Religious Syncretisms in the Ancient Mediterranean Region

Military conquests and economic exchanges have been a catalyser in the diversification of the religious landscape of the Ancient Mediterranean region. Indeed, as cultures and religions met and travelled, they gave birth to new divinities, according to the phenomenon of syncretisation. These new divinities were a form of hybrids between already established gods and goddesses in a region and foreign ones brought by the circulation of people between the different regions of the Ancient Mediterranean. Borrowing their powers, attributes, and iconography from the divinities from which they derived, these new gods were worshipped in particular between Egypt, Greece, and Rome. There, it has been possible to find evidence of their cult and religious significance on beautiful items from various categories: jewellery, pottery, bronze sculpture, etc.

Isis-Fortuna

Fortuna was the Roman goddess of good luck and fortune, often represented with a ship’s rudder, symbol of the changeable fortunes of life and a cornucopia, symbol of good luck. Isis was an Egyptian goddess, wife to Osiris and mother to Horus. She was mainly worshiped for her role in the journey to the afterlife but also for her maternal attributes. She was discovered in the 3rd century BC by rich Roman merchants who were attracted by her exoticism and, seeking comfort in the dangers of navigation, associated her with attributes close to those of Fortuna. Isis-Fortuna, the Romano-Egyptian queen and protective goddess – especially at sea – was born.

ancient roman bronze statuette isis fortuna 1

Serapis

cropped serapis intaglio

The cult of Serapis developed largely in the 3rd century BC, under the Hellenistic ruler Ptolemy I Soter. The establishment of a new cult was a political policy to try and unite both the Greek and Egyptian populations after the conquest of Egypt by Alexander the Great. Serapis was a perfect creation for that purpose. Indeed, as the Greeks did not appreciate zoomorphic deities, the god had a human shape. His name, however, was a combination of Osiris, the Egyptian god of death and Apis, the bull deity whose cult was very popular in Lower Egypt. The Greek identified him with Hades and portrayed him with the modus, a grain-measure that represented the land of the dead.

Harpocrates

In Ancient Egyptian culture and mythology Harpa-Khruti (Horus the Child), was the son of the goddess Isis and her husband Osiris. The deity was often depicted as a small boy, with a sidelock of youth and the index finger held to the lips or the chin, a typical Egyptian gesture symbolising childhood and also the Ancient Egyptian hieroglyph for “child”. The deity was later adopted by the Greeks and named Harpocrates, a Hellenised version of his original name. The misinterpretation of the gesture of the finger to the lips led to the association of Harpocrates with silence, hence making him the god of silence, secrets and confidentiality in Ancient Greek and Roman mythology.

harpocrates terracotta statuette

Hermanubis

romano egyptian bronze statue hermanubis 6

Hermanubis was a culmination of two deities: the Greek god of journeys Hermes and the Egyptian god of funeral rites Anubis. Their association was based on a specific type of journeys that Hermes protected; as Hermes Psychopompos, he guided the souls to the afterlife. These funerary roles have merged them together into a single god, represented as an anthropomorphic figure with the head of a canid – like Anubis – and holding the usual attributes of Hermes, especially the caduceus. Helping the souls of the deceased, he was later adopted by the Romans after the establishment of their domination over Egypt in 31 BC.

By Francesca,

  Filed under: Ancient Egypt, Ancient Greece, Ancient Mythology, Ancient Rome, Divinity & Religion   Tags: , ,
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