Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

The multipolar polis: A study of processions in Classical Athens and the Attica countryside
by Warford, Erin, Ph.D., State University of New York at Buffalo, 2015, 261; 3714691
Abstract (Summary)

This dissertation focuses on religious processions in Athens in the late 6th and 5th centuries BCE, when the evidence for processions and festivals first becomes abundant enough to study fruitfully. The built sacred landscape of Athens was beginning to take shape, and Athenian identity was being reshaped under the influence of the Persian Wars, Athens’ imperial ambitions, and the new popularity of Theseus. Processions traced defined routes in this landscape, forming physical links between center and periphery, displaying numerous symbols which possessed special significance for Athenians and which were part of Athenians’ cultural memory and collective identity.

Processions were intense, subjective sensory experiences, full of symbols with deep religious and cultural significance. They were also public performances, opportunities for participants to show off both their piety and their wealth, to perform their membership in the Athenian community, and perhaps to gain social capital or prominence. Not least, processions were movements through a landscape embedded with myths, history, cultural associations, and the connotations of daily lived experience. Previous studies of processions have focused on one of these three aspects—symbols, participants, or route—without fully taking account of the others, failing to provide a comprehensive theoretical framework or analysis of these ritual movements. All of these elements—symbols, participants, and route—were deliberately chosen, designed to impart particular experiences and meanings to participants and spectators. This dissertation will thus ask why particular symbols, participants, and routes were chosen and explore as many of their potential meanings as possible, considering the myths, cultural associations, and areas of daily life where these elements appeared.

The repetition of processions is vital to understanding their cultural resonance. Spectators could see the processions multiple times over the course of their lives, and draw new conclusions or interpretations as they gained life experience, learned new stories or myths, and as the collective discourse around Athenian religion created new meanings—for example, in the aftermath of the Persian Wars. This repetition also reinforced the meanings that these symbols already possessed for Athenians.

François de Polignac’s bipolar polis theory, which inspired many aspects of this dissertation, characterized processions as ritual ‘links’ in the landscape connecting center and periphery. This is essentially correct, but in Classical Athens, there were multiple peripheries and a whole calendar full of processions and sacred travel to festivals, the performance of which constructed and maintained the idea of Athens as a spatially and culturally unified territory. Therefore I propose instead the multipolar polis model, which provides a richer and more comprehensive view of the web of connections which linked Athens to her peripheries. These connections included the state-run festivals put on at the major extraurban sanctuaries; the monumental temples and other facilities constructed with state money; the fortifications constructed at or near the sanctuaries, protecting the strategic interests of the state; and the mythical, historical, and ideological significance of these sacred places and their deities. Whether participants traveled to these sanctuaries in a formal procession or via less-organized sacred travel, their movement through the landscape reinforced their associations with it and with the destination sanctuary.

Processions were complex rituals with many functions. They displayed culturally-significant symbols to participants and spectators, reinforcing their meaning. They provided a stage for participants to perform their status and wealth. They traced a defined route through the landscape of Attica, linking center and periphery, taking participants past a series of meaningful places, buildings, and art. All of these elements—symbols, people, and places—drew their meanings from shared myths, rituals, history, and the experience of daily life. The repetition of processions reinforced these meanings in the minds of Athenians, and allowed them to change as Athenian identity changed (and vice versa). It is these threads of common cultural memory, myths and associations that an Athenian could depend on his or her fellow Athenians to remember and understand, and which Athenians wove together in their writings, speeches, plays, and rituals to form their common identity.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Ault, Bradley
Commitee: Dyson, Stephen, Higbie, Carolyn, Woodard, Roger
School: State University of New York at Buffalo
Department: Classics
School Location: United States -- New York
Source: DAI-A 76/11(E), Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: Religious history, Archaeology, Ancient history
Keywords: Athens, Attica, Cultural memory, Greece, Greek religion, Least-cost path analysis, Procession
Publication Number: 3714691
ISBN: 978-1-321-92309-4
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