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Greek Religion: Polis Religion

4. Governance

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About this Lecture


In this module, we think about the governance of polis religion, i.e. how it was organised and run. In particular, we focus on: (i) the role of priests and priestesses, how they were selected for the role, how long they served for, etc. (ii) the sections of society who were disbarred from serving as priests or priestesses and what this tells us about the political nature of religious appointments; and (iii) the administration of Panhellenic sanctuaries, such as those at Delphi or Olympia, and the extent to which these are coherent with the theory of polis religion.


In this course, Professor Esther Eidinow (University of Bristol) thinks about Christiane Sourvinou-Inwood’s theory of ‘polis religion’ as a means of understanding Greek religious practice. We begin in the first module by thinking about some of the basic features of Greek religious practice, before outlining the theory of polis religion itself. After that, we think about the Greeks’ belief in the multiple gods and how religious practices reflected and reinforced the Greeks’ relationship with time and space. In the third module, we think about how cult activity articulated and reinforced an individual’s relationship with those around him – his family, his phratry, his polis, and so on – before turning in the fourth module to consider the organisation and management of polis religion. In the fifth module, we think about some of the ways in which the theory of polis religion might be extended, focusing in particular on the religious activities that seem not to be mediated by the polis – curse tablets and Orphism.


Esther Eidinow is Professor of Ancient History in the Department of Classics at the University of Bristol. Her broad area of expertise is ancient Greek society and culture with a specific focus on ancient Greek religion and magic. Among other topics, she has published on oracles, curse tablets, and binding spells, concepts of fate, luck and fortune, and the social emotions surrounding ‘witchcraft’ trials in classical Athens.

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Eidinow, E. (2019, January 31). Greek Religion: Polis Religion - Governance [Video]. MASSOLIT.

MLA style

Eidinow, E. "Greek Religion: Polis Religion – Governance." MASSOLIT, uploaded by MASSOLIT, 31 Jan 2019,

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