The ancient religions of Rome and Egypt had many points in common. Both cultures were polytheistic, meaning that they both worshiped many gods, rather than one. In both Rome and Egypt, religion was seen as a civic duty, and rulers were sometimes deified. However, the Romans and the Egyptians worshiped different gods, told different stories about their gods and thought of their gods in different terms.
The ancient Egyptian pantheon included gods and goddesses such as Osiris, Isis, Horus and Maat. Osiris was not only a god; he was also the mythic founder of the Egyptian empire. The goddess Isis was his sister and his wife. The god Horus was their son. The goddess Maat was a divine personification of cosmic order. The Egyptians worshiped many other gods as well. Ancient Roman religion did not originally include any of the gods worshiped by the Egyptians. Instead, the Romans worshiped the sky god Jupiter, the war god Mars, the hunting goddess Diana, the sun god Apollo and many others.
Ancient Egyptian mythology centered around the murder of the god Osiris by the evil god Seth, the vengeance of Horus and his enthronement as the new ruler of the gods. This myth was treated as an allegory of the transfer of power from one pharaoh to the next and of the eternal life of the soul after death. Roman mythology was largely borrowed from Greek mythology. The Romans identified Greek gods with their own gods and adopted Greek stories about the gods when they did so. For instance, the Roman Jupiter was considered equivalent to the Greek Zeus, so myths about Zeus were applied to Jupiter.
Egyptian ideas about the gods were also different from Roman ideas. The Romans thought of the gods as being immortal and superhuman, but still similar to humans in many ways. Roman gods usually had clearly defined areas of authority. For instance, Juno was the goddess of marriage and Mars was the god of war. Egyptian gods could die as Osiris did, although they remained powerful after death. They had less clearly defined identities and were usually responsible for many areas of life, rather than having specific functions. They were often portrayed with animal heads to symbolize their powers and qualities.
Despite all the differences between the ancient Egyptian and Roman religions, the two began to merge with the founding of the Roman Empire under Augustus. The worship of Isis became extremely popular in Rome, at first among Egyptian immigrants but then among Roman citizens as well. Rome conquered Egypt in 30 B.C., and Egyptian religion came under Roman influence. The Egyptians continued to worship their own gods, but began to portray them as looking like Roman gods. The two religions never completely merged, but they did become more similar over time.
- Fathom Archive: Religion in the Lives of the Ancient Egyptians
- Carl Andrew Seaquist: Introduction - Greek And Roman Religions
- University of North Carolina Greensboro: Roman Gods
- An Examination of the Isis Cult with Preliminary Exploration Into New Testament Studies; Elizabeth A. McCabe
- Metropolitan Museum of Art: Roman Egypt
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