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B - 15 : Ports, Temples and Fortresses

Last summer when sailing from Corfu to Rhodes, we noticed that Venetian harbours always came with a church and a fortress - the church to pray for safe passage next day and the fortress to protect the valuable cargo of the merchant vessels.

Kythera, the Venetian island south of the Peloponnese, we visited in summer 2017

In antiquity, it was not much different except that churches were temples. Speaking Aramaic and Greek our ancient sailors could go after their day-to-day business. But who would look after their spiritual needs? Where would they pray for good weather, benevolent winds, protection from sea monsters and Cilician pirates? The answer is - everywhere. Since Darius the Great, Persia's King of Kings in 600 BC, rulers tolerated various religions. As long as people paid respect to their ruler and their taxes, they could worship freely. Many sailors carried little figurines of their Gods in a little bag since not every port had a temple for every religion. Bigger cities however did.

Main Egyptian Gods - a lordly family of supranatural beeings

Another fact also helped. All religions along the Eastern Mediterranean were polytheist with multiple Gods - all related to each other. The old Egyptian, Canaaite / Phoenician and Greek religions all had a God for commerce. For the Greeks it was Hermes, yes the one who lends his name to the firm that makes crocodile hand bags! On the way from Anatolia to the Phoenician coast our sailors could always find an equivalent God who would accept their sacrifices (call it donations) and listen to their prayers (maybe).

The identical Families of Greek and Roman Gods


The arrival of the Roman Empire on these shores between 200 and 100 BC first changed little. If you could manage that your beloved Aphrodite was now called Venus, you were fine. However, the Romans developed within 100 years an innovation which made things much easier. On his death, the Roman Senate declared Julius Ceasar divine - like most of the following emperors. Temples were built to worship them which is the reason why so many statues and busts of Roman emperors survived. They were everywhere. What was more convenient than being able to pray to the military and divine protector at the same time? We love Roman efficiency.

Statue of emperor Augustus


The problem was that the life style of Roman emperors did not live up to expectations. Diplomatically said, it was scandalous. But it prepared the ground for the acceptance of monotheism. When the message of Jesus Christ arrived, the ground was prepared for worshipping a single deiti - a proper God in heaven, not a scandalous mortal.

Spread of Christianity in the Roman Empire


By 325 AD, our ancient sailors could find christian communities along the entire route. By 600 AD, there were churches everywhere. The religious homogeneity would not last to today. However, according to the Coran, Allah is the same God. Even though you need now to switch from Church to Mosque - unless you pray on your carpet

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