Religion in ancient Macedonia


From the data at our disposal at present, we know that the Macedonians worshipped the twelve Olympian gods, both collectively and individually, and also Pluto, Persephone, Dionysos, Pan, Hestia, Heracles, Asklepios, Okeanos, Amphitrite, the Nereids, Thetys, Orpheus, the Diocouroi, Amphilochos, the Nymphs, the Graces, the Fates, Hygieia, Lethe, Nemesis and Eros. They also gave them the familiar Greek epithets, such as Agoraios, Basileus, Olympios, Hypsistos of Zeus, Basileia of Hera, Soter of Apollo, Hagemona and Soteira of Artemis, Boulaia of Hestia, etc.

Some to the evidence for the worship of Ge, Helios, Dionysos, Pan, Asklepios and Heracles is earlier than the period of Philip, while the earliest evidence for the twelve gods from this period. The large number of these god’s names and the early date of the evidence militates against the false argument advanced by those opposed to the idea that the Macedonians were Greeks.

The Macedonians were particularly devoted to Zeus, father of Makedon (Μακεδών), their eponymous ancestor, and to Heracles, held to be the progenitor (Ηρακλής προπάτωρ) of the Argead clan as well as of the later Antigonid dynasty. Notable are the cults of Zeus Hetairides (Εταιρίδης), who presided over the relationship of the Argead kings with their aristocratic Companions (εταίροι) and who gave his name to the festival of the Hetairideia. Heracles Kynagidas (Κυναγίδας) was worshipped as the patron of hunting, a sport to which the Macedonians were passionately attached.
Heracles Kynagidas was also presiding over the Royal Huntsmen (βασιλικοί κυνηγοί) as well as over the kings’ game preserves.

Established custom required the king personally to conduct many rites and sacrifices. Among these two of the most important were: (a) the formal purification of the army performed each at the festival of the Xandica (Ξανδικά) held in the early spring, at the beginning of the campaigning season, though this purification could be performed at other times as well; and (b) the overseeing of the ceremonial interment of the Macedonian dead post-combat.

Cult figures, largely Thracian and indigenous to the regions occupied by the Argead Macedonians, continued to be worshipped along side the Macedonian religion. We have, for instance, the water-air spirit that gave its name to Edessa, an old town famous for its springs and situated near Aigai, the earliest residence of the Macedonian kings. Meanwhile, the reverence accorded to Sileni (σαυάδαι) and Bacchae (Κλώδωνες and Μιμαλλόνες) indicates a prevalence of Dionysus-Sabazius worship.

In addition the names of the twelve Macedonian synodic lunar months depict Greek names used in various parts of Greece:

Dios (moon of October)

Apellaios (moon of November)

Audnaios (moon of December)

Peritios (moon of January)

Dystros (moon of February)

Xandikos or Xanthikos (moon of March)

Artemisios or Artamitios (moon of April), also a Spartan, Rodian and Epidaurian

Daisios (moon of May)

Panēmos or Panamos (moon of June), also an Epidaurian, Miletian, Samian and
Corinthian month

Loios (moon of July), also an Aetolian, Beotian and Thessalian month

Gorpiaios (moon of August)

Hyperberetaios (moon of September), Hyperberetos was a Cretan month.

The Hellenistic and Roman imperial periods show few developments peculiar to Macedonia. By the end of the third century BCE the Egyptian gods had been widely received, and the cult of the Syrian Goddess was established at Beroia. Documented evidence does not as yet attest to the worship of Zeus Hypsistos (‘Ύψιστος) before the second century, but the cult may well have arisen earlier. In the Roman period and above all at Thessalonice, the cult of Dioscuroi-Cabiroi, which derives from Samothrace, was most successful. In addition, the cult of Ma of Cappadocia was known to be found at Edessa in the third century A.D; and from the late Hellenistic period down to the triumph of Christianity the Thracian Rider (‘Ήρως or Ήρων) was the object of widespread devotion, particularly in connexion with the burial of the dead.

By way of conclusion, elements that are unquestionably Greek are much more numerous than those which are not Greek. The great majority of the Greek elements is earlier in date than the non-Greek. These observations show that the Macedonians were not Thracians or Illyrians or any other race that became Hellenised, but Greeks whose culture was slightly influenced by non-Greek features.

Periodiko ‘Athena’