Sketch of an ancient coin depicting Apollo Carneios, created by the author, who releases it to the Public Domain.



The Kárneian festival, or simply called the Kárneia (Carneia, Κάρνεια), is an important festival of Apóllohn (Apollo, Ἀπόλλων) held in the Lakohnian (of Lakohnía, Λακωνία) month of Kárneios (Carneios, Κάρνειος or Καρνήϊος), near the end of the year and just before the Autumn Equinox [1], the beginning of the new Mystery year. It is appropriate to celebrate the Kárneia any day between August 15 through September 15; the ideal being the full moon that falls within these dates [2]. In ancient times, it was a nine-day festival, said to begin on the seventh day of Kárneios, the Spartan month corresponding to the Athenian month of Mætayeitnióhn (Metageitnion, Μεταγειτνιών).


One explanation of the origin of the festival comes from Pafsanías (Pausanias, Παυσανίας), that the Kárnian Festival came into being on account of the murder of the seer Kárnos (Carnus, Κάρνος) of Akarnanía (Acarnania, Ακαρνανία) by Ippótis (Hippotes, Ἱππότης), one of the Irakleidai (Herakleidai, Ἡρακλεῖδαι, i. e. the descendants of Iraklís [Hercules, Ἡρακλῆς]) [3]. According to the ancient writer, the celebration evolved from what was originally a propitiatory sacrifice for the crime. Pafsanías notes that the poetess Práxilla (Πράξιλλα) describes an individual known as Kárneios as the son of Evróhpi (Europa, Εὐρώπη) who was not Apóllohn at all [3]. According to our tradition, none of this is accepted as being the origin of the festival and, certainly, not of Kárneios himself, who is indeed Apóllohn.

Pafsanías proposes a second version of the origin of the festival [4], found in his writings and elsewhere, of the Greeks cutting down cornel trees at the grove of Apóllohn in Trojan Ídi (Mount Ida in modern Turkey, Ἴδη) to build the Dourátæos Íppos ("Wooden Horse" Δουράτεος Ἵππος. Ὀδύσσεια Book 8.493), the Trojan Horse. This angered Apóllohn, causing the Greeks to institute a festival to appease the God, adopting the name of the tree (κράνεια). Pafsanías points out a custom in ancient times of transposing the ρ and the α, naming it thus the Kárnian Festival.

Scholars point out their uncertainty, and attention has been given to evidence suggesting that the etymology of the word Κάρνεια may be traced to the word κάρνος, meaning “ram.” Apóllohn Κárneios is represented in iconography as having the horns of a ram; this can be clearly demonstrated from the many coins originating in areas from Kyríni (Cyrene, Κυρήνη) to at least as far west as Metaponto in Italy. These horns call to mind those found on sculptures of Zefs-Ammon. The temptation is to view the horns as evidence of the pastoral qualities of the God, but this interpretation is at best only partial and superficial; horns represent divinity, they symbolize the effulgent issue of Aithír (Aether or Ether, Αἰθήρ) from the great God, as do all such horns in the iconography of the ancient Greek religion Ællinismós (Hellenismos, Ἐλληνισμός).

It has been suggested to this author that perhaps the most significant meaning of the ancient festival is related again to its very name, that the word Κάρνεια may be related to the word καρδία, which means “heart.”


The Kárneia is ancient festival of Ællinismós but it was not celebrated everywhere in Greece; it is primarily associated with ancient Sparta and Spartan colonies, where, during the festival, a sacred truce was observed called the Iærominía (Hieromenia, Ίερομηνία) [5]. The Kárneia was also observed in some cities of the Magna Græcia: Thíra (Thera or modern Santorini, Θήρα), Kyríni, and other Dorikós (Dorian, Δωρικός) cities worshiped Apóllohn Κάrneios and celebrated the festival.

The Kárneia had features of a military camp, with nine skiádæs (sciades, σκιάδες pl.; meaning "canopies, sunshades"), a structure resembling a tent, each of which housed nine men under the command of a herald. Every skiás (scias, σκιάς singular) was further divided into three phratríai (phratriae, φρατρίαι; from φράτρα, clan). [6]

A major feature of the festival is the race of the staphylodrómi (σταφυλοδρόμοι pl.; σταφυλοδρόμας singular), the grape-cluster-runners, unmarried men called karnæátai (carneatae, καρνεᾶται) who were dedicated to the God and who held this duty for four years. These men conducted the hunt of a willing human victim adorned with woolen fillets or garlands. The “victim” has prayed for the welfare of the city, is hunted, and, if captured, this is viewed as a beneficial omen, but if he is not caught, the city or region will not fare well. [7]

There was also a musical agóhn (contest, ἀγών) as a feature of the Kárneia [8] and, perhaps, the sacrifice of a ram. [9]

Because of the reference to grapes (the grape-cluster runners), there is some supposition that the symbolism of the Kárneia is purely agricultural, or because of the references to the ram and the horned ágalma (cult statue, άγαλμα) as stated above, that the festival of the God is pastoral in nature. But these explanations, in a like manner to the agrarian interpretation of the myth of Pærsæphóni (Persephone, Περσεφόνη), are superficial or present only one level of understanding to the story, while the real meaning of these myths and their festivals is mystical.


According to Iródotos (Herodotos, Ἡρόδοτος), the Spartan presence at Thærmopýlai (Thermopylae, Θερμοπύλαι) was severely limited due to coincidence that the battle occurred during the Kárneian festival. [10]

Thoukydídis (Thucydides, Θουκυδίδης) reports that the events of the Peloponnesian war were effected by the Kárneia in 419 and 418 BCE. [11]


There is significant mention of the Kárneian festival in the magnificent poem by Kallímakhos (Callimachus, Καλλίμαχος) to Apóllohn and also in Pythian Ode V of Píndaros (Pindar, Πίνδαρος). Both of these works refer to the cult as it existed in Kyríni.

Glossary of the Kárneia

More festivals of Apóllohn:




[1] In our tradition, the Autumn Equinox is the beginning of the religious new year, the year as viewed as a gigantic ritual. Although we have close ties to the Spartan tradition, we are not exclusively "Spartan," nonetheless, the author L. Pareti suggests that the ancient Spartans viewed the Autumn Equinox as the commencement of the new year: L. Pareti, 'Note sul calendario spartano', in Studi minori di storia antica, 2: Storia Greca, Roma, 1961, 213, 228f (as noted in citation 323 of Cults of Apollo at Sparta by Michael Pettersson, 1992; SKRIFTER UTGIVNA AV SVENSKA INSTITUTET I ATHEN, 8⁰, XII/ACTA INSTITUTI ATHENIENSIS REGNI SUECIAE, SERIES IN 8⁰, XII. Stockholm 1992).

[2] Ἄλκηστις Εὐριπίδου 448-450

"... oft as the season in his cycle cometh round at Sparta in that Carnean month when all night long the moon sails high o'erhead, ..." (trans. Edward Philip Coleridge, 1910)

This is the tradition we hold; although the full moon is ideal, it is not essential that the Kárneia be performed on that exact day but it is best to be as close to that day as is possible.

[3] Ἑλλάδος Περιήγησις Παυσανίου: Book 3. Λακωνίας 13.3:

"Carneüs, whom they surname 'of the House,' had honours in Sparta even before the return of the Heracleidae (ed. the descendants of Iraklís, i.e. Hercules), his seat being in the house of a seer, Crius (Ram) the son of Theocles. The daughter of this Crius was met as she was filling her pitcher by spies of the Dorians, who entered into conversation with her, visited Crius and learned from him how to capture Sparta. The cult of Apollo Carneüs has been established among all the Dorians ever since Carnus, an Acarnanian by birth, who was a seer of Apollo. When he was killed by Hippotes the son of Phylas, the wrath of Apollo fell upon the camp of the Dorians; Hippotes went into banishment because of the bloodguilt, and from this time the custom was established among the Dorians of propitiating the Acarnanian seer. But this Carnus is not the Lacedaemonian Carneüs of the House, who was worshipped in the house of Crius the seer while the Achaeans were still in possession of Sparta. The poetess Praxilla represents Carneüs as the son of Europa, Apollo and Leto being his nurses." (trans. W. H. S. Jones, 1918)

[4] Ἑλλάδος Περιήγησις Παυσανίου: Book 3. Λακωνίας 13.5:

"There is also another account of the name; in Trojan Ida there grew in a grove of Apollo cornel-trees, which the Greeks cut down to make the Wooden Horse. Learning that the God was wroth with them they propitiated him with sacrifices and named Apollo Carneüs from the cornel-tree (craneia), a custom prevalent in the olden time making them transpose the r and the a." (Ibid. W. H. S. Jones, 1918)

[5] Such a truce was also held for the games at Olympía (Ολυμπία), Næmǽa (Nemea, Νεμέα), and other similar festivals. This is the Iærominía (Hieromenia, Ἱερομηνία), the Sacred Month when the great festivals were held and war was avoided.

[6] Δειπνοσοφισταί Αθηναίου 4.141e:

"But Demetrius the Scepsian says, in the first book of his treatise on the Trojan Array, 'that the festival of the Carnea among the Lacedæmonians is a representation of a military expedition. For that there are nine spots marked out; and they are called sciades, having something like tents in them; and in each of them nine men sup; and everything is proclaimed by the crier as if it were a military order. Now each scias has three phratriæ. And this festival of the Carnea lasts nine days.' " (trans. C.D. Yonge, 1854)

[7] Becker Anecdota Graeca i 305 II. 25-30, staphylodromoi.

[8] That there was a musical agóhn, as a feature of the Kárneia, is established in Καρνεονῖκαι Ἑλλανίκου, a text on the victors of the Kárneian games, as quoted by Ἀθήναιος concerning the victory of Τέρπανδρος, the first such victory at the Kárneia. (Δειπνοσοφισταί Αθηναίου 14) Tǽrpandros was a poet who accompanied his poems on the kithára (cithara, κιθάρα), a type of lyre. The quotation follows, which also adds a bit of confusion:

"...Terpander was the first man who ever got the victory at the Carnean games, as Hellanicus tells us in the verses in which he has celebrated the victors at the Carnea, and also in the formal catalogue which he gives us of them. But the first establishment of the Carnea took place in the twenty-sixth Olympiad, as Sosibius tells us in his essay on Dates. But Hieronymous, in his treatise on Harp-players, which is the subject of the fifth of his Treatises on Poets, says that Terpander was a contemporary of Lycurgus the lawgiver, who, it is agreed by all men, was, with Iphitus of Elis, the author of that establishment of the Olympic games from which the first Olympiad is reckoned." (trans. C.D. Yonge, 1854)

[9] Lacon to Comatos, from the Εἰδύλλιον Θεοκρίτου 5.82:

"But Apollo loves me all as well, and an offering too have I, a fine fat ram a-batt’ning; for Apollo’s feast draws nigh." (trans. J. M. Edmonds, 1912)

[10] Ἱστορίαι Ἡροδότου Book 7.206:

"The force with Leonidas was sent forward by the Spartans in advance of their main body, that the sight of them might encourage the allies to fight, and hinder them from going over to the Medes, as it was likely they might have done had they seen that Sparta was backward. They intended presently, when they had celebrated the Carneian festival, which was what now kept them at home, to leave a garrison in Sparta, and hasten in full force to join the army. The rest of the allies also intended to act similarly; for it happened that the Olympic festival fell exactly at this same period. None of them looked to see the contest at Thermopylæ decided so speedily; wherefore they were content to send forward a mere advanced guard. Such accordingly were the intentions of the allies." (trans. George Rawlinson, 1910)

[11] Ἱστορίαι Θουκυδίδου Book 5.54:

"But about the same time, the Lacedæmonians also marched out with their whole force as far as to Leuctra, upon their own frontier, towards Lycéum, under the command of Agis the son of Archidamus their king. Not a man was privy to the design of their thus taking the field, not even the States from which the quotas were furnished out. But when the victims they sacrificed for a successful campaign, proved inauspicious, they again marched home; and circulated fresh orders to their confederates to be ready to take the field again after the next month, which was the month Carneïus, the grand festival of the Dorians. But when they were thus withdrawn, the Argives, taking the field on the twenty-seventh day of the month preceding Carneïus, and tho' celebrating their own festival that very day, continued all this intermediate time to make incursions and ravages upon Epidauria." (trans. William Smith, 1753)


Ἱστορίαι Θουκυδίδου Book 5.75-76:

"When a battle was certainly to be fought, Pleistionax (ed. Pleistoanax) the other king marched out to their support with the whole body of citizens, both old men and youths. But when he was advanced as far as Tegea, he received news of a victory and returned to Sparta. The Lacedæmonians also sent messengers to countermand their allies from Corinth, and from without the Isthmus. And, being themselves returned to Sparta, after giving dismission to their allies, as the Carneian solemnities were at hand, they celebrate the festival. The imputation also of cowardice, at that time laid to their charge by the rest of Greece, because of their misfortune at Spacteria, and some other instances of impolitic and dilatory conduct, by this action they completely purged away. Now it was determined, that their depression had been merely the result of fortune, but that in inward bravery they were still themselves.

The day before this battle was fought, it happened that the Epidaurians, with the whole of their strength, had made an incursion in Argia as left defenseless, and had done great execution on the guards left behind at the general march of the Argives.

Three thousand heavy-armed Eléans, as auxiliaries to the Mantinéans, came up after the battle; as did also a thousand Athenians to join the former body; upon which the whole alliance marched immediately against Epidaurus, whilst the Lacedæmonians were solemnizing the Carnean festival. After an equal distribution of the work, they began to raise a circumvallation around the city. The rest indeed soon desisted, but the Athenians conformably to their orders compleated theirs around the eminence, on which stood the temple of Juno (ed. Hera). To guard this work the whole alliance left behind a sufficient number draughted from their several bodies, and then departed to their respective homes: And the summer was now at an end.

In the first commencement of the succeeding winter, and after the celebration of the Carnean festival, the Lacedæmonians immediately took the field, and advancing as far as Tegea sent from thence to Argos proposals for an accommodation..." (trans. William Smith, 1753)

The story of the birth of the Gods: Orphic Rhapsodic Theogony.

We know the various qualities and characteristics of the Gods based on metaphorical stories: Mythology.

Dictionary of terms related to ancient Greek mythology: Glossary of Hellenic Mythology.

Introduction to the Thæí (the Gods): The Nature of the Gods.

How do we know there are Gods? Experiencing Gods.

The logo to the left is the principal symbol of this website. It is called the CESS logo, i.e. the Children of the Earth and the Starry Sky. The Pætilía (Petelia, Πετηλία) and other golden tablets having this phrase (Γῆς παῖς εἰμί καὶ Οὐρανοῦ ἀστερόεντος) are the inspiration for the symbol. The image represents this idea: Earth (divisible substance) and the Sky (continuous substance) are the two kozmogonic substances. The twelve stars represent the Natural Laws, the dominions of the Olympian Gods. In front of these symbols is the seven-stringed kithára (cithara, κιθάρα), the lyre of Apóllohn (Apollo, Ἀπόλλων). It (here) represents the bond between Gods and mortals and is representative that we are the children of Orphéfs (Orpheus, Ὀρφεύς).

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