Relief dedicated to the Thracian goddess Bendis


British Museum

British Museum
London, United Kingdom

The goddess Bendis originated in Thrace, to the north of Greece. Her cult was imported into Athens around 432 BC, at the outbreak of the Peloponnesian War between Athens and Sparta. Although Athens had a long-standing relationship with Thrace, acceptance of the foreign cult into the city at this time was probably connected with Athens' military alliance with the Odrysian Thracians, who supplied mercenaries throughout the war. A priest was democratically elected from among the Athenian citizens to preside over sacrifices and a major festival involving both Athenians and Thracians. The festival included a torch race, unusually on horseback, by night. This relief shows two bearded and draped figures leading a troop of eight naked athletes to a representation of the goddess. She is dressed in outlandish costume, with a sleeved tunic hitched up so as to form a short skirt. An animal skin is draped over one shoulder, while an outer cloak pinned at the neck falls over her shoulders and down her back. Her legs are clad in knee-length boots, and she wears a Phrygian cap with a pointed crown. She holds a libation bowl (phiale). The human figures are represented on a lesser scale. They wear wreaths in their hair and the leading man carries a torch. The naked athletes are probably the victors of the horse-back torch race. The bearded men are perhaps the troop's trainer and sponsor.


  • Title: Relief dedicated to the Thracian goddess Bendis
  • Date Created: -400/-375
  • Physical Dimensions: Height: 52.07cm; Width: 83.82cm
  • External Link: British Museum collection online
  • Subject: athletics/running; deity; devotee/worshipper; classical sport; torch race
  • Registration number: 1895,1028.1
  • Production place: Made in Athens
  • Place: Excavated/Findspot Piraeus
  • Period/culture: Classical Greek
  • Material: marble
  • Copyright: Photo: © Trustees of the British Museum
  • Acquisition: Purchased from Lambros, Jean P

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