The eternal heavenly father Jupiter and his artisan daughter Minerva, the queen of heaven Juno, the feminist Diana , Mars the warrior , Aesculapius the healer , aquatic Neptune and logistical Mercury were all included in the portmanteau of religiosity brought by the Roman army to western Iberia after 137 BC .
Since the days of monarchy, all of these deities had been the subject of strict religious mores in the Roman Republic with the sole aim of securing a “pax deorum” which would enable the citizenry to receive protection from supernatural forces in return for worship and obeisance. As such there was very little moral teaching in the Latin liturgy but much emphasis was placed upon temple ritual , public oration and processions which preceded State events such as Triumphs and Games. Their organisation was achieved with a military precision with priests and acolytes interspersed between the ranks of marching Legions.
The Romanisation of Lusitania and Galicia, which began with Julius Caesar, gradually introduced these deities to the native peoples by inviting their attendance at the temples built adjacent to the forum in new cities and participation in public ceremonies. However there was no attempt to suppress the indigenous gods described in Part 7 of this series. Instead, a disorganised process of assimilation began with similarities of character being recognised e.g. Cossus and Mars being both the gods of war.
To complicate matters, the Romans had begun to tire of the rigid anachronism of Classical Religion and showed an increasing interest in and observance of the Oriental cults such as the Anatolian Cybele and her castrated consort Attis, Isis of Egypt and the Indo-Iranian Mithras all of which displayed mysticism and syncretism of beliefs including the prospect of an after-life. Some of these had already found their way to southern Iberia through the amphibious Phoenicians of Tyre and their successors the Carthaginians. Now the autochthones were bewildered by the introduction of the Roman variant!
This diversity of religious choice is exampled by recent research into the only known pre-Roman sanctuary at Cabeço das Fráguas where an inscription in the Latin alphabet but in the Lusitanian language was dedicated to Endovelicus. This implies that the shrine had a peculiar oracular function which included the practise of incubatio (also known as “temple sleep”) a mystic procedure whereby the priests induced a trance in which the god advised cures for ailments. This was identical to the healing temples of Greek Asclepeion which in turn were appropriated by the roman god Aesculapius whose priests in Rome made a useful income by issuing prescriptions for treatment in the temple baths and gymnasium.
After feigning reluctance, the great Emperor Augustus Caesar agreed to being consecrated as divine . De facto, this restored the absolute power of monarchy with the responsibility of ruling over the interests of the military, the senate and organised religion. In Portugal altars were dedicated to him at Braga, Tarraco, Castelo de S. Paio, Alcácer and many other locations where unfortunately the inscriptions are incomplete or possibly faked . Later, in the reign of Tiberius temples were built in major public locations and possibly in some of the larger villas . The Imperial cult continued throughout the Flavian succession with some Emperors being declared posthumously while others (Caligula and Nero) used their divine status as an erasure for their iniquitous deeds. It became a feature of the administrative system introduced by Vespasian for some conventus (municipalities) to be allotted an Emperor to worship under the direction of a sacerdos (priest) who received tribute .
This hotchpotch of religions and their place in the functions of state caused great confusion to the subject citizens of Lusitania and Galicia who were presented with a choice from a pantheon of native, roman and oriental deities whose identities often overlapped.
No wonder that the apostles of Christianity encountered incredulity when they tried to introduce what was apparently a reform movement of the Judaism which already existed as a minor cult in Roman Portugal. This we shall examine in the concluding Part 9 which is to follow.