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For other meanings, see Lares (disambiguation).
Lar statuette, bronze, 1st century AD (Capitoline Museum, Rome).

Ancient Roman religion

Bacchian rite, from the Villa of the Mysteries

Main doctrines

Polytheism & numen
Imperial cult · Festivals


Temples · Funerals
Votive offerings · Animal sacrifice

Apollo · Ceres · Diana · Juno
Jupiter · Mars · Mercury · Minerva
Neptune · Venus · Vesta · Vulcan

Other major deities

Divus Augustus · Divus Julius · Fortuna
The Lares · Quirinus · Pluto · Sol Invictus

Lesser deities

Adranus · Averrunci · Averruncus
Bellona · Bona Dea · Bromius
Caelus · Castor and Pollux · Clitunno
Cupid · Dis Pater · Faunus · Glycon
Inuus · Lupercus


Sibylline Books · Sibylline oracles
Aeneid · Metamorphoses
The Golden Ass

See also

Decline and persecution
Nova Roma
Greek polytheism

Lares (sing. Lar) – or archaically, Lases – were ancient Roman protective deities. Their origin is uncertain; they may have been guardians of the house, fields, boundaries or fruitfulness, unnamed hero-ancestors, or an amalgam of these. By the late Republican era they were venerated in the form of small statues of a standardised form, usually paired.

Lares were thought to observe and influence all that happened within the boundaries of their location or function. The statues of domestic Lares were placed at table during family meals; their presence, cult and blessing seem to have been required at all important family functions. Some ancient (and some modern) scholarship therefore categorises them as household gods. Roman writers sometimes identify or confuse them with ancestral deities, the domestic Penates and the hearth. Compared to Rome's major deities, their scope and potency were limited but they were important objects of cult: by analogy, a homeward-bound Roman could be described as returning ad Larem (to the Lares).

Lares were celebrated and given cult in a number of public Festivals. Some guarded entire vici (districts or political wards). Their crossroad or boundary shrines (Compitales) were a supposed institution of Servius Tullius and were a focus for the religious, social and political life of their local, overwhelmingly plebian communities. Compital cult officials included freedmen and slaves, otherwise excluded by status or property qualification from most religious, administrative and religious offices. These community cults and festivals were co-opted by the religious, social and political reforms of the Augustan settlement. Cults to the Lares of households and communities endured to at least the 4th century AD.


Images of the Lar

The Lar is small, youthful, lively and male, rustically clad in a short, girdled tunic – made of dogskin, according to Plutarch.[1]. He takes a dancer's attitude, tiptoed or lightly balanced on one leg. One arm raises a drinking horn (rhyton) aloft as if to offer a toast or libation; the other bears a shallow libation dish (patera). Surviving shrine paintings show identical, paired Lares; this leads to the interpretation of Lares as twin deities, as in Ovid's time. Lar statues and paintings shows little or no individuation and only minor stylistic variations from this basic type.


Lares and Lararia

Lararia (s. lararium) are domestic shrines and altars to the Lares and other household gods, including household penates and genius images. They could be found in virtually any room of any house; bedrooms, private rooms of now uncertain purpose but especially in working areas such as kitchen and stores, where the Lares shared the realm of the Penates. Most are small niches, or merely a small tile projecting from the wall, simply decorated and equipped but no less valued for that.[2] The housing of Lares in relatively private spaces attests to their more private and intimate relationships with the familia. Their placing in the public or semi-public parts of a house, such as its atrium, enrolled them in more outward, theatrical functions of household religion. In some cases, artistic display appears to overlap religious function, and according to Kaufmann-Heinimann, might have displaced it.[3]

In Pompeii's sophisticated, artistically restrained House of Menander[4] combines features of a villa urbana and villa rustica, with an adjacent agricultural estate and a lararium associated with "rustic" statuary. Its villicus (bailif) may have doubled as custodian or priest of the Lar and other elements of household cult. The shrine appears to have been in active use during the mid-first century AD when Pompeii was destroyed.

Pompeian lararium at the House of the Vettii. Two Lares flank an ancestor-genius holding patera (bowl) and incense box, his head respectfully covered as if for sacrifice. The snake is associated with the land's fertility and thus prosperity; it approaches a low, laden altar. The shrine's tympanum shows a patera, ox-skull and knife.[5]

The Lararium at the House of the Vettii has been interpreted as an expression of upward social mobility among the entrepreneurial classes of the early Empire. It measures 1.3m x 2.25m and faces onto the internal courtyard of the building. Its painted deities are framed by stonework in the form of a classical temple, complete with finely carved pediment to support a patera for offerings. The surrounding walls are filled with more painted deities and mythological scenes. Such a lararium would have made a powerful impression.[6] Its positioning in a relatively public part of the domus could provide a focus and backdrop for the probably interminable salutatio (formal greeting) between its upwardly mobile owners and their strings of clients and "an assorted group of unattached persons who made the rounds of salutationes to assure their political and economic security".[7]

Lararia offered a centralised shrine for domestic cult to any deity. The painted Lares and genius at the House of the Red Walls in Pompeii shared their quarters with bronze statuettes of Lares, Mercury, Apollo, and Hercules.[8] Literary sources describe Lararia as sacred depositories for commonplace symbols of family change and continuity. In his coming-of-age, a boy gave his personal amulet (bulla) to his Lares before he put on his manly toga (toga virilis) and his first beard was cut off to be placed in their keeping.[9] A girl came of age on the night before her wedding; she surrendered her childhood by offering her dolls, soft balls and breastbands to her own family Lares. On day of her marriage, her allegiance transferred from her own family Lares to those of her husband and his community. En route to her new home, she gave one copper coin to the Lar of the crossroads, one to her new domestic Lares and one to her husband. If the marriage made her a materfamilias, she took joint responsibility with her husband for aspects of household cult.[10][11]

In Plautus' comedy Aulularia, the Lar of the miserly paterfamilias Euclio reveals a pot of gold hidden beneath "his" houshold hearth. The Lar tells the audience that eventually Euclio's gold will provide his daughter with a dowry; but Euclio would rather hold onto it.[12]

The Lares and Compitalia

In Republican Rome, the Compitalia was a New Year festival "of the crossroads" (L. compitales), celebrated just after the Saturnalia that closed the old year. It was held to be an institution of the sixth king of Rome, Servius Tullius, who had favoured plebians and slaves, antagonised the Patricians and was thought to have been the son of a Lar and a slave-girl.[13] In Rome, each vicus (administrative district or ward) had its permanent Compital shrine, sited at a central crossroads or one that defined its boundary. The shrine housed the Lares who protected all individuals and social classes within their community.

Ultimately, the supervision of cult to the Lares of the vici may have been charged to the Roman elite who occupied most Roman magistracies and priesthoods[14] but its day-to-day affairs and management of its public amenities were the responsibility of magistri vici.[15] By tradition, and certainly in the late Republic, the Lares of the vici were served by men of very low legal and social status; poor plebians, freedmen and slaves – in Dionysius' account "the heroes [Lares] looked kindly on the service of slaves":[16]

"And they still observe the ancient custom in connection with those sacrifices propitiating the heroes by the ministry of their servants and during these days removing every badge of their servitude, in order that the slaves, being softened by this instance of humanity, which has something great and solemn about it, may make themselves more agreeable to their masters and be less sensible of the severity of their condition."[17]

During the Republican era the shrines appear to have been funded locally, probably by subscription among the plebians, freedmen and slaves of their vici. No records or traditions exist of their support through private benefaction. Notwithstanding Dionysius' observations above, official attitudes to Compitalia during the Late Republic seem equivocal at best; tradition that offered the plebians and the servile an outlets for free speech allowed not just mockery but subversion. At some time between 85 - 82 BC, the Compital shrines were the site of popular cult to the ill-fated popularist politician Marcus Marius Gratidianus during his praetorship. What happened – if anything – to the Compitalia festivals and games in the immediate aftermath of his public, ritualised murder is not known but in 68 BC the games at least were suppressed as "disorderly".[18]

The princeps Augustus reformed Compitalia and the vici. From 7 BC, a Lares' festival of 1 May was dedicated to the Lares Augusti and a new celebration of the Genius Augusti was held on 1 August, the inaugural day for Roman magistracies and personally auspicious for Augutus as the anniversary of his victory at Actium. Whether or not Augustus substituted the public Lares with "his own" Lares is questionable; augusti can be interpreted as descriptive, a shared title and honour (the "august" Lares) but when coupled with his new cult to the Genius Augusti, Augustus' deliberate association with the popular Lares through their shared honorific makes the reformed Compitalia an unmistakable aspect of cult to living emperors – albeit with local flavour.[19]

The iconography of these shrines celebrates their sponsor's personal qualities and achievements and evokes a real or re-invented continuity of practice from ancient times. Some examples are sophisticated, others crude and virtually rustic in style; taken as a whole, their positioning in every vicus (ward) of Rome symbolically extends the ideology of a "refounded" Rome to every part of the city.[20] The Compitalia reforms were ingenious and genuinely popular; they valued the traditions of the Roman masses and won their political, social and religious support. Probabably in response to this, provincial cults to the Lares Augusti appear soon afterwards; in Ostia, a Lares Augusti shrine was placed in the forum, which was ritually cleansed for the occasion.[21] The Augustan model persisted with only minor modifications until the end of the Western Empire, still dedicated to the Lares Augusti and associated with the ruling Emperor by title rather than name. Similar dedications and collegial arrangements are found elsewhere in the Empire.[22]

Augustus officially confirmed the plebian-servile character of Compitalia as essential to his "restoration" of Roman tradition. Its collegial priesthoods became Augustales. A dedication of 2 BC to the Augustan Lares lists four slaves as shrine-officials of their vicus.[23]. Given their slave status, their powers are debatable but they clearly constitute an official body. Their inscribed names, and those of their owners, are contained within an oak-wreath cartouche. The oak-leaf chaplet was voted to Augustus as "saviour" of Rome;[24] He was symbolic pater (father) of the Roman state, and though his genius was owed cult by his extended family, its offer seems to have been entirely voluntary. Hardly any of the reformed Compital shrines show evidence of cult to the emperor's genius.[25] Augustus acted as any responsible patronus (patron); he repaid honour with honours, which for the plebs meant offices, priesthood, and respect;[26] at least for some. In Petronius' Satyricon, a magistrate's lictor bangs on Trimalchio's door; it causes a fearful stir but in comes Habinnas, one of Augustus' new priests, a stonemason by trade; dressed up in his regalia, perfumed and completely drunk.[27]

Lares as State deities

Cult offerings

Offerings to the Lares include grain (spelt wheat and grain-garlands), honey cakes and honeycombs, grapes and first fruits, wine and incense.[28] Domestic Lares (Lares Familiares) could be served at any time and not always by intention: as well as the formal offerings that seem to have been their due, any food that fell to the floor during house banquets was theirs.[29] At Compitalia, a pig was taken in celebratory procession through the streets of the vicus to be sacrificed before the Compital shrine; Dionysius describes the contribution of a honey-cake from each household for Compitalia's "solemn and sumptuous" rites as ancient tradition.[30] A single source describes Romulus' provision of an altar and sacrifice to Lares Grundules ("grunting lares") after an unusually large farrowing of thirty piglets. In this case, Taylor conjectures the sacrifice of a pig; possibly a pregnant sow, as the most fecund offering is rewarded by greater fertility.[31]

Lares origin stories and development


The "mother of the Lares" (Mater Larum) is attested in the records of the Arval Brethren and in the speculative commentaries of a very small number of literate Romans, to whom she is Mania, Larunda or elegaically, Lara, Muta (the speechless one) and Tacita (the silent one).[32]

Varro (116 BC – 27 BC) believes her and her children originally Sabine and names her as Mania; the name is used by later Roman authors with the general sense of an "evil spirit". In the late 2nd century AD, Festus cites its use by nursemaids to terrify children. Macrobius (fl. 395 - 423 AD) applies it to the woolen figurines (maniae) hung at crossroad shrines during Compitalia. These were, according to him, substitutions for ancient human sacrifice once held at the same festival and suppressed by Rome's first consul, L. Junius Brutus.[33]

The Arval Brethren offer a sacred meal to the Mother of the Lares (cena matri Larum); in the temple of Dea Dia, they recite prayers over a sacred, sun-dried earthenware pot of puls (porridge), then throw the full pot from the temple doorway, down the slope on which the temple stands; thus, as Taylor remarks, towards the earth and is a typically chthonic offering. The Arvals invoke the Lares themselves in the obscure, fragmentary opening to the Arval Hymn (Carmen Arvale); enos Lases iuvate ("Help us, Lares").[34] On another occasion, they offer the Matres Larum two sheep.[35] Taylor interprets the Mater Larum as a dark or terrible aspect of Tellus (Terra Mater)

Ovid regards what may be remnants of her rites as superstitions, or folk-tradition among women at the fringes of the Feralia; an old woman sews up a fish-head, smears it with pitch then pierces and roasts it to bind hostile tongues to silence: she thus invokes Tacita. If, as he proposes, the lemures are unsatiated and malevolent forms of Lares, then they and their mother find their way into Lemuralia, when the vagrant and malicious Lemures and (perhaps) the Larvae must be placated by midnight libations of spring-water and offerings of black beans, spat from the mouth of the paterfamilias to the floor of the domus; again, Taylor notes the chthonic character of offerings made to fall – or deliberately expelled – towards the earth. If their mother's nature connects the Lares to the earth they are, according to Taylor, spirits of the departed.[36]

The only known mythography attached to Mater Larum is Ovid's. In his Fasti (II, 571 ff) he identifies her as a once-loquacious nymph, Lara, her tongue cut out for betrayal of Jupiter's secret amours. Lara thus becomes Muta (speechless) and is exiled from the daylight world to the underworld abode of the dead (ad Manes); a place of silence (Tacita). She is led there by Mercury and is impregnated by him en route. Her offspring – twin boys, in this poetic variant – are as silent or speechless as she.[37]

Household lararium in Pompeii

The Lares and their mother have been suggested as ancient Etruscan divinities; the title or forename Lars, used by Rome's Etrucan kings have been interpreted as "king", "overlord" or "leader".[citation needed] Greek authors offered "heroes" and "daimones" as translations for Lares and the early Roman playwright Plautus employs a far from silent guardian Lar Familiaris where Menander's Greek original has a heroon (hero-shrine); the Lar reveals himself as the guardian of secret treasure.[38] Plutarch's collated accounts of Rome's legendary beginnings offer glimpses of possible equivalence and confusion. In one of these, the mother of Romulus and Remus is a priestess of Vesta (goddess of the hearth) mortally sworn to chastity, seduced and impregnated but subsequently spared along with her sons. The boys are abandoned in the wild, suckled by a she-wolf (lupa) then fostered by Acca Larentia, a sacred prostitute (lupa is also Roman slang for a female prostitute).[39] Plutarch offers a similar legend of Servius Tullius, sixth king of Rome, credited with the founding of the Compitalia; his virginal slave mother-to-be is impregnated by a phallus-apparition arising from the hearth,[40] or some other divine being held to be a major deity or ancestor-hero by some, a Lar by others. Dionysius of Halicarnassus reports Servius' fathering by a Lar and his later pious founding of Compitalia as Roman commonplaces during the Augustan era. The Lar seems to him an equivalent to the Greek hero; semi-divine, ancestral and protective of place.[41][42][43]

These stories connect the Lar to the hearth, the underworld, generative powers (however embodied), nourishment, forms of divine or semi-divine ancestry and the coupling of the divine with the servile, wherein those those deprived by legal or birth-status of a personal gens could serve, and be served by, the cults attached to Compitalia and Larentalia. Mommsen's contention that Lares were originally field deities is not incompatible with their role as ancestors and guardians. A rural familia relied on the productivity of their estate and its soil: around the early 2nd century BC, Plautus's Lar Familiaris protects the house, and familia as he has always done, and safeguards their secrets.[44]

Tacitus counts a particular Lares shrine (a sacellum Larum) among the markers of Rome's ancient pomerium – the city's most important and sacred boundary, defined by Romulus with oxen and plough in Rome's founding myth).[45] The ausipicia urbana (urban auspices) could be rightly taken only within the sacred area defined by the pomerium, where the presence of a Lares shrine confirms the role of Lares as protective deities of boundary and place. These Lares defend Rome from augural error (vitium).[46]

Festus clearly identifies the Lares as "gods of the underworld" (di inferi)[47]. To Flaccus, they are ancestral genii (s. genius). Apuleius defines them as good or benevolent ancestral spirits, belonging both to the underworld and to particular places but as distinct from the divine and eternal genius which inhabits, protects and inspires living men as they are from the malicious, vagrant lemures.[48] These are philosophical and scholarly interpretations of extant traditions and rites. In the 4th century AD the Christian polemicist Arnobius, claiming among others Varro (116 BC – 27 BC) as his source, describes them as once-human spirits of the underworld, therefore ancestral; he also – and perhaps uniquely in the literature – categorises them with larvae (more usually identified with the lemures as dark and malevolent spirits of the restless dead).[49][50] Notwithstanding Arnobius' later polemic, and the ambivalence attached to their maternity, the Lares are benevolent if duly honoured. The proliferation of names attached to the Lares reflects a multiplicity of functions distributed among a single, usefully nebulous type. No traditional theology is attached to them, and very little mythography. In Cicero's day, one's domestic Lares laid moral claim of ownership and belonging.[51] Over four centuries later, in the early 5th century AD, Rutilius Namatianus could refer to the tale of a famine-stricken district whose inhabitants had no choice but to abandon their Lares (thus, to desert their rat-infested houses).[52]

Lares and their domains

Gallo-Roman Lar, Imperial period (from the "Muri" statuette collection).

The titles and domains given below are not mutually exclusive or exhaustive: some Lares appear to have had overlapping functions and changes of name.

  • Lares Augusti: the Lares of Augustus, or perhaps "the august Lares", given public cult on the first of August; thereby identified with the inaugural day of Roman magistracies and with Augustus himself. Official Cult to the Lares Augusti continued from their institution through to the 4th century AD.[53]
  • Lares Compitales: the Lares of the various crossroads at which the Compitalia festival was held. Shrines were positioned at ward boundaries (usually defined by roadways and their intersections) and would at least two and possibly more Lares. The crossroad shrines were the focus of urban religious and social life, particularly among the poor and the plebian masses. Augustus instituted an additional Compital festival, dedicated to the Lares Praestitis.[54][55]
  • Lares Domestici: Lares of the house.
  • Lares Familiares: Lares of the family. Possibly identical with the Lares Domestici, or becoming so.
  • Lares Grundules: the "grunting Lares", supposedly given an altar and cult by Romulus when a sow produced a prodigous farrow of thirty piglets.[56]
  • Lares Patrii: Lares of the fathers, possibly equivalent to the dii patrii (deified ancestors).
  • Lares Permarini: Lares who protected seafarers; also a temple to them (of which one is known at Rome's Campus martius).
  • Lares Praestitis: Lares of the state or community. In the Augustan era, the Lares praestitis received cult at the state regia, next to the temple of Vesta, with whose worship and sacred hearth they were associated. They may be identical with the Lares Compitales of Augustan reform. Later, they represent Rome's "illustrious dead".
  • Lares Privati
  • Lares Rurales: Lares of the fields (identified as custodes agri – guardians of the fields), probably the most ancient form of Lar.
  • Lares Viales: Lares of roads and those who travel them.

See also


  1. ^ Plutarch, Roman Questions, 52.
  2. ^ "The architecture of the ancient Romans was, from first to last, an art of shaping space around ritual:" Clarke, 1, citing Frank E. Brown, Roman Architecture, (New York, 1961, 9. Clarke views Roman ritual as twofold; some is prescribed, ceremonial and includes activities which might be called, in modern terms, religious; some is what might be understood in modern terms as secular conventions – the proper and habitual way of doing things. For Romans, both are a matter of lawful custom or mos maiorum.
  3. ^ Kaufmann-Heinimann, in Rüpke (ed), 200.
  4. ^ Named after its particularly fine fresco of the poet
  5. ^ Beard et al, vol. 2, 4.12.
  6. ^ Allison, P., 2006, The Insula of Menander at Pompeii, Vol.III, The Finds; A Contextual Study Oxford: Claredon Press.
  7. ^ Clarke, 4, 208, 264: the Vettii brothers had been freedmen and successful entrepreneurs, possibly in the wine business. Their house is designed and decorated in the so-called Fourth Style and imports courtyard elements of the rural villa. According to Clarke, their "semi-public" lararium and its surrounding walls - decorated with a riot of deities - reflects the increasing secularisation of household religion during this period.
  8. ^ Kaufmann-Heinimann, in Rüpke (ed), 200.
  9. ^ Clarke, 9-10; citing Propertius, 4.1.131-2 & Persius, The Satires, 5.30-1.
  10. ^ Orr, 15-16.
  11. ^ Clarke, 10.
  12. ^ Plautus, Aulularia.
  13. ^ The same institution was also credited to King Lucius Tarquinius Priscus, Servius' predecessor and paterfamilias (though not his birth-father).
  14. ^ Lott, 32 ff.
  15. ^ Galinsky, in Rüpke (ed), 79.
  16. ^ Dionysius understands the function of the Lar as equivalent to that of a Greek hero; an ancestral spirit, protector of a place and its people and possessing both mortal and divine characteristics.
  17. ^ Dionysius of Halicarnassus, 4.14.2-4 (excerpt), Trans. Cary, Loeb, Cambridge, 1939: cited in Lott, 31.
  18. ^ Lott, 28 - 51.
  19. ^ Lott, 107 - 117, points out that "Augusti" is never used to refer to private Julian religious practices. He finds unlikely that so subtle a reformist as Augustus should claim to restore Rome's traditions yet high-handedly replace one of its most popular cults with one to his own family Lares: contra Taylor (whose view he acknowledges as generally accepted): limited preview available via googlebooks: [1] (accessed 07 January 2010)
  20. ^ Beard et al, 184-6.
  21. ^ Beard et al, 355.
  22. ^ Lott, 174.
  23. ^ Their shrine is named as Stata Mater, probably after a nearby statue of that goddess.
  24. ^ The oak was sacred to Jupiter and the award of an oak leaf chaplet was reserved for those who had saved the life of a fellow-citizen. As Rome's "saviour", Augustus had saved the lives of all. Senators, knights (equites), plebs, freedmen and slaves were "under his protection" as pater patriae (father of the country), a title apparently urged by the the general populace.
  25. ^ Galinsky, in Rüpke (ed), 78 - 9.
  26. ^ Beard et al, vol 2, 207-8: section 8.6a, citing ILS 9250.
  27. ^ Beard et al, vol. 2, 208, sect. 8.6b: citing Petronius, Satyricon, 65.
  28. ^ Orr, 23.
  29. ^ Pliny the Elder, Natural History, 28, 27.
  30. ^ Lott, 31: Dionysius claims the Compitalia contribution of honey-cakes as another Servian institution.
  31. ^ Taylor, 303: citing Cassius Hemina ap. Diomedes I, p384 K; Nonius, p 114 M. Taylor notes that the story's association with Lavinius, Rome and Alba: "In view of the frequent identity between God and sacrificial victim, it is worth noting that the pig was the most usual offering to the Lares, just as the pregnant animal and particularly the pregnant sow was a common sacrifice to the earth goddess.
  32. ^ Taylor, 301: citing "Mania" in Varro, Lingua Latina, 9, 61; "Larunda" in Arnobius, 3, 41; "Lara" in Ovid, Fasti II, 571 ff: Macrobius, Saturnalia, 1, 7, 34-5; Festus, p115 L.
  33. ^ Taylor, 302: whatever the truth regarding this sacrifice and its abolition, the Junii held ancestor cult during Larentalia rather than the usual Parentalia.
  34. ^ Taylor, 299.
  35. ^ Along with offerings to numerous other deities served by their priesthood, in recompense for a pollution of Dia's sacred grove. See Beard et al, vol. 2, 151: section 6.2: CIL VI.2107, 2-13: ILS 5048. The grove was polluted by the use of iron tools - iron being strictly forbidden in the sacred area - in clearing up after a storm and lightning-strike.
  36. ^ Taylor, 300-301.
  37. ^ Wiseman, 2 - 88 & 174, Note 82: cf Ovid's connections between the lemures and Rome's founding myth. Remus is murdered by Romulus or one of his men just before or during the founding of the city. Romulus becomes ancestor of the Romans, ascends heavenwards on his death (or in some traditions, simply vanishes) and is later identified with the god Quirinus. Murdered Remus is consigned to the oblivion of the earth and - in Ovid's variant - haunts the living during Lemuria as a lemur-ghost; therefore "Lemuria" derives from "Remuria". No such festival is attested but Wiseman finds plausible connections between the Lemuria rites and Rome's foundation legends; (as Wiseman points out, few foundation myths can be as problematic as Rome's). While the benevolent Lar is connected to place, boundary and good order, the Lemur is fearsomely chthonic - transgressive, vagrant and destructive; its rites suggest individual and collective reparation for neglect of due honours, and for possible blood-guilt. For Ovid's Fasti II (Latin text) see the [2]
  38. ^ Weinstock, 114-18, proposes the equivalence of "lar" and Greek hero, based on his gloss of a 4th century BC inscription from Latium as a dedication to the Roman ancestor-hero Aeneas as Lare (Lar).
  39. ^ Plutarch, The Parallel Lives, Life of Romulus, 4-5: available online at Thayer's site [3] (accessed 06 January 2010)
  40. ^ also in Pliny, Natural History, 36, 70.
  41. ^ Lott, 31: citing Dionysius of Halicarnassus, 4.14.3-4.
  42. ^ Plutarch, Moralia, On the fortune of the Romans, 10, 64: available online (Loeb) at Thayer's website [4] (accessed 06 January 1020)
  43. ^ Lott, 35.
  44. ^ Plautus, Aulularia, 2 -5.
  45. ^ Tacitus, Annals, 12, 24.
  46. ^ Beard et al, vol. 1, 23. See also Cicero, De Natura Deorum, II, 10 - 12. For the sometimes catastrophic consequences of vitium in augury, see Livy, I, 36, 2 - 6.
  47. ^ Festus, 239.
  48. ^ Apuleius, de Deo Socratis, 15.
  49. ^ Arnobius, Adversus nationes, 3.41.
  50. ^ Taylor, 299-301: citing Martianus Capella, II, 162.
  51. ^ Cicero, de Domo sua, 108-9, for the domestic presence of the Lares and Penates as an indication of ownership.
  52. ^ Rutilius Namatianus, de Reditu suo, 290: Latin text at Thayer's website [5] (accessed 06 January 2010)
  53. ^ Beard et al, 185-6, 355, 357.
  54. ^ Beard et al, 139.
  55. ^ Lott, 115, citing Suetonius.
  56. ^ Taylor, 303, citing the 2nd century BC annalist Cassius Hemina.


  • Beard, M., North, J., Price, S., Religions of Rome, vol. 1, illustrated, reprint, Cambridge University Press, 1998. ISBN 0521316820
  • Beard, M., North, J., Price, S., Religions of Rome, vol. 2, illustrated, reprint, Cambridge University Press, 1998. ISBN 0521456460
  • Clarke, John R., The Houses of Roman Italy, 100 BC-AD 250. Ritual, Space and Decoration, illustrated, University Presses of California, Columbia and Princeton, 1992. ISBN 9780520084292
  • Giacobello, Federico, Larari pompeiani. Iconografia e culto dei Lari in ambito domestico, LED Edizioni Universitarie, Milano, 2008, ISBN 9788879163743
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  • Rüpke, Jörg (Editor), A Companion to Roman Religion, Wiley-Blackwell, 2007, ISBN 9781405129435
  • Taylor, Lilly Ross, The Mother of the Lares, American Journal of Archaeology, Vol. 29, 3, (July - Sept. 1925), 299 - 313.
  • Weinstock, Stefan, Two Archaic Inscriptions from Latium, Journal of Roman Studies, 50, (1960), 112 - 118.
  • Wiseman, T. P., Remus: a Roman myth, Cambridge University Press, 1995. ISBN 9780521483667

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From LoveToKnow 1911

LARES (older form Lases), Roman tutelary deities. The word is generally supposed to mean "lords," and identified with Etruscan larth, lar; but this is by no means certain. The attempt to harmonize the Stoic demonology with Roman religion led to the Lares being compared with the Greek "heroes" during the period of Greco-Roman culture, and the word is frequently translated ilpcoEs. In the later period of the republic they are confounded with the Penates (and other deities), though the distinction between them was probably more sharply marked in earkor times. They were originally gods of the cultivated fields, worshipped by each household where its allotment joined those of others (see below). The distinction between public and private Lares existed from early times. The latter were worshipped in the house by the family alone, and the household Lar (familiaris) was conceived of as the centre-point of the family and of the family cult. The word itself (in the singular) came to be used in the general sense of "home." It is certain that originally each household had only one Lar; the plural was at first only used to include other classes of Lares, and only gradually, after the time of Cicero, ousted the singular. The image of the Lar, made of wood, stone or metal, sometimes even of silver, stood in its special shrine (lararium), which in early times was in the atrium, but was afterwards transferred to other parts. of the house, when the family hearth was removed from the atrium. In some of the Pompeian houses the lararium was represented by a niche only, containing the image of the lar. It was usually a youthful figure, dressed in a short, high-girt tunic, holding in one hand a rhyton (drinking-horn), in the other a patera (cup). Under the Empire we find usually two of these, one on each side of the central figure of the Genius of the head of the household, sometimes of Vesta the hearth-deity. The whole group was called indifferently Lares or Penates. A prayer was said to the Lar every morning, and at each meal offerings of food and drink were set before him; a portion of these was placed on the hearth and afterwards shaken into the fire. Special sacrifices were offered on the kalends, nones, and ides of every month, and on the occasion of important family events. Such events were the birthday of the head of the household; the assumption of the toga virilis by a son; the festival of the Caristia in memory of deceased members of the household; recovery from illness; the entry of a young bride into the house for the first time; return home after a long absence. On these occasions the Lares were crowned with garlands, and offerings of cakes and honey, wine and incense, but especially swine, were laid before them. Their worship persisted throughout the pagan period, although its character changed considerably in later times. The emperor Alexander Severus had images of Abraham, Christ and Alexander the Great among his household Lares.

The public Lares belonged to the state religion. Amongst these must be included, at least after the time of Augustus, the Lares compitales. Originally two in number, mythologically the sons of Mercurius and Lara (or Larunda), they were the presiding deities of the cross-roads (compita), where they had their special chapels. It has been maintained by some that they are the twin brothers so frequent in early religions, the Romulus and Remus of the Roman foundation legends. Their sphere of influence included not only the cross-roads, but the whole neighbouring district of the town and country in which they were situated. They had a special annual festival, called Compitalia, to which public games were added some time during the republican period. When the colleges of freedmen and slaves, who assisted the presidents of the festival, were abolished by Julius Caesar, it fell into disuse. Its importance was revived by Augustus, who added to these Lares his own Genius, the religious personification of the empire.

The state itself had its own Lares, called praestites, the protecting patrons and guardians of the city. They had a temple and altar on the Via Sacra, near the Palatine, and were represented on coins as young men wearing the chlamys, carrying lances, seated, with a dog, the emblem of watchfulness, at their feet. Mention may also be made of the Lares grundules, whose worship was connected with the white sow of Alba Longa and its thirty young (the epithet has been connected with grunnire, to grunt): the viales, who protected travellers; the hostilii, who kept off the enemies of the state; the permarini, connected with the sea, to whom L. Aemilius Regillus, after a naval victory over Antiochus (190 B.C.), vowed a temple in the Campus Martius, which was dedicated by M. Aemilius Lepidus the censor in 179.

The old view that the Lares were the deified ancestors of the family has been rejected lately by Wissowa, who holds that the Lar was originally the protecting spirit of a man's lot of arable land, with a shrine at the compitum, i.e. the spot where the path bounding his arable met that of another holding; and thence found his way into the house.

In addition to the manuals of Marquardt and Preller-Jordan, and Roscher's Lexikon der Mythologie, see A. de Marchi, Il Culto privato di Roma antica (1896-1903), p. 28 foil.; G. Wissowa, Religion and Kultus der Romer (1902), p. 148 foil.; Archiv fiir Religionswissenschaft (1904, p. 42 foil.) and W. Warde Fowler in the same periodical (1906, p. 529).

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Up to date as of January 15, 2010

Definition from Wiktionary, a free dictionary




Larēs (genitive Larum); m, third declension, plurale tantum

  1. The gods of a place, such as a city, but especially household deities.

Usage notes

  • This word is always plural. The genitive is occasionally spelled Larium instead of Larum.

Related terms



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