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PIE word
PIE word
Amanda Brewster Sewell, The Sacred Hecatombs (1904; sense 1). The painting depicts Greek maidens and children dancing while leading a procession of cattle to be sacrificed to the gods.

The noun is a learned borrowing from Latin hecatombē (great sacrifice of a hundred oxen, hecatomb), from Ancient Greek ἑκατόμβη (hekatómbē, great sacrifice of a hundred oxen, hecatomb; any animal sacrifice or large sacrifice), from ἑκᾰτόν (hekatón, hundred) + βοῦς (boûs, cattle, cow, ox).[1]

The verb is derived from the noun.[2]



hecatomb (plural hecatombs)

  1. (Ancient Greece, Ancient Rome, historical) A great public sacrifice to the gods, originally of a hundred oxen; also, a great number of animals reserved for such a sacrifice.
  2. (by extension, religion, historical) A great public sacrifice in other religions; also, a great number of animals or people reserved for such a sacrifice.
    • 1843, William H[ickling] Prescott, chapter II, in History of the Conquest of Mexico, [], volume I, New York, N.Y.: Harper and Brothers, [], →OCLC, book I (Introduction—View of the Aztec Civilization), page 43:
      The tutelary deity of the Aztecs was the god of war. The great object of their military expeditions was, to gather hecatombs of captives for his altars. The soldier, who fell in battle, was transported at once to the region of ineffable bliss in the bright mansions of the Sun.
  3. (figurative, literary and poetic) A great number of animals, people, or things that are sacrificed or destroyed; any great sacrifice; also (generally), a large amount.
    (large amount): Synonyms: see Thesaurus:lot
    • 1598, John Marston, “The Metamorphosis of Pigmalions Image and Certaine Satyres. Satyre V. Parva magna, magna nulla.”, in J[ames] O[rchard] Halliwell, editor, The Works of John Marston. [] (Library of Old Authors), volume III, London: John Russell Smith, [] , published 1856, →OCLC, page 232:
      O hecatombe! O catastrophe! / From Mydas pompe to Irus beggery!
    • 1818–1819 (date written), Percy Bysshe Shelley, “Prometheus Unbound”, in Prometheus Unbound [], London: C[harles] and J[ames] Ollier [], published 1820, →OCLC, Act I, scene i, page 19:
      [R]egard this Earth / Made multitudinous with thy slaves, whom thou / Requitest for knee-worship, prayer, and praise, / And toil, and hecatombs of broken hearts, / With fear and self-contempt and barren hope.
    • 1827, [Lydia Sigourney], “A Vision”, in Poems; [], Boston, Mass.: [] S[amuel] G[riswold] Goodrich [], →OCLC, page 142:
      There our orb revolved.— / Now stain'd with blood and now with sunbeams gay, / Here heap'd with hecatombs and there with fruits / Of joyous harvest.—
    • 1875, Mary Baker Eddy, “Christian Science Practice”, in Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, Boston, Mass.: The First Church of Christ, Scientist, published 1994, →ISBN, page 367:
      The tender word and Christian encouragement of an invalid, pitiful patience with his fears and the removal of them, are better than hecatombs of gushing theories, stereotyped borrowed speeches, and the doling of arguments, which are but so many parodies on legitimate Christian Science, aflame with divine Love.
    • 2002 September, Christopher Hitchens, “Martin Amis: Lightness at Midnight: Stalinism without Irony”, in Michael Kelly, editor, The Atlantic[1], Washington, D.C.: The Atlantic Monthly Group, →ISSN, →OCLC, archived from the original on 2023-05-31:
      In [Robert] Conquest's opinion, the visceral reaction to Nazism entails a verdict that it was morally worse than Stalinism, even if its eventual hecatomb was a less colossal one.
    • 2006, Karen Armstrong, “The Axial Peoples (c. 1600 to 900 BCE)”, in The Great Transformation: The Beginning of Our Religious Traditions, Toronto, Ont.: Vintage Canada, published 2007, →ISBN, page 37:
      During the royal hunt, the Shang killed wild beasts with reckless abandon, and consumed hecatombs of domestic animals at a bin banquet or a funeral.



hecatomb (third-person singular simple present hecatombs, present participle hecatombing, simple past and past participle hecatombed)

  1. (transitive) To provide (someone or something) with a hecatomb.



  1. ^ hecatomb, n.”, in OED Online Paid subscription required, Oxford, Oxfordshire: Oxford University Press, July 2023; “hecatomb, n.”, in Lexico, Dictionary.com; Oxford University Press, 2019–2022.
  2. ^ hecatomb, v.”, in OED Online Paid subscription required, Oxford, Oxfordshire: Oxford University Press, July 2023.

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