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Classical Studies: festivals

Updated Monday, 20th July 2020

‘Festival’ at its very essence, is a collective event where people come together to enjoy life’s simple pleasures – music, dancing, food and drink. But it isn’t a modern concept. Academics within our Classical Studies discipline share their favourite ancient Greek and Roman festivals, the only difference being, that in antiquity, the gods were at the centre of everything. 

Learn about festivals of the ancient world, and the activities and rituals that took place – including chariot races, processions and even a great banquet held in a cemetery. Some of the festivals are surprisingly similar in nature to those we enjoy today.


Festivals celebrated by the Ancient Greeks and Romans

Dr Jess Hughes, Senior Lecturer in Classical Studies, provides an overview of a selection of festivals celebrated by the ancient Greeks and Romans. You’ll see that many of these ancient festivals share the same music, dancing, eating, drinking and community elements that make up a modern-day festival.



The Compitalia

Imagine a festival with music, lots of wine, food and a procession thrown into the mix. It doesn’t sound too different from the festivals of today, does it? Dr Jess Hughes, Senior Lecturer in Classical Studies, explores 'The Compitalia' – a Roman mid-winter festival centred around community.



The Parentalia

Dr Emma-Jayne Graham, Senior Lecturer in Classical Studies, shares the beliefs behind the Parentalia – a Roman festival where families would get together to celebrate, remember and appease the dead.



The Panathenaia

The Panathenaia was the most important religious festival in Athens, held in honour of the goddess Athena. Dr Christine Plastow, Lecturer in Classical Studies, describes the different elements of the festival including contests, athletic events, a great procession and animal sacrifices.



The Amphiaraia

The Amphiaraia was a festival held in honour of Greek hero Amphiaraus. Celebrated every four years, attendees were invited to participate in athletic, equestrian, musical and theatrical events. In the video below, Dr Alex Wilding, Lecturer in Classical Studies, unpacks the myths of Amphiaraus’ demise.



The Lenaia

The Lenaia festival was held in honour of the god Dionysus – a god associated with wine, revelry, and theatre. Dr Jan Haywood, Staff Tutor and Lecturer in Classical Studies, draws on literary sources and ancient relics to paint a picture of the traditional Athenian festival.



The Vinalia

Food and drink festivals have become increasingly popular in recent years, but did you know that they have actually taken place since Ancient Rome? Dr Joanna Paul, Senior Lecturer in Classical Studies, shows us a depiction of the Vinalia, a festival dedicated to wine.







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