Divine Competition in Greco–Roman Polytheism

George Tridimas, Mario Ferrerp

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This paper surveys the main features of polytheistic religious organization in the ancient Greek and Roman world, emphasizing two aspects: there was substantial, multiple overlap between the jurisdictions of different gods, which increased over time and made the costs and uncertainty borne by supplicants ever more burdensome; and the priesthood was in general not a profession but a service undertaken, or assigned, in addition to political or military office. The growth of elective cults in the imperial age further complicated the range of offers but did not create a class of religious entrepreneurs. A simple economic model shows that such jurisdictional overlap was inefficient and that supplicants stood to gain from concentration and unification of the industry – that is, from one-stop shopping. This did not happen until the very end of paganism, so competition did not work. The reason for this non-event is found in the absence of a professional religious class with a vested interest in its occupation, one which could act as an interest group and profit from the unification of supply. This in turn suggests a nonstandard explanation of why, unlike other polytheistic systems such as Hinduism, Greco-Roman paganism died out without leaving a trace or any attempt at revival.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages24
JournalHomo Oeconomicus
Publication statusPublished (in print/issue) - 21 May 2018


  • Greco-Roman polytheism; priests; religious competition; economics of religion; interest groups; one–stop shopping


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