Religion was an important part of everyday life in Pompeii and Herculaneum. It defined the way in which society went about things, and had a large influence in both towns. There were many differing religions available to the people of Pompeii and Herculaneum, ranging from foreign cults like that of the Egyptian god Isis, to cults that believed the emperor himself to be a god. All of these differing religions seem to be openly accepted and therefore indicates a fairly open societal mind when it came to religion.
Evidence supporting this ideal teaches us about how they followed religion and the methods and locations for which they celebrated and worshipped associated deities. As religion was so integral to the people, it was important to have religion in the home. The lararium in the House of Vettii is an excellent example of this. A lararium is a room in the home in which the Lares or household gods of the house owners were worshipped. These proceedings were led by the paterfamilias or ‘father of the house’, who essentially acted as a priest within the home.
Inside the lararium it could be any real kind of depiction of the god or gods being worshipped, including frescoes and small statues. Analysing this, it is evident that religion was part of everyday life, but not just in temples. It was on a more personal and intimate level, with the home occupants worshipping the gods most relevant to them. This ability to almost ‘pick and choose’ indicates a great deal of freedom within the ideas of religion and implies, in essence, a polytheistic society who is accepting of foreign ideals. Foreign god and goddesses seem to have permeated the religious scene in Pompeii and Herculaneum.
Isis was an Egyptian god, who was seen to be the perfect mother, wife and the patroness of nature and magic by the Roman people. She was also said to be friend to slaves, sinners, artisans and the downtrodden, as well as listening to the prayers of the rich. She promised her devotees eventual salvation and a perpetual relationship in life and death. Source 2 is the temple of Isis, a place in which people devoted to this foreign god could worship and pay homage to her. Devoting one’s self to her worship was in direct relation to the acquisition of knowledge, something which could only be attained via a gift from the gods.
It was located near the large theatre, close to the Stabian gate. From this temple, we see how important it was that the Roman people had someone whom would forgive them for the sins and listen to their prayers and concerns about their lives. The emperor of Pompeii was considered to be the ultimate power, and was located atop the social hierarchy accordingly. Emperors considered themselves not as kings but as leaders of the republic, possibly making them so appealing. They were given supposed divine status, making them extremely important to everyday people.
Source 3 is the temple of Vespasian, a Roman emperor who ruled from 69AD to 79AD. Worshiping their emperor was considered to be a citizen’s patriotic duty, and this importance is evidence through the temple located at the forum. The presence of an altar in the centre of the temple indicates that sacrifices or offerings were tributed to Vespasian, implying his status was similar to that of a regular god. From this as a whole, we see the importance of the emperor on the lives of the people and how his role was intertwined with a religious purpose that made him much more important.
It is also indicative that single gods themselves, rather than an entire religion, were significant in their own aspects. In ancient Roman society, the worship of deities was directly related to the effects and control that they had over everyday life. Each god or goddess was related to their own individual aspect or ideal and were worshipped accordingly by the people in which they affected. The fresco of Bacchus and Vesuvius in source 4 comes from a lararium. It depicts the god of wine and a coiled serpent, the good god who was protector of the household, standing next to Vesuvius.
It is indicative that the presence of the household protector was to have the home under protection of the gods, and the presence of the god of wine, pictured where wine vineyards were grown, indicates a farming household who wanted a good harvest. From this evidence, we again see this picking and choosing of gods in relation to religion, as well as the overall importance of worship to the people. The idea of mythology and preserving the tales that detailed the feats of the gods appears to be an important part of religion, not only in ancient Roman societies, but everywhere as myths seem to be an important part of a religions foundation.
When Herculaneum was discovered, it was considered to be done so by the Greek demi god Hercules. This ideal, as well as Hercules himself, seems to be important to the people of Herculaneum, as depicted by the basilica. Inside are frescos that depict Hercules and some of the events that happened within his life, like the fresco of him acknowledging his bastard son Telephus in source 5. This shows us the importance of acknowledging heritage and the strong belief the ancient Romans had in the triumphant tales of their gods.
It emphasises how much religion was intertwined with all aspects of life and how it touched everybody. Foreign ideals, like those of Isis and Hercules, were a very big part of Pompeii and Herculaneum, emphasising its polytheistic view towards not just many gods, but many religions. The statue of Hermes resting atop a small rock was uncovered in the house of papyri in Herculaneum. Hermes was an important part of Greek religion, being the messenger and donning the winged sandals, was a medium between mortals and the gods.
The fact that a statue was constructed to this magnitude in a Roman ‘colony’ indicates just how devoted the people where to foreign ideals. He was protector and patron of travelers, herdsmen, thieves, orators and wit, literature and poets, athletics and sports, invention and trade, implying that the romans may have worshipped him for his protection. As a whole this just strengthens the idea that Pompeii and Herculaneum were accepting of all religions and that their worship was integral to life. All in all, it is clearly evident that religion was extremely important.
So much so that it was intertwined with aspects of politics and everyday life. People worshipped and payed homage to many gods for their protection, patronage and blessings and lived their lives according to the values and ideals that came with them. Religion seems to permeate through all aspects of both towns, making it arguably one of the most important aspects due to its significance in terms of all people.
* Peter Clements, 2002,AD79 Destruction and Re-discovery, 17/11/12, https://sites. google. com/site/ad79eruption/home * Wikipedia,2003,Paterfamilias,17/11/12, http://en. ikipedia. org/wiki/Pater_familias * Tim Adams,2003,Pompeii,17/11/12, http://timothyadams_1. tripod. com/campagnia/pompeii/pompeii2000. htm * Christopher Botham,2008,World Architecture Map,17/11/12, http://www. worldarchitecturemap. org/buildings/temple-of-vespasian-pompeii-forum * Wikipedia,2002,Hermes,18/11/12, http://en. wikipedia. org/wiki/Hermes * Cameron, Kate & Lawless,Jennifer,2006,Secrets of Vesuvius, Thomson Nelson, Melbourne * Bradley, Pamela,2005,Cities of Vesuvius Pompeii and Herculaneum, Cambridge, Melbourne * Hurley, Metcalf, Murray, Rolph,