Pilgrims and Pilgrimage in Ancient Greece by Matthew Dillon:
notes and vocabulary

See also

Outline of Pilgrims and Pilgrimage in Ancient Greece

Eight sections:

  1. 'Official Pilgrimage Invitations and Sacred Truces.'
    " Pilgrimage was clearly a highly organised affair, taken very seriously both by the organising state and attending states. Through the spondophoroi). and theoroi who were received by theorodokoi, festivals were announced and states invited to send official delegations; another set of theorodokoi received the theoroi from states who wanted to be represented at the pilgrimage site. The phenomena of the theoroi and theorodokoi gave pilgrimage an institutional framework.
    ... Sacred truces guaranteeing the safety of pilgrims, both those representing their states and ordinary individuals, encouraged pilgrimage activity and were an essential factor in attracting pilgrims to a particular celebration. " [p. 26]

  2. 'The Sanctity of Greek Pilgrims.'
    " The safety of pilgrims in the Greek world was linked with the general adherence to the provisions of the various sacred truces which operated in the Greek world, for a religious occasion in itself could not guarantee the safety of the participants. It was the panhellenic nature of the various festivals that inspired truces which would enable all Greeks to participate if they wished. The fact that there were sacred truces implies that they were thought to be necessary for the well-being of pilgrims and the success of festivals, as well as giving an official framework and formality to the celebrations.
    ... The fact that these truces, the inviolability of sacred sites, and the safety of those attending were generally if not always observed helps to account for the continuing popularity of the major religious festivals and for pilgrimage as a popular institution in the Greek world. " [p. 58-59]

  3. 'Pilgrimage Destinations I: Mystery Cults, Healing Sanctuaries and Oracles.'
    The mystery celebrations described are:

    The healing sanctuaries: "Of all the reasons for which pilgrims undertook pilgrimage, one of the most popular was the pilgrimage in search of a cure." Sanctuaries described are:

    Oracular centers described ["Delphi, Dodona and Siwah are mentioned by Aristophanes and Plato as being on the same footing. " [p. 94] ] are:

    "The pious need for initiations, cures and oracles drew Greeks to panhellenic sanctuaries where they invoked the gods to meet their particular needs. The wide range of questions asked at oracles, the cures sought at healing sanctuaries, and the need for reassurance about the life after death, indicate the very great degree to which the Greeks viewed the gods as intervening in the lives of individuals and in the affairs of the state. " [p. 98]

  4. 'Pilgrimage Destinations II: Contests at Panhellenic Festivals.'

    Contest cycle:
    Year 1 Isthmia (April/May)
    Olympia (July/August)
    Year 2 Nemea (July/August)
    Year 3 Isthmia (April/May)
    Pythia (July/August)
    Year 4 Nemea (July/August)

    "The festivals and accompanying contests were religious events
    ... The cult framework of all the panhellenic festivals is undeniable: they were held in honor of the gods, there were sacrifices and processions, and the contests were a prominent part of the festivals. The fruits of victory were often dedicated to the gods,
    ... and victory was so important that athletes could pray for it -- or death." [p. 122-123].

  5. 'Pilgrimages by Ethnic Groups.'
    "There were a number of pilgrimages in the Greek world which were restricted to people of particular ethnic groups, and generally these festivals were of great antiquity. These religious celebrations were open only to Greeks of a specific ethnos ('race'; plural ethne)." [p. 124]

  6. 'Cult Regulations at Sanctuaries.'
    " Pilgrims to sacred sites clearly had various cult rituals to perform. The success of their pilgrimage depended on the observance of these rituals, and rules covered the various rites to be carried out in the cults.
    ... There were also rules which could be said to be 'secular' in nature, not dealing with the ritual of the cults, and there were also many ritual laws concerning women." [p. 182]

  7. 'The Female Pilgrim.'
    "Although there were some rites in which they were not permitted to participate, the majority of religious activities did allow for the presence of women, and sometimes for their active participation." [p. 181]

    "As pilgrims, women often travelled for hundreds of kilometres for religious purposes." [p. 182]

    "The cost of pilgrimage should not be overstated: when so many people travelled on foot, had a simple diet, and slept in the open or in tents, wealth should not be considered as a prerequisite for pilgrimage.
    ... The most significant expense would have been cult fees, which were not always high, though consultation at Delphi which involved animal sacrifice would not have been cheap." [p. 185]

    "Certain cults were restricted to women. Only women could enter the temple of Dionysos at Bryseai (Lakonia); the same applied to the temple of Dememeter, near Megapolis, while the sanctuary of Kore at Megalopolis could be entered by women at any time, but men could only go in once a year." [p. 186]

  8. 'Organisational Requirements at Pilgrimage Sites.'
    "Several of the prohibitions placed on pilgrims had a religious motivation. These included dietary restrictions, sexual abstinence, and the general need for ritual purity on the part of the worshipper, and they were an important part of the cult ritual in which the pilgrims were involved at sacred sites. Other regulations and restrictions were of a non-religious nature, and included important prescriptions determining the way in which pilgrims were expected to behave at the sanctuary." [p. 204]

Some vocabulary of Pilgrims and Pilgrimage in Ancient Greece

Glossary: A, B, C, D, E, F, G, H, I, J, K, L, M, N, O, P, Q, R, S, T, U, V, W, X, Y, Z.


A building where patients slept at the healing center and sanctuary at Askleopia. They prayed there for dreams of healing.

agones hieroi [p. 99].
Sacred contests. Also called agones stephanitai, crown contests.

architheoros [p. 12].

architheoros [p. 12].
The leader of the theoria.

Important healing center and sanctuary at Kos.



Crown games [p. xiii].
The most important of the panhellenic festivals: Olympia, Pythia, Isthmia, and Nemea. So-called because the contestants won wreaths rather than money.


dadouchos [p. 62].
Torch bearer.

Seat of the god Apollo.

dokimasia [p. 9].


Ekecheiria [p. 2].
Truce: political truce or sacred truce. See also spondai.

Announcement (of a spondai).

Most important sanctuary for cure seekers. Sacred to Apollo and his son Askleopios.

Traveling expenses (of a spondai).



Great Panathenaia [p. xiii].
Held in Athens every four years. Attempted to rival the four sites of crown games, but fell short.


hiera [p. 62].
The sacred objects.

Torch bearer.

hieromenia [p. 3].
A sacred month.

hierophant [p. 62].
The revealer of the hiera.


Isthmia [p. xiii].
Site of one of the crown games.





myesis [p. 61].
Initiation, such as in the Eleusinian Mysteries. Also called telete.

mystes [p. 61]. Plural mystai [p. 70].
An initiate, such as in the Eleusinian Mysteries.


Nemea [p. xiii].
Site of one of the crown games.


Olympia [p. xiii].
Site of one of the crown games.


pelanos [p. 81].
Sacred cake. A visitor to Delphi had to offer one in order to be permitted to go as far as the altar of Apollo, but that if they wanted to go into the temple to Apollo, then they needed to sacrifice a beast (after Euripides in Ion).

Important healing center and sanctuary in Asia Minor.

peridonikes [p.100]
A victor at all four Panhellenic Festivals. Although Olympia and Pythia held their festivals every four years, Isthmia and Nemea held theirs every two years. All four festivals could be contested in 25 months.

presbeutai [p. 5].
Ambassadors. Sometimes used instead of theoroi.

Pythia [p. xiii].
Site of one of the crown games.




Spondai [p. 2].
Sacred truce guaranteeing asylia (sanctity) and asphaleia (safety). See also ekecheiria.

Spondophoroi [p. 1,5].
'Truce bearers': officials sent to announce the sacred truce for the Eleusinian Mysteries and the Olympic festival. Like, but a less common name than, theoroi.


telete [p. 61].
Initiation, such as in the Eleusinian Mysteries. Also called myesis.

theoria [p. 11-12].
The journey by the theoroi acting as 'official pilgrims' to a sacred site and the activities they undertook there.
Also called: 'the men', 'those announcing the festival', 'those arriving', and 'men chosen to announce the festival'.

Theorodokia [p. 1].
The institution through which the theorodokoi received the theoroi and provide them with lodgings and hospitality.

Theorodokoi [p. 1].
Receivers of the theoroi; provided them with lodgings and hospitality.

Theoroi [p. 1].
Officials sent to announce the sacred truce for a panhellenic festival. (More common name than spondophoroi). Also the name of the officials sent to announce the sacred truce for a panhellenic festival.







Timeline of Foundations of Western Civilization.