Beliefs and ritual observances of the ancient Greeks, who became the first Western civilization about 2000 BC. It consists mainly of a body of diverse stories and legends about a variety of gods. Greek mythology had become fully developed by about the 700’s BC. Greek mythology has several distinguishing characteristics.
The Greek gods resembled humans in form and showed human feelings. Unlike ancient religions did not involve special revelations or spiritual teachings. It also varied widely in practice and belief, with no formal structure, such as a church government, and no written code, such as a sacred book. Greek mythology probably developed from the primitive religions of the people of Crete, an island in the Aegean Sea where the region’s first civilization arose about 3000 BC.
These people believed that all natural objects had spirits, and that certain objects, or fetishes, had special magical powers. Over time, these beliefs developed into a set of legends involving natural objects, animals, and gods with a human form. Some of these legends survived as part of classical Greek mythology.
Various beliefs, rituals, and other observances concerning the supernatural held or practiced by the ancient Romans from the legendary period until Christianity finally completely supplanted the native religions of the Roman Empire at the start of the Middle Ages.
The original religion of the early Romans was so modified by the addition of numerous and conflicting beliefs in later times, and by the assimilation of a vast amount of Greek mythology, that it cannot be reconstructed precisely. Because extensive changes in the religion had already taken place before the literary tradition began, its origins were in most cases unknown to the early Roman writers on religion and in their works they frequently employed Greek beliefs to fill gaps in the Roman tradition.
The absorption of neighboring native gods took place as the Roman state conquered the surrounding territory. The Romans commonly granted the local gods of the conquered territory the same honors as the earlier gods who had been regarded as peculiar to the Roman state. In many instances the newly acquired deities were formally invited to take up their abode in new sanctuaries at Rome. Moreover, the growth of the city attracted foreigners, who were allowed to continue the worship of their own gods.
The important Roman deities were eventually identified with the more anthropomorphic Greek gods and goddesses, whose attributes and myths were also taken over.