You are here


As documents critical for our understanding of Athenian religious practice, the half-dozen public sacrificial calendars preserved from classical Athens present an especially rich array of data. Notwithstanding the calendars’ profuse information on deities and offerings, too little attention has been paid to a critical feature of these texts: the monetary figures appended to nearly every offering stipulated therein. One of two assumptions has served as the default explanation. Accordingly, the figures represent either market prices outright or simply the absolute amount that had to be paid to acquire any given offering.

While either assumption may in principle be justified in the case of some calendars, especially the earliest among them, it makes little sense of the fact that these figures frequently differ between calendars. Given that the calendars range over the period c. 400-350, their various figures appear to reflect change over time. If one assumes that the explanation of fixed prices is correct, after all, then how does one account for such differences except by positing the untenable notion that there were different fixed prices across Attica in that period? While we might suppose, alternately, that whoever established a calendar or had authority over it might make a correction to reflect changes in market prices, the surviving fragments bear remarkably few instances of correction or alteration. Moreover, even if the figures did accurately reflect market prices at the moment when the calendars were first inscribed, the fragments evince no administrative mechanism by which magistrates might further adjust the figures or alter their practices should prices vary too greatly from the original figure.

Dating to 329/8, a lengthy set of financial accounts from Eleusis suggests that some calendars ought to be interpreted in an altogether different manner. These accounts detail in part the activities of the board of magistrates (hieropoioi) then responsible for providing sacrificial victims at Eleusis (IG II2 1672 [= I.Eleusis no. 177], ll. 289-90 [with numbering of IG]). Whereas the calendars variously peg figures for bovines in the range of c. 70-90 drachmae (dr.), and sheep and goats for 10-15 dr., this text shows that the hieropoioi were willing to pay 400 dr. for the same bovine and 30 dr. for each individual sheep and goat during what seems to have been a drastic shortage of animals (and other foodstuffs) in the marketplace. Although we do not possess the relevant calendar to which these accounts might in principle be matched, it surely cannot have stipulated such high prices. The Eleusinian text shows, therefore, that depending upon the availability of funds some magistrates at this date had the requisite authority to spend freely enough in order to acquire the necessary victims.

In short, the figures in our extant calendars may be better interpreted as the minimum amounts that various magistrates were required to spend on the market. To whatever degree Athenian administrators employed this technique, they could be sure to purchase the finest animals possible should the market price fall much below the mark that they set and had enshrined in a calendar. But if market prices should balloon in a time of shortage, whichever figure was set would never cap the value since that might compel those purchasing the animal to provide a grossly substandard animal, or even none at all.

Since all known calendars predate IG II2 1672 by at least 30 years or so, this one text may only reflect a new understanding among the Athenians, at least at Eleusis, concerning how to best approach changing prices, or at least those that were rising steeply. Yet the principle at work in IG II2 1672 would make sense of the fact that while the calendars present diverse figures for their offerings they offer no evidence to suppose that Athenian magistrates employed any other technique by which to mitigate change in real market prices over time.

© 2020, Society for Classical Studies Privacy Policy