Animal sacrifice in ancient Greece was seldom a terrible "sacrifice," as we moderns use the word. Occasionally the entire animal was burnt on the altar for the god or gods, holocaustos (wholly burnt) - but this was rare. Usually, an animal sacrifice meant a major party, with meat for everyone, and only bones wrapped in fat burnt as the gods' portion.

Indeed, the current scholarly consensus, according to all the best books about food in ancient Greece, is that flesh meat was seldom eaten except as part of a sacrifice - which were by no means all major state occasions. A sacrifice could be arranged by anyone who could pay for the animal and for the mageiros, the specialist sacrificer and cook who did the hard work.

I'm adding here a description of a sacrifice from my short historical novel,  The Priestess and the Slave. The 5th century BC narrator has suffered a stillbirth that nearly killed her; a year later, her husband is celebrating the birth of a healthy baby to their slave Glukera. 

... A few days later, he held the proper feast for all his  friends and relatives, even my parents, hiring a man to sacrifice a full-grown  sheep. After the sacrificer-cook slit the sheep's throat and let the beast's blood pour over the small altar in our courtyard, he sliced up the animal on the table he'd brought with him, removed the skin, and wrapped long bones and other morsels in fat to burn on the altar as the gods' rightful portion. We prayed that all the gods would enjoy the smoke, as the sacrificer-cook poured unmixed  wine over the flames.     
     Next, the man cut up the best of the animal's insides,  the heart, the spleen, the kidneys and the tender liver, and slid them onto iron  skewers. They went on the altar to roast as special treats for the guests of  honor. While they were on the flames, the sacrificer-cook skillfully butchered the remaining carcass, cutting the muscle meat into chunks and setting them to  boil in a tripod cauldron, with onions, herbs and barley. Slaves mixed great bowls of wine with water, and served it out to all, while we waited for the meat to stew.
    I was not sad, during this merriment. The gods had willed my childless state; it seemed to fit, somehow, with my odd ways of thought. I'd been a distant, unsatisfactory daughter to my mother, a constant source of discontent to her. Perhaps it was better that one like me did not bring up a child. Perhaps . . .
    Glukera sat her baby boy on my childless lap, and his starfish hands grasped for my empty breasts. I gently disengaged his tiny hands and gave him my gold bangle instead. He made a soft noise, bringing the bright bangle to his mouth, and Glukera smiled at me. 
     I nodded; it was good. When Kinesias grew to adulthood, he and his future wife would tend the family graves, giving the dead the oil, milk and honey that was their due, as I did now. My own dead baby would not go hungry, down there in the dark earth.

- Jenny
3/16/2013 02:03:40 am

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4/22/2013 10:04:38 pm

There are so many myths and reality behind the ancient Greek culture. Animal sacrifice and human sacrifice are followed in their community to please the God. The article that you given above tells the whole story. Thank you for the new information.

10/21/2013 01:31:00 am

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11/25/2013 08:48:42 am

Animal sacrifice was part and parcel of virtually every religious practice including Christianity. I guess it's a good thing we don't need to do it anymore.

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2/5/2014 06:14:19 am

The nature of a sacrificial ritual as well as that which was to be sacrificed could vary somewhat, but the most basic sacrifice was that of an animal - usually a steer, pig, or goat (with the choice depending partially upon cost and scale, but even more upon what animals were most favored by which god).

9/28/2014 05:40:02 am

In the Indian subcontinent the concept of animal sacrifice is still prevalent in the form of "balli" and for Muslims the world over, the Abrahmaic tradition of slaughter will be fervently adhered in the next coming week. But the excerpt whetted my appetite (pun intended!) is your book out? :)


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    Eric T. Reynolds
    Shauna S. Roberts
    Jenny Blackford
    Distinguished guests


    June 2013
    October 2012
    September 2012
    August 2012
    July 2012
    June 2012
    March 2012

    Hadley Rille
    Archaeology Series Novels

    Song of the Swallow (2011)
    Thrall (2010)
    Like Mayflies in a Stream (2009)
    The Priestess and the Slave (2009)

    Blogs We Enjoy

    ◆ A Very Remote Period Indeed
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