UNESCO Chair on Digital Cultural Heritage MNEMOSYNE
at the Cyprus University of Technology

Determination of the celebration of the next Pythian games using the Antikythera Mechanism, considering that they are celebrated uninterrupted until today


Scientific Culture, 8(1)


K. Efstathiou, M. Efstathiou, A. Basiakoulis and N. Kokkinos


In ancient times, games known as Pan-Hellenic [pan=all; Hellenic=Greek] games were held at regular intervals in various places. 6 of these Games were “crown” games, because the winners were rewarded with crowns. The two most important Pan-Hellenic crown Games were the Olympic and the Pythian. The discovery and decoding of the Antikythera Mechanism, the oldest extant complex geared device, constitutes confirmation of the written sources regarding the Pan-Hellenic games. A small dial within the Μetonic spiral at the back site of the Mechanism displayed the celebration year of the 6 ancient Panhellenic crown games. Pythian Games were founded sometime in the 6th century BC. They were ranked second in importance, behind the Olympics. Unlike the Olympics, Pythian Games also featured competitions for art and dance, which pre-dated the athletic portion of the games, and women were allowed to take part in some events. The Pythian Games were held at Apollo sanctuary at Delphi. The first celebration of the Olympic Games was held in Olympia in 776 BCE, whereas the Pythian Games in Delphi in 582 BCE. The games continued to be held during the Hellenistic and the Roman period. Emperor Theodosius finally decided that all worship practices, including the Games, should be stopped. The last Olympic Games were held in 393 AD, after a total of 293 events, lasting more than a millennium. Considering that the Phythians were celebrated two years before or after the Olympics, the last celebration of the Pythian must have taken place in 391 AD. The timing of all major Hellenic Crown (Stephanites) Games was set by astronomical tradition. We know from written sources that the Olympic Games (as inscribed also on the back plate of the Antikythera Mechanism) began around a full Moon in “midsummer”, suggesting the first or second month after the solstice. The purpose of this paper is to answer the question, «when would the next celebration of the Pythian Games be, provided that they continued to be celebrated, non-stop, until today».

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