Course Outline for Greek and Roman Religion (HUMA 3105; 2012-13; version B)

General Information

Instructor: Philip Harland, Click here to email me.  Office hours (in Vanier 248): Fridays 1-2pm.  Meetings: Thursdays 11:30-2:20, SC  304

Course description

This course explores practices associated with honouring the gods in the Hellenistic and Roman worlds, particularly during the first two centuries of the common era.  This year the geographical focus in term one is on the Greek-speaking, eastern part of the Roman empire, especially the Greek cities of Asia Minor (what is now Turkey).  In term two, we turn to several related phenonema that will provide us further glimpses into the nature and meaning of honours for the gods in various contexts in the Roman empire.  In that term, we begin by surveying certain deities and their “mysteries” before moving on to other informal associations and cultural minorities.  Throughout, we will draw on both archaeological (especially inscriptions) and literary materials. We will be attentive to variations in practice and belief from one locale to another and from one level of society to another (imperial elites, civic elites, urban populace, rural populace). Through examining rituals and beliefs in their contexts, students will gain an understanding of ancient worldviews that informed the development of western culture.  We will also deal with theoretical problems in defining and describing ancient “religion” in modern terms.  In particular, honouring the gods (traditionally labelled “religion”) through sacrifice and other means was embedded within what we as moderns distinguish as social, economic, and political spheres of activity.

Course Texts

  • James B. Rives, Religion in the Roman Empire (Blackwell Ancient Religions. Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, 2007).
  • Richard Ascough, Philip A. Harland, and John S. Kloppenborg, Associations in the Greco-Roman World: A Sourcebook. (Baylor University Press / de Gruyter, 2012).
  • Hugh Bowden, Mystery Cults of the Ancient World (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2010).
  • Coursepack for HUMA 3105 (Canadian Scholars Press, available at the York bookstore)
  • Online readings listed in the schedule

Evaluation (see assignment descriptions at the end of the syllabus)

  • Attendance and participation in discussions                                                           15%
  • Essay 1 (historical analysis of primary source), 5 pages, due FALL WEEK 5     15%
  • Essay 2 (book review of Bowden), 6 pages, due WINTER WEEK 5                      20%
  • Test 1 (in class FALL WEEK 11)                                                                                 25%
  • Test 2 (in class WINTER WEEK 11)                                                                           25%

Penalties for lateness:  One grade (10%) per day (e.g. B becomes C, if one day late).  Assignments are due at the beginning of class in printed, hardcopy form.  My aim here is fairness both to you and to your fellow students.
Useful online resources


Discussion outline


Unit 1: Orientation

Week 1 (Sept 6)

Overview of course outline; Introduction: How do we approach the study of religion in an academic context? How do we define ancient “religion”?  What problems do scholars have in approaching cultural life in the ancient world?

Week 2 (Sept 13)

The Roman empire: Geographical and cultural overview (photos from Asia Minor)

Key questions: 1) What was entailed in honouring the gods (offerings, sacrifice, meals, prayers, mysteries, festivals, etc.)?  What social groupings and contexts were involved?  2) What theoretical issues come to the fore in studying cultural life in the Hellenistic and Roman eras?


  • Scholarly sources: Rives, intro and chs. 1-2

Unit 2: Civic, Provincial, and Regional Cults

Week 3 (Sept 20)

Civic cults in a Greek city: Case of Artemis Ephesia at Ephesos


Week 4 (Sept 27)

Healing sanctuaries: Case of Asklepios (Asclepius) at Pergamon


  • Primary sources:
    • Aelius Aristides, Orations 48-49 (= Sacred Tales 2-3), from Charles A. Behr, trans., P. Aelius Aristides: The Complete Works, vol. 2 (Leiden: Brill, 1981), pp. 292-317 (coursepack)
  • Scholarly sources:
    • Rives, ch. 4

Week 5 (Oct 4)

Divination and oracular sanctuaries: Case of Apollo at Didyma


Week 6 (Oct 11)

Project: The methods and approaches of archeology


Week 7 (Oct 18)

Honouring the Roman emperors as gods: Imperial cults (provincial, civic, and local)


Week 8 (Oct 25)

Regional and indigenous practices:  Cults of Phrygia and Lydia


  • Primary sources:
    • “Expiation and the Cult of Men,” in G.H.R. Horsley, ed., New Documents illustrating Early Christianity, vol. 3 (Sydney: Macquarie University, 1983), pp. 20-31, especially the inscriptions (coursepack).
  • Scholarly sources:
    • Stephen Mitchell, “Pagans, Jews, and Christians from the First to Third Century,” in Anatolia: Land, Men, and Gods in Asia Minor, vol. 2 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1993), pp. 11-31 (sections “I. Pagan Worship” and “II. The Indigenous Cults ofAnatolia”).
    • Rives, ch. 5

Oct. 31-Nov. 2: “Co-curricular days” (Reading days) – no classes

Week 9 (Nov 8)

Elite perspectives 1: Dio of Prusa, a Stoic-Cynic philosopher and public speaker


  • Primary sources:
    • Dio Chrysostom, Oration 12, especially sections 27-85
  • Scholarly sources:
    • Luke Timothy Johnson, “Religion as Moral Transformation: Epictetus,” in Among the Gentiles (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2009), pp. 64-78. (coursepack)
    • Rives, pp. 21-42 (again)

Week 10 (Nov 15)

Elite perspectives 2: Lucian of Samosata, an Epicurean-influenced satirical writer


Week 11 (Nov 22)


Week 12 (Nov 29)

Elite perspectives 3: Artemidoros of Daldis, dream-interpreter


  • Primary sources:
    • “Examples of Divination by Dreams, from Artemidorus’s Oneirocritica,” in MacMullen and Lane, ed., Paganism and Christianity 100-425 CE: A Sourcebook (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1992), pp. 15-18 (coursepack).
    • John S. Hanson, “Dreams and Visions in the Graeco-Roman World and Early Christianity,” ANRW 23.2 (1980), pp. 1395-1427 (course pack).



Unit 3: Associations and the Mysteries

Week 1 (Jan 10)

Introduction to honours for the gods in associations (including “the mysteries”)

  • Primary sources:
    • Household associations: AGRW 121, 330
    • Ethnic / Immigrant associations: AGRW 128, 196, 226
    • Neighbourhood associations: AGRW 118, 172d
    • Occupational associations: AGRW  129, 137, 138, 146, 169, 186, 217
    • Initiate associations: AGRW 50, 60, 93, 188, 327
  • Scholarly sources:

Week 2 (Jan 17)

Initiates in the Mysteries of Demeter and Kore and the “Great gods” of Samothrace


  • Primary Sources:
  • Scholarly sources:
    • Bowden, chs. 1-2

Week 3 (Jan 24)

Associations devoted to the Mother of the gods, Kybele and other “Anatolian” deities


  • Primary sources:
  • Mother, Cybele, and Attis: AGRW 19-20 (Piraeus), 95 (Apameia Myrleia), 127 (Sardis), 142 (Thyatira),  216 (Pessinous), 327 (Rome)
  • Others: AGRW 22 (Men at Laurion), 121 (Agdistis at Philadelphia), 126 (Sabazios, Agdistis, and Ma at Sardis); AGRW L3 (Sabazios)
  • Scholarly sources:
    • Bowden, chs. 3-4

Week 4 (Jan 31)

Associations devoted to Dionysos, part 1 (Italy and Rome)


Week 5 (Feb 7)

Associations devoted to Dionysos, part 2 (Greece and Asia Minor)


  • Primary sources:
    • AGRW 7** (Athens), 65 (Perinthos), 115* (Pergamon), 116 (Pergamon), 148 (Hierapolis), 166 (Ephesos), 168 (Ephesos), 176** (Miletos), 178 (Miletos), 184 (Nysa), 189-193 (Smyrna), 195** (Smyrna), 202-203** (Magnesia)
    • AGRW L16 (Lucian on dancing)
    • AGRW B1, B2, B6 (buildings)
  • Scholarly sources:
    • Bowden, chs. 6-7


Week 6 (Feb 14)

Associations devoted to Isis, Sarapis, and other Egyptian deities


  • Primary sources:
    • Apuleius’ Metamorphoses, or the Golden Ass, book 11: link to pdf of reading
    • Isis and Sarapis: AGRW 4 (Athens), 52 (Thessalonica), 97 (Kios), 98 (Prusa), 100 (Prusa), 109 (Kyzikos), 169 (Ephesos), 205 (Tralles), 221** (Delos), 291 (Krokodilopolites), L40 (Nikomedia)
    • Anubis: AGRW 47 + figure 6 (Thessalonica), 185 (Smyrna), 294 (Narmouthis)
  • Scholarly sources:
    • Bowden, ch. 8

**Reading Week Feb. 18-22 – no classes**

Week 7 (Feb 28)

Associations devoted to Mithras


  • Scholarly and primary sources:
    • Bowden, chs. 9-11

Week 8 (March 7)

Honouring the gods within other associations: A study of some regulations


Week 9 (March 14)

Immigrant Associations: Phoenicians, Syrians and others


  • Primary sources:
    • Phoenicians / Syrians: AGRW  223* (Tyrians), 224* (+ B8), 225, 226, 227, 228 (Berytians), 229* (Syrians), 258, 317* (Tyrians)
    • Kitians from Cyprus: AGRW 10
    • Thracians: AGRW 18, 208
    • Asians: AGRW 64, 71, 77, 78
  • Scholarly sources:

Week 10 (March 21)

Immigrant Associations: Judeans and devotees of the Judean god in the diaspora


  • Primary sources:
    • Judeans: AGRW  46*, 59, 86*, 89, 105, 145*, 149, 150, 151, 152*, 174, 183, 194, 305–307*
    • Israelites: AGRW 222a*, 222b*
    • AGRW L9, L10, L33, L37
  • Scholarly sources:
    • John M. G. Barclay, “The Province of Asia,” from Jews in the Mediterranean Diaspora (T&T Clark, 1996), pp. 259-281 (coursepack)
    • Mitchell, “Pagans, Jews, and Christians…”, pp. 31-37 (coursepack)
    • Rives, chapter 7

Week 11 (March 28)


Week 12 (April 4)

Early Christians as cultural minorities in the Greco-Roman world

Film on early Christianity


Analysis of primary source (5 pages double-spaced)

Preparation: Carefully read and study Aelius Aristides’s Sacred Tales (Orations 48-49, in your coursepack).  Also carefully review your readings in Rives’s Religion in the Roman Empire (chapters 1-4) and your notes from class discussions for important background information.

Paper assignment: In some respects, Aristides is representative of common Greco-Roman perspectives on the gods and their involvements in human affairs.  Write a 5 page paper that draws on Aristides in order to illustrate Greco-Roman perspectives or worldviews regarding (1) how humans honour the gods and (2) how the gods’ intervene in the lives of humans.  You want to show that you are beginning to understand these perspectives from an historical point of view without judging them as good or bad, commendable or silly.  Be sure to provide concrete examples of the points you make regarding these worldviews, drawing on specific passages in Aristides’s writing (noting in parentheses the relevant sections).  As usual with any academic paper, you will want to have a clear argument which is succinctly expressed in your thesis statement and supported throughout the paragraphs.

Academic book review paper (6 pages double-spaced)

Step 1: To familiarize yourself with the genre of the academic book review, read at least 10 book reviews (reviewing single-author books, not edited ones) that interest you in The Classical Review (accessible through JSTOR on our library system) or in the Bryn Mawr Classical Review online at:

Step 2: With a focus on the arguments and main points, read the book (Bowden, Mystery Cults of the Ancient World).

Step 3: Write an academic book review of the book (in the form of an essay), which entails:

  • Explaining the main arguments of the book and how the author builds up these arguments with sub-arguments throughout the chapters.
  • Discussing the author’s methods or approach and the author’s use of evidence to support the author’s points.
  • Providing a critical assessment of the strengths and weaknesses of the book. Does the author achieve what he or she set out to do? Is the argument convincing or not, and in what ways? What theoretical assumptions and/or value judgments influence the author’s reconstruction of history? Be sure to provide concrete examples (citing page numbers in parentheses) of the problems or strengths you discuss.

The review paper should have a clear thesis statement or argument (concerning your evaluation of the book) which is supported throughout the paragraphs. The paper should be clearly written and structured with no spelling or grammatical errors. Be succinct and do not exceed the prescribed length.

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