ZEUS was the king of the gods, the god of sky and weather, the fate of men and nations, law, justice and moral conduct. He was widely worshipped in ancient Greece with numerous shrines and sanctuaries. Many of these were located on hill-tops or mountain peaks, founded at sites where offerings were traditionally made to the rain-bringing god. He was also worshipped privately at small household shrines.
In classical sculpture, Zeus was portrayed as a regal, bearded man, with bare muscled chest. His attributes were lightning bolt, royal sceptre and eagle. The most popular reproduced piece of Zeus sculpture was the celebrated gold and ivory statue of Pheidias at Olympia: image S1.1 is an example of a reduced marble and bronze Roman copy of the work.
Callimachus, Fragment 114 (from A.P. 13. 10) (trans. Trypanis) (Greek poet C3rd B.C.) :
"Ship that hast carried away from me my only light, the sweet light of my life, I entreat thee by Zeus Limenoskopos (Watcher of Havens)."
Philostratus the Elder, Imagines 2. 23 (trans. Fairbanks) (Greek rhetorician C3rd A.D.) :
"The chamber [of the house contains] . . . sacrificial baskets and lustral basins and barley-grains and firewood and missing bowl, the utensils of Zeus Herkeios."
Suidas s.v. Palamnaios (trans. Suda On Line) (Byzantine Greek lexicon C10th A.D.) :
"Palamnaios (Violent man) : Murderer, or one polluted by blood-guiltiness. For those who commit homicide with their bare hands are called palamnaioi from palame (palm of the hand). And Zeus Palamnaios, the one who punishes such men; and Prostropaios, he who turns this pollution upon them."
Suidas s.v. Teleia :
"Teleia (of the rite, related to ritual, perfect) : Hera Teleia (of the Rite) and Zeus Teleios (of the Rite) used to be honored in marriages, as overseers of marriage. Marriage is a rite (telos)."
Suidas s.v. Xenios :
"Xenios (Hospitable) : One who guards hospitality. Zeus is also called protector of the rights of hospitality (Xenios)."
Suidas s.v. Ktesios :
"Ktesios (Domestic) : An epithet of Zeus."
Suidas s.v. Ketsiou Dios :
"Ktesiou Dios (Of Domestic Zeus) : They used to set up a shrine to Domestic Zeus in store-cupboards."
Suidas s.v. Zeus Ktesios :
MONTHS DEDICATED TO ZEUS
"Zeus Ktesios (Domestic Zeus) : The deity whose shrine they used to set up even in store-cupboards, as wealth-giver."
Suidas s.v. Maimakterion :
"Maimakterion : The fifth month at Athens. January. It took its name from Zeus Maimaktes. The adjective maimaktes means boisterous and agitated. With winter beginning in this month, the air is agitated and changeable."
CULT IN ATTIKA (SOUTHERN GREECE)
I) ATHENS Chief City of Attika
Plato, Theages 121a (trans. Lamb) (Greek philosopher C4th B.C.) :
"[On the Athenian agora :] Then do you mind if we step aside here from the street into the portico of Zeus Eleutherios (the Liberator)?"
Pausanias, Description of Greece 1. 2. 5 (trans. Jones) (Greek travelogue C2nd A.D.) :
"[In the Poulytion of Athens :] Here there are images of Athena Paionia (the Healer), of Zeus, of Mnemosyne (Memory) and of the Mousai (Muses), an Apollon, the votive offering and work of Euboulides."
Pausanias, Description of Greece 1. 3. 2 :
"[Beside the Royal Portico in the Kerameikos of Athens :] Here stands Zeus, called Zeus Eleutherios (of Freedom)."
Pausanias, Description of Greece 1. 3. 5 :
"In the council chamber of those called the Five Hundred [at Athens], who are the Athenian councillors for a year are a wooden figure of Zeus Boulaios (Of the Counsel), and an Apollon, the work of Peisias, and a Demos by Lyson."
Pausanias, Description of Greece 1. 17. 2 :
"Pictures of Athenians fighting Amazones: this war they [the Athenians] have also represented on the shield of their Athena and upon the pedestal of the Zeus Olympios."
Pausanias, Description of Greece 1. 18. 6 - 9 :
"Before the entrance to the sanctuary of Zeus Olympios [in Athens]--Hadrian the Roman emperor dedicated the temple and the statue, one worth seeing, which in size exceeds all other statues save the colossi at Rhodes and Rome, and is made of ivory and gold with an artistic skill which is remarkable when the size is taken into account - before the entrance, I say, stand statues of Hadrian, two of Thasian stone, two of Aigyptian. Before the pillars stand bronze statues which the Athenians call 'colonies.' The whole circumference of the precincts is about four stades, and they are full of statues; for every city has dedicated a likeness of the emperor Hadrian, and the Athenians have surpassed them in dedicating, behind the temple, the remarkable colossus. Within the precincts are antiquities: a bronze Zeus, a temple of Kronos and Rhea and an enclosure of Gaia (Earth) surnamed Olympias. Here the floor opens to the width of a cubit, and they say that along this bed flowed off the water after the deluge that occurred in the time of [the mythical king] Deukalion, and into it they cast every year wheat meal mixed with honey. On a pillar is a statue of Isokrates . . . There are also statues in Phrygian marble of Persians supporting a bronze tripod; both the figures and the tripod are worth seeing. The ancient sanctuary of Zeus Olympios the Athenians say was built by Deukalion, and they cite as evidence that Deukalion lived at Athens a grave which is not far from the present temple. Hadrian constructed other buildings also for the Athenians: a temple of Hera and Zeus Panellenios (Common to all Greeks)."
Pausanias, Description of Greece 1. 24. 2 - 3 :
"[On the Akropolis of Athens :] There is [a statue of] Athena too coming up out of the head of Zeus . . . and an image of Gaia (Earth) beseeching Zeus to rain upon her; perhaps the Athenians them selves needed showers, or may be all the Greeks had been plagued with a drought."
Pausanias, Description of Greece 1. 24. 4 :
"[On the Akropolis of Athens :] There are statues of Zeus, one made by Leokhares and one called Polieus (Of the City, the customary mode of sacrificing to whom I will give without adding the traditional reason thereof. Upon the altar of Zeus Polieus they place barley mixed with wheat and leave it unguarded. The ox, which they keep already prepared for sacrifice, goes to the altar and partakes of the grain. One of the priests they call the ox-slayer, who kills the ox and then, casting aside the axe here according to the ritual runs away. The others bring the axe to trial, as though they know not the man who did the deed."
Pausanias, Description of Greece 1. 26. 5 :
"Before the entrance [of the Erekhtheion in Athens] is an altar of Zeus Hypatos (Most High), on which they never sacrifice a living creature but offer cakes, not being wont to use any wine either."
Pausanias, Description of Greece 1. 28. 10 :
"The Court in the Prytaneon [in Athens], as it is called, where they try iron and all similar inanimate things, had its origin, I believe, in the following incident. When [the mythical] Erekhtheus was king of Athens that the ox-slayer first killed an ox at the altar of Zeus Polieus. Leaving the axe where it lay he went out of the land into exile, and the axe was forthwith tried and acquitted, and the trial has been repeated year by year down to the present."
Pausanias, Description of Greece 8. 2. 1 - 3 :
"My view is that [the mythical Arkadian king] Lykaon was contemporary with Kekrops, the king of Athens, but that they were not equally wise in matters of religion. For Kekrops was the first to name Zeus Hypatos (the Supreme god), and refused to sacrifice anything that had life in it, but burnt instead on the altar the national cakes which the Athenians still call pelanoi. But Lykaon brought a human baby to the altar of Zeus Lykaios, and sacrificed it."
Pausanias, Description of Greece 10. 21. 5 - 6 :
"[The historical Athenian] Kydias . . . was killed by the Gauls, but his relatives dedicated his shield to Zeus Eleutherios (God of Freedom), and the inscription ran:--`Here hang I, yearning for the still youthful bloom of Kydias, the shield of a glorious man, an offering to Zeus. I was the very first through which at this battle he thrust his left arm, when the battle raged furiously against the Gaul.'
This inscription remained until Sulla and his army took away, among other Athenian treasures, the shields in the porch of Zeus Eleutherios."
Suidas s.v. Eleutherios (trans. Suda On Line) (Byzantine Greek lexicon C10th A.D.) :
"Eleutherios (Of Freedom) : Zeus was called this for this reason, because freedmen (eleuthero) built the portico [in Athens] near him [near his temple]. So says Hyperides. But Didymos maintains that it is not because of this, but because of the fact that the Athenians escaped subjection to the power of Persia."
II) PEIRAIOS Port Town in Attika
Strabo, Geography 9. 1. 15 (trans. Jones) (Greek geographer C1st B.C. to C1st A.D.) :
"Numerous wars . . . reduced the Peiraeus to a small settlement, round the harbors and the temple of Zeus Soter. The small roofed colonnades of the temple have admirable paintings, the works of famous artists; and its open court has statues."
Pausanias, Description of Greece 1. 1. 3 (trans. Jones) (Greek travelogue C2nd A.D.) :
"The most noteworthy sight in the Peiraios [in Attika] is a precinct of Athena and Zeus. Both their images are of bronze; Zeus holds a staff and a Nike (Victory), Athena a spear."
Pausanias, Description of Greece 1. 1. 3 :
"Behind the portico [in the markets of Peiraios, Attika] near the sea stand a Zeus and a Demos, the work of Leokhares."
III) MOUNYKHIA Town in Attika
Pausanias, Description of Greece 1. 1. 4 :
"Here [at Mounykhia, Attika] there is also a temple of Athena Skiras, and one of Zeus some distance away."
IV) PHYLA & MYRRHINOS Villages in Attika
Pausanias, Description of Greece 1. 31. 4 :
"Phlya and Myrrhinos have . . . a second temple contains altars of Demeter Anesidora (Sender-up of Gifts), Zeus Ktesios (God of Gain)."
V) MTS HYMETTOS, PARNES & ANKHESMOS Mountains in Attika
Pausanias, Description of Greece 1. 32. 2 :
"The Athenians have also statues of gods on their mountains . . . on Hymettos one of Zeus Hymettios. There are altars both of Zeus Ombrios (Rain-god) and of Apollon Proopsios (Foreseer). On Parnes is a bronze Zeus Parnethios, and an altar to Zeus Semaleos (Sign-giving). There is on Parnes another altar, and on it they make sacrifice, calling Zeus sometimes Ombrios (Rain-god), sometimes Apemios (Averter of Ills). Ankhesmos is a mountain of no great size, with an image of Zeus Ankhesmios."
VI) OROPOS Village in Attika
Pausanias, Description of Greece 1. 34. 3 :
"The altar [of the shrine of Amphiaraos, near Oropos in Attika] shows parts. One part is to Herakles, Zeus, and Apollon Healer."
VII) R KEPHISOS River in Attika
Pausanias, Description of Greece 1. 37. 4 :
"Across the Kephisos [River in Attika] is an ancient altar of Zeus Meilikhios (Gracious). At this altar Theseus obtained purification at the hands of the descendants of Phytalos after killing brigands, including Sinis who was related to him through Pittheus."
CULT IN MEGARIS (SOUTHERN GREECE)
I) MEGARA Chief City of Megaris
Pausanias, Description of Greece 1. 40. 4 - 6 :
"When you have entered the precinct of Zeus [in Megara] called the Olympieion you see a note worthy temple. But the image of Zeus was not finished, for the work was interrupted by the war of the Peloponnesians against the Athenians, in which the Athenians every year ravaged the land of the Megarians with a fleet and an army, damaging public revenues and bringing private families to dire distress. The face of the image of Zeus is of ivory and gold, the other parts are of clay and gypsum. The artist is said to have been Theokosmus, a native, helped by Pheidias. Above the head of Zeus are the Horai (Seasons) and Moirai (Fates), and all may see that he is the only god obeyed by destiny, and that he apportions the seasons as is due. Behind the temple lie half-worked pieces of wood, which Theokosmus intended to overlay with ivory and gold in order a complete the image of Zeus. In the temple itself is dedicated a bronze ram of a galley. This ship they say that they captured off Salamis in a naval action with the Athenians . . .
After the precinct of Zeus, when you have ascended the citadel . . . [there are various temples including] a temple of Zeus Konios (Dusty) without a roof."
Pausanias, Description of Greece 1. 43. 6 :
"In the temple hard by [that of Aphrodite in Megara] are the Mousai (Muses) and a bronze Zeus by Lysippos."
Pausanias, Description of Greece 6. 7. 2 :
"The statue of [the Olympian athlete] Diagoras was made by the Megarian Kallikles, the son of the Theokosmos who made the image of Zeus at Megara."
II) MT GERANIA Mountain in Megaris
Pausanias, Description of Greece 1. 44. 9 :
"On the top of the mountain [between Megara and Korinthos] is a temple of Zeus surnamed Aphesios (Releaser). It is said that on the occasion of the drought that once afflicted the Greeks Aiakos in obedience to an oracular utterance sacrificed in Aigina to Zeus Panellenios (God of all the Greeks), and Zeus rained and ended the drought, gaining thus the name Aphesios (Releaser)."
CULT IN AIGINA (SOUTHERN GREECE)
I) AIGINA Chief Town of Aigina
Pausanias, Description of Greece 2. 29. 8 :
"In the most conspicuous part of the city [of Aigina] what is called the shrine of Aiakos, a quadrangular enclosure of white marble. Wrought in relief at the entrance are the envoys whom the Greeks once dispatched to Aiakos. The reason for the embassy given by the Aiginetans is the same as that which the other Greeks assign. A drought had for some time afflicted Greece, and no rain fell either beyond the Isthmus or in the Peloponnesos, until at last they sent envoys to Delphoi to ask what was the cause and to beg for deliverance from the evil. The Pythian priestess bade them propitiate Zeus, saying that he would not listen to them unless the one to supplicate him were Aiakos. And so envoys came with a request to Aiakos from each city. By sacrifice and prayer to Zeus Panellenios (God of all the Greeks), he caused rain to fall upon the earth, and the Aiginetans made these likenesses of those who came to him. Within the enclosure are olive trees that have grown there from of old, and there is an altar which is raised but a little from the ground. That this altar is also the tomb of Aiakos is told as a holy secret."
II) MT PANELLENIOS Mountain in Aigina
Pausanias, Description of Greece 2. 30. 3 :
"In Aigina is the mountain of Zeus Panellenios (God of all the Greeks)."
Pausanias, Description of Greece 2. 30. 4 :
"Mount Panellenios (of all the Greeks), except for the sanctuary of Zeus, has, I found, nothing else worthy of mention. This sanctuary, they say, was made for Zeus by Aiakos [mythical first king of the island]."
CULT IN KORINTHIA (SOUTHERN GREECE)
I) KORINTHOS Chief City of Korinthia
Pausanias, Description of Greece 2. 2. 8 :
"The images of Zeus [in the market-place of Korinthos] also are in the open; one had not a surname, another they call Khthonios (of the Lower World) [Hades] and the third Hypsistos (Most High)."
Pausanias, Description of Greece 2. 4. 5 :
"Above the theater [in Korinthos] is a sanctuary of Zeus surnamed in the Latin tongue Kapetolion [i.e. Capitolinus, Of the Capitol], which might be rendered into Greek Koryphaios (of the head)."
Pausanias, Description of Greece 2. 4. 5 :
"By the gymnasium [near the spring Lerna in Korinthos] are temples of Zeus and Asklepios. The image of . . . Zeus is of bronze."
Pausanias, Description of Greece 2. 5. 5 :
"As you go from Korinthos, not into the interior but along the road to Sikyon, there is on the left not far from the city a burnt temple. There have, of course, been many wars carried on in Korinthian territory, and naturally houses and sanctuaries outside the wall have been fired. But this temple, they say, was Apollon's, and Pyrrhos the son of Akhilleus burned it down. Subsequently I heard another account, that the Korinthians built the temple for Zeus Olympios, and that suddenly fire from some quarter fell on it and destroyed it."
Pausanias, Description of Greece 3. 9. 2 :
"The Korinthians were most eager to take part in the expedition to Asia [with the Spartans, historical], but considering it a bad omen that their temple of Zeus surnamed Olympios had been suddenly burnt down, they reluctantly remained behind."
CULT IN SIKYONIA (SOUTHERN GREECE)
I) SIKYON Chief City of Sikyonia
Pausanias, Description of Greece 2. 9. 6 :
"After the hero-shrine of Aratos [in Sikyon] is an altar to Poseidon Isthmios, and also a Zeus Meilikhios (Gracious) . . . The Meilikhios is like a pyramid."
Pausanias, Description of Greece 2. 9. 6 :
"In the market-place [of Sikyon] under the open sky is a bronze Zeus, a work of Lysippos."
CULT IN ARGOLIS (SOUTHERN GREECE)
I) ARGOS Chief City of Argolis
Strabo, Geography 8. 6. 7 (trans. Jones) (Greek geographer C1st B.C. to C1st A.D.) :
"The city of the Argives is for the most part situated in a plain, but it has for a citadel the place called Larisa, a hill that is fairly well fortified and contains a temple of Zeus."
Pausanias, Description of Greece 2. 19. 7 (trans. Jones) (Greek travelogue C2nd A.D.) :
"[The mythical Argive king] Danaus dedicated . . . wooden images of Zeus and Artemis [in the temple of Apollon Lykios in the city of Argos]."
Pausanias, Description of Greece 2. 19. 8 :
"[Near the grave of Linos in the city of Argos] is an image of Apollon Arguieus (God of Streets) an altar of Zeus Huetios (God of Rain), where those who were helping [the mythical prince] Polyneikes in his efforts to be restored to Thebes swore an oath together that they would either capture Thebes or die."
Pausanias, Description of Greece 2. 20. 1 - 3 :
"[In the city of Argos there is] a seated image of Zeus Meilikhios (Gracious), made of white marble by Polykleitos. I discovered that it was made for the following reason. Ever since the Lakedaimonians began to make war upon the Argives there was no cessation of hostilities . . . when the hatred of both sides was at its height, the Argives resolved to maintain a thousand picked men. The commander appointed over them was the Argive Bryas. His general behavior to the men of the people was violent, and a maiden who was being taken to the bridegroom he seized from those who were escorting her and ravished. When night came on, the girl waited until he was asleep and put out his eyes. Detected in the morning, she took refuge as a suppliant with the people. When they did not give her up to the Thousand for punishment both sides took up arms; the people won the day, and in their anger left none of their opponents alive. Subsequently they had recourse to purifications for shedding kindred blood; among other things they dedicated an image of Zeus Meilikhios (Gracious)."
Pausanias, Description of Greece 2. 20. 3 :
"[In the city of Argos] is a sanctuary of Zeus Nemeios (of Nemea), and an upright bronze statue of the god made by Lysippos."
Pausanias, Description of Greece 2. 20. 6 :
"[By] the tomb of Danaus and a cenotaph of the Argives who met their death at Troy or on the journey home [in the city of Argos] there is also a sanctuary of Zeus Soter (the Saviour)."
Pausanias, Description of Greece 2. 21. 2 :
"In front of it [the sanctuary of Artemis Peitho in the city of Argos] stands an altar of Zeus Phyxios (God of Banishment or Refuge)."
Pausanias, Description of Greece 2. 22. 2 :
"Opposite the grave [of the Haliai in the city of Argos] is a small bronze vessel supporting ancient images of Artemis, Zeus, and Athena. Now Lykeas in his poem says that the image is of Zeus Mekhaneus (Contriver), and that here the Argives who set out against Troy swore to hold out in the war until they either took Troy or met their end fighting."
Pausanias, Description of Greece 2. 24. 2 :
"[Near the citadel of the city of Argos] is the race-course, in which they hold the games in honor of Zeus Nemeios (of Nemea) and the festival of Hera."
Pausanias, Description of Greece 2. 24. 2 - 4 :
"On the top of Larisa [the citadel of the city of Argos] is a temple of Zeus, surnamed Larisaios (of Larisa), which has no roof; the wooden image I found no longer standing upon its pedestal. There is also a temple of Athena worth seeing. Here are placed votive offerings, including a wooden image of Zeus, which has two eyes in the natural place and a third on its forehead. This Zeus, they say, was a paternal god of [the mythical Trojan king] Priamos, the son of Laomedon, set up in the uncovered part of his court, and when Troy was taken by the Greeks Priamos took sanctuary at the altar of this god. When the spoils were divided, Sthenelos, the son of Kapaneus, received the image, and for this reason it has been dedicated here. The reason for its three eyes one might infer to be this. That Zeus is king in heaven is a saying common to all men. As for him who is said to rule under the earth, there is a verse of Homer which calls him, too, Zeus:--`Zeus Khthonios (of the Underworld) [Hades], and the august Persephonea.' The god in the sea [Poseidon], also, is called Zeus by Aiskhylos, the son of Euphorion. So whoever made the image made it with three eyes, as signifying that this same god rules in all the three 'allotments' of the Universe, as they are called."
II) NEMEA & MT APESAS Town & Mountain in Argolis
Callimachus, Iambi Fragment 11 (from Stephanus Byzantium s.v. Apesas) (trans. Trypanis) (Greek poet C3rd B.C.) :
"So sped Areion, the Arkadian horse, [in the first Nemean Games] beside the shrine of Zeus Apesantios (of Mt Apesas)."
Strabo, Geography 8. 6. 19 (trans. Jones) (Greek geographer C1st B.C. to C1st A.D.) :
"Between Kleonai and Phlios [in the Argolis], are Nemea and the sacred precinct in which the Argives are wont to celebrate the Nemean Games, and the scene of the myth of the Nemean lion."
Pausanias, Description of Greece 2. 15. 2 - 3 (trans. Jones) (Greek travelogue C2nd A.D.) :
"In Nemea [town in Argolis] is a noteworthy temple of Zeus Nemeios (of Nemea), but I found that the roof had fallen in and that there was no longer remaining any image. Around the temple is a grove of cypress trees, and here it is, they say, that [the legendary baby prince] Opheltes was placed by his nurse in the grass and killed by the Drakon. The Argives offer burnt sacrifices to Zeus in Nemea also, and elect a priest of Zeus Nemeios; moreover they offer a prize for a race in armour at the winter celebration of the Nemean Games. In this place is the grave of Opheltes; around it is a fence of stones, and within the enclosure are altars. There is also a mound of earth which is the tomb of Lykourgos, the father of Opheltes. The spring they call Adrasteia for some reason or other, perhaps because Adrastos found it."
Pausanias, Description of Greece 2. 15. 3 :
"Above Nemea [in Argolis] is Mount Apesas, where they say that Perseus first sacrificed to Zeus Apesantios (of Apesas)."
Pausanias, Description of Greece 4. 27. 6 :
"The Thebans then sacrificed to Dionysos and Apollo Ismenios (of Ismene) in the accustomed manner, the Argives to Hera Argeia (of Argos) and Zeus Nemeios (of Nemea), the Messenians to Zeus Ithomatos (of Ithome) and the Dioskouroi."
III) MT ARAKHNAIOS Mountain in Argolis (near Lessa)
Pausanias, Description of Greece 2. 25. 10 :
"Above Lessa [in Argolis] is Mount Arakhnaios (of the Spiders) . . . On it are altars to Zeus and Hera. When rain is needed they sacrifice to them here."
IV) TROIZENOS Town in Argolis
Pausanias, Description of Greece 2. 31. 10 :
"There is also [in Troizenos, Argolis] a sanctuary of Zeus surnamed Soter (Saviour), which, they say, was made by [the mythical] Aitios, the son of Anthas, when he was king."
Pausanias, Description of Greece 2. 32. 7 :
"On the road that leads through the mountains to Hermione [from Troizenos in Argolis] is . . . a rock called the Rock of Theseus; when Theseus took up the boots and sword of Aigeus under it, it, too, changed its name, for before it was called the altar of Zeus Sthenios (Strong)."
Pausanias, Description of Greece 2. 34. 6 :
"There is a road from Troizenos to Hermione [in Argolis] by way of the rock which aforetime was called the altar of Zeus Sthenios (Strong) but afterwards Theseus took up the tokens, and people now call it the Rock of Theseus."
V) MT KOKKYGIOS Mountain in Argolis
Pausanias, Description of Greece 2. 36. 1 - 2 :
"[In Argolis there is a] mountain, called in old days Thornax; but they say that the name was changed because, according to legend, it was here that the transformation of Zeus into a cuckoo took place. Even to the present day there are sanctuaries on the tops of the mountains: on Mount Kokkygios (of the Cuckoo) one of Zeus, on Pron one of Hera."
- Plato, Theages - Greek Philosophy C4th B.C.
- Callimachus, Fragments - Greek Poetry C3rd B.C.
- Strabo, Geography - Greek Geography C1st B.C. - C1st A.D.
- Pausanias, Guide to Greece - Greek Travelogue C2nd A.D.
- Philostratus the Elder, Imagines - Greek Rhetoric C3rd A.D.
- Suidas - Byzantine Greek Lexicon C10th A.D.