views updated


SABAZIOS , a god of the Thracians and the Phrygians, is also known from Greek and Latin sources as Sabadios, Sauazios, Saazios, Sabos, Sebazios, Sabadius, and Sebadius. His name is related to the Macedonian word sauâdai, or saûdoi, meaning "satyrs" (Detschew, 1957, p. 427). According to some scholars (e.g., Lozovan, 1968), he was a Thracian mountain god whose cult was carried by Phrygian emigrants from Thrace to Anatolia.

Greek sources from the fifth century bce onward mention Sabazios as a Thracian or Phrygian god. In Athens, his cult's initiation ceremonies took place by night, and the adepts were purified by being rubbed with mud. A sacramental drink was also involved. The identification of Sabazios with Dionysos, which occurs regularly in Hellenistic sources, is unquestionable. However, Phrygian inscriptions relate him to Zeus, and in North Africa, where his cult is attested as early as the fourth century bce, he might have had the features of a heavenly god; hence he was later identified with the Semitic god Baal, both of them receiving the Greek epithet hupsistos ("highest, supreme"). He was probably worshiped in Thrace under other local names, such as Athyparenos, Arsilenos, Batalde Ouenos, Eleneites, Mytorgenos, Ouerzel(enos), and Tasibastenus.

Sabazios's name has been connected with the Indo-European *swo-, meaning "[his] own," and with the idea of freedom, which occurs frequently among the epithets of Dionysos. Franz Cumont has suggested a relationship with the Illyrian sabaia, or sabaium, identifying a beer extracted from cereals (see Russu, 1969, p. 241). More recently, Gheorghe Muşu has translated Sabazios as "sap god," from the Indo-European roots *sap- ("taste, perceive") and *sab- ("juice, fluid"). This translation corresponds well to the pattern of Dionysos/Sabazios, who was the divinity of humidity and as such was connected with both vegetation and intoxication (see Muşu, in Vulpe, 1980, pp. 333336).

The Jews of Syria and Anatolia identified Sabazios with Sabaoth. Under the Roman rulers Sabazios was worshiped in Thrace, where he was more often known as Sebazios or, in Latin, Sabazius, Sabadius, or Sebadius and where he received such epithets as epekoos ("benevolent"), kurios ("lord"), megistos ("greatest"), and so forth. In Crimea, probably under Jewish-Anatolian influence, he was called hupsistos. He was constantly identified with both Zeus and the sun. Motifs of hands making the votive gesture of benedictio Latina are among the distinctive features of his cult. According to several Christian writers (Clement of Alexandria, Arnobius, and Firmicus Maternus), the most impressive rite of initiation into the mysteries of Sabazios consisted of the adept's contact with a snake (aureus coluber ) that was first put over his breast (per sinum ducunt ) and then pulled down to his genitals.

No less enigmatic than Zalmoxis, Sabazios was worshiped as early as the fourth century bce both as a chthonic and as a heavenly god. Scholars have too often tried to solve this riddle by supposing a borrowing from Jewish religion, but Jewish influence was not relevant in Anatolia before the third century bce. One should rather consider that chthonic features determined the character of the Thracian Sabazios, whereas the Phrygian Sabazios was probably connected with the sky.


Bianchi, Ugo, and Maarten J. Vermaseren, eds. La soteriologia dei culti orientali nell'impero romano. Leiden, 1982. See the index, s. v. Sabazios.

Detschew, Dimiter. Die thrakischen Sprachreste. Vienna, 1957.

Lozovan, Eugen. "Dacia Sacra." History of Religions 7 (February 1968): 209243.

Russu, I. I. Ilirii istoria, limba şi onomastica romanizarea. Bucharest, 1969.

Vulpe, Radu, ed. Actes du Deuxième Congrès International de Thracologie, vol. 3, Linguistique, ethnologie, anthropologie. Bucharest, 1980.

New Sources

Bodinger, Martin. "Le dieu Sabazios et le Judaisme." Archaeus 6 (2002): 121139.

Corpus Cultus Iovis Sabazii (CCIS). Vol. I: The Hands. Vol. II: The Other Monuments and Literary Evidence. Vol. III: Conclusions, edited by Maarten J. Vermaseren and Eugene N. Lane. Leiden, 198389.

Giuffré Scibona, Concetta. "Aspetti soteriologici del culto di Sabazio." In La soteriologia dei culti orientali nell'impero romano. Atti del Colloquio Internazionale (Roma 2428 Settembre 1979), edited by Ugo Bianchi e Maarten J. Vermaseren, pp. 552561. Leiden, 1982.

Johnson, Sherman E. "The Present State of Sabazios Research." In Aufstieg und Niedergang der Römischen Welt 2.17.3, pp. 15831613. Berlin and New York, 1984.

Lane, Eugene. "Sabazius and the Jews in Valerius Maximus: A Re-examination." Journal of Roman Studies 69 (1979): 3538.

Lane, Eugene. "Towards a Definition of the Iconography of Sabazius." Numen 27 (1980): 933.

Taceva-Hitova, Margarita. "Wesenzüge des Sabatioskultes in Moesia Inferior und Thracia." In Hommages à Maarten J. Vermaseren, edited by M. B. de Boer and T. A. Edridge, vol. III, pp. 12171230. Leiden, 1978.

Tassignon, Isabelle. "Sabazios dans les pantheons des cités d'Asie Mineure." Kernos 11 (1998): 189208.

Ioan Petru Culianu (1987)

Cicerone Poghirc (1987)

Revised Bibliography