Discussion Notes for Honouring the Gods in the Ancient Mediterranean (Remote version 2021-22)





  • Overview of course outline and get to know one another
  • Discussion:
    • What do people mean by “religion” today?
    • What problems are involved in defining ancient “religion”?
      • Difficulties in defining “religion” within Religious Studies itself
      • What do you associate with the concept of “religion”? What comes to your mind when the term is used? etc.
      • Some differences in emphasis between modern Western and ancient “religion”
        • Monotheism as standard (in the West) vs. polytheism as standard
        • Focus on belief vs. focus on practice
        • Individualistic vs. communal
      • Did the Greeks and Romans have a word for “religion”?
        • Latin pietas; Greek eusebeia – not equivalents for our term “religion”
        • The honour-system and the place of the gods within it (ancient concept of “honouring the gods” as the closest we’ll get to “religion”)
        • What was involved in honouring the gods? What mindsets / worldviews are reflected in the practices associated with honouring the gods? To be continued throughout the course.
    • How do we approach the study of religion and cultural life generally in an academic context? (e.g. what are the characteristics of the academic study of religion / Religious Studies)
    • What problems do scholars have in approaching social and cultural life in the ancient world?
      • Nature of the sources
      • Cultural divide and the problem of ethnocentrism



Honouring the Gods – The Case of Asia Minor

1. Discussion of our scholarly sources: Nongbri and Rives on “religion” in the Greco-Roman world

  • Nongbri: What ancient terms are often mistranslated with the English term “religion”?  What implications does this have for the categories we employ as scholars or historians?  What baggage comes along with the English word “religion”
  • Rives on “approaches to the divine” (discussion):
    • What is the “tripartite theology”?  What is the starting point of Rives’ sketch of the approaches? What are the characteristics or features of each approach? How does each approach relate to the others?
    • 1) Cult; 2) Myth; 3) Art (aded; 4) Philosophy (issue of morality and a way of life)


2. Why “honouring the gods”?

    • Social system of honours and benefactions (favours) as key in the Greco-Roman world (at least in the Eastern part of the empire) – Exchange as the key concept
    • Hierarchically defined system with gods at the top
    • Appropriate cultic honours or gifts for gods and goddesses:
      • Centrality of sacrifice: Offerings of animals, foods, drink.
        • Communal meals integral (presence of the god in some cases)
      • Prayers and accompanying votive offerings (vows)
      • Singing (sung prayer) and dancing
      • Festivals and celebrations
      • Performing: Re-enacting the stories of the gods
      • Specific rites and mysteries
    • Social Settings for Honouring the Gods
      • Official: Civic cults (e.g. theatres, gymnasia); Provincial cults; Cults at the centre (Rome)
      • Unofficial: Family/household; Workplace; Local shrines/temples; Guilds and associations
  • Characteristics of Greco-Roman ancestral customs and honours for the gods (and contrasts with modern understandings of “religion”)
    • 1. Polytheistic and non-exclusive (many gods, but also many Artemises, Zeuses, etc)
    • 2. Communally focussed (not individualistic)
    • 3. Embedded in everyday life (social, political, economic, religious)
    • 4. Overall common worldview and practice:
      • Key concepts: 1. honour / shame; 2. piety (eusebeia); 3. salvation (soteria — safety, security); 4. Cult – Honours for the gods, protection for humans
    • 5. Diversity from region to region and within each region — ethnic groups and ancestral traditions

3. Photographic tour of cultural life in Roman Asia Minor (if time)

Civic Cults – Case Study of Artemis of Ephesos

1. Artemis Ephesia’s city in the Roman province of Asia

  • Geographical bearings: Asia Minor and its regions
  • Ephesos: Historical highlights from 133 BCE on
    • Economic centre (sea and two main land routes)
    • Roman provincial centre under Augustus and building programs
    • Provincial imperial cult under Domitian
  • Overview of the layout of Ephesos in the imperial period (plans here and here)

2. Civic community and Artemis Ephesia

  • Civic cults in Roman Asia
  • Artemis: Typical or atypical?
    • Limited nature of our evidence even for Ephesos
  • (A) Relations between a polis (Ephesos) and its patron deity (Artemis)
    • Discussion of IEph 24 [“Holy days…” reading] and Acts 19 (background on silversmiths at Ephesos)reliations between
    • Attachment and diffusion of the cult of Artemis Ephesia (see pp. 6-7 of “Holy days”; e.g. Xenophon and Strabo)
  • (B) Images, attributes, and perceptions of Artemis Ephesia
    • Discussion of the statues and the Ephesian Artemis’ appearance (photos you saw on my blog; link to LiDonnici article)
  • (C) Artemis’ Temple, her functionaries, and her cult
    • Last three temples: 1) Earlier temple destroyed; 2) ca. 500s-356 BCE (built by Croesus, destroyed by fire, according to Plutarch); 3) 300s BCE-262 CE (destroyed by Goths)
      • Lack of archeological evidence: Literary descriptions of the last temple, especially Pliny the Elder, Natural History 36.21
      • Wonder of the world
    • Interconnected purposes of the temple: cult, asylum, and economics (bank; Dio Chrysostom)
    • Cultic leaders and functionaries in the temple
    • Civic festivals: 1) Artemisia (probably processions and sacrifices – discuss IEph 24 [“Holy days…”]; 2) Birth festival (cf. Tacitus on the myth and Xenophon of Ephesos on the procession)
      • Additional festivals and processions (e.g. Salutaris, from 104 CE)

3. Honouring other deities at Ephesos

Oracular Sanctuaries: Case Study of Apollo at Didyma

1. Divination and oracles in antiquity

  • Segue: In Aristides, how do the gods communicate?  What means and methods do they use?  What do humans need to do to get the answers?
  • What is divination?: Interpreting the messages of the gods
  • Forms of divination:
    • 1) Inductive divination: Interpreting events (omens) and nature (birds, movements of the human body, lots, examination of entrails, fire)
    • 2) Inspired divination: Dreams and oracles
  • Oracular sanctuaries of Apollo in the Roman period
    • Delos as the mythical birthplace of Apollo (sometimes)
    • Centrality of the Delphic oracle
      • Procedure and functionaries at Delphi: Pythia on a tripod, trance, priests and attendants, offerings of cakes and sacrificial victims
      • Oracles from Apollo at Delphi (cf. IMagnMai 215 = AGRW 202)

2. Oracular sanctuaries in Asia Minor

  • Discussion of Johnston’s article on divination: What are some of the main points you drew from this article?
  • Claros / Klaros (near Colophon – north of Ephesos)
    • Sanctuary and the sacred cave and spring
    • Procedures and functionaries in the sanctuary (see Johnston, 77-78)
      • Tacitus’ description of the procedure
    • Examples of oracles (only 25 survive):
      • Cities of Asia Minor consult on plagues during the 160s CE (from Parke); what to do about bandits
      • Aelius Aristides’ consultation
    • Myths or stories of the oracle’s origins and importance: Mopsus (see Johnston, 81-82)


  • Didyma, a.k.a. Branchidae (near Miletos [17 km] – south of Ephesos)
    • The sanctuary and its remains (Hellenistic and Roman era)
    • Procedures and functionaries in the sanctuary (Hellenistic and Roman eras)
      • History: Branchidae (hereditary family leadership until 494 BCE when Persians took over) and later control by Miletos after Alexander’s support from 330s BCE
      • Later era: Females oracular experts (manteis), prophet, magistrate, treasurers, female water-bearers, board of officials in charge of order, scribes (see Johnston 84-85
      • Iamblichus on the female expert’s method of consultation (see Johnston, 85)
    • Examples of oracles (70 survive; discussion of AGRW 179 and Fontenrose, nos. 20-25)
      • Topics of consultation; individual vs. group consultations; identity and social status of those who consult Apollo; implications for understanding attitudes towards the gods and the gods’ relations with humans, etc.
    • Myths about Didyma’s origins (Johnston, 82-84)
  • Some other oracles and oracular methods in Asia Minor
    • Incubation oracles (via dreams) – e.g. Asklepios sanctuary (Aelius Aristides) and Amphiaraos
    • Fire-oracles, water-oracles, dice-oracles (see Johnston, 98-100)
    • Later in the course: Oracle run by Alexander of Abonuteichos
  • Critiques of oracles and divination among some intellectuals
    • Epicurean philosophers on the gods and (lack of involvement in) human life
    • Oenomaus of Gadara (link to his text; see Johnston, 79-80) and Lucian of Samosata (later discussion of Alexander of Abonouteichos

Healing Sanctuaries: Case Study of Asklepios at Pergamon

1. Healing gods and sanctuaries in the Greco-Roman world – Pergamon

  • Gods and goddesses associated with healing (e.g. Hygieia, Amphiaraos – photo of a monument)
    • Asklepios (Asclepius – photo): Sanctuaries (e.g. Epidauros, Kos, Athens, Corinth) and stories
  • Pergamon and its healing sanctuary
  • Introduction to Pergamon
    • Plans and descriptions: city plan, acropolis plan
    • Centre of earlier Attalid empire (281-133 BCE)
    • Importance in early Roman province of Asia (133 BCE-)
    • Cults
      • Patron deity: Athena Nikephoros (temple)
      • “Great Altar” (perhaps dedicated to Zeus) now in Pergamon Museum in Berlin (photo)
      • Dionysos (meeting place of the cowherds) and Demeter (sanctuary), etc.


  • The Asklepieion, or sanctuary of Asklepios, at Pergamon
    • Buildings (description): Hellenistic era (built in fourth century BCE, official status in the late third); Roman era buildings: Acropolis and lower city; Asklepieion (google maps); Asklepieion plan
      • Sanctuary: temple of Asklepios, treatment centre/incubation, tunnel to sacred spring, theatre, gymnasium, latrines, altar, etc
      • Building dedications to Asklepios (inscriptions [MacMullen])
    • Organization, functionaries, and interactions among participants (priest, temple-wardens, others)
    • Healing and healing procedures in the sanctuary
      • Incubation (cf. photo votive relief of incubation from Piraeus showing Asklepios and Hygieia, ca. 400 BCE)
      • Sacred law guidelines for incubants (MacMullen, p. 30)
      • Dreams and healing instructions from Asklepios and from others in the sanctuary (MacMullen, p. 30)
      • Votives and inscriptions in thanks for healings (MacMullen, p. 31)
        • Photos of votive offerings depicting healed body parts from Corinth

2. Discussion of Aelius Aristides

  • What does Aristides’ Sacred Tales reveal concerning the interaction between humans and the gods?
  • How did gods communicate with humans?
  • How did the ancients understanding the intervention of the gods in human affairs?
  • What benefits did the gods provide?  How are we to understand “salvation,” “saviour”, etc.?
  • What procedures of healing were there in the case of Asklepios?  What treatments were used?
  • What were humans supposed to do in return?
  • What practices did humans engage in in order to honour the gods?

Imperial Cults: Honouring the Emperors as Gods

1. Imperial cults or honours for the emperors as gods in Asia Minor

  • Scholarly debates and problems
  • Problematic, traditional views: The decline theory and ruler cult
  • Integrated or fundamentally different?
    • Merely political?
    • Top-down or grassroots?
    • Emperors truly viewed as gods?: Question of ontology (true nature; Price’s position: emperors between humans and divine).  See Rives, pages 152-153.

Four main layers of imperial cults:

1) The city of Rome and its official rituals for dead emperors: divinizing deceased emperors (sometimes)

  • Somewhat contrasting customs in East and West
  • Consecration and divinization of the emperor after his death by the senate (or damnatio if an unpopular emperor)

2) Provincial cults in the province of Asia (Friesen’s studies)

  • Organization of provincial imperial cults: Assembly of the province of Asia, high-priest of Asia, local priests or high-priests
  • Provincial imperial cults and temples under the Julio-Claudians and Flavians: Pergamon (Augustus and Roma; 29 BCE; Dio Cassius‘ account), Smyrna (26 CE; Tacitus‘ account of the competition), Miletos (37-41 CE), Ephesos (89 CE)
  • The contest for honouring the emperors and the calendar of Roman Asia in 10/9 BCE – discussion of SEG IV 490 = EJ 98 (link)
  • The hymnsingers (hymnodoi) and their role in official celebrations in honour of the emperors, ca. 44 CE (IEph 3801 = AGRW 160)

3) Civic (or municipal) cults

  • The Case of the Sebasteion at Aphrodisias (time of Tiberius):
    • Dedication to the emperors as Olympian gods.  Two, three-storey porticoes with a temple between; 90-100 reliefs per side;  north side (conquest and imperial rule); south side (emperors in a Greek cultural framework)
    • Photos of the imperial reliefs available online at: Harvard University Library, Visual Information Access (photos by Koester) and here: Sebastaieon inscriptions (from IAph)

4) Local cults, including associations (discussion of Harland’s article)

  • Emperors and the household
  • Demetriasts at Ephesos and their mysteries and sacrifices, ca. 88 CE (IEph 213 = AGRW 163)
  • Hymnsingers at Pergamon and their mysteries and celebrations in honour of the emperors, ca. 129-138 CE (IPergamon 374 = AGRW 117)


Regional and Indigenous Practices: The Gods and Everyday Justice in Lydia and Phrygia

1. Indigenous cults in Asia Minor / Anatolia

  • What do we mean by Indigenous?
    • e.g. Lydian, Phrygian, Pisidian, Galatian
    • Gods and their cults within villages and the countryside


  • Discussion of Mitchell’s argument concerning rural and indigenous cults in Asia Minor
    • Distinctive elements and common denominators
  • Cults of 1) the Mother of the gods, 2) Zeus, 3) Men, 4) Holy / Just, and others
    • Discussion of the evidence presented in Mitchell’s chapter
    • A Cult and association of the god Men in Attica (Horsley inscription)


2. Justice from the gods in Lydia and Phrygia

  • The confession / propitiation inscriptions (Beichtinschriften) of Lydia and Phrygia
    • The nature and structure of the inscriptions
      • 140+ inscriptions found (Petzl’s collection), esp. Katakekaumene region N-E of Sardis
      • Content / structure (Rostad’s work):
        • Dedication
        • Narrative concerning transgression
          • What types of “sins”?
        • Divine intervention / punishment
          • What gods are involved (prominence of Men and Anaitis with Persian connections, but also Apollo Lairbenos and Zeus)? What forms of punishment and justice?
        • Propitiation / appeasement of the angry god


    • Translated inscriptions for discussion (link)
    • The practices and worldviews behind the monumentss / inscriptions
      • What do these inscriptions reveal about the worldview of the participants? What practices were entailed? What do these tell us about how the gods were seen to be active in everyday life and in ensuring justice? How were the gods integrated within daily life? etc.


Elite perspectives 1: Epictetus and Dio of Prusa, Stoic Philosophers

1. Introduction to elite perspectives

  • Problems in using only literary evidence to study honours for the gods (hence our attention to epigraphic and archeological evidence) but importance of not ignoring elite perspectives altogether
    • Reading between the lines of elite writings to get at social life
    • Reading elite writings for elite perspectives


  • Range and diversity of opinions among the elite intellectuals despite common ideas
    • E.g. of Aelius Aristides vs. more skeptical thinkers
    • Orators, doctors, philosophers


  • The philosophical life
    • Different schools of philosophy by the Roman era and blending among them: Platonic, Epicurean, Stoic, Cynic
    • Three areas of philosophy: logic, physics, ethics
    • Common notion of a way of life and ethics as central
    • Importance of some notion of god (though not a traditional Homeric one) in most cases (see Rives, pp. 37-42)
    • Non-traditional views of regular people’s approach to the gods: Some reject average approaches (e.g. Xenophanes) while others view them as useful or harmless in some ways
  • Stoic philosophy in the Roman era
    • Logos (Reason as a divine principle) as the organizing principle of the universe
    • Philosphical life as living in accordance with the Logos


3. Epictetus the Stoic philosopher (discussion of “Religion as Moral Transformation: Epictetus”)

  • Epictetus’ background
    • Ex-slave from Phyrgia
    • Student of Musonius Rufus (like Dio) and a teacher himself
    • Exiled with other philosophers by Domitian
    • Works: Encheiridion (“Handbook”) and Discourses


  • Epictetus on the gods and piety
    • Reason (Logos) as the divine principle at the centre of the cosmos which interpenetrates everything in nature
    • Living and behaving in line with reason (i.e. the moral life) – humans are like or equal to god

4. Dio of Prusa (Dio Chrysostom) the Stoic-Cynic philosopher

  • Dio’s background
    • Elite family in Prusa (I-II CE) and early education in literature and rhetoric
    • Probably studied with the Stoic-Cynic philosopher Musonius Rufus
    • Friend of the Flavian emperors, especially Titus, but exiled by Domitian (in the 90s CE)
    • Philosopher and rhetorician/orator who travelled around Asia Minor
      • Main source: Orations (speeches)
      • “Golden-mouthed” (Chrysostom)
      • Examples of his speeches (orations) to cities in Asia Minor: Oration 38 to the Nicomedians regarding concord with the Nicaeans


  • Dio on the gods and piety
    • “The Olympic Oration: On the first knowledge of god” (Oration 12; ca. 105 CE)
      • Setting of the speach at Olympia before the temple of Zeus (and Pheidias’ statue of Zeus)
      • The tripartate theology, or three-fold way of talking about the gods
        • Varro (ca. 116-27 BCE, as preserved in Augustine of Hippo’s discussions) as our most explicit description of the three ways of talking about or approaching the gods: 1) Philosophical approach of the philosophers; 2) mythological approach of poets; 3) civic approach of lawgivers and authorities (see Rives, p. 22)
          • Dio’s revision of the tripartate idea
            • 1) philosophers – natural (innate) and true access to god through reason (throughout)
            • 2) poets –  access to god through myths (see 39-40)
            • 3) lawgivers / civic authorities – access to god through rites and prescribed customs (see 39-40)
            • 4) artists – access to god through sculpture or art (44 and following)
            • What is Dio’s ranking of these in terms of how accurate or truthful each approach is?
            • What is the relation between 1 and 4?
              • Rhetoric (demonstrative / forensic) and structure:
                • Introduction / establishing relationship and importance of subject
                  • Dio as the owl (1-14); Dio’s journey among the Getae (17-20)
                  • The image of Olympian Zeus as pretext for the discussion (20-26)
                • The nature of the gods and what approaches are best (27-85)
                    • Natural, innate source of knowledge of god – reason and god infused in nature (27-39)
                    • Acquired knowledge of god through myths (poets) and customs (lawgivers / civic) (39-43)
                    • Artistic sources (44-46)
                    • Philosophical approaches (47 – linked with natural)
                    • Pheidias’ defence of his art (48-85) – superiority of art over myth despite art’s shortcomings


Elite Perspectives 2: Lucian of Samosata on Alexander of Abonuteichos (Epicureans vs. Pythagoreans)

1. Lucian of Samosata (ca. 125-185 CE) and his intellectual context

  • Lucian’s life and works (rhetorician / philosopher, 82 works survive, satirical writer)
  • Lucian’s Epicurean sympathies (esp. 5, 8, 17, 25, 43, 47, 61)
    • Epicureans on the gods
      • Views attributed to Epicurus (ca. 341-270 BCE): Gods exist but have no concern for what happens in this world
      • Epicurean critique of traditional customs especially divination
    • Celsus the Epicurean addressee of the biography
      • Celsus’ attack on magicians (21)
    • Philosophers at Amastris as Lucian’s allies against Alexander (25) – civic rivalry involved
    • Pythagoreans as magicians and quacks from the Epicurean perspective
    • Lucian on the value of Epicurean books/teachings (cf. 47, 61; but do see Philosophies for Sale 19, where an Epicurean sells for less than a Stoic or a Pythagorean but more than a Cynic)


  • Alexander’s Pythagorean connections (see sections 4, 5)
    • Pythagoras of Samos (ca. 570-490 BCE): Little known of his own teachings but many looked back to him as the origins of many philosophical ideas (including those of Plato and Aristotle)
    • Pythagoreanism as a diverse movement: Transmigration of souls as a common tenet; ascetic practices such as vegetarianism (vs. sacrifice)
    • Alexander as a student of a physician in Tyana (Cilicia) who was a student of Apollonios of Tyana, the Pythagorean philosopher in the first century CE (5)
      • Philostratos’ defence of Apollonios against common accusations in the Life of Apollonios
        • Apollonios modeling himself after Pythagoras with regard to honouring the gods and living life properly
        • Apollonios’ rejection of some traditional rituals: refraining from eating flesh of animals or offering blood sacrifices – true worship is interior spiritual worship (prayer)
      • Lucian’s claims that Alexander modeled himself after Pythagoras or held Pythagorean teachings (e.g. 4, 34, 40).
    • Alexander’s anti-Epicureanism: “Away atheists!” and burning of Epicurean books (25, 47)

2. Lucian’s satirical biography of Alexander the “False-prophet”

  • The progression of the story:
    • Biographical intro, Alexander’s character and upbringing (1-5)
    • Founding a cult for a snake god at Abonoteichos (6-18)
      • Popularity and dissemination into Bithynia, Galatia and Thrace
    • Procedures and techniques at the oracle (19-29)
      • Opposition to the cult by followers of Epicurus at Amastris (25)
      • Authophones (talking snake) (26)
      • Diplomatic relations with other well-known oracles at Claros, Didyma and Mallos (29)
    • Dissemination as far as Italy and the connection with Rutilianus (30-37)
    • Mysteries (38-40)
    • Fraudulent activities and exposure by critics (41-61)
      • Introduction of nocturnal oracles (49)
      • Lucian’s personal attacks and Alexander’s retaliation (53-61)


  • Assessing Lucian’s attack on Alexander

3. The Glykon cult and its mysteries

  • Archeological and numismatic evidence for the Glykon cult (discussion of C.P. Jones)
    • Statues of Glykon and their distribution (photos of statues here and here)
    • Coins depicting Glykon (photos of coins here and here)
  •  Activities within the cult
    • Oracles
    • Mysteries

Elite perspectives 3: Artemidoros of Daldis, “Scientific” dream-interpreter

1. Artemidoros and his background

  • Born in Daldis but lived most of his life in Ephesos
  • Purpose of Dream Interpretations and controversies (see preface to book 1; conclusion of book 3, p. 176): Combating sceptics (perhaps Epicureans) regarding the validity of divination (Artemidorus’ Stoic tendencies)
  • Sources: Uses many other works on interpreting dreams
  • Method and theory of dreams (see Price’s article on “The Future of Dreams”)
    • Categorizing dreams (see 1.1; 4.2):
      • 1) enhypnia – no predictive value and merely reflect the present state of things in the dreamer’s everyday life and his or her anxieties
        • A true intellectual or philosophical person will not have these dreams because they will be in control of his desires (Stoic philosophical influence)
      • 2) oneiroi – predictive dreams
        • The Gods as senders of oneiroi dreams
          • Argues against some sceptics who question the existence of predictive dreams
          • Most predictive dreams: “For the god presents to the dreamer’s soul, which is by its very nature prophetic, dreams which correspond to future events” (4.2)
          • This type includes oracular dreams (like those in Aelius Aristides) but Artemidorus’ considers oracular dreams impenetrable and sets them aside
        • The direct (theorematikoi) and illusive (allegorikoi) prediction of the future (see 1.2)
  • Knowledge base for interpretation: (1) local customs of the dreamers (hence need for the interpreter to travel; see 1.8); (2) the dreamer’s social-economic status, health and age, as well as state of mind; (3) the habits of the dreamer (see 4.59, p. 209)
  • Dream interpretation as a form of divination and a “science” (along with other forms of divination such as interpreting the flight of birds and other observations in nature; cf. Galen in Price p. 23)
    • Artemidorus as an “Empiricist” (not a Rationalist or Methodist) in debates among physicians / “scientists” (connection with skeptical, Platonic school):
      • 1) tradition (i.e. transmitted experience): transmission of findings of earlier writers tested by experience
      • 2) analogy and similarity: treatment of one part of the body may be taken as an analogy for the treatment of a similar part of the body (based on experience)
      • 3) experience (empeiria): observations and development of knowledge based on experience (see conclusion to book 2, p. 137) – contrast the emphasis on “reason” and theory among “Rationalists”


    • Overview of the work and technique of dream interpretation
      • books 1-2 – dreams by subject: Body parts (1.1-49); work, crafts and occupations (1.51-62); food (1.65-73); sex (1.78-82, including sex with gods); clothing (2.3-6); animals (2.12-22); gods (2.33-40 [discussed below]); death and suicide (2.49-57); flying (2.68); etc.
      • book 3 – a supplement of omitted material (e.g. 3.13-14 on gods)
      • book 4 – another supplement dedicated to his son (e.g. 4.22 on gods and healing)
      • book 5 – 95 dreams that came true (e.g. 5.5; 5.61-63; 5.82)

2. Dreaming about the gods

  • The gods in people’s dreams and Artemidoros’ interpretations (discussion of readings 2.33-40, 68 (class read 2.33-34, 68)
    • Gods as representing ages: boy indicates Hermes, young man Herakles, grown man Zeus, old man Kronos, etc.
    • What do these materials reveal regarding the gods in peoples’ lives?  What do they reveal about how Artemidoros views the gods?
  • Dreams in Hanson’s article (discussion):  What is the function of the gods in these dreams?  What beliefs did people have with regard to nature and meaning of dreams?  What were the literary structures associated with reporting dreams?



Introducing Honours for Gods within Associations

1. What are associations?

  • Sources for the study of associations and honours for the gods within them (also intro on how to use the Sourcebook)
    • Epigraphical evidence (part 1 of sourcebook): Honorary inscriptions (e.g. IEph 3801), dedications to the gods (IEph 1503), epitaphs (IMiletMcCabe 457), diplomatic letters (IEph 213; ISmyrna 600), laws or regulations concerning internal activities or meeting-places (e.g. IPergamon 374; ISmyrna 728; Iobacchoi at Athens), oracles (e.g. IMagnMai 215; IMilet 935)
    • Archeological evidence (part 2 of sourcebook) for meeting-places (e.g. Dancing cowherds at Pergamon; Berytians’ meeting-place on Delos; Iobacchoi at Athens)
    • Literary evidence (part 3 of sourcebook) and the problem of elite bias: Negative picture of associations


  • Defining associations
    • Small, informal groups (usually 15-50 members) that meet on a regular basis for intertwined social, religious and funerary purposes (often to some degree voluntary)
      • Common ancient Greek and Latin terms: thiasos, koinon, synodos, synedrion, synergasia, collegia
    • Brief history of the study of associations
    • Older scholarly typologies based on purposes: Cultic, occupational and burial associations (e.g. Waltzing)
      • Honouring the gods (cults) as an important aspect of virtually all groups


    • Importance of social networks in the formation and growth of social and religious groups (sociological insights)
    • Types and social makeup of associations:
      • 1) Household connections (e.g. Agrippinilla; Dionysios’s group at Philadelphia)
        • E.g. AGRW 121, 330
      • 2) Ethnic / immigrant connections (e.g. Syrians / Phoenicians; Judeans)
        • E.g. AGRW 128, 196, 226
      • 3) Neighbourhood connections (e.g. pp. 36-38 of my book Associations)
        • E.g. AGRW 118, 172d
      • 4) Occupational connections (e.g. ISmyrna 721; pp. 39-40)
        • E.g. AGRW 129, 137, 138, 146, 169, 186, 217
      • 5) Sanctuary / initiation connections (e.g. ISmyrna 728 [initiates]; Aelius Aristides’ references to therapeutists at the Pergamon Asklepios sanctuary)
        • E.g. AGRW 50, 60, 93, 188, 327


  • Decline theory again: Associations misunderstood
  • Why study associations: Window into social and religious history

2. Intertwined purposes and functions of associations

  • Visualizing association-life: Monuments from Panormos (synagogue of Zeus) and Triglia (worshippers of Cybele and Apollo)
  • Challenging scholarly traditions (e.g. M.P. Nilsson, Ramsay MacMullen – p. 60): Those mere clubs (emphasizing the “social” and downplaying “religion”)
  • Cultic (“religious”) and social activities within associaitons
    • Reminder: Sacrifice and the communal meal as central to honouring the gods
    • Dedication of statues and altars for the gods (e.g. ISmyrna 721)
    • Offerings and sacrifices (e.g. IEph 213; IMagnMai 117)
    • Festivals and banquets (e.g. ISmyrna 653; IPergamon 374)


    • Case study of the foundation document of the association devoted to Zeus and Agdistis at Philadelphia in Asia Minor


  • Funerary activities – Relative importance of funerary functions from one group to the next: Iobacchoi vs. worshippers of Diana and Antinous
    • 1. Burial of members (e.g. AGRW 7, 310)
    • 2. Collective burial (e.g. 201)
    • 3. Fines for violation of the grave (e.g. 111-112)
    • 4. Funerary foundations and care of the grave (e.g. 152, 155, 158)


3. Introduction to the mysteries (discussion of Bowden intro)

  • Defining the “mysteries”
    • Importance of the earliest known cases: Demeter at Eleusis and the Great Gods at Samothrace
  • Mysteries in various settings, official and unofficial
  • Associations of initiates in the mysteries

Associations and Mysteries of Dionysos (2 weeks)

1. Overview of the myth and cult of Dionysos

  • Characteristics of the god Dionysos
    • Sometimes portrayed as coming from Phrygia or Lydia or Thrace
    • Alternate portrayals:
      • Baby or child (with Silenos): Louvre link, Munich link, Naples link
      • “Effeminate” youth with curls: e.g. Louvre link, Miletos link, Naples relief link, Pompeii paining link
      • Bearded older man: e.g. British Museum link, Boeotia / Prague (IV BCE) link
      • Bull symbolism
      • Different Dionysoses with different epithets (e.g. Bromios/Thunderer, Breseus, Liknites/of the Basket, etc); also known as Bacchus and identified with Roman Liber
    • Attendants: satyrs and silenoi (Naples link), maenads (see my photos), cowherds
    • God of the vine, grape and wine; wild power and ecstasy / enthusiasm (posession by the god)
    • God of the theatre (e.g. the Dionysiac performers)
    • Symbols of Dionysos: e.g. vines, wine, ivy, wand (thyrsos) / reed, phallus, bull


  • Prominent stories
    • Stories of Dionysos’ birth and those who raised him (Silenos, nurses, etc.)
      • Dionysos as son of Zeus and Semele (daughter of Cadmos, the mythical founder of Thebes) with Semele killed by the glory of Zeus (thanks to Hera’s jealousy): e.g. Nonnos’ Dionysiaca books 7-9 (link)
      • Alternative stories: Dionysos Zagreus – birth and dismemberment by the Titans (Rhapsodies)
        • Orphic form of mysteries for Dionysos (Orpheus as a legendary hymn-singer)
        • Problem of reconstructing the myths from evidence: Nonnos’ Dionysiaca, book 6.155-224 (link; fifth century CE); Olympiodorus (sixth century CE; see Edmonds article link)
      • Connection between myths and practices: e.g. of functionaries called “nurses”, Silenoi, satyrs, maenads, papas
  • Dionysos and the “mad women” (maenads) at Thebes: Euripides’ Bacchae

2. Rituals and the Associations devoted to Dionysos in Greece and Asia Minor: Epigraphic and Archeological Evidence

  • Primary sources: AGRW 7 (Athens), 115 (Pergamon), 176 (Miletos), 178 (Miletos), 189-193 (Smyrna), 195 (Smyrna), 202-203 (Magnesia); AGRW L16 (Lucian on dancing); AGRW B1, B2, B6 (buildings)
  • The nature of the Dionysiac mysteries and other rituals:
    • No geographical limitations to the mysteries of Dionysos; popularity in the late Hellenistic and Roman periods
    • Centrality of music and dancing: Maenad in the Capitoline museum link; Maenad and satyrs in the British museum link; discussion of Lucian’s comments AGRW L16
    • Stories (AGRW 195 from Smyrna) and enactment of local myths – god of the theatre (e.g. of the roles and titles in groups; AGRW 7, 115, 203, 330)
    • Revelation of sacred objects (phallus?): Villa of the Mysteries link; Farnesia stucco link
  • Groups of female maenads
    • Euripides’ Bacchae as one version of maenadic activities
    • Foundation story from Magnesia (AGRW 202) and maenads at Miletos go to the mountain (AGRW 176)
  • Groups of male devotees
    • Dancing cowherds at Pergamon and their meeting place: AGRW 115-116 + B6 (link)
    • Initiates of Dionysos Breseus at Smyrna (AGRW 189-193)
    • The Iobacchoi at Athens: AGRW 7 + B2 (link to column and building plan)
  • Mixed male and female groups (cf. Livy)

3.  Dionysiac mysteries and associations in Italy: The case of the Bacchanalia and its aftermath

  • Livy’s context in the Augustan age
  • Difficulties in getting back to 186 BCE
  • Discussion of Livy’s portrayal of the incident: How does Livy portray these devotees of Dionysos / Bacchus?  Can we trust Livy’s account and why or why not?
  • Assessing the historicity of the account: Discussion of the bronze inscription
  • Roman policies on Dionysiac and other associations? (discussion of AGRW L22-54)
  • Survival of Dionysos’ mysteries in Italy: Pompeii’s Villa of the Mysteries (link); inscriptional evidence (AGRW 328, 330)

4.  Orpheus, Dionysos, and instructions for the dead

  • Dionysos and the dead – Dying well or an afterlife?:  Cole’s study of the inscriptions
  • Important characters: Dionysos? (references to bacchants in one case, and initiates in others); Hades; Persephone; Other gods of the underworld; Orpheus the legendary singer who had returned from Hades?
  • Orphic movement? Individual Orphic initiators?
  • The Gold tablets with instructions written in verse (southern Italy, Thessaly, Crete – see texts in Bowden, pp. 148-152)
    • The geography of Hades realm in the gold tablets: Turn right, not left!
    • 1) Hipponion in southern Italy (ca. 400 BCE): initiates and bacchants; forgetfulness and memory; password
    • 2) Crete (200s BCE)
    • 3) Thurii in southern Italy (300s BCE): addressing the gods; addressing the dead soul; god vs. mortal; kid into milk


Associations and Mysteries of Mithras

1. The god Mithras and the origins of Mithraism

  • Indus valley civilization (from 1500 BCE): Mitra in the Vedas (god of contracts and friendship; linked with Varuna, god of heaven)
  • Iranian / Persian / Zoroastrian: Mithra in the Avesta (linked with Ahura Mazda as warrior and champion of truth in the fight against Angra Mainyu)
    • Persian empire (6th century BCE on) and the dissemination of Persian ideas
    • No evidence of mysteries
  • Roman period: Mithras as an imported Persian deity (ca. 80-120 CE)
    • Emergence of mysteries for Mithras among soldiers in the decades around 100 CE
      • Remains primarily a military and male practice
    • Supposed “Persian” features according to the participants (e.g. the grade of Persian, depiction of Mithras with Persian cap and outfit)

2. The Archeological evidence for Mithras mysteries and associations

  • Mithraeum (Mithras cave-sanctuary) and its common features
    • Attested where soldiers were, including the edges of the Roman empire (e.g. Germany and England)
    • Common structural and iconographic structures
    • Cave as universe and the centrality of astrological symbolism
      • Seven planets (Mercury, Venus, Sun, Moon, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn) and signs of zodiac / constellations
  • Tauroctony (bull-slaying scene) = the sky in July-August
    • Key features: Mithras with knife, bull with a wheat tail, snake and dog lapping blood, scorpion stinging testicles, Cautes (rising torch) and Cautopates (lowered torch), Sun and Moon personified, sometimes other astrological symbols or mythological scenes (signs of zodiac, narrative scenes depicting Mithras’ stories)
      • Mithras = Sun
      • Region of night sky from Taurus to Scorpio (Taurus = bull, Gemini = Cautes and Cautopates, Cancer, Leo = lion, Virgo, Libra, Scorpio = scorpion)’
      • Other constellations (Crater = cup, Corvus = raven, Hydra = snake, Canis Major and Canis Minor = dog)
    • Heddernheim relief with surrounding scenes (figure 126 on p. 186): link to photo, photo of meal with Helios, and to detailed description
    • Neuenheim relief with Mithras’ story (figure 128 on p. 188): link to photo
      • Possibly common stories of Mithras: birth from a rock, subduing the bull, meal with Helios after slaying the bull
    • Capua frescoes (colour plates XII-XXIV): link to photo

3. Initiation and the seven grades

  • Seven grades =  seven planets of the cosmos:
    • The Felicissimus mosaic at Ostia (figure 139 on p. 191, link to overall view; link to Felicissimus inscription):
      • Raven (Mercury), Bridegroom (Venus), Soldier (Mars), Lion (Jupiter, link), Persian (Moon, link), Sun-runner (Sun, link), Father (Saturn, link)
    • The initiation ceremonies for various stages:
      • Literary references: Tertullian and Porphyry (see p. 192)

Associations and Mysteries of Egyptian Gods

1. Introduction to Egyptian deities

  • Isis and Osiris as Egyptian deities
    • Importance of “foreign” gods in the development of mysteries (e.g. Dionysos as “Phrygian/ Lydian”, Great Mother as Phrygian, Mithras as Persian, etc.) – contrast Eleusinian mysteries
    • Egyptomania in the Greek world and the fascination with Egypt
  • Egyptian deities imported to the Greek and Roman world: Isis, Osiris, Sarapis (Osiris + Apis), Anubis
    • Isis: Sister and wife of Osiris (Horus is her son)
      • Portrayals in art: Egyptian knot in dress at centre of chest, Egyptian head-dress (disc, 2 feathers and two ears of grain). Sistrum (percussive instrument) in the Hellenistic portrayals
      • Iconography: from Egyptian (Isis and Horus in 13 century BCE statue, fig. 105 / link ) to Greco-Roman (Isis in Capitoline museum, fig. 114 / link)
      • Isis aretalogy from Kyme: Identifying Isis with Hellenistic deities (p. 156)
    • Osiris (statue in Walters Art Museum link): Vegetation god and king of underworld
    • Sarapis (fig. 110 / bust in Capitoline museum, coping a Greek original from ca. 300 BCE link): Combination of Osiris and the Apis bull; e.g. at Delos; Sarapis’ connection with banquets and banquet associations (e.g. Aristides’ description)
      • Portrayals in art: Bearded with long curly hair
    • Anubis (old Egyptian statue link) : Dog-headed god


  • Plutarch’s stories of Isis, Osiris and Horus (in Isis and Osiris):
    • Typhon (Seth) and his plot against King Osiris: The chest ( = casket) Isis’ search for Osiris and time at Byblos; Isis’ mourning; Horus’ guarding of the chest and Osiris; Typhon’s dismemberment of Osiris; Isis search for the pieces Penis in the nile; Horus’ revenge against Typhon
    • Connections between the stories and initations?

2. Cults and mysteries for Egyptian deities in the Greco-Roman world

  • Isis and Sarapis in the Greco-Roman world (from the fourth century BCE)
    • Role of the Ptolemies in the dissemination of Egyptian gods and cults
      • Egyptian character: Egyptian temples and care of the statue: Daily ceremonies awaking, dressing, and feeding the statue; Nightly closing of temple and undressing of the statue
      • Later connection of Mark Antony with Cleopatra and influence on Roman reception
  • Egyptian cults in Greek cities of Greece and Asia Minor:
    • Isis in the Piraeus (near Athens) in the 300s BCE: AGRW 10 (cf. AGRW 4 – dedication at Athens from 2nd century BCE)
    • Sarapis at Delos (ca. 200 BCE): AGRW 221 (discussion) and the Sarapis sanctuaries
    • Anubis at Smyrna (ca. 200s BCE): AGRW 185
    • Sarapis and Anubis in Macedonia (100s CE): AGRW 47 and 52 (Thessalonica)
    • Dedications: AGRW 109 (Kyzikos), 169 (Ephesos)
    • Initiates (mystai, Isiakoi) of Isis: AGRW 100 (Prusa), 205 (Tralles) – correcting Bowden
      • A Grave inscription from Prusa on the Isiakoi: AGRW 98
  • Festivals for Isis:
    • Fall (Oct/Nov): Celebration of Isis’ finding Osiris
    • Spring (March): Navigation festival (see Apuleius’ description of the procession, pp. 179ff)
      • Processions and carriers of sacred objects (hierophoroi, pastophoroi, etc): see fig. 115.
      • AGRW 97 (from Kios)
  • Isis temples in Italy:
    • Temple (fig. 111 / link) and statue of Isis (link) from Pompeii (from ca. 80s BCE)
    • Fresco from Herculaneum depicting a ceremony in front of a temple (link)
    • Lucius at Rome
  • Initiations into the mysteries of Isis and Osiris: Apuleius’ story of the initiation of Lucius (book 11 – Discussion)
    • What is similar and different from the other mysteries?
    • “Egyptian” character (Greek ideas of what is Egyptian); serving the goddess in an ongoing way; levels of initiation and participation
    • Analyzing Apuleius’ story (book 11)
      • Is this a realistic portrayal of initiation? What is the nature of initiation into the mysteries of Isis and of Osiris? What is involved? What is different from other mysteries we have studied?
      • Relationship with the deities
      • Three stages of initiation
      • Benefits of the mysteries in Lucian’s story
        • Contrast AGRW 98 regarding possible afterlife benefit

Immigrant / Ethnic Associations: Phoenicians, Syrians and others

1. Introduction to Ethnic Associations and Tools to Study Them

  • Social scientific approaches to identity and ethnic identity:
    • Shifting and changing (not static or primordial); Self-definition based on common sense of geographical, cultural and ancestral origins
    • 1) Internal self-definition and 2) external categorizations (including stereotypes)
  • Social scientific approaches to assimilation and dissimilation – the place of ethnic associations within society and the relation between groups (Milton Yinger, John Berry and others)
    • Cultural assimilation, or acculturation (in relation to language, values, and cultural conventions)
    • Structural assimilation (in relation to political, social, or economic structures of the host society) – formal and informal levels
    • Dissimilation and cultural maintenance – reassertion and strengthening of group differences


  • Various outcomes of processes of assimilation and dissimilation: 1) assimilation; 2) marginality; 3) integration and biculturalism

2. Immigrant and ethnic associations in the Greco-Roman world

3. Syrian and Phoenician immigrant groups

  • Contacts with the cultural life of the homeland, especially honouring the ancestral gods; differing degrees of contacts and interactions within the local host society
  • Case studies of Syrian associations
    • Attica and the Piraeus (III BCE): Association of Sidonians and the god Baal of Sidon (Eshmun)
    • Islands of the Aegean
      • Syme (I BCE): An Idumean and an association of Syrians
      • Delos (II-I BCE)
        • Syrians and Atargatis, the Pure goddess, from Hierapolis in Syria
        • Tyrians and Herakles (= Melqart)
        • Berytians, the ancestral gods (Poseidon; Astarte; Melqart) and Roma: Inscriptions and the meeting-place
        • Israelites (Samaritans)
    • Evidence from the Roman period (from Nisyros and Puteoli)

Immigrant / Ethnic Associations in the Diaspora: Devotees of the Judean God

1. Introduction to the Judean diaspora and Judean groups in Asia Minor

  • Sources for the study of Judean immigrants in the Greco-Roman world
    • Judeans in Asia Minor: Josephus and archeology/inscriptions
  • Question of how Judean associations related to surrounding society and culture: Regional and chronological variations (problems in generalizing)
    • What do Barclay and Mitchell argue overall with respect to the relation of Judeans to surrounding cultures and peoples?
    • Signs of cultural maintenance, dissimilation (tensions), and assimilation (integration) in Asia Minor

2. Cultural maintenance and dissimilation

  • The decrees in Josephus (first century BCE)
    • John Barclay’s overview of the evidence and its significance
    • Problems in the sources
    • Late third century BCE settlement of Judeans in Asia Minor
    • Economic context of I BCE in Asia Minor
    • Maintaining connections with the culture of the homeland: Temple tax and its significance; “ancestral customs”; Honouring the Judean God; Sabbath observance (and impact on military service – 14.225-227); communal life
      • Some illustrative documents: 1) Pergamon (Ant. 14.247-255); 2) Parion (14.213-216); 3) Sardis (14.235 and 259-61); 4) Halikarnassos (14.256-258)


    • Assessing the decrees with respect to dissimilation and assimilation
      • Incidents of tension in the I BCE; Judean non-participation in local cults and honours for the gods
      • Josephus’ decrees as evidence that Judeans were participants within the structures of society (structural assimilation) – see Barclay p. 277

3. Assimilation and acculturation

  • Josephus decrees again: evidence of assimilation despite areas of tension and dissimilation
  • Inscriptional and archeological evidence for Judeans:
    • The synagogue at Akmoneia (mid-first century CE); Judeans in the theatre at Miletos; god-fearers at Aphrodisias; synagogue at Sardis – Mitchell p. 32 (discussion of Mitchell’s survey)
    • Case study of Judeans at Hierapolis


Jesus Adherents as cultural minorities devoted to the Judean god

  • Origins within, and continuing connections with, Judean culture
  • Dissemination into the cities of the Mediterranean and the inclusion of non-Judeans (“Gentiles”)
    • Centrality of honouring the Judean God and recognizing Jesus as specially connected with that God — i.e. monotheism (common denominator)
    • Example of Paul bringing a Judean movement to the Greco-Roman world
      • Context of the god-fearers within Judean circles
    • Diversity of Jesus groups
  • Groups of Jesus-followers in Asia Minor
    • 1) Asia Minor as a hub of early Christianity (cf. Philemon, Colossians, Ephesians, Pastoral Epistles, John’s Apocalypse, Johannine epistles, 1 Peter)
    • 2) Diversity in group-society relations: Christians and outsiders (“pagans”) and the issue of “persecution”
  • Dissimilation and assimilation in relation to Greco-Roman society and culture: Case studies
  • 1 Peter (late first century CE)
    • Dissimilation, cultural maintenance, and tensions
      • The situation of the Jesus-followers: The nature of their “suffering” (e.g. 3:13-17; 4:12-16
      • The reason for the “suffering”: Relation to former cultural life (ancestral ways) and social connections (1:13-19; 4:3-5)
      • 1 Peter’s strengthening of distinctive identity and differences from surrounding culture
        • Constructing / strengthening a distinctive (ethnic) identity:
          • “aliens” and “exiles of the diaspora”
          • “a holy nation, God’s own people” (2:4-10)
          • “born anew”
          • Honouring the Judean God
          • Other distinctive rituals and practices (e.g. baptism in 3:18-22)


    • Assimilation and acculturation
      • “Maintain good conduct among the Gentiles” (2:11-3:7)
        • Honour the emperor
        • Household codes as an example of acculturation (David Balch)
          • Greco-Roman context of household codes


  • hn’s Apocalypse (late first century CE)
    • Dissimilation, cultural maintenance, and tensions
      • John’s minority position: Assail the beast and “Babylon” (anti-imperialism and implications for relation to civic life) – “Come out of her, my people,…”
        • The choice: Worship the beast or worship the Judean God


    • Assimilation and acculturation (John’s opponents in the cities of Asia Minor)
      • Pergamon and Thyatira: eating idol food and “committing fornication”
        • Debates over food sacrificed to the Greco-Roman gods in early Christianity (e.g. Paul siding with John’s opponents?)


Romans on Gods and Customs of Other Peoples: Judeans / Egyptians

1.Tacitus and the Roman elite perspective of foreigners and foreign customs

  • Tacitus (ca. 55-117 CE) the elite Roman, ancient history writing, and ethnographic asides
    • Works on Germans, Histories (covering Vespasian, Titus, and Domitian), and Annals (covering earlier era).
    • Describing foreigners and non-elites: Importance of the concept of superstitio (“superstition”) vs. religio (“duty” or “obligation”)

2. Tacitus on the Judeans / Egyptians

  • Discussion questions:
    • Overall, how would you describe this account of Judeans?  What is Tacitus’ overall purpose in describing Judeans and their customs?  What theories regarding the origins of Judeans does he outline and what is his position?  How do Judeans relate to Egyptians and Egyptian customs?  (cf. Tacitus, Annals 2.85).
    • What positive or negative evaluations and stereotypes are there?  How should we approach using such ethnographic materials?
    • What similarities or differences do you see in how Diodoros and Tacitus approach Egyptians?

Stereotypes and Elite Perceptions of Cultural Minorities

1. Ethnic stereotypes in literary descriptions of Judeans and others

  • Importance of external categorization in the construction and reconstruction of identity
  • Context of ancient ethnographic writing
  • The cases of Tacitus and Apion
    • Common stereotypes about Judeans and the centrality of their refusal to honour the gods of others (“atheism”)

2. The image of the anti-association

  • Bandit associations in novels
  • Cultural minority associations: e.g. Bacchanalia (Greeks devoted to Dionysos in Rome)

3. Judean and Christian groups viewed as anti-associations

  • The trio of ritual atrocity: Human sacrifice, cannibalism, and sexual perversion

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