Religious Expression of Greeks and Romans

Word Count: 1346 |

Religious Expression of Greeks and Romans

Randy Golembieski

University of Phoenix

The ancient Greeks believed their gods were an immortal family. This immortal family would have a direct impact on their daily lives. They believed that these gods influenced the growth of their crops, disease epidemics, victory or defeat in war and victories in sporting events (Sacks, 2005). The Greeks felt close to their gods and expected the gods to be influenced by prayer and the sacrifice of animals and crops. Today religion is considered a private practice and separated from civil government. The ancient Greeks viewed religion expression to be practiced in public. The Greeks worshiped 12 major gods, each of them having the power over a human aspect of life. The gods the Greeks worshiped were Zeus, the sky god and Hera, Zeus’s wife, Zeus and Hera were the ruling gods. Poseidon, god of the sea; Apollo, god of light, medicine, and music; Dionysus, god of wine and vegetation; Athena, goddess of wisdom and war; Demeter, god of agriculture and grain, Hermes, male messenger of the gods; Hephaestus, god of fire and metallurgy; Ares, god of war and strife; Artemis, god of hunting, wildlife and the moon (Fiero, 2006). These 12 gods were known as the 12 Olympian gods who lived in Zeus’s palace in the sky atop Mt. Olympus. The people of Greece had no sacred text or scripture reading to guide their religious expression. Myths were the mechanism which ended up influencing people to create god figures to worship. The Greek gods were imagined to be similar to humans and to have the same kinds of emotions and flaws such as anger, sexual desire and cruelty. The myths supporting these god figures were mostly passed on by oral traditions and eventually written down and used for topics in poetry and drama (Adkins & Adkins, 2005). The Greeks built temples for their gods. These temples were not a place like the churches of today where people would gather and congregate for a mass or ceremony. The temples were created to be a sanctuary for a god where small groups of people would gather to pray or sacrifice. Prayer and sacrifices in the temples could be conducted by worshipers without a priest being present. In most religions today prayer ceremonies are conducted where a priest leads the congregation much different that the ancient Greeks of the past.
The Romans influenced by the Greeks believed in many gods as well. Early Roman religion developed a belief in a triad of gods who shared the same temple. One example of this sharing of a temple was the gods of Jupiter, Juno and Minerva who later became known as the Capitoline Triad (Adkins & Adkins, 2004). Roman religion differed than Greek religion in that the practice of religious rituals was dictated by the government to be performed in a certain manner. The government established a hierarchy of priests and officials led by the king to make requests to perform rites and sacrifices to the gods in order to benefit the community as a whole. As the Roman community grew religion became closely related to politics and society. This created a state religion that would grow with the Roman society as gods were absorbed from other cultures including Greek gods from colonies in Italy (Adkins & Adkins, 1996). The Roman religious practice also differed than the Greeks religious expression in that the Romans believed in spirits or a divine power rather than a god with human characteristics. The Roman people were free to believe what they wanted to believe about their gods given that any rituals performed were performed in the correct manner as dictated by the government. Similarly the Romans did not have any sacred writing of religious expression early on like the Greeks. With the Roman Empire growing and adopting other religions the state religion remained the most prominent expression of religion through out the empire. However, as eastern nations came under the empire rule these nations were accustomed to worshiping their kings as gods which in the Roman way eventually was adopted by worshipping Roman rulers. The worship of an emperor quickly became a test of the people’s loyalty to Rome. The people of Rome were free to worship gods of their choice as long as they paid homage to the emperor (Adkins & Adkins, 1996). The Roman empire continued to grow and the adoption of other religions continued to include Christianity. The Romans were first made aware of Christianity in scattered Jewish communities outside of Palestine. Missionaries spread the Christian religion into non-Jew communities. Christianity was always conflicting with other religions and civil authorities. As years passed on Christianity spread throughout communities in the empire. Eventually Christianity was blamed for the fires that destroyed much of Rome by Nero in 64 (Adkins & Adkins, 1996). The Christian religion would eventually become a major religion in the Roman empire despite the many emperors that tried to suppress and exterminate the Christian religion. Communities were establishing churches as a place of worship all over the Roman empire. This is much different than in the ancient Greeks times that influenced early Roman practices of several gods to worship. As persecutions of Christians ended Christianity became the religion of the Roman empire and pagan worshiping was banned (Adkins & Adkins, 1996). This is quite a shift in religious expression from when the Romans first started to worship gods with the influence of the Greeks. What started with an attitude of worshipping multiple gods and those gods having a direct influence on daily life, people shifted to a more spiritual faith driven expression where people would worship in congregations to a single god.
Religious beliefs that were started by the ancient Greeks influenced many cultures to include the Romans, the Jews and early Christians. Through the rise and fall of the Roman empire and the spread of Christianity through Greek communities many Greeks still practiced worshipping the Olympian gods even though the temples were ordered closed. Throughout the Greek and Roman time periods religious expression seemed to always be in conflict with either a government state or other religions. Christianity began in conflict with other religions, the Roman Empire and the Jews. Today there still remains a different interpretation of the Christian faith which has lead to the creation of diverse sects and a history of division that exists today (Adkins & Adkins, 1996) Religious attitude and expression is today and will continue to evolve as cultures change and evolve. With the advances of science explaining many natural occurrences today people now seem to rely on a faith of a single god and spiritual worship rather than what the Romans and Greeks in believing several gods.

Reference

Adkins, Lesley., & Adkins, Roy. (2005). Gods and Goddesses of Ancient Greece. Handbook to
Life in Ancient Rome. Retrieved March 3, 2008, from Facts On File database.

Adkins, Lesley., & Adkins, Roy. (2004). Christianity in Ancient Rome. Handbook to Life in
Ancient Rome. Retrieved March 3, 2008, from Facts On File database.

Adkins, Lesley., & Adkins, Roy. (2004). Gods and Goddesses of Ancient Rome. Handbook to
Life in Ancient Rome. Retrieved March 3, 2008, from Facts On File database.

Adkins, Lesley., & Adkins, Roy. (1996). Christianity in Ancient Rome. Dictionary of Roman
Religion. Retrieved March 3, 2008, from Facts On File database.

Adkins, Lesley., & Adkins, Roy. (1996). Religion in Ancient Rome. Handbook to Life in Ancient
Rome. Retrieved March 3, 2008, from Facts On File database.

Fiero, Gloria K. (2006). The Humanistic Tradition (5th ed.). New York: McGraw-Hill.

Sacks, David. (2005). Religion in Ancient Greece. Encyclopedia of the Ancient Greek
World. Retrieved March 2, 2008, from Facts On File database.

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