Much like ancient Greece, ancient Assyria didn’t skimp on the gods. This violent, polytheistic culture pretty much had the deities on tap; Assyria recognized thousands of them. Though only about twenty of these gods were important in religious practice, Assyria had a separate god for everything, no matter how specific or how broad. One god, for instance, was basically in charge of the universe itself. But then there was that other god—who probably didn’t pay so much attention in God school—with the glorious responsibility of keeping an eye on the Earth’s subterranean waters. Of course, there’s always that one god that sort of takes command of the whole operation. Much like Greece’s Zeus, Assyria’s religion featured a single god, Ashur, to rule over all the others.
The similarity between the religions of Ancient Greece and Ancient Assyria doesn’t end with each culture’s devotion to polytheism, or with the resemblance between Zeus and Ashur. There were many such parallels, some more coincidental than others.
For example, the ancient religions of Greece and Assyria each featured a powerful sun-god, and in both cases, according to myth, this god was ultimately killed by a rampaging wild boar. In the case of Ancient Greece, the sun-god, Adonis, suffered a fatal stab wound by boar’s sharp tusk. Assyria, a civilization that lived and died centuries earlier, had referred to its sun-god as “Tammuz,” and he fared no better against the wild boar’s tusk. That tusk was just totally deadly no matter what century it was.
In some ways, ancient Assyria’s polytheistic religion can be seen as something of a prototype for the ancient Greek religion. Assyrian god-worship was implemented on an individual basis, with each of the major gods given his or her own temple; no two gods were ever worshiped within the same walls. The same was true in the ancient Greek religion, where separate temples were constructed for each diety. In both cases the size of each temple corresponded with the relevant god’s importance.
The parallels between these two ancient religions demonstrate an irrefutable link between the two cultures. It is evident that the colorful religion of Ancient Greece followed Assyria’s lead. Yet these two religions share another similarity, one that’s equally difficult to ignore. In the end, neither of these religions has survived to enjoy practice in the modern world. They belong now only to historians and bloggers.
References available upon request