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date: 23 April 2024

Gods in Ancient Greece and Romefree

Gods in Ancient Greece and Romefree

  • Matt DillonMatt DillonDepartment of Classics and Ancient History, University of New England, Australia


The religions of both the ancient Greeks and Romans were polytheistic (with many gods), but centered on a finite and homogenous group of deities who were worshipped through prayer, animal sacrifice, and festivals. It was believed that the gods, in turn, provided mortals with specific benefits, at the individual, family, group or state levels. Gods were anthropomorphic (in human form) and powerful but not eternal or all-powerful. New gods could be introduced into both pantheons (groups of gods), but the number of such additions was in fact fairly limited. And both Greeks and Romans concentrated on the cults of their traditional gods, whose worship they found both beneficial and satisfying for over one thousand years.


  • Ancient Religion

Historiography: Ancient Writers on Greek and Roman Religion

Herodotus in the 5th century bc reported that both Homer and Hesiod included many “stories” of the gods in their works but without providing details of their actual cults:

From where each of the gods originate, and whether they had all existed always, what appearance they had, the Greeks did not know until fairly recently, for it was Homer and Hesiod, who were the poets who wrote theogonies (genealogies of the gods) of the gods for the Greeks, and gave these gods their epithets, honours, and their skills (technai), as well as spheres of jurisdiction.1

Hesiod in his Theogony described the genesis of the gods, while Philochorus in 3rd-century bc Athens wrote works on various aspects of Greek religion: On Divination, On Sacrifices, On Festivals, and On the Mysteries of Athens, all of which survive only in later limited excerpts by other ancient authors.2 While these texts provide information about the gods and their festivals, they were not intended as a systematic approach to the gods themselves. Pausanias in the 2nd century ad wrote a Description of Greece, a geographical account focusing on temples, cult details, and the worship of the gods. Myths of the gods were put together by the Greek author Apollodorus in his Bibliotheca, while the Roman poet Ovid drew on Greek myth in his Metamorphoses, indicating the extent to which Roman mythology was relatively Hellenized by the 1st century bc. The Greeks, however, possessed none of the various religious texts employed by the Romans as an integral part of their cult practices.

Many Roman texts, all lost, dealt with ritual and the gods. Roman augurs kept records of prodigies and their interpretations, which Livy (64 bcad 17) drew on for his History, and there were also manuals of divination. Prayers to the gods followed a prescribed wording and would be read out from the books of the pontiffs (priests) at festivals and sacrifices. Varro’s Human and Divine Antiquities (Antiquitates rerum humanarum et divinarum) in forty-one books, including sixteen on the Divine Antiquities, which was dedicated to Julius Caesar as pontifex maximus, is known largely from Augustine’s de civitate dei (The city of god), who quoted extracts from it in order to attack paganism. Varro dealt not only with the Roman gods—their names, epithets, and areas of responsibilities—but also with the ways in which they were worshipped, particularly with reference to festivals and rites and the religious customs and institutions of Roman religion such as the priesthoods; his work is dated to the 40s bc.3 His Lingua Latina (On the Latin language) also presents valuable material on early deities, priesthoods, and the pomerium (the city of Rome’s sacred boundary). Cicero (106–43 bc) in his de natura deorum (On the nature of the gods) provides a wealth of information in three books about the nature of the gods and their form, while in his de divinatione he debates with his brother Quintus the validity or otherwise of divination and what this reveals about the ways the gods interacted with mortals. While the second book of Cicero’s de legibus (On the laws) deals with the religious practices of his ideal state, he is obviously reflecting the reality of the existing Roman system of ritual and worship. With regard to festivals celebrated to honor the Roman gods, Ovid (43 bcad 18) is indispensable, as in his Fasti he described in detail Roman festivals and their aetiologies, but the work is unfinished and treats only the first six months of the year. One such festival was the Megalensia on April 4, honoring the Magna Mater who was introduced to Rome from Phrygia in 204 bc.4 For Roman priesthoods and the rites performed in honor of the gods, the Roman writer Aulus Gellius (c. ad 120–80) is a crucial source. Dionysius Halicarnassus in his Roman Antiquities, and Plutarch in his Roman Questions, were both Greek authors and thus important sources as they attempt to describe and expound the practices of Roman religion and its gods and festivals to a Greek audience.5

Antecedents: Mycenaean Deities

In the Mycenaean Linear B tablets discovered at Pylus and elsewhere on the Greek mainland, and at Knossos, several gods from the later archaic and classical periods can be identified. These tablets were lists made on unbaked clay and accidentally baked when the palaces they were stored in caught fire. Whether they are, therefore, “representative” of Mycenaean religion is unclear. Gods and goddesses named in various Linear B tablets include Ares, Artemis, Eileithyia, Dionysus, Hephaestus, Hera, Hermes, Poseidon, and Zeus. The Erinyes (Furies) are also named, who are best known in the classical period from Aeschylus’s treatment in the Eumenides (produced in 458 bc). These tablets use the term pantes theoi (pa-si-te-o-i: “All the Gods”) as an invocation. This is also the case in the classical period, and this inclusive term for deities is used to invoke them as witnesses for oaths and for vows, while the group “All the Gods” possessed their own sanctuary on Rhodes and by the 3rd century bc were receiving cult worship in their own right. Various other Mycenaean deities in the tablets do not appear to have had counterparts in classical Greek religion, while from this pantheon Apollo is most noticeably missing. “Paian,” his later cult epithet, however, appears as an invocation in the Linear B tablets and at some stage was appended to Apollo’s cult.6 He is the first deity to appear in Homer’s Iliad (Book 1). While it has been suggested in the past that is his origins were in Asia Minor, that his cult is a Doric development seems clear, as he was the main god worshipped at Sparta, and there were several major festivals in his honor. Athena is only known from one Linear B tablet (Knossos), which refers to Potnia (“Lady”) Athena (A-ta-na); various other Potnia deities are attested in the tablets. It has long been noted that Poseidon is prominent in Mycenaean religion but that Zeus had emerged as the primary god by the time of Homer’s Iliad, though in fact, the sacrifice described by Homer in Odyssey 3 made by Nestor at Pylus is not to Poseidon or Zeus, but to Athena.7

Genesis and Number of the Gods

Hesiod in the 7th century bc described the genesis of the Greek gods in his Theogony. Chaos first came into being, and then Ge (Earth); from Chaos came Erebus (Darkness) and Black Night (Nyx), who together brought forth Aether (Upper Air) and Day; Ge bore Uranus (Sky), and with him many others, including Rhea, Cronus, the Cyclops, and terrible monsters. Cronus rose against his father Uranus and castrated him, after which he ruled as king of the gods with his own sister Rhea. From the drops of blood from Uranus’s genitals, which fell on Ge, she bore the Gigantes (Giants)—whom the Olympian gods later had to overcome in a battle for supremacy (as shown on the frieze of the Siphnian treasury at Delphi)—and the Erinyes, the goddess of revenge for justice. Uranus’s sperm fell into the sea, mingled with the waves, and gave birth to Aphrodite. The story of the rise of the Olympian gods is well known: there was a prophecy that Cronus would be overthrown in turn by his children, so he swallowed five of them at birth (Hestia, Demeter, Hera, Poseidon, and Hades); the last infant, Zeus, was preserved when Rhea replaced him with a stone wrapped in swaddling clothes. Zeus later overthrew his father and released his siblings. Similar to many other cosmologies of the ancient world, the gods come forth from the physical matter of the cosmos, with the Greeks emphasizing the role of Ge as mother of gods and men. Later, the Romans accepted this cosmology, substituting Saturn for Cronus. The gods Hestia, Demeter, Hera, Zeus, Poseidon, and Hades in turn gave birth to the other gods, either with each other, or with mortals (see ‘Gods Born of Mortals’).

There were many similarities between the Olympian deities of Greece and Rome, even though Roman religious practices themselves was not heavily influenced or dependent on Greek religion. Neither system, despite being polytheistic, possessed an overabundance of gods and goddesses, in contrast to the Mesopotamian and Hittite religion (the Hittites referred to their territory as “the land of the thousand gods,” for example, in the Ramesses–Hattusili peace treaty). Twelve main gods made up the Olympian system in both Greece and Rome, though there was sometimes disagreement about the identity of the twelve. Olympian gods as depicted on the east frieze of the Parthenon (carved 443 to 438 bc) included Zeus (supreme god, responsible for justice), Hera (marriage), Poseidon (ocean, earthquakes), Athena (wisdom and war), Ares (war), Aphrodite (marriage and love), Apollo (music and prophecy), Artemis (childbirth, liminality, and the hunt), Hephaestus (god of metallurgy), Dionysus (or Bacchus, wine and ecstasy), Hermes (messenger, merchants and thieves) and Demeter (agriculture). Missing from these is Hestia, but she does appear in another artistic representation of the 1st century bc—1st century ad, a marble relief (Figure 1), which depicts the gods with their cultic accoutrements, in which Hestia is substituted for Dionysus: from left to right: Hestia (scepter), Hermes (winged cap and staff), Aphrodite (veiled), Ares (helmet and spear), Demeter (scepter and sheaf of wheat), Hephaestus (staff), Hera (scepter), Poseidon (trident), Athena (owl and helmet), Zeus (thunderbolt and staff), Artemis (bow and quiver), and Apollo (lyre).

Figure 1. Relief in Pentelic marble of the Twelve Olympian gods, found at Tarentum (modern Taras), 1st century bc to 1st century ad; height: 38.2, length: 119.7, depth: 5.5 cm. Walters Museum, Baltimore, inv. 23.40.

Rome owed many of its gods to the Greeks, and its Latin and Etruscan neighbors, and Roman religion adopted many Greek gods such as Apollo (the Etruscan temple of Apollo at Veii dates to the 6th century bc, and influenced Roman beliefs), and Aesculapius (the Greek Asclepius, imported from Greece in 292 bc), while, the triad of gods that dominated Roman worship comprised Jupiter, Juno, and Minerva. The mythological tales recorded for Roman deities were not as detailed or even as interesting as those of the Greek gods, which explains the Romans’ wholesale appropriation of Greek mythology in the Middle and Late Republic. Ennius (c. 239–169 bc) listed twelve Roman gods: “Juno, Vesta, Minerva, Ceres, Diana, Venus, Mars, / Mercury, Jove [Jupiter], Neptune, Vulcan, Apollo,” and these correspond fairly closely to the Greek Olympians, which was probably Ennius’s intention.8 But there were also many minor deities in Rome, especially concerned with agriculture, that were not matched in the Greek pantheon. For example, when the flamen of Ceres sacrificed to “Mother Earth” and Ceres, he invoked several minor deities: “Vervactor (plough fallow), Reparator (replough), Imporcitor (make furrows), Insitor (sow), Obarator (plough up), Occator (harrow), Sarritor (hoe), Subruncinator (clear weeds), Messor (harvest), Convector (carry), Conditor (store), and Promitor (bring forth).”9 Cicero could state that the Romans were a devout people, and that “in our reverence of the gods, we are far superior to other peoples.”10

Figure 2. Left: Hercules with his club, Minerva with spear and helmet, Bacchus with vine wreath on head, Jupiter with staff, and thunderbolt in left hand, Ceres with torch, Juno veiled, Mercury with winged cap and herald’s wand. Marble relief, Arch of Trajan, Rome, ad 114–117.

At Rome, Jupiter (Optimus Maximus: “the best and greatest”) was the chief god, often worshipped as part of the Capitoline triad, with his temple on the Capitoline Hill being shared with his wife Juno and daughter Minerva; this three-doored temple was often depicted on Roman coins (and three distinct shrines). In Roman religious and political thought, it was Jupiter’s favoring of Rome that in conjunction with Roman attention to religious matters led to the creation of the Roman Empire and Rome’s ascendancy over the Mediterranean world.11 Unlike Jupiter at Rome, Zeus was not the chief god of every Greek city, each of which adopted a particular tutelary deity: at Athens (the only Greek or Roman city to be named for a god), this was Athena, at Sparta Apollo, Aphrodite at Corinth, and Hera at Argus, though all of these gods were also worshipped throughout the Greek world, and each city had several temples dedicated to various gods.

Other Gods

There were other important gods in Greece that were not considered part of the Olympian dozen, such as Hades (the equivalent of Pluto in Rome) and his consort Persephone (Proserpina, daughter of Demeter), Asclepius (Aesculapius), Hercules, and numerous minor deities. In addition, many local and minor deities tended to be associated with the Olympian gods, with their local or regional name becoming an epithet of the Olympian god in question. Qualities, characteristics, or further specializations of a god could be worshipped, for example Zeus Soter (savior), Zeus Horkios (Zeus god of oaths) and Zeus Xenios (Zeus, god of strangers and guests), reflecting this god’s many responsibilities.

Nymphs and River Gods

Although Poseidon was god of the sea, there were other water deities such as Oceanus (Ocean) and various nymphs of seas, springs, and rivers: for example, Thetis, the mother of Achilles, was one of the Nereids, the fifty daughters of Nereus, a sea deity. There were also nymphs of caves and trees, and in Greece those mortals who were particularly prone to nymph worship were called nympholeptoi (or “seized by the nymphs”) such as Archestratus who in the 4th century worshipped the nymphs in a cave at Vari, near Athens, and decorated it with sculptures.12 Many nymphs were worshipped as being kourotrophic, assisting women in childbirth and with the successful raising of their children. One of the polychromatic wooden pinakes from a cave of the nymphs at Pitsa, near Corinth, shows a group of women involved in the worship of such nymphs. In Roman religion, Cato the Elder advised that when one is cutting trees down in a grove, the unnamed god or goddess the grove belongs to must be propitiated with a sacrifice of a pig and then a prayer.13 Diana Nemorensis (Diana of Nemi) had a sacred grove and sanctuary on the shores of Lake Nemi. In addition to the Olympian gods, Greek mythology had numerous river gods, as did the Romans. In Greece, rivers were associated with “coming of age” rituals and marriage; and at Rome, the Tiber River as a god had a sanctuary dedicated to it on Tiber Island.

Gods Born of Mortals

In Greek and Roman belief there were also a number of “subsidiary” or lesser gods who were not born of two divine parents but were half mortal. This particular phenomenon—the genesis of gods from physical sexual encounters between gods and goddesses with mortals—reflects the corporeal and anthropomorphic nature of the gods. They had a physical form and the same desires as mortals. That mortals and deities produced children who could attain true godhood like Hercules gave credence to claims that living men were the offspring of gods. For example, the story that Olympias slept with Ammon (i.e., Zeus) in the form of a snake and became pregnant, and the related claim by her son Alexander that he was the son of Zeus-Ammon, relate directly to stories of such unions.

Apollo’s union with the mortal Coronis led to the birth of Asclepius, who became recognized by the Greeks as a god by the end of the 6th century bc, and by the end of the 5th century he was widely worshipped throughout the Greek world as the deity of healing, with several important sanctuaries. Dionysus, god of the grape and intoxication, was said to have been born of Zeus and the mortal woman Semele, while Hercules, son of Zeus and the mortal Alcmene, was transformed from a hero into one of the most popular Greco-Roman gods, as thousands of representations of him testify. Spartan kings were thought to be descendants of Hercules, while among the Romans, the Julii, including Caesar and Augustus, claimed descent from Aeneas, son of Venus. Divine parenthood did not guarantee divinization: Achilles, son of Thetis the sea-nymph, spent his afterlife in dreary Hades, while Menelaus and Helen, daughter of Zeus, spent theirs in the Isles of the Blessed with other heroes.14

Heroes and Heroines

Heroes and heroines, as divine entities, encompassed two main categories: “mythical” figures of the past and historical individuals. The experience of mortality was the main distinction between heroes and gods. Both types of heroes were worshipped in similar ways, with their veneration focusing on their tomb. Like the gods, their main form of worship was the sacrifice, which often featured bloodless offerings.15 Their worship differed from that of Olympian gods in that it centered on a particular place, and their power was primarily manifested in providing benefits (often assistance in war) for a particular locality. Few heroes transcended this local status, the main examples being Asclepius who had his origins in Thessaly but who became a Panhellenic deity, and Hercules (both, however, were the offspring of a god).

Mortal men of the archaic and classical periods could be worshipped as heroes (singular: hērōs, plural: hērōes) and possess a sanctuary known as a heroon: these were extraordinary men who were venerated posthumously, such as successful athletes, generals, and the founders of colonies. Hagnon the Athenian leader (oikistes) of the multicity colony established at Amphipolis was venerated there as a hero, but when the city was captured by the Spartans in 424 bc, and Brasidas the Spartan general died in battle defending the city against the Athenian forces attempting to retake it, Brasidas was buried

in front of what is now the agora; henceforth the Amphipolitans, after enclosing his tomb, sacrificed to him as a hero and gave him the honour of games and yearly sacrifices, and attributed the colony to him as founder [oikistes], pulling down the buildings of Hagnon and obliterating everything which might still survive as a reminder of his settlement. They considered that Brasidas had been their saviour (at the same time they were at that point fostering the alliance with the Spartans through fear of the Athenians), and moreover that because they were at war with the Athenians Hagnon could no longer be honoured with similar benefit or contentment.16

How such religious “demotion” was conceived of in a “theological” sense is unknown. Here as the polis was no longer under Athenian control, an Athenian hero lost his heroic honors and was replaced by someone who could potentially be of more assistance to the city.

Heroes were believed to be particularly powerful at their places of burial. To secure the assistance of Theseus, the (semi-mythical) founder of unified Attica, the Athenians sought out his bones in the 5th century, as the Spartans had done in the 6th century for Orestes, son of Agamemnon, whose help Delphi advised them to obtain if they wanted to be successful in their wars against their neighbor Tegea.17 Similarly, Oedipus possessed a hero-shrine (heroon) in Attica, and it was believed that he would aid Athens in times of war, particularly against the Thebans.18 While mortals, however, could attain heroic honors, most heroes and heroines were mythic characters, such as Helen, who had a cult at Sparta.19 Amphiaraos, one of the seven warriors of legend who marched against Thebes, was venerated as a healing deity at Oropos, on the Athenian–Boeotian border.

Divine Honors for Living Mortals

In the late 5th century bc, men began to be granted divine honors during their lifetime. When the Spartan general Lysander captured the island of Samos from the Athenians in 404 bc, the local people established a festival (the Lysandreia) and erected an altar in his honor, as did other Greek cities, with Lysander being the first man so honored.20 Alexander the Great, the conqueror of the Persian Empire, requested in 324–323 bc that the Greek cities accept that he was divine, which they did, with the Spartans replying to his request ironically and laconically: “If Alexander wishes to be a god, let him be so.”21 As early as 331 bc, Zeus Ammon’s oracle at Siwah in Egypt had (almost certainly) proclaimed him a god.22 His successors, the Hellenistic kings, developed their own “ruler-cult,” which was crucial to their position. Granting them divine worship created a religious loyalty to the king, who was accorded sacrifices, festivals, and prayers—thus joining the larger pantheon of the gods. For the Ptolemies, as with Alexander, this was partly an extension of their role as Egyptian rulers, who were automatically sons of Amen-Re and hence living gods.

When Roman generals campaigned in Greece and the Greek east, the concept was transferred to them by Greek cities with remarkable ease. When, for example, Flamininus (T. Quinctius) proclaimed the freedom of the Greeks in 196 bc, having driven Philip V of Macedon out of Greece, Plutarch records that a priesthood was established to honor him, which still existed in Plutarch’s day several centuries later, with sacrifices made to Flamininus, including libations, and the performance of a special hymn of praise.23 When Pompey conquered the East, cults in his honor were established, months renamed after him, and statues of him erected. Ennius, writing at the beginning of the 2nd century bc, had brought to Latin the ideas of Hellenistic authors (especially Euhemerus of Messenia) concerning the deification of powerful rulers. Cicero cited these ideas, especially with regard to the apotheosis of Rome’s first king, Romulus, and they need to be seen as the background to the deification of Julius Caesar and later emperors.24

A comet had appeared during the ludi victoriae Caesaris (the games celebrating Julius Caesar’s victories; he had been assassinated in March) in July 44 bc, which Octavian interpreted as Caesar’s soul ascending to heaven. Caesar became a god by senatorial decree in 42 bc, with his birthday celebrated as a public holiday with compulsory involvement in the festivities, on the pain of a large fine; he had perhaps also received some form of divine honors while alive.25 Because of his posthumous adoption by Caesar, Augustus took the title divi filius (son of a god) as part of his official nomenclature, as would Tiberius after him, when Augustus was declared a god. Augustus was not worshipped in his lifetime in the city of Rome, but his semi-divine genius was. Outside of Italy, however, temples and altars were constructed to him during his lifetime, in both the eastern and western parts of the world.

When Augustus died in ad 14, a senator swore that he saw Augustus himself ascending into heaven, in the same way as Romulus had (Livia presented this senator with a million sesterces). Augustus was officially deified upon death by the senate, and temples came to be erected in his honor, which he shared with his wife Livia when she, too, was deified by Claudius in ad 42. Of the subsequent Julio-Claudian emperors, Claudius alone received godhood (apotheosis), though this was mocked by Seneca (in his Apocolocyntosis, “Pumpkinification”), while Vespasian when he was dying (ad 79) is said to have joked, “I think I am becoming a god.”26 Deification for emperors came to depend on the attitude of the senate and was a means of passing an official “verdict” on his reign: Caligula and Nero missed out, as did Domitian. From Livia on, not only emperors but their families could be deified, hence Antoninus Pius (emperor ad 138–161) deified his wife Faustina when she died in ad 140 and built a temple in the Roman forum in her honor. Imperial deification continued as a practice, with all five “Good Emperors” deified between ad 96 and 180 (Nerva, Trajan, Hadrian, Antoninus, and Marcus Aurelius). Imperial cults, in both the East and the West, were a crucial unifying force in a vast empire made up of disparate peoples.27


A genius was constituted by the totality of the characteristics of an individual and had its place in their forehead; both men and women could have a genius, as could various groups, such as the army, legions, a location, and (in the imperial period) the emperor by virtue of the office he held. The genius was iconographically represented by a togate male, capite velato (with his head covered), holding a patera (libation dish) in one hand and a cornucopia of abundance in the other. Roman households venerated the genius of the family in the form of its paterfamilias (genius familiaris), which was the protector and guardian of the household. A person’s genius was inborn and died with that person, though the genius Augusti was venerated throughout imperial history: this was a key component of imperial cult and worshipped at every household meal.28 Even the gods themselves could have a genius that was worshipped, while the genius of the Roman people complemented the cult of Roma, the personification of Rome. In household shrines, lararia—the genius of the household—is shown standing between two Lares; the snake in these depictions in some way relates to the genius (see the well-known example of the Lararium from the House of the Vettii, Pompeii). In the imperial period, oaths were sworn by the genius of Augustus or the reigning emperor, and this became a test of loyalty to the emperor and of adhesion to paganism: Christians who refused to offer incense to the princeps’ genius were executed.29

Lares and Penates

A Lararium (plural: Lararia) was the focus of the worship of the Lares (singular: Lar) alongside the genius of the household; it could be an actual shrine, or a wall painting as in the House of the Vettii at Pompeii. Lares were “spirits” particularly associated with the household as its guardians, but they were also spirits of crossroads: at Rome shrines to the Lares of crossroads were largely in the custodianship of freedmen collegia compitalicia, and from 7 bc Augustus had images of his genius installed at these, for the veneration of the genius Augusti. Lares were worshipped at the time of a birth or a death and at the Caristia on February 22. Slaves in particular venerated the Lares; and if these slaves were granted their freedom, they dedicated their chains to the Lares.

Di Penates were distinct from the Lares and worshipped as separate entities.30 Cicero speculates that they were given this name either from penus—a store of food, or penitus, the recesses of the home.31 Within the home, they were gods worshipped by the family and for the paterfamilias but not by slaves; unlike the Lares, the di penates were seen as guardians and defenders of the house and were represented by statues rather than in paintings. They were venerated at meals, when food from the table was sprinkled with salt and flour and burned in the hearth for them. As with the Lares, they had a public form and were sacrificed to by magistrates with imperium when taking up and resigning from their duties; this occurred also in Lavinium. There was a temple of the Di Penates on the Velia hill in Rome, but the penates populi Romani were housed in Vesta’s temple.32


“Numen” (a divine spirit) was the “expressed will of a god” and was employed in conjunction with the name of a god, for example, numen Iovis was the expressed will of Jupiter.33 A god’s will was indicated by nutus (nodding), and Roman grammarians connected the two words, numen and nutus, as deriving from the base verb -nuere, which meant to nod as a means of expressing one’s will, either in agreement or in negation. Accius notes that the name and numen of a god could be invoked in prayer; it could be used of the Roman people, or the senate, to express their will as decided by the gods.34 The numen (as distinct from his genius: see ‘Genius’, above) of the Roman emperor was worshipped during his lifetime, as the divine presence within the emperor.35 For example, Augustus was awarded a cult of numen Augusti (the divine will as manifested in Augustus) in ad 6. In the imperial period, numen then came to have the sense of “deity” in its own right.

Gods as Personifications

The worship of personifications represented a desire to “control” these forces through prayer and supplication. In Greece, Nemesis emerged as the personification of nemesis (“revenge,” “divine justice”) in Greek religion by the 6th century bc, and was accorded worship, especially at Rhamnous in Attica where she had a temple and cult statue. Her worship was later adopted by the Romans. Tyche, “Fortune,” was popular from the Hellenistic period (323 bc onward). Other personifications included Eirene (Peace), Peitho (Persuasion), and Themis (Due Order).36

Just as Quirinus was a divine “personification” of the Roman people, many gods and goddesses represented abstract attributes and characteristics. Rome itself was transformed into Roma, a goddess worshipped in the Greek East and Latin West; at Ancyra (Ancara, modern Turkey), Roma and Augustus shared a temple.37 With regard to such deities, Cicero mentions Ops (wealth, fecundity), Salus (safety), Concordia (concord), Libertas (liberty), Fides (faith), and Victoria (victory): “all of which aspects, being of such power as of necessity to indicate divine governance, hold themselves the name of gods.”38

Introducing New Gods

Polytheism in Greece and Rome was not a “closed” religion, and both were receptive to the introduction of new gods and goddesses. Athens accepted the cult of the Thracian goddess Bendis in the late 5th century bc, partly because of Athens’ interests in Thrace and its employment of Thracian mercenaries in its wars. An official decree was passed by the city-state organizing a priestesshood and festival for the goddess, the latter famously described at the beginning of Plato’s Republic.39 In the 330s bc the Athenian state passed a decree allowing Egyptian merchants in the Piraeus to erect a temple to their goddess Isis, part of the process by which this goddess became one of the most widely worshipped deities of the Greco-Roman world. Other cults were not officially sanctioned and could attract mockers: Aristophanes presents a character in his play Lysistrata (produced in 411 bc) complaining about the noise of the women on the rooftops bewailing the death of the eastern Adonis, lover of Aphrodite, in the Adonia festival, while Demosthenes in the 330s bc satirized his rival Aeschines’s involvement as a boy in the cult of Sabazios.40

Roman state religion introduced new gods as required. When plague struck Rome and Italy in the 290s bc, the Roman priests (a collegium of fifteen by the 1st century bc: Quindecimviri sacris faciundis) in charge of the Sibylline Books, consulted these and found a prophecy that they were to introduce the Greek god Asclepius to Rome—he traveled on the ship from Epidaurus in the form of one of his snakes and landed on the island in the Tiber River (shown on coins, and described by Livy and Ovid); in Rome he became Aesculapius. During the Second Punic War, unable to evict Hannibal from Italy, the Romans consulted the Sibylline Books and found a prophecy that said an enemy would not be expelled from Italian soil until the “Great Mother” (Magna Mater) was introduced to Rome—Roman senators were dispatched and in 204 bc brought back her black stone from Phrygia, which was installed in a temple especially commissioned and dedicated in 191 bc, prior to which she “shared” the temple with the goddess Victory on the Palatine.41 Rome was much more prone to introduce new deities (especially Greek ones, such as Apollo and Asclepius, and those of its enemies), but in the Republican period (up to 31 bc) the introduction of these required senatorial approval.42

Evocatio: Adopting the Enemy’s Gods

Rome had a regular system for “introducing” the gods of other cities into its system. Through the process of evocatio (‘calling out’), the gods of an enemy city were invited to come to Rome. Hence during the Roman siege of the Etruscan city of Veii in 396 bc, the Romans invited the goddess Juno of Veii out of the city, promising her a new temple at Rome.43 Similarly, Macrobius records the evocatio formula employed at Carthage in the Third Punic War, ending in Carthage’s destruction in 146 bc, which prayed that the gods would desert Carthage and come to Rome—even when the Romans did not know their names.44

Syrian Gods, Mithras, and Sol Invictus

Juvenal (the late-1st- early-2nd-century ad poet) complained that the Syrian River Orontes had long polluted the Tiber with its language, customs, flutes, and native tympanas (timbrels), and this statement is taken as indicative of a “flood” of eastern rites introduced into Rome in the early imperial period.45 Yet if this is a reference to the rites of the Magna Mater, she was in fact introduced to the city by the Roman senate a few hundred years previously (204 bc). In his Sixth Satire he also satirizes Roman women’s devotion to Isis, demonstrating that religious prejudice was apparent in 1st century ad Rome, although he also pokes fun at the traditional and staid rites of the Roman Bona Dea as involving women having sexual intercourse with slaves, and even with a donkey, which is complete fabrication meant as absurdist humor.46

New cults did of course appear in the Roman imperial age. Best known of these is that of Mithras, whose adherents were male and often soldiers serving in the legions. These met in small numbers, mainly in artificial crypt caves that modern scholars have designated as Mithraea. Worshippers advanced through a series of initiations, and the cult’s main iconography was that of the tauroctonia (bull-slaying), the symbolic meaning of which seems to have been a regeneration of the cosmos. While widespread in the Western Empire, the cult was not numerically strong and never posed any serious threat to the conversion of the empire to Christianity.47

Aurelian as emperor (ad 161–180) adopted the cult of Sol Invictus (the unconquered sun) and Sol Invictus appeared on imperial coins into the reign of Constantine the Great.48 Existing alongside the traditional Roman pantheon, this was not a monotheizing cult nor did his worship overshadow that of the other gods. Its relationship to the ancient Roman cult of Sol Indiges (“native”) is unclear, but the Aurelii had a special relationship with this ancient deity, and Aurelian’s promotion of Sol Invictus makes sense when seen in this light. It is now considered unlikely that the Christian choice of December 25 (then the winter solstice) for the celebration of Christmas Day had anything to do with this cult.

The Anthropomorphic Nature of the Gods

Greek and Roman gods were anthropomorphic: they were corporeal beings of flesh and “blood”—or in their case, ichor, which flowed through the gods’ veins. When the Greek mortal hero Diomedes with his spear wounded the goddess of love Aphrodite on the battleground outside Troy, not blood but ichor flowed from her wound.49 The Twelve Olympians lived on Mt. Olympus in Thessaly, northern Greece, “the seat of the gods” from where they directed human affairs, or came down among them, as often in Homer’s Iliad, sometimes disguised as mortals (see below, ‘Epiphanies’).50

This anthropomorphic conception of the gods was criticized by Greek philosophers such as Xenophanes in the 6th century bc, who satirized the human conception of divinity: for if horses had gods, and could draw, they “would draw pictures of the gods looking like horses.”51 Aristophanes mocked Socrates as abandoning the old gods and instead worshipping the clouds of the air as goddesses.52 While Livy indicates that the Magna Mater came to Rome in the form of a black stone, anthropomorphizing tendencies were such that by the time Ovid described the Megalensia festival, which the Romans had introduced in her honor, she had become a fully fledged anthropomorphic deity and is shown as such in depictions.53 A similar process occurred in the case of Isis in the Greco-Roman world; often shown in Egypt as a cow-horned goddess in a tight dress beginning at her breasts and ending just below the knees, in Greek and Roman art she was dressed as a Greco-Roman woman, with nothing recognizably Egyptian about her except her a sistrum (her Egyptian “rattle”). Greek and Roman gods were not only anthropomorphic but dressed and looked like Greeks and Romans did. So gods such as Zeus, Poseidon, and Hermes could be depicted by the Greeks as nude, approximating to the physique of Greek athletes, or with bare chests (especially the healing deity Asclepius), with Aphrodite even depicted with breasts bared on 5th-century Athenian vases and sculpted fully nude in the 4th century. Roman gods and goddesses, however, matching Roman cultural and social mores, were shown fully dressed.

Xenophanes criticized not only the anthropomorphic conception of the gods but also how they were portrayed by Homer and Hesiod as behaving as shamefully as humans.54 But most Greeks and Romans did not share these philosophic attitudes. While Zeus was supreme among the gods, they plotted against him and his decisions, especially his sister-wife Hera. He had to threaten them occasionally, telling them on one occasion that even if they all pulled on a golden chain at one end (Zeus being on the other end), atop Mount Olympus, they could not drag him down.55 Yet they undermined and plotted to thwart him numerous times in the Iliad, and he placed Hera in fetters when she attempted to kill his son Hercules. Roman gods, on the other hand, behaved more decorously: Jupiter, for example, had none of these difficulties and was a supreme deity untroubled by internecine strife within the Roman pantheon of gods. Cicero notes that the gods were not necessarily concerned with morality—for Jupiter was called “Best and Greatest” (Optimus Maximus) not “because he makes us just, temperate and wise, but safe, secure, rich and abundantly wealthy.”56


Specialization of the gods and goddesses in particular areas, whether human concepts (such as justice or piety), human emotions, or endeavors (such as agriculture or metallurgy), was the mark of Greek and Roman polytheism. Both Greek and Roman gods had specialties, and Herodotos uses the word techne—skill—in relation to the gods, denoting the sphere of their powers and responsibilities. This meant that worshippers had specific deities to turn to in times of particular need (e.g., childbirth or war) or activity (such as the harvest) whom they felt were “experts,” with particular interest and power in these areas. Such specializations occurred both at the level of the state (such as warfare) and the individual (such as marriage), allowing the state and individuals recourse to particular deities depending on their needs.

Zeus, for example, had control of the weather and the administering of justice, Poseidon was in charge of earthquakes, and Dionysus presided over the vine and wine. While Zeus was all powerful, he could be constrained by the Fates (Morae), and he had a specific set of responsibilities that excluded the areas of interest of other deities; he did not, for example, preside over the techne of childbirth, the realm of Artemis. Those “new” gods who were introduced into the Greco-Roman pantheon owed this to the need for importing specialist and separate gods to deal with crises and social and natural phenomena as they arose (see ‘Introducing New Gods’ section above).

Sacred Calendars

Both Greek states and Roman townships had sacred calendars inscribed on stone and erected in public places. These were lists of dates on which particular gods were to be honored, serving as a reminder to the community of its religious obligations to the gods. Those of Athens are well documented, both from the city itself, and some from the 140 demes, political units, which made up the state.57 These not only listed the dates of festivals but also prescribed the specific sacrifices to be made to the god, thus ensuring that the deity received an appropriate offering. Several are also known from Roman Italy, of which the earliest is from Antium, dating to the 1st century bc.58 One entry reads for the Ides of the month Sextilis (later August): “Ides. No business. Public holiday. To Diana, Vortumnus, Fortuna Horserider, Hercules the Conqueror, Castor, Pollux, [the] Carmenae [Muses].”59

Prayer and Reciprocity in Worship

As the prayer of the priest Chrysis to Apollo in the Iliad indicates, Greek prayer (and Roman prayer) shows the nature of the worshipper’s relationship with the gods: it was believed that the gods were interested in mortal affairs and would come to the assistance of their worshippers, either as individuals or as groups. Cicero maintains in a statement applicable to both the Greek and Roman gods that

if the gods are neither able nor willing to help us, neither caring about us nor ignore what we do, if they are not able to have any determination in the life of mankind, for what reason would we grant the immortal gods any form of worship (cultus), honours, or prayers (preces)?60

Thus, the relationship between gods and mortals was considered to be reciprocal, and divine assistance could come particularly in a time of major crisis such as war. When the Persians were invading Greece in 480 bc, the women of Corinth, both citizen wives and the city’s prostitutes, prayed to the goddess Aphrodite, who answered their prayer in view of their past services to the goddess and kept Corinth safe.61 Because the gods were interested in human affairs, it was considered that their will needed to be consulted, and there were various types of divination among the Greeks and Romans that the gods were consulted on and their opinions sought before major undertakings.62

Gods, of course, did not always answer the prayers of their worshippers. When the women of Troy supplicated Athena by presenting her with the most beautiful robe in the city and placing it across her knees, Athena denied their prayer, for she was on the side of the Greeks.63 Rome also called upon the gods’ assistance during wartime. When the Romans declared war on King Antiochus in 191 bc, the senate proclaimed a two-day period of compulsory prayer prior to the commencement of the campaign and the vowing of “great games” for ten days to Jupiter; in addition, gifts were to be made at all the couches of the gods.64 This was the lectisternium, or sellisternium, where couches were prepared for deities on which their statues were placed, and they were feasted by the state. The support of Jupiter for the war was sought through prayer and sacrifice, and if the prayer were answered Jupiter and the gods would be appropriately thanked. This need to establish and maintain a relationship with the gods was the ultimate underlying principle of Greek and Roman religion.65

Both Greek and Roman worship of the gods was based on a principle of reciprocity.66 Gods, individually, or collectively, would aid their worshippers because of past services and gifts that the worshipper/s had given to the gods, or that the worshipper/s would promise for the future. This included sacrifices, as well as care of the cult statue: the Athenians presented the statue of Athena with a new robe every year. Reciprocity in Greek religious thought comes in the first book of the Iliad when Agamemnon, king of the Greek forces at Troy, refuses to accept ransom from Chryses, priest of Sminthean Apollo, in exchange for the priest’s daughter, Chryses prays to Apollo and reminds the god of his service to him as his ritual agent asking him to shoot the Greeks with his arrows: “If ever I roofed a temple (naos) that pleased you, or if ever I burned for you fat thighs of bulls or of goats, may you answer this prayer of mine: may your arrows repay the Greeks for my tears.”67 Apollo recognized this special relationship between his priest and himself and came down from Olympus and slew the dogs and mules of the Greeks (and then the Greeks themselves) with his plague arrows. It was acceptable and expected that the gods would carry out vengeance against the enemies of their worshippers.


Depictions of Minoan ceremonies often show epiphanies, in which the goddess is portrayed in person receiving the prayers of her worshippers and sometimes descending in the form of a bird. In the Late Neopalatial and Early Postpalatial periods of about 1550–1425 bc, epiphanies are depicted in detailed engravings on gold signet rings. The deity is apparently shown among dancing women, or as seated and worshipped by women adorants. The Xeste 3 fresco at Akrotiri probably shows an enthroned goddess being offered saffron by a worshipper.68 The archaic and classical Greek epiphanic tradition may have been a continuation of this Minoan practice. While epiphanies are less common in Mycenaean art, there are epiphany dreams in the Iliad, and the gods are occasionally shown as revealing themselves to mortals.69

Generally, the gods appeared to mortals only in the stories of the past (our myth), more often for the Greeks than the Romans, who were much less interested in divine appearances of gods. Epiphanies in Roman literature derive from Greek models. A major exception for the Romans was in the personal religion of the Egyptian deity Isis, who appeared in her devotees’ dreams and spoke to them.70 Because Greek religion was a personal, in that the gods took an interest in human affairs, that interest might be manifested through the deity appearing to mortals to assist them; this was not usually the case in Rome.

In the healing cult of the Greek god Asclepius and the Roman Aesculapius, cures were based on the belief that the god himself would appear to the sick person in a dream and perform a cure. Numerous testimonia of the cured who experienced epiphanies of Asclepius were recorded at Epidaurus and to a lesser extent at Lebena, and there are records in Greek at Rome of his cures there, while Amphiaraus at Oropos also cured through dream epiphanies and could oracularize in dreams.71 In Rome, as Aesculapius, Asclepius also appeared to the sick and healed them.72 In the temple of Athena at Lindos on Rhodes, the goddess appeared and gave prophecies, most famously when the city was under siege in 490 bc by the Persian commander Datis. Various dream epiphanies of Athena were inscribed there in 99 bc, commemorating occasions when Athena had appeared to officials and important citizens, either spontaneously, or in response to a prayer for assistance.73

In mythology, gods appeared mainly in disguise, often in the form of a human known to the worshipper they were assisting: thus, Athena disguised herself as Mentor, “both in appearance as well as voice” when she appeared to Telemachus unrecognized and arranged all the details for a ship and crew to take him on a voyage to Pylus and Sparta.74 Demeter took on the guise of an old woman at Eleusis while searching for her daughter Persephone, and she acted as a nurse for the baby Demophon: when she was interrupted in the act of placing him in the household hearth to grant him immortality, she became angry and revealed her true nature, signaled by her beauty and divine radiance.75 Gods also took on disguises, frequently in the form of an animal, in order to seduce mortal women: Zeus appeared as a bull to seduce Europa, as a swan to Leda (mother of Helen of Troy), and as a shower of gold to Danae, who later gave birth to the great hero Perseus as a result. From such liaisons with mortal women, various demigods were born, although women who boasted of their relationship (see Semele, the mother of Dionysus by Zeus) or were afterward unfaithful (see Coronis, the mother of Asclepius, by Zeus) would suffer death at the god’s hands.

Epiphanies of the gods were common during wartime, particularly at the time of the Persian invasions of Greece, when the Persians were attempting to enslave the Greek cities: in the view of the Greeks, it was natural that the gods would lend a hand. Herodotus records that prior to the battle of Marathon, a runner sent to Sparta to request help experienced en route an epiphany of Pan, and there were three other epiphanies at Marathon: a giant hoplite, Theseus, and the hero Echtelos.76 Further epiphanies of gods were recorded at the battles of Artemisium and Salamis, aiding the Greeks in their victory against the Persians.77 On the other hand, Thucydides records no epiphanies, and the gods assisted Xenophon primarily through sending him omens, such as birds and on one occasion a sneeze.78 Virgil’s description of the Battle of Actium in 31 bc, between Octavian and Antony with Cleopatra, has the Roman gods fighting Egyptian “monstrous gods and yelping Anubis,” with Mars striding through the battle. Other Roman gods such as Neptune, Venus, Minerva, and Bellona (another Roman deity of war) ensure the enemy flees, with Apollo sending his arrows among Rome’s enemies.79 While this could well be literary imagination rather than a Roman belief that these gods were physically present at the battle, the Roman gods here are naturally on Octavian’s side, and Virgil’s lines represent the belief that the gods did actively assist Rome against her enemies.


Greek philosophers such as Xenophanes criticized the common and usual perception of the gods, but not their actual existence, while a number of other 6th-century philosophers in Ionia speculated about the nature of the gods. Empedocles, like Xenophanes, did not believe that “god” was anthropomorphic and saw him as “Mind, rushing throughout the entire cosmos with its swift thoughts.”80 Epicureans believed that there were gods but that these had no interest whatsoever in mortal affairs, which led them to reject divination, with its basic premise that the gods communicated with mortals (see ‘Epiphanies’ section above). Their view probably stemmed from that of Plato in the Laws, which mentions varying degrees of belief in the gods, including that they exist but do not care about mortals.81 Not believing in the gods was atheotes, hence atheism. But this was not the charge brought against the Christians, who were viewed as practicing a superstitio, excessive religiosity, rather than a religio, restrained religiosity (for a definition of these two terms, see Cicero de nat. deor. 2.71–72).82

Diagoras of Melos in the 5th century bc ridiculed the Eleusinian Mysteries, especially the fact that Demeter promised a happy afterlife to both a good person and a criminal. For this blasphemy he was condemned to death with a “price on his head”: one talent if he was brought in dead, two talents if alive. Alcibiades, accused of parodying these mysteries in 415 bc, was also condemned to death. A number of Pericles’s associates were prosecuted in the public courts for impiety (asebeia, as opposed to piety, eusebeia), most notably Phidias, Anaxagoras, and Pericles’s mistress Aspasia, as well as Socrates: trials for impiety were often a way of attacking political enemies. But such impiety cases reflected genuine community concern that the gods were being mocked, and that, if impious individuals were not punished by the community of worshippers, divine wrath would be visited upon the community as a whole. Temple robbery, and the desecration of temples, statues, and altars, were major categories of impiety.

Religious Persecution

In 186 bc the Roman senate initiated an inquiry into the cult of Bacchus (Greek Dionysus), which had been brought into Etruria and southern Italy, and become popular at Rome, especially among women. The consuls were ordered to investigate the matter, and according to Livy this led to a religious persecution in which adherents of the god Bacchus were imprisoned or executed; those that hid were hunted down and killed.83 According to Livy, seven thousand people, including large numbers of women, were involved, but how many were executed is unknown. His account of devotees being involved in orgies, murders, and fraud may well have been dramatized, yet clearly the overall tenor of Livy’s account of persecutions and executions must be true.84 While the worship of the god was not prohibited, it was subject to a number of tight restrictions, with the senate passing a decree that restricted who could meet to worship Bacchus and banned men from attending Bacchic rites held by women.85 The Roman senate used this opportunity to impose Roman religious ideology not on Rome only but amongst its allies, regulating the god’s cult, and therefore religion as an instrument of Roman dominance.

Similarly, the cult of Isis was persecuted at Rome in the 1st century bc, with altars erected on the Capitoline hill overthrown several times in this period, and Tiberius notoriously crucified priests of Isis at Rome in ad 19.86 But thereafter the cult thrived and as in the Greek world a Hellenized deity emerged who became extremely popular.87 Roman attitudes to un-Roman gods being worshipped at Rome were clear and unambivalent—such cults needed the imprimatur of the senate and could be banned or modified; ultimately the state controlled which gods were worshipped in any public sense. This contrasts with the attitude at Athens, where the veneration of the old gods was the main focus, and cults such as that of the Thracian Bendis and Isis were welcomed, while others seen as foreign such as those of Sabazius and Adonis were vilified rather than officially attacked.88

Review of Literature

The standard handbook for Greek religion is Burkert’s Greek Religion (English translation, with a second German language only edition in 2011). For Roman religion, see Beard, North, and Price’s Religions of Rome with one volume of sources and one of commentary. Both have introductory sections on the gods. Aspects of both the Greek and Roman gods regularly attract scholarly attention. One monograph treatment deserves special mention regarding the Greek gods. Versnel’s Coping with the Gods: Wayward Readings in Greek Theology provides a discussion of Greek polytheism that stresses the anthropomorphic nature of the Greek deities, discusses some of the past approaches to the study of the gods and includes the phenomenon of mortals attaining divine status. In particular, Versnel presents the opposing views of J.-P. Vernant and W. Burkert regarding the nature of Greek polytheism: the former sees the pantheon as quite structured (e.g., Vernant’s Myth and Society in Ancient Greece), the latter as unstructured, and even chaotic in nature (especially Burkert’s Structure and History in Greek Mythology and Ritual). Both of these approaches suffer from a structuralist approach to mythology, with less emphasis than necessary on a theological reading of actual ritual. While seeing merit in both typologies, Versnel does not offer a sustained critique of these, suggesting that the debate needs to be continued. If anything, the gods developed in a historic sense, with additions and diminutions over centuries and within a fairly stable pantheon and system of belief.

The 19th-century scholarly view that Roman religion was impersonal and that the Roman gods did not meet any “spiritual” (itself a misnomer in terms of ancient religion) needs of worshippers persisted into the 20th century, with Warde Fowler’s The Religious Experience of the Roman People from the Earliest Times to the Age of Augustus as a principal proponent of this view. Modern studies of Roman religion focus by contrast on the continuation of traditional Roman religion and of evidence for individual participation in it, as revealed by dedications, and participation in festivals and community worship. For example, Lipka’s Roman Gods: A Conceptual Approach treats the gods of the religions of the city of Rome itself and stresses the gods’ anthropomorphism and the areas and spaces they were identified with. In particular, this anthropomorphism is related to the idea of the gods interacting with mortals and being involved in their lives. Complementing this, Scheid argues for a close relationship between individuals and the state’s gods in Scheid’s The Gods, the State, and the Individual. Recent studies in Roman religion see it as a vibrant and “living” religion.

Further Reading

  • Burkert, Walter. Greek Religion: Archaic and Classical. Oxford, UK: Blackwell, 1985.
  • Dillon, Matthew P. J. The Ancient Greeks in their Own Words. Stroud, UK: Sutton, 2002.
  • Dumézil, Georges. Archaic Roman Religion. Vols. 1–2. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 1970.
  • Kindt, Julia. Rethinking Greek Religion. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2012.
  • Lipka, Michael. Roman Gods: A Conceptual Approach. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2009.
  • Ogilvie, Robert M. The Romans and Their Gods. London, UK: Chatto & Windus, 1969.
  • Parker, Robert. Polytheism and Society at Athens. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2005.
  • Turcan, Robert. The Cults of the Roman Empire. Oxford, UK: Blackwell, 1996.


  • 1. Herodotus, Histories, 2.53.2.

  • 2. Felix. Jacoby, Die Fragmente der griechischen Historiker (Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 1923–1958), i–iii, 328.

  • 3. Peter van Nuffelen, “Varro’s Divine Antiquities: Roman Religion as an Image of Truth,” Classical Philology 105 (2010): 162–188.

  • 4. J. Rüpke, The Roman Calendar from Numa to Constantine: Time, History, and the Fasti (Malden, MA: Wiley, 2011), 4.

  • 5. For the ancient sources for Roman religion, see Matthew P. J. Dillon and Lynda Garland, Ancient Rome. Social and Historical Documents from the Early Republic to the Death of Augustus, 2nd ed. (London, UK, and New York, NY: Routledge, 2015), 103–104.

  • 6. Homer, Iliad, 1.473.

  • 7. Homer, Odyssey, 3.340–373; For Mycenaean religion, see Susan Lupack, “Mycenaean Religion,” in The Oxford Handbook of the Bronze Age Aegean, ed. Eric H. Cline (Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2010), 263–276.

  • 8. Tacitus, Annals, 60–61.

  • 9. Servius, On Vergil’s Georgics, 1.21.

  • 10. Cicero, de natura deorum, 2.8.

  • 11. Cicero, de haruspicum responso, 19.

  • 12. Walter R. Connor, “Seized by the Nymphs: Nympholepsy and Symbolic Expression in Classical Greece,” Classical Antiquity 7 (1988): 155–189.

  • 13. Cato the Elder, On Agriculture, 139–140.

  • 14. Homer, Odyssey, 11.490–491; Hesiod, Works and Days, 168–173; and Euripides, Helen, 1676–177.

  • 15. Gunneth Ekroth, The Sacrificial Rituals of Greek Hero-cults in the Archaic to the Hellenistic Periods (Kernos supplément 12) (Liège, 2002), 3.

  • 16. Thucydides, Peloponnesian War, 5.11.1.

  • 17. Plutarch, Kimon, 8.5–7; and Herodotus, Histories, 1.67–1.68.

  • 18. Sophocles, Oedipus at Colonus, 1518–1534.

  • 19. Deborah Lyons, Gender and Immortality. Heroines in Ancient Greek Myth and Cult (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1997), esp. 7–34.

  • 20. See Douris of Samos in Felix Jacoby, Die Fragmente der griechischen Historiker 76 F71 (1926). (Berlin: Weidmann).

  • 21. Plutarch, Moralia, 219e.

  • 22. Plutarch, Moralia, 219e.

  • 23. Plutarch, Titus Flamininus, 16.

  • 24. Cicero, de re publica, esp. 1.64; see 2.1.20.

  • 25. Dio, Roman History, 47.18.4–19.1; and Stefan Weinstock, Divus Julius (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1971).

  • 26. Suetonius, Vespasian, 23.

  • 27. For the Eastern Empire see Simon R. F. Price, Rituals and Power. The Roman Imperial Cult in Asia Minor (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1984); for the Western Empire see Duncan Fishwick, The Imperial Cult in the Latin West: Studies in the Ruler Cult of the Western Provinces of the Roman Empire, vols. 1–8 (Leiden, The Netherlands: E. J. Brill, 1987–2005); also see Ittai Gradel, Emperor Worship and Roman Religion (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2002).

  • 28. Duncan Fishwick, “Genius and Numen,” Harvard Theological Review 62 (1969): 356–367.

  • 29. Allen Brent, The Imperial Cult and the Development of Church Order: Concepts and Images of Authority in Paganism and Early Christianity Before the Age of Cyprian (Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 1999), 4–11.

  • 30. Varro, Lingua Latina, 5.70: the term never appears in the singular in the ancient sources.

  • 31. Cicero, de natura deorum, 2.27.68.

  • 32. Tacitus, Annals, 15.41.1; for Lares and Penates see David G. Orr, “Roman Domestic Religion: the Evidence of the Household Shrines,” Aufstieg und Niedergang der römischen welt, Part II, vol. 16.2 (Berlin, Germany: de Gruyter, 1978), 1557–1591; see Annie Dubourdieu, Les origines et le développement du culte des Pénates à Rome (Rome, Italy: Ecole française de Rome, 1989), esp. 63–91 for the domestic Penates; for iconography see LIMC vi Lar/Lares, vii Penates).

  • 33. For numen, see Herbert J. Rose, “Numen and Mana,” Harvard Theological Review 44 (1951): 109–120.

  • 34. Accius, in Varro Lingua Latina, 7.85.

  • 35. Fishwick, The Imperial Cult in the Latin West, 375–377.

  • 36. Emma Stafford, Worshipping Virtues: Personification and the Divine in Ancient Greece (Swansea, UK: Duckworth, 2001).

  • 37. Ronald Mellor, ΘΕΑ ΡΩΜΗ‎. The Worship of the Goddess Roma in the Greek World (Göttingen, Germany: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1975).

  • 38. Cicero, de natura deorum, 2.23.61; see Emma Stafford and Judith Herrin, Personification in the Greek World: From Antiquity to Byzantium (Aldershot, UK: Ashgate, 2005).

  • 39. Plato, Republic, 327a–328a.

  • 40. Demosthenes, On the Crown, 19.199; Matthew P. J. Dillon, Girls and Women in Classical Greek Religion (London, UK: Routledge, 2002), 158–160, and see 161–169 for the Adonia and Isis.

  • 41. Livy, History of Rome, 29.14; see Rüpke, The Roman Calendar from Numa to Constantine, 179–372.

  • 42. For new gods at Athens see Robert Garland, Introducing New Gods: the Politics of Athenian Religion (London, UK: Duckworth, 1992); on Rome see Eric M. Orlin, Foreign Cults in Rome: Creating a Roman Empire (Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2010).

  • 43. Livy, History of Rome, 5.21–5.22.

  • 44. Macrobius, Saturnalia, 3.9.6–3.9.9; and M. P. J. Dillon, “Evocatio: Inviting Enemy Gods to Rome,” in Roman Warfare and the Gods. Volume 2: The Republic, ed. M. P. J. Dillon, C. Matthew and M. Schmitz (Barnsley, UK: Pen & Sword, 2019).

  • 45. Juvenal, Satires, 3.62–3.64.

  • 46. Juvenal, Satires, 6.314–6.345.

  • 47. David Ulansey, Origins of the Mithraic Mysteries (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 1991); Manfred Clauss, The Roman Cult of Mithras (Edinburgh, UK: Edinburgh University Press, 2000); and Roger Beck, Beck on Mithraism: Collected Works With New Essays (Aldershot, UK: Ashgate, 2000).

  • 48. Steven Hijmans, The Cult of Sol Invictus in the Light of Non-Literary Evidence, BABESCH-Annual Papers on Mediterranean Archaeology, 71 (Leuven: BABESCH, 1996).

  • 49. Homer, Iliad, 5.339–418.

  • 50. Homer, Iliad, 5.367.

  • 51. Xenophanes, Poem, 15.

  • 52. See Aristophanes’s Clouds.

  • 53. Rüpke, The Roman Calendar from Numa to Constantine.

  • 54. Xenophanes, Poem, 11.

  • 55. Homer, Iliad, 8.2–8.22.

  • 56. Cicero, de natura deorum, 3.89.

  • 57. Jon Mikalson, The Sacred and Civil Calendar of the Athenian Year (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1975).

  • 58. Mary Beard, et al., Religions of Rome (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, vols 1–2, 1998), 2.61–2.64.

  • 59. Inscriptiones Italiae xiii.2, 1–28; for Roman calendars, see Rüpke, The Roman Calendar from Numa to Constantine, 179–372. Fasti anni numani et iuliani: Accedunt ferialia, menologia rustica, parapegmata/Atilius Degrassi [Roma]. (Istituto Poligrafico dello Stato, 1963).

  • 60. Cicero, de natura deorum, 1.2.3.

  • 61. Athenaeus, Deipnosophistae, 573c.

  • 62. For Greece see Matthew P. J. Dillon, Omens and Oracles. Divination in Classical Greece (Aldershot, UK: Ashgate, 2017); for Rome see Malcolm Schofield, “Cicero For and Against Divination,” Journal of Roman Studies 76 (1986): 47–65.

  • 63. Homer, Iliad, 6.297–6.311.

  • 64. Livy, History of Rome, 36.2.1–36.2.5.

  • 65. For Greek prayer see Simon Pulleyn, Prayer in Greek Religion (Oxford, UK: Clarendon Press, 1997); for Roman, see Frances V. Hickson, Roman Prayer Language. Livy and the Aeneid of Virgil (Stuttgart, Germany: Teubner, 1993).

  • 66. Robert Parker, On Greek Religion (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2011).

  • 67. Homer, Iliad, 1.39–1.42.

  • 68. For Minoan epiphanies, see Nanno Marinatos, “The Character of Minoan Epiphanies,” Illinois Classical Studies 29 (2004): 25–42.

  • 69. Athena disguised as Mentor appears to Telemachos: Homer, Iliad, 2.266–2.267.

  • 70. Apuleius, Metamorphoses, 11.1–11.6.

  • 71. M. P. J. Dillon, “The Didactic Nature of the Epidaurian Iamata,” Zeitschrift für Papyrologie und Epigraphik 101 (1994): 239–260; Inscriptiones Graecae IV2 i.121–124, XIV 906, Inscriptiones Creticae I.xvii, 9; and see Hyperides Euxenippos; Inscriptiones Graecae IV2 (Gaertringen, Friedrich Hiller von 1902); Inscriptiones Graecae IV Inscriptiones Argolidis, 2nd ed. (Berlin: de Gruyter); Inscriptiones Creticae I (Margherita Guarducci, 1935); Inscriptiones Creticae I (Rome: Libreria dello Stato); Inscriptiones Graecae XIV (Georg: Kaibel, 1890); Inscriptiones Graecae, XIV. Inscriptiones Siciliae et Italiae, additis Galliae, Hispaniae, Britanniae, Germaniae inscriptionibus (Berlin: de Gruyter).

  • 72. Inscriptiones Graecae XIV 966.

  • 73. Carolyn Higbie, The Lindian Chronicle and the Greek Creation of their Past (Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2003).

  • 74. Homer, Odyssey, 2.266–2.267, 405–406.

  • 75. Homeric, Hymn to Demeter, 224–284.

  • 76. Herodotus, The Histories, 6.105.1–3

  • 77. Herodotus, The Histories, 6.117, 7.189, 8.65, 84, 122; Paus. 1.15.3, 1.32.5; and Pausanias Geography.

  • 78. For Greek and Roman epiphanies see Cynthia Platt, Facing the Gods. Epiphany and Representation in Graeco-Roman Art, Literature and Religion (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2011).

  • 79. Virgil, Aeneid, 8.698–705.

  • 80. Empedokles, Fragment, 134.

  • 81. Plato, Laws, 885b, 899d–900c.

  • 82. For a definition of these two terms, see Cicero, de nat. deor. 2.71–2.72. de natura deorum

  • 83. Livy, History of Rome, 39.8–19.

  • 84. Patrick G. Walsh, “Making a Drama Out of a Crisis: Livy on the Bacchanalia,” Greece & Rome 43 (1996): 188–203.

  • 85. The SC de Bacchanalibus: ILS 18; Dessau, H. Inscriptiones Latinae Selectae (Berlin: Weidmann, 1892–1916, vols i–iii).

  • 86. Valerius, Maximus Memorable Doings and Sayings, 1.3.4; Tertullian, Apology 6.7–10, Antiquity of the Jews, 18.65.4–18.65.5.

  • 87. See Sarolta A. Takács, Isis and Sarapis in the Roman World (Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 1995), 27–129; and Laurent Bricault, Les cultes isiaques dans le monde gréco-romain: Documents réunis, traduits et commentés (Paris, France: Belles lettres, 2013).

  • 88. For religious tolerance and persecution, see John A. North, “Religious Toleration in Republican Rome,” Proceedings of the Cambridge Philological Society 205 (1979): 85–103, Roman Religion, ed. C. Ando (Edinburgh, Edinburgh University Press, 2003), 199–219; and Paul Garnsey, “Religious Toleration in Classical Antiquity,” in Persecution and Toleration, ed. W. J. Sheils (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1984), 1–27.