"The Horse and the Maiden" (Aeschines 1.182 etc.): An Urban Legend in Ancient Athens

Appendix A:
Bronze Age and Iron Age Aegean and Cypriote Burials with Horses

Ruth Palmer


The inspiration for the story "The Horse and the Maiden" could have been the discovery of a clearly female human burial and a horse in the same tomb, in Athens or Attica.  There are two horse burials known in Attica, one from Marathon, and a second, discovered in 1994, under Syntagma in modern Athens.  It contained the skeletons of a horse and a dog (Vatopoulos, Kathemerini 12 May 1994).

The Marathon tholos tomb was excavated in the 1930's.  Two cist graves in the floor were found, one with a gold cup.  The cist graves were dated to LH IIB, but the tomb was also used in LH IIIB.  There is no discussion of the sex or age of the skeletons in the sources consulted.  In 1958, Papademetriou found two horses in a pit in the dromos during reexcavation of the tomb. They were arranged as a pair: the left-hand one laying on its left side, the right hand one on its right.  This is similar to the horse burials found in the contemporary tombs of the Argolid and the Iron Age burials with horses from Salamis.  In Argos, frequently only one horse was sacrificed, and there is evidence that the horse first drew the funerary sledge or cart to the bier.  When there is evidence for the gender of the associated burial, the dead person is male.

There are three known exceptions to this rule.  Salamis chamber tomb 1 (mid-8th century), held a female burial in the tomb, and 2 horses and parts of a chariot in the dromos.  Here the female burial is accorded the same honors as a male.  Archanes Tholos A (LM IIIA) had an undisturbed side chamber where a burial in a larnax was accompanied by a horse sacrifice outside the chamber and a bull sacrifice inside the chamber.  The poorly preserved burial in the larnax was identified as female because of the presence of jewelry and the absence of weapons.  The third female burial juxtaposed with horses is the female inhumation at Toumba, found stretched out next to the male cremation.  The four horses were in a separate pit.  None of these fit the scenario of "The Horse and the Maiden," although the Archanes example comes closest, because the horse is within the tomb.  It seems to me that the power of the urban myth comes from the awful juxtaposition of the horse and the maiden in death.  The presence of horses in the dromoi of tombs, and the humans in their proper places inside the tomb might not carry the same message.  But if a horse skeletom were found with a human skeleton inside a tomb, and there was no obvious indication (i.e., weapons or armor) that the human skeleton was male, then this might give rise to or fuel such a story.  On the other hand, when horses are found in association with chariots or sledges as at Salamis or in the Argolid, this points to another aition, the noble warrior.


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Protonotariou-Deilaki, E., "The Tumuli of Mycenae and Dendra", in Celebrations of Death and Divinity in the Bronze Age Argolid, Stockholm 1990, pp. 85-106.
Reese, D., "Equid Sacrifices/Burials in Greece and Cyprus: an Addendum", Journal of Prehistoric Religion 9 (1995), pp. 34-42.
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