Were There Cults in Ancient Greece?

Ancient Greece was a civilization that existed from the eighth century BC to the fifth century AD. It was a time of great cultural, intellectual, and artistic achievements, as well as a period of religious fervor. One question that often arises is whether there were cults in ancient Greece.

The Definition of Cults

Before we dive into the topic, it’s important to define what exactly a cult is. The word “cult” comes from the Latin word cultus, which means “worship” or “adoration.” In modern times, the term has come to refer to a group or organization that has extreme beliefs and practices and is often led by a charismatic leader.

The Greek Pantheon

In ancient Greece, religion was an integral part of daily life. The Greeks worshipped a pantheon of gods and goddesses who were believed to have control over various aspects of life such as love, war, fertility, wisdom, and more. The most famous of these deities were Zeus, Athena, Apollo, Aphrodite, and Hermes.

Mystery Cults

While there were no cults in ancient Greece in the modern sense of the word, there were several mystery cults that existed alongside mainstream religion. These cults were characterized by their secrecy and exclusivity and were often centered around one particular god or goddess.

One famous example is the cult of Dionysus. Dionysus was the god of wine and fertility and was associated with ecstasy and madness. His followers would engage in wild celebrations known as Bacchanalia where they would drink heavily, dance wildly, and engage in sexual activities.

Another mystery cult was that of Eleusis which centered around Demeter – the goddess of agriculture. This cult had initiation rites that involved drinking special potions and participating in secret ceremonies.

Cult-like Groups

There were also several groups in ancient Greece that exhibited cult-like behavior. One of the most famous of these was the Pythagoreans – followers of the philosopher Pythagoras.

The group had strict rules and beliefs, and their teachings were only available to initiates. They believed in reincarnation and the transmigration of souls, and they practiced vegetarianism.

Another group was the followers of the philosopher Epicurus. They believed that pleasure was the ultimate goal in life and that this could be achieved through living a simple life, free from fear and pain.


In conclusion, while there were no cults in ancient Greece as we understand them today, there were several mystery cults that exhibited some cult-like behavior. These groups were generally centered around one particular god or goddess and were characterized by their secrecy and exclusivity. Additionally, there were also several philosophical groups that exhibited some cult-like behavior but were not centered around any particular deity.