosopher Nikolo Machiavelli explained the paradox by stating: «There are two ways to fight» through employment of the law and through usage of raw strength. The first way id fit for the humans and the second one for the beasts. But since the first way is inadequate, it is often necessary to resort to the second. That is why the prince needs to know how to use both ways both human and brutal. The writers of antiquity taught this lesson allegorically when they narrated how Achilles and many other ancient princes were sent to by taught by Chiron the Centaur. Having as a teacher a creature half a human and a half beast means that one learns how to use the one and the other nature, and that one cannot last without the other. »

The myths about the other Centaurs, if examined carefully, show the absolute difference of their nature with that of Chiron. The ancestor of the centaurs was Ixion, the lord of the Lapiths. He married the daughter of Hyoneas, and because he could not pay the dowry, he simply solved the problem by killing his father-in-law. As he was the first person ever to assassinate a relative, no mortal was willing to purify him from the abominable act, and he was living cast out from society. Zeus (Jupiter) took pity of him and invited him to Olympus to absolve him from the abominable act. And Ixion from hid very … gratitude (sic) tried to seduce the goddess Hera! The god who realized his intentions created a cloud in the form of his wife, and Ixion was boasting after afterwards that he had mated with the wife of Zeus. The angered Ruler of Olympus condemned him to rotate eternally nailed upon a wheel. (Pindar, Odes 2.20)


Ixion’s punishment. source:

The living cloud in Hera’s form was called Nefeli, gave birth from Ixion’s semen a repugnant child, the first Centaur, who also lived as a social outcast. So when he grew up, he mated with the mares of Magnesia, and this bestiality produced the human-horse hybrid centaurs that we know from myth and art. (Apollodorus.5.1.20)

The Greek Myth does not mention anything positive about human-horse hybrids. They were sneaky assassins, as mentioned in the myth of Peleus, rescued by Chiron (Apollodorus 3.13.3) and even bigger drunkards. Their lust for wine undiluted by water – «unmixed wine» – made them attack Hercules (Apollodorus-5.1.20) and was also the cause of death of the wise Chiron (Apollodorus 2.5.4, Pausanias 5.19.9). Due to their uncontrollable wine drinking when they were invited to the marriage of the king of Lapiths, Peirithos, they attempted to rape the bride. (Apollodorus 2.3.1)


Detail from black-figure vase from Evia with a depicting Centauromachy

Angered by the violation of the laws of hospitality, the Lapiths’ guests fought and killed most of them and then exiled those who survived (Apollodorus 5.1.20-21, Pausanias 1.17.2, 1.28.2, 5.10.8). Though failed as rapists, as in the case of Nessus who went to attack Hercules wife. Deianeira, they were more successful as poisoners. Hercules’ tunic with the contaminated blood of the centaur (Apollodorus .2.26) became the cause of death of the greatest hero of Greece.



Nessos is trying to grab the Deianeira. Source Theoi com

It is possible that even in Antiquity the thinking people did not believe in the physical existence of such hybrids (Xenophon «Cyrus Education» 4.3.17), perhaps believing the source of the myth to be the bestiality of degenerate animal breeders. Centaurs appear in archaic art as symbols of primitivism, as in contrast to the human heroes carrying proper weapons, the Centaurs attack with tree trunks and rocks. This is also supported by the written sources (Apollodorus 2.3.1).


Sculpture depicting Centauromachy from the south side Parthenon. British Museum

The struggle of the people against the hybrid forms of life becomes extremely popular in the sculptural art of the classical period as evidenced by the magnificently made works at the Parthenon pediments and the Apollo’s temple at Vassae of Arcadia. It is only natural as they symbolically portray the prevalence of Greek hoplites against the Asiatic horsearches.


Red-figure pottery from Louvre depicting the opinion of Ancient Greeks about the Centaurs

Centaurs using human weapons appear on the Roman coins of Emperor Galen when the Romans had already developed horse archer units (equites sagittarii). Influenced by Roman iconography, later European artists present Chiron as a horsearcher but also created sculptures with Centaurs lancers or swordsmen. Roman iconography also affected the Easterners as Centaur as an archer appears in the coins of the Turkish dynasty of the Artacides of Mesopotamia in Middle Ages, and judging from their history, they demonstrated all the negative characteristics that the Greeks wanted to symbolize with the myth of the descendants of Ixion

In a strange twist of fate, a » Centauromachy» happened during the Greco-Italian war of 1940 when elements of the 131st Italian «Centauro» armored division, carrying the emblem of the centaur, attempted to break the Greek defense lines at Kalpaki. A 37 mm anti-tank artillery battery, under the command of captain Chailis that crushed the attack, undertook the role of modern Lapiths. Once again, after 2000 years, the descendants of Hercules had crushed the descendants of Ixion.


The results of Chailis battery October 1940


Harvey Nash: The Centaur’s Origin: A Psychological Perspective Author(s) The Classical World, Vol. 77, No. 5 (May – Jun., 1984), pp. 273-291

Frank B. Tarbell: Centauromachy and Amazonomachy in Greek Art: The Reasons for Their Popularity. American Journal of Archaeology. (Jul. – Sep., 1920), pp. 226-231

David Castriota: Myth, Ethos, and Actuality – Official Art in Fifth-century B.C. Athens Univ of Wisconsin Press (1992) pp. 151-155

Mark Stansbury-O’Donnel Looking at Greek Art Cambridge University Press (2011) p. 79

Biers, William. The Archaeology of Greece. United States: Cornell University Press, 1980.

Κωνσταντίνος Τσοπάνης: Περιοδικό Crypto, τεύχος 1, Φεβ. 2005 άρθρο «Κένταυροι, υπήρξαν πραγματικά;»

Αρέσει σε %d bloggers: