Mystery cults are one of the most intriguing areas of Greek and Roman religion. In the nocturnal mysteries at Eleusis, participants dramatically reenacted the story of Demeter’s loss and recovery of her daughter Persephone; in the Bacchic cult, bands of women ran wild in the Greek countryside to honor Dionysus; in the mysteries of Mithras, men came to understand the nature of the universe and their place within it through frightening initiation ceremonies and astrological teachings.
These cults were an important part of life in the ancient Mediterranean world, but their actual practices were shrouded in secrecy. Mystery Cults in the Ancient World makes plentiful use of artistic and archaeological evidence, as well as ancient literature and epigraphy, to reconstruct the sacred rituals and explore their origins. Greek painted pottery, Roman frescoes, inscribed gold tablets from Greek and Southern Italian tombs, and the excavated sites of religious sanctuaries all contribute to our understanding of ancient mystery cults. Not only is this clearly written book a significant contribution to the study of these cults, it is also accessible to a general readership. More than any other book on ancient religion, it allows the reader to understand what it was like to participate in these life-altering religious events.
Hugh Bowden is professor of ancient history and head of arts at King's College London's Faculty of Arts and Humanities. His main research focuses on ancient Greek religion and Alexander the Great. He has published various works on both subjects and has written for The Oxford Handbook of Ancient Greek Religion.