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Why does Zeus care about burnt thighbones from sheep?: Defining the divine and structuring the world through animal sacrifice in ancient Greece
Uppsala University, Disciplinary Domain of Humanities and Social Sciences, Faculty of Arts, Department of Archaeology and Ancient History, Classical archaeology and ancient history.ORCID iD: 0000-0003-3179-941X
2019 (English)In: History of Religions, ISSN 0018-2710, E-ISSN 1545-6935, Vol. 58, no 3, p. 225-250Article in journal (Refereed) Published
Abstract [en]

Gunnel Ekroth, in “Why Does Zeus Care about Burnt Thighbones from sheep?  Defining the Divine and Structuring the World Through Animal Sacrifice in Ancient Greece,” sets the plate for this volume by reassessing the historical backdrop against which nascent Christian traditions related to animal sacrifice emerge.  Animal sacrifice was the central ritual action of ancient Greek religion, as well as in most religions of the eastern Mediterranean in antiquity.  Although modern scholars have studied this religious practice for more than 100 years, animal sacrifice has always posed something of a problem, as it is so fundamentally alien to western European Christian culture. In order to understand animal sacrifice in the ancient world, one needs to encounter it in its own historical setting.  This means not only exploring its role in what moderns more narrowly construe as the religious sphere, but also in social and political orderings as well. Of central importance, to archaeologists of sacrifice like Ekroth, is the practical execution of the rituals.

Ekroth introduces readers to a relatively new wealth of material evidence about animal sacrifice in the pre-Christian, Greek world.  Ekroth’s critical contribution is to assess the results of recent research on the archaeology of sacrifice.  Her main concern is with historical animal sacrifice as it was actually performed, primarily, in the thysia ritual, which occurred across ancient Greek sanctuaries between the 8th and 1st centuries BCE.  At these events, mainly domesticated animals along with the fruit of agricultural labor and libations, after being dedicated to a deity, were sacrificed and shared – with butchered portions ostensibly going to gods like Zeus who preferred thighbones, while the rest of the animal, in particular the meat, was given to the human participants.  Ekroth encounters in the material handling, treatment, and distribution of meat derived from ritualized animal sacrifice an ancient structuring of the world.  Analysis of these sacrificial rituals provides us with windows to the cosmologies, hierarchies of social power, and group identities associated with those who participated.    

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2019. Vol. 58, no 3, p. 225-250
Keywords [en]
Animal sacrifice, ancient Greece, rituals, bones, mean thysia
National Category
Classical Archaeology and Ancient History
Research subject
Classical Archaeology and Ancient History
Identifiers
URN: urn:nbn:se:uu:diva-376518DOI: 10.1086/700579ISI: 000457791000002OAI: oai:DiVA.org:uu-376518DiVA, id: diva2:1286128
Available from: 2019-02-06 Created: 2019-02-06 Last updated: 2019-02-25Bibliographically approved

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