The Thesmophoria was a Greek religious festival celebrated in Athens and other communities throughout Greece to honor Demeter, the goddess of agriculture. The Thesmophoria was restricted to women, and its original purpose was to ensure a fertile crop. The festival also became significant for its role in promoting motherhood. Many of the ceremonies of the Thesmophoria were secret, known only to the participants.
The Thesmophoria was held over a three-day period in the autumn, just before the planting of corn and wheat. The participants camped out at a site generally located on the outskirts of town. On the first day of the festival, women prepared shelters for themselves and built a place for celebration called the Thesmophorion. On the second day, the participants fasted and engaged in various verbal rituals. The events of the third day, called the “day of beautiful offspring,” remain largely a mystery. The purpose of that day was to celebrate Demeter’s role in ensuring the fertility of the earth and also to celebrate the reproductive ability of women.
During the festival, women sacrificed piglets, which they threw in underground chambers. They also gathered decayed matter from these chambers, mixed it with seeds, and placed the mixture on altars. The purpose of this ritual was to encourage the fertility of the soil and to promote the growth of crops. During the Thesmophoria in Athens, women formed an assembly, elected leaders, and celebrated the end of the festival with banquets paid for by their husbands. The festival is the setting for one of the surviving comedies of the playwright Aristophanes. (See also Eleusinian Mysteries; Festivals and Feasts, Greek; Religion, Greek; Women, Greek.)