You may wish to read a page on the town first.
Temple to Jupiter
This temple was the Capitolium of Pompeii, i.e. the temple dedicated to Jupiter, Juno and Minerva, the three gods who were worshipped in a temple on the Capitol Hill in Rome. Official celebrations, such as the anniversary of the foundation of Rome, took place in this temple. In essence its purpose was not a religious one, but it indicated the link of the town with Rome. Similar temples have been found throughout the whole Roman Empire (you may wish to see the unique Capitolium of Sufetula in Tunisia).
The Temple to Apollo was most likely the oldest one of the town and it was dedicated to deities of the first settlers. Eventually the process of Hellenization of southern Italy led to dedicating the temple to Apollo (and to Artemis/Diana, his twin sister). The worship of Apollo was associated with predictions of the future and the temple at Pompeii was a sort of branch of the Oracle of Delphi. The building was damaged by an earthquake in 62 AD and it was in the process of being restored when Pompeii was covered by ashes in 79.
(left) Temple to Apollo; (right) copy of a statue of Artemis/Diana
Already in 1787 J. W. Goethe noted that Pompeii was looted by the excavators.
For a long time activities at archaeological sites were aimed at finding statues for the private galleries of the rich and the powerful.
Many statues unearthed at Pompeii were used to embellish the Palace of Caserta and other royal residences. Today most of them are at Museo Nazionale Archeologico di Napoli (you may wish to see the statue of Apollo found at this temple - it opens in another window), but some were sold on the antiquarian market. Sir William Hamilton (1730-1803) was the British Envoy to the Kingdom of Naples from 1764 to 1798. He was a renowned collector of antiquities. His collection
included objects from Pompeii. Part of it was bought by the British Museum in 1772. Other objects were donated by Hamilton in the following years.
Some copies of the statues at the Museum of Naples have been placed at Pompeii at the location where the originals once stood.
Temple to Vespasian
In most ancient Roman towns a second temple showed the link with Rome, in addition to the Capitolium. It was dedicated to Emperor Augustus or more generally to the Augustans by this meaning the emperors (you may wish to see the Temple to Augustus and Rome at Ankara). The Temple to Vespasian was most likely dedicated to the imperial family and Vespasian was the incumbent emperor at the time of the Vesuvius eruption. Actually he died in June 79 and the eruption occurred in August of that same year, but the statue of the emperor and the dedicatory inscription had not yet been changed.
Altar of the Temple to Vespasian
A good quality relief shows a typical Roman sacrifice. Suovetaurilia, the most important one, implied the sacrifice of a pig, a ram and a bull. In this relief only a bull is sacrificed (to Mars) as part of a purification ceremony or to propitiate the successful completion of a military campaign (as in a relief on Arco di Costantino in Rome). The person presiding over the ceremony covered his head with his cloak. In Rome this duty was performed by the Pontifex Maximus. He was not a priest strictly speaking, but a politician. Emperor Augustus held this title for the first time in 12 BC and all the emperors held it after him (you may wish to see a statue of Augustus as Pontifex Maximus or read his inscription for Horologium Divi Augusti).
Temple to Isis
O Isis and Osiris - a famous aria of The Magic Flute is believed to have been inspired by Mozart's 1769 visit to this temple, one of the most complete surviving buildings in Pompeii. Its discovery had an immediate impact on artistic culture. The temple was entirely rebuilt after the earthquake, so its elaborate decoration can be dated with precision. It was surrounded by a high wall with only one entrance, an indication that access was reserved to the initiates.
(left) Rear of the Temple to Isis; (right) niche which housed a statue of Dionysus
A priest of Isis who had lived before the conquest of Egypt by Alexander the Great, would have been amazed (or horrified) by a visit to this temple. Isis and Osiris in the Greco-Roman world were associated with other deities. Osiris was more often combined with Jupiter and called Serapis, and Roman emperors built many temples to Serapis as at Pergamum. In this temple Isis' husband was associated with Dionysus, a son of Apollo, so not one of the Twelve Olympian Gods, who nevertheless was worshipped more than his father in many parts of the Roman Empire. Isis herself was associated with Demeter, the Greek goddess of fertility who presided over the initiation rites held at Eleusis, a town near Athens.
"Purgatorium" near the Temple to Isis and details of its stucco decoration (another detail can be seen in the image used as background for this page)
The frescoes which decorated the complex were removed and are now in Naples. The buildings retain most of their stucco decoration, in particular the purgatorium, a separate chapel with a basin for ritual ablutions meant to cleanse the initiates.
Archaeological Museum of Naples: paintings from the Temple of Isis: (left) Isis greets Io; (right) detail of a landscape with an African sacred ibis
The following Prayer to Isis shows the powers which were attributed to the goddess: O holy and blessed dame, the perpetual comfort of humane kind, who by thy bounty and grace nourishest all the world, and hearest a great affection to the adversities of the miserable, as a loving mother thou takest no rest, neither art thou idle at any time in giving thy benefits, and succoring all men, as well on land as sea. The Metamorphoses (or The Golden Asse) by Lucius Apuleius (IInd century AD) - Book XI - Translation by William Adlington (1639 edition).
The Romans were indebted to Greece, Egypt and other Mediterranean countries for having "imported" their gods. They continued however to faithfully worship the Penates and the Lares, their ancient household deities. In each house, shop or workshop a small altar was dedicated to them. For the coming of age of a boy or the wedding of a young daughter the protection of these deities was asked for by placing the first beard or a doll on their altars. It was a worship without priests and formal ceremonies, which shows the simple nature of religious practices in the early Roman society.
Archaeological Museum of Naples: altar to the Lares in House VII.6.3 which was bombed in 1943
The painting portrays two Lares (young men pouring wine from a horn into a bucket with great dexterity) at the sides of a scene of sacrifice to which a musician with a double-flute takes part. In the lower section of the painting, two snakes (benign deities in this case) are depicted at the sides of another altar upon which eggs are offered. You may wish to see a similar painting in a thermopolium (tavern).
Tomb of Priestess Mamia outside Porta Ercolano
On July 14, 2014 the Church of England voted to admit female bishops for the first time in its history. Priestesses could achieve a very high status in Ist century AD Pompeii. The tomb of Mamia, one of them, has always attracted the attention of visitors for the semi-circular bench where funerary banquets took place. Goethe noted it, but his mind was elsewhere: As I looked over it, I saw the sun setting into the sea. Wilhelm Tischbein, a painter who accompanied Goethe to Pompeii, portrayed Duchess Anna Amalia of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel sitting on the bench (it opens in another window).