Ancient Religions By: MLB As civilization has progressed through the ages, many religions have arisen and taken hold around the world, two if the most interesting, being the religious beliefs of the ancient Mesopotamian and the Greeks. These two religions were practiced in different areas and at different times and, therefore, show that religion has played a critical role in every society and civilization. No matter how it is organized or what type of god is worshiped, a society would be nothing without some kind of deity to organize it. In comparing the religious beliefs of the Mesopotamian and the Ancient Greeks religious components highlighted including the style of worship, the temples or places of worship, and the nature of the god or gods.
Both ancient religions had various ideas how to worship their god or gods. In the Mesopotamian religion, worship was very straight forward and casual. They would give daily offerings of food and drink with sacrifices during special monthly and annual feasts. The most celebrated of these feasts was the New Year’s festival.
These worship events were held by the priest and priestesses who also took care of the great wealth believed to be stored in the Mesopotamians temples. The director of the temple cults was the Sheshgallu: and all the sacrifices were performed by the Shang u priests. All other classes of priests dealt with the rest of the lesser rituals. The priestesses varied from the E ntu, the consort of god, all the way down to the Temple Harlots (Garber, p 204). The Greeks on the other hand, had done most of their worship in private. They also had festivals and rituals, but their worship was much less organized.
If any individual wished to pray to a god, or invoke the god’s intervention, he would simply go to one of the shrines or temples to the god of their choice and leave a small gift. These gifts included such offerings such as frankincense, a cake, or even a large sacrifice of animals. There were also dedications of small statuettes or even large painted vases (Webster, p 79). Unlike the Mesopotamians there was no class of priests nor any real religion teachings or texts. Also, no large gathering festivals took place; however small groups in recognition of the gods were common. For example, the Olympic Games began as a festival to honor the god Zeus (Walker, p 131).
These religions had vast differences in ideas of how to worship their god or gods and often this affected other areas of their religion. Because of the different styles of worship, each religion needed a completely different place to worship. As mentioned earlier, the Mesopotamians stored great wealth inside their temples. The temple itself was thought of as the house of god and, therefore, the structure itself needed to be worthy.
It was finished in precious stones and the finest timber available. The original design itself was simple; the temples were built around a rectangular chamber with a statue of the god in one of the short sides (Garber, p 204). The outside of the temple was massive and were called Ziggurats (Millard, p 14). The Ziggurats were like step pyramids with large steps of stairs leading to the multiple entrances.
There were many levels and walkways that ran around it. The temple itself was actually a shrine located on the top of the Ziggurat, but the entire thing was considered the gods worldly home. Although the interiors of the Greek temples were much like that of Mesopotamia, there were a number of exterior differences. Greek temples were also very elaborate and beautiful.
Inside there was an alter, as well as a large statue of the god to whom the temple was dedicated. Outside the temples were amazing that had one or two rings of tall and impressive columns going all the way around the outside that were topped by fancy carvings of marble. The entire thing was built of marble and cost a fortune. There were a variety of styles of temples, ranging from small 4 column structures to massive temples with over 60 columns. The most famous and remarkable Greek temple is the Parthenon in Athens; it was built for the Great Goddess Athena, the patron goddess of Athens and cost millions (Walker, p 148). Although the styles were different between these two cultures, both the Mesopotamian and the Greeks took great pride in glorifying their gods.
Just as each culture built unique places of worship as was their style of worship unique. In the Mesopotamian religion there were well over 3000 gods and goddesses. Each city had its own patron god who was in charge of that city. It was also believed that each person had his own lesser god who would appeal with the greater gods on his own account. At the upper part of the Mesopotamian pantheon sits An, the Lord of heaven and Enlil, Lord of the earth. These two gods had a sour attitude towards the human beings.
It was Enki, god of sweet waters, magic and wisdom, that was humanity’s friend. The Mesopotamians also had an interesting view on doing evil and evil acts. They never blamed themselves; instead it was all put on a demon taking over the person’s body. So instead of punishing the individuals for their crimes, the Mesopotamians would try to exorcise them. People wore amulets or charms to try to keep the evil demons away.
If they performed a ritual fault or accident, such as touching a cursed person, it could invoke the wrath of the gods and that was when a person’s personal god would have to defend you before the greater gods (Garber, 204). Greece also had multiple gods, but not to the extremes of Mesopotamia. There were twelve gods in the Greek pantheon called Olympian gods. Outside this group there were also two other important gods, Hades, god of the underworld and Dionysus, the god of wine.
All of these gods were anthropomorphic, meaning they possess both good and bad human characteristics. They had most of the same needs that we have and this is why there were often offerings of food left for a god or goddess. While having human characteristics, these gods were still all powerful and controlled everything from the stars and planets to the harvest of grain brought in that year. Of all the ancient gods, however, the Greek gods are most widely known, probably because of the amazing myths involving them. Almost every single event or item on the earth has a Greek myth explaining its origin. For example, in the myth of Pandora’s Box, the curious Pandora releases all evil emotions that plague the world.
This helped people take the blame off themselves when they give into some of these emotions. Many Greek myths are like this, to make people feel better and lay the blame on someone or something else (Walker, p 131). These two very different views of deities may be the reasons for all other differences in these ancient religions. From the dawn of civilization, man has looked to the heaven for answers and explanations and, thus, religion is found in every culture. However, the manner in which people have worshipped over time is as different and unique as each individual culture. The Mesopotamians and the Greeks provide a wonderful example of two ancient cultures that maintain both similar and very different aspects of religion as seen in their style of worship, their place of worship, and, finally, their gods, the focus of their worship.
Religion was very important to people in the ancient days and still is too many people around the world today. No matter if they worshipped one god or three thousand; it was the need for some greater being that drove people to temples, churches, and shrines throughout the ages. With a god or multiple gods to show man the way and give purpose and meaning to his life, people felt they could not only deal with their problems, but also have a sense of direction. Although the religious practices of these two ancient cultures existed centuries ago, the same curiosity to answer fundamental human questions exists even today.
World religions continue to differ in their places of worship, manner of worship, and names and descriptions of their deities, but all religions, from the beginning of time, attempt to make sense of our world and to give purpose to life. Works Cited Robinson, Cyril E. Everyday life in Ancient Greece. Apr 8, 1968 Book Pearson, Anne. Eyewitness Books Ancient Greece. May 1993 Book Garber, Janet.
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