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date: 24 March 2017

Art and Religion in Ancient Greece and Rome

Summary and Keywords

One of the challenges shared across cultures and faiths is the intangible, ineffable nature of the divine. One problematic, yet theologically productive, solution to this problem is to embody the divine in sculpture and painting; another is to seek divine aid and attest to divine presence by making votive offerings. In the absence of a sacred text, it was sculptural and graphic representation of the divine that made sanctuaries and temples in Greece and Rome theologically active places. But the need to experience god was not confined to these centers. Greek and Roman gods were everywhere—on coins, gems, drinking vessels, domestic wall paintings. Even when they were not there, their power could be felt in the representation of those who had felt their power. They were as pervasive as they were all seeing.

This article examines how this material culture worked to bring gods and mortals into contact. It does so by tackling three major issues: first, it discusses how a wide range of artifacts, monumental and modest, shaped sanctuary space and guided and recorded the worshipper’s interaction with the divine; second, it looks at images of gods themselves and how these affected epiphany, while maintaining a critical gap and insisting on their strangeness; and third, it uses art to rethink the relationship of religion and myth. Although there are some continuities between cultures, the rise of Hellenistic and Roman ruler cults created a new subcategory of gods, creating additional representational challenges. Out of this came Christ, who was god incarnate. We briefly explore how early Christian artists used the problems of anthropomorphism to their spiritual advantage.

Keywords: gods, cult, ritual, votives, statues, sculpture, sanctuaries, painting, mythology

The Materiality of Greek and Roman Gods

The Greeks and Romans recognized not one supernatural power, but many supernatural powers—many gods and other beings able to exercise some sort of supernatural influence. Acknowledging this influence meant communing with these beings, and to do that, the Greeks and Romans had to know what they looked like, and where to find them. Picturing supernatural powers and creating spaces for them is both precondition and consequence of religious thinking.

The picture that the Greeks and Romans formed was primarily created by texts. In a famous statement, the 5th-century historian Herodotus (2.53) maintained that it was the epic poets Homer and Hesiod, whom he places 400 years before his own time, who gave the Greeks their gods, ascribing them genealogies, epithets, honors and skill-sets. And indeed much Greek discourse on the gods, including justifications of why sculptors shaped gods in the way that they did, refers back to epic poetry.1 But justification and stimulation are not the same thing, and it was sculptures and paintings of the gods in temples and in sanctuaries, but also on the walls of houses and tombs and on pottery vessels in everyday use, that imposed themselves most frequently, vividly, and subconsciously upon the inhabitants of the Greek and Roman world. It was through visual images that the many potential forms of the gods—anthropomorphic, theriomorphic, or even as shapeless stones or pieces of wood—became daily life, confirmed as matter as well as theory.

In cult, Greeks and Romans routinely invoked, and thus attested to the existence of, the gods through sacrifices of animals, libations, prayers, and hymns, but their actions, and the addressees of their actions, were reinforced by pictorial or figurative representation. Hymns were sung in the presence of statues of the gods as though in the presence of the gods themselves; statues of those making offerings accompanied and commemorated votive offerings; representations of processions in honor of a god greeted and guided processions; representations of sacrificial beasts encouraged and celebrated sacrifice; and scenes of sacrificial activity were shown on reliefs and on pottery used in the vicinity of at least minimal acts of worship.2

In this article we ask what the visual arts contributed to Greek and Roman religion, and explore how that contribution changed over time. We look first at how the imagery with which worshippers were surrounded in sanctuaries readied them for worship, forming and reinforcing theological assumptions and channeling individual devotion and group behavior. We examine the images of the gods themselves and the ways in which anthropomorphism was both problem and solution—a problem so theologically productive that even early Christian artists could not resist giving Christ a body. We then zoom out from the sanctuary, and build on the realization that the gods were not confined to “religious spaces,” but were everywhere, to think about experiencing the divine more broadly, in the home for example, where household shrines and “mythological scenes,” some of them the violent results of displeasing the gods rather than images of the gods themselves, allowed for a more intimate and sometimes irreverent or uneasy relationship. We have not attempted to give a “history” of images related to the gods, nor to discuss the whole chronological, geographical, or generic range of relevant material. Instead we have taken some particular examples that allow what the visual arts do to be seen in context and in action.

Art in Sanctuaries and on Temples

Greek and Roman gods both were, and were not, like humans. One side-effect of this is that archaeologists recognize sanctuaries of the gods because they are marked by different material assemblages from human dwellings. Although pots and other more or less everyday items were given to the gods, and although statuettes and other images of gods are found in ancient houses, what is found in sanctuaries is distinguished from domestic deposits in both quality and quantity. Gods deserved the most, and the most exquisite, artifacts.

Greek and Roman sanctuaries came to be crowded with statues and other objects dedicated to the gods.3 The very density and chaos of this crowding produced not simply an image of divine superabundance but the sense that human endeavor could never do more than approximate meeting the needs of the god. The god always needed bigger and better.

Unfortunately for us, classical Greek statues were primarily made of bronze and have thus been melted down: only rarely do they survive in a sanctuary context (even the Delphi Charioteer is only part of what would have once been an impressive sculptural group).

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Figure 1. Delphi Charioteer, 470s bce. The Delphi Archaeological Museum, Delphi, Greece.

Photograph by Adam Carr, Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Rather, our best hope of seeing what a sanctuary would have looked like is to turn back to the Archaic period, when most statues were of limestone or marble. Particularly well preserved, because they were buried in a pit after they had been systematically knocked down by Persian invaders in 480 bce, are the Archaic marble statues from the Athenian Acropolis.4

The sculptural assemblage on the Archaic Athenian Acropolis was dominated by figures known to modern scholars as korai (“maidens”)—figures of young women standing with legs together and staring forward but with one arm extended holding an offering.

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Figure 2. The Peplos Kore, c. 540 bce. The Acropolis Museum, Athens, Greece.

Photograph by Marsyas, licensed under CC BY-SA 2.5.

Fragments from almost 300 korai have been found on the Athenian acropolis, ranging in date from the second quarter of the 6th century to the first quarter of the 5th century bce.5 Scholars debate whether these maidens are intended as images of a worshipper or of a goddess. Finds of korai in sanctuaries devoted to male deities suggest that such figures did not always stand in for goddesses; finds of korai that were dedicated by men suggest that they did not always stand for the dedicator. The statues lack any of the attributes that distinguish Athena (the breastplate known as the “aegis,” a spear, helmet, or shield) and are perhaps best seen as personifying the very act of giving to the gods by showing girls of marriageable age (wearing their dowry in their fine dresses and jewels, in preparation to be “given away” to their husbands) eternally reaching out to the immortals. Their similarity to one another creates a visual rhythm that speaks to the repetition that is ritual activity. But, just as strikingly, no two are identical: their variety creates a further divine gift in the form of a dramatic fashion parade.

Punctuating the display of Acropolis korai were various male counterparts—a small number of kouroi (“youths”), shown naked and frontal, with one foot advanced and their hands by their sides, and a lonely, clothed kouros, whose pose mirrors that of a kore.6 What kind of figure is he? Is his dressing up an attempt to reclaim for the men the crucial role that women played in Greek ritual practice? In the case of the others, as for various male figures on horseback, and a statue of a bearded man carrying a calf on his shoulders (the implication being that he was on his way to sacrifice it), the message is more straightforward: instead of gifts, they offer templates to worshippers for their own behavior and aspirations, encouraging both competitive generosity toward the goddess, and competitive display of god-given resources, whether in the brawn of their bodies or in their ownership of horses.

Also buried on the Athenian acropolis after the Persian sack were limestone and marble sculptures from various Archaic temples destroyed by the Persians as well.7 This architectural sculpture paraded something more primordial—supernatural power. Lions attack bulls, a triple-bodied (and triple-headed) monster with a snaky tail inhabits the corner of a pediment, Athena dominates the center of a pediment exhibiting her martial prowess against giants, and Heracles appears both fighting against the Hydra and Triton and receiving the reward for his labors as he enters the gods’ company on Olympus. In these encounters, we see why human beings need the gods on their side: the world is inhabited by beings other than humans and gods, and without the aid of the gods, humans would not survive.

Sculptures from the center of pediments survive less well than those from the corners, but evidence from other archaic sanctuaries suggests that both the most threatening of monsters (e.g., the Gorgon whose gaze petrified any human) and the gods themselves, sometimes riding toward the viewer in a chariot, tended to be positioned central stage, often staring straight out from that commanding position over the worshippers at the altar that normally stood in front of the temple. Those gathered for sacrifice had to face up to divine power by affirming their place in the hierarchy: they sacrificed domesticated animals in recognition of the gods’ role in making productive farming possible and of the supernatural help required to suppress the wild.

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Figure 3. The Gorgon as depicted on the western pediment from the Temple of Artemis at Corcyra, c. 580 bce. The Archaeological Museum of Corfu, Greece.

Photograph by Dr.K., licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0.

Sculptures were not the only form of figurative representation on the archaic Athenian Acropolis. Finely decorated ceramics have also been found, in the form of plaques and painted pots, some of them large.8 We cannot be sure that the pots were made specially for dedication, though some seem to have been, but there is no doubt that the plaques were. It is remarkable, therefore, that of the few that survive, one shows an image of humans having sex, an activity explicitly banned in sanctuaries, and one for which myth presented Athena, the virgin goddess, as having little empathy. Here, the image is not about giving or instilling good practice; it is the ultimate “agalma” or “delightful gift” in that it unashamedly advocates pleasure.

Although there is little left of the Classical statuary on the Athenian Acropolis, beyond a few bases, we are fortunate that the Roman traveler Pausanias, who visited Athens in the second half of the 2nd century ce, gives an account of the sculptures that he saw there (Pausanias Periegesis 1.22.8–28.2). Where the archaic Acropolis invited comparison between similar votives, the Classical Acropolis offered an immensely varied array of statues, recalling episodes from myth (e.g., a Perseus who has just slain Medusa) and from Athenian history (e.g., the general Dieitrephes, shown pierced with arrows, and Pericles), as well as representing Athena (many times) and other gods (e.g., Hygieia, Artemis, Zeus). There was much more here to stimulate memories of particular events and to acknowledge Athena’s presence through her active and ongoing care for her city. Unlike the korai, but like the pediments and metopes, these were sculptures that begged the telling of a story, raising issues about what actually happened, and about the gods’ role in those events. Where the archaic temple sculpture alluded to a mythical past and the archaic statues asked for Athena’s protection in daily domestic activities, these Classical votives credited her with more political influence, writing a multi-faceted biography of the city’s patron deity.

Athens’s political history was at the same time assimilated to the mythical past in the sculptures that adorned the city’s Classical temples.9 Both pediments of the Parthenon put Athena at the center (showing her birth on the East and her battle with Poseidon to win Attica on the West) in something of the archaic fashion. The metopes of the Parthenon presented the great mythological struggles against Amazons, Centaurs, and Giants, along with scenes from the sacking of Troy, encouraging, by their episodic format and absence of closure, the sense that these were still current battles; that Athens’s fight against Persia was similarly epic. The unprecedented Parthenon frieze, inside the colonnade around the top of the cella’s exterior, represents a procession of people and animals, culminating in the handing over of a robe or “peplos” in the company of the gods. Such a procession, with a spectacular cavalry element which here takes up most of the length, was the central feature of Athens’s major festival of Athena, the Panathenaia. Rather as the archaic korai stood as perpetual votaries, the frieze converts an occasional ritual into a timeless ritual and Athens’s citizens into heroes.

Even more insistent on advertising Athena’s on-going role in contemporary politics were the sculptures on and around the tiny temple of Athena Nike, viewed by visitors as they approached the Acropolis gateway. Here a balustrade showed Nike sacrificing a bull on the eve of battle as well as (un)tying her sandal as she moved between the world of war and the world of the sanctuary. Even goddesses of victory had to observe sanctuary regulations. Yet she was not the star, but attendant on Athena—one of a procession of Nikai who quoted the Parthenon, and the long lost korai, by bringing offerings to the goddess. The frieze of the temple figured a series of battles, including the historical battle against the Persians at Marathon some seventy years earlier. The Athena worshipped in this place was the source of Athens’s glorious military successes, deserving worship for the triumph of Athens and its empire, and demanding continued offerings of sacrifice if Athens was to maintain her military and political pre-eminence. Nike’s manifest sexual attractions here signal to the Athenians, before they even enter the gateway of the Acropolis, that if they want to continue to win what they desire they must continue also to (ob)serve Athena.

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Figure 4. Nike (un)tying her sandal from the Nike Parapet, c. 420 bce. The Acropolis Museum, Athens, Greece.

Photograph by Marsyas, licensed under CC BY-SA 2.5.

To visit the Athenian Acropolis in the 4th century bce was to come to worship an Athena quite different from the Athena whom 6th-century Athenians had encountered there. The archaic world of domestic encounters with a goddess of mythical prowess had been replaced by a Classical world dominated by politics in which Athena was firmly implicated. To such an extent was Athena turned into a political goddess that she became a necessary ally not only for Athenians but for other Greeks, as various Hellenistic kings recognized in making dedications there. One of the most impressive of these was on the south side of the Acropolis, where, probably in 200 bce, King Attalos I of Pergamum in Asia Minor erected more than 100 statues, some of them representative of Pergamum’s own victory over the Gauls. In plotting this victory on the Acropolis’s battleground next to conflicts of gods with giants, and Greeks with Amazons and Persians, Attalos extended Athena’s diplomatic remit, cultivating her as a symbol of international affairs.10

The Athenian Acropolis offers us a rich glimpse of a Greek sanctuary, but only a glimpse. Not only did the Athenians present a different Athena operating in different ways in different worlds through the architectural and free-standing sculpture and other votives on display at different periods, but other sanctuaries gave other gods, and indeed Athena herself, very different divine charismas. On the slopes of the Athenian Acropolis itself, the sanctuary of Asklepios, through its display of votive body-parts, now known only from the textual lists in the inventories for the sanctuary, presented a god whose concern for the human body itself was more intimate and immediately interventionist than that of Athena.11 This was a sanctuary in which the sculptures and other gifts plausibly spoke only of the god as healer. But this was also a sanctuary without a temple; if the individual in need of healing were instead in Asklepios’s sanctuary at Epidauros, they would find a temple whose gold and ivory cult statue showed Asklepios as a figure of power, seated and wielding a scepter like Olympian Zeus. At Epidauros, pediments showing the sack of Troy by the Greeks and battles of Greeks against Amazons put the emphasis on Asklepios as son of Apollo and on his civic power rather than his concern with the individual body.12

Although there is no such thing as a “typical” Greek or Roman temple, there is much more conformity between them than between statues, or other objects. The sculptures on Greek temples at any period had quite a lot in common with each other—and even across the centuries, the moustached face that dominates the temple-pediment of Sulis Minerva at Bath (Roman Aquae Sulis), while drawing on a Celtic as well as Classical artistic heritage, shares in the confrontational stare of the Gorgon who dominates the early 6th-century bce temple of Artemis at Corfu. But when it comes to smaller votives the variety is immense.

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Figure 5. Pediment of the Temple of Sulis Minerva, Aquae Sulis (Bath), c. 70 ce. Roman Baths Museum, Bath, England.

Photograph by Mike Peel, licensed under CC-BY-SA-4.0.

As the example of the Athenian Acropolis and the sanctuary of Asklepios on its slopes has already suggested, the variety of votives represents less the diverse regions of the Greek and Roman world, or the longevity of that world, than the diversity of the polytheistic pantheon. Not only were there many gods (the twelve “Olympian” gods were only the start), but each of those gods had many different guises (Athena Polias, “Athena of the city,” was only one of Athena’s faces; we also find e.g., Athena Ergane [“working Athena”], Athena Chalkioikos [“of the bronze house”], Athena Phratria [“of the phratry”], and many others). A pilgrim who travelled across both space and time would find no two sanctuaries alike, even sanctuaries of the same deity. But since deities impressed themselves on their worshippers precisely through the image created by the material environment of their sanctuary, this material variety produced, as well as reflected, polytheism.

Images of Gods

Herodotus might give the lead to Homer and Hesiod, but—as we have already begun to appreciate—sculptors and painters too had long given shape to the gods, imbuing them with individual character and divine charisma. Their creations were not “illustrations” of epic poetry, but substantiations of the divine, interventions in a world in which seeing—not affirming some creed—was believing. They were concrete: whereas the Iliad can conjure Zeus’s power in his dark eyebrows and the movement of his ambrosial hair (1.528–30), leaving the audience to fill in the gaps, makers of material objects have to embed those eyebrows in a fixed face (how dark is dark? what do “ambrosial locks” look like?), on a static body (how big, buff, beautiful?).13 In committing to particular choices, they constrain their shape-shifting, timeless subject, tying him (for his gender is also now more marked) to one form and one moment forever—until such time as that form should be damaged or destroyed. Suddenly, Zeus seems dangerously vulnerable, and the dramatic device that is anthropomorphism, both enslaving and arbitrary. And yet visual images of the gods were the greatest proof of their existence. Some of them were worshipped. Although early Christians mocked the images of pagan deities and felt the need to destroy them, particularly their faces, they also needed an image of Christ—the problems it raised were theologically productive, and divisive.14

Not all of the gods worshipped in ancient Greece and Rome were anthropomorphic: non-figural representations of divinity such as stones and logs were natural in cultures that saw woods and streams as sacred: any object could stand for a god or goddess.15 Indeed some of the most sacred “images” of all were those, like the statue of Athena Polias on the Acropolis at Athens, that were said to have fallen from the sky.16 They were not man-made, but organically spawned, beyond time and understanding. But for millennia, humans have made sense of their world by making figurative sculpture and paintings. The earliest of these forms are often, optimistically, identified as deities.

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Figure 6. “Snake Goddess.” Archaeological Museum of Heraklion, Greece, c. 1600 bce.

Photograph by C messier, licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0.

Even in the Greek world of the 7th century bc, when gods are clearly definable for the first time, there is little to distinguish them from non-deities, beyond their attributes and display or narrative context. Commensurability was key, and the making of gods in man’s image part of exploring what it was to be human. A century later and images of gods and goddesses and funerary markers assumed similar shape: scholars are still undecided about whether the “Peplos kore” from the Acropolis is a marriageable maiden, priestess, or Artemis.

From the mid-6th century into the 5th century, competition between craftsman and between individual patrons and poleis, and shifts in self-expression more broadly (from the rhapsodic singing of the Iliad to the staging of Greek Tragedy, and from pre-Socratic philosophy to Platonic dialogue) made figurative art more dramatic, and increasingly self-conscious of its relationship with the viewer.17 Figures broke free of the frontal or profile frame and began to move, replacing the statements made by the “Peplos kore” and her sisters and brothers (this body is a man or woman, and man in the image of god) with a “like-to-life” quality intense enough to turn statements into questions (What kind of man or woman am I? What kind of male or female deity? What is the relationship between flesh and marble, mortal flesh and divinity?). Though still man-shaped, gods’ bodies had to find new ways to signal their difference; that they were beyond the rules of human society. By the middle of the 4th century, Aphrodite had shed her clothes), and Dionysus swapped his bearded paunchy shape for a lithe, sexy body, so androgynous as, in some cases, to appear almost hermaphroditic.18

Images of the gods appeared in every sort of material, from humble terracotta to precious metals and stones and in every context—on domestic drinking vessels, gems and coins, as well as in sanctuaries and tombs.19 By the 2nd century bce, even those in sanctuaries had been transplanted from their cultic setting, taken as booty after Rome’s imperial expansion into Greece, and re-homed in porticoes and temples in Italy.20 There, admiration led to reproduction, adaptation, and art-appreciation, and a world in which statues of Aphrodite and Dionysus were turned from embodiments of the divine, to markers of good taste in elite homes and gardens and in bathhouses. Yet even next to the plunge pool or in the peristyle, they were still gods, one of them (Dionysus, or Bacchus as he becomes) so exotic as to turn any space into an Arcadia, and the other, Venus, the mother of the Julio-Claudian dynasty, which would itself engender new gods in the shape of the divine Julius Caesar, Augustus, and Claudius. Back in the 2nd century bce, Dionysiac cult had been repressed by the Senate. Two hundred years later, his image’s popularity was proof of a personal religious and aesthetic experience.21

From the very beginning, some representations of gods were accorded more obvious, public or “official” worship than others, not least those accorded pride of place inside temples. As soon as permanent, monumental structures were built in the 8th century bce to house the god and his gifts, statues on bases seem to have served as the focal point of cult activity. Archaeological evidence for these is rather scanty, but the height of three geometric figures from the Temple of Apollo at Dreros on Crete, the tallest of them, presumably Apollo himself, almost a meter tall, and all of them made of bronze sheets hammered over a wooden core, makes them likely candidates.22 Size remained one of the chief ways of distinguishing gods from mortals: in the 5th century bce, the sculptor Pheidias pushed this distinction to breaking point, making statues consisting of a wooden framework but covered in gold, with ivory for the exposed “flesh,” and making them on a scale never seen before, for the cellae of the Parthenon and the Temple of Zeus at Olympia—too big to be carved from single tree trunks or from sections of the largest elephant tusks.23

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Figure 7. Column of the Temple of Zeus at Olympia, Greece, c. 470–456 bce. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Photograph by Bgabel, licensed under GNU FDL.

The feats of construction involved were super-human, never mind the finished products, which were too big and shiny to be taken in at a glance, so big in Zeus’s case that, although he was represented seated, he nigh on broke through the ceiling. Strabo (8.3.30) writes: “The artist seems to have failed to take into account the question of proportion.” But what would it mean for even the most skilled sculptor to have captured the measure of god? Ancient authors are obsessed with how he knew what Zeus looked like. But theologically speaking, Pheidias has to fall short, just as his statue has to exceed the limits of human construction.

Traditionally, statues such as these are known as “cult statues” (the implication being that those inside the temple were the focus of cultic activity at the site). But what is the Greek or Latin for “cult statue,” and how do words such as “xoanon” or “agalma,” or, in Latin, “simulacrum,” differ from other “statue” words, and all of these map onto what was happening in the sanctuary space?24 Statues in temples might be referred to as “agalmata,” but the word had started life referring to anything that might delight a god or goddess, and continued to be used to refer to dedications, representing Zeus, Athena, or some other deity. Who is to say which statue was most sacred, most affecting, and most capable of capturing or conjuring divine presence or religious feeling? Everything in the sanctuary belonged to the gods.

On the Athenian Acropolis, the situation was particularly complicated: the charisma of Pheidias’s Parthenon statue was rivaled by that of the ancient olivewood Athena, the heaven-sent Athena Polias, which most scholars think was the statue that was dressed in the woven robe during the Panathenaia pictured on the Parthenon frieze.25 But in all sanctuaries, experience of the divine depended on something more than the potential of glimpsing the god inside; it started as the worshipper encountered, and probably failed to take in, the seas of dedications on the approach road, on the steps and around altars, of different sizes, materials, styles, periods. Athena had many bodies, none of them quite feminine (think of the tree trunk beneath Pheidias’s gold).26 She inhabited each and every image, and the gaps between them. In this way, she was eternal, rather than “of the moment.”

This “world of gods” was further swollen by representations of semi-divine figures and heroes such as Hercules.27 A red-figure column-krater, now in the Metropolitan Museum in New York, represents gods of the traditional Greek pantheon, in familiar poses with familiar attributes, and the hero Hercules wandering in, complete with lion-skin and club, to see himself being immortalized as a statue.28 As the artist adds the finishing touches to the image, Hercules raises his right hand to his face in a gesture of surprise. But at almost the same time as the pot was being painted, Alexander the Great was being associated with Hercules in images on coins; and after his death, Hellenistic dynasts and Roman emperors would continue to cultivate new gods, and cast themselves in god’s image.29 Perhaps the biggest challenge to the aura and authority of the divine image came in the Principate when the deification of good emperors and their sisters and mothers created a subset of immortals, not “dei” or “di” (“gods” like Zeus/Jupiter were gods), but “divi” (“divinities”). Throughout the empire, altars and temples were built to Rome and Augustus as well as to Mars, Jupiter, and so on.30 What did these “divi” look like, and what did the answer do to the age-old tensions between mortal flesh and divinity?

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Figure 8. Statue of Roman Emperor Claudius as Jupiter from Lanuvium, Vatican Museum, 42 ce.

Photograph by Montarde, licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0.

This is a question writ large in an anecdote about the emperor Caligula seeking to replace the head of Pheidias’s Zeus with his own (Suet. Cal. 22.2), but it is raised by every line-free portrait of Augustus, every image of Drusilla as Aphrodite and of Nero in a radiate crown (previously associated with the sun-god).31

By the 2nd century ce, the emperor Hadrian could be Jupiter to a new Ganymede. This new Ganymede was Hadrian’s young male lover, Antinous, his premature death in the River Nile initiatory of a cult that honored him as hero and god through the length and breadth of the empire.32 Rather than being brawny like Hercules, Antinous was sometimes represented as Apolline, sometimes closer to Dionysus or Osiris, his youthful torso, down-turned head and sulky features, summative of a god whose power lay in being passive, and heart-meltingly beautiful. In the sexy shape of a boy from Asia Minor who rose from the dead to be the friendly face of Roman rule, the relationship between flesh and the divine was again revised. More statues have been identified as Antinous than any other person from classical antiquity bar Augustus and Hadrian himself. People worshipped Antinous and asked for his protection; but they also identified with him, imagining what it might be like to be intimate with the emperor. He was god, and intermediary between divus Hadrian and his subjects. Unsurprisingly, perhaps, when Christians attacked polytheism, Antinous became the pin-up of pagan idolatry. He still is (see the “Temple of Antinous”).

Antinous was also a template for Christ. With Christ, monotheism triumphed and, with it, the need for one god to be “all things to all men,” “father, son and Holy Spirit.” Christ was not simply man-shaped; he was born of woman, a genesis that made the issue of his anthropomorphism even more tense than it had been for a god like Hermes, who simply chose to adopt human guise, appearing as a pillar with head and penis one moment, and as a young, active traveler the next.

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Figure 9. Herm of Hermes, second half of 1st century ce. The J. Paul Getty Museum, Villa Collection, Malibu, California.

Digital image courtesy of the Getty’s Open Content Program.

What should Christ look like? Interestingly, given Judaism’s longstanding suspicion of figurative images, early Christianity did give him a body, and a beautiful one at that. How could it not, when incarnation, that is embodiment, played such a central role in Christian doctrine? Christ’s lowly origins, humility and self-sacrifice made the image of Antinous as good a paradigm as any, as good as the active images of Rome’s emperors, whose authority Christ challenged, and whose equestrian statues were downsized to picture Jesus on a donkey.33 In catacombs, on sarcophagi, and in freestanding sculpture, he was often represented young, soft-featured, and long-haired, feminine even, preferring a beard when he was enthroned in splendor as a substitute for Jupiter in the apse mosaics of Christian churches. Despite early opposition to the use of Christ’s image, and periods of official iconoclasm, churches are still adorned with images of him and his family. The problems of picturing god in relation to humanity remain productive intellectual puzzles.

Bringing Home the Gods

The world was full of gods,34 and prayer might be made to any of them in many circumstances. Scholars have sometimes been inclined to present the gods of literature as different from the gods of everyday experience and worship. But this is too reductive. When Plato and his fellow philosophers worry about the immorality of the gods, they point the finger of blame at Homer, but this does not mean that sculptors and painters were immune to these charges. Their works were shaped by the stories told in text and stimulated further stories—stories that gave them theological content. The gods of epic poetry were not a different species from the gods to whom prayer was made.

There is no better place to see this in action than at Pompeii.35 There we have a wide range of temples of gods and goddesses, including temples dedicated to Roman emperors, with accompanying statues of the god or goddess in question. And we also have gems, wall-paintings and other small finds that show these gods and goddesses in more relaxed settings. A brief survey highlights some of the manifold ways in which the divine was made manifest.

Some statues of gods found inside Pompeian houses had a more obvious cultic function than others. Foremost among these were the “household gods” or “Lares,” small bronze statues dressed in tunics and carrying horns of plenty, sheaves of wheat, wine-buckets and so on. With origins in the Etruscan world and without any real equivalent in ancient Greece, these deities populated a special shrine or “Lararium” which they sometimes shared with other gods, both Olympians and non-Olympians (including Harpocrates, son of Isis and Serapis). But the gods did not confine their domestic influence to household shrines nor to bronze—we have, for example, a terracotta figure of Bes, the Egyptian god associated with the dance, from the garden of a house just outside the Herculaneum gate, an ivory figure of the Indian goddess Lakshmi apparently found in a wooden chest and a small marble Venus removing her sandal while supporting herself on the ithyphallic god Priapus, a sculpture variously reckoned to have stood on a base, visible even from the street, or to have been hidden away in a corner cupboard.36 In a sense, this uncertainty is entirely appropriate: is this Venus coy or asking to be looked at? In her ornate jewelry and gold bikini, she is as exotic as Bes and Lakshmi.

Art and Religion in Ancient Greece and RomeClick to view larger

Figure 10. Statuette of Venus from the House of Venus in a Bikini, Pompeii. Now in the Naples Archaeological Museum.

Photograph by ho visto nina volare, licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.

Venus appeared in multiple guises at Pompeii, some of them more Roman than others.37 The painting at the entrance of the Shop of Verecundus (IX, 7, 5–7) is one such example, her mural crown and scepter indicative of her role as Venus Pompeiana, the city’s patron deity. Riding in a boat-shaped chariot, pulled by elephants, she is closer to a triumphing general than to the bikini-clad statue—protector of Pompeii’s sailors and of trade-routes.38 Not that scantily clad Venuses were not equally on show. The House of Venus in a Shell (II, 3, 3) is named after its garden painting of the birth of Venus, a fresco that shows the goddess, again adorned with jewelry, reclining on a shell in the water, attended by Cupids. This Venus has been referred to as a “large painted pin-up,”39 but we should not be too quick to drain her of any religious importance. In a separate frame on the left, a statue of Mars is represented, naked except for his helmet and cloak. What is the relationship between him and the goddess, between her “flesh” and his marble? The story of their affair was well told by Virgil and Ovid. Despite if not because of this, they were key figures in Augustan image-making. As the father of Romulus and Remus and the mother of Aeneas, Mars and Venus gave Rome a myth of origins and a Julian future.40

This link between divine sex and divine power figured large, in a very literal sense in the House of the Vettii (VI, 15, 1), where those entering the house were greeted in the entrance-way by a large painting of Priapus, his huge penis projecting from his short garment and resting in one scale pan of a balance. In the other pan there is a substantial money-bag, and, in front of him, a basket overflowing with fruit. On entering the inner courtyard of this house visitors came across Priapus again, now as a fountain figure.41 This doubling was certainly intended to be arresting, if not also funny, but it also asked for, and advertised, the divine favor that gave and sustained the fortune on which this house was built. Less wealthy households made the same point with terracotta lamps whose wick drew attention to Priapus’s sexual fertility.

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Figure 11. Wall painting of Priapus from House of Vettii, Pompeii.

Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Visual attestations of the power of the gods need not figure the gods at all. The wall-paintings from Pompeii illustrate this very effectively. Take the so-called House of Jason (IX, 5, 18). This house is named from a scene painted on one wall of the dining room which shows the arrival of Jason at Iolkos and his recognition by Pelias. The scene is set at a festival—there is a temple in the background and in the foreground an ox is being prepared for sacrifice. This setting draws attention to the involvement of the gods in Jason’s story; the daughters who accompany Pelias here will end up sacrificing their father at Medea’s instigation.

Art and Religion in Ancient Greece and RomeClick to view larger

Figure 12. Wall-painting of arrival of Jason at Iolkos, House of Jason, Pompeii.

Photography by Marie-Lan Nguyen. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

A room in the corner of the house, to one side of the dining room, picks up the story, by showing Medea sitting, sword in her lap, contemplating her imminent murder of her children in vengeance for Jason’s desertion of her. That painting was one of three scenes in that room with matched compositions, the other two showing Paris’s first encounter with Helen, where the story that will unfold is signaled by the appearance of Eros in the doorway between them, and Phaedra’s plotting to incriminate Hippolytus with a letter in which she will accuse him of sexual assault. Both these stories point strongly to the part played by the gods in what happens in human lives, and indeed encourage a similar reading of the story of Medea and Jason.42

Art and Religion in Ancient Greece and RomeClick to view larger

Figure 13. Wall-painting of Medea contemplating murdering her children, House of Jason, Pompeii.

Photograph by Sailko, licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0.

Elsewhere in the same house were paintings of Achilles and Polyxena in conversation beneath the walls of Troy, of Hercules, Deianeira and the centaur Nessus, of Pan encountering nymphs, of Europa being carried away by Zeus in the form of a bull, of a maenad with a thyrsus, and of busts of Apollo and of Artemis. The busts aside, the gods are, at most, discreetly present (Eros in the doorway, Zeus as a bull) but no less powerful for that. Some of the stories to which the images refer are stories known to have figured in Greek tragedy, but in all cases, the paintings, like Greek tragedy, invite questions about the part played by the gods in stimulating human action.

Pompeii is unusual because of the preservation of house walls, but the constant presence of the question of gods’ intervention in human life through allusion to myth was universal. We see it in other parts of the Roman world largely through the iconography of mosaics, where even in the province of Britain scenes of Europa and the bull (at Lullingstone), Orpheus (at Woodchester), Dido and Aeneas (at Low Ham), and so on, feature, and where images of the gods themselves (e.g., Venus at Low Ham and in the villa at Rudston, or Ocean at Verulamium) are also found.43

Art and Religion in Ancient Greece and RomeClick to view larger

Figure 14. [left] Orpheus mosaic found in the Roman villa at Woodchester, c. 325 ce, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons. [right] Mosaic of Ocean, 160–190 ce, Verulamium Museum, St. Albans.

Photograph by Carole Raddato, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

But in addition to these scenes of myth, Pompeian wall-paintings also offer scenes of cult. One painting from a Lararium (I, 13, 2) shows a crowd of worshippers gathered in front of a large Lar. Another Lararium picture (from IX, 13, 1–3) shows two large Lares looking on at a scene of sacrifice at an altar around which an unnaturally large snake is coiled. But scenes of sacrifice are found too outside the context of the Lararium. They can even be found hidden away among what look, at first sight, to be simply ornamental figures, as in the decoration of the dining room of the House of the Vettii, where a scene of a priestess with a double-headed axe about to slaughter a sacrificial ox in front of the figures of Apollo and Diana can be found in an ornate border.

Art and Religion in Ancient Greece and RomeClick to view larger

Figure 15. Wall-painting showing two large Lares from the House of Iulius Polybius (IX, 13.3).

Photograph by WolfgangRieger, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

The most famous scene of cult at Pompeii comes in the frieze after which the Villa of the Mysteries is named. This is a frieze of near life-size figures that mixes scenes of ritual (a priestess preparing for sacrifice, a kneeling woman unveiling an object, a bride prepared for marriage) with supernatural scenes (Dionysus and Ariadne, Silenus playing the lyre or holding a bowl, a half-naked winged female figure wielding a whip) so that it is hard to know whether some figures are mythical or real-life (the half-naked figure being flagellated, the naked woman dancing with cymbals).44 What exactly the significance of the frieze as a whole is, and how it related to the activities that went on in the room it decorated, remain unclear, but there is no more vivid demonstration of the close presence of the gods to the local people.

Art and Religion in Ancient Greece and RomeClick to view larger

Figure 16. Part of the painted frieze from the Villa of the Mysteries, Pompeii.

Photograph by WolfgangRieger, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

At different periods and in different places the visual arts made present the gods to the Greeks and Romans in different ways. What appears on the walls at Pompeii, for example, in the 1st century ce can be variously paralleled by what appears on Athenian painted pottery in the 6th and 5th centuries bce. It was the privilege of the visual arts to bring the natural and the supernatural world into contact, and to effect, as well as reflect, relations between the two. It is through the visual arts that we can come to understand most clearly the theology of daily life.

Review of the Literature

Historians of Greek and Roman art have not been much interested in religion, and scholars studying Greek and Roman religion have not been much interested in art. This has partly been because the ancient model that lies behind modern histories of ancient art, Pliny’s Natural History, organizes its account according to materials (stone, metals, etc.), and is interested in the objects in their own right rather than in context (although some of the anecdotes told by Pliny give useful contextual information); it has also been because, since Winckelmann’s influence became dominant, historians of ancient art have been primarily interested in the history of style rather than in what artists have represented, while historians of Greek and Roman religion have been reluctant to engage with theological issues and have concentrated on what actually happened in rituals. This situation has only recently begun to change (see, e.g., Eidinow and Kindt’s new handbook of ancient Greek religion).45

Early antiquarian studies both of Greek and Roman art and of Greek religion were more prepared to take an interest in each other. In the late 18th and early 19th century the representation of esoteric rites in painting and sculpture attracted much antiquarian attention, of which Richard Payne Knight’s A Discourse on the Worship of Priapus of 1786, and An Enquiry into the Symbolical Language of Ancient Art and Mythology of 1818 are representative.46 But such works had the effect of making ancient art seem relevant only to the more esoteric aspects of religion—the underbelly of classical civilization. The works of Jane Ellen Harrison (Prolegomena to the Study of Greek Religion; Themis: A Study of the Social Origins of Greek Religion) continue to be marked by extensive use of the evidence of Greek art, and particularly of Greek painted pottery, just as they are marked by a determination to rescue “real” chthonic religion from the official Olympian cults.47

From the First World War to the 1980s, even this esoteric interest ceased. There was, for instance, no significant study of Greek votives between W. H. D. Rouse’s Greek Votive Offerings: An Essay in the History of Greek Religion and Folker van Straten’s substantial “gifts for the gods” paper in 1982.48 Nor was the situation in Roman studies significantly different except for the appearance of I. Scott Ryberg’s Rites of the State Religion in Roman Art in 1955.49

Although there had been pioneer explorations of some elements of religious iconography before that—notably E. Simon, Opfernde Götter, H. Metzger, Recherches sur l’imagerie athénienne , which was entirely devoted to religious topics, and C. Bérard, Anodoi: essai sur l’imagerie des passages chthoniens—it was only in the 1980s that the situation began seriously to change, both among historians of art and historians of religion.50 The French scholars around J.-P. Vernant and P. Vidal-Naquet (who formed the “Centre Louis Gernet” in Paris) became increasingly interested in Greek pottery, linking with the Swiss scholar Bérard and his colleagues to produce a photographic exhibition and a book under the title La cité des images: religion et société en Grèce antique.51 The iconography of religious rituals returned to the center of attention, not only in Francophone scholarship but more generally, as witnessed by van Straten’s examination of the iconography of sacrifice in Hiera Kala and a slew of articles on Dionysiac imagery.52 More attention is also now given to images of the gods themselves, in particular in Lapatin’s work on gold and ivory statues, Platt’s work on the epiphanic experience and Gaifman’s book on aniconism.53

In the study of the Roman world the focus of scholarship on art and religion has been somewhat different, and more highly theorized. Richard Gordon’s classic article “The Real and the Imaginary: Art and Religion in the Greco-Roman World” in Art History was an important turning point here, reinforced by Gordon’s various papers on art and Mithras, collected in Image and Value in the Graeco-Roman World.54 But the crucial figure has been Jas´ Elsner who, from his paper on Pausanias in Past and Present (1992) onward (see Primary Sources), has stressed the constant inter-play between art, ritual, and religion, the development of a distinctive visuality in the Greco-Roman world, and the relationship between Greco-Roman religion, Christianity, and Judaism.55 As far as early Christianity is concerned, T. F. Mathews’s Clash of Gods, written in response to André Grabar’s Christian Iconography: A Study of its Origins, has done much to invigorate the questions asked of images of Jesus Christ in particular.56

Increasingly, issues of visuality are being brought into dialog with other sense-perceptions such as sound, touch, and smell as scholars of religion try to inject emotional engagement and experience back into cultic practice and ritual (N. Cusumano, V. Gasparini, A. Mastrocinque and J. Rüpke, eds. Memory and Religious Experience in the Greco-Roman World, especially Mastrocinque’s chapter on Dionysiac sarcophagi, and M. Gaifman, “Timelessness, Fluidity and Apollo’s Libation”).57 At the same time, art historians are revisiting the statuary and coinage of Rome’s imperial family (J. Pollini, From Republic to Empire: Rhetoric, Religion, and Power in the Visual Culture of Ancient Rome; M. Koortbojian, The Divinization of Caesar and Augustus: Precedents, Consequences, Implications) to stack religion and divinization against propaganda.58

Scholars are now better placed than ever to think visually and spatially about Greek and Roman religion. The massive project to chart the iconography of Greek and Roman mythology, LIMC, which began publishing its results in the 1980s, and its successor project, ThesCRA, provide a substantial basis for the investigation of religious art (see below, Primary Sources), and there are crucial volumes on visual data connected to Egyptian deities in the Greek and Roman world in Brill’s Études préliminaires aux religions orientales dans l’Empire romain (EPRO) series.

Primary Sources

The literary texts relevant to ancient sculpture and painting are collected, with German translation, in S. Kansteiner, K. Hallof, L. Lehmann, B. Seidensticker, and K. Stemmer, eds., Der neue Overbeck (DNO): die antiken Schriftquellen zu den bildenden Künsten der Griechen, 5 vols.59 More convenient are J. J. Pollitt, The Art of Ancient Greece: Sources and Documents and J. J. Pollitt, The Art of Rome: Sources and Documents.60

Representations of the gods and of mythological scenes are collected in the Lexicon Iconographicum Mythologiae Classicae (LIMC), Zurich, 1981–2009. Representations of rituals and cult activities are collected in Thesaurus Cultus et Rituum Antiquorum (ThesCRA), Los Angeles 2004–2014.

The most interesting ancient text for the relationship of art and religion is Pausanias’s Periegesis. Pausanias’s travel guide is particularly interested in cult sites and in describing the monuments, both architectural and sculptural, to be found there. The fullest English commentary on Pausanias, with translation and capacious index is J. G. Frazer’s Pausanias’s Description of Greece, Translated with a Commentary, 6 vols.—a work whose importance for the study of art and religion has tended to be neglected because of its commentary format.61 The crucial modern account of Pausanias’s religious viewing is J. Elsner, “Pausanias. A Greek Pilgrim in the Roman World,” updated in Elsner, Roman Eyes.62 See also W. Hutton, Describing Greece. Landscape and Literature in the Periegesis of Pausanias; M. Pretzler, Pausanias: Travel Writing in Ancient Greece; and V. Pirenne-Delforge, Retour à la source: Pausanias et la religion grecque; and the discussions in Platt, Facing the Gods.63

Discussion of images of gods can be traced in the work of Greek philosophers from Heraclitus and Xenophanes onward. Herodas Mimiamboi 4, from the Hellenistic period, gives a vivid description of the reaction of two women worshippers to the sculptures they see in a sanctuary. The deification of Roman emperors brought further attention to what gods might look like, and there are important Roman discussions running from the satirical commentary in Seneca’s Apocolocyntosis (“Pumpkinification of Claudius”) through Dio Chrysostom’s Olympian Oration (12) to Philostratus and the Christian polemicists. A different aspect of the relationship between gods and the body is highlighted by Aelius Aristides, whose work is centrally concerned with the healing functions of Asklepios and well studied by A. Petsalis-Diomidis in Truly Beyond Wonders; Aelius Aristides and the Cult of Asklepios.64

Links to Digital Materials

Further Reading

Eidinow, E., and J. Kindt, eds. The Oxford Handbook of Ancient Greek Religion. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015.Find this resource:

Elsner, J. Roman Eyes: Visuality and Subjectivity in Art and Text. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2007.Find this resource:

Gaifman, M. Aniconism in Greek Antiquity. Oxford Studies in Ancient Culture and Representation. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012.Find this resource:

Lapatin, K. Chryselephantine Statuary in the Ancient Mediterranean World. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001.Find this resource:

Patera, I. Offrir en Grèce ancienne: gestes et contexts. Stuttgart: Franz Steiner Verlag, 2012.Find this resource:

Platt, V. J. Facing the Gods: Epiphany and Representation in Graeco-Roman Art, Literature and Religion. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2011.Find this resource:

Scheer, T. Die Gottheit und ihr Bild: Untersuchungen zur Funktion griechischer Kultbilder in Religion und Politik. Munich: C. H. Beck, 2000.Find this resource:

Scott-Ryberg, I. Rites of the State Religion in Roman Art (Memoirs of the American Academy in Rome; vol. 22), Rome: American Academy in Rome, 1955.Find this resource:

van Straten, F. “Gifts for the Gods.” In Faith, Hope and Worship: Aspects of Religious Mentality in the Ancient World. Edited by H. S. Versnel, 65–151. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 1981.Find this resource:

van Straten, F. Hierà kalá: Images of Animal Sacrifice in Archaic and Classical Greece. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 1995.Find this resource:


(1.) Herodotos and the gods: T. Harrison, Divinity and History: the Religion of Herodotus (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000); sculptors and Homer: Strabo, Geography, 8.3.30.

(2.) On cult action under the eyes of statues, see M. de Cesare, Le statue in immagine. Studi sulle raffigurazione di statue nella pittura vascolare Greca (Rome: L'Erma di Bretschneider, 1997); for processions greeting processions, see ThesCRA (I. 9–19, 21–32, 33–58); for statues of beasts commemorating sacrifices, see F. van Straten, “Gifts for the Gods,” in Faith, Hope and Worship: Aspects of Religious Mentality in the Ancient World, edited by H. Versnel, 87 (Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 1981); for images of sacrifice on Greek painted pottery, see F. van Straten, Hierà kalá: Images of Animal Sacrifice in Archaic and Classical Greece (Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 1995).

(3.) For the Greek world, see generally I. Patera, Offrir en Grèce ancienne: gestes et contexts (Stuttgart: Franz Steiner Verlag, 2012); for the Roman world, J. Rüpke, Religion of the Romans (Cambridge, U.K.: Polity Press, 2007), 154–161.

(4.) See especially A. E. Raubitschek, Dedications from the Athenian Acropolis (Cambridge, MA: Archaeological Institute of America, 1949); H. G. Payne and G. M. Young, The Archaic Marble Sculpture from the Acropolis (London: the Cresset Press, 1936); and C. Keesling, The Votive Statues of the Athenian Acropolis (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2003).

(5.) K. Karakasi, Archaic Korai (Los Angeles: J. Paul Getty Museum, 2003), 115–141; for the number, see 115n. 1.

(6.) Payne and Young, Archaic Marble Sculpture from the Acropolis, pl. 102 (Acr. 633).

(7.) J. Hurwit, The Athenian Acropolis (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1999), 105–116.

(8.) B. Graef and E. Langlotz, Die antiken Vasen von der Akropolis zu Athen (Berlin: de Gruyter, 1925–1933).

(9.) Hurwit, Athenian Acropolis; F. Brommer, The Sculptures of the Parthenon (London: Thames and Hudson, 1979); and J. Boardman, The Parthenon and its Sculptures (London: Thames and Hudson, 1985).

(10.) A. Stewart, Attalos, Athens and the Akropolis: The Pergamene “Little Barbarians” and their Roman and Renaissance Legacy (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2004).

(11.) S. Aleshire, The Athenian Asklepieion: the People, their Dedications, and the Inventories (Amsterdam: J. C. Gieben, 1989), 37–51.

(12.) R. A. Tomlinson, Epidauros (London: Granada, 1983).

(13.) These issues are explored in Dio Chrysostom’s Olympian Oration (12).

(14.) For Christian attacks on the limitations of images, see Eusebius, Life of Constantine, 3.54, In Praise of Constantine, 8; for the destruction of images by Christians, see T. M. Kristensen, Making and Breaking the Gods: Christian Responses to Pagan Sculpture in Late Antiquity (Aarhus: Aarhus University Press, 2013). Also interesting on the problems of divine embodiment in Rome, pagan and Christian, is C. Ando, The Matter of the Gods: Religion and the Roman Empire (Berkeley, Los Angeles, London: University of California Press, 2008), 21–42.

(15.) M. Gaifman, Aniconism in Greek Antiquity. Oxford Studies in Ancient Culture and Representation (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012).

(16.) Pausanias, Periegesis, 1.26.6; and J. H. Kroll, “The Ancient Image of Athena Polias,” Hesperia Supplements, vol. 20, Studies in Athenian Architecture, Sculpture and Topography. Presented to Homer A. Thompson (Princeton, NJ: American School of Classical Studies, 1982), 65–76; see more generally A. Donohue, Xoana and the Origins of Greek Sculpture (Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1988).

(17.) J. Elsner, “Reflections on the ‘Greek Revolution’: From Changes in Viewing to the Transformation of Subjectivity,” in Rethinking Revolutions Through Ancient Greece, edited by S. Goldhill and R. Osborne (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2006), 68–95; and C. Vout, “The End of the Greek Revolution?” Perspective: la Revue de l’INHA 2 (2014): 246–252.

(18.) C. Vout, Sex on Show: Seeing the Erotic in Greece and Rome, 128–167 (London: British Museum Press, 2013).

(19.) For the theological significance of terracotta statuettes in domestic contexts see C. E. Barrett, Egyptianizing Figurines from Delos: A Study in Hellenistic Religion (Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2011).

(20.) M. Miles, Art as Plunder: The Ancient Origins of Debate about Cultural Property (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2008); and S. Dillon and K. E. Welch, Representations of War in Ancient Rome (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2006).

(21.) M. Beard, J. North, and S. R. F. Price, Religions of Rome, vol. 1, A History (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1998), 95–96 and 161–164.

(22.) R. Osborne, Greece in the Making 1200–479 BC, second edition (Abingdon: Routledge, 2009), 82–86; and C. C. Mattusch, Greek Bronze Statuary: From the Beginnings Through the Fifth Century (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1988), 42–44.

(23.) K. D. S. Lapatin, Chryselephantine Statuary in the Ancient Mediterranean World (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001), 61–95.

(24.) V. C. Platt, “Cult Image, Greek,” The Encyclopedia of Ancient History (Malden: Wiley-Blackwell, 2012); S. Estienne, “Simulacra deorum versus ornamenta aedium. The status of divine images in the temples of Rome,” in Divine Images and Human Imaginations in Ancient Greece and Rome. Religions in the Graeco-Roman World 170, edited by I. Mylonopoulos, 273–287 (Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2010); and S. Bettinetti, La statua di culto nella pratica rituale greca (Bari: Levante, 2001).

(25.) T. S. Scheer, “Art and Imagery,” in The Oxford Handbook of Ancient Greek Religion, edited by E. Eidinow and J. Kindt, 168–169 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015).

(26.) Lucian, Gallus, 24.

(27.) On heroes, see G. Ekroth, “Heroes – Living or Dead?” in The Oxford Handbook of Ancient Greek Religion, edited by E. Eidinow and J. Kindt, 383–396 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015); and C. Jones, New Heroes in Antiquity: From Achilles to Antinoos (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2010).

(28.) C. Marconi, “The Birth of an Image. The Painting of a Statue of Herakles and Theories of Representation in Classical Greek Culture,” Res: Anthropology and Aesthetics 59–60 (2011): 145–167.

(29.) A. Stewart, Faces of Power: Alexander’s Image and Hellenistic Politics (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993).

(30.) I. Gradel, Emperor Worship and Roman Religion (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002).

(31.) On the image of Augustus, Paul Zanker, The Power of Images in the Age of Augustus. Trans. A. Shapiro (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1988); E. La Rocca, C. Parisi Presicce, A. Lo Monaco, C. Giroire, and Daniel Roger, eds., Augusto (Milan: Electa, 2013); for Drusilla, S. E. Wood, Imperial Women: A Study in Public Images, 40 B.C.–A.D. 68 (Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 1999); and for the image of Nero, M. Bergmann, Die Strahlen der Herrscher. Theomorphes Herrscherbild und politische Symbolik im Hellenismus und in der römischen Kaiserseit (Mainz: von Zabern, 1998); and “Portraits of an Emperor – Nero, the Sun, and Roman Otium,” in A Companion to the Neronian Age, edited by E. Buckley and M. T. Dinter, 332–362 (Chichester: Wiley-Blackwell, 2013).

(32.) C. Vout, Power and Eroticism in Imperial Rome (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2007); and R. Lambert, Beloved and God: The Story of Hadrian and Antinous (London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1984).

(33.) André Grabar, Christian Iconography: A Study of its Origins (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1968), and, in response to the idea that Christian art derived from imperial models, T. F. Mathews, The Clash of the Gods: A Reinterpretation of Early Christian Art (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1993), and the review by P. Brown, Art Bulletin 77 (1995): 499–502.

(34.) K. Hopkins, A World Full of Gods: The Strange Triumph of Christianity (London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 2000).

(35.) For religion at Pompeii, see J. B. Ward-Perkins and A. Claridge, eds., Pompeii AD 79 (Bristol: Imperial Tobacco Ltd, 1976), catalog nos. 186–226; M. Beard, Pompeii: the Life of a Roman Town (London: Profile, 2008), 276–308; and J. Berry, The Complete Pompeii (London: Thames and Hudson, 2007), 186–209. See more generally J. Clarke, Art in the Lives of Ordinary Romans: Visual Representation and Non-Elite Viewers in Italy, 100 B.C.–A.D. 315 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2003), chapter 3: “Everyman, Everywoman, and the Gods.”

(36.) Ward-Perkins and Claridge, Pompeii AD 79, nos. 191, 214, 218, 222–226; Berry, The Complete Pompeii, chapter 7; Beard, Pompeii, chapter 9. For the dispute about the Venus (known as “Venus in a Bikini”) compare Berry The Complete Pompeii, 195; and Beard, Pompeii, 90–91.

(37.) The complete record of the paintings and mosaics excavated in Pompeii is available in G. Pugliese Carratelli, ed., Pompei: pitture e mosaici, 10 vols (Rome: Istituto della Enciclopedia Italiana, 1990–1999).

(38.) J. Clarke, Art in the Lives of Ordinary Romans: Visual Representation and Non-Elite Viewers in Italy, 100 B.C.–A.D. 315 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2003), 105–112.

(39.) Beard, Pompeii, 276.

(40.) See Zanker, The Power of Images, 195–201.

(41.) J. Clarke, The Houses of Roman Italy, 100 B.C–A.D. 200 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1991), 211–214.

(42.) B. Bergmann, “The Pregnant Moment: Tragic Wives in the Roman Interior,” in Sexuality in Ancient Art, edited by N. Kampen, 199–218 (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1996).

(43.) K. Dunbabin, Mosaics of the Greek and Roman World (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1999); and D. S. Neal and S. R. Cosh, Roman Mosaics of Britain (London: Illuminata, 2002–2010).

(44.) J. Henderson, “Footnote: Representation in the Villa of the Mysteries,” in Art and Text in Roman Culture, edited by J. Elsner, 234–276 (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1996).

(45.) E. Eidinow and J. Kindt, eds. The Oxford Handbook of Ancient Greek Religion (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015).

(46.) R. Payne Knight, A Discourse on the Worship of Priapus (London: privately published, 1786); and R. Payne Knight, An Enquiry into the Symbolical Language of Ancient Art and Mythology (London: privately published, 1818).

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(64.) A. Petsalis-Diomidis, Truly Beyond Wonders; Aelius Aristides and the Cult of Asklepios (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2010).