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published: 1/20/05
updated: 12/16/13

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Thargelia was a festival of Apollo held in Athens on the 6th and 7th of Thargelion (late May). It was both a vegetation festival and a ritual expiation of communal guilt.

The first day of the festival featured the cathartic rite of the pharmakos (scapegoat). One or two persons, male or female, were selected to be a scapegoat. They were usually criminals or outcasts, but occasionally an important person would sacrifice himself or herself for the city. The scapegoat was fed, led through town, then expelled from the city. In times of severe calamity, the scapegoat might be thrown off a cliff, cast into the sea, or sacrificed on a funeral pyre. The rite of the pharmakos cleansed the town and prepared for the new harvest.

Thargelia also included a first-fruits sacrifice in which a pot of the first grains were offered to the gods. This was the act that officially kicked off the harvest season. The festival concluded with a procession and the official registration of adopted persons.


  1. "Thargelia." Price, Simon and Emily Kearns, eds., The Oxford Dictionary of Classical Myth and Religion (Oxford UP, 2003), p. 542.
  2. "Thargelia." Encyclopædia Britannica Premium Service. 22 Jan. 2005 <>.

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