Greece and Rome
Greece and Rome
In the aftermath of the Trojan war, new nations would replace their Bronze Age counterparts as dominant powers in the region. The Greeks recovered from the conflict within a few centuries, and were able to take control of the western states of Turkey, while a powerful nation from the eastern Balkans, known as Phrygia , seized the territory of the former Hittite empire, in the central part of the country.
The Kurgan invasion was now fully completed, and all of Europe, the Near and Middle East, and Asia (as far east as India) was now either in Kurgan hands, or in the hands of indigenous people who had become fully Kurganized. Every nation now had a complex pantheon of deities, with a violent male war-god as their leader. The Goddess continued to occupy various secondary positions, sometimes becoming the subservient spouse of the war-god.
Clearly, the first millennium BCE was a time of great innovation for Greek society. The destruction caused by the Trojan War necessitated a major reconstruction of many of their fundamental institutions, which would expand and diversify by embracing various ideas from foreign sources. This can be seen in their religious practices, where they literally replaced their entire set of gods, in much the same way as we might replace the management of an unsuccessful corporation.
The fall of the second Greek pantheon, the Titans , was very appropriately said to have been caused by a war with another group called the Olympians, who were partly composed of foreign deities. It was no coincidence that these deities were adopted from their former enemies in the western states of Turkey. For example, both Artemis and Apollo were imported from Turkey, along with Cybele, who was often presented as the equivalent of Hera.
Like so much of our knowledge of the ancient world, even the name "Cybele" comes to us through Greek sources. As residents of the Greek colonies discovered, the Mother Goddess had many names in Turkey, one of the most common being Kubaba. The Greeks translated that into Kybebe, and the Romans later translated it into Cybele... the modern name that we now use.
As the first millennium unfolded, Greece, and Greek culture, became the dominant force in the western world. This period is also characterized by the growing power of Persia, and a number of wars in which they conquered the Near and Middle East, and then were driven out again. From the standpoint of religion, the worship of the Mother Goddess generally prospered and expanded, as a result of Greek and Phrygian patronage.
One of the most fascinating qualities of the religion was the ability of some of the Priestesses, who were known as Sibyls , to receive prophetic communications from the Goddess, through dreams or visions. Exactly when this practice began is uncertain, however we find references to it from very early times... for example in the Mari tablets , which date to around 1800 BCE.
The Greeks were quick to realize the value of prophecy, and maintained several major temples in the region of the Aegean Sea, that each had a Sibyl. Typically, the Sibyl was served by her own staff of Priestesses from the temple of Cybele... and later, the Sibyl began to also supervise another group of Priestesses, who were known as Oracles, and worked at a nearby temple dedicated to Apollo.
Although Apollo is often thought to be a Greek deity, he actually originated in Turkey sometime before the Trojan War. The Turks called him Apaliunas , and his subordinate relationship to Cybele strongly suggests that he was created by Cybele's Priestesses. In his role as a god of prophecy, Apollo (and the Oracles) were apparently intended to act as a buffer, to prevent the masses of ordinary people from making excessive demands on the Sibyl herself. As such, the Oracles issued the more mundane sort of prophecies to the common people, whereas the Sibyl usually remained in isolation and prophesied only for more important persons, such as wealthy patrons, military and political leaders, etc.
Most of the Sibyls were of Turkish origin, as were the Priestesses who served them. The Greeks gave these Priestesses the amusing name of "Melissae", which means "honey bees"... and indeed, they seemed to swarm about the temple in a state of constant activity, much like bees around a hive.
Inside the temple, on a raised pedestal, would be found a large statue of Cybele. In the back of the statue there would usually be a small hollow area where a meteorite would be kept. Since meteorites had fallen from the heavens, they were strongly associated with the Goddess... and therefore, placing a meteorite inside the statue was believed to animate it, and connect it more directly to Her.
The daily life of a Priestess was full and happy. When not occupied with the performance of rituals or other duties, she would spend her time in various artistic ways, such as the making of jewelry. The materials most frequently used were silver, sapphire, amber and jet. In addition, the Priestesses composed poetry and music, made wine, and hosted parties for their local followers and supporters.
One particularly interesting practice of the Sibyls was to disguise themselves as a peasant, and travel around the countryside, in order to gain insight into the mood and feelings of the common people. This earned them a very favorable reputation, as a demonstration of their concern for their followers, as well as their humility and courage.
The temple complex at Delphi , in central Greece, was one of the most famous locations to have a Sibyl. It had been in use for religious rites since Neolithic times, although the first Sibyl did not actually arrive from Turkey until about 1300 BCE.
At first, the Sibyls of Delphi worked alone... and consequently they were not able to keep up with the demands of the common people. Eventually, around 800 BCE, they adopted the solution already in use by Sibyls in Turkey, and added a temple of Apollo, with it's own staff of Priestesses to serve as Oracles.
The accuracy of the prophecies of the Sibyls of Delphi was legendary, and some of the stories are really quite fascinating... the story of Codrus , King of Athens, is a good example.
In 1068 BCE, when the Dorians were invading Greece, they paused at Delphi to inquire as to what the outcome of their attack would be. They were told that if the King of Athens himself was not harmed, they would be successful, and would rule the land... but if Codrus were to be killed, they would suffer a terrible defeat.
Word of the prophecy reached Codrus, and after disguising himself as a peasant, he made his way to the Dorian encampment, where he deliberately provoked a quarrel with a group of soldiers and was killed. As soon as the Dorians realized that they had killed the King of Athens, they abandoned their invasion and retreated from the country as quickly as possible. So great was their faith in the prophecy that Codrus was able to save his entire nation, simply by sacrificing his own life.
In addition to Delphi, another important location where a Sibyl could be found was Erythrae , on the central west coast of Turkey. A small temple of the Goddess had actually been there for thousands of years, before the Greeks carried out a major renovation, around 1000 BCE. When the new temples were completed, they followed a pattern that was to become typical... the Sibyl was served by her Priestesses from the temple of Cybele, and supervised the Oracles, who worked at a nearby temple dedicated to Apollo.
The island of Samos , located near the southwest coast of Turkey, was home to another famous Sibyl. The Goddess had also been worshipped there long before the Greeks took over the temple complex, around 1000 BCE. They rebuilt the main temple on three occasions, until it ultimately became one of the largest in the ancient world. The temple was officially dedicated to Hera, which was the name used for the Mother Goddess by Greeks from the area of Argos. As usual, the Sibyl supervised a group of Oracles, who worked at a nearby temple of Apollo.
The Libyan Sibyl was located at the Siwa Oasis , in the Libyan desert... which is in the western part of modern-day Egypt. Again, very little is known about this Sibyl, beyond the fact that she supervised Oracles... who in this case worked at the temple of Zeus-Amon. It is said that Alexander the Great once inquired of the Libyan Sibyl concerning his right to rule Egypt, and she advised him that he had been destined to do so.
The Hellespontine Sibyl (also referred to as the Sibyl of Troy) was located in the town of Dardania, on Mount Ida, near Troy and the west coast of Turkey. The temple complex was built around 700 BCE, and followed the usual pattern. The first Sibyl of Troy wrote the Sibylline Books , in about 650 BCE. These books were a collection of prophecies about great world events, which would have a profound effect on the history of the religion of Cybele, and the Roman empire.
The Cumaean Sibyl resided in the temple complex at Cumae , near Naples, Italy. This was originally a Greek colony, built around 900 BCE, which consisted of the usual arrangement of a temple of Cybele next to a temple of Apollo. In this case there was a beautiful underground palace for the Sibyl, which today is open to the general public.
The entrance to the palace is located 75 feet up the side of Mount Cumae. The narrow passage is over 400 feet long, and trapezoidal... an ingenious design that is earthquake resistant. It is illuminated by a series of windows cut through the rock on either side. The main chamber has a 60 foot ceiling, with six galleries that open onto the sea, providing ventilation. Passages lead to the Sibyl's audience chamber, as well as to Mount Avernus, with it's ancient volcanic crater, and to a set of fresh water cisterns. The palace is also equipped with natural geo-thermal heating and hot springs. Paintings, tapestries and mosaics presumably once decorated the floors and walls, while statues and other objects of art must have been present in abundance.
Between the year 650 and 530 BCE, the Sibylline Books were moved, first to Erythrae, and then to Cumae. When the Sibyl of Cumae decided to sell them to the last King of Rome, Tarquinius Superbus , in about 530 BCE, there were 9 books in the set. At first the King refused to buy them, so the Sibyl began to burn them. After she had burned 6 of them, the King relented, and purchased the remaining 3 volumes for an astronomical price, said to be 100 talents of gold (about 6000 lbs.)
The books were kept under guard, at the temple of Jupiter in Rome, where they were supervised by Priestesses from the temple of Cybele and the temple of Apollo. Thus, possession of the books, which sometimes referred to religious practices and rites that the senators of Rome were not familiar with, prompted them to learn many details about the religion, and paved the way for the future entry of Cybele into Rome.
The books were consulted on numerous occasions over the centuries, to obtain advice in dealing with earthquakes, pestilence and plagues. Finally, in about 200 BCE, Rome found itself under attack by the forces of Hannibal , and the Sibylline Books were consulted again. The Books prophesied that if Rome would accept the worship of Cybele as an official state religion, Hannibal would be defeated, and they would be saved. At the same time as this was announced to the Roman senate, a message arrived from the Oracle of Delphi, stating exactly the same thing.
The senate therefore adopted the religion of Cybele as an official religion of Rome, and Hannibal was defeated, just as the prophecies had foretold. A temple for Cybele was built on Palatine Hill in Rome, and Her religion spread throughout the republic. For the next 500 years, it remained one of the most popular religions in the known world, and the Sibyls and Oracles continued to prophesy for Kings and Emperors alike.
It should be noted that there is some confusion over the names and location of the Sibyls, as well as the contents of the Sibylline Books. When the Christians were attempting to legitimize their religion, they fabricated records of Sibyls who allegedly made prophecies supporting their own theology. In addition, they even went so far as to fabricate an entire set of false Sibylline Books, which today are referred to as the Sibylline Oracles. These forged texts undoubtedly served as a useful propaganda tool, although they eventually fell out of favor and were removed from the official church cannon around 1500 CE.
The authentic Sibylline Books were destroyed when the temple of Jupiter burned down in 83 BCE. Afterwards, the Romans cobbled together some makeshift replacements, using material gathered from various diverse sources. Although some fragments of these replacement books have survived, they do not contain any actual content from the original books.
Another interesting aspect of the religion of Cybele was the existence of a "mystery school" , which was based on the island of Samothrace , in the northern Aegean. This can best be described as a center for advanced learning, which enabled people to attain a more prestigious position among the followers of the religion. It took the form of a series of initiations, each of which was said to result in some type of special enlightenment or benefit.
The building of the temple complex on Samothrace was begun around 700 BCE by the Greeks, and was expanded over time by others, including the Phrygians and the Romans.
Unlike other mystery schools, the temple complex was open to all. Persons of every social status and rank mixed freely, and were treated as equals while there. Temples for other Mother Goddess archetypes, such as Hecate, Demeter and Aphrodite were also present, and offered their own mystery rituals of various types. In addition, in mid-July a very popular special festival was held, which featured numerous sacred dance and theatre events.
Initiations into the mysteries of Cybele were given whenever an applicant presented themself. In the first stage, simply called "the myesis" ("the mysteries") certain secrets and symbols were revealed to the applicant, and they were given certain protective talismans such as a red sash, or a ring made from the magnetic iron that was found on the island.
The second stage was called "the epopteia" ("the contemplation"). It required the applicant to make a public confession of their misbehaviors, followed by an absolution and a ritual cleansing. The applicant was then required to stand on a platform and recite the doctrine of the religion, while displaying the objects that they had received during the myesis.
Little is known about the third stage, other than that it involved some type of transcendental experience, induced by the use of hallucinogenic substances which the Priestesses produced from various local plants and mushrooms.
Another very significant development in the religion concerns the addition of a deity known as Attis , which occurred at the city of Pessinus. There are several theories about the reason for this. Some feel that a male deity was desired, in order to better compete with the other religions of the time. Another view is that Attis was a deified version of a Priest who had once been in charge of the temple at Pessinus, and was especially well-regarded.
In any case, the character of Attis was unique to the city of Pessinus, and might never have entered the broader public consciousness, had it not been for the fact that when the Romans adopted the religion of Cybele, they happened to take it from Pessinus... and therefore, Attis was included. This ultimately resulted in some rather serious problems for the religion, which we will discuss in the next chapter.
By about 200 BCE, Rome began to eclipse Greece as the foremost world power. Although Goddess religion continued to be popular and influential, Kurgan philosophy and war-god religions clearly dominated the thinking of political leaders. As such, western civilization remained inexorably locked on a path towards disaster... and within a few more centuries, a tragedy even greater than the Trojan War was destined to occur.