Web Theoi
POTAMOI CULT
 
Greek Name Transliteration Latin Spelling Roman Name
Ποταμοι Potamoi Potami Flumina, Amnes
OTHER RIVER-GOD PAGES
Potamoi General Info. & Myths

THE POTAMOI were the gods of the rivers. Local rivers were worshipped throughout Greece and its colonies as minor divinities. They were especially honoured as protectors of the young.


GENERAL CULT

I) DEDICATIONS OF LOCKS OF HAIR

The Rivers were worshipped as protectors of the young, and youths would dedicate their uncut locks to the local stream at their coming-of-age.

See RIVER-GODS, Protectors of the Young

II) CULT STATUES

Pausanias, Description of Greece 8. 24. 12 (trans. Jones) (Greek travelogue C2nd A.D.) :
"The images of all Rivers except the Neilos (Nile) in Aigyptos (Egypt) are made of white marble."

Aelian, Historical Miscellany 2. 33 (trans. Wilson) (Greek rhetorician C2nd to 3rd A.D.) :
"The nature of rivers, and their streams, are visible to us. But men who honour them, and have statues made of them, in some cases set up anthropomorphic statues, while others give them bovine form. A likeness to cattle is attributed by the Stymphalians to Erasinos and Metope, by the Spartans to the Eurotas, by the Sikyonians and Phliasians to the Asopos, and by the Argives to the Kephisos. The form of a man is adopted by the Psophidians for the Erymanthos, and by the Heraians for the Alpheios; the Kherronesians from Knidos treat the same river in the same way. The Athenian portray the Kephisos as a human bust but with horns just showing. And in Sikelia the Syrakousans represent Anapos as a man, whereas they honoured the spring Kyane with the statue of a woman. The Egestans honour the Porpax, Krimisos, and Telmessos in the form of men. The inhabitants of Akragas portray the river of the same name as a handsome boy and make sacrifice to him. They also made an offering at Delphoi, carving an ivory statue with the river’s name inscribed on it, and the statue is of a boy."

III) PRIESTS OF THE RIVERS

Valerius Flaccus, Argonautica 6. 295 ff (trans. Mozley) (Roman epic C1st A.D.) :
"Aquites, priest of mighty Phasis, consecrated to his native waters . . . poplar decked his brow and his temples were conspicuous with its gray entwining sprays."
[N.B. White and black poplars are commonly found growing along the banks of Greek and Italian rivers. It is possible that priests of the river-gods would have worn such a crown.]


River God | Greco-Roman statue
S36.2 RIVER-GOD
River God | Greco-Roman statue
S36.3 RIVER-GOD
River God | Greco-Roman statue
S36.4 RIVER-GOD
 

CULT IN ATTIKA (SOUTHERN GREECE)

I) ATHENS Chief City of Attika

Pausanias, Description of Greece 1. 37. 3 (trans. Jones) (Greek travelogue C2nd A.D.) :
"By the river [Kephisos in Athens] is a statue of Mnesimakhe, and a votive statue of her son cutting his hair as a gift for Kephisos. That this habit has existed from ancient times among all the Greeks may be inferred from the poetry of Homer."

Aelian, Historical Miscellany 2. 33 (trans. Wilson) (Greek rhetorician C2nd to 3rd A.D.) :
"The nature of rivers, and their streams, are visible to us. But men who honour them, and have statues made of them, in some cases set up anthropomorphic statues, while others give them bovine form. A likeness to cattle is attributed . . . by the Argives to the Kephisos [i.e. the other river Kephisos] . . . The Athenian portray the Kephisos [i.e. their river Kephisos] as a human bust but with horns just showing."

II) OROPOS Town in Attika

Pausanias, Description of Greece 1. 34. 3 (trans. Jones) (Greek travelogue C2nd A.D.) :
"[In the sanctuary of Amphiaraus in Oropos, Attika :] The altar shows parts . . . The fifth is dedicated to the Nymphai and Pan, and to the rivers Akheloos and Kephisos."

For MORE information on the Athenian river see KEPHISOS


CULT IN SIKYONIA (SOUTHERN GREECE)

I) SIKYON & PHLIOS Chief Towns of Sikyonia

Pausanias, Description of Greece 5. 22. 6 :
"The Phliasians also dedicated [statues at Olympia :] a Zeus, the daughters of Asopos, and Asopos himself."

Aelian, Historical Miscellany 2. 33 (trans. Wilson) (Greek rhetorician C2nd to 3rd A.D.) :
"A likeness to cattle is attributed . . . by the Sikyonians and Phliasians to the Asopos."

For MORE information on the Sikyonian river see ASOPOS


CULT IN ARGOLIS (SOUTHERN GREECE)

I) ARGOS Chief Town of Argolis

Pausanias, Description of Greece 2. 20. 6 (trans. Jones) (Greek travelogue C2nd A.D.) :
"[At Argos] is a sanctuary of Kephisos. It is said that the water of this river was not utterly destroyed by Poseidon [i.e. when he dried up the Argive streams in the summer], but that just in this place, where the sanctuary is, it can be heard flowing under the earth."

Aelian, Historical Miscellany 2. 33 (trans. Wilson) (Greek rhetorician C2nd to 3rd A.D.) :
"The nature of rivers, and their streams, are visible to us. But men who honour them, and have statues made of them, in some cases set up anthropomorphic statues, while others give them bovine form. A likeness to cattle is attributed . . . by the Argives to the Kephisos."

II) NEMEA Town in Argolis

Statius, Thebaid 6. 275 ff (trans. Mozley) (Roman epic C1st A.D.) :
"Next in order [amongst the statues at Nemea] is seen father Inachus reclining leftward on the mound of a reedy bank and letting the streming urn flow free."

For MORE info on the Argive rivers see INAKHOS, KEPHISOS, ASTERION


CULT IN LAKEDAIMONIA (SOUTHERN GREECE)

I) SPARTA Chief City of Lakedaimonia

Strabo, Geography 8. 5. 3 (trans. Jones) (Greek geographer C1st B.C. to C1st A.D.) :
"And Sophokles says, `by the two Lapersai [i.e. the Dioskouroi], I swear, by Eurotas third, by the gods in Argos and about Sparta.'" [N.B. Eurotas and the Dioskouroi were the indigenous gods of Sparta.]

Pausanias, Description of Greece 3. 12. 8 (trans. Jones) (Greek travelogue C2nd A.D.) :
"There is also a sanctuary [at Sparta] of [the Seilenos] Maron and of [the River] Alpheios."

Aelian, Historical Miscellany 2. 33 (trans. Wilson) (Greek rhetorician C2nd to 3rd A.D.) :
"The nature of rivers, and their streams, are visible to us. But men who honour them, and have statues made of them, in some cases set up anthropomorphic statues, while others give them bovine form. A likeness to cattle is attributed . . . by the Spartans to the Eurotas."

For MORE information on the Lakonian river see EUROTAS


CULT IN ELIS (SOUTHERN GREECE)

I) OLYMPIA Town and Sanctuary in Elis

Bacchylides, Fragment 5 (trans. Campbell, Vol. Greek Lyric IV) (C5th B.C.) :
"Sing in praise of Zeus Kronides, Olympian, ruler of gods, and Alpheios, tireless stream."

Pausanias, Description of Greece 5. 10. 6 (trans. Jones) (Greek travelogue C2nd A.D.) :
"[Amongst the sculptural figures on the pediment of the temple of Zeus at Olympia :] At the very edge lies Kladeos, the river which, in other ways also, the Eleans honour most after Alpheios . . . Then the pediment narrows again, and in this part of it is represented Alpheios."

Pausanias, Description of Greece 5. 15. 6 :
"There are behind the Heraion [at Olympia] altars of the river Kladeos and of Artemis."

Pausanias, Description of Greece 5. 13. 11 :
"[At Olympia :] Every year the soothsayers . . . bring the ash from the town-hall [i.e. from sacrifices to Zeus], and making it into a paste with the water of the Alpheios they daub the altar therewith. But never may the ash be made into past with other water, and for this reason the Alpheios is thought to be of all Rivers the dearest to Zeus Olympios."

Pausanias, Description of Greece 5. 14. 6 :
"After the altars I have enumerated [at Olympia] there is one on which they sacrifice to Alpheios and Artemis together. The cause of this Pindar, I think, intimates in an ode, and I give it in my account of Letrinoi. Not far from it stands another altar of Alpheios."

Pausanias, Description of Greece 5. 24. 7 :
"[At Olympia] they have dedicated images of Pelops and of the river Alpheios respectively.

Pausanias, Description of Greece 8. 20. 2 :
"Leukippos [mythical Eleian hero] was growing his hair long for the river Alpheios."
[N.B. Youths dedicated the uncut locks of their childhood to the local river-god.]

Ptolemy Hephaestion, New History Book 5 (summary from Photius, Myriobiblon 190) (trans. Pearse) (Greek mythographer C1st to C2nd A.D.) :
"As a hommage to the river Alpheios, after a victory at [the Games of] Olympia, Herakles called with his name the letter 'alpha' which he placed at the head of the alphabet."

For MORE information on the Eleian river see ALPHEIOS


CULT IN ARKADIA (SOUTHERN GREECE)

I) STYMPHALOS Town in Arkadia

Aelian, Historical Miscellany 2. 33 (trans. Wilson) (Greek rhetorician C2nd to 3rd A.D.) :
"The nature of rivers, and their streams, are visible to us. But men who honour them, and have statues made of them, in some cases set up anthropomorphic statues, while others give them bovine form. A likeness to cattle is attributed by the Stymphalians to Erasinos and Metope."

II) PSOPHIS Town in Arkadia

Pausanias, Description of Greece 8. 24. 12 (trans. Jones) (Greek travelogue C2nd A.D.) :
"The people of Psophis [in Arkadia] have also by the side of the [river] Erymanthos a temple and image of Erymanthos."

Aelian, Historical Miscellany 2. 33 (trans. Wilson) (Greek rhetorician C2nd to 3rd A.D.) :
"The nature of rivers, and their streams, are visible to us. But men who honour them, and have statues made of them, in some cases set up anthropomorphic statues, while others give them bovine form . . . The form of a man is adopted by the Psophidians for the Erymanthos."

III) R. LYMAX & R. NEDA Rivers in Arkadia

Pausanias, Description of Greece 8. 41. 4 - 6 (trans. Jones) (Greek travelogue C2nd A.D.) :
"The river Lymax ('After-Birth') falls into the Neda [in Arkadia]. Where the streams meet is the sanctuary of Eurynome, a holy spot from of old and difficult of approach because of the roughness of the ground. Around it are many cypress trees, growing close together. Eurynome is believed by the people of Phigalia to be a surname of Artemis. Those of them, however, to whom have descended ancient traditions, declare that Eurynome was a daughter of Okeanos, whom Homer mentions in the Iliad, saying that along with Thetis she received Hephaistos. On the same day in each year they open the sanctuary of Eurynome, but at any other time it is a transgression for them to open it. On this occasion sacrifices also are offered by the state and by individuals. I did not arrive at the season of the festival, and I did not see the image of Eurynome; but the Phigalians told me that golden chains bind the wooden image, which represents a woman as far as the hips, but below this a fish. If she is a daughter of Okeanos, and lives with Thetis in the depth of the sea, the fish may be regarded as a kind of emblem of her. But there could be no probable connection between such a shape and Artemis."
[N.B. The fish-tailed Eurynome is a river-goddess--of either the Lymax or the Neda.]

IV) R. STYX River in Arkadia

Strabo, Geography 8. 8. 4 (trans. Jones) (Greek geographer C1st B.C. to C1st A.D.) :
"And near Pheneus [in Arkadia] is also the water of the Styx, as it is called--a small stream of deadly water which is held to be sacred."

For MORE info on the Arkadian rivers see:--
LADON, ERYMANTHOS, ERASINOS, STYX


CULT IN BOIOTIA (CENTRAL GREECE)

I) Near THESPEIA Town in Boiotia

Philostratus the Elder, Imagines 1. 23 (trans. Fairbanks) (Greek rhetorician C3rd A.D.) :
"A youth [Narkissos] just returned from the hunt stands over a pool . . . The cave is sacred to Akheloos and the Nymphai, and the scene is painted realistically. For the statues are of a crude art and made from a local stone; some of them are worn away by time, others have been mutilated by children of cowherds or shepherds while still young and unaware of the presence of the god [i.e. Dionysos]."
[N.B. The pool of Narkissos was located at place called Donakon near Thespeia (cf. Pausanias 9.31.7).]

II) DELPHOI Town & Sanctuary in Phokis

Aeschylus, Eumenides 20 ff (trans. Weir Smyth) (Greek tragedy C5th B.C.) :
"[The Pythia, prophetess of the oracle at Delphoi, invokes the gods :] These are the gods I place in the beginning of my prayer [Gaia, Themis, Phoibe and Apollon] . . . and I worship [also] the Nymphai where the Korykian rock is hollow, the delight of birds and haunt of gods. Bromios [Dionysos] has held the region . . . I call on the streams of Pleistos and the strength of Poseidon, and highest Zeus."

For MORE info on the regional rivers see PLEISTOS, AKHELOIOS


CULT IN MALIS (NORTHERN GREECE)

I) TRAKHIS ? Chief Town of Malis

Homer, Iliad 23. 144 ff (trans. Lattimore) (Greek epic C8th B.C.) :
"[Akhilleus speaks :] `Sperkheios, it was in vain that Peleus my father vowed to you that there, when I had won home to the beloved land of my fathers, I would cut my hair for you and make you a grand and holy sacrifice of fifty rams consecrate to the waters of your springs, where is your holy ground and your smoking altar.'"

For MORE information on the Malian river see SPERKHEIOS


CULT IN LYDIA & KARIA (ANATOLIA)

I) Near LEIMON Town in Karia

Strabo, Geography 14. 1. 44 (trans. Jones) (Greek geographer C1st B.C. to C1st A.D.) :
"And not far from Leimon [in Karia] is . . . a hero-temple of Kaystros and a certain Asios, and the Kaystros River that streams forth near by."

II) R. MAIANDROS River in Karia

Strabo, Geography 12. 8. 19 :
"And they say that lawsuits are brought against the god Maiandros for altering the boundaries of the countries [i.e. city states] on his banks, that is, when the projecting elbows of land are swept away by him; and that when he is convicted the fines are paid from the tolls collected at the ferries."

For MORE information on the Karian rivers see MAIANDROS, KAYSTROS


CULT IN EGYPT (NORTH AFRICA)

I) R. NILE River in Egypt

Pausanias, Description of Greece 8. 24. 11 (trans. Jones) (Greek travelogue C2nd A.D.) :
"Except for the Aigyptian Neilos the rivers all have white stone statues, but people believe you should make statues of the Neilos in dark stone, because he flows down to the sea through Aithiopia."

For MORE information on the Nile personified see NEILOS


CULT IN SICILY (SOUTHERN ITALY)

I) SYRAKOUSA Town in Sicily (Greek colony)

Aelian, Historical Miscellany 2. 33 (trans. Wilson) (Greek rhetorician C2nd to 3rd A.D.) :
"The nature of rivers, and their streams, are visible to us. But men who honour them, and have statues made of them, in some cases set up anthropomorphic statues, while others give them bovine form . . . In Sikelia (Sicily) the Syrakousans represent Anapos as a man, whereas they honoured the spring Kyane with the statue of a woman."

II) HERAIA Town in Sicily (Greek colony)

Aelian, Historical Miscellany 2. 33 :
"The form of a man is adopted by . . . the Heraians for the Alpheios."
[N.B. Hybla Heraia was a Greek colony in S.E. Sicily near Syrakousa.]

III) AIGESTA Town in Sicily (Greek colony)

Aelian, Historical Miscellany 2. 33 :
"In Sikelia (Sicily) . . . the Egestans honour the Porpax, Krimisos, and Telmessos in the form of men."

For MORE info on the Sicilian rivers see ALPHEIOS, ANAPOS, KRIMISOS


CULT IN ETRURIA (CENTRAL ITALY)

I) PISA Town in Etruria (Greek colony)

Strabo, Geography 5. 2. 5 (trans. Jones) (Greek geographer C1st B.C. to C1st A.D.) :
"Pisa [in Italia] is situated at the confluence of two rivers, the Arnos and the Ausar… And the following fable is told : when these Rivers first began to flow down from the mountains, and their course was being hindered by the natives for fear that they would unite in one stream and deluge the country, the Rivers promised not to deluge it and kept their pledge." [N.B. The story is no doubt connected with the local cult of these Rivers.]


CULT OF LATIUM (CENTRAL ITALY)

I) ROME Capital of the Roman Empire

Cicero, De Natura Deorum 3. 20 (trans. Rackham) (Roman rhetorician C1st B.C.) :
"If Terra the Earth is divine, so also is the sea . . . and therefore the Flumina (Rivers) [Potamoi] and Fontes (Springs) [Pegaiai] too. This is borne out by the fact that Maso dedicated a temple of Fons (God of Wells) out of his Corsican spoils, and that the Augurs’ litany includes as we may see the names of Tiberinus, Spino, Almo, Nodinus, and other Rivers in the neighbourhood of Rome."


River-God Nile | Greco-Roman statue
S36.1 RIVER NILE
River-God Tiber | Greco-Roman sculpture
S36.5 RIVER TIBER
   

Sources:

  • Homer, The Iliad - Greek Epic C8th B.C.
  • Greek Lyric IV Bacchylides, Fragments - Greek Lyric C5th B.C.
  • Aeschylus, Eumenides - Greek Tragedy C5th B.C.
  • Strabo, Geography - Greek Geography C1st B.C. - C1st A.D.
  • Pausanias, Description of Greece - Greek Travelogue C2nd A.D.
  • Aelian, Historical Miscellany - Greek Rhetoric C2nd-3rd A.D.
  • Philostratus the Elder, Imagines - Greek Rhetoric C3rd A.D.
  • Cicero, De Natura Deorum - Latin Rhetoric C1st B.C.
  • Valerius Flaccus, The Argonautica - Latin Epic C1st A.D.
  • Statius, Thebaid - Latin Epic C1st A.D.
  • Photius, Myriobiblon - Byzantine Greek Scholar C9th A.D.