Jackie Mahaffey


Pilgrims and Pilgrimage in Ancient Greece by Matthew Dillon

Chapter 6: Cult Regulations at Sanctuaries


Introduction: This chapter dealt with cult regulations at sanctuaries, which pertained to the pilgrims that visited them. According to Dillon, "cult centers should be taken as applying to pilgrims, for they were the main body of worshipers at these sites"(149).


Entry to the Sacred Site

1. various sanctuaries restricted both local and foreign access to temples­there were certain requirements when entering a sanctuary. You needed to be pure to enter sanctuary, whether that meant bathing or having the proper clothing.

2. regulations to being considered pure were mostly against 'outsiders'. On the other hand, these Panhellenic festival were open to all Greeks: Olympia, Pythia, Isthmia and Nemea, as well at the mysteries Eleusis and Samothrace.

The ethnic groups, Ionians and Dorians, had their own festivals which others were excluded. So, these regulations went both ways, either for Greeks or 'non-Greeks'.

Incidents of ethnic prejudice:


On the other hand: Xenophobic Spartans had a festival Gymnopaidiai which xenoi were allowed to attend, and Gephyraioi clan had their own shrines that the Athenians could not worship.

The Need for Priest or Priestess: In a few cases, worshippers might be denied entry because priest or priestess had to be present. For example, there was a problem with priestess of Demeter at Arkesine: complaining about public sacrifice and women that were doing them. In retaliation, the boule and demos passed a decree, saying that female worshipers were not allowed in unless priestess were present.

Trouble at the Temple of Dionysus

On the other hand, anyone could perform sacrifice as long as rituals were followed.

Slaves at Sanctuaries

Prohibition on participation of slaves at the annual festival at Plataea , p. 151. This was a festival to celebrate the freedom of the Greeks from the Persians, and therefore only free people were allowed to participate. Plutarch, Life of Aristides, sec. 24: "These are followed by young men of free birth who carry libations of wine and milk in jars and pitchers of olive-oil and myrrh, and no slave is allowed to play any part in the ceremony, since the men who are being honoured gave their lives for freedom." Eleusinian, Samothracian, Andrian mystery slaves could be there.

Certain Days Allowed Entry

Access to some temples were only allowed on some days of the year, the priest or priestess were only allowed unlimited access. Even some sanctuaries only cult personnel were allowed in, and in some cases no entry was permitted.

Shrine that only opens once a year:

1. Temple of Dionysos the Deliverer in Boeotia was only open on certain days­once a year. They believed that Dionysus visited the shrine when it was closed.

2. Sanctuary of Eurynome­opened on the same day each year.

3. Sanctuary of the Mother Dindymene near the river Dirke in Boeotia(Pindar himself dedicated the image of Dindymene­was only opened one day a year­Pausanias was there on that day.

4. Temple of Artemis at Hyampolis was opened twice a year.

Statue of Hera at Aigion in Achaea could only be seen by the priestess­sanctuary of Zeus Lykaios at Megalopolis had no entrance.

Panhellenic sanctuaries were always open­in some cases the main cult activity of the Olympic festival at Olympia occurred infrequently­every four years. In addition, the Lesser and Greater Eleusinian Mysteries were celebrated once a year.

At Samothrace the inscribed list of Mystai gave the dates of initiation­from April to November­whenever enough people arrived there would be an initiation.

The healing shrines were open on regular basis:

1. There is no evidence that their doors were closed at a particular part of the year.

2. Healing sanctuaries never invited the sick through special embassies (theoriai).

3. Seasonal factors did effect the attendance at the healing shrines­inscriptions from Oropos instruct the priest of Amphiaraos to be present at the shrine from the end of winter until summer ploughing­perhaps because travel was easier.

4. The guardian and priest needed to be at the shrine.

5. Some healing sanctuaries had festivals distinct from their role as a healing place and pilgrims were invited to attend these­Panhellenic festival in honor of Asklepios are attested at Epidauros, Pergamon and Kos­like all other festivals these involved processions, sacrifices, and contests.

1. the sanctuary of Isis(Tithoreans)­required the person be sent a dream of innovation to enter the sanctuary.

2. village of Acharaka­a cave for healing(Charonion)­healing based on dream interpretation. The priest would sleep and dream and offer their own interpretation of the dreams pertaining to the illnesses of those that come to the site for healing.(only priest and ill were allowed at the site) "to all others the place is forbidden and deadly"(152).

Days for Consultation of the Delphic Oracle

The Delphic Oracle could not be consulted at any time­there were special days set aside for this purpose.

If a pilgrim was coming into town he would have to await these days­any of those coming a long distance planning might have been difficult.

Consultations took place during the month of Bysios only on the 7th day­Apollo's Birthday­it was finally extended from one day to the entire month. In addition, it is confirmed by Plutarch that once a month a god would enter a mortal body.

Apollo visiting the Hyperboreans:

It is suggested that the oracle was open on several days of the month with direct oracular consult on the one day, and consultation by the lot-oracle on other days­if there was a lot-oracle it was unlikely they it consulted on a different day.

Priestess was only available one day a month for verbal consultation.

Alexander the Great traveled to Delphi to consult the Pythia

Diodoros after capturing Delphi and looting the treasure decided to consult the oracle about his war against the Boeotians­unwilling.

Procedures for a sacrificial victim for consultation with oracle:

1. The sacrificial victim­which was supposed to be sacrificed prior to consultation­was sacrificed to see if the god wanted to communicate­if did not respond­the consultation was not suppose to go ahead.

Needed to be accompanied by a proxenos, needed to come at right time of the month, and needed to pay for the pelanos (sacred cake) and sacrifice a goat to see the oracle of Pythia.

Not having a proxenos to represent you:

For instance for the Sardinians, who did not have a proxenos, the city of Delphi appointed itself as proxenos.

Other cities without proxenos­Delphians kept a record of who the proxenoi were­the list contained the Delphians who were the proxenoi for various states­inside and outside Greece including Rome.

Waiting to see the oracle and the order in which you entered:

1. The order they were to enter the temple and put their questions to the Pythia was decided by lot.

2. Institution of the promanteia ­granted the Delphians the ask questions first before the pilgrims.

3. Degree of importance of the inquirer also played a role in who was able to consult the Pythia.

The privilege of promanteia could be awarded as a mark of honor.

Initiation for the Eleusinian Mysteries

Sometimes it was required that the pilgrim be initiated to the cult rather than being just a presence of the rite itself.

The initiation of Eleusis may have been denied if the individual had not been initiated in the Lesser Mysteries.

Initiation was done in 2 stages:

1. Lesser Mysteries­in the month of Anthesterion­was only a preparation for the Greater Mysteries.

2. Initiation into the Greater Mysteries­initiate could seek a higher degree of initiation at a subsequent celebration (epopteia or become an epoptes).

Incident: Demetrios wished to be initiated but he arrived after the initiations were done­the Lesser Mysteries were repeated and renamed to the current month Anthesterion

Each mystes at the Greater Mysteries had his/her own mystagogos -mystes leader- who was responsible for him/her throughout the celebration.

Sacrifice and other preliminary rites at healing sanctuaries

Sacrifice was essential in all cults and was usually the central feature of religious rites.

Preliminary Rites for those who wanted to be healed:

1. Cult of Asklepios depended upon the visitation by the god and the sicknesses were cured by dreams.

2. Procedure of incubation was a religious ritual­pilgrims had to carry out a series of acts to see to it that they got cured.

3. Sleeping in a special chamber­abaton­which was not the temple.

4. Asklepieion at Pergamon­Consultant dressed in white and wearing a wreath and animal sacrifice­cakes decorated with olive sprigs were sacrificed to various gods, needed to put on another wreath when commencing the sacrifice of the cakes, then a pig was sacrificed on the altar and 3 obols placed into the thesauros.

5. If you wanted further consultation you needed to make another sacrifice of a pig.

6. Needed to be pure when entering the small incubatory chamber­for those who wanted to make a second consultation.

Ritual Bathing:

Consultant at the oracular incubatory center of Trophonios at Lebadeia bath in the rive Herkyna.

Bathing was part of the healing process

Asklepieia­water therapy was used in the 4th century.

Oropos the deity Amphiaraos effected cures­sacrifice was needed here as well. The priest if present was to say prayers and put the sacred portion on the altar­if the priest was not there the person making the sacrifice needed to do this.

Pausanias­the consultants had to enter in a state of purification­and sacrifice needed to be made to all gods that were named on the altar. Then the person was to sacrifice a ram and lie down on its fleece and wait for a dream.

When a pilgrim did not have the provisions to make a sacrifice the provisions were provided. Priest of Asklepios to provide grain, wood and wreaths essential items for sacrifice.

Ritual meals at sanctuaries

Tents were erected for the purpose of dining at these sites.

Dining halls at Corinth­built in dining couches for local cult of Demeter and Kore.

Other pilgrimage centers : Epidauros, Eleusis, Brauron, Isthmia, the Asklepieion at hestiatoria, dining halls, on the island of Tenos.

Skenai­accommodation for the pilgrims could be erected in the sanctuary.

The sacrifice was consumed in the tent and all of it had to be consumed there none of it can be taken away. Sacrifice considered consecrated because not taken away from the site.

Cult inscription from Oropos­says that worshipers could sacrifice whatever they wished­but again the meat had to be consumed within the sanctuary.

Clothing Regulations

Asklepieion Cult­the god Asklepios was described as being dressed in white as were the suppliants seeking a cure.

Wreaths were necessary at most sites­needed to wear them during the sacrifice and after incubation the wreath needed to be left on incubatory bed­a thanksgiving item.

Cult of Trophonios at Lebadeia in Boeotia­clothing was a ritual requirement. Needed to undergo purification rites and needed to spend several days in a dwelling sacred to Daimon and Tyche and bathing in the river Herkyna. Then there was a sacrifice of ram­its entrails were observed­then he proceeded in a linen garment which was tied with ribbons and wearing boots that were made locally and descended in the chasm of earth.

Vast winding passages: Pausanias describes difficulties involved in descending into the shrine­need to lie on back and while holding offspring had descend into the hole feet first and had to come back out feet first.

Proscribed foods: Pilgrims had to avoid certain foodstuffs: At Pergamon the shrine of Asklepios were required to be abstinent from goat cheese and goat meat for one day.

Cult of Trophonios several types of fish were banned­cult of Amphiaraos at Oropos had to abstain from food for a day beforehand and wine for three days as the message of the god was obscured by alcohol.

Healing cults­those that needed healing maybe left in a chamber without food for several days.

Eleusis the initiates seem not have eaten red mullet­pilgrims did not drink wine for a part of Eleusinina mysteries-in imitation of Demeter(the myth).

Exclusion of Non-Greek Speakers

The Greek world was surrounded by barbaroi-the non-Greek speakers, and they were excluded from pilgrimage sites and various religious activities.

Example: Mys­a Carian­needed to talk to the oracle at Lebadeia­he had to pay someone that was Greek to go in for him to ask the questions.

Oracular inspiration: Active­the god appeared to the consultant. Passive­the god talked through prophet.

Gods only appeared to the Greeks (the questions had to be in Greek and non-Greeks could not get close to shrine)

The mysteries involved verbal explanations by the hierophant­needed to be able to make sense of content and needed to be first hand.

Expenses of Pilgrimage

Sanctuaries had various charges that had to be paid, if not paid you would be denied access to sanctuary.

Reimbursement for animal sacrifice.

Healing sanctuaries charged for sleeping and initiation ceremony they charged for initiation.

Up keep of the shrine: Pay for consultation of an oracle­pelanos.

Fees for Eleusis

Thanking the Gods: It was expected for the person to leave gift for thanks of healing­wreath, goblet, clay pig, etc.

Votive offerings­terra cotta

Socrates­roosters were cheap­socioeconomic factors determine value of gifts.

Dedications for victories in Panhellenic Contests: Religious framework was very important of competitors at festivals.

Economic Social Status

Consultation by Proxy

You were able to send others to receive oracles­monarchs and states could do this.

Mystery Cults: Eleusis celebrations were only to be seen by those that were initiated and the initiated was not to tell what happened. Eleusian­"locked in Golden Silence".

Diagoras of Melos told people about it and was sentenced to death.

Initiated to enter sanctuary.

Return to Main Page: CLST 4003 H. Honors Colloquium on Greek Religion. Univ. of Arkansas