BMCR 2014.09.64

Cultes et sanctuaires de l’île de Cos. Kernos Supplément, 28

, Cultes et sanctuaires de l'île de Cos. Kernos Supplément, 28. Liège: Presses Universitaires de Liège, 2013. 442. ISBN 9782875620293. €40.00 (pb).

Table of Contents

Cultes et sanctuaires de l’île de Cos, a monograph on the regional cults on Cos based on the author’s 2011 doctoral thesis at the Université de Liège, has now been published as a supplement to Kernos (2013). Dealing with the cults from a religious point of view, Stéphanie Paul takes a fundamentally different approach from Susan M. Sherwin-White, author of a 1978 study of the island,1 which took a broader, more historical perspective. Paul also incorporates epigraphic evidence that was not available at the time of Sherwin-White’s study.

Paul focuses on the Hellenistic period from the mid-fourth to the first century BC. Her chronological point of departure and reference is the synoecism of 366 BC, which brought the various communities of Cos together in the new capital, whose name is homonymous with that of the island. Synoecism demanded a reorganization of the local pantheon that would bring cohesion and identity to the new community. 2 Such a reorganization combined new religions and ancestral traditions, which are examined by Paul through two types of documents: the cult calendar (a chronological list of the sacrifices and celebrations taking place in the city) and regulations for public cults and the priest/priestess bound to them. Synoecism also established a new relationship between the recently created civic center of Cos and the demes. Paul expands our understanding of this phenomenon by examining local cults on the level of the demes (which may go back to earlier times) contrasting them with the central models offered by the cults held in the city of Cos.

Although archaeological remains (when available) enter her discussion, Paul relies mostly on epigraphic evidence, which is abundant for the Hellenistic period. She also draws on the meager sources that antedate the era of synoecism as well as on testimony from the Roman period in order to speculate, when possible, on the evolution of the cults. These sources, which privilege the city, certainly lead to a biased perception of the cults practiced on the island. Paul is aware of this problem, and she tries to minimize it through an interdisciplinary analysis of the cults and thus to examine interactions among various constituents, as well as the tributes offered by the demes, individuals, and families who organize the cults. To cite just one example, she discusses the festival of Zeus Soter and Athena Soteria in the 2nd century BC, which, founded by a private donation, was nonetheless regulated by the polis, while the priesthood was held by members of the founder’s family.

The study contains seven chapters organized in two parts. Three appendices supplement the text with a translation of a calendar of the city’s cults, a calendar of Cos, and a list of Coan divinities with their epiclesis. Part I offers analyses of the cults of Cos, and thus provides the basis for Part II, in which the function of polytheism on the local level is discussed.

In Chapter I, which presents the gods of the Coan pantheon, Paul stresses the prominence of Zeus, which is expressed through his various epicleses (Polieus, Phatrios, Boulaios, Patroios, Soter, etc.) and associations with divinities (Hera, Hestia, the Twelve Gods, Damos). As Paul demonstrates, one of Zeus’s closest associations is with Athena, with whom he shares five epicleses. Of these the one that binds both gods with the polis is of great importance, as the author later makes clear in Chapter VI.3 She also offers a minute analysis of an inscription that refers to the festival of Zeus polieus, which took place in the month of Batromios, and notes that it culminated with the sacrifice of an ox selected through an elaborate process in which all subdivisions of the polis participated. In this chapter she also introduces the other divinities of the local pantheon, such as Apollo, worshiped with epicleses (Delios, Pythios and Karneios) that reveal ties to the world beyond Cos. Analyzing archaeological and epigraphic data, she concludes that the area of the agora and gymnasium held the most important cults of the city (e.g. Dionysos and Heracles), while that of the port contained at least three temples: Aphrodite Pandamos and Pontia, and Herakles Kallinikos.

In Chapter II, Paul examines the cult of Asclepios, whose sanctuary was not only of crucial importance to Cos but also had enormous international significance. Here, contrary to the other chapters, Paul does offer new analyses of documents that enable a re-evaluation of the cult. Given the cult’s importance, however, it is crucial that the discussion present the cult of Asclepios in a synthetic way. The author discusses the divinities associated with Asclepios (Apollo, Hygieia and Epione, the Nymphes), the obscure origins of the cult in the first half of the fourth century BC, the vast architectural program that was funding Asclepieia by the third century BC, and the cult’s importance in the Roman era.

In Chapter III, Paul offers evidence for the demos of Halasarna, which, though inhabited throughout the Geometric and Archaic periods and experiencing further growth in the Classical era, reached its peak only in the Hellenistic period, at the same time as the foundation of the new capital of Cos. As Paul shows, religious life in Halasarna centered on the cult of Apollo. A sanctuary excavated in the 1980s brought to light new inscriptions as well as structures from the Hellenistic period, among which at least one can be associated with the god. By examining the inscriptions, Paul is able to figure out the organization of the cult and to point out, among other things, that the calendar of the annual sacrifices by the priest of Apollo included cults celebrated by the demos for which there is no evidence in the city of Cos (Hecate, Artemis), and also that the demos had its own institutions (college of naopes, the timaques). Her reading of the calendar reveals that Apollo was likewise associated with several local cults of the demos. Finally, she posits that the singular cults practiced in Halasarna are vestiges of the pre- synoecist period. The community of Halasarna rendered homage to the gods of the city of Cos—Zeus Polieus, Athena Polias, Aphrodite Pandamos and the Soter divinities—next to those venerated by local cults.

In Chapter IV, Paul discusses the cults from the demos of Isthmos, on which was located Astypalaia, the central site of Cos before synoecism. Although it contains traces of a sanctuary that antedates synoecism (a temple of Demeter in Panagia Palatiani and the grotta of Aspripetra, where a cult of Pan and the Nymphs was held), little is known about the cults due to vast lacunas in the documents, particularly in what concerns the deme’s calendar. Nevertheless these fragmentary documents mention the celebrations of divinities celebrated in the city of Cos—Aphrodite Pandamia and Hestia Phamia—which also occur in Halasarna. Paul shows how the cults offered to the local monarch parallel those celebrated in Cos. Among local cults are those of the Mother of the Gods, Apollo Oulios, Asklepios and Hygieia (the only cult of this sort celebrated outside the Asklepieion). In addition, Paul interprets an 11 BC inscription that commemorates the family foundation of a cult of Artemis, Zeus Hikesios, and the Theoi Patroioi.

In Chapter V, Paul describes the cults celebrated in four rural demes: Phyxa, Haleis, Hippia and Antimachia. These were poorly excavated, which may explain the dearth of inscriptions. The demos Aigelos, attested epigraphically, did not contain any documents significant for religious study. By examining this meager material, Paul was able to identify some of the cults and divinities worshipped in these demes. Although all her findings cannot be listed here, of particular note is a calendar from Phyxa, which refers to a sacrifice made to Zeus Soter and Athena Soteira, carried out merely fifteen days after the same gods were honored in the polis by a festival known as Pythocleia, which Paul interprets as an imitation of the religious life in the polis.

In Chapter VI, Paul examines the organization of the Coan pantheon and comes up with a profile of the divinities, relations amongst them, their hierarchy and their intervention in the community. She categorizes them according to their “areas of action.”4 This model has its limits—as the author herself admits – particularly in what concerns the integration of all the pantheon’s divinities and cults while relying on documents full of lacunae. This is the case of Apollo, for example, whose place in the Coan pantheon cannot be precisely defined. Paul also shows that although the configuration of the Coan pantheon is strongly marked by the local context, it can be inserted into a common system of representation in the general Greek pantheon. She relies on these similarities to compare the pantheon of Cos to the religious systems of other Greek cities. Although not all the Coan divinities analyzed by Paul can be discussed here, among the most remarkable ones is Zeus Polieus, whom she views as a divinity with the power to unify the city, and thus certainly helped integrate the various communities that came together in synoecism. She also argues that this god’s domains were quite different from those of Aphrodite Pandamos, who too protected the city but on a more global scale and likewise watched over private aspects of life such as marriage and birth. In this chapter Paul also includes a fascinating discussion of tutelary divinities and the role of Asclepios and Zeus on Cos, in which she rejects the old assumption that Asclepios—despite his international importance—was the tutelary divinity of Cos; that role seems to have been reserved for Zeus.

Finally, in Chapter VII, Paul studies the sacrifices practiced on the island, basing her argument on the rich sources that deal with Cos. Unlike most scholars who have dealt with the subject, she approaches it not from a global or thematic perspective, but by analyzing the sacrifice within the local Coan pantheon. Analyses of such procedures are also crucial to the interpretation of the Coan pantheon itself, for sacrifices imply communication and reveal the reasons why Coans were invoking divinities and thus Paul’s analyses shed light on the divinities’ prerogatives.

All in all, Cultes et sanctuaires de l’île de Cos is not only a great contribution to the study of religious life on Cos, but it also lays the ground for understanding polytheism in general as it explores the tension between local diversity and Panhellenic religion. Furthermore, by showing the intense participation of the polis in the organization of cults in Cos during the Hellenistic period, Paul’s book questions the much debated claim that the Classical polis-religion model declined after the political changes brought about by Alexander the Great. 5


1.Susan M. Sherwin-White, Ancient Cos. An Historical Study from the Dorian Settlement to the Imperial Period, 1978.

2.On synoecism and the reorganization of cults, see R. Parker,“Subjection, Synoecism and Religious Life,” in P. Funke and N., Luraghi, (eds.), The Politics of Ethnicity and the Crisis of the Peloponnesian League (Washington, DC., 2009), 183-214.

3. Paul examined pairs of epithets of Zeus and Athena in an earlier paper, “À propos d’épiclèses “trans-divines”. Le cas de Zeus et d’Athéna à Cos,” ARG 12 (2010): 65-81.

4. J. P.Vernant, “Mythe et société en Grèce ancienne,” (Paris: F. Maspero, 1974), 103-120; G. Dumézil, La religion romaine archaïque, (Paris: Payot, 1966), 179-18.

5. Z. Stewart, “La religione,” in R. Bianchi Bandinelli (ed.), La società ellenistica. Economia, diritto, religione (Milano: Storia e Civiltà dei Greci, 1977), 503-529; F. Graf, “Bemerkungen zur bürgerlichen Religiosität im Zeitalter des Hellenismus,” in M. Wörrle, and P. Zanker, Stadtbild und Bürgerbild im Hellenismus (München: C. H. Beck München, 1995), 103-114; G. Shipley, The Greek World after Alexander: 323-30 BC (London: Routledge, 2000); J.D. Mikalson, “Greek Religion: Continuity and Change in the Hellenistic Period,” in G.R. Bugh, (ed.), The Cambridge Companion to the Hellenistic World (Cambridge: Cambridge, 2006), 208-222.