The idea of the divine character of the sovereign was transmitted to the individual national monarchies in which the Alexander empire remained fragmented. Greece, once again detached from Macedonia, abandoned to itself, counted for nothing, neither towards the east, where Macedonia took its place, nor towards the west, where Rome ended up enslaving it. By now reduced the polis to a fictitious existence in the illusory preservation of its freedoms under effective foreign domination, the ancient religion that in the polis and for the polis it had lived became impoverished and exhausted and did nothing but survive itself. The corrosive criticism of certain philosophical schools (Epicureanism, skepticism), as well as of Evemero’s equally dissolving system, continued to be exercised against traditional religion, which reduced the gods to ancient rulers and benefactors of humanity. More conservative, at least in appearance, was the allegorical interpretation, which accepted traditional myths and gods, but beyond the literal sense, it saw in them, often with the help of naive etymologies, the expression of hidden truths.
The Greek civilization, together with the language, conquered the East, continuing that unifying mission which on the political ground had failed due to the too ephemeral duration of the Greek-Macedonian empire. But in the field of religion the penetration was more superficial than effective. There was some syncretistic religious formation of an official character, such as the religion of Serapis founded by Ptolemy I in Egypt with the task of religiously unifying the ruled with the rulers. But in general the syncretism of the divine figures was only nominal (interpretatio graeca); and under the new Greek names the divinities of the ancient barbarian cults continued to live, sometimes even preserving the indigenous names: Anatolians, Syriacs, Phoenicians, Egyptians, etc.
Instead the oriental religiosity, rich in ancient and inexhaustible saps, invading the Greek world in its turn, penetrated more deeply, assuming the fulfillment of those religious needs which the traditional Greek religion was less and less able to satisfy. Cults of oriental divinities spread widely and found numerous followers, especially the mystery cults, the mystery religions of Attis, of Osiris and – later – of Mithras (the latter, however, very little represented in Greece proper). Consequently, the ancient Hellenic mysteries also had a new increase and splendor, especially the Cabiric ones of Samothrace, to which the reigning houses of Macedonia and Egypt were abundant with protection and generous donations. Religious associations flourished, no longer, as in the past, within the polis, but inside and outside it, overcoming territorial boundaries and social differences, a prelude to that special type of religious society which is the church. Religious proselytism was then practiced, which classical Greece had ignored, except perhaps in Orphism. And the propaganda spirit was communicated even to certain philosophical schools (cynical and stoic). Faith in the miracle made more and more people rush to the sanctuaries of the healing and rescuing divinities: miraculous healings, prodigious divine interventions in difficult moments were put in writing for greater glory and exaltation of the power and “virtue” of the god (aretalogie) . Magicians and fortune-tellers, thaumaturges and charlatans (Apollonius of Tyana, Alexander of Abonuticus, etc.), fascinated the crowds. Superstitious and mantic practices multiplied. New forms of magic came into use: the arcane virtue of the spoken or written word was believed; we used formulas, systems of numbers, combinations of purely phonetic, meaningless letters, especially in alphabetical succession. The whole picture of religious life was radically changed; and along with new practices came new ideas and new beliefs. The Eastern ideas of salvation (soteriology), of divine sovereignty (κύριος), of fatality, of the astral influences on which the destiny of man depends (astrology), etc., spread widely.
The invasion of all these religious elements of oriental origin counts not only for itself, for the innovations it introduces from outside, but also for its repercussions within the Greek religion itself, for the vivifying, galvanizing action that the new currents exert on those related religious forms which, crushed by the religion of the polis, had continued to live in the shadows and now finally reappeared in full light. Orphism, mysteries, superstition, magic: the whole world of extra-civic religiosity now found its outlet in the great river of oriental religiosity. Posidonius attempted the synthesis between this and Greek thought. The Stoics proceeded to a systematic interpretation of traditional religion by means of allegory, etymology, demonology. Dualism, the pessimism, mysticism, already present in Plato, were accentuated in the schools of the Neo-Platonists (Plotinus) and Neo-Pythagoreans (Iamblichus). Philosophy itself came to pose as a religion. Science, which had previously targeted traditional religion, also approached the type of oriental science, intimately connectedab origin with religion. Astrology flourished, in connection with the beliefs on stellar influences. Alchemy was cultivated, based on the concept of an arcane sympathy between the realms of nature. Religion also wanted to be a knowledge of a mystical nature, a gnosis (Gnosticism, Hermeticism, etc.).
All this ended up undermining the very foundations of traditional Greek religion. When Julian attempted a restoration of paganism, he saw that he could no longer rely on the Olympic religion, and turned to the religion of mysteries. Valentinian, prohibiting in 364 d. C. all nocturnal religious feasts, however, had to make an exception for the Eleusinian mysteries, whose sanctuary was destroyed in 394. The work of Pausanias tells us how much of the ancient Greek religion was still alive in the small provincial centers and in the countryside in the sec. II d. C. Nor was it entirely destroyed with the triumph of Christianity, but it survived and still survives in the folklore of modern Greece. The reduction of gods to demons, with which ancient thought had come to explain the immorality of traditional gods (as evil demons).