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Exploring ancient Greek religion
Exploring ancient Greek religion

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4.3 The chariot dismount competition

Claiming to be the site of Amphiaraos’ demise may have been one way in which communities sought to connect themselves to his myth, but let’s now look elsewhere for signs of Amphiaraos’ political importance by returning to the mysterious chariot dismount competition (known as the agon apobasis in ancient Greek), which you met in Activity 3. As the name suggests, this event involved chariots – but with a twist: competitors raced each other by leaping in and out of them. It goes without saying not to try this at home!

The chariot dismount competition was the main event of the festival held in Amphiaraos’ honour at Oropos, known as the Great Amphiaraia. This festival attracted visitors from all over the Greek world (but mainly from the regions of Attica and Boiotia) who competed and watched competitions in athletic, musical and equestrian events. The Great Amphiaraia was first celebrated at Oropos under the control of the Athenians in the year 329/8 BCE (though it was likely a reorganisation of an earlier festival held at Oropos from the late fifth/early fourth century BCE). Importantly, this celebration followed a series of recent political changes for the cities of Athens, Thebes and Oropos.

Alexander the Great had recently destroyed the city of Thebes for trying to revolt against Macedonian power; as a result, control of Oropos was no longer contested and the town came under the permanent control of Athens.

Study note: transliterating Greek words

The standard Greek alphabet contains 24 letters, some of which have equivalents in English, e.g. β (beta) which was pronounced in the classical era like ‘b’ in modern English, ν (nu) which was pronounced like English ‘n’, and π (pi) which was equivalent to English ‘p’.

The standard alphabet used in classical Athens from the end of the fifth century BCE contained seven vowels. These included a long ‘o’ sound, ω (omega, meaning ‘big o’) and a short ‘o’ sound, ο (omicron, meaning ‘small o’) as well as a long ‘e’ sound, written as η (eta) and a short ‘e’ sound, ε (epsilon). When words containing the long vowels ω (omega) or η (eta) are transliterated into English, a line called a macron (pl. macra) is sometimes written above the ‘o or ‘e’ to reflect the original spelling: i.e. ō and ē. According to these conventions, the Greek word for ‘contest’, ἀγών, is transliterated in English as agōn and the Greek word for an athlete who dismounts from a chariot, ἀποβάτης, is transliterated as apobatēs. Note that macra are not used in this course, though you may well see them elsewhere.