Athens and Rome: Introducing New Gods

8th International Spring School (25th-29th March 2007)

Polytheistic religions are per se most dynamic religious systems, since in their understanding different divinities, diverse ritual practices, or mutually contradictory beliefs can co-exist without causing serious theological problems; the polytheistic conception of religion even allows, however under certain circumstances, new gods to be introduced and become an integral part of an already existing system. The preconditions for a successful introduction of a new, sometimes even foreign deity are indeed manifold. New ethnic elements, private piety, state-controlled initiative, oracles, or natural catastrophes can become the initiatory parameter for introducing new gods. Such new »comers« have always an impact on the system they are entering in: they can eliminate or condemn older deities to insignificance, create through their sanctuaries a new sacred topography, or become a big attraction for the members of a specific social stratum.

Aim of the 8th International Spring School at the Department for Religious Studies of the University of Erfurt was not so much the plain description of the phenomenon as such (e.g. the step by step reconstruction of the arrival of Asklepios at Athens or Rome), but moreover the understanding of the religious, social, and political mechanisms that »allowed« a new deity to arrive and settle down in an alien context. The main focus was on Athens (e.g. Asklepios, Bendis, Pan, etc.) and Rome (Castores, Aesculapius, Isis, etc.), since for these two cities the rich relevant literary, epigraphic, and archaeological material enables a profound analysis of the phenomenon of introducing new gods in a specific, well-defined local context. However, we intended to throw also some comparative light on cases that are definitely not locally bounded, like the cult of the so called Egyptian deities, the appearance of Mithras, or the state-controlled introduction of deified human beings (Hellenistic kings, local benefactors, Roman emperors) into the local panthea.

Joannis Mylonopoulos and Jörg Rüpke


Sara M. Wijma's paper aims to show how religious activities were organized to incorporate and define the membership to the Athenian community of 'foreign' groups, especially the group of Thracians.
Giorgio Ferri examines the roman evocatio, the rite by which, shortly before the last attack on a besieged city, the Romans asked the tutelary deity of the besieged city to grant them her favor. Thanks to the progressive enlargement of its borders, Rome came into contact with a large number of deities. But only few of them were officially recognized by the senate.
What position were the Salamanian Gods granted within the Athenian pantheon after the takeover of Salamis? How was the Salaminian religious sphere embedded in the ideology of the Athenians’ own mythical past? Floris van den Eijnde investigates how Salamis was incorporated within the Athenian polis.
The purpose of Meredith Warren´s paper is to do three things: first, to promote the idea that there were multiple, coexisting manifestations of Judaism both in Palestine and the diaspora; second, to suggest that these »deviant« Judaisms deserve equal study when examining Græco-Roman religions; and third, that Judaism itself should be considered a religion of the Mediterranean alongside indigenous religions of this area.
Valentino Gasparini takes a look at modern and past research on the cult of Isis and investigates the introduction of the cult of the egyptian goddess in Rome.