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Similar to Greek and Christian religion, Athens' religion was a complicated system of rituals and beliefs about gods that evolved in response to social demands. Athenian religion evolved in response to shifting societal demands. Greeks revered their gods because they thought that the gods had the ability to resolve issues that were out of their control. The fertility of their crops, people, and animals, safety and security during battles and at sea, the supply of good health, and economic prosperity were all things the Greeks prayed to their gods for. To address different societal needs, various cults developed. The rites performed to Demeter were directed to solving the fertility of animals, crops and human beings. Aphrodite had a role in Hera in marriages and human fertility. Zeus was believed to give rain necessary for abundant harvests and economic prosperity.
The transition from classical Greek religion, associated with the political unit of the state, to private cults was occasioned by the citizens who viewed traditional religion as losing independence and power and preferred forming own sects. The shift from the state religion to separate factions led to the collapse of classical mythology. The introduction of secret cults was seen by the citizens to offer more personal and direct relationship between the deities and the individuals. People felt that secret cults made their needs more appropriately compared to the state religion.
The beliefs of the Greek world insisted that in any circumstance, people should act in an old way and should not dishonor gods. The belief meant that previous cults that were now irrelevant to the needs of the citizens were not dissolved. The activities and worship of such sects reduced and were never dissolved. As the needs of citizens changed, the actions of the previous cults diminished. Revenues, attendance, and dedications to the cult reduced as citizens transferred their allegiance to the newly introduced factions. Ancient Athenian cults served as more personal and individual attitudes towards death and afterlife. Most cults relied on myths and stories that involved the ritual reenactment of death and rebirth.
The introduction of cults to Athenian religion was viewed as a definition of the identity and ideology of specific groups of people. Cults defined the social status of foreigners. The cult system of Athenian society emphasized the uniqueness of Athenian communities within their territories. The cities and local groups set their character and position to that of neighboring towns through the worship of cults associated with their ancestors and mythical heroes. The relationship between communities was established through the worship of a typical cult. Communities in the countryside worshipped the cult of Athena Polias and the rural sanctuaries of the gods of Olympia.
Cults played an essential role in the process of constitutional development. Cultic cohesion defined the integrity of political systems. The political systems succeeded if the groups involved in its formation practiced a popular cult. Religious cults also played a significant role in promoting integration and cohesive qualities among communities. People adopted cults to maintain relationships and peace between neighbors. Cults were introduced in the Athens depending on its ability to bring cohesiveness among communities. The faction that was widely accepted by many communities thrived in its operations and the number of worshippers. The need to religiously integrate cities to the more substantial Athenian polis led to the introduction of new gods. Eleusinian and Artemis Brauronia cults were transported from the marginal areas of Attica and introduced in the capital city. The move made local communities, who were marginalized, to feel like part of the larger Athenian polis. The communities felt a shared divinity with the rest of Athenian neighborhoods because of the inclusion of their cult in worship.
Political unification process took place in attic peninsula establishing Athens as a political, religious, and economic Centre of the locality. The political events led to the emergence of ethnocentric genealogical myths and hero cults. The unification of Attica further stretched and was energized by the exchange of local factions. The local cults were promoted to the standards of polis cults and were physically introduced in Athens to enable the inhabitants of the city to participate in the activities of the sect fully. The exchange of factions led to the exporting of Dionysus Eleuthereus to the countryside to enable it to receive an extensive exposure.
The significant influence of the change in religion in Athens was the shift in politics and migration of populations. The political events forced the Athenians to award divine honors to Antigonos Monophthalmos and his son Demetrios. The facts, thou relatively few, shaped the Athenian religion despite the resistance of the locals. The dislocation of populations saw the transfer of practices from one community to another. The Greek city-states like Athens religion was mostly tied with the local shrines cults, and deities and was limited to the citizens of the city with their households.
Despite the restriction to only city dwellers, the migration of Egyptians brought with them the Egyptian cults which were easily transferrable leading to the growing popularity in Athens. The Egyptian cult was a significant force to submit to; it brought change in personal and practised religion. The initial stages of the worship of the Isis cult by the Egyptians seemed minimal at first but quickly spread to the Athenian population. The effects of population movement were also seen in the interaction of Athenians with Delians. The Athenians moving to Delos and adopting the Delian cults and later moving to Athens after their service brought religious change and explosion of foreign cults. Change in personal beliefs and spiritual modifications resulted from interactions and exposure to the Delian's.
The twelve gods of Olympus were the central cult in Athens. The introduction and assimilations of other religious views allowed the twelve gods of Olympus to thrive. The democratic regime honoured the cult by offering buildings. The aristocratic families controlled and approved the transfer of public cults using public money to the city. The city of Athens was responsible for the overall control of rites whereas the leaders of ritual were drawn from the vast clans of the Eumolpids and Kerykes. The end of classical period ensured the establishment of a firm official religion in Athens.
The expression of the religious cult was very expensive and employed the use of colourful festivals, sacrifices, and processions. The manifestation of the worship was political. People would only contact the deity by use of private acts of devotion using burnt sacrifices and offerings. The dedication objects in shrines and temples to the gods were a common practice. Individuals were allowed to address their acts to a god they believed they were firmly in contact. The worship of the twelve gods of Olympus required the active participation of all the family members. Its devotion was an event of the highest importance to the state, and every member enjoyed taking part in it.
The Greek religion also introduced the priestesses of the Greek religious cult to appreciate the role and contribution of women in the society. The Athenians paid, offered property, and respected specific women for their commitment to ethical and civic responsibilities. Though the culture viewed women as lesser in the community, the priestesses role was mighty in the Greek cities notably Athens. The women cult of Athena polis was a crucial religious faction, and Athena was the goddess of Athens. The high priestess of Athena polis was a woman from a noble family Eteoboutadae, and she exerted an influence both religiously and politically. Athens celebrated the Panathenaic, Athena's birthday. The festival represented the Athenians devotion to the patron goddess.
The different cults in Athens had separate ceremonies to mark their allegiance to their cults. Sacrifice was a common practice to almost all the sects in Athens. Sacrifices ranged from the offering of bloodless fruits to vegetables and cakes. The slaughtering of larger animals was another form of sacrifice. The tradition of using animals came from the practice of prehistoric hunters who offered sacrifices to the gods to stop retributions from supernatural powers for killing animals.
The Greeks of the classical era sacrificed domestic animals, e.g. cattle whereas proceeds from tilling of land represented a smaller percentage of sacrifices. The communities offered sacrifices and offerings in sanctuaries to thank and honor the gods for blessings. Sacrifices were also a practice believed to appease the gods when disaster struck since disasters were interpreted to be a sign of spiritual hunger from gods to humans due to human behavior.
Private individuals offered sacrifices with their families including slaves. Open air altars were made to present sacrifices to public cults. The offerings provided by the sects to their gods also included works of art and money. The temple priest and priestess were tasked with performing the rituals. They were attached to a particular sanctuary or shrine and did not participate in political and social matters of the society. The priests were required to have a vital knowledge of how to perform the god's rites according to the tradition of Athenian society. Religion was deeply entrenched in the Athenian society just like slavery. Most people who became slaves in the city-state where sold by their parents. Parents preferred to sell their children rather than see them suffer. The poor conditions of most families made it difficult to provide for the children. People captured as prisoners of war were also sold into slavery. The slaves in Athens were Egyptians Persians and Scythians.
Slaves helped their masters in providing labor to sustain the family units. The rights of slaves were limited, and they never owned property. The slaves did not have legal or political rights. Some slaves, depending on the society, were alienated from the regular community. Slaves were of different nationalities making it difficult for them to revolt and fight for their rights. Slaves were promised freedom to encourage them to work harder. Freed slaves did not become citizens but joined other foreigners as resident citizens and were required to oblige every time they are needed to help their former slave masters. Households with good masters allowed their salves to attend religious rituals.
The participation of slaves in religious festivals and rituals enhanced the development of religious cults in Athens. Individuals with private cults allowed their slaves to participate in offerings and sacrifices to the gods. The worship of foreign cults was also exhibited in the Athenian religion. Slaves were given time to worship the gods from their place of origin. Slaves shared their desperation with their religious cults. Mistreatment characterized their slavery. The need to gain favor from their employers prompted the slaves to seek divine power to intervene on their behalf for better terms of service.
Slaves played a crucial role in rituals and worship. Some cults allowed the slaves to carry offerings and sacrifices to the shrines and temples. Slaves who tilled farms and kept animals offered animals and plant products to their gods. Slaves played a significant role in the preparation of cakes used for sacrifices. The slaves also designed works of arts. Slaves believed that by participating in the cultural activities of the Athenians, they regained the lost personhood despite the inhuman conditions they were subjected to by their masters.
Slaves lost their dignity when they ceased to belong to any community. Slaves who were attached to the temples did not live with their owners since the slave-owners belonged to the god of the sanctuary. Female slaves served as sacred prostitutes at the temples in Athens and Corinth, and their earnings helped to support the activities of the temples. Most slaves enjoyed working as free slaves owned by city-states rather than individuals. The free slaves lived independently and were tasked with specialized functions. In Athens, slaves who worked in public places in classical period performed administrative jobs and certified the genuineness of the city-state currency.
The Eleusinian mysteries offered initiation to slaves and foreigners as long as they would speak the Greek language and were not tainted by the human blood. People of all social classes and status travelled to Eleusis to be initiated. The practices allowed them to reap the benefits of performing the rites of the goddess. The number of people following the cult increased due to open practices enabling slaves and all people to participate in their rituals. The cult of Demeter gained both political and religious power in the society because of inclusion of slaves. The growing popularity of Eleusinian mysteries contributed to the admission of the cult to the Athenian polis, and its secrets were placed under Athenian administration. Athens further established a small sanctuary to the cult Demeter within the city. The chief priest was appointed from the genes and descendants of the Eleusian king.
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