Vol. 54 (2018)

Isis the immigrant and Roman toleration

Published July 12, 2020


Walker, H. J. (2020). Isis the immigrant and Roman toleration. Acta Classica Universitatis Scientiarum Debreceniensis, 54, 49–71. https://doi.org/10.22315/ACD/2018/3

In adopting a foreign cult, ancient Roman worshippers were not searching for a new religion to replace their old one, but rather seeking to expand the range of gods and practices at their disposal. They assumed that all traditional gods and religions were valid and effective. There was, therefore, an implicit toleration built into the system of ancient polytheism, and this was admired by the thinkers of the Enlightenment, though the Roman state never guaranteed freedom of worship. The cult of Isis was distasteful to the Roman élite, and the government often reacted brutally to particular actions by her worshippers. Nevertheless, her cult was always popular with the general public and the state never wished to abolish it, and eventually built a public temple to Isis. The worshippers of Isis tested the limits of Roman toleration and demonstrated its vitality.