Discussion Notes for Honouring the Gods in the Ancient Mediterranean (version C; aka “Greek and Roman Religion”)






  • Overview of course outline and get to know one another
  • Discussion:
    • 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


    • How do we define 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.


Honouring the Gods – The Case of Asia Minor

1. Identifying “religion” in the Greco-Roman world (discussion of Rives, ch. 1)

  • Characteristics of Greco-Roman ancestral customs and honours for the gods
    • 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
    • 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
  • Discussion of Rives’ “Approaches to the Divine” (discussion):
    • 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; 4) Philosophy (issue of morality and a way of life)


2. Regional traditions in honouring the gods (discussion of Rives, ch. 2)

  • Geographical overview of the Roman empire and Asia Minor
  • Variety in honouring the gods from region to region (and variety within each region)
    • E.g. Ionia, Phrygia, Lydia
  • Common denominators: Sacrifice as the primary mode of relation to the gods
  • Similarities and differences between Greek and Roman ways

3. Photographic tour of cultural life in Roman Asia Minor

Civic Cults – Case Study of Artemis of Ephesos

1. Discussion of Rives, chapters 2 and 3 on regionalism and the “presence of the gods”

2. 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. Religion and Community (discussion of Rives ch. 4)

2. 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

3. 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. Introductory discussions

  • “Religion and empire” (discussion of Rives): Interconnections – 1) mobile people; 2) mobile gods; 3) interpreting or adopting others’ gods; 4) emperors as gods (uniting symbol)
  • Reminder on the exchange system of honours and benefaction – social and cosmic hierarchies

2. 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. Interlude: Discussion of Rives, chapter 6 on “Religious Options”

  • “Barbarian wisdom” and ambivalence about foreign gods and practices (continued next term)
  • Mysteries and the importation and transformation of “foreign” practices (e.g. Mithras)

2. 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)


3. 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 to 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
  • Lucian’s Epicurean sympathies (esp. 5, 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 cults
    • 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
    • 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
    • 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)
  • 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?


Greeks on Gods and Customs of Other Peoples, part 1: Scythians (primarily 5th-4th centuries BCE)

1. Introduction to ethnography, ethnic interactions, and the characterization of others’ ancestral customs

  • Defining ethnography
    • Ethnography as a mirror of the cultural assumptions and ethnic stereotypes of an author (mirror analogy proposed by Hartog): Greek self-understandings and ethnic identifications via describing others
  • Ethnicity and ethnic interactions
    • Ethnic hierarchies, hegemonic categorizations, and attenuating ideologies
    • Greek concept of the “barbarian” and its importance for Greek self-definition
    • Common modes of justifying Greek categorizations: (1) distance from centre; (2) climate and people connection (four humours / elements again)
    • Examples from Herodotos and from the Hippokratic author
  • What (if anything) do these sources tell us (1) about the ethnic identifications, assumptions and ancestral practices of their authors and (2) about the ethnic groups being described?

2. Herodotus (ca. 420s BCE) on Scythians

  • Introducing Herodotos of Halikarnassos and his Inquiries (Histories)
  • Who are the Scythians (or Skolonians?) and other Pontic peoples?
  • Herodotos on Scythians (discussion)
    • Accurate or not?
    • What’s important to Herodotos in describing the customs of Scythians?
      • Braund’s arguments regarding cultural interactions
    • What stereotypes are evident in Herodotos’ account?

3. Ephoros (ca. 350 BCE) in Strabo and attenuating ideologies

  • Strabo (late first century BCE) – his sources and rivals
  • Ephoros’ alternate approach to ethnography and ethnic hierarchies (discussion)
  • Eratosthenes breaking down the Greek-barbarian divide

4.  Pontic diasporas and local interactions:  Scythians settled in Greek cities

  • Report on recent research (via inscriptions)


Greeks on Gods and Customs of Other Peoples, part 2: Egyptians (primarily from a first century BCE vantage point)

1. Barbarians, Egyptians and the Greek imagination

  • Greek ambivalence regarding Egyptians (see e.g. Vasunia’s Gift of the Nile)
    • Positive: Egypt as source of ancient kingship, gods, society, “magic”
    • Negative: Low position of Egyptians on the Greek hegemonic ethnic ladder
  • Greek and Roman (hegemonic) evaluations or rankings of other peoples and the helpfulness of the sociological concept of “ethnic hierarchies” (e.g. Hagendoorn) for our approach
    • Imperialism / colonialism: Justifying hegemonic status quo and subjugation of other peoples

2. Diodoros of Sicily’s Historical Library (written ca. 55-35 BCE)

  • Concept of a universal history
    • Diodoros living at a major transition point as the Republican era was falling apart (and empire was soon to emerge)
    • History of the entire world and all peoples in 40 books (15 survive) — see 1.9.1
    • Partially written while in Egypt (Alexandria?) and in Rome, but researched and written over the span of 30 years (1.4.1) but perhaps left unpublished (1.4.6)
    • Scholarly approaches to Diodoros, and the obsession with sources to the neglect of Diodoros (e.g. the Hecataeus of Abdera theory regarding the Egyptian account)
    • Structure:
      • Prominence of “barbarians” in the first part of the work (books 1-3): Egyptians, Assyrians, Babylonians, Medes, Indians, Scythians, Amazons, Hyperboreans, Ethiopians, Libyans
      • Greeks and Romans

3.  Diodoros on other (“barbarian”) peoples including Egyptians

  • Some discussion questions:
    • What are Diodoros’ purposes or aims in writing?  What does he want to accomplish for his listeners (and future readers)? Why does he give attention to “barbarian” peoples in relation to these purposes?
    • What is Diodoros’ theory of the emergence of human civilization and the nature of the earliest humans?  What might this tell us regarding his approach as a Greek describing “barbarians” and on the potential for barbarians to be “wise”?
    • What signs are there of either positive or negative perspectives on, or stereotypes about, “barbarian” peoples including Egyptians?  How are relations or rivalries between Egyptians and Greeks expressed within the account? Does Diodoros tend towards the notion that so called “barbarian” peoples are on a par with Greeks regarding civilization / wisdom?  If not, what are his views regarding the relative superiority or inferiority of Greeks in relation to various different peoples?
    • How does Diodoros view Egyptians specifically?  How does he frame his account of Egyptian material?  What viewpoint does he claim to describe (primarily) and does he agree or disagree with that viewpoint?  Does he reflect more than one viewpoint?
    • What seems most important to him with regard to describing the gods and goddesses?  What customs does her refer to?   What evidence is there of Diodoros making clear evaluations (positive or negative) regarding Egyptian stories, gods, or customs?  What does he think of the prominence of animals in Egyptian honours for the gods?
    • In what way could we describe his account as a “Greek interpretation” (see Rives, page 142-147)?  Are there signs of Greek theories of the four humours / four elements in the descriptions of Egyptian matters? What are the origins of Egyptian gods and what role does Euhemerism play here?  What does this tell us about some relations between Greeks (or Romans) and Egyptians?
  • Engaging broader debates (among Greeks, Romans, and other peoples) concerning the contributions of non-Greek peoples to civilization
    • Debates about the “wise barbarian” / “noble savage”
    • Where to position Diodoros in relation to, for example, Herodotos, Ephoros, Stoics, Poseidonios, Strabo


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 Germans

  • Discussion questions:
    • How does Tacitus portray these peoples?  What does he choose to highlight and what customs does he claim to know about?  What positive and negative evaluations do we find, and why?  What role might the remote, cold, and northern location of these peoples play for a Roman elite author like Tacitus?
    • How would Tacitus know about these customs?  Can we take this as in some sense a reliable account?  Does this tell us more about elite Romans or about Germans?  What does Woolf argue concerning our approach to ethnography like this?  Do you agree with him?

3. 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?


Egyptian perspectives and customs — Chairemon and Isidoros

1. Shifting focus: Uncovering perspectives and practices of subject peoples and minorities

  • Egyptian case: Discusssion of Frankfurter chapter on the local character of Egyptian gods and rituals

2. Chairemon (first century CE) on Judeans and on Egyptians

  • Introducing Chairemon: first century CE Egyptian “sacred scribe” (hierogrammateus) and Stoic philosopher
    • Dual audience: Greek and Greek-speaking Egyptian?
  • Chairemon’s characterization of Judeans in his History of Egypt (segue from Tacitus and the Exodus material)
    • Discussion questions:
      • What was Chairemon’s explanation of the origins of Judeans and how does this relate to the legends known to Tacitus?  What does this imply regarding the character of Judeans from an Egyptian perspective?  What is Josephos’ overall tactic in refuting this perspective?
  • Chairemon on the lifestyle and characteristics of Egyptian priests (from Porphyry, third century Neoplatonic philosopher)
    • Discussion questions:
      • How would you characterize the account overall?  Is this an idealized or realistic account, and in what ways?  How do we see the author catering to a Greek-speaking audience?
      • How does he characterize Egyptian priests, activities, and traditions?  What is the lifestyle and focus of Egyptian priests according to this account?  What were Egyptian temples like?

3. Isidoros (after 96 BCE) on the goddess Isis at Narmouthis and on the centrality of Egypt and Egyptians

  • Introducing Isidoros and context:
    • Temple of Renenutet / Hermouthis and Sobek (= Sokonopis = Souchos = crocodile god) at Narmouthis (Medinet Madi) in the Arsinoites district of Egypt (founded in the 12th dynasty, ca. 1800s BCE, and expanded in the Ptolemaic era, around 96 BCE)
    • Placement of inscriptions at gates (see Vera Frederika Vanderlip, The Four Greek Hymns of Isidorus and the Cult of Isis [Toronto: Hakkert, 1972]; Ian Moyer, “Isidorus at the Gates of the Temple,” in Greco-Egyptian Interactions: Literature, Translation, and Culture, 500 BC–AD 300, ed. Ian Rutherford [Oxford: OUP, 2016], 209–44 link).
    • Aretalogies in the ancient world: “Greek and Egyptian Hymns to Isis” (link)

Temple plan adapted from Vogliano’s archeological report

  • Discussion questions:
    • What are the overall purposes of these hymns?
    • How is Isis and other Egyptian deities explained and portrayed (in hymns 1-3)?  What are the attributes and powers of these gods?  How do the hymns characterize Egypt?  What does this imply about Egyptians and Egyptian temples?  In what ways do the hymns shift from a trans-regional / universal focus to a local focus (compare Frankfurter)?
    • What role does competition with other places and peoples play?  What claims are being made for Egypt and Egyptians in relation to other places and peoples (including Greeks)?  In what ways would you characterize this perspective as a native and local perspective? How might these hymns also function to bridge between Egyptians and Greeks in the form of cultural translation?
    • Who is the founder of the temple (hymn 4) and how is he characterized (Sesoosis = Sestrosis = Senwosret)?  What might this indicate about pride in Egyptian identification?  What might this suggest about the relative superiority of Egypt in relation to other parts and peoples of the inhabited world?  How does this illustrate the local character of Egyptian temples and rites (compare Frankfurter)?


Judean perspectives and customs – Artapanos, Josephus and Others on Egyptians and Judeans

1. Artapanos (ca. 250-100 BCE)

  • Discussion questions:
    • What is the overall purpose of this retelling of biblical stories?
    • What is the relationship between Egyptians and Judeans (and their cultures) according to this narrative?  How are Judean (Israelite or Hebrew) characters portrayed and what is the purpose of this characterization?  (How does Sesostris = Senwosret come into this?)
    • What signs of ethnic rivalries do you see here with respect to the depiction of Judeans?  How do claims about the introduction of civilization and inventions play a role (remember Diodoros) ?

2. Josephus and others on Judeans and Egyptians (first century CE)

  • Discussion questions:
    • What is Josephus opening stance in relation to Greeks and why?  What other ethnic groups play a role in this first part of the work?
    • What type of rhetoric (used in what setting) does Josephus employ in the second part? What strategy does Josephus employ to respond to the general negativity about Judeans and about specific practices in the second part of the work?  What are some of the specific stereotypes or defamatory stories about Judeans?
    • Why are Egyptians so important in these discussions and what is Josephus’ characterization of Egyptians?  What stereotypes does he employ and how might these relate to Greek or Roman characterizations of Egyptians?
    • How does Josephus approach positively describing Judean customs in the third part?
    • What does Harland argue concerning first century Judeans’ take on the relationship between Judeans and Egyptians and on ethnic hierarchies


Babylonian and Syrian perspectives and customs — Berossos and Philo of Byblos

1. Introductory matters and discussion of de Breucker article

  • Geographical bearings: Babylonia and Syria / Phoenicia
  • Date and context of the two authors
  • Fragmentary remains and the authors who cite them, and why (Alexander Polyhistor / Synkkelos and Eusebius)
  • Discussion of de Breucker: What does de Breucker argue about the Babylonian setting and Berossos?

2. Berossos of Babylon (ca. 290s BCE) on the origins of civilization

  • Discussion questions (for both Berossos and Philo of Byblos):
    • What evidence do you see of the author claiming the importance or superiority of his own ethnic group?  How does he go about this?  How does the author explain the origins of civilization within this framework?
    • What is the author’s stance in relation to Greek culture or Greeks specifically?  Are there signs of reacting to Greek perspectives?   Are there indications of acculturation to Greek ways and perspectives?  What other ethnic groups come into the picture?
    • What role do gods and honours for them play in all of this?

3. Philo of Byblos (ca. 100 CE), Sanchuniathon, and Taautos on Syrian or Phoenician gods


Minorities and Their Gods in the DIaspora, part 1: Israelites and Judeans

1. Approaching diasporas and minorities in the ancient Mediterranean

  • Defining diaspora (“dispersion): Homeland and host society
  • Social scientific approaches to ethnic identification:
    • Ethnicity — Shifting and changing (not static or primordial); Self-definition based on common sense of geographical, cultural and ancestral origins
    • Factors in identification: 1) Internal self-understanding or sense of belonging and 2) external categorizations (including stereotypes)
  • Connections to the homeland and its ancestral customs
  • Assimilation and dissimilation in the host society
    • 1a: Cultural assimilation, or acculturation (in relation to language, values, and cultural conventions) (Milton Yinger, John Berry and others)
    • 1b: Structural assimilation (in relation to political, social, or economic structures of the host society) – formal and informal levels
    • 2: Dissimilation and cultural maintenance – reassertion and strengthening of group differences
  • Key discussion questions for this week and next:
    • What evidence do we see among Judeans, Israelites, and Syrians of (1) cultural maintenance or dissimilation, (2) cultural assimilation, and (3) structural assimilation?  In other words, where do we see connections to the homeland or its ways and connections to the host society and its ways?

2. Dispersian of Israelites and Judeans: A brief history and geographical survey

  • History of dispersion:
    • Causes: conquest (exile or enslavement), military service, trade
    • Assyrian invasion of the northern tribes in 721 BCE
    • Egyptian migrations for military purposes from the seventh century and on (Elephantine temple in Southern Egypt from ca. 650 BCE? — controversy ca. 410 CE)
    • Babylonian invasion of the sourthern tribes in 586 BCE and forced exile
    • Persian policy and the return to rebuild in the late sixth century
    • Seleucid era settlements (ca. 200 BCE) in Asia Minor and Ptolemaic military settlements or enslavement (resulting from capture in the Seleucid-Ptolemaic struggles) in Egypt
  • Overview of archeological and epigraphic evidence for the Judean diaspora in the late Hellenistic and Roman eras

3. Judeans dispersed in Asia Minor, Aegean islands, and Cyrenaica

  • Question of Judeans’ relation to the homeland and to the host society and its culture: Variety (discussion of Barclay on Asia)
  • (A) Areas of cultural maintenance (dissimilation) – Israelite / Judean ancestral customs
    • The decrees in Josephus on Judeans in Asia minor (first century BCE)
      • 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); communal life
        • Some illustrative documents (see reading): (1) Ephesos (Ant. 14.225-227); (2) Pergamon (Ant. 14.247-255); 3) Halikarnassos (14.256-258) ; 4) Sardis (14.259-61)
      • Incidents of tension: Judean non-participation in local cults and honours for the gods
  • (B) Areas of assimilation and acculturation
    • Josephus decrees again: evidence of assimilation despite areas of tension and dissimilation
    • Inscriptional and archeological evidence (discussion of acculturation and dissimilation in the inscriptions):
      • The synagogue at Akmoneia (mid-first century CE); Judeans in the theatre at Miletos; god-fearers at Aphrodisias; synagogue at Sardis; Judeans at Hierapolis


Minorities and Their Gods in the DIaspora, part 2: Syrians and “Phoenicians”

1. Syrians and “Phoenicians”

  • Ancestral deities and customs in the homelands
  • 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)



Leave a comment or correction

Your email address will not be published.