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Religon in Pompeii and Herculaneum Essay

“The study of Pompeii and Herculaneum provides us with a wealth of sources – However we are faced with issues regarding their limitations, reliability and evaluation.” This report will assess the truth of the above statement referring to religious practices in Pompeii and Herculeuim such as local, state, household and foreign religion. Though the abundance of sources in Pompeii and Herculaneum archaeologists and researchers can gather and evaluate the importance of religion in these two regions, however there may be issues with reliability. Both the cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum were influenced by foreign customs and religions, due to links with other cities through commerce and trade. Worship of Greek Deities was not uncommon before the eruption many gods such as Dionysus (roman name Bacchus) and Hercules were worshiped through temples and, frescos and statues; most Roman deities were based on the 12 major Greek gods for example The patron Goddess of Pompeii , Venus was based on the Greek goddess Aphrodite.

There are many primary sources and evidence from the town of Herculaneum a fresco (primary source) named “Hercules and Omphale” were found in the Villa Of Mysteries, this is a confirmation of Greek influence on Roman religion. Other foreign cults in Pompeii are under scrutiny such as the Temple of Isis, when did the people of Pompeii become exposed to this Egyptian based cult? The cult of Isis was one of the most successful and influential foreign based cults in the Campania region, there is a wealth of evidence of this cult with over twenty Lalaria with images of Isis and statuettes, there is much less evidence of The cult of Isis’s presence in Herculaneum, a temple has not yet been discovered however a large statue of Isis has been found.

There are minimal sources and primary evidence of foreign cults such as Judaism and Sabazius in Pompeii and Herculaneum though cult objects were found that could have a link to the Sabazius cult, however there is no conclusive evidence, an artefact found that could be linked to the cult includes two right hands made of bronze which in turn can be compared to a right hand made of bronze found in Herculaneum. There is evidence of Judaism being practiced in these towns this is evident through frescos and graffiti the name David was found in Herculaneum as well as the name Mary in Pompeii both these names are of Jewish Origin and suggests this religion was practiced in these cities however research shows that these names could just refer to tradesmen rather than a resident in Pompeii or Herculaneum.

There has been speculation of the practice of Christianity in these cities though there is no conclusive evidence, In Herculaneum on a buildings wall a mark on a wall was found of what could be a cross this is the main source of speculation, however the cross was not used as a symbol of faith until after the 5th century AD. Other temples have been found in Pompeii and Herculaneum such as the temples of Jupiter, Minerva and Juno these temples give great insight into foreign based religion and it’s influence based on evidence and the study of primary and secondary written sources though through a lack of sources and limitations there is still a lot to be learnt about foreign based cults in Pompeii and Herculaneum. State religion in Pompeii and Herculaneum is evident and can be closely linked with foreign religion and influence, many of the deities were grouped based on place of origin this system had begun during the settlement of the Oscan’s, Greek gods were often depicted in wall paintings as well as Roman gods such as Minerva and each had an allocated space at the temple of Capitoline at the forum in Pompeii, each city in turn had a patron god Pompeii is still under speculation as to who the patron god would be however evidence suggests Venus, Herculaneum’s patron god was Hercules.

State religion was mainly based on the Worship of Juno, Minerva and Jupiter in the Capitolium. State religion was loosely intertwined with Politics and example of this is the development of the imperial cult during the rule of Augustus, the temples of Vespian and Fortuna Augusta, This was due to the imperial worship of Emperors in which public worship took place in the Capitoline, The temple of Apollo was said to be directly linked to the worship of Augustus who had elected Apollo his patron god after his success in the battle of Actium (31 BC) There has been evidence to prove the link between the temple of Vespian and the Fortuna Augustus were a tool of displaying political loyalty to the emperor this has been decided after an examination of artefacts such as a marble alter which stands in the Vespian temple depicts a scene of a bull being sacrificed.

On the back of the alter shows a wreath of oak leaves and two Laurel trees, which is a symbol of the senates award (which is given to a man who has saved another’s life) which suggests it dates back so the ruling or Augustus, as well as another three statues. Members of Pompeii and Herculaneum were usually expected to partake in religious rituals as they believed that their lives were bound to the gods and prevented misfortune and created prosperity. Local shopkeepers, crafts people and businessmen alike followed the same practices, to protect their livelihood and businesses. The Lares were the guardian spirit believed to have ward evil, the shrine that was dedicated to the Lares was called a Lalarium and was located at the point of entry into a building, as well as personal shrines there were communal shrines for the Lares of the city over thirty have been found.

Household religion is a very important part of any citizen’s life and was practiced daily and the people believed that honouring the spirits would cause great fortune and contentment. Usually the routine a family would follow daily is the household gathering around the Lalarium which was usually lactated near the kitchen while the head of the family places an offering of food and wine while praying for the family’s safety as well as a praising the Penates, Genius and Fortuna. There are many artefacts and sources that confirm the use of household religion, such as paintings, shrines statuettes and scrolls; however written sources are not always accurate as they are secondary.

Pompeii and Herculaneum contains a wealth of sources, though there may be gaps of information, the use of primary and secondary sources as well as written and physical artefacts it can be thought that foreign cults had a large impact on both these towns as well as household, state and local religion. There however will always be a lack of sources and information.


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