chapter  5
3 Pages

Pagan Temples

Two points about this complex deserve special attention. First, its enormous size was remarkable. One of the principal achievements of the Roman empire was not only the reshaping but the enlargement and aggrandizement of the Greek tradition, and Wheeler has argued that this aggrandizement was a creative, artistic feat in itself.2 Its purpose at Heliopolis was to impress easterners with Roman magnificence — with the power of Roman rule in Syria. And it achieved this aim by a judicious blend of Roman, Greek and eastern influences. The blend is symbolized by the triad of deities who were worshipped at this centre: they are Jupiter, who is the eastern Baal, and Venus, who is the Syrian Atargatis, and Mercury, who was no doubt likewise assimilated to some eastern, non-Greco-Roman counterpart. And in the process of assimilation the temples borrow their structure and their rich decoration from Rome, and yet they also retain local elements, including two towers of eastern derivation: so that the scheme, by this means, symbolizes the perpetuation of a native

megalithic tradition. Here is the mixture of traditions that constituted the art of the Roman empire at its most impressive.