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La norme en matière religieuse en Grèce ancienne

Pierre Brulé

The Dynamics of Ritual Norms in Greek Cult1

Angelos Chaniotis


L'article discute quelques règlements cultuels épigraphiques des périodes hellénistique et impériale illustrant la complexité des normes rituelles, leur transmission, leur traitement et leur transformation. Ces règlements révèlent une ‘stratigraphie’ de normes, comme suit : a) un noyau dur invariable de pratiques rituelles (patria, nomizomena) transmises oralement qui ne font l’objet d’aucune négociation, ne tolèrent guère les écarts et permettent d’identifier un rituel; b) des instructions écrites qui touchent à l’accomplissement des rituels et des règlements distincts qui confèrent à un rituel un profil local ou thématique spécifique (nomoi); de tels nomoi faisaient l’objet de codification et de modification, mais ils ne toléraient guère l’initiative et la flexibilité; c) des mises en scène et des éléments variables destinés à accroître l’efficacité rituelle (epauxesis, epauxaneiin); ces derniers sont le résultat d’un discours public, dont les origines et les auteurs sont identifiables.

Texte intégral

1. Variability in ritual

  • 1 This paper is based on research conducted in the course of the research project “Ritual and Communi (...)
  • 2 LSAM 81. For a thorough commentary of the historical context see I. Savalli-Lestrade, “Antioche du (...)

1In the mid-second century BC a festival was established in Antioch near Pyramos to commemorate the end of a conflict with Antioch near Kydnos.2 An altar was dedicated to Homonoia, and every year on the anniversary of the foundation of this altar a celebration would take place, described in an amendment to an earlier decree:

The council and the demos may resolve: Everything that is stated above may be done as the people decided. Concerning the construction of the altar let the prytaneis be responsible. On the day on which the altar will be founded, a procession shall be held, as beautiful and glamorous as possible, from the altar of the council to the sanctuary of Athena. The procession will be led by the demiourgos and the prytaneis. They will offer a sacrifice of a cow with gilded horns to Athena and to Homonoia. The priests, all the other magistrates, the winners of the games, the supervisor of the gymnasium with all the ephebes and the young men, and the supervisor of the children with all the children, shall participate in the procession. This day will be a holiday; all the citizens shall wear garlands; all shall be released from work, the slaves shall be released from chains. The magistrates and the winners of the games shall gather in the sanctuary of Athena, all the other citizens will gather in groups according to tribes. The hieromnemon and the presidents of the tribes will be responsible for the order on this day ... The treasurers shall provide the necessary funds. In the following years a sacrificial animal is to be sacrificed on the altar every month, on the first day. And each year the procession and the sacrifices and all the rest shall take place in accordance with what is written above. And the things stated above shall be prepared by the treasurers with public money.

2This document contains a supplement to an earlier decree, mentioned in the first lines (“everything that is stated above may be done as the people decided”). The early decree must have appeared insufficient; after some debate, further provisions had to be taken. The surviving decree mentions several different authorities responsible for the performance of the festival and the ritual activities involved:

  • Some of the ritual activities were subject to a decision of the popular assembly, therefore, subject to debate. In the case of the surviving decree, they include the list of the participants in the procession; their position at the head of the procession; the procession’s route; the gilded horns of the sacrificial cow, the release of the slaves from chains.

  • Some details were left to the initiative of the different officials who had responsibility for the celebration and its organisation: the construction of the altar, the selection of the animal (the dokimasia), public order. The vague formulation “as beautiful and glamorous as possible” was an invitation to them to employ taste, imagination, and money, or to copy models observed in other festivals. Greek rituals required stage directors, sponsors, and organisers, no less than they required experts and exegetes.

  • Everything which is only briefly mentioned or not mentioned at all was subject neither to debate nor to inventiveness, but was dictated by custom. E.g., the sacrifice of a cow to Athena, and not, e.g., of a boar, a pregnant goat, a cock, a dog, or a horse, was certainly prescribed by custom, whereas the gilded horns were an extravagance aimed at underscoring the importance of this celebration. The details of the sacrifice (preliminaries, libation, prayer, etc.) were also invariable elements prescribed by custom.

  • 3 SEG 41, 1411; R. Merkelbach, J. Stauber, Steinepigramme aus dem griechischen Osten. Die Sudkuste Kl (...)

3Unlike the celebration at Antiocheia, a ritual which was to be performed in Pamphylian Syedra in order to avert the threat of pirates had not been the subject of debate in the assembly; it is described in an oracle of Apollo of Klaros (first century BC?):3

Pamphylians of Syedra, who inhabit a common land of mixed races of mortals, erect in the middle of your town an image of Ares, the blood-stained slayer of men, and perform sacrifices; Hermes should hold him captured in iron chains; on the other side Dike, who declares wrong and right, will judge him; he should be represented like someone who pleads (for mercy). For thus he will be peacefully disposed to you; having driven the hostile mob far away from your fatherland he will raise up the much-prayed-for prosperity. But also you yourselves together put your hand to the hard toil, and either chase these men away or bind them in bonds that cannot be unbound; do not delay the terrible vengeance on the plunderers, for thus you will escape from impairment.

  • 4 On metrical ‘sacred laws’, which are usually oracles, see I. Petrovic, A. Petrovic, “Look Who is Ta (...)
  • 5 S. Mitchell, “Inscriptions from Melli (Kocaaliler) in Pisidia”, AS 53 (2003), p. 151-153, n° 13; SE (...)

4In this case, the performance of a ritual and its nature are dictated by the highest authority: a god.4 Some of the ritual actions are referred to in a very general manner, for others the oracle provides some stage directions. The god commands: ρδετε θόσθλα. No explanation whatsoever is given; the Syedrians are supposed to know what thysthla are — and it is exactly for this reason that we do not. The word thysthla may designate implements of orgiastic Dionysiac worship, with which the worshippers flogged themselves (Julian, or. 7.209 d), or sacrifices in general. It is, therefore, possible that the Syedrians were to flog Ares’ statue or to perform sacrifice. The verb erdein, attested in the context of sacrifice, makes the second interpretation more likely. Some of the elements of such sacrifices must have been dictated by tradition — the preliminaries, the treatment of the sacrificial animal, the wearing of crowns during the sacrifice, etc. — others were left to the imagination and budget of the Syedrians — the number of the animals and the organisation of the sacrificial procession. And should the Syedrians be puzzled about what, how, and to whom they should sacrifice, they could ask an exegetes or turn again to the oracle of Klaros for advice. We know that oracles of Apollo Klarios occasionally required an exegesis.5

5Some of the elements about which the oracle is silent did not need an explanation because they were dictated by tradition; others did not need instructions because they were variable. By contrast, the oracle does describe the ritual’s innovative and distinctive features: the inflexible elements that made it work. The statue group of Ares and Dike could not be replaced by another group of gods; if Ares were represented fighting and not pleading for mercy, and if Dike were represented embracing him and not condemning him, the ritual would not be effective — exactly as it would fail to drive the enemies away, if the Syedrians were to stop fighting, placing all their hopes in this ritual.

  • 6 See the discussion by Faraone, l.c. (n. 2).
  • 7 A. Chaniotis, “Old Wine in a New Skin: Tradition and Innovation in the Cult Foundation of Alexander (...)

6Although the elements that gave the ritual a distinctive profile and made it recognizable are presented as a new norm, none of its components is new. The oracle refers to erdein thysthla; the treatment of images according to the principle of similia similibus is an old and widespread magical ritual.6 Apollo — i.e. his priests at Klaros — recycled existing rituals, combining them in a unique mélange, exactly as Alexander of Abonouteichos recycled rituals of divinatory, healing and mystery cults in order to create the cult of Glykon Neos Asklepios.7

  • 8 Milet I, 3, 134; for a recent discussion see A. Chaniotis, “Negotiating Religion in the Cities of t (...)
  • 9 Lines 14-18: τοὺς προφήτας ϰα τοὺς στεφανηφόρους πάναγϰες πιτελεν τὰς ς εωχίας τν τε ϰόσμων ϰ (...)

7My third example is a decree enacted by the assembly of Miletos in the late first century CE, drafted by the prominent citizen Tiberius Claudius Damas and proposed by the epistatai8? The text is forty lines long, but its real content does not take up more than five lines:9

The prophetes and the stephanephoros are obliged to organise the banquet of the kosmoi and the molpoi according to the ancestral custom and in accordance with the laws and the decrees which have been previously issued.

8The rest of the text consists of a long declaration of the piety of the people and its wish to increase the honours offered to Apollo and the emperors (ten lines) and more than 25 lines of measures that would ensure that this decree was followed. The ritual under consideration is the euochia (the banquet), about which the decree provides no information other than that it was performed according to an ancestral custom (kata ta patria ethe) and that there have been relevant laws (pronenomothetetai) and decrees (proepsephistai). The patria ethe, the nomoi and the psephismata regulated the same ritual, but as the different terms imply, they were three different kinds of regulations.

9These three texts from different periods, different places, and different genres exemplify the complexity of ritual norms, their transmission, treatment, and modification. Ritual norms have an invariable hard core — designated as the patria (“the ancestral custom”) and the nomizpmena (“the customs”), without which they would not be effective and recognisable; but they also tolerate, indeed sometimes they desire, a certain amount of variability, aimed at increasing the ritual’s efficacy and improving the chances that the desired communication between mortals and superhuman entities would take place.

10In some cases the variability a ritual can tolerate is limited. This applies to rituals in which the desirable effect is based on an automatism and not on persuasion. Magical rituals are an extreme case. If someone uses the wrong materia magica, utters the wrong words, invokes a demon using the wrong or a powerless name, or performs the actions in the wrong sequence, nothing will happen — or worse: the ritual will have undesirable effects, about which the magical handbooks warn their users — exactly in the same way as, when onepresses the wrong button on an ATM-machine, one gets no money. This rigidity explains why magical rituals are the only rituals for which extremely detailed prescriptions have survived in large numbers. Magical rituals presuppose a belief in the idea that the mechanical performance of a sequence of actions will bring the desired effect, quite independent of the attitude, the justification or the moral qualities of the individual who performs them. Such rituals tolerate no deviation from the rules; often they require ritual experts to perform them.

  • 10 SEG 43, 630. For recent discussions (with further bibliography) see A. Dimartino, “Omicidio, contam (...)

11Rituals of purification also belong to this group, at least at an early stage of Greek religion, and this explains both why they required ritual experts (kathartai) — quite common until the fourth century BC — and why numerous and rather detailed regulations and ‘handbooks’ existed for them (e.g., the Katharmoi attributed to Epimenides). It is not a coincidence that one of the most detailed descriptions of rituals in a cult regulation is to be found in the famous ‘sacred law’ of Selinous that precisely concerns a ritual of purification.10 Rituals with an analogous rigidity include the rituals of mystery cults and of divination — again, ritual experts and a specialised literature existed for them and true innovations required someone with the boldness of an Alexander of Abonouteichos. The ritual of supplication was also originally based on an automatism: if a suppliant lost physical contact with an altar, he could also lose his life or freedom (see below).

  • 11 I.Erythrai II 206; LSAM 23 and 25; cf. SEG 46, 1463; 47, 1628. Recent discussions of these rites: E (...)
  • 12 A. Chaniotis, “Acclamations as a Form of Religious Communication”, in H. Cancik, J. Rüpke (eds.), D (...)

12More possibilities for variation and innovation existed for most public rituals and festivals. Only the rituals of a few cults, such as the ecstatic Korybantic rites at Erythrai,11 must have required experts. In other cases, the main concern of rituals is how to attract the interest of a god. In order to come, accept the offerings, and listen to the requests of the humans, a god must be invited and attracted with a variety of signals.12 In such cases, the norms leave more space for persuasion strategies to serve the function of removing obstacles to communication between mortals and gods and to make sure that a god’s attention is captured.

13The performance of a ritual was more than just following norms. In part, it was subject to customary norms, which are hardly ever described; in part it was subject to stage directions and variable elements aimed at giving it a specificprofile and increasing its efficacy. The different origins of norms and stage regulations can be best seen through a ‘stratigraphy’ of written cult regulations.

2. A ‘stratigraphie’ analysis of cult regulations

  • 13 LSCG 136: Ἔδοξε τος μαστρος ϰαὶαλυσίοις Στρατςλϰιμέδοντος επε. Ὅπως τò ερòν ϰαὶ τò τέμενος(...)

14One of the texts which are usually referred to as leges sacrae is a decree (not a law) concerning the sanctuary of Alektrona in Ialysos (c. 300 BC):13

It was decided by the mastroi and the Ialysians. Strates, son of Alkimedon, pro-posed. In order that the sanctuary of Alektrona remains pure (εαγται) according to the ancestral customs (ϰατ τ πάτρια), may the hierotamiai take care that three stelai are made of Lartian marble and that this decree is inscribed on them together with the things which it is not proper (ο σιόν ντι) according to the laws (κ τν νόμων) to bring inside and the animals for which it is not proper according to the laws to walk inside the precinct, along with the penalty imposed on anyone who acts against the law (παρ τòν νόμον). One of the stalai should be placed at the entrance, as one comes from the city, another behind the banquet-hall, and another on the road that descends from the Achaian city.

Law concerning what is religiously improper to enter or to be brought into the sanctuary and the precinct of Alektrona. A horse, a donkey, a mule, a small mule or any other animal that has a mane should not enter. No one is allowed to bring into the precinct any of these. He is also not allowed to bring in shoes or anything made of swine. For whatever one does contrary to the law, he should purify the sanctuary and the precinct, otherwise he shall be guilty of impiety. And if someone brings sheep inside, then he shall pay for each sheep one obolos. Whoever wishes may denounce to the mastroi the individuals who do any of these things.

15This text has its origin in a proposal (eipe) made by Strates, an ordinary citizen with no further qualifications for making a proposal; he is not a priest or holder of another office. After discussion in the council of the mastroi and in the popular assembly, this proposal was approved (edoxe) and became a decree (psaphisma). Unlike what one expects (or the generic designation of this text as ‘sacred law’ implies) the content of the decree is neither the definition or attempted introduction of a new norm nor the attempted modification of an existing one. The decree is exclusively concerned with the enforcement of existing norms. It simply stipulates the publication of (i) the decree, (ii) a list of objects and animals regarded as the cause of impurity, and (iii) the penalties for the violators. The decree explicitly refers to pre-existing laws (ek ton nomon, para ton nomon). Indeed, the second part of the inscription (not of the decree) consists of the nomos concerning the things that were regarded as polluted. The decree did not modify the nomos, which had a higher status. It simply made sure that the nomos was known to all; the inscription would warn transgressors about the consequences of their actions.

16This nomos itself must have been introduced when the sanctuary of Alektrona was founded, presumably as the result of discussion or of a decision by the cult founder. But, again, the nomos as it stands does not seek to create a self-standing norm. The crime of impiety (asebeia), to which it refers, was defined in yet another document. It also alludes to rituals without providing any information whatsoever. Let us see the relevant passage again: “For whatever one does contrary to the law, he should purify the sanctuary and the precinct, otherwise he shall be guilty of impiety.” How does one purify a sanctuary? What is the appropriate sacrifice on the altar? Neither Strates’ decree nor the nomos answer these questions. But the decree does refer to the “ancestral customs” (“in order that the sanctuary of Alektrona remains pure according to the ancestral customs”). We may assume that these patria prescribed sacrificial and purifica-tory norms. The patria are not subject to description, modification or negotiation. Of course this does not exclude the possibility that the patria are ignored, forgotten, misunderstood, occasionally performed in a deficient way, or overshadowed by more recent, ‘trendy’ practices. However, this does not change the fact that the text from Ialysos reveals a ‘stratigraphy’ of norms, consisting of the following layers:

  • the patria, which made up the central core of ritual practices; the patria did not have recognisable authors; their mortal agent was an abstract collective: the ancestors;

  • the nomos, which contained specific instructions concerning the application of the patria and the penalties for those who violated them; the nomos existed in writing and was the result of recognisable human agents; and

  • the psaphisma, the decree of the assembly which simply took measures for the enforcement of the patria; the decree had an author (Strates); it was subject to discussion in the council of the mastroi and in the assembly; and in theory it was subject to negotiation and modification.

  • 14 On the problems connected with the use of this terni see more recently R. Parker, “What are Sacred (...)
  • 15 LSAM 16: γαθι Τύχηι. ερονομουῦντος Δημητρίου, μηνς Θαργηλινος δευτέραι λέξων Δάμωνος επεν νό (...)

17I do not claim that exactly the same (or even a similar) stratigraphy exists in all the documents which are characterised as leges sacrae;14 but whenever we may recognise different layers of norms, this distinction is useful for a better understanding of the transmission and transformation of rituals. Let us take, e.g., the funerary regulation of Gambreion in Asia Minor (third century BC):15

For good fortune. When Demetrios was hieronomos, on the second day of Thargelion. Alexon, son of Damon, proposed: May the Gambreiotai have as a law that the women who are in mourning wear a grey garment, not made dirty; the men and the boys who are in mourning should also use a grey garment, unless they wish to use a white one. They should perform what is required by customary norms (τά νόμιμα) for the deceased for three months at the most; the men should stop mourning in the fourth month, the women in the fifth month; and it is obligatory that (then) the women stop the funerary services and make the exits (from their home) which are written in the law. The supervisor of the women, who is elected by the people, shall make the wish during the purifications that take place before the Thesmophoria that those men who follow this law and those women who obey it may be well and that their property may flourish and that the opposite may happen to those men who do not obey and those women who do not follow the law. And may it not be pious for them to sacrifice to any of the gods for ten years, as being impious. The treasurer, who will be elected after the stephanephorate of Demetrios, shall inscribe this law on two stelai and dedicate one of them in front of the gates of the Thesmophorion, and the other in front of the temple of Artemis Lochia. The treasurer shall report on the expenses incurred for the stelai in the first account.

18Here, again, we are dealing with a proposal by a citizen. As soon as it was approved, it became law; it was expected to become a norm with general value. But the law itself did not concern the rituals of the funerary cult in general. These rituals, referred to as the ‘customary norms’ (nomima) and not describedhere, prescribed the treatment of the corpse, the purification of the house, the funerary offerings, etc. The new law concerned itself only with particular details: the duration of the lamentation, the clothes of the mourners, and the behaviour of women.

  • 16 On the Thargelia see L. Deubner, Attische Feste, Berlin, 19662, p. 179-198; W. Burkert, Structure a (...)

19My next example does not concern a new festival, but one of he oldest Athenian festivals: the Thargelia.16 The predominant rituals of the celebration were the offering of first-fruits to Apollo and a scapegoat ritual. In the Classical period the festival was celebrated by (genuine or constructed) family groups (the phratries) and was dedicated to Apollo Patroios (the patron of the ancestors); as the role of the phratries declined in the Hellenistic period, the god’s epithet was somehow reinterpreted and associated with the achievement of the forefathers (progonoi) and the fatherland (patris). A decree which concerns the reorganisation of the festival in 129/8 BC applies the words patris and progonoi seven times in 18 lines, focusing on military victories and glorious deeds. This decree has an author, who presented a proposal to the assembly.

It was decided by the council and the people. Xeno- -, son of Sopatrides, from Sounion, made the proposal. Since it is a norm of the forefathers and a custom of the Athenian demos and an ancestral tradition to show the greatest care for the piety towards the gods and it is for this reason that the Athenians have achieved the fame and the praise of the most glorious deeds both on land and in the sea through many campaigns on land and on board of ships, always beginning all their activities with an homage to Zeus Soter and with the worship of the gods; and since there also exists Apollo Pythios, who is an ancestral god of the Athenians and an interpreter of good things, at the same time a saviour of all the Greeks, the son of Zeus and Leto; and since he has ordered us with oracles to pray to the god who is called ‘the god of the forefathers’ and to perform the ancestral sacrifices on behalf of the demos of the Athenians annually, offering sacrifices to Apollo as is the ancestral custom of the demos. For these reasons Timarchos of Sphettos, the treasurer of the council, submitted a formal request to the council reminding it of the oracles and of the honours of the god that had originally been established by laws. In order that the council and the demos show that they not only maintain the ancestral customs, but also increase the sacrifices and the honours in a beautiful and pious manner, so that they also receive from the gods the favours that they deserve. For good fortune! Let it be resolved by the council. The presidents who will be selected by lot shall present this matter for deliberation in the next assembly, and the council shall present a proposal to the assembly to the effect that the council thinks it appropri-ate that all other rites should be performed for Apollo in accordance with his — oracles, and that the basileus (‘the king’), the archon (‘magistrate’) who will be annually elected, and the strategoi (‘generals’) shall perform a sacrifice on the conditions stated in the earlier decrees, and that they shall perform those sacrifices and processions that take place in the Gardens during the festival of the Thargelia, bringing sacrificial animals as beautiful as possible - They shall place them on the altars and pray. And after they have said the prayers during the Thargelia the priest of Apollo Pythios and the exegetes and the other priests and the nine archons and the hierophantes and the dadouchos and those who come with them and the organisers of the contest that takes place near the Pythion and the choregoi and the hieropoioi and — shall lead the procession — the girls shall carry the sacrificial basket — when according to ancestral custom there are holidays — And under the same conditions, the private slaves and all the public slaves shall be free of labour and of every service. The basileus and the priest and the herald of the council of the Areios Pagos and the thesmothetai shall offer sacrifices as follows. The priest of Apollo Pythios shall take care of the obligatory sacrifice in the Gardens next to the Pythion, providing a sow, and a bull for Apollo Alexikakos and Patroios, and a bull for Apollo Pythios, receiving the shares as in the past; the military treasurer shall sacrifice a bull (using money) from the annual revenues for the demos of the Athenians and the children and the women and for the demos of the Romans, giving the sacrificial animal to the hieropoioi —

20In this document we recognize again various layers of norms, attempts to create norms, decisions, and regulations. The earliest layer is referred to with vague formulations as ‘ancestral traditions’, ‘norms of the forefathers’, ‘custom of the Athenian people’, ‘ancestral sacrifices’, ‘ancestral custom’. The content of these traditions, customs, and norms is not described. Whether they existed in written form is not certain. A further layer is represented by the oracles of Apollo, which are only summarized in the text. They ordered the worship of the god of the forefathers and the performance of the ancestral sacrifices. On the basis of these oracles, the Athenians had established laws (nomoi), which certainly existed in writing. These regulations are also referred to “as the conditions stated in the earlier decrees” which concerned sacrifices. Presumably these decrees regulated not how the sacrifice was to be performed (this was an ancestral norm), but determined the date, the number of animals, the responsible officials, and the budget. They seem to have been neglected, and this is why this decree was issued. It represents the last layer.

21But what was the content of the citizen’s proposal? In addition to references to already existing practices (“they shall perform a sacrifice on the conditions stated in the earlier decrees”), the proposer was only concerned with stage directions. He names the officials who are obliged to perform sacrifices; he concerns himself with the funding of these sacrifices; he stipulates the participation of as many magistrates as possible in the procession; he urges them to perform the sacrifices and the procession in the most beautiful manner; he declares the day of the festival to be a public holiday.

3. From nomima and nomoi to the epauxesis of rituals

22In these and many other cult regulations of the Hellenistic and later periods we may recognise three layers of prescriptions:

  1. An invariable hard core of ritual practices, often designated as the ‘ancestral customs’ (patria) and the ‘customary norms’ (nomizpmena), which is not subject to negotiation, hardly tolerates any deviations, and makes a ritual recognizable. For example, in the case of the Thesmophoria this hard core consists in the exclusion of men and in the carrying of certain sacred objects; in the case of the funerary rituals it consists in the fact that the remains of the deceased person, whether cremated, placed in an urn or in a coffin, will be covered by earth; that his family will make offerings; that it will be regarded as polluted for a certain period of time; in the ritual of supplication, the direct physical contact with an altar or a sacred space; in scapegoat rituals that the scapegoat, in whatever manner selected or treated, will have to leave the territory of the community. No matter which gods one invokes in an oath, which words he utters, or which actions he performs in order to symbolically represent his destruction in case of perjury, there is no oath without self- cursing. Usually, these patria and nomima are not described in writing but are orally transmitted. There are exceptions, especially rituals that do not tolerate variability because the desirable effect is based on the performance of specific actions in a specific sequence (e.g. magical rituals). Nomima and patria do not have recognizable mortal authors or inventors and are non-negotiable.

  2. A second layer consists of what the Greeks often describe as ‘laws’ (nomoi): instructions concerning the performance of rituals and distinctive regulations, which gave a ritual a specific local or thematic profile. For example, in Gambreion the nomos consisted in instructions concerning the duration of mourning, in Ialysos in instructions concerning the exclusion from the sanctuary of certain animals, persons, and objects. In a sacrificial ritual, the local nomos consists in instructions concerning the date and location of the sacrifice, the number and gender of victims, the portion reserved for the priest, the treatment of the meat of the victim. Most of the so-called leges sacrae’ of the Archaic and Classical period are nomoi and not nomima. Such nomoi were subject to codification and modification, but they hardly allowed initiative or flexibility.

    • 17 A. Chaniotis, “Dynamic of Emotions and Dynamic of Rituals. Do Emotions Change Ritual Norms?”, in C. (...)
    • 18 E.g. IG IX2 1, 583, lines 11-16.

    Finally, a third level consists in stage directions and variable elements aimed at increasing the ritual’s efficacy. These ‘cult regulations’ present the result of public discourse and have recognizable origins (e.g., political develop-ments) and recognizable authors. Their primary aim was to treat variable ritual elements, the aim of which was to augment a ritual’s impact and decrease theemotional tensions which might threaten its efficacy.17 This is expressed by the Greeks with the words epauxesis and epauxanein.18

  • 19 I.Magnesia 100: ὑπρ τοναδείϰνυσθαιϰάστονιαυτο τι Δι ταρονρχομένου σπόρου ϰαὶ πρ ϰα (...)

23A good example of what was subject to negotiation and change is provided by a decree of Magnesia on Maeander (early second century BC). It concerns an already existing festival of Zeus Sosipolis (the rescuer of the city):19

... Council and people passed the following decree; proposal of the assembly. In order that the oikonomoi (financial officials) who have entered office purchase a bull and that those who will be elected in the future purchase a bull as beautiful as possible in the month Heraion, during the festival, every year, and in order that they proclaim the bull as selected for Zeus at the beginning of the seed-time, in the month Kronion, on the first day of the month, together with the priest and the priestess of Artemis Leukophryene and the ‘crown-bearer’ and the sacred herald and the sacrificial offcial who does this service for the city, let the supervisors of the boys send nine boys whose parents are both still alive, and let the supervisors of the women send nine girls whose parents are both still alive; and when the bull is proclaimed as selected let the sacred herald together with the priest and the priestess and the ‘crown-bearer’ and the boys and the girls and the commanders at war and the commanders of the cavalry and the financial officials and the secretary of the council and the scribe and the general make a prayer for the salvation of the city and the territory and the citizens and the women and the children and all the others who inhabit the city and the territory, and for peace and wealth and good harvest of grain and for all the other fruits and for the livestock. May this be resolved by the council and the assembly. The ‘crown-bearer’ who is in office shall lead the procession together with the priest and the priestess of Artemis Leukophryene on the 12th Artemision and shall sacrifice the bull that has been selected. And the council of elders and the priests, both those who have been elected and those who have been selected by lot, and the ephebes and the young men and the boys and the winners at the Leukophryena and those who win the other contests that award a crown as a prize shall attend the procession. The ‘crown-bearer’ who leads the procession shall carry wooden images of all twelve gods, dressed in garments as beautiful as possible, and he shall erect a tent in the market next to the altar of the twelve gods; and he shall prepare three mattresses, as beautiful as possible; and he shall provide for music, a flutist, a piper, and a kitharist; and the financial officials in duty on the 12th Artemision shall present three sacrificial animals, which they will sacrifice to Zeus Sosipolis and Artemis Leukophryene and Apollo Pythios, a ram as beautiful as possible for Zeus, a goat for Artemis, a he-goat for Apollo; and they shall sacrifice to Zeus on the altar of Zeus Sosipolis, to Artemis and Apollo on the altar of Artemis; the priests of these gods shall get the customary honorary portion. And after they have sacrificed the bull they shall distribute the meat among the participants in the procession; they shall distribute the meat of the ram, the goat and the he-goat to the ‘crown-bearer’ and the priestess and the commanders at war and the presidents and the neopoiai (the men responsible for the building of the temple) and the con-trollers and those who have held liturgies; the financial officials shall do the distribution. After the bull has been proclaimed as selected, the financial administrators shall lease out at auction the raising of the bull by the contractor. And the contracter shall bring the bull to the agora and shall receive as gifts anything that pertains to the feeding of the bull from the grain-sellers and the other merchants; and those who give may have good fortune...

24The text refers to pre-existing ‘customs’, neither described nor explained, and then concerns itself primarily with the question of how the best sacrificial animal should be selected and dedicated, in order to increase the honour of the god. Some of the elements of the ritual were determined by the decree (e.g. who attended the procession), others were left to the imagination and taste of the annual officials (things ‘as beautiful as possible’), others were modelled after existing traditions (e.g. that Zeus got a ram, Artemis a goat, and Apollo a he-goat). For the distribution of the meat we find a reference to the ‘customary portion’, but for the most essential part of the ritual, how a sacrifice is performed, the text is silent; not because one was allowed to eut the throat of a goat any way one liked, but because the way a sacrifice was performed was rigidly dictated by a custom, which did not change and was not subject to negotiation.

25A large number of inscriptions, which are usually designated as ‘sacred laws’, but are in fact decrees, contain information concerning changes in the rituals of public celebrations aimed at making them more effective. Their aim was in part to augment the aesthetic impact of ritual performances (but also surely to ensure good order and social cohesion, to promote particular individuals, etc.). By shifting the interest to performative elements, such interventions indirectly also affected the perception of rites.


1 This paper is based on research conducted in the course of the research project “Ritual and Communication in the Greek Poleis”, part of the interdisciplinary project “Ritual Dynamics” funded by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (Heidelberg, 2002-2009). I have discussed several aspects of ritual dynamics in Greek religion in the Hellenistic and Roman Imperial periods in the articles mentioned in notes 2, 7, 8, 16 as well as in the studies “Ritual Dynamics: The Boiotian Festival of the Daidala”, in H.F.J. Horstmanshoff et al. (eds.), Kykeon. Studies in Honour of H.S. Versnel, Leiden et al., 2002, p. 23-48; “Ritual Dynamics in the Eastern Mediterranean: Case Studies in Ancient Greece and Asia Minor”, in W.V. Harris (ed.), Rethinking the Mediterranean, Oxford, 2005, p. 141-166; “Griechische Rituale der Statusànderung und ihre Dynamik”, in M. Steinicke, S. Weinfurter (eds.), lnvestitur- und Kronungsrituale, Cologne/Weimar, 2005, p. 1-19; “Theatre Rituals”, in P. Wilson (ed.), The Greek Theatre and Festivals. Documentary Studies, Oxford, 2007, p. 48-66; “Die Entwicklung der griechischen Asylie: Ritualdynamik und die Grenzen des Rechtsvergleichs”, in L. Burckhardt et al. (eds.), Gesetzgebung in antiken Gesellschaften. Israel, Griechenland, Rom, Berlin, 2007, p. 233-246. Some relevant aspects will be discussed in my forthcoming book Le visage humain des rituels : expérimenter, mettre en scène et négocier les rituels dans la Grèce hellénistique et l’Orient romain, Paris. I would like to express my thanks to Benjamin Gray (All Souls College, Oxford) for correcting my English.

2 LSAM 81. For a thorough commentary of the historical context see I. Savalli-Lestrade, “Antioche du Pyrame, Mallos et Tarse/Antioche du Cydne à la lumière de SEG XII, 511 : Histoire, géographie, épigraphie, société”, in B. Virgilio (ed.), Studi Hellenistici XII, Pisa, 2006, p. 119-245. Cf. A. Chaniotis, “Rituals between Norms and Emotions: Rituals as Shared Experience and Memory”, in E. Stavrianopoulou (ed.), Rituals and Communication in the Graeco-Roman World, Liège, 2006 (Kernos, suppl. 16), p. 212-213.

3 SEG 41, 1411; R. Merkelbach, J. Stauber, Steinepigramme aus dem griechischen Osten. Die Sudkuste Kleinasiens, Syrien und Palaestina, Munich, 2002, n° 18/19/01: Πάμφυλοι Συεδρες πιξν[ ν ρορτ] | ναίοντες χθόνα παμμιγέων [ριβώλ]αϰα φωτν, | ρηος δείϰηλον ναιμέος νδροφόνοιο | στήσαντες μεσάτ πόλιος [π]α[ρ]ά ρδετε θσθλα, | δεσμος ρμείαο σιδηρείοις μιν χοντ <ο>ς | γ δτέροιο Δίϰη σφε θεμιστεουσα διϰάζ[οι] | αταρ λισσομέν ϰελος πέλοι δε γ[άρ ]μεν | σσεται ερηναος, νάρσιον χλον [λά]σσας | τλε πάτρης, ρσει δ πολλλιτον εοχθείαν | σύν δ ϰαὶ μέες πτεσθαι ϰρατεροο [π]όν[οι]ο, | σεοντες ν δεσμος λτοις πε[δ]όω[ντες], | μηδϰν δόμεναι ληιστήρων τίσ[ι]ν αν[ήν] | οτω γρ μάλα πσαν πεγδσε[σθε ϰ]όλο[υσιν]. For a discussion see C.A. Faraone, “Binding and Burying the Forces of Evil: the Defensive Use of ‘Voodoo Dolls’ in Ancient Greece’, Classical Antiquity 10 (1991), p. 165-205; id., Talismans and Trojan Horses: Guardian Statues in Ancient Greek Myth and Ritual, New York/ Oxford, 1992, p. 72. On the historical context see P. De Souza, “Romans and Pirates in a Late Hellenistic Oracle from Pamphylia”, CQ 47 (1997), 477-481; K. Tomaschitz, “Zur historischen Einordnung eines Orakelspruchs des Apollon von Klaros”, in H. Heftner, K. Tomaschitz (eds.), Ad Fontes! Festschrift fur Gerhard Dobesch zum fiinfundsechsigsten Geburtstag am 14. September 2004, Vienna, 2004, 419-429.

4 On metrical ‘sacred laws’, which are usually oracles, see I. Petrovic, A. Petrovic, “Look Who is Talking Now!: Speaker and Communication in Metrical Sacred Regulation”, in Stavrianopoulou (ed.), o.c. (n. 2), p. 151-179.

5 S. Mitchell, “Inscriptions from Melli (Kocaaliler) in Pisidia”, AS 53 (2003), p. 151-153, n° 13; SEG 53, 1587.

6 See the discussion by Faraone, l.c. (n. 2).

7 A. Chaniotis, “Old Wine in a New Skin: Tradition and Innovation in the Cult Foundation of Alexander of Abonouteichos”, in E. Dabrowa (ed.), Tradition and Innovation in the Ancient World (Electrum 6), Krakow, 2002, p. 67-85 (with further bibliography); for the ‘recycling’ of rituals in Hellenistic ruler cult and the Imperial cult see id., “Der Kaiserkult im Osten des Römischen Reiches im Kontext der zeitgenôssischen Ritualpraxis”, in H. Cancik, K. Hitzl (eds.), Die Praxis der Herrscherverehrung in Rom und seinen Provinzen, Akten der Tagung in Blaubeuren vom 4. bis zym 6. April 2002, Tübingen, 2003, p. 3-28 and “Isotheoi timai : la divinité mortelle d’Antiochos III à Téos”, Kernos 20 (2007), p. 153-171.

8 Milet I, 3, 134; for a recent discussion see A. Chaniotis, “Negotiating Religion in the Cities of the Eastern Roman Empire”, Kernos 16 (2003), p. 179-184; cf. id. , “Das Bankett des Damas und der Hymnos des Sosandros: Offentlicher Diskurs uber Rituale in den griechischen Stàdten der Kaiserzeit”, in D. Harth, G. Schenk (eds.), Ritualdynamik. Kulturubergreifende Studien zyr Theorie undGeschichte rituellen Handelns, Heidelberg, 2004, p. 292-296.

9 Lines 14-18: τοὺς προφήτας ϰα τοὺς στεφανηφόρους πάναγϰες πιτελεν τὰς ς εωχίας τν τε ϰόσμων ϰαὶ τν μολπν ϰατά τά π[ά]τρια θη, ϰαθς προνενομοθέτηται ϰ[αί] προεψήφισται.

10 SEG 43, 630. For recent discussions (with further bibliography) see A. Dimartino, “Omicidio, contaminazione, purificazione: il ‘caso’ della lex sacra di Selinunte”, ASNP 8 (2003) [2006], p. 305-349; L. Dubois, La nouvelle loi sacrée de Sélinonte, CRAI (2003), p. 105-125.

11 I.Erythrai II 206; LSAM 23 and 25; cf. SEG 46, 1463; 47, 1628. Recent discussions of these rites: E. Voutiras, “Un culte domestique des Corybantes”, Kernos 9 (1996), p. 243-256; N. Himmelmann, “Die Priesterschaft der Kyrbantes in Erythrai”, EA 29 (1997), p. 117-121; Y. Ustinova, “Corybantism: the Nature and Role of an Ecstatic Cult in the Greek Polis”, Horos 10-12 (1992-98), p. 503-520.

12 A. Chaniotis, “Acclamations as a Form of Religious Communication”, in H. Cancik, J. Rüpke (eds.), Die Religion des Imperium Romanum. Koine und Konfrontationen, Tübingen, 2008, p. 199-200.

13 LSCG 136: Ἔδοξε τος μαστρος ϰαὶαλυσίοις Στρατςλϰιμέδοντος επε. Ὅπως τò ερòν ϰαὶ τò τέμενος τς λεϰτρώνας εαγται ϰαττπάτρια, πιμεληθήμειν τοὺς εροταμίας, πως στλαι ργασθέωντι τρες λίθου Λαρτ[ί]ου ϰαὶ ναγραφι ς τ τς ς στάλας ττε ψάφισμα τδε ϰαὶ ο σιόν ντι ϰ τν νόμων σφέρειν οδέ σοδοιπορεν ς τò τέμενος ϰαὶ τ πιτίμια τ[ι] πράσσοντι παρ τòν νόμον. Θέμειν δ τὰς στάλας, μίαμ μν πί τς σόδου τς ϰ πόλιος ποτιπορευομένοις, μίαν δ πέρ τò στιατòριον, ἄλλαν δ πί τς ϰαταβάσιος τ[ς] ξ χαας πόλιος. — Νόμος ούχ σιον σίμειν ούδσφέρεινς τò ἱερòν ϰαὶ τò τέμενος τς λεϰτρώνας. — Μσίτωππος, νος, μίονος, γνος, μηδ λλο λόφουρον μηθέν μηδ εσαγέτως τò τέμενος μηθες τούτων μηθέν μηδ ποδήματα σφερέτω, μηδ ειον μηθέν. Ὅ, τι δϰά τις παρτòν νόμον ποιήσηι, τò τεερόν ϰαὶ τò τέμενος ϰαθαιρέτω ϰαὶ πιρεζέτω, νοχοςστω τι σεβείαι. Ε δϰα πρόβατα σβάληι, ποτεισάτω πέρ ϰάστου προβάτου βολòν σβαλών ποταγγελέτω δ τòν τούτων τι ποιεντα χρήιζων ς τοὺς μαστρούς.

14 On the problems connected with the use of this terni see more recently R. Parker, “What are Sacred Laws?”, in E.M. Harris, L. Rubinstein (eds.), The Law and the Courts in Ancient Greece, London, 2004, p. 57-70; E. Lupu, Greek Sacred Law. A Collection of New Documents, Leiden et al., 2005, p. 5-9.

15 LSAM 16: γαθι Τύχηι. ερονομουῦντος Δημητρίου, μηνς Θαργηλινος δευτέραι λέξων Δάμωνος επεν νόμον εναι τος Γαμβρειώταις, τς ς πενθούσας χειν φαιάν σθτα, μ ϰατερρυπωμένην χρσθαι δ ϰαὶ τοὺς νδρας ϰαὶ τοὺς παδας τοὺς πενθοντας σθτι φαιι, άμ μ βούλωνται λευϰι πιτελεν δ τ νόμιμα τος ποιχομένοις σχατον ν τρισί μησίν, τι δτετάρτωι λύειν τ πένθη τοὺς νδρας, τὰς δγυναϰας τι πέμπτωι, ϰαὶ ξανίστασθαι ϰ τς ϰηδείας ϰαὶ ϰπορεύεσθαι τὰς γυναϰας τὰς ἐξόδους τὰς ἐν τι νόμωι γεγραμμένας πάναγϰον. Τòν δγυναιϰονόμον τòν πό το δήμου αρούμενον τος γνισμος τος πρό τν Θεσμοφορίων πεύχεσθαι τος μμένουσιν ϰα τας πειθομέναις τιδε τι νόμωι ε εναι ϰα τν παρχόντων γαθν νησιν, τος δμ πειθομένοις μηδ τας μμενούσαις τναντία. Καὶ μ σιον ατας εναι, ς σεβούσαις, θύειν μηδενί θεν πί δέϰα τη. Τòν δμετ Δημήτριον στεφανηφόρον ταμίαν αρεθέντα ναγράψαι τòνδε τον νόμον ες δύο στήλας ϰα ναθεναι τμ μν μίαν πρό τν θυρν το Θεσμοφορίου, τν δπρό το νε τς ρτέμιδος τς Λοχίας. νενεγϰάτω δ ταμίας τò νάλωμα τò γενόμενον ες τὰς στήλας τι πρώτωι λογιστηρίωι. See more recently F. Frisone, Leggi e regolamenti funerari nel mondo greco. 1. Le fonti epigrafiche, Galatina, 2000, p. 139-154; E. Stavrianopoulou, “Die „gefahrvolle Bestattung von Gambreion”, in C. Ambos et al. (eds.), Die Welt der Rituale von der Antike bis heute, Darmstadt, 2005, p. 24-37.

16 On the Thargelia see L. Deubner, Attische Feste, Berlin, 19662, p. 179-198; W. Burkert, Structure and History in Greek Mythology and Ritual, Berkeley et al., 1979, p. 59-77; C. Calame, ‘Thésée et limaginaire athénien, Lausanne, 1990, p. 308-319; S.D. Lambert, The Phratries of Attica, Ann Arbor, 19982, p. 216-217.

17 A. Chaniotis, “Dynamic of Emotions and Dynamic of Rituals. Do Emotions Change Ritual Norms?”, in C. Brosius, U. Hüsken (eds.), Ritual Matters, London (forthcoming).

18 E.g. IG IX2 1, 583, lines 11-16.

19 I.Magnesia 100: ὑπρ τοναδείϰνυσθαιϰάστονιαυτο τι Δι ταρονρχομένου σπόρου ϰαὶ πρ ϰατευχς ϰαὶ πομπς ϰαὶ θυσίας ϰαὶ πέρ το πήγνυσθαι θόλονν τιγορι ϰαὶ στρώννυσθαι στρωμνάς. δοξε τι βουλι ϰαὶ τι δήμωι, γνώμη δήμου πως ο οϰονόμοι ο νεστηϰότες γοράσωσιν ταρον ϰαὶ ο εί ϰαθιστάμενοι γοράζωσιν τα1ρον ς ϰάλλιστον το μηνòς το ραινος ν τι πανηγρει ϰάστο τος ϰαὶ ναδειϰνωσι τι Δι ἀρχομένου σπόρου μηνòς Κρονινος ν τι νουμηνίαι μετ το έρεω ϰαὶ τς ίερείας τς ρτέμιδος τς Λευϰοφρυηνς ϰαὶ το στεφανηφόρου ϰαὶ το εροϰήρυϰος ϰαὶ το λητουργοντος θτο τι πόλει ποστέλλειν δὲ τοὺς παιδονόμους παδας ννέα μφιθαλες, ποστέλλειν δϰαὶ τοὺς γυναιϰονόμους παρθένους ννέα μφιθαλες ϰαὶ ν τι ναδείϰνυσθαι τòν ταῦρον ϰατευχέσθω εροϰρυξ μετ το έρεω ϰαὶ τς ερείας ϰαὶ το στεφανηφόρου ϰαὶ τμ παίδων ϰαὶ τν παρθένων ϰαὶ τν πολεμάρχων ϰαὶ τν ππάρχων ϰαὶ τν οϰονόμων ϰαὶ το γραμματέως τς βουλς ϰαὶ το ντιγραφέως ϰαὶ το στρατηγο πέρ τε σωτηρίας τς τε πόλεως ϰαὶ τς χώρας ϰαὶ τμ πολιτν ϰαὶ γυναιϰν ϰαὶ τέϰνων ϰαὶ τν λλων τν ϰατοιϰοόντων ν τε τι πόλει ϰαὶ τι χώραι πέρ τε ερήνης ϰαὶ πλοτου ϰαὶ σίτου φορᾶς ϰαὶ τν λλων ϰαρπν πάντων ϰαὶ τν ϰτηνν δεδόχθαι τι βουλι ϰαὶ τι δήμωι τòν στεφανηφόρον τòν εί γινόμενον μετ το έρεω ϰαὶ τς ερείας τς ρτέμιδος τς Λευϰοφρυην <>ς ξά[γ]ειν τμ πομπήν το μηνòς το ρτεμισινος τι δωδεϰάτηι ϰαὶ θειν τòν ταρον τòν ναδειϰνμενον συμπομπεειν δτήν τε γερουσίαν ϰαὶ τοὺς ερες ϰαὶ τοὺς ἅρχοντας τος τε χειροτονητοὺς ϰαὶ [τ]ούς ϰληρωτοὺς ϰαὶ τοὺς φήβους ϰαὶ τοὺς νέους ϰαὶ τοὺς παδας ϰαὶ τοὺς τ Λευϰοφρυην νιϰντας ϰαὶ τοὺς λλους τοὺς νιϰντας τοὺς στεφανίτας γνας. δστεφανηφόρος γων τν πομπν φερέτω ξόανα πάντων τν δώδεϰα θεν ν σθσιν ς ϰαλλίσταις ϰαὶ πηγντω θόλον ν τι γορᾶι πρòς τι βωμι τν δώδεϰα θεν στρωντω δϰαὶ στρωμνς τρες ς ϰαλλίστας, παρεχέτω δϰαὶ ϰροάματα, αλητήν, συριστήν, ϰιθαριστήν παριστανέτωσαν δϰαὶ ο οϰονόμοι ν τι μηνί τι ρτεμισινι τι δωδεϰάτηι ερεα τρία, [] θσουσι τι τε Δι τι Σωσιπόλει ϰαὶ τι ρτέμιδι [τ]ι Λευϰοφρυηνι ϰαὶ τι πόλλωνι τι Πυθίωι, τι μέν [Δι] ϰριòν ς ϰάλλιστον τι δρτέμιδι αγα, τι δπόλλ[ω]νι ττηγόν, θοντες τι μέν Δι πί το βωμο το Διò[ς] το Σωσιπόλιος, τι δρτέμιδι ϰαὶ τι πόλλωνι πί τ[ο] βωμο τς ρτέμιδος. λαμβάνειν δτ γέρα τ εθισμέν[α] τοὺς ερες τν θεν τοτων τòν δβον ταν θσωσιν [δ]ιανεμέτωσαν τος συμπομπεσασιν, τòν δϰριòν ϰαὶ τν αγα ϰαὶ τòν ττηγόν διανεμέτωσαν τι τε στεφανηφό[ρ]ωι ϰαὶ τι ερείαι ϰαὶ τος πολεμάρχαις ϰαὶ τος προέδροις [ϰα]ί νεωποίαις ϰαὶ εθνοις ϰαὶ τος λητουργήσασιν διανε[μέ]τωσαν δτατα ο οϰονόμοι. ταν δὲ ἀναδειχθ τα[ρ]ος, γδοσιν ποιεισέσθων ο οϰονόμοι πως τρέφηται πò το ργολαβήσαντος·γέτω δ ργολαβήσας τòν ταρον ες τν γοράν ϰαὶ γειρέτω παρά τε τν σιτοπωλν ϰαὶ παρ τν λλων γοραίων νήϰει ες τν τροφήν, ϰαὶ μεινον εναι τος διδουσιν. Τò δψήφισμα τόδε ναγράψαι τοὺς οϰονόμους ες τò ερòν το Διòς ες τν παραστάδα·ναλισϰέτωσαν δες τατα πάντα τ γεγραμμένα ο [οἰ]ϰονόμοι ϰ τν πόρων ν χουσιν ες πόλεως διο[ίϰησιν τò δψ]ήφισ[μα τόδε] εναι ες φυλαϰν [τς πόλεως].

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