religion in pompeii and herculaneum l.
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Religion in Pompeii and Herculaneum. Foreign Cults. Foreign cults. Other. Greek. Egyptian.

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Religion in Pompeii and Herculaneum

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foreign cults
Foreign cults




greek religion
Devotion to Greek Gods was common in Pompeii before the eruption. Idols such as Hercules, Dionysus and Apollo were openly worshipped as seen through a collection of temples, statues and frescoes found in Pompeii and Herculaneum. Some Roman Deities were versions of Greek gods, an example being the Patron of Pompeii, Venus, who was based on the Greek Goddess Aphrodite. Greek Religion

There are a number of Greek temples including the Doric Temple the Temple of Apollo and the Temple of Bacchus each situated in or near Pompeii. Hercules is also believed to have been the founder of Herculaneum, there are a number of statues and frescoes depicting the god but no temple has yet been excavated.


Fresco from Herculaneum , Hercules and Omphale.

This painting displays Hercules stands beside the enthroned Lydian Queen Omphale. Above him is the winged goddess Nike, and a Satyr-boy or the god Pan holding a set of pipes. By his feet are an eagle, a lion, and the hero's infant son Telephos suckling a doe.

There is a substantial amount of sources from the towns of Herculaneum and Pompeii that depict the Greek god Hercules including “the Doric-style temple in the Triangular forum…believed to have been dedicated to Hercules.”


mosaic from house of mysteries pompeii
Mosaic from House of Mysteries, Pompeii

This mosaic portrays the Greek god Dionysus who was given the Roman name Bacchus. He was the god of fertility and divine intoxication and was especially popular in this area due to the high number of wine growers in the region. The Roman senate discouraged this cult due to its secret and excessive nature, however it was not forbidden. The temple of Dionysus can be found outside of Pompeii’s walls.

“This cult at its least exacting level, tended to succumb to mere sensuality, with the afterlife pictured as a sexy debauch; and many were the drinking and dining clubs that assumed the exalted patronage of Bacchus.”

temple of apollo pompeii
Temple of Apollo, Pompeii

Apollo, god of light, was of Greek origins believed to have been introduced into Pompeii in the 6th Century BC. The Roman Emperor Augustus adopted Apollo as his patron and associated the god with his “Golden Age.”

The temple of Apollo was very important and elaborate, being situated on the western end of the forum in Pompeii.

egyptian cults cult of isis
Egyptian Cults: Cult of Isis

The cult of the Egyptian goddess, Isis, was a widespread religion in Pompeii and Herculaneum. Believed to have originated in this region either through trade, or “foreign women” as suggested by Louise Zarmati in Women and Eros. The Temple of Isis is situated near the Theatres and was one of the first temples to be rebuilt after the earthquake of 62AD. The Cult was open to a both sexes though “nearly one-third of worshippers mentioned in the inscriptions are female.” There is a considerable amount of evidence of the presence of this cult in Herculaneum but no temple has been found so far.

fresco from temple of isis pompeii
Fresco from temple of Isis, Pompeii

This painting depicts Isis receiving Io at Canopus. Io is carried before Isis on the back of a dark-skinned Egyptian god. She is crowned with a pair of cow horns. Isis sits with an adder coiled around her arm, and beside her son Harpokrates with finger pressed to his lips.

This fresco is useful as it provides evidence on the nature of Isis and also depicts some of the implements used in the cult.

fresco from herculaneum depicting rituals of the cult of isis
Fresco from Herculaneum depicting rituals of the Cult of Isis.

The worship of Isis is depicted in this wall-painting from Herculaneum. Through this fresco the rituals and practices of the cult can be extracted as well as evidence that the worship of Isis took place in this region.

temple of isis pompeii
Temple of Isis, Pompeii

The Temple of Isis was one of the first public buildings to be repaired after the Earthquake in 62AD, establishing the significance of the cult. It was surrounded by high walls to maintain secrecy and inside there were a variety of statues and paintings depicting the Egyptian goddess. There is a considerable amount of evidence of the presence of this cult in Herculaneum but no temple has been found so far.

fresco from the temple of isis
Fresco from the Temple of Isis

This fresco displays a priest of the cult of Isis reading a scroll of papyrus held out in front of him. It is useful as it provides information on the dress of the priests of the cult as well as its practices. This is one of the many paintings depicting Egyptian priests with shaved heads.

other cults sabazius christianity and judaism
Other Cults:Sabazius, Christianity and Judaism

There is also evidence of other cults in the towns of Pompeii and Herculaneum. Through cult objects found in Pompeii the presence of the cult of Sabazius has been suggested. There is various evidence for the existence of Judaism including graffito of Judaic names, frescoes and the presence of Jews in nearby areas. There is much speculation as to whether Christianity was practiced, however, there is no concluding evidence to support this.

fresco of venus and mars from the house of mars and venus pompeii
Fresco of Venus And Marsfrom the House of Mars And Venus, Pompeii.

This fresco illustrates Venus (Aphrodite) in the arms of Mars (Ares) the god of war. Their sons, the winged Cupid (Eros) and wingless Formido (Phobos), play with the arms of the god.

This painting in particular displays the similarities in Roman and Greek religion, with many Greek idols being transformed into Roman deities.

hand of sabazius
Hand of Sabazius

Sabazius was the god of vegetation from Thrace (Northern Greece) and Phrygia (Asia Minor). Several of these bronze hands have been found in both Pompeii and Herculaneum. “ The bronze hands are interpreted as ‘mantic hands,’ that is ritual hands that were used in a rite of divination or soothsaying. The fingers are arranged in gesture of blessing and in the palm of the hand is a seated figure of Sabazius.”

judgement of solomon house of the physician pompeii
Judgement of Solomon, House of the Physician, Pompeii.

This fresco represents the Old Testament story of the Judgement of Solomon, as well as several sources of Graffiti suggest the presence of Judaism in Pompeii and Herculaneum before the eruption.