Lucian, writing in the mid-second century AD, recorded his observations of an "exotic" local cult in the city of Hierapolis in what is today Northern Syria. The local goddess was known as Dea Syria to the Romans and Atargatis to the Greeks. Lucian's so-named De Dea Syria is an important record of life and religion in Roman Syria. De Dea Syria presents to us an Oriental cult of a fertility goddess as seen through the eyes of a Hellenized Syrian devotee and religious ethnographer. How accurate Lucian's portrayal of the cult is questionable, though his account provides for us some indication that traditional religious practices were still being observed in Hierapolis despite Greek and Roman colonization. The origins of Near Eastern fertility goddesses began in the Bronze Age with the Sumerian goddess Inanna who was later associated with the Semitic Akkadian deity Ishtar. The worship of Ishtar spread throughout the Near East as a result of both Babylonian and Assyrian conquests. In Syria some of the major sites of her worship were located in Ebla and Mari. The later Phoenician and Canaanite cultures also adopted the worship of Ishtar melding her into their religions under the names of Astarte and Asherah respectively. By the Greco-Roman era, the Nabataeans and Palmyrenes also worshipped a form of the Near Eastern fertility goddess, calling her by many names including Atargatis, Astarte, al-Uzza and Allat. The Greeks and Romans found parallels between this eastern goddess and their deities and added her to their pantheons. Through this process of adoption and adaptation, the worship of this goddess naturally changed. In her many guises, Atargatis was worshipped not only at Hierapolis in the Greco-Roman period, but also at Delos, Dura Europos, and Khirbet et-Tannur. At all of these centers of worship vestiges of traditional practices retained in the cult were apparent. It is necessary to look at the cult as a whole to understand more fully whether her cult retained its original Oriental character or was partially or fully Hellenized. Temple architecture is an important part of Atargatis' cult which is often overlooked in the analysis of her cult. This thesis examines whether Atargatis' cult remained Oriental or became Hellenized by tracing the historical development of the temple architecture, associated cult objects, and decoration from their traditional origins down to the introduction of Greco-Roman styles into the Near East.



College and Department

Fine Arts and Communications; Visual Arts



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Greek, Roman, Temple, Atargatis, al-Uzza, fertility, Near East



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