Adam Wiznura

Connecting the Greeks: Festival Networks and Regional Identities in Thessaly


Thessaly was a key region in Hellenistic history. Its fertile plains made it extremely wealthy and an agreeable place for horse rearing. It was also a region where many important battles took place for example battles between the Macedonians and the Pheraians, and the Macedonians and the Romans. Ancient Thessaly comprised two broad plains in north-central Greece, which were separated into the four tetrads or districts of Thessaliotis, Hestiaiotis, Phthiotis, and Pelasgiotis. Thessaly was also surrounded by mountainous regions and their inhabitants, or perioikoi, whohad a close but complex relationship with the Thessalians.  The perioikoi were not considered ethnically Thessalian themselves at the beginning of the Hellenistic period. The four tetrads and the perioikoi all had their own religious calendars and traditions. The Macedonian hegemons of Thessaly and the Romans, who would eventually depose the Macedonians, reorganized the Thessalian landscape by land reforms, creating new settlements (not necessarily just poleis), uprooting existing populations, and creating new political systems throughout the region. A major political watershed that permeated all aspects of society, including religious life in Thessaly, was the creation of a formal Thessalian League in 196 BC by Titus Q. Flamininus. This saw the gradual political and religious assimilation of most perioikoi into a unified Thessaly in the early 2nd century BCE. One of the instrumental policies in coordinating and communicating communal Thessalian values of the new League was the creation of a common religious calendar and the establishment of federal festivals in central places, such as the Eleutheria in Larissa and the Itoneia in Thessaliotis, which became internationally renowned over time.


Festivals of all types, including athletic and religious festivals, contribute to a sense of belonging and identity at a local level and are a way of creating connectivity at a regional level. This project posits that festivals and festival networks played a large part in the creation of a Thessalian regional identity. The mainland Greek region of Thessaly was a landscape of multiple layers of socio-political identities.Thessaly was not ethnically homogenous but was a more complex region whose dominant population began to identify as Thessalians only by the end of the Archaic period, but the identifications of specific communities tended to shift in and out of a Thessalian affiliation throughout Thessaly’s history. The existence of an overarching Thessalian League, which was believed to exist in the Archaic and Classical periods, is in fact something that is difficult to identify in the literary and epigraphic sources prior to the Hellenistic period. Who was and was not Thessalian was at times restricted and sometimes extended and so a “Thessalian” was in fact a fluid identifier during the constant power struggles of the Hellenistic Period. This “Thessalian” identity can be studied by analysing the festivals and how they connected the people. Festivals in Thessaly, during this turbulent Hellenistic Period, are of importance as they represent not only connectivity between peoples in Thessaly, but because of the erratic and uncertain nature of the period in Thessaly (invasions, forced population movements, increased foreign contacts, and political and religious reforms), the festivals are a good chronological indicator of how beliefs and customs were ever changing but could also stay the same. My research seeks to understand the roles of festivals in identity-formation processes during the Hellenistic period in Thessaly. It also attempts to answer the question of how festivals served to connect communities within the region as well as the wider Greek world, and the role of festivals in establishing a cohesive sense of regional identity?


This project primarily uses social network analysis (SNA) to explore these festivals in Thessaly, and how this can be used as a method for examining regional identity. SNA involves people and how these people connect with others to form a network, as well as providing a picture that helps to provide an image of how people were connected in a network. This project involves cities in Thessaly as nodes (actors in the network), with the athletes from the festivals being the ties (the connection between different cities). This network of athletes in Thessaly will help to see how cities within the region were connected, but also how cities from around the Mediterranean were connected with Thessaly.