Oriental Cults in the Roman Empire

The Romans had a practical attitude towards their gods. Catone the Elder thought there was a sort of contractual relationship between mankind and gods. The early Romans preferred Greek cults and formed a Greco-Roman religion. During the Empire more exotic cults spread in Rome, such as the Egyptian cult of the goddess Isis and that of the Indo-Iranian sun-god Mithras. Also Jewish symbolism can be traced on monuments in the Roman provinces.(see photo below) Another cult coming from East, Christianity, prevailed over all.
Representation of a Jewish Menora,
Titulus of Iudatus and Kassia, Budapest, Hungary. Lupa Nr. 3296

The Romans displayed a remarkable capacity for absorbing foreign gods or cults into their own pantheon. Soldiers posted to different parts of the empire often took with them "exotic" cults from their own places of origin. Some of these spread throughout the empire, including Rome itself. They were often organized as secret societies and involved the worship of gods and goddesses from Asia and Egypt, such as the great mother-goddesses Cybele and Isis. One of the most popular cults among soldiers was the worship of Mithras, the Persian god of heavenly light. There was a Mithraeum, where worshippers held their congregations, in many towns and cities of the empire.

Text compiled by Laura Rudlsdorfer, 5 L, LISA, BRG Auhof





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