You're not in Syria anymore

Hazel
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Joined: 2008-12-01

I smiled when I read in Charles Kightly’s 1986 book ‘Traveler’s Guide to Places of Worship’, “...on rainswept Hadrian’s wall, Syrian archers dedicated altars to Hittite weather gods”.

 

I’m sure they did – Ha!

 

 

Be well,

Hazel



Hazel
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Posts: 31
Joined: 2008-12-01
Re: You're not in Syria anymore

The entire chapter from Kightly's book:

 

The Gods of Rome

During the 400 years of Roman dominion over Britain, more different deities were worshipped there than at any other time in recorded history. For the Romans were tolerant in matters of religion: they had many gods of their own, & had no objection to adding almost infinitely to their number, so long as certain simple rules were kept. The new deities must not threaten Roman power in any way, & their worship must be carried out without offending the somewhat elastic Roman notions of public decency. Neither must they claim exclusive power (as did the God of the Jews & Christians), for this would be to detract from the official state religion which all citizens were expected to observe, whatever other gods they chose to worship in addition. 

The importance of this last rule sprang from another characteristic of Roman religion, its hard-headed practicality. Their gods were, so to speak, extremely human; if properly honored, they could reasonably be expected to extend their help & protection to mortals, but if ignored or derided, disaster was almost sure to follow. This attitude produced the thousands of altars which even now survive in British museums, vowed to the various gods by men & women who hoped for such benefits as health, wealth, promotion, or good hunting, or who, having received these favors, were fulfilling their side of the bargain by having the altar carved & inscribed. It also produced Roman official religion. Since the benefit which all Roman citizens ought to desire most was the well-being of Rome itself, it was clearly necessary that the city’s particular guardian gods should be regularly & publicly placated lest they withdraw their support. These guardian deities—Jupiter “Greatest & Best”, Minerva, & Juno—therefore had temples in most large Roman towns, & at least an altar in every Roman fort. They were soon constrained to share public worship with the emperor himself. Most emperors were deified by decree after their death—the dying Vespasian is supposed to have joked, “Dear me, I must be turning into a god”—& divine honors were paid to their “genius” or guardian spirit, which amounted to much the same thing. The birthdays of current emperors & the anniversaries of their most famous predecessors (like Augustus) were occasions for public sacrifices or oxen, & for official rejoicings organized by magistrates or garrison commanders, which all good citizens were expected to attend. 

Perhaps the most famous Roman temple in Britain was that of the deified Emperor Claudius at Colchester, whose remains can still be seen beneath the great Norman castle later built on its site. Constructed within a decade of the invasion as the centerpiece of a showpiece Roman city, this huge & lavish place of worship attracted the particular hatred of the conquered Britons who viewed it as “a citadel of perpetual slavery”. When the warrior-queen Boudica of the Iceni rose against Roman rule in AD 61, the temple of Claudius became a target, especially since the garrison of Colchester attempted to make a last stand there. After 2 days of fierce fighting, the temple was stormed & taken, its defenders being either massacred or preserved only for sacrifice in the groves of the Celtic goddess Andrasta. The life sized statue of the god-emperor himself was symbolically decapitated, its head being carried off in triumph as a trophy. It came to light in 1907 in the bed of a nearby river, where it had either been thrown as an offering to the water god or, more probably, hastily deposited as incriminating evidence after the defeat of the revolt. When more peaceful times returned, emperor worship increasingly came to be seen as a necessary but fairly meaningless aspect of Roman state religion. 

To satisfy their spiritual needs, the inhabitants of Roman Britain might turn to the classical deity of their particular trade or calling, such as Mars for soldiers, Vulcan for blacksmiths, or Nemesis for gladiators, or to the gorgeous ceremonial & secret rites of eastern “mystery” cults. London had a temple of the Egyptian goddess Isis, & perhaps others dedicated to the orgiastic wine-god Bacchus & to the equally abandoned worship of Cybele, with its self-castrating priesthood. Doubtless these last deities had originally been imported by citizens who originated in other parts of the Empire, for the population of Roman Britain was remarkably cosmopolitan—Roman York had inhabitants born as far afield as Greece, Sardinia, & North Africa—& the army was more cosmopolitan yet, each unit tending to cling to its own gods. Thus, on rain swept Hadrian’s wall, Syrian archers dedicated altars to Hittite weather gods & to a Syrian version of Venus, while German auxiliaries invoked the Mother-goddesses, of their native tribe. Nearly always, the worshippers of these visiting deities equated them with the classical gods they most nearly resembled in appearance & powers, endowing them with a dual personality & a double-barreled name like Jupiter Dolichenus or Venus Syriaca. 

Others perhaps feeling that the gods of their homeland were too far distant to provide really effective aid, adopted the local deities of Celtic Britain as their own, a practice common to Roman soldiers wherever they were stationed. The gods of Rome, however, had clearly defined fields of influence—war, love, family life, & so on—the Celtic gods were much more shadowy & indefinite beings, sometimes shifting from single to triple form & rarely consenting to be tied down to a consistent line of work. The horned deity Belatucadros (‘the bright beautiful one’) was usually regarded by his Roman worshippers as a version of their war god Mars, or Mercury, or sometimes with the woodland spirit Silvanus. Often the rustic gods of northern Britain were linked with Silvanus, the Roman Pan, & were invoked by off-duty soldiers who hoped for good hunting. 

British deities seem to have found favor among the Roman garrison of Hadrian’s Wall. A most popular one was Brigantia (‘the High One’), the guardian goddess of the northern tribe called the Brigantes; she was usually depicted as a warrior queen, often worshipped as a personification of Victory, or of their own war goddess Minerva. Other native warrior deities recognized included Camulos & Lugh, who gave their names respectively to ‘Camulodunum’ (later Colchester) & ‘Luguvalium’ (now Carlisle). Maponus, ‘the divine son’ appears to have been venerated particularly around the western end of Hadrian’s Wall, where he is still commemorated by the town name of Lochmaben in Dumfries & Galloway. All over Britain, Roman & Romanized Britons honored the mysterious trio of Celtic gods called ‘the hooded ones’, who are invariably shown swathed in hooded cloaks. Other British gods whose worship persisted into Roman times were Taranis, a thunder god; Mataunus, ‘the sacred bear’; the stag headed Cernunnos; & Succellus ‘the good striker’ who the Romans may have equated with their club-bearing Hercules, & who is perhaps represented by the famous Cerne Giant at Cern Abbas. 

Some of these part-Romanized British gods were worshipped over a fairly wide area, but others—including the guardians of holy wells & sacred springs—were very much more localized. Among these were Coventina, who enjoyed enormous popularity at Carrawburgh on Hadrian’s wall, & Sul Minerva, who watched over the healing waters of Bath. British deity Nodens, the traces of whose temple survive at Lydney in Gloucestershire, was likewise a god of healing—& the reverse, to judge from the curses scratched on lead & deposited at his shrine.  

This shrine, surprisingly enough, was built in the later 300s, when the multifarious minor gods of Roman Britain had long been under extreme pressure from the newcomers. Probably the first of these to arrive, during the 100s, was the originally Persian god Mithras the Bullslayer, ‘the Lord of Light & Life’ who was seen as locked in eternal battle with the powers of darkness. Especially popular with soldiers, he has left more evidence in Britain of his cult than any other Roman god, & the traveler can still view remains of his temples at Carrawburth & in London. His worshippers had to pass through terrifying ordeals before being admitted to the terrifying ordeals before being admitted to the exclusive circle of initiates, usually by a rite of baptism in the blood of an animal: the richest devotees, indeed, lay in a ceremonial trench above which a bull was slaughtered, soaking them in its blood. Thereafter they joined a close & powerful freemasonry, sworn to aid each other in all worldly affairs & to honor Mithras above all other gods.  

The worship of Mithras did not entirely exclude other deities, for his London temple also contained images of the Egyptian Serapis & perhaps of Bacchus, while his Carrawburgh shrine held a statue of Coventina. But the second of the newcomers would brook no rivals whatever, & when the first Christian missionaries arrived in Britain they were persecuted for refusing to observe even the formalized sham of emperor worship. In AD 312, however, Christianity itself became the official state religion not only of Britain but of the whole Empire. Though the old paganism was to linger on for another century or more, the death knell of the gods of Rome had been sounded.



Astrocelt
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Posts: 753
Joined: 2007-09-15
Re: You're not in Syria anymore

Interesting to hear of this, I was wondering what other altars could be found along Hadrian Wall and to whom these may also be dedicated too. There is also an altar to Mithra of Persian at Carrawburgh, another to Matres a mother goddess at Milecastle, Matres were very prolific in Gaul and Europe. While at Housesteads an alter to Alaisiagae being Germanic deities. Plus an additional seventeen altars has recently been found at the Camp Farm, so I wonder who these may be dedicated too.