Ancient Greek Religion Explained


Religion played an important part in the lives of the ancient Greeks. They believed that there were many gods that controlled the natural world, and the action of human begins. When the Greeks made statues of their deities, they depicted them very much like normal human beings. The Greeks even believed that the day-to-day lives of the gods were much like regular humans, except for the fact that the gods had fantastical powers. 


In the most popular religious book from ancient Greece, The Iliad, the gods personally interacted with regular people. The gods had the same emotions as well, and were jealous, angry, selfish and could fall in love.


Many of the gods were believed to live at a real location in ancient Greece: Mount Olympus in the Peloponnese. As a result, the main Greek gods were known as the 'Olympians'. The king of the Greek gods was called Zeus, and he was considered to have control over the sky, storm and lightning.


Greek temples

The central religious structures in the Greek religion were temples. They are not like today's churches: regular people were usually not allowed to go in to worship the gods. Instead, the temples were considered to be the personal houses of the gods, where they lived. Only the priests were allowed regular access to the gods. Typically, the more important a particular god was to a city-state, the more impressive their temple was. For example, Athena was the patron goddess of Athens, so she had the largest and most expensive temple, built on the highest mountain in the city.


If a person wanted help from the gods, they usually went to the temple to pray and offer a gift to the god in the hopes of their prayer being heard. On some occasions, everyone in a city would get together for a major religious ceremony. It was typical that animals would be sacrificed at these events and the meat may be cooked and shared with the worshippers. 


The demi-gods

Gods were not the only super-powered people in Greek religion. The Greeks believed in a second category of beings called the 'demi-gods' or 'heroes'. Someone was a demi-god if one of their parents was a god who had fallen in love with a regular human being, and they had a child together. A demi-god would have some of the powers of their divine parent, but also had some of the weaknesses of their human parent. Their powers, however, would allow them to do great and mighty deeds, which is why they are also called the 'heroes'.


Some of the most famous Greek heroes were Heracles, who had super strength, and Achilles, who was unkillable in battle.

The afterlife

The ancient Greeks believed that people still lived on after their death. They believed that there was a region underground called the Hades, which was ruled by a god, also called Hades.


Hades was thought to be a physical place that you could theoretically travel to while you were alive. However, it was separated from the natural world by the River Styx, which could only be crossed one you had died. A special boatman called Charon was tasked with transporting the souls across the river in return for a small payment. This is why Greeks had the ritual of placing coins with the dead body at funerals.


Once in Hades, a dead person had to face a judgment to see which part of Hades they would spend eternity. If the person had done good things in life, they would go to a paradise known as the Elysian Fields. However, if they had been wicked in life, they went to Tartarus, where they would be cruelly punished forever.