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Beliefs, rituals, and mythology of the ancient Greeks. Though the worship of the sky god Zeus began as early as the 2nd millennium BC, Greek religion in the established sense began c. 750 BC and lasted for over a thousand years, extending its influence throughout the Mediterranean world and beyond. The Greeks had numerous gods who controlled various natural or social forces (e.g., Poseidon the sea, Demeter the harvest, Hera marriage). Different deities were worshiped in different localities, but Homer's epics helped create a unified religion, in which the major gods were believed to live on Mount Olympus under the rule of Zeus. The Greeks also worshiped various gods of the countryside: Pan, nymphs, naiads, dryads, Nereids, and satyrs (seesatyr and silenus), along with the Furies and the Fates. Heroes from the past, such as Heracles and Asclepius, were also venerated. Animal sacrifices were of great importance, usually made at a temple on the altar of the god. Other cultic activities included prayers, libations, processions, athletic contests, and divination, particularly through oracles and birds. Great religious festivals included the City Dionysia at Athens and the festival of Zeus in the western Peloponnese that included the Olympic Games. Death was seen as a hateful state; the dead lived in the realm of Hades, and only heroes enjoyed Elysium. Great wrongdoers suffered in Tartarus. Mystery religions emerged to satisfy the desire for personal guidance, salvation, and immortality. Greek religion faded with the rise of Christianity and lost its last great advocate with the death of Julian in AD 363. See alsoGreek mythology.
This entry comes from Encyclopædia Britannica Concise. For the full entry on Greek religion, visit Britannica.com.
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