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Mystery Cults in the Ancient World

Hugh Bowden


A landmark study of ancient Greek and Roman cults, from the nocturnal mysteries at Eleusis to the cults of Dionysus and Mithras

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Mystery cults were an important part of life in the ancient Mediterranean world, but their rituals and the meanings behind them – what participants experienced, and how they understood those experiences – were closely guarded secrets. Hugh Bowden explores the major mystery cults of the ancient world, considering the artistic and archaeological evidence to reconstruct the rituals and explore their origins. In doing so, he brings us into the shadowy world of the ancient mystery cults, and shows us what it was like to participate in these life changing ceremonies.


'A wonderful revelation. Piece by archaeological and textual piece, Bowden jigsaw-puzzles together the heady, high-octane, highly-charged world of mystery ritual in Greece and Rome'
Bettany Hughes

'Bowden debunks an impressive number of myths about ancient mystery religions'
Mary Beard, Times Literary Supplement

'Will be of immense value not just to those studying Greek and Roman civilizations but to students of early Christianity ... a most valuable survey'
Contemporary Review

'As clear and well-informed an account as one could imagine. In a highly accessible way Hugh Bowden puts together the literary and material evidence. Well-paced and an attractive read'
Robin Osborne, Professor of Ancient History, University of Cambridge

'[Bowden] weighs the evidence, considers the sources, and reaches well-reasoned conclusions'
Classics for All

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Product Information

Book Details

Format: Paperback

Size: 19.8 x 12.9 cm

Extent: 320 pp

Illustrations: 21

Publication date: 3 August 2023

ISBN: 9780500297278

Contents List

1. The Eleusinian Mysteries
2. The Mysteries of the Kabeiroi and the Great Gods of Samothrace
3. Other Mystery Sanctuaries in the Greek World
4. The Mother of the Gods
5. Dionysus
6. Private Initiation
7. Words Written on Gold
8. Isis
9. Mithras
10. The End of the Mysteries
11. Encountering the Sacred
Map of Mediterranean and Near East

About the Author

Hugh Bowden is Professor of Ancient History and Head of Arts at King’s College London’s Faculty of Arts and Humanities. Among his other books are Classical Athens and the Delphic Oracle: Divination and Democracy and Herakles and Hercules.