Zeus in Athens
The patron goddess of Athens was Athena, but there were many other divine beings worshipped there too. One of the most prominent of these was none other than the king of the gods himself, Zeus.
Zeus’ cult was the most widespread and diverse of all ancient Greek cults. He had numerous facets, from a state and civic god, to a household protector, to a weather god on a mountain side.
Evidence of his worship has been found scattered across the city of Athens and its hinterland, Attica. He often appears alongside his daughter Athena, such as on the Acropolis and in the Agora as one of the main civic deities, along another one of his children Apollo (the “father” of the Athenians).
On the Acropolis he was worshipped under the names of Zeus Hypatos “most high” (who had his own altar), Zeus Herkeios (who was worshipped at the Erechtheion) and Zeus Poleius “of the City” who had his own sanctuary. Zeus Hypatos received no blood sacrifices, only cakes where as Zeus Poleius received a huge blood sacrifice at his festival, the Dipolieia. It’s one of the funny things about Greek religion, all the different names (epithets) for the same god. The gods have almost a fractured existence, and the bit honoured depends on the goal of the worship. Each side of the god had different tastes in festivities and sacrifices, but they were still a part of the same job.
On the slopes of the Acropolis there are a series of caves, one of which was the focus of worship for Zeus Olympios “Olympian Zeus” which could date back to the 6th century (shown photo above). It also has the remains of an escara in front of it which was dedicated to Zeus Astrapaios “of Lightening”.
Zeus Olympios also has a grand temple erected to him. The Olympieion temple was began under the tyrants, and wasn’t finished until the reign of Hadrian in 131/2 AD. It is the largest temple in Athens, and would have been filled with statues of the Emperor. It can be seen in the photos above, at least the small corner still standing.
In the agora, the civic heart of the city, Zeus was worshipped in a small temple as Zeus Phratrios (along with Athena Phratria) as the protector of the phratries. There was also the Stoa of Zeus Eleutherios (sometimes Soter) “Zeus of Freedom or Savior” which had an altar infront of it to receive sacrifices. Also in the agora Zeus receive sacrifices form the boule as Zeus Boulaios “of the Boule” possibly inside the Bouleuterion.
On the Pnyx, Zeus had yet another civic role. This time as Zeus Agoraios “of the marketplace” where to whom the eponymous archon would have made his oath. The altar to which was moved to the agora at some point, probably at the end of the 1st century BC or the start of the 1st century AD, to the agora where it was found by archaeologists opposite the Metroon. Also on the Pnyx, there was a sanctuary to Zeus Hypsistos “most high”, a healing deity. This sanctuary seems to date to the Roman period and had a number of votive plaques depicting body parts that the the god had healed dedicated and displayed in various cut niches. Some of these survive which has led to the identification of the god worshipped at the site.
Zeus had a sanctuary on the Hill of the Nymphs, on the north-east spur where he was probably worshipped as the shady figure of Zeus Meilchios “the merciful”. In this form Zeus seems to have a purifying role, possibly with underworld (chthonic) links. He was the god who cleansed the hero Theseus and it was to him that the Diasia festival was held every year.
Another one of Zeus’ facets, Zeus Philios “the friendly” appears on many relief carvings. These appear both near the Hill of the Nymphs and at the harbour. He also seems to have chthonic elements of worship, and is often depicted with a snake or even as a snake. He is sometimes shown with a wife, not the traditional Hera, but Agathe Tyche who is the personification of Good Luck.
Zeus also appears at the Academy where he was honoured as Zeus Morios “protector of the sacred olive trees” and Zeus Kataibates “decending”. Zeus Kataibates also had an altar near the Olympieion.
Zeus also appeared in the home. Zeus Ktesios “of the house/property”
was a protector of the house and was worshipped by burying a jar of “ambrosia” in the house’s storeroom. Zeus Herkeios “of the courtyard” had an altar in the courtyard of Athenian households. There was also an altar to him in the middle of the inner gateway of the Dipylon gate. These were protecting facets.
In the Harbour there was a state cult to Zeus Soter “the Saviour” who was worshipped for protection on sea voyages. His sanctuary was substantial and referred to as the Diisoterion. Also in the harbour, Zeus was paired up with the foreign Egyptian god of Ammon as Zeus Ammon. Which functioned as a fairly small cult but it was the first recognised Egyptian cult in Athens.
Another “foreign” version of Zeus was Zeus Labraundos from Mylasa in Karia. He was probably brought to Athens by Karian mercenaries, this was a militarised aspect of Zeus.
Finally for this post, Zeus appears on various Mountains in the area. On Mount Hymettos, Zeus Ombrios “of the rain” was worshipped as a weather god of some renown. The was also a cult of Zeus Hymettos. Likewise there was an altar to Zeus Anchesmios on Mount Anchesmos
On Mount Parnes, there were at least two facets of Zeus worshipped. At this site there is a very unusual deposit of around 3000 iron daggers buried with animal bones and bronze ornaments near a possible altar to Zeus Apemius.
These are just a few instances of the worship of Zeus in Athens. It shows the extent to which the greek gods had these fractured personalities which were worshipped separately. Unlike in traditional mythology. It provides an interesting insight into the inner workings of Greek religion and how it functioned in Athenian society.
In this Nov. 4, 2007 file photo, Egypt’s antiquities chief Dr. Zahi Hawass, center, supervises the removal of the mummy of King Tutankhamun from his stone sarcophagus in his underground tomb in the famed Valley of the Kings in Luxor, Egypt. Egypt’s famed King Tutankhamun suffered from a cleft palate and club foot, likely forcing him to walk with a cane, and died from complications from a broken leg exacerbated by malaria, according to the most extensive study ever of his mummy. (AP Photo/Ben Curtis, Pool, File)
In a file picture dated November 4, 2007, the sarcophagus of King Tutankhamun lies empty in his burial chamber after the mummy was removed to a glass cabinet for protection against the humidity and other contamination brought by a constant flow of visitors to the tomb in the Valley of the Kings, close to Luxor, 500 kms south of Cairo. Egypt said November 11, 2007 that it will restrict the number of visitors to the tomb of the boy pharaoh Tutankhamun to 400 a day. (CRIS BOURONCLE/AFP/Getty Images