Skip to content
Skip to main content

About this free course


Download this course

Share this free course

Exploring ancient Greek religion
Exploring ancient Greek religion

Start this free course now. Just create an account and sign in. Enrol and complete the course for a free statement of participation or digital badge if available.

4 The politics of religion

In this section you will now think about cult worship of Amphiaraos from the perspective of the polis-religion model (that is, the ways in which religion may be seen as connected to the values of the city-state and supporting the city’s ideals).

As you learned in Section 2, both Oropos and the Amphiareion attracted interest from the cities and regions which surrounded them and which often competed to control the town and its sanctuary.

There were several reasons why Oropos and Amphiaraos’ sanctuary were much sought after (see Wilding, 2021, Chapter 2). From a geographical point of view, Oropos was of strategic value to the Athenians and the Boiotians because it facilitated easy access to the sea (see Map 2) and it also had strategic significance in their frequent conflicts with one another. Oropos was located in between Attica and Boiotia, and was therefore an ideal place to control when these two regions clashed. In the Introductory Guide [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)]   you will find references to ancient writers, such as Thucydides and Xenophon, who mention the importance of Oropos in relation to instances of conflict between Attica and Boiotia in the classical era (the fifth and fourth centuries BCE).

Map of Attica and Central Greece
Map 2 Map of Attica and Central Greece; ‘X’ marks the Amphiareion.

The figure of Amphiaraos also appealed to both the Athenians and the Boiotians, but in different ways. For the Boiotians, Amphiaraos was intimately connected with a collection of lost epic poems known as the ‘Theban cycle’ which told of the mythology of the Boiotian city of Thebes. These poems included stories about the mythical king Oedipus, and the war of the so-called ‘Seven Against Thebes’, and were important to shaping the history and identity of the region more broadly.

For the Athenians, however, Amphiaraos’ association with the collection of myths of the Theban cycle ultimately made him a traditional enemy of Thebes. When Athenian tragic playwrights such as Aeschylus and Euripides began retelling the stories of the Theban cycle in a fifth-century BCE Athenian context, they often spun them in such a way as to highlight the undesirable nature of Thebes in comparison with Athens. For the Athenians, then, Amphiaraos was more than just an important healing figure: he also possessed military significance since he could be cast as someone hostile to Thebes, a city with which the Athenians were often in conflict themselves.