Twilight of the Gods: Greek Cult Places and the Transition to Late Antiquity

Friday 2021-10-15 | Saturday 2021-10-16
Place: Swedish Institute at Athens & Zoom, 117 42, Athens
Organizers: Athens Greek Religion Seminar & Roman Seminar

With the kind support of:
Fritz Thyssen Foundation, Magnus Bergvalls Stiftelse, Deutsches Archäologisches Institut (DAI), Swedish Institute at Athens (SIA)

The rise of Christianity as a state religion in the course of the 4th century AD is a central topic for scholars of the ancient world, linked to the overall political and sociocultural transformation of the Roman Empire. Over the last decades, a substantial volume of work has been devoted to the question of how the new religion came to win the hearts and minds of the ruling classes and population across the empire’s territories. In this context, the fate of the places of pagan worship and the traditional cults has attracted considerable attention. At the same time, the increasing attention paid to the Roman and Late Antique phases in Greek sanctuaries in recent decades is producing an ever-growing body of material evidence, including important archaeological discoveries, that needs to be taken more seriously into account. 

The purpose of “Twilight of the Gods: Greek Cult Places and the Transition to Late Antiquity” is to bring together archaeologists currently working on the late phases of Greek sanctuaries and/or on Late Antique material from Greek cult sites, experts on ancient religion and scholars specializing in the world of Late Antiquity, in order to examine various aspects of pagan activity and the fate of pagan cult sites on the Greek mainland and islands (broadly the territory of modern Greece). From a chronological point of view, the workshop covers the period between the later 3rd and the 6th century AD, in line with broader historical definitions of Late Antiquity. However, it remains to be more thoroughly discussed in the context of the proposed event just what constitutes “the end” of pagan cult sites and practices. Indeed, the overall aim is to investigate to what extent it is possible to define late pagan Greek cult practice as such, when cult places were terminated, how this happened in each specific case and how it can be understood within the broader context of religious, social, economic and cultural transformations of this period.

The topics/ questions we seek to highlight and put up for discussion include (but are not limited to) the following:

  • What evidence exists for late pagan activity in Greek cult places?
  • What problems (interpretative, methodological, theoretical) are posed by the various types of evidence and what approaches may be adopted to overcome them?
  • How is this ‘late paganism’ to be defined? Is it different from earlier practice attested in the Roman provinces of the Greek mainland?
  • Is it possible to differentiate between cases of pagan continuity/ persistence, on the one hand, and reactivation of pagan cults, on the other, and when does a break of cult practice occur?
  • How were pagan cult places terminated in cities and the countryside?
  • What were the causes of their end and how can they be traced in the available archaeological record and/or written sources?

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