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Religion in Pompeii and Herculaneum

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Cities of Vesuvius - Pompeii and Herculaneum In the 1st century AD there was a myriad of religions within the Roman Empire. The colonies of Pompeii and Herculaneum were no exception. The evidence of religious belief and practice comes mainly from the remains of temples and altars within the two colonies. Pompeii, as a trading port, was in contact with countless other cultures, each trade ship and foreign vessel bringing with it a new religion, or a variation of an old one. Whilst the main Roman gods of the Capitoline Triad were worshipped within Pompeii and Herculaneumi, they appear to have been held in less favor by the Pompeian people. Archaeological evidence indicates the Pompeian's appeared to prefer the goddess Venus Pompeiana, protector of Pompeii. Household gods, called Lares or Penates, were highly respected by the individual households of Pompeii and Herculaneum, with shrines and temples found throughout the two towns. However, practiced amongst these more traditional Roman religions were the foreign religions, or the Mystery Cults. The Cult of Isis was particularly favored in Pompeii and the worship of Dionysus was nearly as popular as Isis with the people of Pompeii, who for the most part enjoyed a very hedonistic lifestyle. No large temples have been found in the small proportion of Herculaneum excavated to date, but a shrine of the Augustales including a section devoted to Hercules, provides evidence of the Imperial Cult and two small temples provide evidence of the worship of Venus, Mercury, Minerva, Vulcan and Neptune. ...read more.


They were frequently represented in pairs of dancing figures in short tunics, offering wineviii. In many cases images of ancestors shared space with the Lares and Penates. After the eruption surviving citizens erected a temple, the Temple of the Lares on the site of the Forum. It was thought that widespread neglect of these gods had caused the eruption of Vesuvius. Of all the mystery cults, the Cult of Isis claimed the largest following. As the patron of sailors, it is easy to see why a town that relied primarily on sea trade found the goddess an attractive choice. Although the cult was originally the favorite of slaves and freedmen, as it grew in popularity it also grew in wealth. The popularity of Isis was helped by her readiness to merge with other more traditionally established religions. Isis was a "giver of life, protector of the family, a goddess of healing and deliverance" (Ling, pg. 109). Adherents were not confined to one group. Slaves were allowed to join the cult and women were able to attain positions of power within the temple hierarchy. One third of the names in the cult inscriptions were female. Worshippers of Isis met at the temple twice a day for special services: at dawn to celebrate the rising of the sun, symbolising the rebirth of Osiris, and in the early afternoon for the ceremony of the water, where Nile water was blessed as the source of all life. ...read more.


iv Site of the Temple of Venus. As excavators found several uncut stones on the northern side of the site, it is assumed that restoration was underway. v Painting of Venus in a shell, found in the garden of the House of the Marine Venus. Gilded image of Venus, her foot supported by Cupid, her arm leaning Priapus, a fertility god recognized by his oversized phallus that has broken off in this example. vi Map of the Forum, with the Temple of Apollo outlined in purple. Note positioning of other building in relation to Forum. vii These were the shrines to the Lares and Penates. viii Painting of Lares and a Genius (advising spirit of the house) on the lararium in the House of the Vetti. The snake symbol seems to have represented a benevolent spirit protecting the house from evil. ix x The Temple of Isis today, compared to the image depicted in endnote ix. xi Inscription reads "Numerius Popidius Celsinus, son of Numerius, paid for the Temple of Isis to be rebuilt from its foundations which had collapsed as a result of the earthquake. To repay his generosity, the decurions accepted him into their order free of charge although he was only six years old." xii This is one example of Dionysian art. This wall painting shows various aspects of the cult of Dionysus. Found in the Villa of the Mysteries. xiii Inscription plate in the College of the Augustales. xiv A small roofless shrine. ...read more.

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