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Armin Unfricht

Identity, integration, politics: A study on the social significance of heroization and cultic worship of historical figures in Ancient Greece

My PhD-thesis deals with the forms and functions of posthumous heroization and cultic worship of historical individuals in ancient Greece. At the core of my research lie the following three questions:

  1. Why were these personalities heroized? Which functions did their heroization and worship serve? The three central factors here are the (group-)identitary, integrative and political one.
  2. How were they heroized? Which techniques and practices were put into use to ensure a successful and lasting heroization and corresponding hero cult on the one hand, as well as to determine the role a heroic figure played for a certain society on the other hand? Again, there are three important aspects: The material (relics, tombs, cenotaphs, statues as well as other objects and locations which are connected to a hero and his biography), narrative (legends and myths about a said hero) and ritualistic-performative (rites and religious festivals in honor of a specific hero) aspect.
  3. How is the chronological development of this form of hero cult from the Archaic to the Hellenistic period (changes; tendencies; spatial and temporal characteristics)?

I limit my research down to verifiably historical personalities which were posthumously and publicly heroized and worshipped. This means that all hero cults which were not state cults, as well as mythological or legendary heroes, are a priori being left out. Also, all kinds of worship of living people, as for example the Hellenistic ruler cult, are not part of this thesis.

The group of posthumously heroized historical figures is very heterogenous, encompassing city founders (primarily the oikists of different Greek colonies), other individuals which can loosely be subsumed under the name “founders” (cult founders, “new founders” – meaning the originators of a new political order, such as lawgivers [nomothetes] or also “saviours”[sotéres] and “liberators”[eleutherioi]), as well as warriors/soldiers and Olympic victors, to mention only the predominant ones.   

Although some of the abovementioned subgroups of posthumously worshipped historical individuals have already been the subject of academic research in the past (especially Oikists or Olympic victors), a comprehensive study of this form of hero cult as such remains to be written. Therefore, the aim of this project is to fill this gap and provide an extensive treatment of the subject.


Armin Unfricht studied English, History and Sports at the Universities of Graz and Reykjavik. He was student assistant at the Centre for Antiquity of the University of Graz and after finishing his studies worked as a teacher at a vocational school. Since 2018, he is research associate and PhD-student at the Institute of Ancient History in Graz as well as fellow of the International Graduate School “Resonant Self-World Relations in Ancient and Modern Socio-Religious Practices”.

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