Course Outline for Honouring the Gods in the Ancient Mediterranean (HUMA 6217.03 / HIST 5037.03)

General Information

Instructor: Philip Harland, Click here to email me. Office hours: Thursdays 10:30-11:30am (Vanier 248) or by appointment.  Meetings: Wednesdays, 2:30-5:20 in Ross South, room 156

Course description

This course explores practices and beliefs pertaining to honouring the gods in the Hellenistic and Roman worlds. This year the geographical focus is on the region of Asia Minor, especially the Roman province of Asia. Drawing on ancient archaeological and literary materials, students will deal with various phenomena from official cults, including civic and imperial cults (i.e. “worship” of the emperors), to local temples, “mysteries”, and unofficial groups or associations. We will be attentive to variations in belief and practice from one locale to another and from one level of society to another (imperial elites, civic elites, urban populace, rural populace). Through examining rituals and beliefs in their contexts, students will gain an understanding of ancient worldviews that informed the development of western culture.

We will also assess scholarly debates and theoretical problems concerning the study of ancient Mediterranean cultures more generally. An ongoing focus of the course relates to theoretical problems in defining and describing ancient “religion” in modern terms. An important aspect of this argument relates to the ways in which honouring the gods (traditionally “religion”) through sacrifice and other means was embedded within what we as moderns distinguish as social, economic, and political spheres of activity. Students will also deal with other problematic categories within scholarship in this area, including the common distinction of “private” vs. “public”.

Course Texts

  • Price, S.R.F. Religions of the Ancient Greeks. Key Themes in Ancient History. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999.
  • Rives, James B. Religion in the Roman Empire. Blackwell Ancient Religions. Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, 2007.
  • Burkert, Walter. Ancient Mystery Cults. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1987.
  • Coursepack

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

  • Academic book review paper (6 pages, no longer), DUE WEEK 5 (April 1) 20%
  • Paper proposal and bibliography, DUE WEEK 7 (APRIL 15) 10%
  • Research paper (20 pages), DUE WEEK 11 (MAY 13) 35%
  • Participation in seminar discussions 25%
    (weekly participation based on readings in ancient and scholarly sources)
  • Book review presentation (15-20 minutes) 10%

Penalties for lateness: One grade per day (e.g. a B becomes a C). Assignments are due at the beginning of class.

Useful online resources


Seminar discussion outline

Week 1 (Mar 4)

Key questions: How do we define ancient “religion”? What problems do scholars have in approaching cultural life in the ancient world?

Introducing Asia Minor: Geographic and cultural overview (slides)

Week 2 (Mar 11)

Discussion of Simon Price, Religions of the Ancient Greeks (topical and theoretical contributions)

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


  • Simon Price, Religions of the Ancient Greeks (entire work)
  • Rives, ch. 1
  • Primary sources:
    • Inscriptions in Price’s appendix, pp. 172-185

Week 3 (Mar 18)

Introducing Asia Minor (cont’d)

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


  • Richard Oster, “Ephesus as a Religious Center under the Principate, I. Paganism before Constantine,” Aufstieg und Niedergang der römischen Welt 2.18.3 (1990), pp. 1661-1728.
  • Rives, chs. 2
  • Primary sources:

Week 4 (Mar 25)

Healing sanctuaries with translocal significance: Case of Asklepios at Pergamon


  • Harold Remus, “Voluntary Association and Networks: Aelius Aristides at the Asclepieion in Pergamum,” in Voluntary Associaitons in the Graeco-Roman World, pp. 146-175 (handout).
  • Rives, ch. 3
  • Primary sources:
    • Aelius Aristides, Or. 48-51 (= Sacred Tales 1-6), from Charles A. Behr, trans., P. Aelius Aristides: The Complete Works, vol. 2 (Leiden: Brill, 1981), pp. 278-353.
    • MacMullen and Lane, trans. “Cures, Sacrificial Regulations, and Honorific Inscriptions from the Temple of Asklepios at Pergamum,” in Paganism and Christianity 100-425 CE: A Sourcebook (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1992), pp. 31-33.

Presentations: Rogers 1991 (relating to Ephesos of previous week) and Frankfurter 1998

Week 5 (April 1)

Divination and oracular sanctuaries with translocal significance: Case of Apollo at Didyma


  • Sarah Iles Johnson, “The Divine Experience Part Two: Claros, Didyma and Others,” Ancient Greek Divination (Hoboken, NJ: Wiley Blackwell, 2008), pp. 76-108.
  • Rives, ch. 4
  • Primary sources:
    • MacMullen and Lane, trans., “Examples of Divination by Dreams, from Artemidoros’s Oneirocritica,” in MacMullen and Lane, Paganism and Christianity, pp. 15-18.
    • Price, appendix, nos. 11-12
    • Fontenrose, “Catalogue of Didymaean Responses,” especially inscriptions 17-28 (Roman era), in Didyma: Apollo’s Oracle, Cult and Companions (Berkeley: U. California Press, 1988), pp. 177-203.
    • Strabo, Geography, 14.27-30, online at:

Presentations: Fontenrose 1988 and Connely 2007

Week 6 (April 8)

Regional, indigenous practices: The gods and everyday justice in Lydia and Phrygia


  • Stephen Mitchell, “Pagans, Jews, and Christians from the First to Third Century: II The Indigenous Cults of Anatolia,” in Anatolia: Land, Men, and Gods in Asia Minor, vol. 2 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1993), pp. 19-31.
  • Angelos Chaniotis, “Under the Watchful Eyes of the Gods: Divine Justice in Hellenistic and Roman Asia Minor,” in Greco-Roman East: Politics, Culture, Society (Yale Classical Studies, vol. 31; Cambridge: Cambridge U. Press, 2004), pp. 1-43.
  • Rives, ch. 5
  • Primary sources:
    • Inscriptions cited in “6. Expiation and the Cult of Men,” in G.H.R. Horsley, ed., New Documents illustrating Early Christianity, vol. 3 (Sydney: Macquarie University, 1983), pp. 20-31.
    • Translated inscriptions in the text and footnotes of Chaniotis’ article, including BIWK 57 (p. 5), 69.3-34 (p. 12 n.34), 54 (p.17, n.48), 5 (p. 28)

Presentations: Roller 1999 and Dignas 2003

Week 7 (April 15)

Honouring the Roman emperors at provincial, civic, and local levels: Imperial cults


  • Steven J. Friesen “2. Provincial Imperial Cults of Asia Under Augustus and Tiberius” and “3. Provincial Cults from Gaius to Domitian”, in Imperial Cults and the Apocalypse of John, pp. 25-55.
  • Harland, “Imperial Cults within Local Cultural Life: Associations in Roman Asia,” Ancient History Bulletin / Zeitschrift für Alte Geschichte 17 (2003), pp. 85-107(copyright Philip A. Harland 2003), also available online:
  • Primary sources:
    • Inscriptions:
      • SEG 4 490 = OGIS 458, trans. from Reinhold, The Golden Age of Augustus (Toronto: Samuel Stevens, 1978) pp. 180-82.
      • IGR IV 353 b-d = IPergamon 374, trans. from Lewis, Greek Historical Documents: The Roman Principate (Toronto: Hakkert, 1974), pp. 125-126.
    • Inscriptions translated in Harland article

Presentations: Price 1984 and Gradel 2002

Week 8 (April 22)

Mysteries, part 1

Discussion of Burkert, Ancient Mystery Cults

Mysteries of the “Great Gods” at Samothrace


  • Burkert, Ancient Mystery Cults, intro and chs. 1-2.
  • Susan G. Cole, “Introduction,” “History of the Samothracian Sanctuary: Samothrace in the Hellenistic Period,” and “The Mysteries,” in Theoi Megaloi: The Cult of the Great Gods at Samothrace (Leiden: Brill, 1984), pp. 1-9, 20-37.
  • Primary Sources:
    • Archeological material discussed in Cole

Presentations: Cole 2004

Week 9 (April 29)

Mysteries, part 2:

Discussion of Burkert, Ancient Mystery Cults (cont’d)

Glykon and his mysteries at Abonuteichos (Paphlagonia) and elsewhere


Presentations: Beck 2006 and Smith 1990

Week 10 (May 6)

Honouring the gods within associations and guilds: Case of Zeus and Agdistis at Philadelphia


  • Harland, “Internal Activities and Purposes: Honoring the Gods, Feasting with Friends,” in Associations, Synagogues, and Congregations (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2003), pp. 55-88.
  • Rives, pp. 122-128 and ch. 6
  • Primary sources:
    • Inscription from Philadelphia (LSAM 20 = ILydiaKP III 18) translated in S.C. Barton and G.H.R. Horsley, “A Hellenistic cult group and the New Testament churches,” Jahrbuch fur Antike und Christentum, 24 (1981), pp. 7-41.
    • Archeological material regarding the meeting places of associations (including the cowherds) in Harland article

Presentations: van Nijf 1997

Week 11 (May 13)

Ethnic groups and cultural minorities honour their god(s), part 1: Syrians, Judeans, and other immigrant associations


  • Harland, “Other Diasporas: Immigrants, Ethnic Identity, and Acculturation,” pp. 1-18 (copyright Philip A. Harland 2009).
  • John M. G. Barclay, “The Province of Asia,” in Jews in the Mediterranean Diaspora (Berkeley: U. of California Press, 1996), pp. 259-281.
  • Rives, ch. 7 and Epilogue
  • Primary sources:
    • Inscription from Delos (IDelos 1520) on the Berytians translated in McLean, “The Place of Cult in Voluntary Associations and Christian Churches on Delos: The Poseidonistai of Berytos,” in Voluntary Associations in the Graeco-Roman World (London: Routledge, 1996), pp. 196-205.
    • Josephus, Judean Antiquities 14.185-267, online at the Project on Ancient Cultural Engagement site:

Presentations: Barclay 1996 and Trebilco 1991

Week 12 (May 20)

Ethnic groups and cultural minorities honour their god(s), part 2: Others who honoured the Judean God


  • Harland, “Interaction and Integration: Judean Families and Guilds at Hierapolis,” pp. 19-32 (copyright Philip A. Harland 2009).
  • Stephen Mitchell, “Pagans, Jews, and Christians from the First to Third Century: V. One God in Heaven,” in Anatolia, pp. 43-51.
  • Primary sources:
    • Inscriptions translated in Harland article
    • Materials on Hypsistos cited in Mitchell

Presentations: Graf 1997 and Stratton 2007


Books for review paper and presentation

  • John M.G. Barclay, Jews in the Mediterranean Diaspora from Alexander to Trajan (323 BCE-117 CE). Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1996.
  • Roger Beck, The Religion of the Mithras Cult in the Roman Empire: Mysteries of the Unconquered Sun. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006.
  • Susan Guettel Cole, Landscapes, Gender, and Ritual Space: the Ancient Greek Experience. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2004.
  • Joan Breton Connelly, Portrait of a Priestess: Women and Ritual in Ancient Greece. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2007.
  • Beate Dignas, Economy of the Sacred in Hellenistic and Roman Asia Minor. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003.
  • Joseph Fontenrose, Didyma: Apollo’s Oracle, Cult and Companions. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1988.
  • David Frankfurter, Religion in Roman Egypt: Assimilation and Resistance. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1998.
  • Ittai Gradel, Emperor Worship and Roman Religion. Oxford: Clarendon, 2002.
  • Fritz Graf, Magic in the Ancient World, trans. F. Philip. Cambridge MA: Harvard University Press, 1997. (Also available in original French edition).
  • Onno van Nijf, The Civic World of Professional Associations in the Roman East. Amsterdam: J.C. Gieben, 1997.
  • S.R.F. Price, Rituals and Power: The Roman Imperial Cult in Asia Minor. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1984.
  • Lynn E. Roller, In Search of God the Mother: The Cult of Anatolian Cybele. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1999.
  • Guy MacLean Rogers, The Sacred Identity of Ephesos: Foundation Myths of a Roman City. London: Routledge, 1991.
  • Jonathan Z. Smith, Drudgery Divine: On the Comparison of Early Christianities and the Religions of Late Antiquity. Chicago Studies in the History of Judaism. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1990.
  • Kimberly Stratton, Naming the Witch: Magic, Ideology, and Stereotype in the Ancient World. New York: Columbia University Press, 2007.
  • Paul R. Trebilco, Jewish Communities in Asia Minor. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991.



Academic book review paper (6 pages double-spaced)

Carefully read and study the assigned book, making note of the main arguments of the author. Write a review of the book, which entails:

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

Paper proposal and bibliography (2-3 pages double-spaced)
Choose a topic relating to the course that interests you. Speak with me to confirm the topic. Write a succinct proposal and outline of the paper, which entails:

  • Stating your topic, its relevance to the course, and the sort of material you expect to cover.
  • Outlining your tentative thesis or main argument and how you expect to structure the paper.
  • Discussing primary and secondary sources that will be useful in research.
  • Providing a bibliography (following an accepted academic style of bibliography correctly).

Research paper (20 pages double-spaced)

To be discussed in class.

Participation in seminar discussions

Since the seminar meetings will be based entirely on discussion of the readings, it is essential that all students study the readings in advance of each meeting. Readings are focussed on both scholarly debates and on ancient sources (both literary and archaeological). Please come prepared to engage both types of material in an in-depth way.

Book presentation

Beyond ongoing participation in class discussions, each student will have an opportunity to present material relating to the book they read for the review (20 minute presentation). Although you will need to explain the author’s key arguments, the purpose of this presentation is not simply to reiterate material from your book review. Instead, you will develop a presentation that uses your book as an entryway into key theoretical issues or materials relating to honouring the gods in the ancient Mediterranean. We will discuss this further in class.

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