In Mytilene, the capital of the island Lesbos, and then in Lampsacus Epicurus taught and gained followers. In Athens Epicurus bought a property for his school called "Garden", later the name of Epicurus' school. Its members included Hermarchus, Idomeneus, Colotes, Polyaenus, and Metrodorus. Epicurus emphasized friendship as an important ingredient of happiness, and the school seems to have been a moderately ascetic community which rejected the political limelight of Athenian philosophy. They were fairly cosmopolitan by Athenian standards, including women and slaves. Some members were also vegetarians as, from slender evidence, Epicurus did not eat meat, although no prohibition against eating meat was made.
The school's popularity grew and it became, along with Stoicism, Platonism, Peripateticism, and Pyrrhonism, one of the dominant schools of Hellenistic philosophy, lasting strongly through the later Roman Empire. Another major source of information is the Roman politician and philosopher Cicero, although he was highly critical, denouncing the Epicureans as unbridled hedonists, devoid of a sense of virtue and duty, and guilty of withdrawing from public life. Another ancient source is Diogenes of Oenoanda, who composed a large inscription at Oenoanda in Lycia.
Deciphered carbonized scrolls obtained from the library at the Villa of the Papyri in Herculaneum contain a large number of works by Philodemus, a late Hellenistic Epicurean, and Epicurus himself, attesting to the school's enduring popularity. Diogenes reports slanderous stories, circulated by Epicurus' opponents. With growing dominance of Neoplatonism and Peripateticism, and later, Christianity, Epicureanism declined. By the late third century CE, there was little trace of its existence. The early Christian writer Lactantius criticizes Epicurus at several points throughout his Divine Institutes. In Dante Alighieri's Divine Comedy, the Epicureans are depicted as heretics suffering in the sixth circle of hell. In fact, Epicurus appears to represent the ultimate heresy. The word for a heretic in the Talmudic literature is "Apiqoros" (אפיקורוס).
In the 17th century the French Franciscan priest, scientist and philosopher Pierre Gassendi wrote two books forcefully reviving Epicureanism. Shortly thereafter, and clearly influenced by Gassendi, Walter Charleton published several works on Epicureanism in English. Attacks by Christians continued, most forcefully by the Cambridge Platonists.
In the early modern period, scientists adopted atomist theories, while materialist philosophers embraced Epicurus' hedonist ethics and restated his objections to natural teleology.