Recreating the Heraia on Samos

From ANA:

Athletes and volunteers dressed as torch-bearers of antiquity participate in one of several events recreating an ancient festival in honour of the mythical goddess Hera (Heraion), which was held at the port of Pythagorion , on the eastern Aegean island of Samos on Friday 20 August 2010.

The ancient Heraia festival served as a sports event for women, and dates back to 200 BC. The games were organised every four years.

Female athletes would take part in a night race, following an ancient path, beginning from Hera’s temple and finishing at the port, where the lightning of the flame took place.

Ancient sports games for women recreated on Samos | ANA

Here’s Pausanias‘ account of the Heraia games (via

[5.16.2] Every fourth year there is woven for Hera a robe by the Sixteen women, and the same also hold games called Heraea. The games consist of foot-races for maidens. These are not all of the same age. The first to run are the youngest; after them come the next in age, and the last to run are the oldest of the maidens. They run in the following way:

[5.16.3] their hair hangs down, a tunic reaches to a little above the knee, and they bare the right shoulder as far as the breast. These too have the Olympic stadium reserved for their games, but the course of the stadium is shortened for them by about one-sixth of its length. To the winning maidens they give crowns of olive and a portion of the cow sacrificed to Hera. They may also dedicate statues with their names inscribed upon them. Those who administer to the Sixteen are, like the presidents of the games, married women.

[5.16.4] The games of the maidens too are traced back to ancient times; they say that, out of gratitude to Hera for her marriage with Pelops, Hippodameia assembled the Sixteen Women, and with them inaugurated the Heraea. They relate too that a victory was won by Chloris, the only surviving daughter of the house of Amphion, though with her they say survived one of her brothers. As to the children of Niobe, what I myself chanced to learn about them I have set forth in my account of Argos.

Not sure where the modern Samian race is getting the torch thing (confusion with a male event during the Panathenia?); I can’t find any mention of a female torch race. Matthew Dillon, “Did Parthenoi Attend the Olympic Games? Girls and Women Competing, Spectating, and Carrying out Cult Roles at Greek Religious Festivals” Hermes 128, 457-480 mentions (on 462) that no inscriptions of victories by women survive from Olympia, but there are inscriptions recording the victories of women at other (presumably Heraia-like) competitions. A trio of sisters named Tryphosa, Hedea, and Dionysia won various competitions in the Isthmian, Nemean, Pythian, Sikyonian, Epidaurian, and Athenian festivals in the second half of the first century A.D., by which time female participation in athletic competitions had apparently broadened in scope.. Most impressive (to me, anyway) is Hedea, who won the chariot-race-in-armour at the Isthmian games, the stade at Nemea and Sikyon, and the kithara-singing at the Sebasteia at Athens.

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