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The Weirdest Ancient Greek Customs

Pericles Funeral Oration
The weirdest Ancient Greek customs. Credit: by Philipp Foltz (1852)/ Public Domain

Undoubtedly, Ancient Greece was a fascinating civilization in the history of mankind; in the modern world, there are influences left by the Ancient Greeks everywhere in art, language, architecture, literature, philosophy, and even the customs.

But, today, we don’t practice many of those customs of Ancient Greece—or do we? Here are some of the weirdest customs that the ancient Greeks practiced.

You don’t want to be unfaithful in Ancient Greece

Infidelity was a crime punished and frowned upon according to ancient Greek customs, so for both men and women who were accused and found guilty of infidelity, one of the punishments applied to them was to insert a peeled ginger root in the anus or vagina; this caused an intolerable burning sensation and pain in the intimate parts of the unfaithful.

Therefore, you should think twice before cheating on your partner!

The Ancient Greek custom of the Dead carrying their money

Charon and Psyche.
Charon and Psyche. Public domain.

In Greek mythology, Hades had a ferryman named Charon, whom you had to pay so that he could transport you to the other side of the Acheron river; if you couldn’t pay, then you had to wander along the riverbank for a hundred years.

That’s why the Ancient Greeks buried the body of their dead with a coin under their tongue so when they arrived at the river they could pay Charon and cross over.

The apple of discord…and love

discord apple
Oil on Canvas of Eris offering the apple. Public domain.

In Greek mythology, the goddess of discord, Eris, angry at not having been invited to the wedding of Peleus and Thetis, threw a golden apple with the inscription “to the most beautiful” to cause a disruption. Three goddesses claimed the apple: Hera, Athena, and Aphrodite.

Paris of Troy was appointed to choose the lucky one, awarding the apple to Aphrodite, and the discord began. This is what indirectly caused the Trojan War.

Since then, the apple has been the symbol of Aphrodite. Thus, it became a custom for the ancient Greeks to throw apples to their suitors as a token of love; capturing the apple was a way of demonstrating reciprocal love.

Running in Ancient Greece

Athletes Ancient Greece
Greek athletes sprinting, terracotta amphora. Credit: RickyBennisonCC0

In Ancient Greece, athletes used to go to the gymnasium naked, and they ran for long distances without clothes. But this isn’t the strangest part of it. It turns out that at the end of their routines, athletes sold their sweat!

It was customary for the Ancient Greeks to buy the sweat emitted by the naked bodies of athletes, as it was believed to relieve muscle aches and headaches when mixed with specific oils.

Sacrifices everywhere

Sacrifices in Ancient Greece
Sacrifices in Ancient Greece. Public Domain

Religious rituals and sacrifices were common among ancient civilizations. In the same manner, sacrifices were an Ancient Greek custom that signified the solidarity and communion between humanity and divinity. However, it also demonstrated the difference of the natural world and the divine world. The sacrifice, or offering, was the heart of the ritual. That is, it was the center or the most important part of the whole process by Ancient Greek customs.

Sacrifices could be offered individually or in community, and they were allowed to be made in different places or sacred temples. In the sanctuaries, the ones who sacrificed were the priests, but it could also be the father of the family or another person who was an expert in these practices.

The animals that were sacrificed could be goats, lambs, pigs, or chickens, the latter being the most modest offering, or an ox, which was the most prestigious.

For many years, the Ancient Greeks sacrificed thousands of animals for the favor and blessing of the gods; do you know what would happen if we did this now? Exactly!

The unmentionable name of Ancient Greece

A recreation of The Temple of Artemis at Ephesus. Credit: Zee Prime /wikimedia commons CC BY-SA 3.0

For Ancient Greeks naming someone “Erostratus” was a forbidden custom.

Erostratus was a Greek shepherd who set fire to and destroyed the temple of Artemis in Ephesus, now considered one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. Upon his confession, this man said that his only intention was to achieve fame.

Once Erostratus’ intentions were revealed, mentioning his name or naming children Erostratus was forbidden at the risk of being sentenced to the death penalty.

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