1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Zalmoxis

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ZALMOXIS, or Zamolxis, a semi-mythical social and religious reformer, regarded as the only true God by the Thracian Getae. According to Herodotus (iv. 94), the Getae, who believed in the immortality of the soul, looked upon death merely as going to Zalmoxis. Every five years they selected by lot one of the tribesmen as a messenger to the god. The man was thrown into the air and caught upon the points of spears. If he did not die, he was considered unfit to undertake the mission and another was chosen. By the euhemeristic Hellespontine Greeks Herodotus was told that Zalmoxis was really a man, formerly a slave of Pythagoras at Samos, who, having obtained his freedom and amassed great wealth, returned to Thrace, and instructed his fellow-tribesmen in the doctrines of Pythagoras and arts of civilization. He taught them that they would pass at death to a certain place, where they would enjoy all possible blessings for all eternity, and to convince them he had a subterranean chamber constructed, to which he withdrew for three years. Herodotus, who declines to commit himself as to the existence of Zalmoxis, expresses the opinion that in any case he must have lived long before the time of Pythagoras. It is probable that Zalmoxis is Sabazius, the Thracian Dionysus or Zeus; Mnaseas of Patrae identified him with Cronus. In Plato (Charmides, 158 B) he is mentioned with Abaris as skilled in the arts of incantation. No satisfactory etymology of the name has been suggested.