Hellenistic religion is extremely difficult to define, given the diversity of peoples and cultures that made up the Hellenistic kingdoms. However, if we choose to look at traditional Greek religion (Olympian religion), as being the traditional religion of the Hellenistic kingdoms, it becomes easier to examine any shifts in the presentation of religions and draw conclusions about the cultural, social and historical significance of such changes.
Social, political and philosophical changes were factors contributing to the development of new religious practices throughout the Hellenistic world, including in Greece. However, these changes occurred alongside the preservation of the traditional Olympian religion. What occurred is a form of syncretism; Oriental and other deities were brought into the realm inhabited by traditional Greek deities and worshipped in conjunction with the other gods. This syncretism allowed the traditional religion to maintain a strong position within the climate of extreme social and religious change. It is unlikely that any refusal to accept the worship of Oriental deities at this particular point in history, within the cosmopolitan Hellenistic world, would have worked. Mixed cultural influences could only result in interest in other deities, especially if those deities and the religious rites associated with them were particularly imposing or lavish.
This combining of religions required adaptability on both sides, and it is only through the adaption of religious self-presentation that these new deities could be considered wholly acceptable. The cult of Isis is a strong example of this, and illustrates the significance of philosophical change to the religious changes of the period; individuals could not develop a personal relationship with the Olympian gods, but cults like that of Isis allowed for a more personal religious experience. This suggests that the philosophical and social changes of the Hellenistic Age, which saw a move towards individualism. The idea that individuals could take greater control over their religious expression and secure eternal life (as was promised by the mystery religions) was appealing, and the cult of Isis became intensely popular. The cult of Isis may have become particularly popular because of its significance to women, who experienced increased (if only marginally) freedoms and status in the Hellenistic world.
The products of such syncretism (the cult of Isis being a particularly strong example) also found favour in early Rome, and were incorporated into Roman religious practices. Also, the fact that Roman gods and goddesses resembled those worshipped by the Greeks suggests that perhaps they originated from Greece/the Hellenistic world, and were simply incorporated into Roman religious practice. Thus Jupiter would be the Roman representation of Zeus, Juno and Minerva would be the Roman representations of the Greek gods/goddesses Zeus, Hera and Athena.
The establishment of ruler cults is another religious and cultural change that took place in the Hellenistic age. This change was probably motivated by both political and social conditions; rulers could encourage the loyalty of their subjects in new ways, and thus support the stability of their empire. But this does not necessarily represent a significant shift away from the traditional Olympian religion. Rather it reveals an adaptability based on perceived political or cultural necessity (or social inclinations).
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