by Dr. Alena Trckova-Flamee, Ph.D.
The name Hippeia has its roots in the Mycenaean period. It appeared between the names of divine figures in a form "OTNIA IQEJA" in the Linear Script B in a Tablet from Pylos. The word Potnia denoted a majestic, powerful and sublime lady, while Iqeja was connected with the Greek word íppeía, which means a ride, a horsemanship, or a cavalry, and which specified the sphere of the deity's influence. Between the Mycenaean terra-cotta figures we find a goddess riding sidesaddle on her horse; unfortunately we have no prove that this figure represented Iqeja.
However, even in the post-Mycenaean times the name Hippeia (Hippia) was used in context with a horse and with military power. It seems that from Archaic times this function was transformed into the role of the goddess Athena, who was frequently called "of the Horses." According to myth, Athena taught mankind how to tame a horse and she presented Bellerophon with a golden bridle for his horse Pegasus. There is a supposition that from Archaic times Hippeia was worshiped as Athena Hippia in the Athenian Acropolis, and that her cult spread out over the countrysides of Attica. The horse was a sign of the noblemen and their military capability. Athena-Hippia was probably the protector goddess of this class, which had the second highest position in Archaic Athens.
For this reason, statues of horsemen were made as dedications to the sanctuary of this goddess in the Athenian Acropolis. In later times the cult of Athena-Hippia carried a rustic character, and was performed mainly in the villages of Attica. Athena of the Horses was worshiped in Acharnai (modern Menidi), the biggest country town of the fifth century. In honor of Athena of the Horses and Poseidon of the Horses, an altar was built on the rocky-hill near Athens (in ancient times) and called the Kolonos of the Horses. The cult of Hippia was observed also in some regions of the Peloponnese with local variations. In Olympia, Athena-Hippia was connected with Ares Hippius, which underlined her control over the physical powers and violence of war.
In Arcadia, where religious ideas took on local aspects, the surname Hippia was given to Demeter for her unintentional but fulfilled relationship with Poseidon Hippius. From this union a daughter — Despoena — and a mythical steed — Arion — were born. According to the myth, Demeter was very displeased with this and so her face turned into the shape of a horse. Thus, her bronze statue in Figalea, which was made by the sculptor Onatas, represented the goddess with a horse's head and a female body. Finally, there is a clear relation between the Greek goddess Hippeia or Athena Hippia and the popular Celtic and Roman goddess Epona.
- Archaic Horsemen on the Acropolis.
- Chadwick, J. (1994). The Mycenaean World. Cambridge, p. 93.
- Mavromataki, M. (1997). Greek Mythology and Religion. Athens, pp. 43, 69.
- Pausanias. (1979). Description of Greece i. London, pp. 89, 92, 193.