One of the most powerful and worshipped gods of ancient Greek mythology is Zeus. He rules over Mount Olympus as the Greek god of the sky and thunder. Zeus had many titles and epithets written about him to illustrate his influence over ancient Greece. The ancient Greeks, in honor of Zeus, would build sacred sites such as the oracle sites to commemorate Zeus, as well as, other magnificent temples and sanctuaries. There were also cult practices for the sole purpose of worshipping Zeus.
Zeus was worshipped in many ways, but his authority was made evident by the innumerable titles that were applied to him by the ancient Greeks.
Such titles included, Olympios which emphasized Zeus’ kingship over both the other gods and the Panhellenic festival held at Olympia. Another title given to Zeus by the ancient Greeks was Panhellenios, which means “Zeus of all the Hellenes.” Besides being given these honorable titles by the ancient Greeks, he also had epithets being written about him based on his various godly functions.
For example, the epithet, Xenios, Zeus was being portrayed as the patron of hospitality and guests, and was ready to avenge any wrongdoing that was done to a stranger. Two other examples would be the epithets of Horkios and Agoraios. In Horkios, Zeus was the keeper of oaths, and in Agoraios, he watched over the business of the marketplace and would punish dishonest traders. These countless titles and epithets illustrated the importance Zeus had in the sense of mythical and religious consciousness of the ancient Greeks.
The ancient Greeks did not just come up with titles and write epithets for Zeus, they also built sacred sites such as oracles and temples. The cult of Zeus which was in Dodona in Epirus, had centered their religious activity around a sacred oak.[footnoteRef:2] This oracle at Dodona in northern Greece had ascetic priests that would serve the oracle and it would interpret the sounds from the winds in the branches of the sacred oak tree and the bubbling water from the holy spring.[footnoteRef:3] In Homer’s epic, The Odyssey, there was divinations made by barefoot priests called Selloi, who would lay on the ground and observe the rustling of the leaves and branches of the sacred oak in order to form their predictions. Another sacred oracle that was dedicated to Zeus was the oracle of Ammon at the oasis of Siwa. It was located in the Western Desert of Egypt, even though this oracle did not lie in the bounds of the Greek world, it still remained large in the Greek mind during the archaic era. For example, Herodotus mentions having consultations with the oracle Ammon in his account of the Persian War.
The oracle Ammon is especially favored in Sparta, where a temple dedicated to Zeus existed by the time of the Peloponnesian War. Another sanctuary that was dedicated to Zeus was at Olympia where every four years, beginning from 776 BCE, the Olympic Games would gather crowds of people that would come from all parts of Greece to honor the father of the gods and where 100 oxen were sacrificed at the end of each Games.[footnoteRef:5] Zeus was also worshipped in most family houses where there would be an altar in the courtyard. The altars were contributed to the various forms of Zeus. These forms included Zeus Herkeios, protected the family health and property, Zeus Polieus, protector of cities and Zeus Soter, the protector and general benefactor to all.
The ancient Greek societies had created cults for their gods and the most influential and prominent god that they worshipped was Zeus. These cults would most commonly pray to their Greek god, Zeus, but these prayers are not the common prayers of monotheistic religions, they were instead petitions for desires, both private and social. Sacrifice was another important element in the cults of ancient Greeks. Human sacrifice was demanded by many of the Greek gods, especially Zeus, but this practice ended very early on. So, instead of using human sacrifices, the cults would use animal sacrifices, but would also use plant sacrifices as well. The type of animal used during the sacrifices depended on who and what the sacrifice was to and for. The most frequently used animals during these sacrifices were cattle, sheep and goats, as well as, pigs, dogs, birds and fish used on occasion. Two other common types of cult practices were festivals and rituals. Most of these festivals and rituals were based upon the nature such as the solstices, equinoxes and the sowing and harvesting of the crops. But, there were others that were based on the natural cycle of life, births, marriages and deaths. Also, the rituals could of been political in nature meaning that the political rulers were in control of the rituals and used it as means to communicate with the citizenry.
In the view of the ancient Greeks, Zeus was a prominent figure in their lives. He represented order and peace in their ancient society, as well as, protection from the evil forces. Zeus was worshipped by sacrifices, rituals, prayers, sculptures built in his image and many more other honorable ways. Overall, this shows the respect and recognition that the ancient Greek people had on Zeus.