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instances where the bones of heroes were dug up and transferred to another location by a city community in order to claim an association with the hero for political purposes.2 The cult of heroes in the Greco-Roman world provided fertile ground for the belief in the possibility of a direct physical connection between the burial spot of certain humans and the divine. Other cults, such as that of Asklepios, the son of Apollo, enjoyed more extensive dissemination with at least 500 sites, many of which attracted visitors in search of a cure for illness. German scholars of the religionsgeschichtliche Schule at the end of the nineteenth and in the early twentieth centuries uncovered the hero cult as one of the pagan antecedents for popular religious practices of Christianity,3 but scholars now tend to reject this idea. While the hero cult was a relatively rare occurrence generally centred on one particular location, the cult of the saints became ubiquitous in the middle ages, with every Christian church or foundation in Latin West and Greek East claiming an association with at least one saint who was present in his or her relics.

The Christian cult of saints shares some features with late antique Judaism, such as pilgrimage to a specific site and the performance of certain rituals to honour the particularly prominent dead. In Palestine, the tomb of the prophet Jeremiah, for example, became a prominent pilgrimage site.4 The Oak at Mamre, where the angels had visited Abraham, was the location of a popular annual festival that attracted Jews, pagans and Christians alike until the emperor Constantine claimed the site by the construction of a Christian church. 5

In the early centuries, two new developments took place that provided fertile ground for Christianity's evolving appreciation for holy men and saints. First, the Roman empire increasingly embraced the ruler cult that celebrated the sacrality of emperors. Julius Caesar was declared divus ('divine') after his death. His successor Augustus was deified through apotheosis, also after his death. Later emperors received divine honours already during their lifetime, a practice that became common under Diocletian. The ritual expressions of recognition of the divinity of the emperor included the offering of incense and the celebration of the adventus ceremony at his arrival in a city. Both were later used to celebrate saints and relics. The specific adjectives designating holy men and saints (hagios, sanctus) also had their antecedents in the imperial cult.

2 Orestes' bones were moved from Tegea to Sparta (Herodotus, Histories, 1: 65-8).

3 E. Lucius, DieAnfange des Heiligenkults; H. Usener, Legenden der heiligen Pelagia.

4 J. Jeremias, Heiligengraber in Jesu Umwelt.

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