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Alexander of Abonoteichos


Founder and prophet of a pagan oracle and mystery cult in Paphlagonia, Asia Minor, c. a.d. 105175. Except for a few coins of Lucius Verus and Marcus Aurelius, and inscriptions attesting the fact of his existence, our knowledge of him comes from a bitterly antagonistic biography by Lucian of Samosata called Alexander the False Prophet. The Alexander ambiguously mentioned by Athenagoras in his Embassy for the Christians (Ancient Christian Writers, ed. J. H. Crehan, 23:6566, 157) may be the same man, although the identity is disputed. As a youth he consorted with a healer who was a disciple of the philosopher Apollonius of Tyana. Later he conspired with a charlatan named Cocconas to found an oracle and begin a cult.

At Chalcedon Alexander invented several prophecies to the effect that the god Asclepius or Aesculapius, the son of Apollo, would become incarnate at Abonoteichos and that Alexander would be his prophet. He then arranged a spectacular "birth" of the god, whom he called Glycon, in the form of a snake emerging from a goose egg. Using a tame serpent, a network of spies and helpers, and an ingenious method of opening sealed scrolls with heated needles, he began to issue oracles in return for payment (a drachma and two obols).

The renown of Glycon and Alexander spread through Asia Minor and reached Rome, where the influential Rutilianus became an ardent follower and was inveigled into marriage with Alexander's daughter "by the goddess Selene." With the oracle firmly established, Alexander introduced an annual three day celebration of some of the classical mystery themes and some invented by the prophet himself. His chief opponents apparently were the Epicureans, whom he fought through oracles and through the influence of his followers. By his own orders, Epicureans, Christians, and atheists were rigidly banned from attending the mysteries or consulting Glycon. The cult of Glycon was not confined to healing, but was more properly a form of worship and an imitation of the great oracles of the ancient world.

After amassing wealth, Alexander died of an infection when he was nearly 70. The cult outlasted him by at least a century, as 3rd century coins of the region show.

Bibliography: lucian, Alexander the False Prophet, ed. and tr. a. m. harmon [Loeb Classical Library, (LondonNew YorkCambridge, Mass. 1912) 4] 173253. s. dill, Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics, ed. j. hastings, 13 v. (Edinburgh 190827) 1:306. k. prÜmm, Religionsgeschichtliches Handbuch für den Raum der altchristlichen Umwelt (2d ed. Rome 1954) 46062. j. leipoldt, Reallexikon für Antike und Christentum, ed. t. klauser [Stuttgart 1941 (1950)] 1:260261.

[g. w. mac rae]

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