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When did Greek historians stop believing Greek mythology to be historical fact?

When did Greek historians stop believing Greek mythology to be historical fact?

In Greek mythology, there are all kinds of historical stories. Fire from Mount Olympus, founding of Thebes, not to mention actions of the gods.

First, is it safe to assume that there was a time in history when Greeks tended to believe Greek mythology as historical fact?

Second, if so, when did the overwhelming majority of Greek historians realize that it was not true?

By definition, a historian is a scientist. Herodotus is generally considered the "father of history" and he distinguishes myths from historical facts, or at least tries to. At least the gods to not interfere in his history directly (except by pronouncements of the oracles which in his and in the later Greek accounts are always relevant, but this is not related to the myths). Homer is not considered a historian, of course, and was not considered one by the Greeks.

So the short answer is that Greek historians always distinguished myths from historical facts.

To speak to the first question: we are usually led a bit astray by the term "myth," by which we tend to mean a story somewhat akin to a fable that is (to us) obviously not true. To the Greeks, "myth" just mean "story" or "plot." Their religion was in part made up of a lot of stories, but so is every religion. That doesn't mean they didn't believe them or that they didn't have a flexible understanding of their literal vs. figurative truth (i.e. you don't have to believe everything in Bible to believe in God, etc.). Generally, Greeks were fairly religious well into Roman rule.

Also, a fifth century Greek's understanding of the concept "history" is hard to pin down. While someone like Herodotus (and especially Thucydides) tried hard to distinguish fact from fiction, they didn't really engage in some of the central methodological practices that we do (periodization, scrutiny of sources, primary sources), so although we can talk about ancient historians as historians, it is useful to keep in mind that "history" had much different connotations to them than it does to us.

For example, it would be fine back then to say "The Trojan War definitely happened, although I have no evidence, and it happened some time a long time ago."

I also want to second @Gracie K's point: till recently, it was standard to incorporate the bible into historical works. And still, there are plenty of popular history writers who take religious content as fact.

Yes they did. There are specific instances of historians or philosophers being ostracized for criticizing not even the existence of the gods, but just the powers of the gods. An example illustrating their literal belief is that when Tiberius found out that the god Pan had "died", he had an investigation launched as to the cause of his death. Christians understand this to be the allegorical death of paganism since Pan was known as the most "sinful" god (our depiction of the devil derives its image from Pan), but Greeks at the time believed him to have physically died.

Pan is dead though and it need not matter beyond personal intrigue whether the ancient Greeks believed in the literal gods; for the educated are now Christian.

According to the Greek historian Plutarch (in De defectu oraculorum, "The Obsolescence of Oracles"),[29] Pan is the only Greek god (other than Asclepius) who actually dies. During the reign of Tiberius (A.D. 14-37), the news of Pan's death came to one Thamus, a sailor on his way to Italy by way of the island of Paxi. A divine voice hailed him across the salt water, "Thamus, are you there? When you reach Palodes,[30] take care to proclaim that the great god Pan is dead." Which Thamus did, and the news was greeted from shore with groans and laments.

Ancient Greece

Ancient Greece was one of the dominant civilizations in the Mediterranean and the world for hundreds of years. Like all civilizations, however, Ancient Greece eventually fell into decline and was conquered by the Romans, a new and rising world power.

Years of internal wars weakened the once powerful Greek city-states of Sparta, Athens, Thebes, and Corinth. Philip II of Macedon (northern Greece) rose to power and, in 338 BC, he rode south and conquered the cities of Thebes and Athens, uniting most of Greece under his rule.

Upon Philip II's death, his son, Alexander the Great, took control. Alexander was a great general. He proceeded to conquer all of the lands between Greece and India including Egypt.

When Alexander the Great died, there was a huge gap in power. Alexander's empire was divided among his generals. These new divisions soon began fighting. Although the Greek culture had spread throughout much of the world, it was politically divided.

The period of Ancient Greece after Alexander the Great is called Hellenistic Greece. During this time, the city-states of Greece fell into decline. The real centers of Greek culture moved to other areas in the world including the cities of Alexandria (Egypt), Antioch (Turkey), and Ephesus (Turkey).

While the Greeks were in decline, a new civilization in Italy (the Romans) rose to power. As Rome grew more powerful, the Greeks started to see Rome as a threat. In 215 BC, parts of Greece allied with Carthage against Rome. Rome declared war on Macedonia (northern Greece). They defeated Macedonia at the Battle of Cynoscephalae in 197 BC and then again at the Battle of Pydna in 168 BC.

Rome continued its conquest of Greece. The Greeks were finally defeated at the Battle of Corinth in 146 BC. Rome completely destroyed and plundered the city of Corinth as an example to other Greek cities. From this point on Greece was ruled by Rome. Despite being ruled by Rome, much of the Greek culture remained the same and had a heavy influence on Roman culture.


The most common form of same-sex relationships between males in Greece was paiderastia (pederasty), meaning "boy love". It was a relationship between an older male and an adolescent youth. A boy was considered a "boy" until he was able to grow a full beard. In Athens the older man was called erastes. He was to educate, protect, love, and provide a role model for his eromenos, whose reward for him lay in his beauty, youth, and promise.

The roots of Greek pederasty lie in the tribal past of Greece, before the rise of the city-state as a unit of political organization. These tribal communities were organized according to age groups. When it came time for a boy to embrace the age group of the adult and to "become a man," he would leave the tribe in the company of an older man for a period of time that constituted a rite of passage. This older man would educate the youth in the ways of Greek life and the responsibilities of adulthood. [ citation needed ]

The rite of passage undergone by Greek youths in the tribal prehistory of Greece evolved into the commonly known form of Greek pederasty after the rise of the city-state, or polis. Greek boys no longer left the confines of the community, but rather paired up with older men within the confines of the city. These men, like their earlier counterparts, played an educational and instructive role in the lives of their young companions likewise, just as in earlier times, they shared a sexual relationship with their boys. Penetrative sex, however, was seen as demeaning for the passive partner, and outside the socially accepted norm. [7] In ancient Greece, sex was generally understood in terms of penetration, pleasure, and dominance, rather than a matter of the sexes of the participants. For this reason, pederasty was not considered to be a homosexual act, given that the ‘man’ would be taking on a dominant role, and his disciple would be taking on a passive one. When intercourse occurred between two people of the same gender, it still was not entirely regarded as a homosexual union, given that one partner would have to take on a passive role, and would therefore no longer be considered a ‘man’ in terms of the sexual union. [8]

An elaborate social code governed the mechanics of Greek pederasty. It was the duty of the adult man to court the boy who struck his fancy, and it was viewed as socially appropriate for the younger man to withhold for a while before capitulating to his mentor's desires. This waiting period allowed the boy to ensure that his suitor was not merely interested in him for sexual purposes, but felt a genuine emotional affection for him and was interested in assuming the mentor role assigned to him in the pederastic paradigm. [ citation needed ]

The age limit for pederasty in ancient Greece seems to encompass, at the minimum end, boys of twelve years of age. To love a boy below the age of twelve was considered inappropriate, but no evidence exists of any legal penalties attached to this sort of practice. Traditionally, a pederastic relationship could continue until the widespread growth of the boy's body hair, when he is considered a man. Thus, the age limit for the younger member of a pederastic relationship seems to have extended from 12 to about 21 years of age. [ citation needed ]

The ancient Greeks, in the context of the pederastic city-states, were the first to describe, study, systematize, and establish pederasty as a social and educational institution. It was an important element in civil life, the military, philosophy and the arts. [9] There is some debate among scholars about whether pederasty was widespread in all social classes, or largely limited to the aristocracy.

In the military Edit

The Sacred Band of Thebes, a separate military unit made up of pairs of male lovers, is usually considered the prime example of how the ancient Greeks used love between soldiers in a troop to boost their fighting spirit. The Thebans attributed to the Sacred Band the power of Thebes for the generation before its fall to Philip II of Macedon, who, when he surveyed the dead after the Battle of Chaeronea (338 BC) and saw the bodies of the Sacred Band strewn on the battlefield, delivered this harsh criticism of the Spartan views of the band:

Perish miserably they who think that these men did or suffered aught disgraceful. [10]

Pammenes' opinion, according to Plutarch, was that

Homer's Nestor was not well skilled in ordering an army when he advised the Greeks to rank tribe and tribe. he should have joined lovers and their beloved. For men of the same tribe little value one another when dangers press but a band cemented by friendship grounded upon love is never to be broken.

These bonds, reflected in episodes from Greek mythology, such as the heroic relationship between Achilles and Patroclus in the Iliad, were thought to boost morale as well as bravery due to the desire to impress and protect their lover. Such relationships were documented by many Greek historians and in philosophical discourses, as well as in offhand remarks such as Philip II of Macedon's recorded by Plutarch demonstrates:

It is not only the most warlike peoples, the Boeotians, Spartans, and Cretans, who are the most susceptible to this kind of love but also the greatest heroes of old: Meleager, Achilles, Aristomenes, Cimon, and Epaminondas.

During the Lelantine War between the Eretrians and the Chalcidians, before a decisive battle the Chalcidians called for the aid of a warrior named Cleomachus (glorious warrior). He answered their request, bringing his lover to watch. Leading the charge against the Eretrians he brought the Chalcidians to victory at the cost of his own life. The Chalcidians erected a tomb for him in the marketplace in gratitude. [ citation needed ]

Given the importance in Greek society of cultivating the masculinity of the adult male and the perceived feminizing effect of being the passive partner, relations between adult men of comparable social status were considered highly problematic, and usually associated with social stigma. [11] This stigma, however, was reserved for only the passive partner in the relationship. According to contemporary opinion, Greek males who engaged in passive anal sex after reaching the age of manhood – at which point they were expected to take the reverse role in pederastic relationships and become the active and dominant member – thereby were feminized or "made a woman" of themselves. There is ample evidence in the theater of Aristophanes that derides these passive men and gives a glimpse of the type of biting social opprobrium and shame ("atimia") heaped upon them by their society. [ citation needed ]

Achilles and Patroclus Edit

The first recorded appearance of a deep emotional bond between adult men in ancient Greek culture was in the Iliad (800 BC). Homer does not depict the relationship between Achilles and Patroclus as sexual. The ancient Greeks emphasised the supposed age difference between the two by portraying Patroclus with a beard in paintings and pottery, while Achilles is cleanshaven, although Achilles was an almost godlike figure in Greek society. This led to a disagreement about which to perceive as erastes and which eromenos, since Homeric tradition made Patroclus out to be older but Achilles stronger. Other ancients held that Achilles and Patroclus were simply close friends.

Aeschylus in the tragedy Myrmidons made Achilles the protector since he had avenged his lover's death even though the gods told him it would cost his own life. However, the character of Phaedrus in Plato's Symposium asserts that Homer emphasized the beauty of Achilles, which would qualify him, not Patroclus, as “eromenos”. [12]

Sappho, a poet from the island of Lesbos, wrote many love poems addressed to women and girls. The love in these poems is sometimes requited, and sometimes not. Sappho is thought to have written close to 12,000 lines of poetry on her love for other women. Of these, only about 600 lines have survived. As a result of her fame in antiquity, she and her land have become emblematic of love between women.

Pedagogic erotic relationships are also documented for Sparta, together with athletic nudity for women. Plato's Symposium mentions women who "do not care for men, but have female attachments". [13] In general, however, the historical record of love and sexual relations between women is sparse. [6]

After a long hiatus marked by censorship of homosexual themes, [14] modern historians picked up the thread, starting with Erich Bethe in 1907 and continuing with K. J. Dover and many others. These scholars have shown that same-sex relations were openly practised, largely with official sanction, in many areas of life from the 7th century BC until the Roman era.

Some scholars believe that same-sex relationships, especially pederasty, were common only among the aristocracy, and that such relationships were not widely practised by the common people (demos). One such scholar is Bruce Thornton, who argues that insults directed at pederastic males in the comedies of Aristophanes show the common people's dislike for the practice. [15] Other scholars, such as Victoria Wohl, emphasize that in Athens, same-sex desire was part of the "sexual ideology of the democracy," shared by the elite and the demos, as exemplified by the tyrant-slayers, Harmodius and Aristogeiton. [16] Even those who argue that pederasty was limited to the upper classes generally concede that it was "part of the social structure of the polis". [15]

Considerable controversy has engaged the scholarly world concerning the nature of same-sex relationships among the ancient Greeks described by Thomas Hubbard in the Introduction to Homosexuality in Greece and Rome, A Source Book of Basic Documents, 2007, p. 2: "The field of Gay Studies has, virtually since its inception, been divided between 'essentialists' those who believe in an archetypical pattern of same gender attraction that is universal, transhistorical, and transcultural, and "social constructionists," those who hold that patterns of sexual preference manifest themselves with different significance in different societies and that no essential identity exists between practitioners of same-gender love in, for instance, ancient Greece and post industrial Western society. Some social constructionists have even gone so far as to deny that sexual preference was a significant category for the ancients or that any kind of subculture based on sexual object-choice existed in the ancient world," p. 2 (he cites Halperin and Foucault in the social constructionist camp and Boswell and Thorp in the essentialist cf. E. Stein for a collection of essays, Forms of Desire: Sexual Orientation and the Social Constructionist Controversy, 1992). Hubbard states that "Close examination of a range of ancient texts suggests, however, that some forms of sexual preference were, in fact, considered a distinguishing characteristic of individuals. Many texts even see such preferences as inborn qualities and as "essential aspects of human identity. " ibid. Hubbard utilizes both schools of thought when these seem pertinent to the ancient texts, pp. 2–20.

During Plato's time there were some people who were of the opinion that homosexual sex was shameful in any circumstances. Indeed, Plato himself eventually came to hold this view. At one time he had written that same-sex lovers were far more blessed than ordinary mortals. He even gave them a headstart in the great race to get back to heaven, their mutual love refeathering their mottled wings. Later he seemed to contradict himself. In his ideal city, he says in his last, posthumously published work known as The Laws, homosexual sex will be treated the same way as incest. It is something contrary to nature, he insists, calling it "utterly unholy, odious-to-the-gods and ugliest of ugly things". [17]

The subject has caused controversy in most of modern Greece. In 2002, a conference on Alexander the Great was stormed as a paper about his homosexuality was about to be presented. When the film Alexander, which depicted Alexander as romantically involved with both men and women, was released in 2004, 25 Greek lawyers threatened to sue the film's makers, [18] but relented after attending an advance screening of the film. [19]


The Romans tended towards syncretism, seeing the same gods under different names in different places of the Empire, accommodating other Europeans such as the Hellenes, Germans, Celts, and Semitic and other groups in the Middle East. Under Roman authority, the various national myths most similar to Rome were adopted by analogue into the overall Roman mythos, further cementing Imperial control. Consequently, the Romans were generally tolerant and accommodating towards new deities and the religious experiences of other peoples who formed part of their wider Empire. [1]

The rise of esoteric philosophy Edit

The more philosophical outlook of the Hellenic parts of the Roman empire led to a renaissance of intellectual religious thought around the start of the 2nd century. Writings pseudepigraphically attributed to Hermes Trismegistus, and discussing esoteric philosophy, magic, and alchemy, began to spread from Roman Egypt throughout the empire while they are difficult to date with precision, these texts are likely to have been redacted between the first and third centuries. Although such hermetica was generally written with the theological aim of spiritual improvement, each text had an anonymous, eclectic, and spontaneous origin, rather than being part of an organised movement.

A more organised form of alatrist henotheistic panentheism emerged in parallel to Hermetism. In the 1st century BC Cicero's friend Nigidius Figulus made an attempt to revive Pythagorean doctrines, an effort that was particularly successful under Apollonius of Tyana in the 1st century within a century, supernatural powers were being ascribed to Apollonius, and accounts of his life had similarities to those of Jesus. At least one major meeting place for followers of this neopythagoreanism was built in Rome itself, near Porta Maggiore, to a design similar to later Christian churches, though subterranean.

In the 2nd century, Numenius of Apamea sought to fuse additional elements of Platonism into Neopythagoreanism, a direction which Plotinus continued, forming neoplatonism, a religion of theistic monism. Neoplatonism began to be adopted by prominent scholars such as the Christian theologian Origen and the anti-Christian Porphyry. During the rule of Gallienus, the imperial family themselves gave patronage to Plotinus, and encouraged his philosophical activities. Neoplatonism was further developed by Iamblichus, who believed that physical invocations would be able to produce soteriological results, and therefore added religious ritual to the philosophy. Emperor Julian tried to unify traditional Roman religion by mixing it with Iamblichus' form of neoplatonism the influential Christian thinker Augustine of Hippo lived during this period, and his subsequent writings show heavy neoplatonic influence.

Eastern sun-worship Edit

At some time around the first century, the members of the Roman military began to adopt the mystery cult of Mithraism this sun-god related cult arose from obscure non-Roman origins, and the first surviving reference dates to Plutarch's mention of a 67 BC observation of certain Mediterranean pirates practising it. As the Roman legions gradually moved around, so too Mithraism spread throughout the Roman Empire in the beginning it was mainly soldiers who followed its precepts, but it was also adopted by freedmen, slaves, and merchants, in the locations where the legions rested, particularly in frontier areas.

Mithraism wasn't exclusive - it was possible and common to follow Mithraism and other cults simultaneously. It eventually became popular within Rome itself, gradually gaining members among the more aristocratic classes, and eventually counting some of the Roman senators as adherents according to the Augustan History, even the emperor Commodus was a member. Although, for reasons currently unknown, Mithraism completely excluded women, by the third century it had gained a wide following there are over 100 surviving remains of temples to Mithras, 8 in Rome itself, and 18 in Ostia (Rome's main port), with Rome having over 300 associated Mithraic monuments.

From the reign of Septimius Severus, other, less gender-specific, forms of sun-worship also increased in popularity throughout the Roman Empire. [2]

Elagabalus used his authority to install El-Gabal as the chief deity of the Roman pantheon, merging the god with the Roman sun gods to form Deus Sol Invictus, meaning God - the Undefeated Sun, and making him superior to Jupiter, [3] and assigning either Astarte, Minerva, Urania, or some combination of the three, as El-Gabal's wife. [4] He rode roughshod over other elements of traditional religion, marrying a Vestal Virgin [5] (who were legally required to remain unmarried virgins during their service), [6] and moved the most sacred relics of Roman religion (including the fire of Vesta, the Shields of the Salii, and the Palladium) to a new temple dedicated exclusively to El-Gabal. [7] As much as the religiously conservative senators may have disapproved, the lavish annual public festivals held in El-Gabal's honour found favour among the popular masses, partly on account of the festivals involving the wide distribution of food. [4]

Nearly half a century after Elagabalus, Aurelian came to power. He was a reformer, strengthening the position of the sun-god as the main divinity of the Roman pantheon he even built a brand new temple, in Rome, dedicated to the deity. It's also thought likely that he may have been responsible for establishing the festival of the day of the birth of the unconquered sun (Dies Natalis Solis Invicti), which was celebrated on December 25, the day when the sun appears to start rising again - four days after having previously reached its lowest point, [8] though the earliest surviving reference to the festival is in the Chronography of 354. He followed the principle of one god, one empire his intention was to give to all the peoples of the Empire, civilian or soldiers, easterners or westerners, a single god they could believe in without betraying their own gods. Lactantius argued that Aurelian would have outlawed all the other gods if he had had enough time, but Aurelian only managed to hold on to the position of Emperor for five years.

Judaism and Christianity Edit

Imperial tolerance only extended to religions that did not resist Roman authority and would respect Roman gods. Religions that were hostile to the state or any that claimed exclusive rights to religious beliefs and practice were not included and some exclusive Eastern cults were persecuted. Jews were given special privileges owing to their dominance in economy, numbers and dispersal, but this tolerance was balanced unevenly on a thin veneer of Jewish submission. Tolerance of Judaism turned to persecution when collaboration was perceived as ending, see Anti-Judaism in the pre-Christian Roman Empire. Intolerant sects could also persecute each other Jewish sects like the early Christians were denounced by the Jewish establishment as dangerous provocateurs, according to some interpretations of the Council of Jamnia and the Birkat haMinim. The results included massacres of Christian communities and Jewish nationalist groups. [1]

The early Christian community was perceived at times to be an intrinsically destabilising influence [9] and threat to the peace of Rome, a religio illicita. [1] The pagans who attributed the misfortunes of Rome and its wider Empire to the rise of Christianity, and who could only see a restoration by a return to the old ways, [10] were faced by the Christian Church that had set itself apart from that faith and was unwilling to dilute what it held to be the religion of the "One True God". [11]

The same gods whom the Romans believed had protected and blessed their city and its wider empire during the many centuries they had been worshipped were now demonized by the early Christian Church. [12]

After the initial conflicts between the state and the new emerging religion, Gallienus (ruled 253 to 260) was the first emperor to issue an edict of toleration for all religious creeds including Christianity. According to Christian polemicists writing after his death, Constantine I was baptized on his deathbed, which would make him the first emperor to become a baptized Christian. [13] [14] Eusebius, a contemporary Christian historian, also praises him for having some pagan temples torn down. [15] Nevertheless, whatever the imperial edicts said, the effects of policy under the Christian emperors down to Valentinian I and Valens were enough to cause a widespread trend to Christian conversion, but not enough to make paganism extinct. Actual persecution was sporadic and generally the result of local initiative, for example Martin of Tours' destructions of holy sites in Gaul in the later fourth century. [16] Official orders may have established an understanding that actual persecution would be tolerated, but in the first century of official Christianity did not generally organize it.

By the Edict of Milan (313 AD), Constantine continued the policy of toleration, which Galerius had established. [17] His legislation against magic and private divination were driven out of a fear that others might gain power through those means. [18] Nonetheless, this did not mean he or other Roman rulers disfavored divination. Instead, his belief in Roman divination is confirmed by legislation calling for the consultation of augurs after an amphitheatre had been struck by lightning in the year 320. [19] Constantine explicitly allowed public divination as a practice of State ceremony as well as public pagan practices to continue. [20] Constantine also issued laws confirming the rights of flamens, priests and duumvirs. [21] Additionally, he began the practice of using secular power to establish doctrinal orthodoxy within Christianity, an example followed by all later Christian emperors, which led to a circle of Christian violence, and of Christian resistance couched in terms of martyrdom. [22]

The actions of Constantius II, who reigned from 337 until 361, marked the beginning of the era of formal persecution against paganism by the Christian Roman Empire, with the emanation of laws and edicts which punished pagan practices. [23] [24]

From the 350s, new laws prescribed the death penalty for those who performed or attended pagan sacrifices, and for the worshipping of idols [25] temples were shut down, [1] [24] and the traditional Altar of Victory was removed from the Senate. [26] There were also frequent episodes of ordinary Christians destroying, pillaging, desecrating, and vandalizing many of the ancient pagan temples, tombs and monuments. [27] [28] [29] [30]

The harsh imperial edicts had to face the vast following of paganism among the population, and the passive resistance of governors and magistrates. [1] [31] [32] [33] The anti-pagan legislation, beginning with Constantius, would in time have an unfavourable influence on the Middle Ages and, in some ways, become the basis of the Inquisition. [34]

Under the sole rule of Julian from 361–363, Paganism saw an attempt at restoration while from 363 until 375, under the reigns of Jovian, Valens and Valentinian I, it received a relative tolerance.

Julian Edit

Julian was a nephew of Constantine and received a Christian training but the murder of his father, brother and two uncles, in the aftermath of Constantine's death, he attributed to Constantius and by association to Christians in general. [ citation needed ] This antipathy was deepened when Constantius executed Julian's only remaining brother in 354 AD. [1] [35] After childhood Julian was educated by hellenists and was attracted to the teachings of neoplatonists and the old religions.

Julian's religious beliefs were syncretic and he was an initiate of at least three mystery religions. But Julian's religious open-mindedness did not extend to Christianity due to its belief that it had an exclusive perspective on religious truth. Seeing itself as the only true religion, Christianity was opposed to, and fundamentally incompatible with, the more inclusive syncretism of paganism. [9]

As Emperor, Julian sought to turn the tide in the attempted suppression of non-Christian religions. As his first task he sought to reestablish the old Roman Pagan practice of incorporation of other religions. But now instead of allowing different cults using different names for the same or similar deities, Julian's training in Christianity and Imperial government influenced him to develop a single pagan religion. Thus, his ideas concerning the revival and organization of the old religion, shaping it into a coherent body of doctrine, ritual and liturgy [1] with a hierarchy under the supervision of the emperor was the hallmark of his reign. [35] Julian organized elaborate rituals and attempted to set forth a clarified philosophy of Neo-Platonism that might unite all Pagans. [36]

Julian allowed religious freedom and avoided any form of actual compulsion. The Christian Sozomen acknowledges that Julian did not compel Christians to offer sacrifice nor did he allow the people to commit any act of injustice towards the Christians or insult them. [37] However, no Christian was allowed to teach or study the ancient classical authors, "Let them keep to Matthew and Luke", thus ending any chance they had of a professional career. [1] [38]

He withdrew the privileges of the Christian clergy, bestowed on them by Constantine, and ordered them to make restitution. Those who had demolished temples during the reign of Constantine and Constantius, were made to rebuild them, or to defray the expenses of their re-erection. Only pagans were allowed to teach in law, rhetoric, philosophy, or practice any form of state sanctioned religious liturgy. Julian required those who had abandoned the deities to purify themselves before they were allowed the privilege of taking part in their worship once again. He was devoted to divination and allowed his subjects to freely practice this art. [39] In general the privileges and immunities given to the Christians were now replaced with those given to pagan philosophers and priests who subscribed to his neo-platonic pagan religion. [37]

Jovian, Valentinian and Valens Edit

After the death of Julian, Jovian seems to have instituted a policy of religious toleration which avoided the relative extremes of Constantius and Julian. [40] Under Valentinian I and Valens this period of religious toleration continued. Pagan writers praise both of these emperors for their liberal religious policies. [41]

Valentinian and Valens granted complete toleration for all cults at the beginning of their reign in 364. [42] Valentinian, who ruled in the west, even allowed the performance of nocturnal sacrifices, which had been previously prohibited due to the attempt of some people to practice unlawful divination under the cover of the night, after the proconsul of Greece appealed to him. [43] Valentinian also confirmed the rights and privileges of the Pagan priests and confirmed the right of Pagans to be the exclusive caretakers of their temples. [44] Valens, who was ruling in the east, was an Arian and was too engaged with fighting against the Orthodox Christians to bother much with the Pagans. In both the west and east severe laws were once again passed prohibiting private divination. [45] Due to the over zealousness of the populace to stop harmful divination, the haruspices and augurs began to be afraid to show themselves in public. This led the emperors to formally authorize the practice of official and lawful divination by law in 371. [42] Despite the official policy, anti-pagan laws remained in force, and unofficial destruction of pagan holy sites was also tolerated.

Upon the death of his father (Valentinian I) in the year 375, Gratian began his actual reign at the age of sixteen. Six days after the death of Valentinian I, Gratian's half brother, Valentinian II, who was only four years old, was also declared emperor. After the death of Valens, at the battle of Adrianople in 378, Gratian chose a Spaniard named Theodosius I to succeed his uncle. Gratian had been educated by Ausonius who had praised his pupil for his tolerance. Upon the death of his father, Gratian came under the influence of Ambrose, who became his chief advisor. [46] [47] Under the influence of Ambrose, active steps to repress Paganism were taken. [48]

The influence of Ambrose was a significant force that brought to an end a period of widespread, if unofficial, religious tolerance that had existed since the time of Julian. [49] Gratian dealt Paganism several blows in 382. [50] In this year, Gratian appropriated the income of the Pagan priests and Vestal Virgins, confiscated the personal possessions of the priestly colleges and ordered the removal of the Altar of Victory. [51] The colleges of Pagan priests also lost all their privileges and immunities. Gratian declared that all of the Pagan temples and shrines were to be confiscated by the government and that their revenues were to be joined to the property of the imperial treasury. [52]

Pagan Senators responded by sending an appeal to Gratian, reminding him that he was still the Pontifex Maximus and that it was his duty to see that the Pagan rites were properly performed. They appealed to Gratian to restore the altar of Victory and the rights and privileges of the Vestal Virgins and priestly colleges. Gratian, at the urging of Ambrose, did not grant an audience to the Pagan Senators. In response to being reminded by the Pagans that he was still the head of the ancestral religion, Gratian renounced the title and office of Pontifex Maximus under the influence of Ambrose, declaring that it was unsuitable for a Christian to hold this office.

The Christian persecution of paganism under Theodosius I began in 381, after the first couple of years his reign in the Eastern Roman Empire. In the 380s, Theodosius I reiterated Constantius' ban on Pagan sacrifice, prohibited haruspicy on pain of death, pioneered the criminalization of Magistrates who did not enforce anti-Pagan laws, broke up some pagan associations and destroyed Pagan temples.

Between 389-391 he emanated the "Theodosian decrees," which established a practical ban on paganism [53] visits to the temples were forbidden, [54] [55] remaining Pagan holidays abolished, the eternal fire in the Temple of Vesta in the Roman Forum extinguished, the Vestal Virgins disbanded, auspices and witchcrafting punished. Theodosius refused to restore the Altar of Victory in the Senate House, as asked by Pagan Senators.

In 392 he became emperor of the whole empire (the last one to do so). From this moment till the end of his reign in 395, while Pagans remained outspoken in their demands for toleration, [56] [57] he authorized or participated in the destruction of many temples, holy sites, images and objects of piety throughout the empire, [58] [59] [60] [61] [62] and participated in actions by Christians against major Pagan sites. [63] He issued a comprehensive law that prohibited any Pagan ritual even within the privacy of one's home, [1] and was particularly oppressive of Manicheans. [64] Paganism was now proscribed, a "religio illicita". [65] He is likely to have suppressed the Ancient Olympic Games, whose last record of celebration is from 393. [66]

Upon the death of Theodosius I in 395, a political crisis ensued, which the barbarians were quick to take advantage of by invading the empire on an unprecedented scale. Since most of the Germanic tribes infiltrating, settling, or invading the Empire were Arian Christian, many nominal Orthodox Christians became less certain of their religion. Some, in a sense of superstition or ancient Roman pagan patriotism, felt the invasions were the result of abandoning the old ways. Others believed the success of the Teutons was because the Orthodox Church was corrupt. Pagans, in their turn, became more aggressive and began to blame the Christians for the disasters affecting the empire. [67]

Despite the pleas of many pagans for tolerance, Honorius and Arcadius continued the work of their father by enacting even more anti-Pagan laws in an attempt to stop this revival of Paganism. The fact that they had to keep repeating their threats by the enactment of numerous laws against the practice of Paganism indicates that their efforts did not succeed in stamping out the traditional Pagan rites, which continued to be practiced discreetly. [68]

During the early part of the reign of Honorius, Stilicho was able to exercise unlimited power over the west. Stilicho exercised moderation in his religious policies and enacted laws that were favorable to the Pagans. Consequently, during the time in which Stilicho held power, the Pagans enjoyed a brief respite from persecution. In 395, Arcadius declared that the solemn days of the pagans were no longer to be included in the number of holidays. [69] In the same year, another law was passed by Arcadius that prohibited anyone from going to a pagan sanctuary or temple or celebrating any kind of pagan sacrifice. [70] This law seems to have been targeted at those Christians who were converting back to paganism as it specifically mentions "those who are trying to stray from the dogma of the Catholic faith." In 396, the privileges of pagan priests and other clerics were officially revoked. [71] In the same year, Arcadius ordered that pagan temples standing in the countryside were to be destroyed without disorder or riot. [72] This law seems to indicate that the number of pagans in the countryside was still too large for the Christians to openly destroy the temples that were located there. As a result, Christians had to be content with destroying the pagan temples that were located in mostly municipal areas where they could easily outnumber the pagan inhabitants. The large number of pagans in the east also seems to have forced Arcadius into allowing the ancient festivals and public games to continue. [73]

Meanwhile, three laws were enacted in the west in 399, under the influence of Stilicho, which were relatively favorable to pagans. Due to the riots caused by Christians in their attempts to destroy the temples, the first of these laws protected pagan temples from the destruction of Christians who pretended that they had been authorized by the government to destroy them. [74] The second of these laws acknowledged the right of the people to continue to participate in the traditional banquets, shows, gatherings and amusements associated with the old pagan religion it did, however, forbid the public performance of any pagan rites or sacrifice. [75] The third law forbade the destruction of pagan temples that had been cleared of forbidden things and ordered that they were to be kept in good repair. [76] After the death of Stilicho, Honorius and his party in the state gained control and harsh laws against paganism were once again enacted. In 408, Honorius enacted a new law which ordered that all statues and altars in the temples were to be removed and that the temple buildings and their income were to be appropriated by the government. [77] This law also forbade the holding of any pagan banquet or celebration in the vicinity of the temples. The execution of this law was placed in the hands of the bishops. Two other laws decreed that buildings belonging to known pagans and heretics were to be appropriated by the churches. [78]

Arcadius died in 408 and his eight-year-old son, Theodosius, was thereupon proclaimed emperor in the East. In the same year, Honorius enacted a law that prohibited anyone who was not Catholic from performing imperial service within the palace. [79] Zosimus reports that Honorius was forced to repeal this law after one of his best officers, who happened to be a pagan, resigned in protest. [80] At the beginning of 409, Honorius enacted a law that punished judges and officials who did not enforce the laws against pagans. [81] This law even punished men of rank who simply kept silent over any pagan rite performed in their own city or district. The hopes of pagans were revived with the elevation of Priscus Attalus, at Rome, in 409. Alaric, an Arian Christian, soon tired of his puppet, however, and Attalus was deposed in the summer of 410 when Honorius promised to negotiate a peace treaty. When these negotiations failed, Alaric took and sacked the city of Rome. This catastrophe shocked the entire Roman world. Both Christians and pagans quickly began to blame each other for something that had hitherto been thought impossible. In this heated atmosphere, Honorius once again reiterated his anti-pagan legislation. [82]

There are numerous fragments extant of several Pagan historical works, such as the works of Eunapius and Olympiodorus, which indicate that pagans were now openly voicing their resentment in writing. Even after the sack of Rome, in 410, pagans believed that the recent decline of Rome had been caused by the neglect of the ancestral traditions.

In 415, Honorius enacted yet another law that appropriated the Pagan temples throughout the Roman Empire to the government and ordered that all objects that had been consecrated for Pagan sacrifices were to be removed from public places. [83] A prominent example of the anti-pagan climate at the time is the case of the philosopher Hypatia of Alexandria, killed by a mob in 415.

In 416, Honorius and Theodosius II ordered that pagans would no longer be admitted to imperial service nor would they be allowed to receive the rank of administrator or judge. [84] In 423, Theodosius II reiterated the previous laws against Pagans and declared that all Pagans who were caught performing the ancient rites would now have all their goods confiscated and be exiled. [85] In August 423, Honorius died and power was seized in the west by John, who had held the office of Primicerius Notariorum. John appears to have ushered in a period of religious toleration. John seems to have attempted to curb the power of ecclesiastics and the privileges of the church in an attempt to treat all people equally. [86] In 423, Theodosius II published a law that demanded that Christians (whether they were really such or pretended to be so) were not to disturb Pagans who were living peaceably and doing nothing contrary to the law. [87] In 425, Theodosius II sent an expedition to the west to depose John and establish Valentinian III as emperor of the west. After John was captured and executed, Valentinian III was proclaimed emperor in the city of Rome. While in the west, Theodosius II enacted two anti-pagan laws in 425. The first of these stipulated that all pagan superstition was to be rooted out. [88] The second law barred pagans from pleading a case in court and also disqualified them from serving as soldiers. [89] Theodosius then left Valentinian to rule the west and returned to Constantinople.

The numerous laws against apostasy that had been continuously promulgated since the time of Gratian and Theodosius are evidence that the emperors were having a hard time even keeping Christians from going astray. [90] In 426, Theodosius passed yet another law against Christian apostates, who converted to paganism, and those who pretended to become Christian but in reality continued to perform pagan sacrifices. [91] All this legislation proved so ineffective that Theodosius II found it necessary to reiterate his prohibition against pagan rites and sacrifices in 435, this time increasing the penalty to death. [92] This law also ordered that all pagan shrines, temples and sanctuaries that still existed were to be destroyed by the magistrates. Magistrates who failed to carry out this order were ordered to be punished with death. Even the threat of death, however, failed to eradicate paganism as we find Theodosius legislating again, in 438, against Paganism and forbidding Pagan sacrifice once more. [93] Theodosius threatens those who fail to comply with death and the confiscation of their property. In this law, as the Emperor explicitly admits that Pagan sacrifices were still being openly celebrated:

Hence our clemency perceives the need of keeping watch over the pagans and their heathen enormities, since by natural depravity and stubborn lawlessness, they forsake the path of true religion. They disdain in any way to perform the nefarious rites of sacrifice and the false errors of their baleful superstition by some means or other in the hidden solitudes, unless their crimes are made public by the profession of their crimes to insult divine majesty and to show scorn to our age. Not the thousand terrors of laws already promulgated nor the penalty of exile pronounced upon them deter these men, whereby, if they cannot reform, at least they might learn to abstain from their mass of their crimes and the multitude of their sacrifices. But their insane audacity transgresses continually our patience is exhausted by their wicked behavior so that if we desired to forget them, we could not disregard them. [93]

The continued vitality of paganism led Marcian, who became emperor of the east in 450 upon the death of Theodosius II, to repeat earlier prohibitions against pagan rites. Marcian decreed, in the year 451, that those who continued to perform the pagan rites would suffer the confiscation of their property and be condemned to death. Marcian also prohibited any attempt to re-open the temples and ordered that they were to remain closed. In addition to this, in order to encourage strict enforcement of the law a fine of fifty pounds of gold was imposed on any judge or governor, as well as the officials under him, who did not enforce this law. [94] However, not even this had the desired effect, as we find Leo I, who succeeded Marcian in 457, publishing a new law in 472 which imposed severe penalties for the owner of any property who was aware that Pagan rites were performed on his property. If the property owner was of high rank he was punished by the loss of his rank or office and by the confiscation of his property. If the property owner was of lower status he would be tortured and then condemned to labor in the mines for the rest of his life. [95]

Two more laws against paganism, which may be from this period, are preserved in the Justinian Code. [96] After the deposition of Avitus, who ruled as emperor of the West from 455 to 456, there seems to have been a conspiracy among the Roman nobles to place the pagan general Marcellinus on the throne to restore Paganism but it came to nothing. [97]

In the year 457, Leo I became the first emperor to be crowned by the Patriarch of Constantinople. Anthemius (467-472) he seems to have planned a pagan revival at Rome. [98] He was a descendant of Procopius, the relative of Julian. Anthemius gave Messius Phoebus Severus, a pagan philosopher who was a close friend of his, the important offices of Praefectus urbi of Rome, Consul and Patrician. Anthemius placed the image of Hercules, in the act of vanquishing the Nemean lion, on his coins. The murder of Anthemius (by Ricimer) destroyed the hopes of those pagans who believed that the traditional rites would now be restored. [99] Shortly thereafter, in 476, the western emperor was deposed by Odoacer, who became the first barbarian king of Italy. In spite of this disaster, pagans made one last attempt to revive the pagan rites. In 484, the Magister militum per Orientem, Illus, revolted against Zeno and raised his own candidate, Leontius, to the throne. Leontius hoped to reopen the temples and restore the ancient ceremonies and because of this many pagans joined in his revolt against Zeno. [98] Illus and Leontius were compelled, however, to flee to a remote Isaurian fortress, where Zeno besieged them for four years. Zeno finally captured them in 488 and promptly had them executed. [100]

As a result of the revolt, Zeno instituted a harsh persecution of pagan intellectuals. With the failure of the revolt of Leontius, some pagans became disillusioned and many became Christian, or simply pretended to, in order to avoid persecution. [101] The Christianization of the Roman Empire became complete [ citation needed ] when the emperor Anastasius I Dicorus, who came to the throne in 491, was forced to sign a written declaration of orthodoxy before his coronation.


The Mesolithic period in Greece started after Upper Paleolithic and it is part of Middle Stone Age in Greece before Neolithic emerging. Mesolithic sites in Greece were limited and the majority are located near the coast. Franchthi cave and Theopetra are among the most important Mesolithic sites in Greece and South Eastern Europe [1]

Neolithic to Bronze Age (7000–1100 BC) Edit

The Neolithic Revolution reached Europe beginning in 7000–6500 BC when agriculturalists from the Near East entered the Greek peninsula from Anatolia by island-hopping through the Aegean Sea. The earliest Neolithic sites with developed agricultural economies in Europe dated 8500–9000 BPE are found in Greece. [3] The first Greek-speaking tribes, speaking the predecessor of the Mycenaean language, arrived in the Greek mainland sometime in the Neolithic period or the Early Bronze Age (c. 3200 BC). [4] [5]

Cycladic and Minoan civilization Edit

The Cycladic culture is a significant Late Neolithic and Early Bronze Age culture, is best known for its schematic flat female idols carved out of the islands' pure white marble centuries before the great Middle Bronze Age ("Minoan") culture arose in Crete, to the south. The Minoan civilization in Crete lasted from about c. 3000 BC (Early Minoan) to c. 1400 BC, [6] and the Helladic culture on the Greek mainland from c. 3200 – c. 3100 to c. 2000 – c. 1900 .

Little specific information is known about the Minoans (even the name Minoans is a modern appellation, derived from Minos, the legendary king of Crete), including their written system, which was recorded on the undeciphered Linear A script [6] and Cretan hieroglyphs. They were primarily a mercantile people engaged in extensive overseas trade throughout the Mediterranean region. [6]

Minoan civilization was affected by a number of natural cataclysms such as the volcanic eruption at Thera (c. 1628–1627 BC) and earthquakes (c. 1600 BC). [6] In 1425 BC, the Minoan palaces (except Knossos) were devastated by fire, which allowed the Mycenaean Greeks, influenced by the Minoans' culture, to expand into Crete. [6] The Minoan civilization which preceded the Mycenaean civilization on Crete was revealed to the modern world by Sir Arthur Evans in 1900, when he purchased and then began excavating a site at Knossos. [7]

Pre Mycenean Helladic period

Following the end of the Neolithic ages, the last Stone Age period, the early and middle Helladic period was established in the Greek mainland. Firstly, the slow transition from the Final Neolithic period took place with the Eutresis culture. The agricultural communities of that period needed entire centuries in order to replace their stone tools with metal tools. Following the materialistic developments, more powerful micro-states and the base of the future Late Helladic Mycenaean civilization were developed. The Early Bronze Age settlements saw further development during Helladic III or Tiryns culture and the Middle Helladic period before the Mycenean period.

Mycenaean civilization Edit

Mycenaean civilization originated and evolved from the society and culture of the Early and Middle Helladic periods in mainland Greece. [8] It emerged in c. 1600 BC, when Helladic culture in mainland Greece was transformed under influences from Minoan Crete and lasted until the collapse of the Mycenaean palaces in c. 1100 BC. Mycenaean Greece is the Late Helladic Bronze Age civilization of Ancient Greece and it is the historical setting of the epics of Homer and most of Greek mythology and religion. The Mycenaean period takes its name from the archaeological site Mycenae in the northeastern Argolid, in the Peloponnesos of southern Greece. Athens, Pylos, Thebes, and Tiryns are also important Mycenaean sites.

Mycenaean civilization was dominated by a warrior aristocracy. Around 1400 BC, the Mycenaeans extended their control to Crete, the center of the Minoan civilization, and adopted a form of the Minoan script called Linear A to write their early form of Greek. The Mycenaean-era script is called Linear B, which was deciphered in 1952 by Michael Ventris. The Mycenaeans buried their nobles in beehive tombs (tholoi), large circular burial chambers with a high-vaulted roof and straight entry passage lined with stone. They often buried daggers or some other form of military equipment with the deceased. The nobility was often buried with gold masks, tiaras, armor, and jeweled weapons. Mycenaeans were buried in a sitting position, and some of the nobility underwent mummification.

Around 1100–1050 BC, the Mycenaean civilization collapsed. Numerous cities were sacked and the region entered what historians see as a "dark age". During this period, Greece experienced a decline in population and literacy. The Greeks themselves have traditionally blamed this decline on an invasion by another wave of Greek people, the Dorians, although there is scant archaeological evidence for this view.

Ancient Greece refers to a period of Greek history that lasted from the Dark Ages to the end of antiquity (c. AD 600). In common usage, it refers to all Greek history before the Roman Empire, but historians use the term more precisely. Some writers include the periods of the Minoan and Mycenaean civilizations, while others argue that these civilizations were so different from later Greek cultures that they should be classed separately. Traditionally, the Ancient Greek period was taken to begin with the date of the first Olympic Games in 776 BC, but most historians now extend the term back to about 1000 BC.

The traditional date for the end of the Classical Greek period is the death of Alexander the Great in 323 BC. The period that follows is classed as Hellenistic. Not everyone treats the Classical Greek and Hellenic periods as distinct however, and some writers treat the Ancient Greek civilization as a continuum running until the advent of Christianity in the 3rd century AD.

Ancient Greece is considered by most historians to be the foundational culture of Western civilization. Greek culture was a powerful influence in the Roman Empire, which carried a version of it to many parts of Europe. Ancient Greek civilization has been immensely influential on the language, politics, educational systems, philosophy, art, and architecture of the modern world, particularly during the Renaissance in Western Europe and again during various neo-classical revivals in 18th and 19th-century Europe and the Americas.

Iron Age (1100–800 BC) Edit

The Greek Dark Ages (c. 1100 – c. 800 BC) refers to the period of Greek history from the presumed Dorian invasion and end of the Mycenaean civilization in the 11th century BC to the rise of the first Greek city-states in the 9th century BC and the epics of Homer and earliest writings in the Greek alphabet in the 8th century BC.

The collapse of the Mycenaean civilization coincided with the fall of several other large empires in the near east, most notably the Hittite and the Egyptian. The cause may be attributed to an invasion of the Sea People wielding iron weapons. When the Dorians came down into Greece they also were equipped with superior iron weapons, easily dispersing the already weakened Mycenaeans. The period that follows these events is collectively known as the Greek Dark Ages.

Kings ruled throughout this period until eventually they were replaced with an aristocracy, then still later, in some areas, an aristocracy within an aristocracy—an elite of the elite. Warfare shifted from a focus on the cavalry to a great emphasis on infantry. Due to its cheapness of production and local availability, iron replaced bronze as the metal of choice in the manufacturing of tools and weapons. Slowly equality grew among the different sects of people, leading to the dethronement of the various Kings and the rise of the family.

At the end of this period of stagnation, the Greek civilization was engulfed in a renaissance that spread the Greek world as far as the Black Sea and Spain. The writing was relearned from the Phoenicians, eventually spreading north into Italy and the Gauls.

Archaic Greece Edit

In the 8th century BC, Greece began to emerge from the Dark Ages which followed the fall of the Mycenaean civilization. Literacy had been lost and Mycenaean script forgotten, but the Greeks adopted the Phoenician alphabet, modifying it to create the Greek alphabet. From about the 9th century BC, written records begin to appear. [9] Greece was divided into many small self-governing communities, a pattern largely dictated by Greek geography, where every island, valley, and plain is cut off from its neighbors by the sea or mountain ranges. [10]

The Archaic period can be understood as the Orientalizing period, when Greece was at the fringe, but not under the sway, of the budding Neo-Assyrian Empire. Greece adopted significant amounts of cultural elements from the Orient, in art as well as in religion and mythology. Archaeologically, Archaic Greece is marked by Geometric pottery.

Classical Greece Edit

The basic unit of politics in Ancient Greece was the polis, sometimes translated as city-state. "Politics" literally means "the things of the polis" where each city-state was independent, at least in theory. Some city-states might be subordinate to others (a colony traditionally deferred to its mother city), some might have had governments wholly dependent upon others (the Thirty Tyrants in Athens was imposed by Sparta following the Peloponnesian War), but the titularly supreme power in each city was located within that city. This meant that when Greece went to war (e.g., against the Persian Empire), it took the form of an alliance going to war. It also gave ample opportunity for wars within Greece between different cities.

Persian Wars Edit

Two major wars shaped the Classical Greek world. The Persian Wars (499–449 BC) are recounted in Herodotus's Histories. By the late 6th century BC, the Achaemenid Persian Empire ruled over all Greek city-states in Ionia (the western coast of modern-day Turkey) and had made territorial gains in the Balkans and Eastern Europe proper as well. The Greek cities of Ionia, led by Miletus, revolted against the Persian Empire, and were supported by some mainland cities, including Athens and Eretria. After the uprising had been quelled, Darius I launched the First Persian invasion of Greece to exact revenge on the Athenians. In 492 BC, Persian general Mardonius led an army (supported by a fleet) across the Hellespont, re-subjugating Thrace and adding Macedonia as a fully-subjugated client kingdom. [11] However, before he could reach Greece proper, his fleet was destroyed in a storm near Mount Athos. In 490 BC, Darius sent another fleet directly across the Aegean (rather than following the land route as Mardonius had done) to subdue Athens. After destroying the city of Eretria, the fleet landed and faced the Athenian army at Marathon, which ended in a decisive Athenian victory. Darius's successor, Xerxes I, launched the Second Persian invasion of Greece in 480 BC. Despite Greek defeat at Thermopylae, after which the Persians briefly overran northern and central Greece, [12] the Greek city-states once again managed to comprehensively defeat the invaders with naval victory at Salamis and victory on land at Plataea.

To prosecute the war and then to defend Greece from further Persian attack, Athens founded the Delian League in 477 BC. Initially, each city in the League would contribute ships and soldiers to a common army, but in time Athens allowed (and then compelled) the smaller cities to contribute funds so that it could supply their quota of ships. Secession from the League could be punished. Following military reversals against the Persians, the treasury was moved from Delos to Athens, further strengthening the latter's control over the League. The Delian League was eventually referred to pejoratively as the Athenian Empire.

In 458 BC, while the Persian Wars were still ongoing, war broke out between the Delian League and the Peloponnesian League, comprising Sparta and its allies. After some inconclusive fighting, the two sides signed a peace in 447 BC. That peace was stipulated to last thirty years: instead, it held only until 431 BC, with the onset of the Peloponnesian War. Our main sources concerning this war are Thucydides's History of the Peloponnesian War and Xenophon's Hellenica.

Peloponnesian War Edit

The war began over a dispute between Corcyra and Epidamnus. Corinth intervened on the Epidamnian side. Fearful lest Corinth capture the Corcyran navy (second only to the Athenian in size), Athens intervened. It prevented Corinth from landing on Corcyra at the Battle of Sybota, laid siege to Potidaea, and forbade all commerce with Corinth's closely situated ally, Megara (the Megarian decree).

There was disagreement among the Greeks as to which party violated the treaty between the Delian and Peloponnesian Leagues, as Athens was technically defending a new ally. The Corinthians turned to Sparta for aid. Fearing the growing might of Athens, and witnessing Athens' willingness to use it against the Megarians (the embargo would have ruined them), Sparta declared the treaty to have been violated and the Peloponnesian War began in earnest.

The first stage of the war (known as the Archidamian War for the Spartan king, Archidamus II) lasted until 421 BC with the signing of the Peace of Nicias. The Athenian general Pericles recommended that his city fight a defensive war, avoiding battle against the superior land forces led by Sparta, and importing everything needful by maintaining its powerful navy. Athens would simply outlast Sparta, whose citizens feared to be out of their city for long lest the helots revolt.

This strategy required that Athens endure regular sieges, and in 430 BC it was visited with an awful plague that killed about a quarter of its people, including Pericles. With Pericles gone, less conservative elements gained power in the city and Athens went on the offensive. It captured 300–400 Spartan hoplites at the Battle of Pylos. This represented a significant fraction of the Spartan fighting force which the latter decided it could not afford to lose. Meanwhile, Athens had suffered humiliating defeats at Delium and Amphipolis. The Peace of Nicias concluded with Sparta recovering its hostages and Athens recovering the city of Amphipolis.

Those who signed the Peace of Nicias in 421 BC swore to uphold it for fifty years. The second stage of the Peloponnesian War began in 415 BC when Athens embarked on the Sicilian Expedition to support an ally (Segesta) attacked by Syracuse and to conquer Sicily. Initially, Sparta was reluctant, but Alcibiades, the Athenian general who had argued for the Sicilian Expedition, defected to the Spartan cause upon being accused of grossly impious acts and convinced them that they could not allow Athens to subjugate Syracuse. The campaign ended in disaster for the Athenians.

Athens' Ionian possessions rebelled with the support of Sparta, as advised by Alcibiades. In 411 BC, an oligarchical revolt in Athens held out the chance for peace, but the Athenian navy, which remained committed to the democracy, refused to accept the change and continued fighting in Athens' name. The navy recalled Alcibiades (who had been forced to abandon the Spartan cause after reputedly seducing the wife of Agis II, a Spartan king) and made him its head. The oligarchy in Athens collapsed and Alcibiades reconquered what had been lost.

In 407 BC, Alcibiades was replaced following a minor naval defeat at the Battle of Notium. The Spartan general Lysander, having fortified his city's naval power, won victory after victory. Following the Battle of Arginusae, which Athens won but was prevented by bad weather from rescuing some of its sailors, Athens executed or exiled eight of its top naval commanders. Lysander followed with a crushing blow at the Battle of Aegospotami in 405 BC which almost destroyed the Athenian fleet. Athens surrendered one year later, ending the Peloponnesian War.

The war had left devastation in its wake. Discontent with the Spartan hegemony that followed (including the fact that it ceded Ionia and Cyprus to the Persian Empire at the conclusion of the Corinthian War (395–387 BC) see Treaty of Antalcidas) induced the Thebans to attack. Their general, Epaminondas, crushed Sparta at the Battle of Leuctra in 371 BC, inaugurating a period of Theban dominance in Greece. In 346 BC, unable to prevail in its ten-year war with Phocis, Thebes called upon Philip II of Macedon for aid. Macedon quickly forced the city-states into being united by the League of Corinth which led to the conquering of the Persian Empire and the Hellenistic Age had begun.

Hellenistic Greece Edit

The Hellenistic period of Greek history begins with the death of Alexander the Great in 323 BC and ends with the annexation of the Greek peninsula and islands by Rome in 146 BC. Although the establishment of Roman rule did not break the continuity of Hellenistic society and culture, which remained essentially unchanged until the advent of Christianity, it did mark the end of Greek political independence.

During the Hellenistic period, the importance of "Greece proper" (that is, the territory of modern Greece) within the Greek-speaking world declined sharply. The great centres of Hellenistic culture were Alexandria and Antioch, capitals of Ptolemaic Egypt and Seleucid Syria. (See Hellenistic civilization for the history of Greek culture outside Greece in this period.)

Athens and her allies revolted against Macedon upon hearing that Alexander had died, but were defeated within a year in the Lamian War. Meanwhile, a struggle for power broke out among Alexander's generals, which resulted in the break-up of his empire and the establishment of a number of new kingdoms (see the Wars of the Diadochi). Ptolemy was left with Egypt, Seleucus with the Levant, Mesopotamia, and points east. Control of Greece, Thrace, and Anatolia was contested, but by 298 BC the Antigonid dynasty had supplanted the Antipatrid.

Macedonian control of the city-states was intermittent, with a number of revolts. Athens, Rhodes, Pergamum and other Greek states retained substantial independence and joined the Aetolian League as a means of defending it and restoring democracy in their states, whereas they saw Macedon as a tyrannical kingdom because of the fact they had not adopted democracy. The Achaean League, while nominally subject to the Ptolemies was in effect independent, and controlled most of southern Greece. Sparta also remained independent, but generally refused to join any league.

In 267 BC, Ptolemy II persuaded the Greek cities to revolt against Macedon, in what became the Chremonidean War, after the Athenian leader Chremonides. The cities were defeated and Athens lost her independence and her democratic institutions. This marked the end of Athens as a political actor, although it remained the largest, wealthiest and most cultivated city in Greece. In 225 BC, Macedon defeated the Egyptian fleet at Cos and brought the Aegean islands, except Rhodes, under its rule as well.

Sparta remained hostile to the Achaeans, and in 227 BC invaded Achaea and seized control of the League. The remaining Achaeans preferred distant Macedon to nearby Sparta and allied with the former. In 222 BC, the Macedonian army defeated the Spartans and annexed their city—the first time Sparta had ever been occupied by a different state.

Philip V of Macedon was the last Greek ruler with both the talent and the opportunity to unite Greece and preserve its independence against the ever-increasing power of Rome. Under his auspices, the Peace of Naupactus (217 BC) brought conflict between Macedon and the Greek leagues to an end, and at this time he controlled all of Greece except Athens, Rhodes, and Pergamum.

In 215 BC, however, Philip formed an alliance with Rome's enemy Carthage. Rome promptly lured the Achaean cities away from their nominal loyalty to Philip, and formed alliances with Rhodes and Pergamum, now the strongest power in Asia Minor. The First Macedonian War broke out in 212 BC and ended inconclusively in 205 BC, but Macedon was now marked as an enemy of Rome.

In 202 BC, Rome defeated Carthage and was free to turn her attention eastwards. In 198 BC, the Second Macedonian War broke out because Rome saw Macedon as a potential ally of the Seleucid Empire, the greatest power in the east. Philip's allies in Greece deserted him and in 197 BC he was decisively defeated at the Battle of Cynoscephalae by the Roman proconsul Titus Quinctius Flaminius.

Luckily for the Greeks, Flaminius was a moderate man and an admirer of Greek culture. Philip had to surrender his fleet and become a Roman ally, but was otherwise spared. At the Isthmian Games in 196 BC, Flaminius declared all the Greek cities free, although Roman garrisons were placed at Corinth and Chalcis. But the freedom promised by Rome was an illusion. All the cities except Rhodes were enrolled in a new League which Rome ultimately controlled, and aristocratic constitutions were favored and actively promoted.

Militarily, Greece itself declined to the point that the Romans conquered the land (168 BC onwards), though Greek culture would in turn conquer Roman life. Although the period of Roman rule in Greece is conventionally dated as starting from the sacking of Corinth by the Roman Lucius Mummius in 146 BC, Macedonia had already come under Roman control with the defeat of its king, Perseus, by the Roman Aemilius Paullus at Pydna in 168 BC.

The Romans divided the region into four smaller republics, and in 146 BC Macedonia officially became a province, with its capital at Thessalonica. The rest of the Greek city-states gradually and eventually paid homage to Rome ending their de jure autonomy as well. The Romans left local administration to the Greeks without making any attempt to abolish traditional political patterns. The agora in Athens continued to be the center of civic and political life.

Caracalla's decree in AD 212, the Constitutio Antoniniana, extended citizenship outside Italy to all free adult men in the entire Roman Empire, effectively raising provincial populations to equal status with the city of Rome itself. The importance of this decree is historical, not political. It set the basis for integration where the economic and judicial mechanisms of the state could be applied throughout the Mediterranean as was once done from Latium into all Italy. In practice of course, integration did not take place uniformly. Societies already integrated with Rome, such as Greece, were favored by this decree, in comparison with those far away, too poor, or just too alien such as Britain, Palestine, or Egypt.

Caracalla's decree did not set in motion the processes that led to the transfer of power from Italy and the West to Greece and the East, but rather accelerated them, setting the foundations for the millennium-long rise of Greece, in the form of the Eastern Roman Empire, as a major power in Europe and the Mediterranean in the Middle Ages.

Byzantine rule (324–AD 1204) Edit

The division of the empire into East and West and the subsequent collapse of the Western Roman Empire were developments that constantly accentuated the position of the Greeks in the empire and eventually allowed them to become identified with it altogether. The leading role of Constantinople began when Constantine the Great turned Byzantium into the new capital of the Roman Empire, from then on to be known as Constantinople, placing the city at the center of Hellenism, a beacon for the Greeks that lasted to the modern era.

The figures of Constantine the Great and Justinian dominated during 324–610. Assimilating the Roman tradition, the emperors sought to offer the basis for later developments and for the formation of the Byzantine Empire. Efforts to secure the borders of the Empire and to restore the Roman territories marked the early centuries. At the same time, the definitive formation and establishment of the Orthodox doctrine, but also a series of conflicts resulting from heresies that developed within the boundaries of the empire, marked the early period of Byzantine history.

In the first period of the middle Byzantine era (610–867), the empire was attacked both by old enemies (Persians, Lombards, Avars and Slavs) as well as by new ones, appearing for the first time in history (Arabs, Bulgars). The main characteristic of this period was that the enemy attacks were not localized to the border areas of the state but they were extended deep beyond, even threatening the capital itself.

The attacks of the Slavs lost their periodical and temporary character and became permanent settlements that transformed into new states, initially hostile to Constantinople until their christianization. Those states were referred to by the Byzantines as Sclavinias.

Changes were also observed in the internal structure of the empire which was dictated by both external and internal conditions. The predominance of the small free farmers, the expansion of the military estates, and the development of the system of themes, brought to completion developments that had started in the previous period. Changes were noted also in the sector of administration: the administration and society had become immiscibly Greek, while the restoration of Orthodoxy after the iconoclast movement, allowed the successful resumption of missionary action among neighboring peoples and their placement within the sphere of Byzantine cultural influence. During this period the state was geographically reduced and economically damaged since it lost wealth-producing regions however, it obtained greater lingual, dogmatic and cultural homogeneity.

From the late 8th century, the Empire began to recover from the devastating impact of successive invasions, and the reconquest of the Greek peninsula began. Greeks from Sicily and Asia Minor were brought in as settlers. The Slavs were either driven out to Asia Minor or assimilated and the Sclavinias were eliminated. By the middle of the 9th century, Greece was Byzantine again, and the cities began to recover due to improved security and the restoration of effective central control.

Economic prosperity Edit

When the Byzantine Empire was rescued from a period of crisis by the resolute leadership of the three Komnenoi emperors Alexios, John and Manuel in the 12th century, Greece prospered. Recent research has revealed that this period was a time of significant growth in the rural economy, with rising population levels and extensive tracts of new agricultural land being brought into production. The widespread construction of new rural churches is a strong indication that prosperity was being generated even in remote areas.

A steady increase in population led to a higher population density, and there is good evidence that the demographic increase was accompanied by the revival of towns. According to Alan Harvey's Economic Expansion in the Byzantine Empire 900–1200, towns expanded significantly in the twelfth century. Archaeological evidence shows an increase in the size of urban settlements, together with a ‘notable upsurge’ in new towns. Archaeological evidence tells us that many of the medieval towns, including Athens, Thessaloniki, Thebes and Corinth, experienced a period of rapid and sustained growth, starting in the 11th century and continuing until the end of the 12th century.

The growth of the towns attracted the Venetians, and this interest in trade appears to have further increased economic prosperity in Greece. Certainly, the Venetians and others were active traders in the ports of the Holy Land, and they made a living out of shipping goods between the Crusader Kingdoms of Outremer and the West while also trading extensively with Byzantium and Egypt.

Artistic revival Edit

A kind of "Renaissance" of the Byzantine art began in the 10th century. Many of the most important Byzantine churches in and around Athens, for example, were built during these two centuries, and this reflects the growth of urbanization in Greece during this period. There was also a revival in mosaic art with artists showing great interest in depicting natural landscapes with wild animals and scenes from the hunt. Mosaics became more realistic and vivid, with an increased emphasis on depicting three-dimensional forms. With its love of luxury and passion for color, the art of this age delighted in the production of masterpieces that spread the fame of Byzantium throughout the Christian world.

Beautiful silks from the workshops of Constantinople also portrayed in dazzling color animals—lions, elephants, eagles, and griffins—confronting each other, or representing Emperors gorgeously arrayed on horseback or engaged in the chase. The eyes of many patrons were attracted and the economy of Greece grew. In the provinces, regional schools of architecture began producing many distinctive styles that drew on a range of cultural influences. All this suggests that there was an increased demand for art, with more people having access to the necessary wealth to commission and pay for such work.

Yet the marvelous expansion of Byzantine art during this period, one of the most remarkable facts in the history of the empire, did not stop there. From the 10th to the 12th century, Byzantium was the main source of inspiration for the West. By their style, arrangement, and iconography the mosaics of St. Mark's at Venice and of the cathedral at Torcello clearly show their Byzantine origin. Similarly, those of the Palatine Chapel, the Martorana at Palermo, and the cathedral of Cefalu, together with the vast decoration of the cathedral at Monreale, prove the influence of Byzantium on the Norman Court of Sicily in the 12th century.

Hispano-Moorish art was unquestionably derived from the Byzantine. Romanesque art owes much to the East, from which it borrowed not only its decorative forms but the plan of some of its buildings, as is proved, for instance, by the domed churches of south-western France. Princes of Kiev, Venetian doges, abbots of Monte Cassino, merchants of Amalfi, and the Norman kings of Sicily all looked to Byzantium for artists or works of art. Such was the influence of Byzantine art in the 12th century, that Russia, Venice, southern Italy, and Sicily all virtually became provincial centers dedicated to its production.

The Fourth Crusade (1204) Edit

The year 1204 marks the beginning of the Late Byzantine period when Constantinople and a number of Byzantine territories were conquered by the Latins during the Fourth Crusade. During this period, a number of Byzantine Greek successor states emerged such as the Empire of Nicaea, the Despotate of Epirus and the Empire of Trebizond, such as a number of Frankish/Latin Catholic states (Principality of Achaea, Duchy of Athens, Duchy of the Archipelago, Kingdom of Thessalonica etc.) In Latin-occupied territories, elements of feudality entered medieval Greek life.

From partial Byzantine restoration to 1453 Edit

The Latin Empire, however, lasted only 57 years, when in 1261 Constantinople was reclaimed by the Byzantine Greeks and the Byzantine Empire was restored. However, in mainland Greece and islands various Latin possessions continued to exist. From 1261 onwards, Byzantium underwent a gradual weakening of its internal structures and the reduction of its territories from Ottoman invasions culminating in the Fall of Constantinople on May 29, 1453. The Ottoman conquest of Constantinople resulted in the official end of both the Eastern Roman Empire and the Byzantine period of Greek history.

The Greeks held out in the Peloponnese until 1460, and the Venetians and Genoese clung to some of the islands, but by the early 16th century all of mainland Greece and most of the Aegean islands were in Ottoman hands, excluding several port cities still held by the Venetians (Nafplio, Monemvasia, Parga and Methone the most important of them). The Cyclades islands, in the middle of the Aegean, were officially annexed by the Ottomans in 1579, although they were under vassal status since the 1530s. Cyprus fell in 1571, and the Venetians retained Crete until 1669. The Ionian Islands were never ruled by the Ottomans, with the exception of Kefalonia (from 1479 to 1481 and from 1485 to 1500), and remained under the rule of the Republic of Venice. It was in the Ionian Islands where modern Greek statehood was born, with the creation of the Republic of the Seven Islands in 1800.

Ottoman Greece was a multiethnic society. However, the modern Western notion of multiculturalism, although at first glance appears to correspond to the system of millets, is considered to be incompatible with the Ottoman system. [13] The Greeks with the one hand were given some privileges and freedom with the other they were exposed to a tyranny deriving from the malpractices of its administrative personnel over which the central government had only remote and incomplete control. [14] When the Ottomans arrived, two Greek migrations occurred. The first migration entailed the Greek intelligentsia migrating to Western Europe and influencing the advent of the Renaissance. The second migration entailed Greeks leaving the plains of the Greek peninsula and resettling in the mountains. [15] The millet system contributed to the ethnic cohesion of Orthodox Greeks by segregating the various peoples within the Ottoman Empire based on religion. The Greeks living in the plains during Ottoman rule were either Christians who dealt with the burdens of foreign rule or crypto-Christians (Greek Muslims who were secret practitioners of the Greek Orthodox faith). Some Greeks became crypto-Christians to avoid heavy taxes and at the same time express their identity by maintaining their ties to the Greek Orthodox Church. However, Greeks who converted to Islam and were not crypto-Christians were deemed "Turks" (Muslims) in the eyes of Orthodox Greeks, even if they didn't adopt the Turkish language.

The Ottomans ruled most of Greece until the early 19th century. The first self-governed, since the Middle Ages, Hellenic state was established during the French Revolutionary Wars, in 1800, 21 years before the outbreak of the Greek revolution in mainland Greece. It was the Septinsular Republic with Corfu as capital.

In the early months of 1821, the Greeks declared their independence, but did not achieve it until 1829. The Great Powers first shared the same view concerning the necessity of preserving the status quo of the Ottoman Empire, but soon changed their stance. Scores of non-Greeks philhellenes volunteered to fight for the cause, including Lord Byron.

On October 20, 1827, a combined British, French and Russian naval force destroyed the Ottoman and Egyptian armada. The Russian minister of foreign affairs, Ioannis Kapodistrias, himself a Greek, returned home as President of the new Republic and with his diplomatic handling, managed to secure the Greek independence and the military dominination in Central Greece. The first capital of the independent Greece was temporarily Aigina (1828–1829) and later officially Nafplion (1828–1834). After his assassination, the European powers turned Greece into a monarchy the first King, Otto, came from Bavaria and the second, George I, from Denmark. In 1834, King Otto transferred the capital to Athens.

During the 19th and early 20th centuries, Greece sought to enlarge its boundaries to include the ethnic Greek population of the Ottoman Empire. Greece played a peripheral role in the Crimean War. When Russia attacked the Ottoman Empire in 1853, Greek leaders saw an opportunity to expand North and South into Ottoman areas that had a Christian majority. However, Greece did not coordinate its plans with Russia, did not declare war, and received no outside military or financial support. The French and British seized its major port and effectively neutralized the Greek army. Greek efforts to cause insurrections failed as they were easily crushed by Ottoman forces. Greece was not invited to the peace conference and made no gains out of the war. The frustrated Greek leadership blamed the King for failing to take advantage of the situation his popularity plunged and he was later forced to abdicate. The Ionian Islands were given by Britain upon the arrival of the new King George I in 1863 and Thessaly was ceded by the Ottomans in 1880.

Modernization Edit

In the late 19th century, modernization transformed the social structure of Greece. The population grew rapidly, putting heavy pressure on the system of small farms with low productivity. Overall, population density more than doubled from 41 persons per square mile in 1829 to 114 in 1912 (16 to 44 per km 2 ). One response was emigration to the United States, with a quarter million people leaving between 1906 and 1914. Entrepreneurs found numerous business opportunities in the retail and restaurant sectors of American cities some sent money back to their families, others returned with hundreds of dollars, enough to purchase a farm or a small business in the old village. The urban population tripled from 8% in 1853 to 24% in 1907. Athens grew from a village of 6000 people in 1834, when it became the capital, to 63,000 in 1879, 111,000 in 1896, and 167,000 in 1907. [16]

In Athens and other cities, men arriving from rural areas set up workshops and stores, creating a middle class. They joined with bankers, professional men, university students, and military officers, to demand reform and modernization of the political and economic system. Athens became the center of the merchant marine, which quadrupled from 250,000 tons in 1875 to more than 1,000,000 tons in 1915. As the cities modernized, businessmen adopted the latest styles of Western European architecture. [17]

Balkan Wars Edit

The participation of Greece in the Balkan Wars of 1912–1913 is one of the most important episodes in modern Greek history, as it allowed the Greek state to almost double its size and achieve most of its present territorial size. As a result of the Balkan Wars of 1912–1913, most of Epirus, Macedonia, Crete and the northern Aegean islands were incorporated into the Kingdom of Greece.


The study of a religion’s history includes the study of the history of those who espoused it, together with their spiritual, ethical, political, and intellectual experiences. Greek religion as it is currently understood probably resulted from the mingling of religious beliefs and practices between the incoming Greek-speaking peoples who arrived from the north during the 2nd millennium bce and the indigenous inhabitants whom they called Pelasgi. The incomers’ pantheon was headed by the Indo-European sky god variously known as Zeus (Greek), Dyaus (Indian), or Jupiter (Roman). But there was also a Cretan sky god, whose birth and death were celebrated in rituals and myths quite different from those of the incomers. The incomers applied the name of Zeus to his Cretan counterpart. In addition, there was a tendency, fostered but not necessarily originated by Homer and Hesiod, for major Greek deities to be given a home on Mount Olympus. Once established there in a conspicuous position, the Olympians came to be identified with local deities and to be assigned as consorts to the local god or goddess.

An unintended consequence (since the Greeks were monogamous) was that Zeus in particular became markedly polygamous. (Zeus already had a consort when he arrived in the Greek world and took Hera, herself a major goddess in Argos, as another.) Hesiod used—or sometimes invented—the family links among the deities, traced out over several generations, to explain the origin and present condition of the universe. At some date, Zeus and other deities were identified locally with heroes and heroines from the Homeric poems and called by such names as Zeus Agamemnon. The Pelasgian and the Greek strands of the religion of the Greeks can sometimes be disentangled, but the view held by some scholars that any belief related to fertility must be Pelasgian, on the grounds that the Pelasgi were agriculturalists while the Greeks were nomadic pastoralists and warriors, seems somewhat simplistic. Pastoralists and warriors certainly require fertility in their herds—not to mention in their own number.

The Heroic Labors of Hercules

Apollo understood that Hercules’ crime had not been his fault—Hera’s vengeful actions were no secret𠅋ut still he insisted that the young man make amends. He ordered Hercules to perform 12 “heroic labors” for the Mycenaen king Eurystheus. Once Hercules completed every one of the labors, Apollo declared, he would be absolved of his guilt and achieve immortality.

The Nemean Lion
First, Apollo sent Hercules to the hills of Nemea to kill a lion that was terrorizing the people of the region. (Some storytellers say that Zeus had fathered this magical beast as well.) Hercules trapped the lion in its cave and strangled it. For the rest of his life, he wore the animal’s pelt as a cloak.

The Lernaean Hydra
Second, Hercules traveled to the city of Lerna to slay the nine-headed Hydra𠅊 poisonous, snake-like creature who lived underwater, guarding the entrance to the Underworld. For this task, Hercules had the help of his nephew Iolaus. He cut off each of the monster’s heads while Iolaus burned each wound with a torch. This way, the pair kept the heads from growing back.The Golden HindNext, Hercules set off to capture the sacred pet of the goddess Diana: a red deer, or hind, with golden antlers and bronze hooves. Eurystheus had chosen this task for his rival because he believed that Diana would kill anyone she caught trying to steal her pet however, once Hercules explained his situation to the goddess, she allowed him to go on his way without punishment.

The Erymanthean Boar
Fourth, Hercules used a giant net to snare the terrifying, man-eating wild boar of Mount Erymanthus.

The Augean StablesHercules’ fifth task was supposed to be humiliating as well as impossible: cleaning all the dung out of King Augeas’ enormous stables in a single day. However, Hercules completed the job easily, flooding the barn by diverting two nearby rivers.

The Stymphlaian Birds
Hercules’ sixth task was straightforward: Travel to the town of Stymphalos and drive away the huge flock of carnivorous birds that had taken up residence in its trees. This time, it was the goddess Athena who came to the hero’s aid: She gave him a pair of magical bronze krotala, or noisemakers, forged by the god Hephaistos. Hercules used these tools to frighten the birds away.

The Cretan Bull
Next, Hercules went to Crete to capture a rampaging bull that had impregnated the wife of the island’s king. (She later gave birth to the Minotaur, a creature with a man’s body and a bull’s head.) Hercules drove the bull back to Eurystheus, who released it into the streets of Marathon.

The Horses of Diomedes
Hercules’ eighth challenge was to capture the four man-eating horses of the Thracian king Diomedes. He brought them to Eurystheus, who dedicated the horses to Hera and set them free.

Hippolyte’s Belt
The ninth labor was complicated: stealing an armored belt that belonged to the Amazon queen Hippolyte. At first, the queen welcomed Hercules and agreed to give him the belt without a fight. However, the troublemaking Hera disguised herself as an Amazon warrior and spread a rumor that Hercules intended to kidnap the queen. To protect their leader, the women attacked the hero’s fleet then, fearing for his safety, Hercules killed Hippolyte and ripped the belt from her body.

The Cattle of Geryon
For his 10th labor, Hercules was dispatched nearly to Africa to steal the cattle of the three-headed, six-legged monster Geryon. Once again, Hera did all she could to prevent the hero from succeeding, but eventually he returned to Mycenae with the cows.

The Apples of Hesperides
Next, Eurystheus sent Hercules to steal Hera’s wedding gift to Zeus: a set of golden apples guarded by a group of nymphs known as the Hesperides. This task was difficult—Hercules needed the help of the mortal Prometheus and the god Atlas to pull it off𠅋ut the hero eventually managed to run away with the apples. After he showed them to the king, he returned them to the gods’ garden where they belonged.

For his final challenge, Hercules traveled to Hades to kidnap Cerberus, the vicious three-headed dog that guarded its gates. Hercules managed to capture Cerberus by using his superhuman strength to wrestle the monster to the ground. Afterward, the dog returned unharmed to his post at the entrance to the Underworld.


Most Jews in Greece are Sephardic, but Greece is also the home of the unique Romaniote culture. Besides the Sephardim and the Romaniotes, some Northern-Italian, Sicilian, Apulian, Provençal, Mizrahi and small Ashkenazi communities have existed as well, in Thessaloniki and elsewhere. All these communities had not only their own custom (minhag), they also had their own siddurim printed for the congregations in Greece. The large variety of Jewish customs in Greece was unique. [10]

Romaniotes Edit

Romaniote Jews have lived in the territory of today's Greece for more than 2000 years. Their historic language was Yevanic, a dialect of the Greek language, but Yevanic has no surviving speakers recorded today's Greek Romaniotes speak Greek. Large communities were located in Ioannina, Thebes, Chalcis, Corfu, Arta, Corinth and on the islands of Lesbos, Chios, Samos, Rhodes, and Cyprus, among others. The Romaniotes are historically distinct from the Sephardim, some of whom settled in Greece after the 1492 expulsion of the Jews from Spain. All but a small number of the Romaniotes of Ioannina, the largest remaining Romaniote community not assimilated into Sephardic culture, were killed in the Holocaust. Ioannina today has 35 living Romaniotes. [11]

Sephardim in Greece Edit

The majority of the Jews in Greece are Sephardim whose ancestors had left Spain, Portugal and Italy. They largely settled in cities such as Thessaloniki, the city which was to be named "Mother of Israel" in the years to come. The traditional language of Greek Sephardim was Judeo Espaniol, and, until the Holocaust, the community "was a unique blend of Ottoman, Balkan and Hispanic influences", [12] well known for its level of education. The Foundation for the Advancement of Sephardic Studies and Culture calls Thessaloniki's Sephardic community "indisputably one of the most important ones in the world." [2]

The first recorded mention of Judaism in Greece dates from 300 to 250 BCE on the island of Rhodes. In the 2nd century BCE, Hyrcanus, a leader in the Jewish community of Athens, was honoured by the raising of a statue in the agora. [13]

According to Edmund Veckenstedt, Ganymede was a Semite, as his brothers Ilus and Assarakos were no doubt. [14] According to Josephus (Contra Apionem, I, 176–183), an even earlier mention of a Hellenized Jew by a Greek writer was to be found in the work "De Somno" (not extant) by the Greek historian Clearchus of Soli. Here Clearchus describes the meeting between Aristotle (who lived in the 4th century BCE) and a Jew in Asia Minor, who was fluent in Greek language and thought:

"'Well', said Aristotle, [. ] 'the man was a Jew of Coele Syria (modern Lebanon). These Jews were derived from the Indian philosophers, and were called by the Indians Kalani. Now this man, who entertained a large circle of friends and was on his way from the interior to the coast, not only spoke Greek but had the soul of a Greek. During my stay in Asia, he visited the same places as I did, and came to converse with me and some other scholars, to test our learning. But as one who had been intimate with many cultivated persons, it was rather he who imparted to us something of his own.'" [15]

Archaeologists have discovered ancient synagogues in Greece, including the Synagogue in the Agora of Athens and the Delos Synagogue, dating to the 2nd century BCE.

Greek Jews played an important role in Greek history, from the early History of Christianity, through the Byzantine Empire and Ottoman Greece, until the tragic near-destruction of the community after Greece fell to Nazi Germany in World War II.

Hellenistic period Edit

The Macedonian empire under Alexander the Great conquered the former Kingdom of Judah in 332 BC, defeating the Persian empire which had held the territory since Cyrus' conquest of the Babylonians. After Alexander's death, the Wars of the Diadochi led to the territory changing rulership rapidly as Alexander's successors fought over control over the Persian territories. The region eventually came to be controlled by the Ptolemaic dynasty, and the area became increasingly Hellenistic. The Jews of Alexandria created a "unique fusion of Greek and Jewish culture", [16] while the Jews of Jerusalem were divided between conservative and pro-Hellene factions. Along with the influence of this Hellenistic fusion on the Jews who had found themselves part of a Greek empire, Karen Armstrong argues that the turbulence of the period between the death of Alexander and the 2nd century BCE led to a resurgence of Jewish messianism, [16] which would inspire revolutionary sentiment when Jerusalem became part of the Roman Empire.

Roman Greece Edit

Hellenistic Greece and Macedonia fell to the Roman Empire in 146 BC. The Jews living in Roman Greece had a different experience than those of Judaea Province. The New Testament describes Greek Jews as a separate community from the Jews of Judaea, and the Jews of Greece did not participate in the First Jewish-Roman War or later conflicts. The Jews of Thessaloniki, speaking a dialect of Greek, and living a Hellenized existence, were joined by a new Jewish colony in the 1st century AD. The Jews of Thessaloniki "enjoyed wide autonomy" in Roman times. [2]

Originally a persecutor of the early Jewish Christians until his conversion on the Road to Damascus, Paul of Tarsus, himself a Hellenized Jew from Tarsus, part of the post-Alexander the Great Greek Seleucid Empire, was instrumental in the founding of many Christian churches throughout Rome, including Asia Minor and Greece. Paul's second missionary journey included proselytizing at Thessaloniki's synagogue until driven out of the city by its Jewish community.

Byzantine Empire Edit

After the collapse of the Western Roman Empire, elements of Roman civilisation continued on in the Byzantine Empire. The Jews of Greece began to come under increasing attention from Byzantium's leadership in Constantinople. Some Byzantine emperors were anxious to exploit the wealth of the Jews of Greece, and imposed special taxes on them, while others attempted forced conversions to Christianity. The latter pressure met with little success, as it was resisted by both the Jewish community and by the Greek Christian synods. [2]

The Sefer Yosippon was written down in the 10th century in the Byzantine south Italy by the Greek-speaking Jewish community there. Judah Leon ben Moses Mosconi, a Romaniote Jew from Achrida edited and expanded the Sefer Josippon later. [17] [18]

Tobiah ben Eliezer (טוביה בר אליעזר), a Talmudist and poet of the 11th century, worked and lived in the city of Kastoria. He is the author of the Lekach Tov, a midrashic commentary on the Pentateuch and the Five Megillot and also of some poems.

The first settlement of Ashkenazi Jews in Greece occurred in 1376, heralding an Ashkenazi immigration from Hungary and Germany to avoid the persecution of Jews throughout the 15th century. Jewish immigrants from France and Venice also arrived in Greece, and created new Jewish communities in Thessaloniki. [2]

Frankokratia Edit

The Fourth Crusade degraded the position of the Jews in the new Frankish lands on Greek ground which were formerly parts of the Byzantine Empire. The Jews were at that time economically powerful though small in number, comprised a community of their own, separately from the Christians, and dealt in money lending. [19]

Ottoman Empire Edit

Greece was ruled by the Ottoman Empire from the mid-15th century, until the conclusion of first the Greek War of Independence ending in 1832, and then the First Balkan War in 1913. During this period, the centre of Jewish life in the Balkans was Salonica or Thessaloniki. The Sephardim of Thessaloniki were the exclusive tailors for the Ottoman Janissaries, and enjoyed economic prosperity through commercial trading in the Balkans.

After their expulsion from Spain, between fifteen and twenty thousand more Sephardim settled in Thessaloniki. According to the Jewish Virtual Library: "Greece became a haven of religious tolerance for Jews fleeing the Spanish Inquisition and other persecution in Europe. The Ottomans welcomed the Jews because they improved the economy. Jews occupied administrative posts and played an important role in intellectual and commercial life throughout the empire." [20] These immigrants established the city's first printing press, and the city became known as a centre for commerce and learning. [2] The exile of other Jewish communities swelled the city's Jewish population, until Jews were the majority population in 1519. Ottoman Jews were obliged to pay special "Jewish taxes" to the Ottoman authorities. These taxes included the Cizye, the İspençe, the Haraç, and the Rav akçesi ("rabbi tax"). Sometimes, local rulers would also levy taxes for themselves, in addition to the taxes sent to the central authorities in Constantinople.

In 1519, the Jews represented 56% of the population of Thessaloniki, and in 1613, their share was 68%. [21]

In the year 1523 the first printed edition of the Mahzor Romania was published in Venice, by Constantinopolitan Jews which contains the Minhag of the Jews from the Byzantine empire. This Minhag represents probably the oldest European Prayer rite. A polyglot edition of the Bible published in Constantinople in 1547 has the Hebrew text in the middle of the page, with a Judaeo-Spanish translation on one side and a Yevanic translation on the other.

Joseph Nasi a Portuguese Marrano Jew was appointed as the Duke of Archipelago for the years 1566–1579.

The middle of the 19th century, however, brought a change to Greek Jewish life. The Janissaries had been destroyed in 1826, and traditional commercial routes were being encroached upon by the Great Powers of Europe. The Sephardic population of Thessaloniki had risen to between twenty-five to thirty thousand members, leading to scarcity of resources, fires and hygiene problems. The end of the century saw great improvements, as the mercantile leadership of the Sephardic community, particularly the Allatini family, took advantage of new trade opportunities with the rest of Europe. According to historian Misha Glenny, Thessaloniki was the only city in the Empire where some Jews "employed violence against the Christian population as a means of consolidating their political and economic power", [22] as traders from the Jewish population closed their doors to traders from the Greek and Slav populations and physically intimidated their rivals. With the importation of modern anti-Semitism with immigrants from the West later in the century, moreover, some of Thessaloniki's Jews soon became the target of Greek and Armenian pogroms. Thessaloniki's Jewish community comprised more than half of the city's population until the early 1900s. As a result of the Jewish influence on the city, many non-Jewish inhabitants of Thessaloniki spoke Judeo-Spanish, the language of the Sephardic Jews, and the city virtually shut down on Saturday, the Jewish Sabbath, given it sometimes the name of 'Little Jerusalem." [23] Many sea-travellers reaching the port of Thessaloniki humorously recalled that Thessaloniki was a city where people worked only four days while resting three consecutive days. This was due to the three major religions the population adhered to and their respective resting days: Friday for Muslims, Saturday for Jews and Sunday for Christians. [ citation needed ]

Independent Greece Edit

In general loyal to the Ottoman Empire, the Jews of southern Greece did not have a positive stance towards the Greek War of Independence so often they became also targets by the revolutionaries.

The Ottoman rule in Thessaloniki ended much later, in 1912, as Greek soldiers entered the city in the last days of the First Balkan War. Thessaloniki's status had not been decided by the Balkan Alliance before the war, and Glenny writes that some amongst the city's majority Jewish population at first hoped that the city might be controlled by Bulgaria. [24] Bulgarian control would keep the city at the forefront of a national trade network, while Greek control might affect, for those of certain social classes and across ethnic groups, Thessaloniki's position as the destination of Balkan village trading. After the city was conquered by the Greeks in 1913, Thessaloniki Jews were accused of cooperating with the Turks and being traitors, and were subjected to pressure from the Greek army and local Greeks. As a result of the intense coverage of these pressures in the world press, the Venizelos government took a series of measures against antisemitic actions. [25] After liberation, however, the Greek government won the support of the city's Jewish community, [3] and Greece under Eleftherios Venizelos was one of the first countries to accept the Balfour Declaration, 1917. [13]

In 1934, a large number of Jews from Thessaloniki made aliyah to Mandatory Palestine, settling in Tel Aviv and Haifa. Those who could not get past British immigration restrictions simply came on tourist visas and disappeared into Tel Aviv's Greek community. Among them were some 500 dockworkers and their families, who settled in Haifa to work at its newly constructed port. [26]

Later, with the establishment in 1936 of the Metaxas regime, which was not typically hostile to Jews in general despite its fascist character, the stance of the Greek State towards the Jewish community was further improved.

World War II, Resistance and the Holocaust Edit

During World War II, Greece was conquered by Nazi Germany and occupied by the Axis powers. 12,898 Greek Jews fought in the Greek army, one of the best-known amongst them being Colonel Mordechai Frizis, in a force which first successfully repelled the Italian Army, but was later overwhelmed by German forces. [13] The Germans had been gathering intelligence on Salonica's Jewish community since 1937. [29] Some 60,000-70,000 Greek Jews, or at least 81% of the country's Jewish population, were murdered especially in jurisdictions occupied by Nazi Germany and Bulgaria. Although the Germans [30] deported a great number of Greek Jews, some were successfully hidden by their Greek neighbours.

The losses were significant in places like Thessaloniki, Ioannina, Corfu or Rhodes, where most of the Jewish population were deported and killed. In contrast, larger percentages of Jews were able to survive, where the local population was helpful and hid the persecuted Jews, such as Athens, Larissa or Volos. Perhaps the most important rescue efforts took place in Athens, where some 1,200 Jews were given false identity cards following the efforts of Archbishop Damaskinos and police chief Angelos Ebert. [31]

On July 11, 1942, the Jews of Thessaloniki were rounded up in preparation for slave labour. The community paid a fee of 2 billion drachmas for their freedom. Yet 50,000 people were sent to Auschwitz, and most of their 60 synagogues and schools were destroyed, along with the old Jewish cemetery in the center of the city. Only 1,950 survived. [3] [32] Many survivors later emigrated to Israel and the United States. [3] Today the Jewish population of Thessaloniki numbers roughly 1,000, and maintains two synagogues. [32]

Year Total population Jewish population Jewish percentage
1842 70,000 36,000 51%
1870 90,000 50,000 56%
1882/84 85,000 48,000 56%
1902 126,000 62,000 49%
1913 157,889 61,439 39%
1943 53,000
2000 363,987 1,400 0.3%

In Corfu, after the fall of Italian fascism in 1943, the Nazis took control of the island. Corfu's mayor at the time, Kollas, was a known collaborator and various anti-Semitic laws were passed by the Nazis that now formed the occupation government of the island. [33] In early June 1944, while the Allies bombed Corfu as a diversion from the landing in Normandy, the Gestapo rounded up the Jews of the city, temporarily incarcerated them at the old fort (Palaio Frourio) and on the 10th of June sent them to Auschwitz where very few survived. [33] [34] However, approximately two hundred out of a total population of 1,900 managed to flee. [35] Many among the local populace at the time provided shelter and refuge to those 200 Jews that managed to escape the Nazis. [33] As well, a prominent section of the old town is to this day called Evraiki (Εβραική) meaning Jewish suburb in recognition of the Jewish contribution and continued presence in Corfu city. An active Synagogue (Συναγωγή) is an integral part of Evraiki today with about 65 members. [35]

On March 4, 1943, Bulgarian soldiers with help from German soldiers took the Jews from Komotini and Kavala off the Karageorge passenger boat, massacred them and sunk the boat. The Bulgarians confiscated all of the Jewish properties and possessions. [36]

At Thessaloniki individual police officers rescued their Jewish friends and occasionally even their families, while in Athens the chief of police, Angelos Evert, and his men actively supported and rescued Jews. [37]

The 275 Jews of the island of Zakynthos, however, survived the Holocaust. When the island's mayor, Loukas Karrer, was presented with the German order to hand over a list of Jews, Metropolitan Bishop Chrysostomos of Zakynthos returned to the Germans with a list of two names his own and the mayor's. The island's population hid every member of the Jewish community. In 1947, a large number of the Jews of Zakynthos made aliyah to Palestine (later Israel), while others moved to Athens. [38] When the island was almost levelled by the great earthquake of 1953, the first relief came from Israel, with a message that read "The Jews of Zakynthos have never forgotten their Mayor or their beloved Bishop and what they did for us." [4]

The city of Volos, which was in the Italian zone of occupation, had a Jewish population of 882, and many Thessaloniki Jews fleeing the Nazis sought sanctuary there. By March 1944, more than 1,000 Jews lived there. In September 1943, when the Nazis took over, head rabbi Moses Pesach worked with Archbishop Ioakeim and the EAM resistance movement to find sanctuary for the Jews in Mount Pelion. Due to their efforts, 74% of the city's Jews were saved. Of the more than 1,000 Jews, only 130 were deported to Auschwitz. The Jewish community remained in Volos after the war, but a series of earthquakes in 1955-57 forced many of the remaining Jews to leave, with most immigrating to Israel or the United States. Only 100 Jews remain in Volos today. [33]

Many Jews from Salonika were put on death-camp work detail, the Sonderkommandos. On 7 October 1944, during the uprising in Auschwitz, they attacked German forces with other Greek Jews, storming the crematoria and killing about twenty guards. A bomb was thrown into the furnace of the crematorium III, destroying the building. Before being massacred by the Germans, insurgents sang a song of the Greek partisan movement and the Greek national anthem. [39]

In his book If This Is a Man, one of the most famous works of literature of the Holocaust, [ according to whom? ] Primo Levi describes the group thus: "those Greeks, motionless and silent as the Sphinx, crouched on the ground behind their thick pot of soup." [40] Those members of the community still alive during 1944 made a strong impression on the author. He noted: "Despite their low numbers their contribution to the overall appearance of the camp and the international jargon spoken is of prime importance." He described a strong patriotic sense among them, writing that their ability to survive in the camps was partly explained by the fact that "they are among the cohesive of the national groups, and from this point of view the most advanced."

Recognised for his contributions to the Greek cause early on in the war, Mordechai Frizis became one of the most honoured Greek officers of World War II in the postwar years, with a monument outside the national military academy in Athens. [41]

Of the 55,000 Thessaloniki Jews deported to extermination camps in 1943, fewer than 5,000 survived. Many of those who returned found their former homes occupied by Greek families. The Greek government did little to assist the surviving Jewish community with property restoration. [42] [43]

Wikimedia Commons has media related to Deportation of Jews of Ioannina March 1944 .

Following the war, many Greek Jews emigrated to Israel. In August 1949, the Greek government announced that Jews of military age would be allowed to leave for Israel on condition that they renounced their Greek nationality, promise to never return, and take their families with them. [44] The Greek Jews that moved to Israel established several villages, including Tsur Moshe, and many settled in the Florentine, Tel Aviv and the area around Jaffa Harbor. [45] Some also emigrated to the United States, Canada, and Australia. Greece was the first country in Europe after the war to give back to its Jewish community possessions of Jews, that were killed by the Nazis in the Holocaust and the war as resistance fighters, so that the communities had the possibility for consolidation. [46]

A Jewish minority continues to live in Greece. [47] There are communities in Athens and Thessaloniki. The community has had a small decrease since the Greek government-debt crisis. [48] [49] As of 2015, about 6,000 Jews live in Greece, mostly in Athens, with less than 2,000 in Thessaloniki. [48] [50] The Greek Jewish community has traditionally been pro-European. [48] Today the Jews of Greece are integrated and are working in all fields of the Greek state and the Greek society, such in the fields of economy, science and politics.

The community of Thessaloniki accused Germany to pay the manumission payments back, that the Jews of Greece paid to rescue their family members, after the Nazis asked for this money, but the Nazis hadn't freed the family members anyway. The European Court of Justice dismissed this petition.

In World War II the Deutsche Reichsbahn helped the Nazis to deport the Jews from Greece. In 2014, representatives of the Jewish community of Thessaloniki demanded from the Deutsche Bahn, which is the successor of the Deutsche Reichsbahn, reimbursement for the heirs of Holocaust victims of Thessaloniki for the train fares that they were forced to pay for their deportation from Thessaloniki to Auschwitz and Treblinka between March and August 1943. [51] [52]

According to the significant Jewish past and present of Thessaloniki the Aristotle University planned together with the Jewish community of Thessaloniki in 2014, the reopening of the Faculty of Jewish Studies. A former Jewish faculty was abolished 80 years before by the Greek dictator Ioannis Metaxas. [53] This new faculty took in October 2015, her work on with leading professor Georgios Antoniou in the faculty of Philosophy. On the university campus a monument commemorating the old Jewish cemetery was unveiled also in 2014. The campus was built partially on this old cemetery. [54]

Anti-semitism in Greece Edit

Misha Glenny wrote that Greek Jews had never "encountered anything remotely as sinister as north European anti-Semitism. The twentieth century had witnessed small amounts of anti-Jewish sentiment among Greeks. but it attracted an insignificant minority." [12] The danger of deportation to death camps was repeatedly met with disbelief by Greece's Jewish population.

A neo-fascist group, Golden Dawn, exists in Greece and in September 2015 Greek election won 18 seats in the Greek Parliament. Reportedly in 2005, it was officially disbanded, to no avail, by its leadership after conflicts with police and anti-fascists. The European Union Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia 2002–2003 report on anti-Semitism in Greece mentioned several incidents over the two-year period making note that there were no instances of physical or verbal assaults on Jews, along with examples of "good practices" for countering prejudice. The report concluded that ". in 2003 the Chairman of the Central Jewish Board in Greece stated that he did not consider the rise in antisemitism to be alarming." [55]

On 21 November 2003, Nikos Bistis, the Greek Deputy Minister of the Interior, declared January 27 to be Holocaust Remembrance Day in Greece, and committed to a "coalition of Greek Jews, Greek non-Jews, and Jews worldwide to fight antisemitism in Greece." [56]

The Greek government debt crisis, which started in 2009, has seen an increase in extremism of all kinds, which has included some cases of antisemitic vandalism. In 2010, the front of the Jewish Museum of Greece was defaced, for the first time ever. [57] On Rhodes, on 26 October 2012, vandals spray-painted the city's Holocaust monument with swastikas. [58] Partly to head off any new-found threat from extremism, thousands of Jewish and non-Jewish Greeks attended Thessaloniki's Holocaust Commemoration in March 2013. [59] The meeting was personally addressed by Greece's prime minister, Antonis Samaras, who delivered a speech to Monastir Synagogue (Thessaloniki). [60]

After a period, Alexandros Modiano, a Greek-Jewish politician, has been voted to official duties. Alexandros Modiano works in the City Council of Athens. [61]

Today the diplomatic relations between Greece and Israel are on a high level. The relations between the Jewish community and the state are also good. [ according to whom? ]

The Greek Parliament has decided to give Greek citizenship back to all Holocaust survivors who lost their Greek citizenship when leaving the country. [62] Those who are born outside Greece to either one or both Greek parents, or one or more Greek grandparents, are entitled to stake a claim to their right to a Greek citizenship through their ancestor(s) born in Greece. For the process of obtaining one's Greek citizenship, there is no need to prove the religious denomination of the ancestors. [63]

When did Greek Mythology as a religion die off? Also what is the actual word to refer to Greek Mythology as a religion?

The short answer is the classical Greek religion we recognize as Greek mythology came to an end in the 9th century in the Mani Peninsula area of Greece when the last pagans were converted. It had been dying off in one way or another since the rise of other non-native cults, particularly Christianity for hundreds of years.

The longer discussion: By the time of Constantine's edicts and conversion Christianity is already a strong competitor for the native pagan religions so the date for starting to die off has to be before that. There were major persecutions of Christians as early as 64A.D. under Nero The native religions were already losing adherents by then even if just a few. Does the die off start then? Larger persecutions under Decius (250AD) and Diocletian (303AD) show that Christianity was gaining strength over the next 200 years, but so where other cults like that of Mithris and Glycon, all presumably at the expense of the classical religion.

One problem with determining the date of a die off it what exactly is Greek Mythology? Each city had its own stories and heroes, there wasn't a single unified religion. Sure the Greek world all recognized Zeus, the Iliad and Odyssey but even Zeus had cults that existed in one place and not another, which ones are part of Greek Mythology and which are other cults where does the line get drawn and why?

Being a pagan and polytheistic religion made adoption and blending of new gods easier than what we see in Christianity. Going back to pre-classical times Dionysus and Aphrodite seem to be an adopted gods not native ones so did Greek religion (the pure Indo-European one) start to die off before the beginning of the classical period when that happened? Later Greeks merged their gods with local gods like Zeus-Ammon under Alexander and Serapis under the Ptolomies. What makes those two not part of Greek Mythology while Dionysus is?

Greeks adopted cults that we don't consider "Greek Mythology" like that of Glycon the hand puppet or snake god depending on whether you were an adherent or not. But if Glycon originated in Macedonia isn't he a native Greek god? Or does he not count since it was under Roman times? Are the mystery cults which used the names and some of the stories from classical Greek myth a continuation of the native religion or something new?

But then did it die off? People in the middle ages used the Aeneid (yes its Roman but tied back to Greek mythology) for divination purposes. They would open to a random page to determine a fortune. Was this a continuation of the use of the mythology with at least some belief or something else?


Herodotus (c. 484 – 425/413 BCE) was a Greek writer who invented the field of study known today as `history'. He was called `The Father of History' by the Roman writer and orator Cicero for his famous work The Histories but has also been called “The Father of Lies” by critics who claim these `histories' are little more than tall tales.

While it is true that Herodotus sometimes relays inaccurate information or exaggerates for effect, his accounts have consistently been found to be more or less reliable. Early criticism of his work has been refuted by later archaeological evidence which proves that his most-often criticized claims were, in fact, accurate or, at least, based on accepted information of the time. In the present day, Herodotus continues to be recognized as The Father of History and a reliable source of information on the ancient world by the majority of historians.



Criticism of Herodotus' work seems to have originated among Athenians who took exception to his account of the Battle of Marathon (490 BCE) and, specifically, which families were due the most honor for the victory over the Persians. More serious criticism of his work has to do with the credibility of the accounts of his travels.

One example of this is his claim of fox-sized ants in Persia who spread gold dust when digging their mounds. This account has been rejected for centuries until, in 1984 CE, the French author and explorer Michel Peissel, confirmed that a fox-sized marmot in the Himalayas did indeed spread gold dust when digging and that accounts showed the animal had done so in antiquity as the villagers had a long history of gathering this dust.


Peissel also explains that the Persian word for `mountain ant' was very close to their word for `marmot' and so it was established that Herodotus was not making up his giant ants but, since he did not speak Persian and had to rely on translators, was the victim of a misunderstanding in translation. This same scenario could apply to other observations and claims found in Herodotus' histories though, certainly, not all. In the interests of telling a good story, Herodotus sometimes indulged in speculation and, at other times, repeated stories he had heard as though they were his own experiences.

Early Life & Travels

While little is known of the details of his life, it seems certain that he came from a wealthy, aristocratic family in Asia Minor who could afford to pay for his education. His skill in writing is thought to be evidence of a thorough course in the best schools of his day. He wrote in Ionian Greek and was clearly well read. His ability to travel, seemingly at will, also argues for a man of some means. It is thought he served in the army as a Hoplite in that his descriptions of battle are quite precise and always told from the point of view of a foot soldier.

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Scholar Robin Waterfield comments on Herodotus' early life:

Herodotus was not a native of Athens. He was born in Halicarnassus (the modern Turkish city of Bodrum), about the time of the Persian Wars. Halicarnassus was a Dorian town with substantial intermarriage among its Greek, Carian, and Persian populations. If the later ancient reports that have come down to us are correct, his family was exiled during the troubled years after the Persian Wars, and as a very young man Herodotus may have lived on the island of Samos. His occasional comments in the Histories show us that he travelled widely around the world of the east Mediterranean. We do not know when and how the Histories were first written down very likely, however, they arose out of recitations or readings that he gave over a number of years in other Greek cities and in Athens at the height of its imperial power. (x)

If Waterfield is correct, Herodotus' early experience with travel would have shaped his later inclinations he does not seem to have stayed in any one place very long. He moves fluidly through his work from culture to culture and is always most interested in telling a good story and less so with fact-checking the details of the tales he heard and repeats in his pages. It is this tendency of his, as noted, which has given rise to the centuries of criticism against him.

The Histories

While it is undeniable that Herodotus makes some mistakes in his work, his Histories are generally reliable and scholarly studies in all disciplines concerning his work (from archaeology to ethnology and more) have continued to substantiate all of his most important observations.


Herodotus identifies himself in the prologue to his work as a native of Halicarnassus (on the south-west coast of Asia Minor, modern Turkey) and this is accepted as his birthplace even though Aristotle and the Suda claim he was a native of Thurii (a Greek colony in the region of modern-day Italy). This discrepancy is generally understood as a mistake made in an ancient source (possibly a translation of Herodotus' work) as Herodotus may have lived at Thurii but had not been born there.

He traveled widely in Egypt, Africa, and Asia Minor and wrote down his experiences and observations, providing later generations with detailed accounts of important historical events (such as the Battle of Marathon in 490 BCE and the engagements of Thermopylae and Salamis in 480 BCE) everyday life in Greece, in Egypt, in Asia Minor, and on various "wonders" he observed in his travels. His description of the city of Babylon as among these wonders is an example of why his work has often been criticized. Herodotus writes:

Babylon lies in a great plain, and in size it is such that each face measures 22½ km, the shape of the whole being square thus the circumference is 90 km. Such is the size of the city of Babylon, and it has magnificence greater than all other cities of which we have knowledge. First there runs round it a deep and broad trench, full of water then a wall fifty meters in thickness and hundred meters in height [. ]. At the top of the wall along the edges they built chambers of one story facing one another and between the rows of chambers they left space to drive a four-horse chariot. In the circuit of the wall there are set a hundred gates made of bronze. (Histories, I.178-179)

Archaeological evidence, as well as other ancient descriptions, clearly indicates that Babylon was not as large as Herodotus describes and had nowhere near 100 gates (it had only eight). It has thus been determined that this account was based on hearsay, rather than a personal visit, even though Herodotus writes as though he visited the site himself. As he had a great appreciation for the works of Homer (he bases the arrangement of his Histories on Homer's form) his passage on Babylon is thought to be emulating the earlier writer's description of Egyptian Thebes.


His penchant for storytelling, and his obvious talent for it, have alarmed and annoyed critics since antiquity but this very quality in the Histories is also what has made the work so greatly admired. Herodotus is able to bring a reader into the events of the stories he relates by creating vivid scenes with interesting characters and, sometimes, even dialogue.

He was hardly an impartial observer of the world he wrote about and often gives personal opinions at length on various people, customs, and events. While his admiration for Homer is always evident, he freely questioned the historical truth of The Iliad, asking why the Achaeans would wage so lengthy and costly a campaign as the Trojan War on behalf of one woman. This is only one of many examples of Herodotus' personality displaying itself in his work. Waterfield comments:

Certain kinds of narrative recur strikingly enough [in the Histories] to make us feel we are seeing the idiosyncratic taste of the narrator emerging - that he enjoys a particular kind of story and, given the option, includes it when possible. Herodotus is fascinated by the interplay of nature and culture the Scythians, living in a treeless land, invent a way of cooking meat in which the animal's bones and fat provide the fire and the stomach provides the pot in which the meat is cooked (4.61). He also singles out clever individuals and great achievements he enjoys noting the `first inventor' of something, or a particularly striking building, or boat, or custom, or other cultural achievement. (xxxviii)

Herodotus' personality, in fact, comes through quite often in the pages of his works. A reader understands that one is hearing from an individual with certain tastes and interests and that the author considers that what he has to say is important enough to require no explanation, qualification, or apology for perceived inaccuracy if Herodotus felt like including something, he would include it and he never seems to care if readers found fault with that.


Herodotus in the Histories

That he held himself in quite high regard is apparent in the prologue to the Histories which begins,

These are the researches of Herodotus of Halicarnassus, which he publishes, in the hope of thereby preserving from decay the remembrance of what men have done, and of preventing the great and wonderful actions of the Greeks and the Barbarians from losing their due meed of glory and withal to put on record what were their grounds of feuds. (I.1)

Unlike other ancient writers (such as Homer, earlier, or Virgil, later), Herodotus does not attribute his narrative to divine sources, nor call on such for assistance, but announces clearly that this is his work and no others. His high opinion of himself is also displayed in what is recorded as the first `publication' of the Histories at the Olympic Games.

Works at this time were `published' by being read aloud and the Greek writer Lucian of Samosata (125-180 CE) claims that Herodotus read the entirety of his work to the audience in one sitting and received great applause. Another version of the publication of the work, however, claims that Herodotus refused to read his book to the crowd until there was ample cloud cover to shade him on the platform. While he waited, the audience left, and this event is what gave rise to the maxim, “Like Herodotus and his shade” alluding to one who misses an opportunity by waiting for optimal circumstances. Whichever account is true, if either is, they both reflect the high opinion Herodotus seems to have had of himself.

Later Life & Death

After travelling the world of his time, Herodotus did come to live in the Greek Colony of Thurii where he edited and revised the Histories later in life. He had also lived in Athens and, at some point, it is thought he returned there. Scholars consider it likely that he died in Athens of the same plague that killed Athenian statesman Pericles (l. 495-429 BCE) sometime between 425 and 413 BCE.

His fame was so great that many different cities (Athens and Thurii among them) claimed to be the site of his funeral and grave and monuments were erected in his honor. The lasting significance of his work continues to be appreciated by millions of people today and, as noted, he continues to be regarded as a primary source for reliable information on the ancient world he observed and wrote about.

The Decline and Fall of Ancient Greece

Ancient Greece never really declined. But it did fall.

Historians refer to Ancient Greece as a civilization. That's because it was never an empire. It was never a country. (Greece did not become an independent country until modern times, in 1821, or less than 200 years ago.) Ancient Greece was a collection of independent city-states with a common culture. Most historians agree the Greek culture was a foundation culture of Western Civilization, which means a root or a beginning. There is no doubt that the ancient Greek civilization has been immensely influential on language, literature, educational systems, philosophy, art and architecture, politics, theatre, drama, science, medicine, and mathematics.

The time period called Ancient Greece is considered by some historians to begin with the Greek Dark Ages around 1100 BC (the Dorians) and end when Rome conquered Greece in 146 BC. Other historians start with the 776 BC Greek Olympic Games, after ancient Greece had formed themselves into hundreds of independent Greek city-states, each with their own way of doing things. It's safe to say that the ancient Greek culture covered a lot of years. Ancient Greece was at its pinnacle from 776 BC to 146 BC. For a very short period of time, within that pinnacle, the ancient Greek city-states were pulled together under one rule - not their own rule, but the rule of Alexander the Great.

Alexander the Great conquered the ancient Greek city-states in 338 BC. Alexander ruled for about 13 years. Alexander died young. He was only 32 (or possibly 33) years old. He was off conquering other lands when he died. He respected and admired the Greek culture. He felt it was his mission to spread Greek culture to other lands. During his rule, Alexander spread Greek culture throughout the Persian Empire, including parts of Asia and Africa. After his death, the ancient Greek city-states did regain their independence. But the teachings of Alexander remained. The Hellenistic Age was the time after Alexander's death when Greek culture mixed with the various cultures of Alexander's Empire. This was a time of advances in learning, math, art, and architecture. Some of the great names of learning in this Age include Archimedes, Hero, and Euclid. It was a time of relative peace. (The Hellenistic Age began with Alexander's death and ended about 200 years later when the Romans conquered the Mediterranean region and beyond.)

The ancient Romans: The Romans attacked the ancient Greeks at the Battle of Corinth. The Romans won. But the Romans loved the Greek culture, especially the Greek gods and Greek myths, just like Alexander. The Romans adopted all the Greek gods and all the myths, changing them a bit to reflect the Roman way of life. As long as the ancient Greeks agreed to consider Rome in charge, the Greeks were free to mostly manage themselves. Even their language remained the same. Once again, the ancient Greek culture survived. In fact, it expanded - as the Romans expanded into Europe, they brought with them the Greek culture, which by then they claimed was the Roman culture. (The Romans often did that - adopt something, and then pretend it was Roman all along.)

Alexander spread the Greek culture around the Mediterranean, and the Romans spread the Greek culture into Europe. Greek culture is still influential today. That's why historians say Ancient Greece never really declined. But it did fall.