The focus here is on the early religions which would have an impact on the later cultures of Egypt, Greece, and Rome in how they are similar yet different.
The ancient cultures of what would culminate in the gods of Greece and Rome were centered in the area bordering the eastern Mediterranean Sea as well as in the Fertile Crescent. These peoples interacted with each other and thus were somewhat aware of and influenced by each others culture and religion. Basically, polytheistic in nature they did at time have elements tending toward a supreme godhead.
Babylonian Religion: A Cult of Regional Deities
The Babylonians also practiced polytheism, a belief in many gods, borrowing heavily from the Sumerians.
As the religion evolved the religion tended toward cult practiced which centered on deities who were patrons of a city or region. One interesting example is Marduk, the patron of Babylon who over time became the supreme god, is also associated with the planet Jupiter. Jupiter or Jove was the king of the Roman God.
Canaanite Religion: Influenced by and an Influence on Religion
The Canaanite religion was both influenced by and an influence on other religions primarily due to its geographic location.
Demonstrating how it was influenced by Egypt lie in the fact that the Canaanite god Baal became associated with the Egyptian god Set. The Babylonian god Ea may have been the model for Yah, the god of the primordial sea.
The Religion of Egypt
The religion and gods of Egypt were derived from and represent a number of common elements with the other religions in the attributions of human characteristics to gods who represent various elements in the natural world. Due to the extensive culture much of the religious beliefs have come down through history.
With the conquest of Egypt by Alexander the Great in 332 B.C. some elements of the Greek and Egyptians blended. In one case, the god Amun became Hellenized as the god Zeus Ammon while the
syncretic Egyptian god Serapsis was the embodiment of Osiris-Apis, the Egyptian God of the dead.
The Elamites in southern Iran were second only to the Sumerians in having a sophisticated culture and religion at the time, approximately 2000 B.C. The supreme triad of their religion involved a goddess, Kirirsha, meaning “Great Goddess”, her husband Khumban who is associated with the Sumerian deity Enlil, and Inshushinak, the protector or patron god of one of their most important cities, Susa.
The Minoan culture developed on the island of Crete in the Mediterranean Sea some where around 7000 B.C. and would later become sailors and traders in the region. During their travels the peoples they dealt with probably became familiar with their deities and religious practices.
The Minoans seemed to worship female goddesses almost exclusively. There seems to have been several major goddesses: fertility goddess, a goddess of the harvest, a protectress of households, a goddess of the underworld, and a patroness of cities. It has been speculated that these goddesses were actually one goddess depicted in varying roles.
The connection with later Greek mythology is with the Minotaur and the goddess Ariadne.
Sumerian Religion: The Basis for Mesopotamian Mythology
The Sumerians had a polytheistic religion and like most of the religions of the ancient western world were anthropomorphic, attributing characteristics of the forces of nature, to their gods.
As their religion evolved lesser gods were viewed as deriving their rank and power from An, the heaven deity or Enlil, the chief god in the Sumerian pantheon.
These early religions would contribute to lesser and greater degrees to the Greeks whose pantheon of gods would spread to the Western world under new names during the expansion of the Roman Empire.
- James, E.O. (2004). The Ancient Gods: The History and Diffusion of Religion in the Ancient Near East and the Eastern Mediterranean. Lutz, FL:Book Sales. ISBN 078581332.