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Bill Thayer

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 p606  Hieroduli

Unsigned article on pp606‑607 of

William Smith, D.C.L., LL.D.:
A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities, John Murray, London, 1875.

HIERODU′LI (ἱερόδουλοι), were persons of both sexes, who were devoted like slaves to the worship of the gods. They were of Eastern origin, and are most frequently met with in connection with the worship of the deities of Syria, Phoenicia, and Asia Minor. They consisted of two classes; one composed of slaves properly so called, who attended to all the lower duties connected with the worship of the gods, cultivated the sacred lands, &c., and whose descendants continued in the same servile condition; and the other, comprising persons, who were personally free, but had dedicated themselves as slaves to the gods, and who were either attached to the temples, or were dispersed throughout the country and brought to the gods the money they had gained. To the latter class belonged the women, who prostituted their persons and presented to the gods the money they had obtained by this means.a The pomp with which religious worship was celebrated in the East, and the vast domains which many of the temples possessed, required a great number of servants and slaves. Thus, the great temple at the Cappadocian Comana possessed as many as 6000 hieroduli (Strab. XII p535), and that at Morimene had 3000 of the same class of persons (Strab. XII p537). So numerous were the hieroduli at Tyre, that the high-priest by this support frequently obtained the regal dignity (Joseph. c. Apion. I.18, 21). These large numbers arose from the idea, prevalent in the East, that the deity must have a certain class of persons specially dedicated to his service separated from the ordinary duties of life, and that it was the duty of all who had the power to supply as many persons as they could for their service. Thus, kings dedicated as sacred slaves the prisoners whom they took in war, parents their children,  p607 and even persons of the highest families sent their daughters to the temples to sacrifice their chastity to the gods, at least till the time of their marriage. This practice of females offering their chastity to the gods was of ancient origin in the East, and seems to have arisen from the notion that the gods ought to have the first-fruits of every thing. The custom prevailed at Babylon (Herod. I.199; Strab. XVI p745), as well as in many other places (comp. Heyne, De Babyloniorum instituto religioso, &c. in Comment. Societ. Gotting. vol. XVI p30, &c.). The Greek temples had of course slaves to perform the lowest services (Paus X.32 § 8); but we also find mention in some Greek temples of free persons of both sexes, who had dedicated themselves voluntarily to the services of some god, and to whom the term of hieroduli was generally applied. Masters, who wished to give slaves their freedom, but were prevented by various causes from manumitting them, presented them to some temple as ἱερόδουλοιº under the form of a gift or a sale, and thus procured for them liberty in reality. Such cases of manumission frequently occur in inscriptions, and are explained at length by Curtius (de Manumissione sacra Graecorum, in his Anecdota Delphica, Berlin, 1843, p10, &c.; comp. Plut. Amat. c. 21, τῶν ἄλλων δεσποτῶν καὶ ἀρχόντων ἐλεύθεροι καὶ ἄφετοι καθάπερ ἱερόδουλοι διατελοῦσιν). The female hieroduli, who prostituted their persons, are only found in Greece connected with the worship of divinities who were of Eastern origin, or many of whose religious rites were borrowed from the East. This was the case with Aphrodite, who was originally an Oriental goddess. At her temple at Corinth there were a thousand ἱερόδουλοι ἑταῖραι, who were the ruin of many a stranger who visited Corinth, and there was also a large number of the same class of women at her temple at Eryx, in Sicily (Strab. VIII p378, VI p272, comp. XII p559). (Hirt, Die Hierodulen, with appendices by Böckh and Buttmann, Berlin, 1818; Kreuser, Der Hellenen Priesterstaat, mit vorzüglicher Rücksicht auf die Hierodulen, Mainz, 1824; Movers, Die Phönizier, p359, &c.; Hermann, Lehrbuch d. gottesdienstlichen Alterthümer d. Griechen, § 20, n. 13‑16).

Thayer's Note:

a Some modern feminist scholars, bucking tradition, claim sacred prostitution never existed at all: see Bryn Mawr Classical Review on Stephanie Budin, The Myth of Sacred Prostitution in Antiquity (my thanks to Judith Weingarten for the heads‑up). A great many passages of ancient authors have to be explained away, and fine distinctions drawn between sex with temple employees and paid prostitution; I can't say I'm convinced, but then I'm hardly an expert.

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