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Every four years, on 28 Hekatombaion, ancient Athenians celebrated the Great Panathenaia in honour of the goddess Athena with sacrifices and extensive games drawing competitors from all over Greece.  Despite this international participation in the games, the festival in the archaic and classical periods showcased the city’s elites in a celebration of Athenian exclusivity.  Scholars have focused primarily on this phase of the Panathenaia (e.g. Neils 1992, 1996); if they discuss the Hellenistic festival, they emphasise continuities with earlier periods (e.g. Mikalson, 196-198; Tracy 1991).  Our evidence, however, shows that the Panathenaia changed considerably after 229 B.C., when the Athenians gained their freedom from the Macedonians.  As I shall argue, it now became a more inclusive occasion.  Significant efforts were made to attract non-Athenians who were given additional opportunities for taking part in the festivities.  These developments marked the beginning a new era for the Panathenaia and linked it with the city’s regained freedom which was displayed to visitors coming to Athena’s celebration. 

In the classical period, participation in the Panathenaia was restricted so that not all individuals could take part in the same way.  The procession particularly displayed elite Athenians, but it also included some metics and their daughters (Parker).  The only non-Athenians to be included were delegations from the city’s colonies and, in the second half of the fifth century, the allies (e.g. IG I3 46.15-16; 71.55-58).  Similar restrictions existed for sacrifices: all known sacrificial animals were offered by the city, her sub-divisions (tribes, demes, gene), her colonists, and her allies (e.g. IG I3 34.41-43; 244A.15-21; 258.22-28; 375.6-7).  The games offered further opportunities for participation, but tribal events were restricted to Athenians (e.g. SEG LIII 192).  How one participated in the festival, consequently, demonstrated one’s relationship to the city and to the goddess in front of an international audience.

In contrast, in the years after 229 B.C., the Athenians opened up the festival and made significant efforts to attract larger numbers of non-Athenians.  Our best evidence is provided by two decrees concerning ‘the spondophoroi, who proclaim both the Eleusinia and the Panathenaia and the Mysteries’, and the theorodokoi, who received them in cities beyond Attica (Gonnoi II 109 = IG II3 1145).  These documents are known from an inscription found in the Thessalian city of Gonnoi.  She was not an Athenian colony nor is she known to have been an ally of Athens.  Her invitation to the Panathenaia testifies to the Athenians’ desire to encourage participation by cities without any clear previous connections with Athens, while the inscription itself suggests that Gonnoi did indeed participate in the Panathenaia.  When her delegation arrived in Athens, it brought sacrificial animals to offer to the goddess and joined groups sent by other cities.  These delegations marched in the procession and took part in the sacrifices on the Akropolis.  Their presence testified to the festival’s new policy of inclusion.  Participation in some events, however, continued to be restricted: the tribal hippic competitions remained open only to Athenians, as they had been in the classical period.  In the years after 182, the city actually expanded the programme significantly in order to increase the number of Athenian contestants in these events and to make them appealing to the Ptolemies and Attalids (Shear).  After 229, consequently, the Panathenaia became a bigger and more international occasion when the city’s regained freedom was displayed to all the delegations responding to the invitations of the spondophoroi.  Through the festival, they saw a city emphasising her new inclusivity and her status as cultural centre.  Since limitations on participation did remain, the Panathenaia also continued to be an important occasion for defining exactly what that being Athenian entailed.  This very local concern, however, did not deter the Athenians from publicising the Panathenaia internationally and then welcoming new participants.  In the changing Hellenistic world, external cultural diplomacy was more important than local religious traditions.