Egyptian cults in ancient Pompeii

The ruins in Pompeii show several witnesses of the special love that its citizens had for the Egyptian culture. An exposition (until November 2/2016) through the ruins displays sculptures loaned by the Egyptian Museum of Turin, and stresses all the paintings, mosaics and of course the temple mostly related with Egypt.

Since the VIII century b.C. the commercial exchanges in the Mediterranean sea allowed the meeting between cultures, as the ships brought, together with oriental items, also new ideas. After the conquer of Egypt by Octavius – who became later emperor known as Augustus – Egypt became to a widespread fashion.

The Egyptian main goddess Isis was worshipped as protector for fertility and for family; she was considered a magician and a healer, as well as a grant for eternal life. In Rome were several Isis temples, but only in Pompeii there is one to see until today. Its fascination has been enriched through this new exposition: some cult objects are displayed and a video provides scenes from a ritual night dedicated to the great Egyptian goddess.

The Isis cult was a public as well as a domestic (from domus=house) matter:  many houses had a corner with an altar dedicated to Isis for the family prayers to the Egyptian goddess. The House of Golden Cupids in Pompeii, for example, displays a corner for the private prayers to Isis. The psistrum Isis Pompeiiictures I publish here are related to the altar in the House of Golden Cupids: the first one shows Isis (middle) together with her husband Osiris (right) and Anubis (left), the god with canine head, protector of graves and of the world of the dead.  The second picture shows some symbols linked to this cult, like cobra and sistrum (hanging up on the left). The latter was a metal music instrument with thin loops, that was shaken by the goddess, as well as by the priests during the rituals dedicated to her, to produce a sound like a clank.

In the Isis temple in Pompeii was a building called Purgatorium (place for purification) that sheltered the spring of the Nile river. Private people could get there holy water for their domestic prayers.

In Rome the Isis temple was destroyed by emperor Tiberius after a sex scandal that had taken place in an Isis temple. The goddess’ statue was beheaded and thrown into the Tiber. The eruption of Vesuvius saved this unique witness of the ancient cult in Pompeii and in the whole Roman empire, by sheltering it for centuries under volcanic ashes.

Are you interested in a guided tour with me? Contact me at napoliamalfitourguide@gmail.com

If you wish to know more about uexpected Pompeii, see also:

A Roman house in Pompeii

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