Cleisthenes’s democratic reforms after 508/7 had a huge impact upon many aspects of Athenian politics and society. However, religion in Athens has often been viewed as a matter quite separate from the sphere of politics, with the common view being that the democratic revolution hardly affected polis-level religion at all. Students of the great Geoffrey de Sainte Croix – notably Robert Parker and Emily Kearns – have spearheaded this view, arguing that any religious changes brought about by Cleisthenes were conservative changes, simply continuing existing trends in state religion. According to this view, religious changes seen in the fifth century BC were a result, not so much of democracy, but of a natural progression in religious practice. This paper directly challenges this view of Athenian religious history. I will demonstrate that the reforms of Cleisthenes led to changes to polis religion that can be described only as rapid and quite profound. In little more than fifty years, Athenian democracy demonstrably changed the traditional priesthood and cult personnel as well as the financing of, and the participation in, religious cults and festivals. It also introduced state-based control systems into deme cults, and democratic ideals into distinctly religious settings. The reforms of Cleisthenes were thus a watershed in the history of Athenian polis religion.

About Classics and Ancient History Seminars

Event details

  • The seminars take place at 4pm, in the Michie Building (09), Room 536
  • Seminars are also on Zoom. Send an email to Duncan Keenan-Jones ( for the link.
  • Upcoming seminars can be found here.
  • Please be aware that we are still operating under Covid-19 regulations during public events. Masks are no longer required at UQ locations - however, UQ strongly encourages mask wearing when physical distancing is not possible. UQ strongly encourages all campus attendees to be up to date with vaccinations. And finally, those who are feeling unwell, have been diagnosed with COVID-19 in the previous 7 days or have been in close contact with a confirmed case in the last 7 days, are asked not to attend this seminar.
  • For those attending in person, if you would like to join us for drinks and/or dinner afterwards at UQ’s St. Lucy's from 5:15 pm, please RSVP by email to Duncan Keenan-Jones ( by 9am on the day of the seminar.
  • Please also contact Duncan Keenan-Jones should you have questions about the event.

The Friends of Antiquity, an alumni organisation of the University, runs its own series of public lectures, which take place on Sunday afternoons. The Friends’ program for can be found at