Almost all the deities worshipped in Greek and Roman Syria were Semitic. In spite of regional differences, a few main types of cult can be distinguished. The largest group consists of deities in human form. These are often divinities of agriculture and fertility, of the sky and thunder; they may be protectors, or bringers of military and commercial success; they may represent the sun, moon, or stars. Annual death and resurrection occur in some cults. Most characteristic of Syrian religion were the ‘Lord’ and ‘Lady’, the Baʾal and his consort the Baʾalat, pairs of deities who could take many of the above‐mentioned forms. Each pair originally protected a Semitic tribe; when the tribe settled, the divine pair were regarded as owning the tribal territory, and sometimes their influence spread beyond it. Babylonian astrologers, the ‘Chaldaeans’ remained influential. In the Roman period, the Syrian deities were welded into one eternal and omnipotent power, manifest in the Sun.
Worship included ritual banquets, processions in which symbols or statues of the deity were carried, dancing, libations, and sacrifices, divination, sacred prostitution, and mysteries. Imposing temples in the traditions of Syrian Hellenistic architecture still stand at Palmyra and Baalbek; others have disappeared. Many Semitic deities received approximate Greek or Roman identifications. The local Ba'al was often romanized as Jupiter. Syrian cults were carried west esp. during the Severan period, usually by soldiers, slaves, and merchants. See sōl invictus.
Subjects: Classical Studies.