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Heracles and Apollo struggle for possession of the tripod, Treasury of the Siphnians: Delphi, ca 525 BC

Sibylla Delphica, Sir Edward Burne-Jones, 1868, Manchester City Art Galleries , England

A sacrificial tripod was a type of altar used by the ancient Greeks. The most famous was the Delphic tripod, on which the Pythian priestess took her seat to deliver the oracles of the god. The seat was formed by a circular slab on the top of the tripod, on which a branch of laurel was deposited when it was unoccupied by the priestess. (In this sense, the tripod was sacred to Apollo.) Another well-known tripod was the Plataean, made from a tenth part of the spoils taken from the Persian army after the Battle of Plataea. This consisted of a golden basin, supported by a bronze serpent with three heads (or three serpents intertwined), with a list of the states that had taken part in the war inscribed on the coils of the serpent. The golden bowl was carried off by the Phocians during the Sacred War; the stand was removed by the emperor Constantine to Constantinople, where it can still be seen in the Atmeidan (hippodrome), although in damaged condition, the heads of the serpents having disappeared. The inscription, however, has been almost entirely restored. Such tripods usually had three ears (rings which served as handles) and frequently had a central upright as support in addition to the three legs.

Tripods are frequently mentioned by Homer as prizes in athletic games and as complimentary gifts; in later times, highly decorated and bearing inscriptions, they served the same purpose. They were also used as dedicatory offerings to the gods, and in the dramatic contests at the Dionysia the victorious choregus (a wealthy citizen who bore the expense of equipping and training the chorus) received a crown and a tripod. He would either dedicate the tripod to some god or set it upon the top of a marble structure erected in the form of a small circular temple in a street in Athens, called the street of tripods, from the large number of memorials of this kind. One of these, the monument of Lysicrates, erected by him to commemorate his victory in a dramatic contest in 335 BC, is still in existence.

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