The time when Athenians prayed to Boreas to deliver them from the Persians

Ancient Athenians’ relationship with Boreas, the North Wind god, is rooted in a well-known myth of how Boreas abducted an Athenian princess by the name of Oreithyia. The Athenians came to see Boreas as a protective deity after the event.

Boreas and Oreithyia

In the myth, Boreas fell head over heels for Oreithyia. After she spurned him, Boreas abducted her, taking her to Thrace where she became his wife. They had children, further binding Boreas to Athenian lore. As a result, the Athenians came to see Boreas as being connected to them through this union, almost like a relative by marriage.

In the myth, Boreas abducts the Athenian Oreithyia. Their union results in the birth of four children, including the Boreads Zethes and Calais.

Threat from Persia

In 480 BC, during the Greco-Persian Wars, King Xerxes of Persia (also known as Xerxes the Great) launched a massive invasion against the Greek city-states. The Persian fleet was an integral part of this invasion force. Athens, being a significant power, was directly in the path of this approaching threat.

Achaemenid Empire – Rock relief of a Achaemenid king, most likely Xerxes, located in the National Museum of Iran

READ MORE: Rulers of the Achaemenid Empire

Divine Intervention

Given their ancestral connection to Boreas, the Athenians prayed to him for aid against the overwhelming Persian fleet.

According to Herodotus, the historian who chronicled the Greco-Persian Wars, Boreas responded to these prayers. Powerful northern winds, attributed to Boreas, struck the Persian fleet off the coast of Mount Pelion, causing significant damage. It’s said that 400 Persian ships were sunk by the tempest.

Persian king killing a Greek hoplite. Impression from a cylinder seal, sculpted c. 500–475 BC, at the time of Xerxes I Metropolitan Museum of Art

Gratitude and Cult Establishment

Grateful for this divine intervention, which they believed played a part in saving Athens from Persian subjugation, the Athenians established a cult dedicated to Boreas. This act of establishing a cult was a way of formalizing their reverence and gratitude, ensuring that Boreas would be honored in Athens for generations.


In this narrative, we see a blend of mythology, cultural beliefs, and historical events, highlighting the deep-rooted relationship between the ancient Greeks and their pantheon of gods. The gods were integral not just in explaining natural events but also in the historical understanding of major societal events.

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