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Exploring ancient Greek religion
Exploring ancient Greek religion

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3.1 The sacred regulation of the Amphiareion

Although the ancient Greeks lacked sacred books, at times they did choose to publish religious guidance on stone. Such inscribed guidance (which you may see referred to as a ‘sacred regulation’ or ‘sacred law’) was often specific to a particular sanctuary or particular group of worshippers and, importantly, never sought to set out religious beliefs. As such, this type of evidence cannot tell you about the entire history of a particular cult and its belief system, but it can offer insight into important elements of it, especially relating to its administration.

Activity 5

Timing: Allow around 10 minutes for this activity

You have a sense from Figures 3 and 5 of what inscriptions could look like. Figure 6 now shows you another inscription: the sacred regulation from the Amphiareion.

Take a moment to examine Figure 6 and to read the image description beneath it in order to gain a sense of the object’s dimensions and the material it is made from.

You will consider what the inscription says later on, but for now take a few minutes jot down a few thoughts in response to the following questions:

  1. Why might someone have chosen to set up an inscription in stone (rather than using another material, such as wood)?
  2. How easy or difficult do you think it would have been to create something like this?
A photograph of part of a stone stele.
Figure 6 Stone stele recording the sacred regulations of the Amphiareion, c. 386–374 BCE; 1.49m (height) x 0.3m (width).
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  1. You may have thought about factors such as durability (that is, how long something might last before becoming damaged) and the importance of the text itself: things carved onto stone are likely to last for a long time and create a sense of permanence too (you may be familiar with the phrase ‘set in stone’ as a way of referring to something which cannot be changed). You may also have thought about visibility (that is, making something noticeable or clear) or even about increasing access to a piece of information.
  2. In terms of the effort it might have taken to create an inscription, you may have thought about factors such as the size, cost and material of the monument and the different skills required to carve letters onto a hard surface. Each letter would have been carved individually by hand which must have been painstaking and highly skilled work. Indeed, you may have remarked on the neatness and precision of the inscribed letters.