Jump to ContentJump to Main Navigation
Sharing with the GodsAparchai and Dekatai in Ancient Greece$

Theodora Suk Fong Jim

Print publication date: 2014

Print ISBN-13: 9780198706823

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: September 2014

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780198706823.001.0001

Show Summary Details
Page of

PRINTED FROM OXFORD SCHOLARSHIP ONLINE (www.oxfordscholarship.com). (c) Copyright Oxford University Press, 2016. All Rights Reserved. Under the terms of the licence agreement, an individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a monograph in OSO for personal use (for details see http://www.oxfordscholarship.com/page/privacy-policy). Subscriber: null; date: 05 December 2016

(p.281) Appendix Human First Offerings in Colonization

(p.281) Appendix Human First Offerings in Colonization

Sharing with the Gods
Oxford University Press

If we move from the realm of the historical to the legendary, there is a further kind of first offerings, namely that of human beings. Foundation traditions of some Greek colonies tell how people were dedicated to Delphic Apollo, according to whose oracular advice they set out on colonizing expeditions.1 Though described variously as aparchai, dekatai, and akrothinia, these human first offerings are markedly different in nature from the ones seen in the rest of this study, for which an individual usually offered part of his goods or property to the gods but never himself or someone else.2 To let the confusing and often conflicting accounts speak for themselves, we shall examine the human offerings of the cities thus founded one by one.


Rhegium is the earliest Greek colony supposedly founded with a human tithe.3 Strabo tells us that the colony was established by the Chalcidians who were ‘tithed to Apollo’ (δεκατευθέντες τῷ Ἀπόλλωνι‎) in accordance with an oracle in time of dearth (δι′ ἀπορίαν‎), but later on they left Delphi, taking with them other Chalcidians from home.4 Diodorus Siculus similarly says that Chalcidians ‘dedicated from the tithe’ (ἐκ τῆς δεκάτης ἀνατεθέντες‎) founded a city on oracular advice. These traditions seem to have been accepted in the Classical period already: the western Greek historian Timaeus (reported in Strabo) (p.282) relates how, when Eunomus and Ariston of Rhegium quarrelled about the casting of lots while contesting in the Pythian games, Ariston urged the Delphians to support him on the grounds that his ancestors were hieroi of the god (ἱεροὶ τοῦ θεοῦ‎) and that the colony had been sent forth from Delphi.


Pausanias tells us that the Dryopes were conquered by Heracles and brought to Delphi (number unspecified) as an anathema (οἱ Δρύοπες ὑπὸ Ἡρακλέους ἐκρατήθησαν καὶ τῷ Ἀπόλλωνι ἀνάθημα ἤχθησαν ἐς Δελφούς‎). On the order of an oracle given to Heracles, they set out from Delphi to Asine and then Hermione.5 However, the human anathema is not mentioned by Diodorus Siculus, according to whom Heracles slew the king of the Dryopes and drove them out of the land. Some of them subsequently founded Carystus in Euboea, while others sailed to Cyprus; still others founded Asine, Hermione, and Eion in the Peloponnese with the help of Eurystheus.


Diodorus Siculus says that after Thebes was taken, Teiresias’ daughter was sent to Delphi as an akrothinion in fulfilment of a certain vow (κατά τινα εὐχὴν ἀκροθίνιον‎); there she soon developed oracular skills. Instead of an akrothinion, Apollodorus describes her as ‘the fairest of the spoils’ (τὸ κάλλιστον τῶν λαφύρων‎) dedicated to Apollo along with a portion of booty (τῆς δὲ λείας μέρος‎).6 Neither Diodorus nor Apollodorus mentions her role in city foundation. But Pausanias tells us that Apollo sent her and others (presumably Theban captives) from Delphi to found a colony, whereupon they crossed to Asia and came to Colophon.7

The Macedonian Bottiaeans

In the course of saying that the seven Athenian youths and seven maidens sent to Crete as a tribute to Minos8 were kept alive instead of killed, Plutarch quotes Aristotle as saying, in the latter’s Constitution of Bottiaea, that the Cretans once dispatched an aparche of their people (ἀνθρώπων ἀπαρχή‎) to (p.283) Delphi in fulfilment of an ancient vow, and among them were descendants of those Athenians sent to Crete. Unable to support themselves in Delphi, they first crossed over to Italy and dwelt round Iapygia, and from there they went to Thrace and were called Bottiaeans.9

Magnesia on the Maeander

The people of Magnesia on the Maeander believed that they had originated as a dekate sent to Delphic Apollo after the Trojan War. The mythologist Conon located the original homeland of the Magnesians in Thessaly near the river Peneus and Mount Pelion, saying that upon their return from Troy, a dekate of the Magnesians (δεκάτη Μαγνήτων‎) settled in Delphi in accordance with a vow. After some time they sailed from Delphi to Crete, but when pressed (βιασθέντες‎), they crossed over to Asia, where they called their new city Magnesia. However, Parthenius says that Leucippus founded a colony called Cretinaeum, and that, according to oracular advice, he was chosen as the leader by those who were tithed (οἱ δεκατευθέντες‎) by Admetus from Pherae (under circumstances unspecified). In the words of Aristotle (or Theophrastus) quoted by Athenaeus, these Magnesians were ἱεροὶ τοῦ θεοῦ‎, Δελφῶν ἄποικοι‎. This is the second piece of literary evidence that presumably refers to humans tithed to Apollo as ἱεροὶ τοῦ θεοῦ‎. The surviving part of a third‐century inscription set up in the Magnesian agora mentions the city’s foundation and its oikist Leucippus, but not the human tithe.10


Perhaps following the same source, the various accounts of Tanagra’s foundation are more or less consistent in saying that the Gephyraioi were dedicated by the Athenians to Delphi as a dekate under circumstances unrecorded. In accordance with an oracle they set out to found Tanagra.11

(p.284) Corcyra and Methone

An obscure passage in Plutarch mentions Eretria and Magnesia as having presented Delphic Apollo with aparchai of their people:

ἐγὼ δὲ…ἐπαινῶ…ἔτι δὲ μᾶλλον Ἐρετριεῖς καὶ Μάγνητας ἀνθρώπων ἀπαρχαῖς δωρησαμένους τὸν θεὸν ὡς καρπῶν δοτῆρα καὶ πατρῷον καὶ γενέσιον καὶ φιλάνθρωπον‎.12

I commend…and still more the inhabitants of Eretria and Magnesia who presented the god with the first‐fruits of their people, in the belief that he is the giver of crops, the god of their fathers, the author of their being, and the friend of man.

The ἀνθρώπων ἀπαρχαί‎ from Magnesia were presumably the Magnesians tithed to Apollo discussed earlier. As Plutarch is equating the Eretrians’ offering with that of the Magnesians, it is probable that an aparche or dekate of Eretrians is involved here. Another passage of Plutarch is often adduced in this connection: the Eretrian colonists, when expelled from Corcyra, tried to return to their mother‐city but were rejected by their fellow citizens; consequently they founded another colony, Methone. Because they were repelled by missiles from slings at Eretria, Plutarch explains, the Eretrian colonists were also known as ἀποσφενδόνητοι‎ (‘men driven away by slings’).13 Some scholars see here traces of a consecration to Apollo similar to an aparche or dekate of human beings.14 However, as the motifs and situations implied in the two passages are markedly different, it is unclear whether they are referring to the same Eretrian colonists (see below).


A similar motif is seen in the foundation of Cyrene. A seven‐year drought at Thera motivated consultation at Delphi and the subsequent colonization of Cyrene. But when the colonists tried to return to their mother‐city, the Theraeans at home refused to let them land, throwing stones at their ships, and told them to sail back to Libya.15 A famous fourth‐century inscription, containing what is allegedly the city’s original foundation decree, allowed colonists to return to Thera should they be hard‐pressed for five years, but (p.285) any refusal to join the expedition would incur death and other penalties.16 Some historians have inferred a human tithe in connection with Cyrene’s foundation,17 but our sources make no mention of such.

Unlike the first offerings seen in the preceding chapters, which might be dedicated to a variety of divinities, human aparchai or dekatai in foundation traditions were exclusively offered to Apollo at Delphi. This may be related to several aspects of the god’s divine power. Apollo was δεκατηφόρος‎ or ‘tithe‐receiving’.18 As ἀρχηγέτης‎ he was a guide in colonizing expeditions, and as φοῖβος‎ he was a god of purification, who maintained civic and cosmic order by providing the necessary cleansing when a city was threatened by pollution or stasis.19

Though addressed to the same divine recipient, the human first offerings were made under different circumstances. (1) The Dryopes at Asine and the daughter of Teiresias at Colophon were prisoners of war offered to the god as a choice portion of the booty, in more or less the same manner as the military first offerings seen in Chapter 6. Yet the typical practice in historical times was to dedicate objects—such as arms, armour, and monuments commissioned using the proceeds from the sale of the spoils and captives—not human beings.20 (2) Rather different are the Chalcidian colonists in Rhegium and the Theraeans in Cyrene, who were offered to the god in connection with natural disasters rather than good tidings. (3) In the remaining cases the precise circumstances of dedication cannot be recovered, though a vow (content unspecified) was involved in the cases of the Bottiaeans and the Magnesians.

Might the Chalcidian and the Theraean settlers have been dedicated with a view to appeasing Apollo, who was thought to be angry about some ritual lapse, with an expiatory gift in the most extraordinary form?21 Or was a (p.286) portion of the population expelled to alleviate local problems of food and water supply (or similar), so that the city could survive or recover from the crises? In an article in 1999, Mari stresses the stories about colonists not being allowed to return, whether the ancient sources speak of aparchai and dekatai or not. She sees aparchai and dekatai as a ritual mechanism by which the separation was made absolute: aparchai and dekatai will have been decided upon when it was necessary to get rid of inhabitants without the possibility of return because of food shortages, stasis, or similar. The practice thus resembles, in her view, the dispatch of scapegoats. Similarly, Malkin sees dekatai as implying the denial of the right of return to colonists.22

It is hard to reconcile these human first offerings with the traditional aparchai and dekatai. As far as the colonists in Rhegium and Cyrene are concerned, the human first offerings appear to have been a precondition or preliminary offering for the desired outcome, namely to remedy a natural catastrophe, in sharp contrast to the usual practice of giving the gods a share after some divine favour was granted. Normally, instead of relieving themselves of some unwanted elements, worshippers and worshipping communities would share with the gods their goods or possessions. It is therefore difficult to see in these colonists the character of the traditional aparchai and dekatai.

Existing discussions of colonization of the aparche and dekate type have paid little attention to the Plutarch passage cited earlier, where the Eretrians and Magnesians are commended by Apollo for having offered ἀνθρώπων ἀπαρχαί‎ to the god in his role as the giver of all things.23 The underlying idea is much more in line with what we have seen regarding traditional first offerings: to honour the gods as the givers of all good things with a portion of the benefits enjoyed. This stands in sharp contrast to the Chalcidian and Theraean colonists in Rhegium and Cyrene respectively, who appear to have been expelled as some undesirable elements to remedy local problems (on Mari’s view), and also to the reluctant settlers from Eretria (in Plutarch’s Quaestiones Gaecae 293b, often associated with De Pythiae oraculis 401f–402a), who tried to return to their mother‐city only to be repelled by missiles from slings. In other words, the Eretrians in the two episodes Plutarch records are so markedly different that it raises the question of whether these passages are indeed referring to the same Eretrian colonists, as is often assumed. What is noteworthy is the strangeness of the character of these human first offerings. If there was indeed an archaic practice of offering human beings alive to Delphi, the circumstances and motivations of (p.287) dedication (in the cases of the Chalcidians and Theraeans) appear to be muddled and counter‐intuitive given what we know of the usual aparchai and dekatai. Their ‘strangeness’ is mediated somewhat by the fact that they were imaginary rather than real,24 offered in the remote past and not contemporary societies, and served surely as an exceptional measure instead of a regular ritual practice.

The earliest available piece of evidence that refers to people sent alive to Delphic Apollo as first offerings is in Euripides: the captive Phoenician women describe themselves as ἀκροθίνια Λοξίαι‎, presented as a most beautiful offering to Loxias.25 This is in accordance with the military custom of presenting a share of booty to the gods, but its form—human beings dedicated alive—is unusual and unattested historically. Might Euripides have been a source of influence on later traditions? Euripides is, however, certainly not referring to a contemporary practice but projecting it onto the mythical past, nor is there any question of these barbarians becoming colonists. Although foundation traditions were already circulating in abundance in the Classical period, all references to human colonists as aparchai, dekatai, and akrothinia come from later sources, such as Diodorus Siculus, Strabo, Parthenius, Conon, Pausanias, and Plutarch.26 Why does Herodotus not mention a human tithe when relating the foundation of Tanagra and Cyrene, especially when the words aparche and dekate are already used in his Histories in relation to religious offerings?27 It is unclear if Herodotus knows of this but does not mention it, or whether colonization was not conceptualized in this way in his time. The available sources strongly suggest that it did not become a common motif in Greek literature until much later.

Might there have been a confusion or conflation of motifs between the Greek offering of aparchai and dekatai and the Roman practice of ver sacrum (‘sacred spring’)? Might ancient authors such as Diodorus Siculus and Parthenius, who had resided in Italy, have (mis‐)applied the motif of the Roman ritual to Greek colonization stories? Greek colonization of the aparche or dekate type is often compared to the Roman ritual of ver sacrum, a mechanism by which a vow was made in times of distress, promising the gods all the (p.288) produce of the following spring or the whole year when they reached maturity. Consequently animals would be sacrificed and human beings would be sent away when they grew up. Guided by the god or a sacred animal, they would set out on colonizing expeditions.28 However, Italy’s ver sacrum was linked primarily with Mars (not Apollo), and involved the total (not partial) dedication of the produce. Different again was the nature of the vow: dangerous or critical situations might evoke vows of the ver sacrum type, but not the usual apachai and dekatai (as discussed in Chapter 5).29 It is possible that some ancient authors might have imported the Roman motif into Greek colonization traditions. The fact that Rhegium was a Greek colony in Italy makes it all the more likely.

Colonization involving aparchai or dekatai has further been compared to rituals of expulsion and purification.30 It was a ritual practice in the Greek world to expel chosen members of the community, usually social outcasts, on a specific day of the year as a means of public purification for the city. In Athens, this took place on the first day (sixth of Thargelion) of the Thargelia, during which two chosen members were specially attired and garlanded and chased out of the city.31 Symbolically laden with the guilt and pollution of all members of the community, the scapegoats (pharmakoi) were expelled carrying impurity with them, so that the rest of the city would be purified. Apparently this could be a regular or annual ritual, or a communal reaction to specific catastrophes such as drought and plague. Despite apparent resemblances with colonization motivated by natural disasters (as in Rhegium and Cyrene, but not all the above cases), rituals of expulsion are not compatible with ordinary first offerings, which were by nature the gods’ preliminary share from benefits received. If both the traditional aparchai/dekatai and colonists called aparchai/dekatai and sent out because of disasters involved sacrificing a share, these were very different kinds of division: the former offered a fine portion in thanks and honour of the gods, whereas the latter discarded the negative elements to appease them. However intriguing the human first offerings may be in the Greeks’ imagination, they remain markedly different from, and contradictory to, the ordinary practice examined in the rest of this book, and cannot be taken as a feature of practised religion.


(1) On the role and authenticity of foundation oracles given by Apollo at Delphi, see Parke and Wormell (1956), esp. vol. 1, 49–81, Fontenrose (1978), esp. 137–44, Malkin (1987), ch. 1, Morgan (1990), ch. 5. Hall (2008) provides a theoretical analysis of the major scholarly approaches to foundation stories.

(2) That is, except the symbolic offering of a lock of hair in rites of maturation and mourning (see Chapter 1).

(3) Rhegium’s foundation has been dated by historians to the eighth century BC based on the participation of the Messenians exiled in the First Messenian War (on which see Heraclides Lembus and Strabo in the following note).

(4) Strabo 6.1.6, 257. On the foundation of Rhegium, see also Thuc. 6.44.3, Timaeus ap. Strabo 6.1.9, 260, Heraclid. Lemb. Excerpta Politiarum 25 = Arist. fr. 611.55 Rose, Diod. Sic. fr. 8.23.2, 14.40.1, Dion. Hal. Ant. Rom. 19.2, Paus. 4.23.5–10; Dunbabin (1948), 10–13, Parke and Wormell (1956), vol. 1, 54, vol. 2, no. 371, Bérard (1957), 99–106, Vallet (1958), 66–80, Graham (1964a), 17–19, Ducat (1974), Malkin (1987), 31–41.

(5) Paus. 4.34.9–10. See also Hdt. 8.43, Diod. Sic. 4.37.1, Strabo 8.6.13, 373; Parke and Wormell (1956), vol. 1, 51, vol. 2, no. 448.

(6) Diod. Sic. 4.66.5–6; Schol. A. R. I.308 also describes her as an akrothinion; Apollod. Bibl. 3.7.3–4.

(7) Paus. 7.3.1–4; cf. Paus. 9.33.1–2, where no human captives other than Teiresias and his daughter are mentioned. On Colophon’s foundation, see also Sakellariou (1958), 147–72.

(8) On which see Plut. Thes. 15.

(9) Arist. fr. 485 Rose = Plut. Thes. 16.2: ποτε Κρῆτας εὐχὴν παλαιὰν ἀποδιδόντας ἀνθρώπων ἀπαρχὴν εἰς Δελφοὺς ἀποστέλλειν, τοῖς δὲ πεμπομένοις ἀναμειχθέντας ἐκγόνους ἐκείνων συνεξελθεῖν‎; a similar tradition is told in Plut. Quaest. Graec. 298f–299a. It is unclear if the phrase ἀνθρώπων ἀπαρχή‎ was that of Aristotle or Plutarch. That the same phrase appears in both Plutarch passages makes it likely that it was Plutarch’s own use of words.

(10) Parth. Amat. narr. V.5–6, Conon, Narr. 29 = FGrH 26 F 1 (29), Ath. 4.173e–f; I.Magnesia no. 17; Parke and Wormell (1956), vol. 1, 52–4, vol. 2, nos 378–82, Sakellariou (1958), 106–16, 342–3, Fontenrose (1978), 407–9, L 163–7, Clay (1993), Lightfoot (1999), 402.

(11) Hdt. 5.57 (without reference to the human tithe), Paus. Att. δ‎ 23 (135) Erbse, Eust. ad Il. 3.222 p. 642 van der Valk, Suda δ‎ 1395 s.v. Δόρυ κηρύκειον‎; Parke and Wormell (1956), vol. 1, 52, vol. 2, no. 312, Fontenrose (1978), 384, L78.

(12) Plut. De Pyth. or. 401f–402a (tr. Babbitt).

(13) Plut. Quaest. Graec. 293b.

(14) Malkin (1987), 38, Mari (1999), 268–9.

(15) Hdt. 4.150–8, at 156. The relatively rich sources on Cyrene have been much discussed: ML 5, Pind. Pyth. 4.4–11, 4.59–63, 5.85–95; Parke and Wormell (1956), vol. 1, 73–7, vol. 2, nos 37–42, 416, Fontenrose (1978), 120–3, Q 45–51, Malkin (1987), 60–9, 204–16, Calame (1988b), 105–25, Mari (1999), 269, Calame (2003 [1996]), Austin (2008).

(16) ML 5.33–8. The method of selecting colonists (lines 27–30) is obscured by the difficulties in reading the Greek text. Line 35 ἀλλὰ ἀνάγκαι ἀχθῶντι ἔτη ἐπὶ πέντε‎ is interpreted by Graham (1964a), 53 with n. 1, 224–6, to mean the colonists’ right to return if they suffered hardship within five years. But the accusative more probably indicates duration—that is, after a period of five years.

(17) E.g. Rohrbach (1960), 33; cf. Malkin (1987), 41, 65, who thinks that we need not see in Cyrene’s foundation a human tithe.

(18) E.g. Callim. Hymn 4. 278, Paus. 1.42.5; RE s.v. Apollo, 47.

(19) Versnel (1993), 292: ‘the word Phoibos is no longer interpreted as “radiant” but rather as “cathartic” or “awful” ’ (with further bibliography), Dougherty (1998), 179, 194 n. 3.

(20) See Chapter 6, n. 62.

(21) As envisaged by Malkin (1987), 40. Vallet (1958), 70–1, followed by Ducat (1974), 100, points out that the dearth at Rhegium may or may not have been an ‘historical event’. Burkert (1987b), 44–6, (1996), 34–55, 152–5, suggests that a part offering may have been made in situations of danger to appease an angry god. However, as discussed in Chapters 2 and 5, this is not a typical feature of the traditional first offerings.

(22) Malkin (1987), 38, Mari (1999), passim. The right of colonists to return to their mother‐city (or the lack thereof) is discussed in Graham (1964a), 110 ff., without reference to any aparche/dekate mechanism.

(23) Plut. De Pyth. or. 401f–402a.

(24) Cf. Mari (1999), who argues that more foundation stories might have been set or partially set in the historical period than historians have traditionally allowed, and that even if they are set in the mythical past, it does not prove that the motif of first offerings in colonization is necessarily mythical: it could be a case of a historical element infecting myth, rather than vice versa.

(25) Eur. Phoen. 203, see also 282, with commentary in Mastronarde (1994), 215.

(26) The phrase ἀνθρώπων ἀπαρχή‎ is probably Plutarch’s rather than Aristotle’s use of words (see n. 9 above). The description ἱεροὶ τοῦ θεοῦ‎ is used by Timaeus ap. Strabo 6.1.9, 260, and Aristotle or Theophrastus ap. Ath. 4.173e–f.

(27) Foundation of Cyrene and Tanagra: Hdt. 4.150–8, 5.57. Aparchai: Hdt. 1.92.2, 4.71.4, 4.88.1; dekatai: Hdt. 5.77, 8.27, 9.81.

(28) On ver sacrum, see Heurgon (1957), Martin (1973), Malkin (1987), 38–9, Versnel (1993), esp. 304–8.

(29) See Chapter 5, section on ‘First offerings and vow fulfilment’.

(30) E.g. Versnel (1993), Mari (1999). On ritual expulsions of scapegoats, see e.g. Burkert (1979), 64–77, Bremmer (1983), 299–320, Parker (1983), 24–31, 257–80, Hughes (1991), 129–65, Bonnechere (1994), 293–308, Burkert (1996), 51–5.

(31) On the Thargelia at Athens, see Parker (1983), 24–5, (2005), 203–4, 481–3.