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Sacrifices and Offerings

Humans made sacrifices1 and offerings to sanctuaries to honor and to thank the gods for blessings and to propitiate them when misfortune struck and was interpreted as a sign of divine anger at human behavior. Offerings could consist of works of art, money, and other valuables. Private individuals could offer sacrifices to the gods at home with the members of the household gathered around, sometimes including the family's slaves. The sacrifices of public cults were conducted at the open-air altars2 of the city-state's temples by priests and priestesses, who were in most cases chosen from the citizen body as a whole. The priests and priestesses of Greek cult were usually attached to a particular sanctuary or shrine and did not unite to influence political or social matters. Their special and essential knowledge consisted of knowing how to perform the gods' rites according to tradition. They were not guardians of theological orthodoxy, as we might describe a function of some clergy today, because Greek religion had no systematic theology or canonical dogma, nor any institutions comparable to today's religious institutions to oversee doctrine.

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