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For Romans the performance of one’s religious duties was an important
part of being a citizen. All citizens were expected to be involved in
religious rituals as they were believed to be necessary in order to win the
favour of the gods. This would ensure peace, fertility of humans crops
and animals and the prosperity of all. Religion bound mankind to the
gods and united people in their community. The Roman religion was
closely linked with the Greek religion. There were four main gods that
were worshipped in Pompeii and Herculaneum including Apollo, Hercules
or Herakles, Dionysos and Ceres. Other gods that were worshipped
include Minerva, the goddess of crafts and wisdom, Diana, the goddess of
the hunt Hermes or Mercury, the messenger god and his mother Maia.
Apollo, god of sun and music, is considered to have dominion over plague, light,
healing, colonists, medicine, archery, poetry, prophecy, dance, reason,
intellectualism, Shamans, and as the patron defender of herds and flocks. Apollo
had a famous oracle in Crete and other notable ones in Clarus and Branchidae.
Apollo is known as the leader of the Muses and director of their choir. His
attributes include: swans, wolves, dolphins, bows and arrows, a laurel crown, the
cithara (or lyre) and plectrum. The sacrificial tripod is another attribute,
representative of his prophetic powers. It was in the time of Augustus, who
considered himself under the special protection of Apollo and was even said to be
his son, that his worship developed and he became one of the chief gods of
Rome. After the battle of Actium, Augustus enlarged his old temple, dedicated a
portion of the spoil to him, and instituted quinquennial games in his honour. He
also erected a new temple on the Palatine hill and transferred the secular games,
to Apollo and Diana. As god of colonization, Apollo gave guidance on colonies,
especially during the height of colonization,750-550 BC. According to Greek
tradition, he helped Cretan or Arcadian colonists find the city of Troy.
The hero Herakles, son of Zeus, was known for his strength,
courage and perseverance. He was worshipped in pre-Roman
Pompeii and Herculaneum and was continued to be worshipped
until 79AD. He was worshipped by both Greeks and Samnites
before the coming of the Romans. At Pompeii the Doric style
temple in the Triangular forum was believed to be dedicated to
Herakles. From Herculaneum there are a number of statues of
Herakles and frescos depicting the god that suggest he was
worshipped there.
Dionysos was the Greek god of fertility and divine intoxication and was
worshipped in the Samnite period. A Dionysian temple was discovered
outside the town in 1947. The cult of Dionysos in Roman times offered
devotees a state of ecstasy that came from intoxication by the god. One
message of the cult was that the natural passions had to be
acknowledged as having a rightful place for a human society to be stable
and balanced. Dionysian themes are popular in Pompeian decoration and
the gods half animal/half human helpers, the satyrs and his female
devotees, the maenads, were especially popular.
The Greek goddess Demeter, the Roman Ceres was associated with
fertility of the earth, abundant grain and general prosperity, was especially
honoured in the agricultural community. She was very popular in Greek
influenced Campania and at Pompeii there was a public priest Ceres
which can be seen as evidence of the gods worship.
The Roman state cult centred on the worship of The Capitoline Triad:
Jupiter the overall protector of the state, Juno, who’s special care was
women, and Minerva, the patroness of craft workers. Fragments of the
statue of the god Jupiter inside the cult temple survived the eruption.
The Imperial Ruler cult
From the time of Augustus onwards, an imperial ruler cult developed in
the Roman world, possible under the influence of Greek hero cults and
concepts of divine kingship. Julius Caesar had been declared divine by
the Roman senate and his nephew Octavian was honoured as the ‘son of
the divine one’. A temple dedicated to Fortuna Augusta, the divine spirit
associated with peace and good fortune, and was erected at cross-roads
on the north-south street two blocks away from the Pompeii forum.