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Ancient Greek Religious Personnel 17/09/2007

Religious Personnel in Ancient Greece: preliminary considerations
Prominence of Athens in evidence
• Cultural, political dominance in classical period
• How are can we generalize based on Athens? (example of gender)
Ancient Greek religious personnel generally
• Non-professional, but not amateur (no divinity school learn by
• Part-time, often at least partly self-financed
Social status and cult officials: religious duties confer prestige
• Office allows holder to make public display (social propriety)
• Limits on participation
o Private funding (most offices require some personal expense)
o Time demands (farmers, sailors, etc.)
Gender and participation in cult
• Priestess hoods often (limited) female participator in public life
• Assertion of male control: example of Pythia at Delphi

officials in charge of festivals: usually limited-term appointments

officials in charge of cults and rituals: usually long–term appointment

financing ancient Greek festivals

• sacrificial animals and implements
o mixture of private and public funding
• sacred garments
o office-holder provides: robe, headband, girdle, staff ($$)
• cult building and image
o public usually finances (property difficult to transfer)
• sacrificial meat, hide: sold to festival participants, citizens
• donations: requests, thanksgiving, guilty consciences
• access to temple lands: agriculture, pasturage, timber, water, etc.
officials in charge of festivals
public selection
• various committees and officials (many opportunities for
• appointed, elected, chosen by lot, family prerogative
• leitourgia: financial/ceremonial duty for wealthy citizens
o other examples: outfit warship, public works
o advantages: opportunities for profit, patronage
example of Demeter festival at Eleusis
• combination of hereditary and appointed officials
• reflects historical absorption of Eleusis under Athens
diffusion of religious authority (effect or goal?)
• no one person, group controls choice of officials
• overlapping responsibilities:
o general festival financing, oversight of specific festivals, etc.
titles reflect historical separation of religious from political authority
• investment with symbolic authority (compare origin of temples)
archon basileus
• ceremonial office, appointed by council; BA or EIA holdover (?)
• oversees festivals thought to be ancient (ta patria)
eponymous archon
• highest political office in classical Athens, appointed by council
• only religious authority oversight over relatively recent festivals
o religious authority equated with antiquity of rite/office
• appointed or chosen by lot
• Archaic period: military commander
• Classical period: oversees festivals associated with military
Selection (cult-specific): by lot, inherited (similar to festival officials)
• Criteria for inclusion
o Participation in government; family perquisite
• Criteria for exclusion
o Gender, social class, perceived imperfections
Example: priesthoods of Athena Polias and Poseidon Erechthues
• Inherited prerogative of Eteoboutadai clan
o Trace ancestry to hero Boutes
 Polis incorporates hero cult, compensates with
• Procure sacrificial materials, perform rites, organize worshippers
• Penalties for neglect of duties
Specific officials
• Hiereus (masc.), hiereia (fem.): “priest,” “priestess”
o Responsible for specific cult functions; various levels of
• Exegetai (not cult-specific): interpreters of sacred law
• Again: overlapping responsibilities; absence of single authority
Officials in charge of oracles
Oracles: sites where god or hero gives advice or predictions
• Consulted by private individuals, governments
Polis officials involved with oracles
• Ambassadors (theoroi): appointed by polis government
o Consult for public business (alliances, colonies, war, etc.)
• (pro)mantis: communicates will of gods
o various forms: hereditary, selected; itinerant professional
• chresmologos: interpreter of oracles
oracular utterances
• defined poetic rhythm (meter: dactylic hexameter)
• ex: oracle of local hero Trophonios obtained by Thebans
other types of divination
• signs (meteorological, dreams, birds, entrails)
o gods generally communicate non-verbally
• spontaneous (ex: Telemachos’ sneeze)
• by lots (kleromancy): no element of chance
oracles and politics
again, diffusion of authority: interpretation open for debate
• lack of single authority over oracles (as generally)
• ex: Themistokles debates with the chresmologio
decreasing role of oracles in politics
• Athens: little consultation after empire gained in 5th c.
17/09/2007 12:53:00
17/09/2007 12:53:00