The ancient Greeks had their pantheon of gods whose significance vanished with the civilization. Some individual gods entered the belief systems of later cultures, but such mutations are not what I am concerned about here.

I assume that even after the decline of ancient Greece (and the ascent of the Roman Empire) at least some locals in Greece still held on to their old religious practices. On the other hand perhaps nobody in contemporary Greece still worships Zeus and the other ancient gods.

So when did the practice die out? When did the last traces of worshipping of ancient Greek gods vanish from history? What do the sources say?

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – T.E.D. Nov 8 '16 at 16:16
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Presumably no earlier than the ninth century, as there is this:

804 Hellenes of Laconia, Greece, resist the attempt of Tarasius, Patriarch of Constantinople, to convert them to Christianity.

Further searching yields this, though it seems to be rather thinly sourced:

The Maniots began to convert to Christianity in the 9th century AD, but it wasn't until 200 years later in the 11th century AD that the Maniots had fully accepted Christianity.

("Maniots" is apparently another demonym for the Laconians, or at least some of them.)

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    This is a very good answer: it cites actual sources, not "just" personal opinion. Thx. – Drux Jan 19 '15 at 7:45
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    also, as a note: there are still groups of people in modern Greece, that try to re-establish the worship of the ancient 12 Gods. So, in a seance, it hasn't come to an end yet. – andrew Jan 19 '15 at 12:14
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    That is true. In a seance the Greek gods are often seen. – Tyler Durden Jan 19 '15 at 16:55
  • @andrew I'd be interested in further information about this attempted reestablishment. Can you suggest any source in particular? – Drux Jan 19 '15 at 22:21
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    @Drux the only english reference i was able to find is in wiki: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hellenism_%28religion%29. Hope this helps – andrew Jan 20 '15 at 9:08

If you read "Modern Greek Folklore and Ancient Greek Religion", by John Cuthbert Lawson, you will see that, as late as 1910, there were are least significant vestiges of original Greek religion. Other useful material can by found in the works of Jane Ellen Harrison.

I hesitate to try to summarize >300 pages here. Much of it is what you might call 'folkloric'. E.g., people who say that particular trees are Nyads. An important subset are nominally Christian practices that, linguistically or operationally, look just like ancient Greek goings-on. So, no, he does not cite any current (1910) examples of people sacrificing bullocks to Zeus. But he does cite animal sacrifices at the dedication of buildings.

So, it will all boil down to your definition of the word 'end'.

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    That is true for all parts of the Christian world, but the question seems to be about the persistence of non-Christians, worshipers of Olympic gods. – cipricus Jan 14 at 21:51

From the 350s onwards, the emporer Constantius II introduced the death penalty for practising pagan rituals. Of course, it didn't die out then until much later, but interest would have significantly dropped as Christianity became more and more popular, eventually becoming the official state religion.

There are of course people who still practise these ancient religions today - modern pagans, found throughout the world, not just Greece.

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    "Still" is not the right word when you are speaking about something that was revived in the recent past. – fdb Jan 19 '15 at 1:56
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    still is the right word, because it has been practiced continually. – hildred Jan 19 '15 at 6:51
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    @Piper, the debate in the comments could be dealt with by providing sources. Do you have any source for your assertion that the ancient Greek religion was continuously practiced from ancient times to the modern day? – Joe Jan 19 '15 at 18:27
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    I am not sure that there is an actual continuity from a mostly rural, popular religion that slowly merged into Christianism, and the attempts to revive such religion by mostly urban and intellectualised people. – Luís Henrique Jul 28 '16 at 13:00
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    Without sources, standing on or by anything in this answer is of dubious wisdom. – KorvinStarmast Nov 8 '16 at 14:17

That's a bit of a tricky question. With many religions vestiges will remain centuries after the original was long abandoned. One well-cited example is the St. Bridget's relationship with Brigid. Does modern veneration of the Celtic Saint mean that the original religion is still alive? Also, to what extent does identification of a religion with Greece/Rome mean that a religion should be considered Greco-Roman? The Romans had a reputation of appropriating other deities into their pantheon. Does their incorporation of Isis make Isis a Greek?

There is little doubt that paganism had lost majority status in the cities before the time of Augustine. City Of God (426 AD) was written, at least in part, as a refutation of those who would have pagan beliefs return. There were a number of battles over the political clout of religion after Constantine, but from an official perspective, it was all but dead by 491.

That said, the very word "pagan" has its etymology in the word "rustic". While the cities certainly did not have non-Christian sects after the fifth century, the traditions and beliefs of those who lived in isolation continued much, much later. Depending on your interpretation of what "the old religion" is/was, you could effectively argue that it never died out but rather lives on as "witchcraft". Indeed, if you take the witches of the Latin and Balkan peninsulas as practicing a variant of Etruscan religion, and you view that same religion as partially centered on Uni (who is a parallel of Juno), then the Ancient Hellenistic gods never died out.

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    So, the question becomes is Strega Nona a pagan? – cwallenpoole Jan 20 '15 at 16:04

Looking from a different angle, the Greek (and Roman, and Egyptian, and Nordic, etc) gods were organised as families; dad, mom, son, daughter (with a few extras). The monotheistic religions evolved from these by just keeping daddy. Christians put mom and son back in again.

People never stopped worshipping the old gods. They just reconfigured them.

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    If you are not familiar with it, the Proto-Indo-European religion is an interesting read. In particular, Dyēus Phatēr (the sky father) which has similarities in concept and pronunciation to "Zeus" and "Jupiter". – user4109 Jan 20 '15 at 1:36
  • Robert Graves wrote a few books on the subject; The White Goddess and the Nazarene Gospel Restored. Fascinating. – RedSonja Jan 20 '15 at 13:35
  • Those religions were less organized by family as they were tribal/kin group. There are strong parallels between the political nature of tribal/extended families and the stories of the Norse and Greek pantheons. These ties are missing in Christianity, so much so that one of the results of Christianity is the general breakdown of clan groups, especially in the Catholic west. In Christianity, as all men are children of one Father, clan unity is less important than individual salvation. – cwallenpoole Mar 24 '17 at 14:57
  • Clan families used to be units of political power and influence. That was replaced by the distributed aristocracy of feudalism. – cwallenpoole Mar 24 '17 at 14:59

The official end of Greco-Olympian worship was in 380 AD/CE with the issuance of an Emperor's Edict. The very pro-Christian and rabidly anti-pagan Byzantine Emperor Theodosisus issued, "The Edict of Thessaloniki"-(in a Greek city approximately 100 miles Northeast of Mount Olympus). Unlike the earlier Constantinian based Edict of Milan which legalized Christian across the Italian peninsula and much of the Roman Empire, Theodosius' more draconian, Edict of Thessaloniki, essentially nationalized Christianity, making it the statewide religion of Italy, Greece, Asia Minor-(present-day Turkey), as well as throughout many parts of the greater Roman Empire.

The nationalization of Christianity by Theodosius was also the official ending of centuries-(even millennial) old pagan institutions, such as the Theater, the Hippodrome-(Chariot racing), the Olympics (and possibly Plato's Academy, though I am not entirely sure when the Academy was officially closed). Theodosius' discontinuation of these age old pagan institutions, also included the ending of Olympian worship at the pagan temples, which were either destroyed or converted into Churches-(such as The Parthenon and nearby Temple of Hephaestus in Athens).

The publicly led evisceration of pagan institutions by Theodosius, was the official end of the Olympian religion-(though, I suspect that many Greek and Romans individuals,as well as communities, may have practiced their Olympian worship services cryptically, probably until the collapse of the Roman Empire around 476 AD/CE. By around 500 AD/CE, Olympian paganism would have been "out of fashion", even cryptically speaking, due to the ubiquity of Christianity within Medieval Greco-Roman societies).

protected by Steve Bird Nov 9 '16 at 13:42

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