Cities of Vesuvius



- Syllabus Content -


Religion: temples, household gods, foreign cults, tombs

See “Mystery Religions” pp.155-159
  • What is a foreign cult?
  • What evidence is there for the cult of Isis?
  • What evidence is there for the cult of Dionysus?

Hellenistic cults. The two most important in Pompeii and Herculaneum were associated with Isis and Dionysus/Bacchus.


Cult of Isis
  • A body of priests.
  • One third of participants were women.
  • Shrines in houses dedicated to the goddess: Villa of Julia Felix; House of the Guilded Cupids (a sacrum dedicated to Isis, Serapis and Anubis).

The cult was a fusion of the Egyptian myth of Isis with Greek elements. Isis offered consolation from suffering, happiness and salvation; Osiris/Serapis promised resurrection; Anubis guided the soul to the next life.

Temple of Isis: two daily services – at dawn and at 2.30 pm. The temple remained open all day. Evidence comes from the frescoes that decorated the walls. Was one of the first public buildings to be repaired after the earthquake.

Two festivals: Navigation of Isis – 5 March – for the protection of sailors. The Isia – 13-16 November – secret initiations took place.
2815_pompei_temple_of_isis.jpg
Temple of Isis

Fresco of an Egyptian style landscape  from the temple (now in NAM)
Fresco of an Egyptian style landscape from the temple (now in NAM)

Floor plan of the Temple of Isis
Floor plan of the Temple of Isis

2814_pompei_temple_of_isis.jpg
Temple of Isis

Go to the Temple of Isis at Pompeii in Pictures / Soprintendenza / Rene Seindal (photos of artefacts now in NAM)


Cult of Dionysus
The cult had been suppressed in Rome during 2nd Century BC, but continued to flourish in Campania. Shown in frescoes (e.g. Bacchus and Ariadne in the House of the Vettii). The most magnificent representations are in the Villa of the Mysteries. The paintings depict rituals associated with the cult, though interpretations differ.