Roman Religion: Wikis


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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

Ancient Roman religion encompasses the various religious beliefs and cult practices of ancient Rome. Romans offered cult to innumerable deities responsible for natural events and human affairs. Most of these cults were credited to Rome's divine ancestors and founders, her allies and her kings. Some Romans explained their personal success and high office as evidence of their own divine ancestry.

The priesthoods and cult to major deities and high offices of state were regarded as traditionally patrician preserves until opened to the plebians. Cult to Roman household deities was served by the paterfamilias and his familia (those under his protection). Some deities were served by women, others by freedmen and slaves.

Participation in traditional religious rituals was thought a practical and moral necessity for Romans of every class and occupation, and was embedded in personal, domestic and public life. Cult could be offered any deity or any combination of deities, as long as it did not offend mos maiorum (Roman tradition and custom). Rome's mystery cults were by their nature exclusive and secretive; little is known of them.

Some cult practices were explained or justified by Roman mythology; others remained obscure in origin and purpose. Cults and ritual provided sources for philosophical speculation, rather than doctrine or revelation. Even the most skeptical among Rome's upper castes acknowledged their necessity. Traditional religious practice was self-evidently the core of Rome's foundation, development and continued success. Religious novelty was a source of fascination and mistrust.

As Rome extended its influence and presence throughout the Mediterranean world, it encountered and absorbed further deities and practices by seeking (and often finding) their equivalence to its own or acknowledging their role in local identity and tradition. Some were officially embraced, some were tolerated. Others were condemned as alien hysteria, magic or superstition. Those that threatened traditional morality and unity were suppressed.

Under the Empire, numerous foreign cults grew popular, including the mystery cults of Isis and Eleusis, and deities of solar monism such as Mithras and Sol Invictus. Christianity eventually won support from Constantine I and in 391 it became the state religion under Theodosius I, to the exclusion of all other cults. Rome's traditional cults were condemned as "pagan",[1] and were gradually transformed, absorbed or suppressed but retained their vitality through the 4th and 5th centuries. Rome's traditional religious hierarchy and many of its rituals remain ingrained in Christian ritual and many pre-Christian beliefs and practices survived in Christian festivals and local traditions.


Frameworks of Roman religion

Roman religio (pl. religiones) sought the alignment of earthly, human affairs (res humanae) with the divine (res divinae) through ritual. Rome's deities and divinities might respond favourably if correctly approached with an appropriate offering or sacrifice. In Roman religion, Orthopraxy (doing the right things) was more important than orthodoxy (believing the right things); right action was a cornerstone of Rome's mos maiorum (the customs and traditions "of the ancestors") and religio was a measured, rational activity which met the needs of the individual, the community and, insofar as their desires and requirements could be apprehended, the gods. Neglect of religio was a form of atheism, and imperiled the individual and the State. Excessive devotion and emotionalism in religio could be counterproductive, subversive or destructive, and was classed as superstitio.[2]

Rites could be polluted by innovation, chance events or errors of procedure (vitium). Regardless of sincere intentions, polluted rites were at best ineffective; at worst, they might provoke divine anger and disaster.[3] In the late 3rd century CE, Aelian applauded the pious "wisdom of barbarians" who practiced the "pure and unpolluted" rites of their ancestors.[4]

Participation in public rites acknowledged a personal commitment to the community and its values:[5] but particular rites could be polluted by those deemed impure under the relevant ritual law. In a ceremony of the Imperial era, a lictor commands the ritual expulsion of "the foreigner, the chained prisoner, the woman, the young girl!"[6] On the other hand, only women could attend the secret rites of Bona Dea.[7]


Vows, prayers and invocations

Without an appropriate and correctly delivered prayer, the gods could not know who was being addressed or what was being asked.[8] Family meals and rites of passage were marked by vows, prayers and sacrifice to deities of household and family. The inconvenient delays of a journey, or the more fraught encounters of banditry, piracy and wreck might be averted by prayers for divine protection before setting out and an offering of gratitude on safe arrival. In times of great crisis, the senate could decree collective public worship, in which Rome's citizens – men, women and children – moved in procession from one temple to the next, to supplicate the gods for their help. [9]

Public prayers were offered loudly and clearly by a priest, on behalf of the community.[10] Surviving liturgies tend to repetition and reiteration, as if to avoid any divine doubt of their intent. A similar declamatory, persuasive style was recommended for actors, petitioners and lawyers in court; the difference in priestly address lies its repetition, and its use of archaic and obscure language and gestures. Public religious ritual was enacted as a sacred drama whose true meaning might be apparent only to the gods.[11]

Private prayers might have been produced in a more intimate, informal atmosphere, but surviving private liturgies are just as cautious and formulaic. Not all prayers and hymns were followed by sacrifice, but sacrifice without prayer was "thought to be useless and not a proper consultation of the gods".[12] [13]

Roman commanders offered vows to be fulfilled after success in battle or siege; and further vows to expiate their failures. On one occasion, according to Livy, an enemy's protective deity was offered a deal; in a ceremony called an evocatio, Camillus promised Juno a temple in Rome as incentive for her desertion of Veii. He conquered in Juno's name, brought her cult to Rome and the city built her the promised temple. In the war against the Latins, Publius Decius Mus (consul 340 BC) vowed himself and the opposing army to the earth goddess and the shades of the dead (dii Manes) as an act of devotio in exchange for Roman victory: both sides kept the bargain. [14]

Deities bore witness to oaths of business, clientage and service, patronage and protection, state office, treaty and loyalty. As the refusal to swear lawful oaths, and the breaking of sworn oaths equally repudiated the fundamental bonds between the human and divine, both carried much the same penalty.[15]


Sacrifice seems to have reinforced or revitalised the powers and attributes of divine beings, and inclined them to render benefits in return. Things offered or dedicated to the gods were sacer, and "blood offerings" were the most potent. The victims were domestic animals, typically cattle, sheep and pigs; each must be the best possible of its kind. They were cleansed, clad in sacrificial regalia and garlanded; the horns of oxen might be gilded. As sacrifice sought the harmonisation of the earthly and divine, the victim must seem willing to offer its own life on behalf of the community; it must remain calm and be quickly and cleanly despatched.[16]. Deities were offered victims of their own sex; white and infertile animals for deities of the heavens (di superi) – Jupiter, required a white, castrated ox (bos mas) for the annual consular oath-taking. Di superi with strong connections to the earth, such as Mars, Janus, Neptune and the various genii – including the genius of the Emperor – needed fertile victims, and underworld (Chthonic) gods such as Dis pater and Pluto were given dark, fertile victims. Ceres and other underworld goddesses of fruitfulness were sometimes offered pregnant female animals; Tellus was given a pregnant cow at the Fordicidia festival. Vulcan and Robigo were given reddish-coloured animals; Robigo, a red dog. Demigods and heroes belonged to the heavens and the underworld, and were sometimes given black-and-white victims.[17]

Cults to di superi were held in daylight, and were usually followed by a banquet, at which the cult images of the deity or deities took pride of place on couches and consumed their own portion of the sacrifice (the innards) through the sacrificial fire. Rome's high officials reclined alongside and ate the meat; lesser citizens probably had to provide their own.[18] Underworld deities were given cult at nighttime, and consumed their victims whole, because "the living cannot share a meal with the dead".[19]

Sacrificial offerings could vary according to the context of cult. For example, Lares could be offered spelt wheat and grain-garlands, honey cakes and honeycombs, grapes and first fruits, whenever in season, wine and incense,[20] food that fell to the floor during any family meal,[21] or at their Compitalia festival, honey-cakes and a pig on behalf of the community.[22] Their supposed relatives, the malicious and vagrant Lemures, might be placated with distinctly chthonic midnight offerings of black beans and spring water.[23] Extraordinary circumstances called for extraordinary sacrifice: in one of the many crises of the Second Punic war, Jupiter Capitolinus was promised every animal born that spring, to be rendered after five more years of protection from Hannibal and his allies.[24] Had the gods failed to keep their side of the bargain, sacrifice would have been withheld. In the imperial period, sacrifice was withheld following Trajan's death because the gods had not kept the Emperor safe for the stipulated period.[25] In Pompeii, the genius of the living emperor was offered a bull: presumably a standard practise in Imperial cult, though minor offerings (incense and wine) were also made.[26]

After the Roman defeat at Cannae two Gauls and two Greeks were buried under the Forum Boarium, in a stone chamber "which had on a previous occasion [228 BC] also been polluted by human victims, a practice most repulsive to Roman feelings".[27] Livy avoids the word "sacrifice" in connection with this bloodless human life-offering; Plutarch does not. The rite was apparently repeated in 113 BC, preparatory to an invasion of Gaul. Its religious dimensions and purpose remain uncertain.[28] In the early stages of the First Punic war (264 BC) the first known Roman gladiatorial munus was held, described as a funeral blood-rite to the manes of a Roman military aristocrat.[29] In pre-Christian Rome, the gladiator munus was never considered (or at least, never acknowledged) as a human sacrificial rite, probably because death was not its inevitable outcome or purpose. Even so, the combat was dedicated as an offering to the gods, and was therefore sacrificium in the strict sense of the term. The small woolen dolls called Maniae, hung on the Compitalia shrines, were thought a symbolic replacement for child-sacrifice to Mania, as Mother of the Lares. The Junii took credit for its abolition by their ancestor L. Junius Brutus, traditionally Rome's Republican founder and first consul.[30]

Human sacrifice was officially obnoxious "to the laws of gods and men", and those who practiced it – such as Rome's Carthaginian foes – were irredeemably Other. Rome banned it on several occasions, under extreme penalty; notably in 81 BC, under the aegis of the Lex Cornelia de sicariis et veneficiis.[31] Its alleged practice helped justify the conquest of Gaul, both invasions of Britain and the suppression of the Druids as righteous acts of war: though according to Pliny the Elder, the British clung to the practice for as long as they could. Despite an empire-wide bann under Harian, illicit and covert human sacrifice may have continued in North Africa and elsewhere.[32]

Augury and haruspicy

Most state cult took place outside a sanctuary or temple building, within a templum, (sacred space) determined by an augur.[33][34] Rome itself was an intrinsically sacred space; its ancient boundary (Pomerium) had been marked by Romulus himself with oxen and plough, and it was earthly home and protectorate of its gods. In Rome, the central geographic references for the establishment of an augural templum appears to have been the Via Sacra (Sacred Way) and pomerium (Rome's sacred boundary).[35] Within the templum, magistrates sought divine opinion of proposed official acts through an augur, who read the divine will through observations made within the sacred space, before, during and after an act of sacrifice.[36] Divine disapproval could arise through unfit sacrifice, errant rites (vitium) or an unacceptable plan of action. The magistrate could repeat the sacrifice until favourable signs were seen, consult with his augural colleagues, or abandon the project. Magistrates could use their right of augury (ius augurum) to adjourn and overturn the process of law, but were obliged to base their decision on the augur's observations and advice. For Cicero, this made the augur the most powerful authority in the Late Republic.[37] By his time (mid 1st century BC) augury was supervised by the college of pontifices, whose powers were increasingly woven into the magistracies of the cursus honorum.[38]

Haruspicy was also used in public cult, under the supervision of the augur or presiding magistrate. The haruspices divined the will of the gods through examination of entrails after sacrifice, particularly the liver.[39] They also interpreted omens, prodigies and portents, and formulated their expiation. Most Roman authors describe haruspicy as an ancient, ethnically Etruscan "outsider" religious profession, separate from Rome's internal and largely unpaid priestly hierarchy, essential but never quite respectable.[40] During the mid-to-late Republic, private haruspices were employed by some leading Romans to justify their acts and policies as divinely approvaed: the reformist Gaius Gracchus, the populist politician-general Gaius Marius and his antagonist Sulla, and the "notorious Verres" all used them. The senate and armies used the public haruspices: at some time during the late Republic, the Senate decreed that Roman boys of noble family be sent to Etruria for training in haruspicy and divination. Being of independent means, they would be better motivated to maintain a pure, religious practice for the public good.[41] The motives of private haruspices – especially females – and their clients were officially suspect.[42]

See also Superstition, magic and outsider cults and Women and Roman religion in this article.

Omens and prodigies

Omens observed within or from a divine augural templum – especially the flight of birds – were sent by the gods in response to official queries; if he deemed the omens unfavourable, a magistrate with ius augurium (the right of augury) could declare the suspension of all official business for the day (obnuntiato). Caesar and Cicero were among those who resorted to this. Conversely, an omen could be re-interpreted as positive.[43]

Prodigies were transgressions in the natural, predictable order of the cosmos – signs of divine anger that portended conflict and misfortune. The Senate decided whether a reported prodigy was false, or genuine and in the public interest, in which case it was referred to the public priests, augurs and haruspices for ritual expiation.[44]In 207 BC, during Rome's Second Punic War the Senate dealt with an unprecedented number of reported prodigies whose expiation would have involved "at least twenty days" of dedicated rites.[45]

The major prodigies of 207 BC included the spontaneous combustion of weapons, the apparent shrinking of the sun's disc, two moons in a daylit sky, a cosmic battle between sun and moon, a rain of red-hot stones, a bloody sweat on statues, and blood in fountains and on ears of corn: all were expiated by sacrifice of "greater victims". The minor prodigies were equally unnatural; sheep became goats, a hen became a cock (and vice-versa) – these were expiated with "lesser victims". The discovery of an androgynous four-year old child was expiated by its drowning[46] and in addition, the holy procession of 27 virgins to the temple of Juno Regina, singing a hymn to avert disaster: a lightning strike during the hymn rehearsals required further expiation.[47] Livy's account of this war – one of the most prolonged and momentous in Rome's history – is punctuated by Rome's dereliction of duty to its gods, inevitably followed by prodigies and portents. Religious restitution is proved only by Rome's victory.[48][49]

In the wider context of Graeco-Roman religious culture, Rome's earliest reported portents and prodigies stand out as atypically dire. Whereas for Romans, a comet presaged misfortune, for Greeks it might equally signal a divine or exceptionally fortunate birth.[50] By the late Republic, perhaps due to Greek influences, a daytime comet at the murdered Julius Caesar's funeral games confirmed his deification.[51]

Oracles and dreams

Funerals and the afterlife

Roman treatment of the dead perpetuated their status: in death, as in life, elite Romans were housed in splendour. Votive deposits to deities and the elite dead suggest funeral offerings and banquets in the company of the deceased, an expectation of afterlife and an association between the gods and the noble dead.[52]

The standard Roman funerary inscription is Dis Manibus (to the Manes-gods). Regional variations include its Greek equivalent, theoîs katachthoníois[53] and Lugdunum's commonplace but mysterious "dedicated under the trowel" (sub ascia dedicare).[54]

Burial and commemorative practises of Christian and non-Christians overlap in the later Imperial era; family tombs are shared, and the traditional funeral rites and feast of novemdialis find a part-match in the Christian Consitutio Apostolica.[55] The customary offers of wine and food to the dead continue; St Augustine (following St Ambrose) fears that this too closely resembles the practices of parentalia, and might be a similar cause for drunkenness, but commends funeral feasts as a Christian opportunity to give alms of food to the poor. In 567 AD, Christians were attending not only parentalia but Feralia and Caristia in sufficient numbers for the Council of Tours to forbid them. Other funerary and commemorative practices are very different. Traditional Roman practice spurns the corpse as a ritual pollution; inscriptions note the day of birth and duration of life. The Christian Church fosters the veneration of saintly relics; inscriptions mark the day of death as a transition to "new life".[56]

Religion in Roman histories

Romans believed some of their religious customs older than Rome's foundation, some coeval with it and some as native to its allies. Most others were credited to its kings. The Trojan refugee Aeneas, a descendant of Venus was said to have brought the cult of the Lares and Penates to Italy, along with the Palladium; he was received by Evander, a Greek exile from Arcadia who had set up the Ara Maxima (Greatest Altar) to Hercules at the future site of Rome's Forum Boarium and had founded the Lupercalia.[57]

Aeneas' descendants Romulus and his twin brother Remus were divinely fathered on a virgin princess or priestess of Vesta by Mars or Hercules, exposed at birth, and saved by a series of divine or miraculous interventions. When the twins could not agree on the site for their new city, they asked the opinion of the gods through divine augury. The gods sent Romulus more favourable signs; he established his city on the Capitoline Hill, created its sacred boundary, gave it his name, appointed its first senate and organised its armies. Faced with a shortage of marriagable young women, he organised a new religious festival, the Consualia, invited the neighbouring Sabines then kidnapped their daughters. In gratitude for his astounding success in war and to ensure similar success in the future, he founded Rome's first temple to Jupiter Feretrius and offered him the spoils in Rome's first triumph. He became increasingly autocratic, mysteriously disappeared and was deified.[58]

His pious and peaceable successor, Numa was credited with Rome's first religious calendar and religious foundations including the Salii, the priesthoods (flamines) and cults of Jupiter, Mars and Quirinus, the Vestal Virgins and the temple of Janus, whose doors stayed open in times of war. In Numa's time, they were closed. After his death, they remained open until the reign of Augustus.[59]

Each of Rome's legendary or semi-legendary kings was associated with one or more of the religious institutions familiar to the later Republic. Tullus Hostilius and Ancus Marcius devised the fetial priests and their rites. The first "outsider" Etruscan king, Lucius Tarquinius Priscus founded a Capitoline temple to Jupiter, Juno and Minerva which served as a later model for the highest official cult throughout the Roman world. The benevolent, divinely fathered Servius Tullius established the Latin League and built its Aventine Temple to Diana, and instituted the Compitalia to mark his social reforms. His arrogant successor (and murderer) Tarquinius "the Proud" was expelled, and Rome became a Republic, run by annually appointed consuls with divine consent. For Roman historians, the essentials of Republican religion were already established – under good kings or bad – by the Senate and people of Rome.[60]

Rome's ancestors, founders, kings and their reigns are uncertain at best; the city's origins are now thought to be significantly more remote than its historians supposed, in which case the list of kings is too short. Livy places Rome's foundation more than 600 years before his own time. He and his near contemporary Dionysius of Halicarnassus appear to share some common sources, including an earlier history by Quintus Fabius Pictor, of which only a terse summary survives.[61] Republican historians may have sought to interpret such fragments of written history as they possessed, the physical remnants of ancient tombs, shrines, temples and priestly records[62], the traditional histories of Rome's leading families, and equally important ritual and pre-literate oral traditions of unknown antiquity. Some were already obscure in their meaning and purpose.[63] They sought to address and illuminate the problems and preoccupations of their own times and social class; Rome's religious practices were causal, and its history was a coherent and sacred continuity imperiled by religious negligence and personal ambition.[64][65][66] According to Cicero, the Romans considered themselves the most religious of all peoples.[67]

Official and unofficial cults

Public cult (sacra publica) was state funded as a matter of public interest (res publica). Public temples and rites were prominent features of Rome's public and political life; the city's rhythms were marked by sacred calendars, and its topology by sacred buildings, shrines and statues. Jupiter's temple would have dominated the Capitol.[68]

Cult was officially recognised as private (sacra privata) or public (sacra publica); the difference is often unclear. Individuals or collegial associations could fund private cult to any divinity or divinities, or donate funds for public rites. Sacra publica could include "domestic" rites, such as those of the public Vestals for parentalia, which was otherwise a sacra privata. Some "public" festivals and the rites of the domus - including those that took place in public places - were defined as privata in part or whole. All were ultimately subject to the supervision of the censor and pontifices.[69]

Religion and politics

Rome was a densely built and crowded city. During the Augustan era, it probably housed more than a million people; approximately half were slave or free non-citizen natives, including an unknown number of itinerants and provincials. Less than a quarter of adult males had voting rights – far fewer could actually exercise them. Women had no vote. Government and politics were dominated by Rome's educated, male, landowning military aristocracy. Most Romans had no direct involvement in lawmaking, central government or state religion. [70] Nevertheless, religion was an effective force in local and national politics.

The links between Rome's religious and political life were vital to its internal governance, diplomacy and development from kingdom, to Republic and to Empire. The powers of Rome's kings, consuls and emperors derived in part through their relationships with the gods. Post-regal politics dispersed the power and authority of the kings more or less equitably among the patrician elite.[71] Plebian political actions eroded the patrician monopoly, made the plebian tribunes sacrosanct, and gained them powers of veto in legislative debate: the plebians still maintained their own distinctive traditions and cults.[72] The Augustan settlement acknowledged the common political and religious interests of all classes. "In a very real sense the senate was the caretaker of the Romans’ relationship with the divine, just as it was the caretaker of their relationship with other humans". All official business was conducted under the divine gaze and auspices.[73]

Temples buildings and shrines within the city commemorated significant political settlements in its development: the Aventine Temple of Diana supposedly marked the founding of the Latin League under Servius Tullius.[74] High-ranking priesthoods provided political opportunity: most were occupied by high-ranking citizens who held – or had held – high political office and influence. Some minor public priesthoods preferred freedmen or slaves, such as the seviri of the Compitalia.[75] The high public profile offered by priesthood was politically useful: likewise, political candidates could fund temples, priesthoods and spectacular public ludi and munera – both of which had strongly religious connotations – to sway electoral decisions.[76][77] Priesthood offered the divine validation of policy: in 63 BC, Julius Caesar's appointment as pontifex maximus "signaled his emergence as a major player in Roman politics".[78] By 14 AD, Roman religion and politics met in the person of the emperor:

"Because of you we are living, because of you we can travel the seas, because of you we enjoy liberty and wealth." A thanksgiving prayer offered in Naples' harbour to Augustus, on his return from Alexandria, shortly before his death.[79]

Priesthood and religious law

Rome had no specifically priestly caste or class: the highest authority in any community usually sponsored its cults and sacrifices, and often officiated as its priest. Heads of households, ruling consuls, military leaders and emperors all held priestly obligations to their subordinates and their deities. However, a priest derived his authority directly from the eternal divine. A magistrate derived his strictly temporary powers from his electorate: his election, his office and his actions while in office must meet with divine approval. The interdependence and separation of priestly and civil authority are evident in the Regal era, when a rex sacrorum (king of the sacred rites) is thought to have supervised regal and state rites, in conjunction with the king (rex) or in his absence. The abolition of monarchy eroded the executive authority of the rex sacrorum: the collegial power and influence of the Republican pontifices increased. By the late Republican era, the rex sacrorum had become a relatively obscure priesthood with an entirely symbolic title: his religious duties included the daily, ritual announcement of festivals and priestly duties within two or three of them but little else. The most important of his former priestly roles – the supervision of the Vestals and their rites – fell to the more politically powerful and influential pontifex maximus.[80] Assistants and acolytes were usually promoted or co-opted from within the community. Religious professionals such as haruspices, oracles and other diviners were available for consultation if need arose.

The earliest pontifices were probably the flamines (s. flamen): the major flamines, dedicated to Jupiter, Mars and Quirinus, and later, to Capitoline Jupiter, Juno and Minerva, were traditionally drawn from patrician families. Twelve lesser flamines were each dedicated to a single deity. A flamen's was a lifetime appointment and his activities were restricted by strict ritual prohibitions; Jupiter's flamen in particular had virtually no simultaneous capacity for an active political or military career.[81] Nevertheless, co-option to the priesthood offered high public profile and political influence, and most priesthoods could be surrendered without penalty. An ex-priest enjoyed certain privileges and immunities, even in exile. Therefore the number and kind of religious offices allowed an individual or his family were limited by law. Religious law informed and in some cases overrode political decisions and must be explained, expounded and rigorously administered by qualified professionals, not by politicians for personal gain.[82] For those who had reached their goal in the Cursus honorum, permanent priesthood was best sought or granted after a lifetime's service in military or political life, or preferably both: it was a particularly honourable and active form of retirement which fulfilled an essential public duty. For those of less elevated status, the minor priesthoods of predominantly plebian cults offered a high local profile and political opportunities.

During the Imperial era, priesthood of the Imperial cult offered provincial elites full Roman citizenship and public prominence beyond their single year in religious office; in effect, it was the first step in a provincial cursus honorum. In Rome, the same role was performed by the Arval Brethren, once an obscure Republican priesthood dedicated to several deities, then co-opted by Augustus as part of his religious reforms. The Arvals offered prayer and sacrifice to Roman state gods at various temples for the continued welfare of the Imperial family on their birthdays, accession anniversaries and to mark extraordinary events such as the quashing of conspiracy or revolt. Every January 3 they consecrated the annual vows and rendered any sacrifice promised in the previous year, provided the gods had kept the Imperial family safe for the contracted time.[83]

Religion and the military

Rome's citizen-soldiers were supposed to embody the values of the society they were sworn to defend; from at least the 4th century BC, "an aggressive and efficient military apparatus" was the core of Rome's expansion and success. At the same time, it was a potent agency in Rome's social, political and religious development.[84]

Expansion was made possible by the integration of the allied nobility and its clients into Rome's government, religious and military apparatus and was achieved through a combination of personal and collective virtus (roughly, "manly virtue") and the divine will: lack of virtus, civic or private negligence in religio and the growth of superstitio provoked divine wrath and led to miltary disaster. Rome's military success was the touchstone of its special relationship with the gods, and to Jupiter Capitolinus in particular; on the day of their triumph, triumphal generals were dressed as the god, and laid their victor's laurels at his feet.[85][86]

The greatest virtus lay in the devotio of willing self-sacrifice to the gods of the underworld for the greater good, in which the consular Decii – father, son and (possibly) grandson – were considered exemplary.[87] Livy offers a detailed account of the first in this remarkable series. Before the battle, Decius is granted a prescient dream that reveals his fate. When he offers sacrifice, the victim's liver appears "damaged where it refers to his own fortunes". Otherwise, the haruspex tells him, the sacrifice is entirely acceptable to the gods. Decius is therefore not only destined to die; he is obliged to do so in discharge of his vows – this will fulfill the ominous sign in the victim's liver, and remove all possible taint from the sacrifice. He commits himself and the enemy to the dii Manes and Tellus, charges alone and headlong into the enemy ranks, and is killed. His courage inspires his men to victory. Had he done otherwise, his pre-battle sacrificial offering would have been void, with possibly disastrous consequences.[88]

Roman camps followed a standardised pattern for defense and religious ritual. The commander's headquarters stood at the centre; he took the auspices on a dais in front. A small building behind housed the legionary standards, the divine images used in religious rites and in the Imperial era, the image of the ruling emperor. One camp titles this shrine as a Capitolium. The most important camp-offering appears to have been the suovetaurilia performed before a major, set battle. A ram, a boar and a bull were ritually garlanded, led around the outer perimeter of the camp (a lustratio exercitus) and in through a gate, then sacrificed: Trajan's column shows three such events from his Dacian wars. The perimeter procession and sacrifice suggest the entire camp as a divine templum; all within are purified and protected. [89]

Legionary camps were Rome in miniature. Each had its own religious personel; standard bearers, priestly officers and their assistants, and housekeepers of shrines and images. A senior magistrate-commander (sometimes even a consul) headed it, his chain of subordinates ran it and a sometimes ferocious system of training and discipline ensured that every citizen-soldier knew his duty. As in Rome, whatever gods he served in his own time seem to have been his own business; legionary forts and vici included shrines to household gods, personal deities and deities otherwise unknown.[90] From the earliest Imperial era, citizen legionaries and provincial auxiliaries gave cult to the emperor and his familia on Imperial accessions, anniversaries and their renewal of annual vows. They celebrated Rome's official festivals in absentia, and had the official triads appropriate to their function – in the Empire, Jupiter, Victoria and Concordia were typical. By the early Severan era, the military also offered cult to the Imperial divi, the current emperor's numen, genius and domus (or familia), and special cult to the Empress as "mother of the camp." The near ubiquitous legionary shrines to Mithras of the later Imperial era were not part of official cult until Mithras was absorbed into Solar and Stoic Monism as a focus of military concordia and Imperial loyalty.[91][92][93]

Women and Roman religion

Roman mos maiorum restricted the social, political and religious capacities of Roman women. The few Roman literary sources to address the subject of women in relation to religio represent some as paragons of Roman virtue but more often as constitutionally prone to self-indulgent religious enthusiasms, novelties and the seductions of superstitio.[94] Bona Dea's festival rites excluded men entirely; this seems to have been cause for prurient male speculation, and a scandalous, impious intrusion by Publius Clodius Pulcher.[95] Most cults and ludi did not forbid the presence of women. Some specifically required it, but their active participation was limited.[96] In almost all public cult, priesthood was a male preserve; family cults were headed by the paterfamilias.

The most important exception was the public cult to Vesta, goddess of the hearth of the Roman state and its vital flame, served by six virgin priestesses. In one strand of Rome's foundation myth, Romulus and Remus were fathered by Mars or Hercules on a Vestal virgin of royal blood. Another tradition held that Rome's sixth king was fathered by a disembodied phallus on a virgin slave-girl who served at the royal hearth: the cult objects stored in Vesta's temple included a phallus and the Penates and Lares of the Roman state.[97] A girl chosen to be a Vestal Virgin achieved unique religious distinction, public status and privileges, but was constrained during her thirty-year office by ritual prohibitions and obligations not even a flamen of Jupiter Capitolinus could match: a Vestal polluted by the loss of her viginity while in office was buried alive.[98][99]

The Vestals "represented a peculiarly extreme version of the connection between the religious life of the home and of the community". They were directly involved in the rites of Parilia, Parentalia, Fordicidia, and they prepared essential sacrificial materials for others. A Vestal's dress presented her simultaneously as virgin bride and daughter, Roman matron and wife. She held some of the legal privileges of a male head of household but was housed with her peers under the immediate supervision of the chief Vestal and ultimately of the pontifex maximus.[100] Vesta's virgin priestesses "seem to have been an exception to most rules of Roman life".[101]

Augustus' religious reformations raised the funding and public profile of the Vestals. They were given high status seating at games and theatres. The emperor Claudius appointed them as priestesses to the cult of the deified Livia (wife of Augustus).[102] They seem to have retained their religious and social distinctions at least until the Christian emperor Gratian refused the office of pontifex maximus and began the dissolution of their order: his successor Theodosius I extinguished Vesta's sacred fire and vacated her temple.

Domestic, genius and personal cults

Small bronze statues of gods which were worshipped in a lararium (1st to 3rd century A.D., Vindobona)

The mos maiorum established the dynastic authority of the citizen-paterfamilias ("the father of the family" or the "owner of the family estate"), his obligations to family and community and his priestly duties to his lares, domestic penates, ancestral genius and any other deities with whom he or his family held an interdependent relationship. His own dependents, who included his slaves and freedmen, owed cult to his genius.[103][104]

As head of his household, pater familias was also its senior priest. He offered daily cult to his lares and penates, and to his di parentes/divi parentes, in domestic shrines and in the fires of the household hearth.[105] His wife (mater familias) was responsible for the household's cult to Vesta. Other dependents and household officials seem to have particular responsibilities; in rural estates, the bailiff seems to been responsible for at least some of the household shrines (lararia) and their deities. Household cults had state counterparts. In Vergil's Aeneid, Aeneas brought the Trojan cult of the lares and penates from Troy, along with the Palladium which was later installed in the temple of Vesta.[106]

Genius was the essential spirit and generative power – depicted as a serpent or as a perennial youth, often winged – within an individual and their clan (gens (pl. gentes). A paterfamilias could confer his name, a measure of his genius and a role in his household rites, obligations and honours upon those he fathered or adopted. His freed slaves owed him similar obligations.[107]


Rome's oldest surviving religious calendars date to the late Republic but the most detailed are Augustan and later. These seem to represent a broad, official grouping of sacred categories.[108] Some, titled in capital letters, are generally assumed the more important and ancient. Others, titled in small letters, may have been less important or more recent.[109] No single example can be regarded as authoritative; different localities may have followed their own ritual and interpretive traditions. "The richest source of all is Ovid's Fasti, a witty verse account of the first six months of the Roman calendar and its rituals," written during the reign of the emperor Augustus.[110] There can be little doubt that some festivals, such as Saturnalia and Consualia, would have traditionally included broad humour and burlesque, but Ovid's Fasti is an artistic work, imaginative, high-minded, entertaining and scurrilous by turns.[111] The less a particular festival was understood, the greater the opportunities for its cumulative reinterpretation and reinvention. An understanding of its "'original' significance [is therefore] not just difficult, but close to impossible".[112]

Roman men celebrating a religious festival, probably the Compitalia. From a fresco outside Pompeii.

Work days (nefasti) on the calendars are outnumbered by festival days (fasti), when official business was suspended. Some festivals last for a single day or less, others for several. The calendars mark the passage of time as sacred, communal and official. They also represent the celebrations, traditions and values of specific classes and occupations, each with its own traditions and values. For example, Saturnalia ends the year and universaly allows a temporary reversal of status quo between master and slave: Parilia begins the pastoral year and involves both "private" cult and the state Vestals. Compitalia is agricultural, local, plebian and servile but its cult to the Lares has a state counterpart. Two Equiria festivals are dedicated to Mars. One purifies the Roman army in his name. In the other, the Equus october, winning horse of his October festival's chariot race, is sacrificed then fought over between the iuvenes of the Regia and Subura.[113] There is no reason to assume that all Romans were involved with all festivals; some may have required only the presence and rites of their priests and acolytes.[114]

Other public festivals were held at need; a triumph was celebrated as an important social, political and religious event. Public ludi (games) and Gladiator contests had strong religious dimensions and popular appeal. They were gradually brought under the control and subsidy of the State, and later, the Imperial house. In the Imperial period, additional festivals and games celebrated Imperial accessions and anniversaries. The Secular games were religious athletic events held at irregular intervals, traditionally once only in about every century, to mark the beginning of a new saeculum (era); they appear to have fallen into abeyance during the late Republic, but were revived by Augustus.

Roman deities

Objects of Roman cult range from the myriad characteristics of deities to their personifications of abstract ideas, places, objects and personal virtues. Cults are meticulously formulaic and legalistic in character but divine spheres, characters and functions expand, overlap and are redefined. New deities and changes in cult are carefully embedded within what already exists; cult is both conservative and resilient.[115]

Rome's religious identity and deities reflect its diverse multicultural origins. The perceived equivalence of deities was fundamental to political, cultural and religious coherence in the Roman super-state. No single cult, or combination of cults represents an original or essential core of Roman religious identity: in legend, Mars or Hercules father Romulus and Remus with Vesta's cult already in place. Jupiter's temple is built after the city's foundation by augury, not before it: Roman Quirinus has not yet come into being, let alone Romulus-Quirinus. Juno is a foreign latecomer, Apollo even later. Roman religion maintains a broad, inclusive and flexible network of practices which requires neither doctrinal schema nor any systematic hierarchy of the divine.[116]

Jupiter is the dominant deity of the Roman state throughout the regal, Republican and Imperial eras because the state constructs him as such. He grants Rome supremacy because he, the most powerful of all deities, is honoured more by the Romans than by all others.[117] His historic identity is far from clear. He may have begun as a sky-god, concerned mainly with wine festivals and associated with the sacred oak on the Capitol; if so, he then develops a twofold character. He receives the spolia opima and becomes a god of war; as Stator he makes the armies stand firm and as Victor he gives them victory – who becomes the intermediary feminine personification Victoria. As the sky-god, he is the first resort as a divine witness to oaths.[118]. Mars is a deity of both agriculture and war;[119] and the Colline deity, Quirinus, may have been his equivalent.[120] Jupiter, Mars and Quirinus are described as the early Triad of Roman state religion; collectively and individually, they are Roman gods, associated with the agricultural economy, social organisation and success in war of a distinctively Roman state before, during and after its transition from monarchy to Republic. Jupiter is "the fount of the auspices upon which the relationship of the city with the gods rested": as such, he personifies the divine authority of Rome's highest offices, internal organization and external relations. [121]

Tellus, chthonic mother of the fruitful earth, flanked by Venus (left) and Ceres. From the Augustan Ara Pacis, consecrated in 9 BC.

Any relationship between these "elite" deities and those favouring lower status groups is equally unclear. From the early Republic, and possibly before, plebians, freedmen and slaves gave cult to an agricultural triad of Ceres, Liber, and Libera, and served as their priests. Their games had strong traditional and priestly associations with their supposed regal patron and benefactor Servius Tullius, the Lares of the Compitalia festival and cult to Fortuna Primigenia.[122]

Rome offers no native creation myth and very little native mythography to explain the character of its deities, their mutual relationships or their interactions with the human world. Greek narrative models were certainly available to Romans, and later Roman pantheistic hierarchies have a distinctively Greek character, part literary-mythographic, part philosophical; but none of this seems to have had a significant effect on cult practice.[123] The gods in general are the di immortales, who can be assumed numberless. The development of a semi-official pantheon begins against the background of extreme political, social and religious instability of the Late Republican era, and is motivated by politico-religious ideology, rather than theology. The accumulated diversity of cult throughout the Roman world is subject to re-interpretation as a potentially coherent, purposeful and peaceful whole. Under the Empire, these cults continue, politically subordinate to the new order. Where loyalty to the state is implicit, no divine hierarchy need be constructed or enforced.

At best, the ancient and venerable Greek Olympians offer an incomplete and potentially misleading model of Roman practice.[124] At any given time, the impressive, complex and costly rites to the deities of the Roman state are far outnumbered by daily, commonplace cults to domestic and personal deities, and the cults of Rome's internal, non-elite communities.[125] Thus, a citizen-native of Bordeaux travels to Italy and consults the Sibyl at Tibur, but cannot forget his own goddess:

I wander, never ceasing to pass through the whole world, but I am first and foremost a faithful worshiper of Onuava. I am at the ends of the earth, but the distance cannot tempt me to make my vows to another goddess. Love of the truth brought me to Tibur, but Onuava’s favorable powers came with me. Thus, divine mother, far from my home-land, exiled in Italy, I address my vows and prayers to you no less.[126].

Heroes, demi-gods and divinised mortals

See also Background to the Roman Imperial cult.

Divine images

The iconography of Empire invests local and provincial deities as aspects of a divine Imperial order. Egyptian statuettes equip Horus, Bes, and Anubis as Roman generals; Augustus is shown as a divine pharaoh.[127]

Temples and shrines

"The architecture of the ancient Romans was, from first to last, an art of shaping space around ritual." Roman religion was not confined to temples and shrines. [128]

Superstition, magic and outsider cults

The Romans offered no distinct or exclusive category of cult practices as "Roman religion". Some cult practices were funded by the state, some were not. Some deities were regarded as indigenous, others as "foreign"; the romanitas of their cults served an inclusive Roman identity. Roman cult emphasised the collective, communal act of worship, not the individual worshiper.


Excessive devotion and enthusiastic emotionalism in religious observance were superstitio, in the sense of "doing or believing more than was necessary".[129] This was often "seen to be motivated by an inappropriate desire for knowledge". Women were considered particularly prone to excessive religiosity.[130]. Some superstitiones could be condemned as fraudulent, others as destabilising or potentially destructive magic. However, the borders between acceptable and unacceptable practices were permeable and negotiable.[131]


"In vulgar tradition (more vulgari)...a magician is someone who, because of his community of speech with the immortal gods, has an incredible power of spells (vi cantaminum) for everything he wishes to." Apuleius, Apologia, 26.6.[132]

Magic was an attempt to control the gods: this was the utmost impiety. In the Graeco-Roman world, its practitioners were known as Magi – a title of Persian priests. Pliny the Elder's Natural History includes a thoroughly skeptical "History of magical arts" from their supposed Persian origins to the ill-fated emperor Nero's vast and futile expenditure on research into magical practices.[133] In Lucan's Pharsalia, Pompey's doomed and wretched son, awaiting the battle of Pharsalus and convinced that "the gods of heaven knew too little" of the outcome, resorts to the disgusting necromancy of Erichtho, the Thessalian witch who inhabits deserted graves and feeds on rotting corpses. Erichtho and those who use her services offend the natural order of gods, mankind and destiny.[134]

Archaeological evidence confirms a widespread use of so-called curse tablets (defixiones) and magical papyri. Around 250 defixiones have been recovered from urban and rural Britain, and none seem produced by, or on behalf of elite Romano-Britons. Some seek straightforward, usually gruesome revenge, but others appeal for divine redress of wrongs in terms familiar to any Roman magistrate. Some promise a portion of the value of lost or stolen property to the deity if the property is returned: in general, the money values are low. Presumably, those without ready resort to human law and justice must appeal directly to the gods, as the divine source of justice in human affairs.[135]

Some individuals sought to divine the future, or influence it through magic, with help from "private" diviners, or with direct help from chthonic deities who functioned at the margins of Rome's divine and human communities. The living might gain their favour and help with an offering of the right kind, made well away from the public gaze, during the hours of darkness. Burial grounds and isolated crossroads were among the likely portals.[136] The offering was entirely consumed by the deity, either through the earth itself or in the flames of the sacrificial fire. According to Scheid, the living never shared food with the gods of the dead.[137]

Jews and Christians

Outline of developments from Early Republic

By the end of the regal period Rome had developed into a city-state, with a large plebian, artisan class excluded from the old patrician gentes and from the state priesthoods. The city had commercial and political treaties with its neighbours; according to tradition, Rome's Etruscan connections established a temple to Minerva on the predominantly plebian Aventine; she became part of a new Capitoline triad of Jupiter, Juno and Minerva, installed in a Capitoline temple, built in an Etruscan style and dedicated in a new September festival, Epulum Jovis.[138] These are supposedly the first Roman deities whose images were adorned, as if noble guests, at their own inaugural banquet.

Rome's diplomatic agreement with her neighbours of Latium confirmed the Latin league and brought the cult of Diana from Aricia to the Aventine.[139] and established on the Aventine in the "commune Latinorum Dianae templum":[140] At about the same time, the temple of Jupiter Latiaris was built on the Alban mount, its stylistic resemblance to the new Capitoline temple pointing to Rome's inclusive hegemony. Rome's affinity to the Latins allowed two Latin cults within the pomoerium:[141] and the cult to Hercules at the ara maxima in the Forum Boarium was established through commercial connections with Tibur.[142] and the Tusculan cult of Castor as the patron of cavalry found a home close to the Forum Romanum:[143] Juno Sospes and Juno Regina were brought from Italy, and Fortuna Primigenia from Praeneste. In 217, Venus was brought from Sicily and installed in a temple on the Capitoline hill.[144]

Later Republic

The disasters of the early part of Rome's second Punic War were attributed, in Livy's account, to a growth of superstitious cults, errors in augury and the neglect of Rome's traditional gods; their anger (ira deorum) was signaled by a host of potents and prodigies but expressed directly by Rome's defeat at Cannae (216 BC). The Sibilline books were consulted. They recommended a general vowing of the ver sacrum[145] and in the following year, the burial of two Greeks and two Gauls; not the first or the last of its kind, according to Livy.

Rome's military-political brought an increasing number of deities into Roman cult. In 206 BC the Sibylline books recommended the introduction of cult to the aniconic Magna Mater (Great Mother) from Pessinus, installed on the Palatine in 191 BC. The mystery cult to Bacchus followed, and grew to such proportions that it had to be suppressed by decree of the Senate in 186 BC.[146] Greek deities were brought within the sacred pomerium, where temples were dedicated to Juventas (Hebe) in 191 BC,[147] Diana (Artemis) in 179 BC, Mars (Ares) in 138 BC), and Bona Dea, equivalent to Fauna, the female counterpart of the rural Faunus, supplemented by the Greek goddess Damia. Further Greek influences on cult images and types represented the Roman Penates as a form of the Greek Dioscuri. The military-political adventurers of the Later Republic introduced the Phrygian goddess Ma (identified with Roman Bellona, the Egyptian mystery-goddess Isis and Persian Mithras.

The spread of Greek literature, mythology and philosophy offered Roman poets and antiquarians a model for the interpretation of Rome's festivals and rituals, and the embellishment of its mythology. Ennius translated the work of Graeco-Sicilian Euhemerus, who explained the genesis of the gods as apotheosized mortals. In the last century of the Republic, Epicurean and particulary Stoic interpretations were a preoccupation of the literate elite, most of whom held - or had held - high office and traditional Roman priesthoods; notably, Scaevola and the polymath Varro. For Varro - well versed in Euhemerus' theory - popular religious observance was based on a necessary fiction; what the people believed was not itself the truth, but their observance led them to as much higher truth as their limited capacity could deal with. Whereas in popular belief deities held power over mortal lives, the skeptic might say that mortal devotion had made gods of mortals, and these same gods were only sustained by devotion and cult. As to any original meanings, purposes and mechanisms of these rites and observances, Varro confessed himself quite baffled.

Just as Rome itself claimed the self-evident favour of the gods, so could individual Romans. In the mid-to-late Republican era, and probably much earlier, many of Rome's leading clans acknowledged a divine or semi-divine ancestor and laid personal claim to their favour and cult, along with a share of their divinity. Most notably in the very late Republic, the Julii claimed Venus Genetrix as ancestor; this would be one of many justifcations for the Imperial cult. The claim was further elaborated and justified in Vergil's poetic, Imperial vision of the past.[148]

In the late Republic, the Marian reforms lowered an existing property bar on conscription and increased the efficiency of Rome's armies but made them available as instruments of political ambition and factional conflict.[149] The consequent civil wars led to changes at every level of Roman society. Augustus' principate established peace and subtly transformed Rome's religious life – or, in the new ideology of Empire, restored it (see below).

Towards the end of the Republic, religious and political offices became more closely intertwined; the office of pontifex maximus became a de facto consular prerogative.[150] Augustus was personally vested with an extraordinary breadth of political, military and priestly powers; at first temporarily, then for his lifetime. He acquired or was granted an unprecedented number of Rome's major priesthoods, including that of ponifex maximus; as he invented none, he could claim them as traditional honours. His reforms were represented as adaptive, restorative and regulatory, rather than innovative; most notably his elevation (and membership) of the ancient Arvales, his timely promotion of the plebian Compitalia shortly before his election and his patronage of the Vestals as a visible restoration of Roman morality.[151] Augustus obtained the pax deorum, maintained it for the rest of his reign and adopted a successor to ensure its continuation. This remained a primary religious and social duty of emperors, though few actually fulfilled it.

Roman Empire

Absorption of cults

The Roman Empire expanded to include different peoples and cultures; in principle, Rome followed the same inclusionist policies that had recognised Latin, Etruscan and other Italian peoples, cults and deities as Roman. Those who acknowledged Rome's hegemony retained their own cult and religious calendars, independent of Roman religious law.[152] Newly municipal Sabratha built a Capitolium near its existing temple to Liber Pater and Serapis. Autonomy and concord were official policy, but new foundations by Roman citizens or their Romanised allies were likely to follow Roman cultic models.[153] Romanisation offered distinct political and practical advantages, especially to local elites. All the known effigies from the 2nd cent. AD forum at Cuicul are of emperors or Concordia. By the middle of the first century AD, Gaulish Vertault seems to have abandoned its native cultic sacrifice of horses and dogs in favour of a newly established, Romanised cult nearby: by the end of that century, Sabratha’s so-called tophet was no longer in use.[154] Colonial and later Imperial provincial establishments were dedicated to Rome's Capitoline Triad – it was a logical choice, not a centralised legal requirement.[155] Major cult centres to "non-Roman" deities continued to prosper: notable examples include the magnificent Alexandrian Serapium, the temple of Aesculapeus at Pergamum and Apollo's sacred wood at Antioch.[156]

The overall scarcity of evidence for smaller or local cults does not always infer their neglect; votive inscriptions are inconsistently scattered throughout Rome's geography and history. Inscribed dedications were an expensive public declaration, one to be expected within the Graeco-Roman cultural ambit but by no means universal. Innumerable smaller, personal or more secretive cults would have persisted and left no trace.[157]

Military settlement within the empire and at its borders broadened the context of Romanitas. Rome's citizen-soldiers set up altars to multiple deities, including their traditional gods, the Imperial genius and local deities – sometimes with the usefully open-ended dedication to the diis deabusque omnibus (all the gods and goddesses). They also brought Roman "domestic" deities and cult practices with them.[158]By the same token, the later granting of citizenship to provincials and their conscription into the legions brought their new cults into the Roman military.[159]

Traders, legions and other travellers brought home cults originating from Egypt, Greece, Iberia, India and Persia. The cults of Cybele, Isis, Mithras, and Sol Invictus were particularly important. Some of those were initiatory religions of intense personal significance, similar to Christianity in those respects.

Imperial cult

In the early Imperial era, a ruling princeps (lit. "first head of the Senate) was offered genius-cult as the symbolic paterfamilias of Rome. His cult had further precedents: popular, unofficial cult offered to powerful benefactors in Rome: the kingly, god-like honours granted a Roman general on the day of his triumph; and in the divine honours paid to Roman magnates in the Greek East from at least 195 BC.[160][161]

The deification of deceased emperors had precedent in Roman domestic cult to the dii parentes (deified ancestors) and the mythic apotheosis of Rome's founders. A deceased emperor granted apotheosis by his successor and the Senate became an official State divus (divinity). Members of the Imperial family could be granted similar honours and cult; an Emperor's deceased wife, sister or daughter could be promoted to diva (female divinity).

The first and last Roman known as a living divus was Julius Caesar, who seems to have aspired to divine monarchy; he was murdered soon after. Greek allies had their own traditional cults to rulers as divine benefactors, and offered similar cult to Caesar's successor, Augustus, who accepted with the cautious proviso that expatriate Roman citizens refrain from such worship; it might prove fatal.[162] By the end of his reign, Augustus had appropriated Rome's political apparatus – and most of its religious cults – within his "reformed" and thoroughly integrated system of government. Towards the end of his life, he cautiously allowed cult to his numen. By then the Imperial cult apparatus was fully developed, first in the Eastern Provinces, then in the West.[163]Provincial Cult centres offered the amenities and opportunities of a major Roman town within a local context; bathhouses, shrines and temples to Roman and local deities, amphitheatres and festivals. In the early Imperial period, the promotion of local elites to Imperial priesthood gave them Roman citizenship.[164]

The emperor Marcus Aurelius, attended by his family, offers sacrifice outside the Temple of Jupiter Capitolinus after his victories in Germany. Late 2nd century AD. Capitoline Museum, Rome.

In an empire of great religious and cultural diversity, the Imperial cult offered a common Roman identity and dynastic stability. In Rome, the framework of government was recognisably Republican. In the Provinces, this would not have mattered; in Greece, the emperor was "not only endowed with special, super-human abilities, but... he was indeed a visible god" and the little Greek town of Akraiphia could offer official cult to "liberating Zeus Nero for all eternity".[165]

In Rome, state cult to a living emperor acknowledged his rule as divinely approved and constitutional. As princeps (first citizen) he must respect traditional Republican mores; given virtually monarchic powers, he must restrain them. He was not a living divus but father of his country (pater patriae), its pontifex maximus (greatest priest) and at least notionally, its leading Republican. When he died, his ascent to heaven, or his descent to join the dii manes was decided by a vote in the Senate. As a divus, he could receive much the same honours as any other state deity – libations of wine, garlands, incense, hymns and sacrificial oxen at games and festivals. What he did in return for these favours is unknown, but literary hints and the later adoption of divus as a title for Christian Saints suggest him as a heavenly intercessor.[166] Until he died, official cult to an emperor in Rome was directed to his genius; a small number refused this honour and there is no evidence of any emperor receiving more than that. In the crises leading up to the Dominate, Imperial titles and honours multiplied, reaching a peak under Diocletian. Emperors before him had attempted to guarantee traditional cults as the core of Roman identity and well-being; refusal of cult undermined the state and was treasonous.[167]

Christian apologists identified cult to Emperors as a particularly impious instrument of persecution. It therefore became a focus of theological and political debate during the ascendancy of Christianity under Constantine I. The emperor Julian failed to reverse the declining support for Rome's traditional cults: Theodosius I adopted Christianity as the Imperial State religion. Officially, the "Imperial cult" was abandoned, along with all cults other than Imperially sanctioned forms of Christianity.[168]

Empire and Christianity

After the Great Fire of Rome in 64 AD, Emperor Nero accused the Christians as convenient scapegoats who were later persecuted and killed. From that point on, Roman official policy towards Christianity tended towards persecution. During the various Imperial crises of the Third century, “contemporaries were predisposed to decode any crisis in religious terms”, regardless of their allegiance to particular practices or belief systems. Christianity drew its traditional base of support from the powerless, who seemed to have no religious stake in the well-being of the Roman State; their religious negligence and self-indulgent superstitio threatened its very existence.[169]

Decius succeeded (or murdered and usurped) his predecessor Philip the Arab; perhaps to secure a succession of doubtful validity, he justified his position as the "restorer and saviour" of Empire and its religio. In the wake of religious riots in Egypt, he decreed that all subjects of the Empire must actively seek to benefit the state through witnessed and certified sacrifice to "ancestral gods" or suffer a penalty: only Jews were exempt.[170] The Decian edict required that refusal of sacrifice be tried and punished at proconsular level. Apostasy was sought, rather than capital punishment.[171] A year after its due deadline, the edict was allowed to expire and shortly after this, Decius himself died.[172] The Decian edict appealed to whatever common mos maiores might reunite a politically and socially fractured Empire. Within its multitude of cults, no ancestral gods need be specified by name. The fulfillment of this sacrificial obligation by loyal subjects would define them and their gods as Roman.[173] Yet the Decian edict represents a significant departure from precedent. Most oaths of loyalty were collective; the Decian oath has been interpreted as a design to root out individual subversives and suppress their cults.[174]

The first edict of Valerian (253-60) singled out the largest and most stubborn of these cults: he outlawed Christian assembly and urged Christians to sacrifice to Rome's traditional gods.[175][176] His second edict acknowledged Christianity as a direct threat to the Imperial system – one not yet at its heart but possibly close to it, among Rome’s equites and Senators.[177] His reign ended in his capture and utter disgrace; a divine judgement, according to Christian apologists. The majority of Rome’s elite continued to observe various forms of inclusive Hellenistic monism; Neoplatonism in particular accommodated the miraculous and the ascetic within a traditional Graeco-Roman cultic framework. In the forty years of peace following Valerian’s death, the Christian church grew stronger. Its literature and theology acquired a higher social and intellectual profile, due in part to its own search for political toleration and theological coherence. While Origen could discuss theological issues with traditionalist elites within a common Neoplatonist frame of reference and write to Philip the Arab in similar vein, Hippolytus could recognise a “pagan” basis in Christian heresies.[178] Church unity was far from easy to achieve; Paul of Samosata, Bishop of Antioch was deposed by a synod of 268 for "dogmatic reasons – his doctrine on the human nature of Christ was rejected – and for his lifestyle, which reminded his brethren of the habits of the administrative elite". The reasons for his deposition were widely circulated among the churches.[179] Meanwhile Aurelian (270-75) appealed for harmony among his soldiers (concordia militum), stabilised the Empire and its borders and successfully established an official, Hellenic form of unitary cult to the Palmyrene Sol Invictus in Rome's Campus Martius.[180]

The issue of Imperially enforced sacrifice divided Christian communities. Their bishops could interpret this as hollow and harmless necessity – and comply themselves – or else resist and expect the same of their flocks. Penance, rather than perfection of faith, became central to Christian ethics.[181]

From 303 AD, Diocletian issued several edicts against Christianity. The first "ordered the destruction of church buildings and Christian texts, forbade services to be held, degraded officials who were Christians, re-enslaved imperial freedmen who were Christians, and reduced the legal rights of all Christians. But physical or capital punishments were not imposed on them." Soon after, several Christians suspected of attempted arson in the palace were executed.[182] A second edict threatened Christian priests with imprisonment and a third offered them freedom if they performed sacrifice.[183] The edict of 304 enjoined universal sacrifice in much the same terms as the Decian edict had done; but the numbers of Christians had grown enough to make its target much more apparent. Many complied under threat of penalty, but some local communities were by now not only pre-dominantly Christian, but powerful and influential. Diocletian's successor Galerius maintained anti-Christian policy until his deathbed revocation in 311, when he asked Christians to pray for him. "This meant an official recognition of their importance in the religious world of the Roman empire, although one of the tetrarchs, Maximinus Daia, still oppressed Christians in his part of the empire up to 313."[184] Constantine I (324-337) ended the persecutions by establishing religious freedom through the Edict of Milan in 313. He later convened the historic First Council of Nicaea in 325, a year after ending the civil war of 324 and emerging as the victor in the war of succession. This First Council of Nicaea was formed to oppose Arius who had challenged the deity of Jesus Christ. The result was the branding of Arianism as a heresy. Christianity, as opposed to other religious groups, became the official state religion of the Roman empire on February 27, 380 through an edict issued by Emperor Theodosius I in Thessalonica and published in Constantinople. All cults, save Christianity, were prohibited in 391 by another edict of Theodosius I. Destruction of temples began immediately. When the Western Roman Empire ended with the abdication of Emperor Romulus Augustus in 476, Christianity survived it, with the Bishop of Rome as the dominant religious figure, but see also Pentarchy.

Decline of Greco-Roman polytheism

When Constantine became the sole Roman Emperor in 324, Christianity became the leading religion of the empire. After the death of Constantine in 337, two of his sons, Constantius II and Constans took over the leadership of the empire. Constans, ruler of the western provinces, was, like his father, a Christian. In 341, he decreed that all pre-Christian Graeco Roman worship and sacrifice should cease; warning those who still persisted in practising ancient Graeco-Roman polytheism with the threat of the death penalty.

Lay Christians took advantage of new anti-Graeco-Roman polytheism laws by destroying and plundering the temples. Temples that survived were converted into Christian churches: the Pantheon is the most notable example, having once been a temple to all the gods and later, removing the statues of the so-called 'pagan' gods and replacing them with Christian saints, becoming a church in honor of their own one god. Many of the buildings in the Roman Forum were similarly converted, preserving the structures if not their original intent.

Later on, the emperor Julian the Apostate attempted to reverse the process of Christianization and bring back the native forms of polytheism, but his death in Persia caused the empire to once again fall under the power of Christian control, this time permanently.

Scholarly interpretations

Roman historians presumed the Roman religion as indigenous and conservative in its essentials; this was generally accepted by medieval and renascence scholars. Later historians received, collated and filtered Roman scholarship through their preferred theories of social and religious development.

In the 19th and early 20th centuries, magic, fetishism, animism, and totemism were often assumed to be the first and most primitive forms of any religion. Rome's historically reported practice was supposed to contain "many survivals from a very early form of religious thought prior to the development of the characteristic Roman attitude of mind", such as the numen.[185] Broadly speaking, these theories held that as any society developed and extended, so did its concepts and attendant deities. Isolated agricultural societies produced divinities of huts, ploughs, first furrow and harvest; their prosperity led to the trading of commodities and ideas with similar communities. Further development involved status and labour divisions, producing warrior castes, peasantry and more deities, with priests and festivals to serve them - and so on. A mature society achieved urban nationhood, complete with bureaucracy, conservatism and a capacity for abstract thought. This same higher faculty also produced skepticism, which sat uneasily alongside the fossilised rites whose original nature, purpose and meaning might be entirely forgotten. This scenario takes Rome's traditional Religions as progressively drained of "real meaning", as in the Punic crises when Rome's "failing native divinities" could only be refreshed by foreign gods. These deities inspire passionate cult, and some have mysteries attached - usually Greek but later, during the crises of the Later Republic, "even Egyptian... and Persian". Some are too passionate and are subsequently ejected. What is and what is not a "Roman religion" seems clear enough to Romans. Modern scholarship is less certain what the religions of ancient Rome meant to them.

See also


This article incorporates text from the Encyclopædia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, a publication now in the public domain.

  1. ^ See Peter Brown, in Bowersock et al, Late antiquity: a guide to the postclassical world, Harvard University Press, (1999), for "pagan" as a mark of socio-religious inferiority in Latin Christian polemic: [1]
  2. ^ Beard et al., Vol. 1, 217.
  3. ^ Beard et al, 1998, 76-77; Livy attributes Rome's failures and disasters to a "failure of piety" which allowed vitium in divine rites.
  4. ^ Potter, 31: Aelian refers to the traditional cult practices of Celts, Indians and Egyptians.
  5. ^ Gradel, 3, 15.
  6. ^ de Cazanove, in Rüpke (ed), 44: citing Paulus Diaconus (Paul the Deacon), Ex Festo, 72.L.
  7. ^ A seemingly irresistible temptation for Publius Clodius Pulcher, whose sacrilegious presence and unmasking at the rites was used against him in the political field.
  8. ^ Halm, in Rüpke (ed), 241 - 2.
  9. ^ Hahn, in Rüpke (ed), 238.
  10. ^ Invocation, prayer and incantation are all also described as carmen pl. carmina in Latin sources: see Hahn, in Rüpke (ed), 236.
  11. ^ Hahn, in Rüpke (ed), 239 - 45. The rites of the Arvals and the leaping Salii are noteworthy in this respect.
  12. ^ Hahn, in Rüpke (ed), 235 - 6, citing Pliny the Elder, Natural History, 28.10: cited by Hahn, in Rüpke (ed), 236.
  13. ^ As in Livy, 41.16.1: the presiding magistrate at the Latin festival forgot to include the "Roman people" among the list of beneficiaries. The festival had to be repeated from scratch.
  14. ^ Livy, 5.21.3., & 8.9.8: cited by Halm, in Rüpke (ed), 239.
  15. ^ Halm, in Rüpke (ed), 241 - 2.
  16. ^ Halm, in Rüpke (ed), 239. See also Religion and the military in this article)
  17. ^ Scheid, in Rüpke (ed), 263 - 271.
  18. ^ Scheid, in Rüpke (ed), 263 - 271.
  19. ^ Though the household Lares do just that, and at least some Romans understood them to be ancestral spirits. Sacrifices to the spirits of deceased mortals are discussed below in Funerals and the afterlife.
  20. ^ Orr, 23.
  21. ^ Pliny the Elder, Natural History, 28, 27.
  22. ^ Lott, 31: Dionysius of Halicarnassus claims the Compitalia contribution of honey-cakes as a Servian institution.
  23. ^ Ovid, Fasti, 2.500 - 539. See also Thaniel, G., Lemures and Larvae, The American Journal of Philology, 94.2, (1973) 182–187: beans were considered seeds of life. As such, they may have represented what the restless dead most craved. They were a ritual pollution for priests of Jupiter: his animal sacrifices were emasculated.
  24. ^ Beard et al, Vol 1, 32-36: the consecration made this a "Sacred Spring" (ver sacrum). The "contract" with Jupiter is exceptionally detailed. All due care would be taken of the animals, but any that died or were stolen before the scheduled sacrifice would count as if already sacrificed. Sacred animals were already assigned to the gods, who ought to protect their own property.
  25. ^ Gradel, 21: but this need not imply sacrifice as a mutual contract, breached in this instance. Evidently the gods had the greater power and freedom of choice in the matter. See Beard et al, 34: "The gods would accept as sufficient exactly what they were offered - no more, no less." Human error in the previous annual vows and sacrifice remains a possibility.
  26. ^ Gradel, 78, 93
  27. ^ Livy 22.55-57
  28. ^ Livy, 22.57.4; Plutarch, Roman Questions, 83 & Marcellus, 3. For further context and interpretive difficulties, see Beard et al., Vol. 1, 81: the live burial superficially resembles the punishment of Vestals who broke their vows. A living entombment assuages the blood-guilt of the living: the guilty are consigned to earth deities. But the Vestals are entombed outside the city limits, not its centre; no sacrificial victims are burned in either case, and the Gauls and Greeks appear to be guiltless.
  29. ^ Welch, 18-19: citing Livy, summary 16.
  30. ^ The sacrifice was demanded by an oracle during the reign of the last king, the Etruscan Tarquinius Superbus. See Macrobius, Saturnalia, 1.7 & Lilly Ross Taylor, "The Mother of the Lares", American Journal of Archaeology, 29.3, (July - September 1925), pp 299 - 313.
  31. ^ This dealt with both poisoning and magic; human sacrifice was included as murder committed for magical purposes.
  32. ^ Beard et al., Vol. 1, 233 - 4, 385.
  33. ^ Scheid, in Rüpke (ed), 263 - 271.
  34. ^ Some shrines were portable, and could be moved as used elsewhere in accordance with religious law. This was also an essential feature of military shrines used on campaign.
  35. ^ Smith, in Rüpke (ed), 36.
  36. ^ Beard et al, Vol 1, 12-20.
  37. ^ Brent, 17-20: citing Cicero, De Natura Deorum, 2.4.
  38. ^ Brent, 21-25.
  39. ^ Strictly speaking, this is extispy, a branch of haruspicy.
  40. ^ Beard et al, Vol 1, 12-20. See also Scheid, in Rüpke (ed), 266.
  41. ^ Horster, in Rüpke (ed) 336 - 7.
  42. ^ Cicero finds all forms of divination false, except those used in State rituals; most Romans were less skeptical. See Rosenberger, in Rüpke (ed), 300.
  43. ^ Orlin, in Rüpke (ed), 65 - 66.
  44. ^ Orlin, in Rüpke (ed), 60.
  45. ^ Rosenberger, in Rüpke (ed), 297.
  46. ^ Rosenberger, in Rüpke (ed), 295 - 8: the task fell to the haruspex, who set the child to drown in the sea. See also Funerals and the afterlife in this article.
  47. ^ Livy, 27.37.5–15; the hymn was composed by the poet Livius Andronicus. Cited by Halm, in Rüpke (ed) 244. For remainder, see Rosenberger, in Rüpke (ed), 297: the survival of such a child for four years after its birth would have between regarded as extreme dereliction of religious duty.
  48. ^ See Livy, 22.1 ff: The expiatory burial of living human victims in the Forum Boarium followed Rome's defeat at Cannae in the same wars. Rome's victory follows its discharge of religious duties to the gods.
  49. ^ For Livy's use of prodigies and portents as markers of Roman impiety and military failure, see Feeney, in Rüpke (ed), 138 - 9. For prodigies in the context of political decision-making, see Rosenberger, in Rüpke (ed), 295 - 8.
  50. ^ Rosenberger, in Rüpke (ed), 293.
  51. ^ Hertz, in Rüpke (ed), 315.
  52. ^ Smith, in Rüpke (ed), 35 - 6: Rome's Latin neighbours significantly influenced the development of its domestic and funerary architecture.
  53. ^ from an Romano-Athenian veteran's tomb; IGRR 3.917.
  54. ^ Haensch, in Rüpke, (ed) 186 - 7.
  55. ^ This recommends Christian commemorative rites an the 3rd, 9th & 30th days after death.
  56. ^ Saltzman, in Rüpke, (ed), 114 - 116.
  57. ^ Beard et al., Vol. 1, 1; 189 - 90 (Aeneas and Vesta): 123 - 45 (Aeneas and Venus as Julian ancestors). See also Vergil, Aeneid.
  58. ^ Or else was murdered by his resentful senate, who successfully concealed their crime. See Beard et al, Vol. 1, 1; Vol. 2, 4.8a for Livy, 1.9 & 5 - 7 (Sabines and temple to Jupiter) and Plutarch, Romulus, 11, 1 - 4.
  59. ^ Beard et al., Vol. 1, 1 - 2 & Vol. 2: 1.2, (Livy, 1.19.6): 8.4a (Plutarch, Numa, 10). For Augustus' closure of Janus's temple doors, see Augustus, Res Gestae, 13. Festus connects Numa to the triumphal spolia opima and Jupiter Feretrius.
  60. ^ Beard et al, Vol. 1, 3, and footnotes 4 & 5.
  61. ^ See also Diocles of Peparethus, Romulus and Remus and Plutarch, The Parallel Lives, Life of Romulus, 3. Loeb edn. available at Thayer's site: [2]. Fragments of an important earlier work (now lost) of Quintus Ennius are cited by various later Roman authors.
  62. ^ The dating and context of the earliest would have proved particularly problematic, but would otherwise have represented an accurate record.
  63. ^ Livy's organisation of material is unusually chronological and rational. Others – Dionysius included but Plutarch in particular &hdash; have a great deal more to say, and present a plethora of alternatives within a discursive, typically antiquarian framework. See Cornell, 21 - 26.
  64. ^ Beard et al, Vol. 1, 8-10.
  65. ^ Cornell, 1 - 30. See in particular 13 - 15: the priestly Annales Maximi certainly date back to the 5th century and possibly before, but their level of detail was probably "sparse and intermittent". Ibid, 21: Varro's major and influential Antiquitates included sixteen books on Rome's Res divinae (divine affairs). The originals are lost, but Cicero certainly found them impressive, and refers to them in his own works. They are cited, possibly verbatim, by later Christian polemicists for systematic rebuttal of pagan practice and philosophy; St Augustine is considered the most notable.
  66. ^ See also Feeney, in Rüpke (ed), 129 - 42, on religious themes in Roman Historiography and epic; Smith, in Rüpke (ed), 31 - 42 for broad discussion of sources, modern schools of thought within the subject and their divergent interpretations.
  67. ^ Cicero, On the Responses of the Haruspices, 19.
  68. ^ Rüpke, in Rüpke (ed), 4.
  69. ^ See Gradel, 9-15: citing legal definitions from Festus (epitome of Verrius Flaccus) "De verborum significatu" p.284 L: in Wissowa, 1912, 398ff: and Geiger, 1914).
  70. ^ By Mouritsen's estimate, around 200,000 Roman citizens were eligible to vote in Rome itself during the late Republican era. During major elections, the influx of rural voters and the bottleneck of the city's ancient electoral apparatus meant that perhaps 12% of Rome's eligible citizens actually voted; this nevertheless represents a substantial increase from the estimated 1% adult male enfranchisement rights of 145 BC. At any time, the overwhelming majority – meaning the plebs – had minimal direct involvement in central government: see Henrik Mouritsen, Plebs and Politics in the Late Roman Republic (Cambridge, U.K., Cambridge University Press, 2001), 32ff.
  71. ^ Orlin, in Rüpke (ed), 59 - 60.
  72. ^ Smith, in Rüpke (ed), 42.
  73. ^ Orlin, in Rüpke (ed), 61.
  74. ^ Beard, et al., Vol. 1, 321 - 3
  75. ^ See Gradel, 9-15.
  76. ^ By the Late Republic, the provision of public games played an indispensable part in electoral bribery (ambitu): see Cicero, Letters to friends, 2.3. It was eventually limited by law.
  77. ^ Beard et al, Vol. 1, 65 - 67.
  78. ^ Orlin, in Rüpke (ed), 66.
  79. ^ Hertz, in Rüpke (ed), 310.
  80. ^ Beard et al., Vol. 1, 18 - 34, 54 - 61: "[the underlying purpose being that] whoever bore the title rex should never again be in a position to threaten the city with tyranny." See also Religion and politics in this article.
  81. ^ Smith, in Rüpke (ed), 39 - 40.
  82. ^ Beard et al., Vol. 1, 104 - 8: there can be no doubt that politicians attempted to manipulate religious law and priesthoods for gain; but they were compelled to do so lawfully, and often failed.
  83. ^ Gradel, 21.
  84. ^ Rüpke, in Rüpke (ed), 3.
  85. ^ Orlin, in Rüpke (ed), 58.
  86. ^ Beard et al., Vol. 1, 44, 59 - 60, 143.
  87. ^ "Devotio means that an individual offered himself to the irate or still undecided gods as a substitute to avert the evil that endangered other persons or the Roman state." Hertz, in Rüpke (ed), 312. The three Decii thus credited are [[Publius Decius Mus (340 BC), his son Publius Decius Mus (312 BC) and (possibly) his grandson Publius Decius Mus (279 BC).
  88. ^ Beard et al., Vol 1, 35 - 36: citing Livy, 8.9.1.
  89. ^ Moede, in Rüpke (ed), 171, & Beard et al., Vol. 1, 326 - 7.
  90. ^ Beard et al., Vol. 1, 324 - 6.
  91. ^ Brent, 268-9.
  92. ^, Le Bohec, 249: limited preview available via Google Books
  93. ^, Dixon, 78: limited preview available from Google Books
  94. ^ Beard et al, Vol. 1, 297. Ibid 217, citing the obituary of a woman whose virtues included "religio without superstitio" (ILS 8393.30-31 of "Turia")
  95. ^ Beard et al., Vol. 1, 296 - 7.
  96. ^ "...they may have been banned – in theory, at any rate – from carrying out animal sacrifice; and so prohibited from any officiating role in the central defining ritual of civic religious activity:" see Beard et al., Vol. 1, 297.
  97. ^ Variants of this miraculous virgin-impregnation were widespread in ancient Latium.
  98. ^ Beard et al, Vol. 1, 51 - 54, 70 - 71, 297.
  99. ^ For comparison of Vestal constraints to those of Jupiter's flamen, see Smith, in Rüpke (ed), 39 - 40
  100. ^ Not – as would seem logical, given the Vestals' associations with the "king's hearth" and the Regia – as charges of the rex sacrorum. See Beard et al., Vol. 1, 50 - 53.
  101. ^ Beard et al., Vol. 1, 52 - 53.
  102. ^ Beard et al., Vol. 1, 193-4.
  103. ^ Gradel, 36-8: the paterfamilias held – in theory at least, and through ancient right – powers of life and death over every member of his extended familia, including children, slaves and freedmen. In practice, the extreme form of this right was seldom exercised, and was eventually limited by law.
  104. ^ See also Severy, 9-10 for interpretation of the social, economic and religious role of the paterfamilias within the immediate and extended family and the broader community.
  105. ^ Brent, 62-3.
  106. ^ Beard et al, 1997, 2-3, citing Vergil, Aeneid, 8,306-58.
  107. ^ Beard et al, vol 1, 67-8.
  108. ^ Beard et al., Vol. 1, 6: roughly 40 festivals annually; ibid, Vol. 2, 3.1 - 3 for a selection. These collected Fasti can be found with bibliography and sources in Degrassi, Inscriptiones Italiae, Vol. XIII - Fasti et elogia, fasc. II - Fasti anni Numani et Iuliani, Rome, 1963. See also Scullard, 1981.
  109. ^ Beard et al., 6 - 7; the capitalised festivals are probably the older and most important but it is not known how old, or to whom they were important. They are probably ancient but their attribution to Numa or Romulus is doubtful.
  110. ^ Beard et al., 6, with further discussion at 174 - 6 & 207 - 8.
  111. ^ Beard et al., Vol. 1, 7, & Vol. 2, 6.4a for the rape of Vesta by Priapus as mythological farce in Ovid's Fasti, VI. 319 - 48.
  112. ^ Beard et al., Vol. 1, 7.
  113. ^ Beard et al., Vol. 1, 47 - 49.
  114. ^ Rüpke, in Rüpke (ed), 4.
  115. ^ Beard et al., Vol. 1, 30 - 35.
  116. ^ Beard et al., Vol. 1, 10 - 43.
  117. ^ Orlin, in Rüpke (ed), 58.
  118. ^ Fides has a similar function, but is feminine.
  119. ^ Cato the Elder, On Agriculture, 141: Mars if offered a sheep, a suckling pig and a bull for his continued protection of the fields and family. Cited by Halm, in Rüpke (ed), 239.
  120. ^ "Quirinus, perhaps the war god of the Quirinal settlement or the god who presided over the assembled citizens." Howard Hayes Scullard, (2003), A History of the Roman World, 753 to 146 BC, page 393. Routledge.
  121. ^ For a summary regarding the nature, status and complex development of Jupiter from regal to Republican era, see Beard et al., Vol. 1, 59 - 60. For the conceptual difficulties involved in discussion of Roman deities and their cults, see Rüpke, in Rüpke (ed) 1 - 7.
  122. ^ Beard et al, Vol. 1, 134 - 5, 64 - 67: according to Cicero, the Ludi#List of ludi|Ludi Plebeii – or perhaps the Ludi Romani in honour of Liber – were the oldest of all Roman games.
  123. ^ Rüpke, in Rüpke (ed) 4.
  124. ^ And indeed, a potentially misleading model of Greek practice.
  125. ^ Rüpke, in Rüpke (ed), 4 - 5.
  126. ^ CIL 13.581, quotation from Van Andringa, in Rüpke (ed), 91.
  127. ^ Van Andringa, in Rüpke (ed) 94.
  128. ^ 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.
  129. ^ Rüpke, in Rüpke (ed), 5.
  130. ^ See Beard et al, Vol. 1, 217, citing the obituary of a woman whose virtues included "religio without superstitio" (ILS 8393.30-31 of "Turia")
  131. ^ Beard et al, Vol. 1, 217 - 219.
  132. ^ Apuleius employs this definition as part of his own defense against accusations of casting magical spells.
  133. ^ Pliny the Elder, Natural History, 30.1 - 18; see also Beard et al., Vol. 1, 219.
  134. ^ Beard et al., Vol. 1, 219 - 20, citing Lucan, Pharsalia,VI.413 - 830.
  135. ^ Haensch, in Rüpke (ed), 186: about 200 of these British defixiones are from Sulla-Minerva's spring in urban Bath and the remainder from a shrine to a Celtic deity (Nodens), at rural Uley. For the basis of appeals to divine justice, see Belayche, in Rüpke (ed), 286.
  136. ^ Scheid, in Rüpke (ed), 263.
  137. ^ Scheid, in Rüpke (ed), 267.
  138. ^ "From Etruria the Romans derived the idea of housing a deity in a temple and of providing him with a cult statue. ... The most famous ... dedicated in the first year of the Republic to the Etruscan triad, Tinia, Uni and Minerva. Of these deities, however, two were Italian, Juno and Minerva, while Tinia was identified with Jupiter." Howard Hayes Scullard, (2003), A History of the Roman World, 753 to 146 BC, page 397. Routledge
  139. ^ "Her cult at Aricia was first attested in Latin literature by Cato the Elder, in a surviving quote by the late grammarian Priscian. Supposed Greek origins for the Aricia cult are strictly a literary topos." Arthur E. Gordon, "On the Origin of Diana", Transactions and Proceedings of the American Philological Association 63 (1932, pp. 177-192) page 178 note, and page 181.
  140. ^ Varro, Ling. Lat. v. 43
  141. ^ Pomoerium, A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities, page 930-1. London, 1875.
  142. ^ Ara Maxima Herculis, A Topographical Dictionary of Ancient Rome, page 253-4. Oxford University Press, 1929.
  143. ^ "Traditionally in 499, the cult of Castor and Pollux was introduced from Tusculum and temple was erected in the Forum." Howard Hayes Scullard, (2003), A History of the Roman World, 753 to 146 BC, page 398. Routledge
  144. ^ Livy, 23.31.
  145. ^ Ver Sacrum, A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities, page 1189, London, 1875.
  146. ^ Dionysius and the Bacchanalia, 186 B.C. from Livy: History of Rome.
  147. ^ Hebe entry in A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology. 1867
  148. ^ Beard et al., Vol. 1, 1; 189 - 90 (Aeneas and Vesta): 123 - 45 (Aeneas and Venus as Julian ancestors). See also Vergil, Aeneid.
  149. ^ Orlin, in Rüpke, (ed), 65
  150. ^ Brent, 21-25.
  151. ^ Galinsky, in Rüpke (ed), 76. See also Res Gestae.
  152. ^ Pliny the Elder, Epistles, 10.50.
  153. ^ As at Narbonne and Salona. See Andringa, in Rüpke (ed), 89.
  154. ^ Van Andringa, in Rüpke (ed), 89.
  155. ^ Beard et al. 1998
  156. ^ Van Andringa, in Rüpke (ed), 88.
  157. ^ Haensch, in in Rüpke (ed), 180 - 3.
  158. ^ Kaufmann-Heinimann, in Rüpke (ed), 200.
  159. ^ Haensch, in Rüpke (ed), 184.
  160. ^ Gradel, 32-52.
  161. ^ Beard, 272-5.
  162. ^ Fishwick, Vol 3, part 1, 3: citing Cassius Dio, 51, 20, 6-7
  163. ^ Fishwick, Vol 1, book 1, 77 & 126-30.
  164. ^ Fishwick, Vol 1, book 1, 97-149.
  165. ^ Hertz, in Rüpke (ed), 309.
  166. ^ Gradel, 263-8, 199.
  167. ^ Rees, 46-56, 73-4.
  168. ^ Momigliano, 142-158.
  169. ^ Leppin, in Rüpke (ed), 98.
  170. ^ Potter, 241-3: see 242 for Decian "libellus" (certificate) of oath and sacrifice on papyrus, dated to 250 CE.
  171. ^, Rees, 60. Limited preview available at Google Books
  172. ^ Bowman et al, 622-33., Limited preview available at Google Books
  173. ^ Beard et al, Vol. 1, 241.
  174. ^ Leppin, in Rüpke, (ed), 100.
  175. ^ Rees, 60.
  176. ^ Beard et al, 241.
  177. ^ The terms of Valerian's second edict include both as susceptible to Christianity.
  178. ^ See Leppin, in Rüpke (ed), 98 - 99; citing Eusebius, Historia ecclesiastica 6.19.15; 21.3–4; 36.3
  179. ^ Leppin, in Rüpke (ed), 99; citing Eusebius, Historia ecclesiastica, 7.29–30: Paul actually remained in office until "Aurelian’s victory over Palmyra in 272, when he was forced to leave the 'building of the church'... Political conflicts, local rivalry, and theological debates converged in this quarrel."
  180. ^ Cascio, in Bowman et al. (eds), 171.
  181. ^ Leppin, in Rüpke (ed), 98 – 99: citing Cyprianus, Epist. 44–55, esp. 55 & Eusebius, Historia ecclesiastica, 6.42–45.
  182. ^ Leppin, in Rüpke (ed), 103: citing Lactantius, De mortibus persecutorum, 14.2; Eusebius, Historia ecclesiastica, 8.6.6.
  183. ^ Eusebius, Historia ecclesiastica 8.2.5, 8.6.10.
  184. ^ Leppin, in Rüpke (ed), 103: citing Lactantius, De mortibus persecutorum, 34 & 13 & ; Eusebius, Historia ecclesiastica 8.17.3–10 & 8.2.3–4.
  185. ^ "Modern scholars have [brought in] theories about the development of societies in general, to try to make sense of the surviving clues. ... One of the most famous of these theories [is] that the earliest Roman religion was a form of primitive 'animism', in which divine power was widely diffused through natural phenomena, not located in superhuman beings."... "The word numen ... is used in the early Empire, to indicate the mysterious presence of godhead in natural or man-made objects. ... The word hardly occurs in what survives of early Latin, and in is likely that it came to mean 'divine power' only in later literature." Mary Beard, John A. North, S. R. F. Price, Religions of Rome: A Sourcebook, Cambridge University Press, 1998. 1, 3.

References and further reading

  • Beard, M., North, J., Price, S., Religions of Rome, Volume I, illustrated, reprint, Cambridge University Press, 1998. ISBN 0-521-31682-0
  • Beard, M., North, J., Price, S., Religions of Rome, Volume II, illustrated, reprint, Cambridge University Press, 1998. ISBN 0-521-45646-0
  • Beard, M., The Roman Triumph, The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Mass., and London, England, 2007. ISBN 978-0-674-02613-1
  • 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 978-0-520-08429-2
  • Cornell, T., The beginnings of Rome: Italy and Rome from the Bronze Age to the Punic Wars (c.1000–264 BC), Routledge, 1995. ISBN 978-0-415-01596-7
  • Fishwick , Duncan. The Imperial Cult in the Latin West: Studies in the Ruler Cult of the Western Provinces of the Roman Empire, volume 1, Brill Publishers, 1991. ISBN 90-04-07179-2
  • Fishwick , Duncan. The Imperial Cult in the Latin West: Studies in the Ruler Cult of the Western Provinces of the Roman Empire, volume 3, Brill Publishers, 2002. ISBN 90-04-12536-1
  • Fox, R. L., Pagans and Christians
  • Lott, John. B., The Neighborhoods of Augustan Rome, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2004. ISBN 0-521-82827-9
  • MacMullen, R., Christianity and Paganism in the Fourth to Eighth Centuries, Yale University Press, 1997. ISBN 0-300-08077-8
  • MacMullen, R., Paganism in the Roman Empire, Yale University Press, 1984.
  • Momigliano, Arnaldo, On Pagans, Jews, and Christians, reprint, Wesleyan University Press, 1987. ISBN 0-8195-6218-1
  • Orr, D. G., Roman domestic religion: the evidence of the household shrines, Aufstieg und Niedergang der römischen Welt, II, 16, 2, Berlin, 1978, 1557‑91.
  • Rees, R., Diocletian and the Tetrarchy, Edinburgh University Press, 2004. ISBN 978-0-7486-1661-9
  • Revell, L., "Religion and Ritual in the Western Provinces", Greece and Rome, volume 54, number 2, October 2007.
  • Rüpke, Jörg (Editor), A Companion to Roman Religion, Wiley-Blackwell, 2007, ISBN 978-1-4051-2943-5

Redirecting to Religion in ancient Rome

1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

ROMAN RELIGION. In tracing the history of the religion of the Roman people we are not, as in the case of Greece, dealing with separate, though interacting, developments in a number of independent communities, but with a single community which won its way to the headship first of Latium, then of Italy and finally of a European empire. But this very fact of its ever-extending influence, coupled with an absence of dogmatism in belief, which made it at all times ready and even anxious to adopt foreign customs and ideas, gave its religion a constantly shifting and broadening character, so that it is difficult to determine the original essentials. By the time when Latin literature begins, the genuine Roman religion had already been overlaid by foreign cults and modes of thought, by the classical period it was - except in formal observance - practically buried and to a large extent fossilized. But the comparative study of religions has suggested the lines of reconstitution and the careful analysis of survivals embedded in literature and the evidence of monumental remains, and in particular of the old calendars, has enabled modern scholars to make good progress in the task of separating the elements due to different periods and influences.

The Roman people were of Aryan stock, a section of a host of invaders from the north, who overran and settled in the Italian peninsula. They preserved traces of their original nationality not merely in the general cast of their religious thought, but in certain common features such as the worship of the hearth (Vesta) and of the sky-divinity (Jupiter) (see Greek Religion). But the development of their religion was arrested at an earlier stage than that of the Greeks: with them - at any rate in the genuine Roman period - Animism never passed into Anthropomorphism; they stopped at the conception of the "spirit" without reaching that of the "god." Their belief might be described as a polydemonism rather than a polytheism, or more correctly, to avoid altogether the intrusion of foreign notions, as a "multinuminism." In the cult and ritual of Rome there are enshrined many survivals from a very early form of religious thought prior to the development of the characteristic Roman attitude of mind. - Fetishism - the belief in the magic or divine power of inanimate objects - is seen in the cult of stones, such as the silex of Jupiter (Iuppiter), which plays a prominent part in the ceremonial of treaty-making, and the lapis used in the ritual of the aquaelicium, a process, probably magic in origin, designed to produce rain after a long drought. The boundarystones between properties (termini) were also the objects of cult at the annual festival of the Terminalia, and the "god Terminus," the symbolic boundary-stone, shares with Jupiter the great temple on the Capitol. Tree-worship again is a constantly recurring feature, seen, for instance, in the permanently sacred character of the ficus Ruminalis and the caprcus of the Campus Martius, and above all in the oak of luppiter Feretrius, on which the spolia opima were hung after a victory. Nor did Roman fetishism stop short at natural objects. The household was always the centre of religious cult, and certain objects in the house - the door, the hearth, the store-cupboard (penus)- seem always to have had a sacred significance, and so became the objects and later the sites of the domestic worship. Of the cult of animals there is just sufficient trace to show that it must formerly have had its place in religious rite; the animals, once the objects of worship, appear in later times as the attributes of divinities, for instance, the sacred wolf and woodpecker of Mars.

But Fetishism must very early have developed into Animism, the feeling of the sacredness of the object into the sense of an indwelling spirit. In the animistic attitude we have in- Anim- deed the true background of the genuine Roman religion; but its characteristic and peculiar development is a kind of "higher Animism," which can associate the "spirit" not merely with visible and tangible objects, but with states and actions in the life of the individual and the community. No doubt the later indigitamenta (" bidding-prayers") which give us detailed lists of the spirits which preside over the various actions of the infant, or the stages in the marriage ceremony, or the agricultural operations of the farmer, are due in a large measure to deliberate pontifical elaboration, but they are a true indication of the Roman attitude of mind, which reveals itself continually in the analysis of the cults of the household or the festivals of the agricultural year.

The "powers" (numina, not dei), which thus become the objects of worship, are spirits specialized in function and limited in sphere. They are not conceived of in any anthropomorphic form, their sex even may often be indeterminate ("sive mas, sive femina" is the constantly recurring formula of prayer), but the sphere of action of each is clearly marked and an appeal to a spirit outside his own special sphere would never even be thought of. Locality thus becomes an important point in the conception of the numen: the household spirits must be worshipped at the door, the hearth, the store-cupboard, and the external spirits of the fields and countryside have their sacred hill-tops or groves. But the numen has no form of sensuous representation, nor does he need a house to dwell in: statue and temple are alien to the spirit of Roman religion. Nor are the numina, not being anthropomorphic, capable of relation XXIII. 19.

to one another: hence there is no Roman mythology. Yet, allpowerful in their individual spheres of action, they can influence the fortunes of men and can enter into relations with them. The primary attitude of man to the numina seems clearly to be one of fear, which survives prominently in the "impish" character of certain of the spirits of the countryside, such as Faunus and Inuus, and is always seen in the underlying conception of religio, a sense of awe in the presence of a superhuman power. But the practical mind of the Roman gives this relation a legal turn: the ius sacrum, which regulates the dealings of men with the divine powers, is an inseparable part of ius publicum, the body of civil law, and the various acts of worship, prayer and thanksgiving are conceived of under the legal aspect of a contract. The base-notion is that the spirits, if they are given their due, will make a return to man: the object of the recurring annual festivals is to propitiate them and forestall any hostile intention by putting them, as it were, in debt to man - more rarely to express gratitude for benefits received.

In such a religion exactness of ritual must play a large part - so large, indeed, that many modern critics have been. misled into regarding the Roman religion as a mere network of formalities without any background of genuine religious feeling. This formalism shows itself in many ways. It is necessary in the first place to make quite certain that the right deity is being addressed: hence it is well to invoke all the spirits who might be concerned, and even to add a general formula to cover omissions: here we have the ritual significance of the indigitamenta. Place, again, as we have seen, was an essential element even in the conception of the numen, and is therefore all-important in ritual. So, too, is the character of the offering: male victims must be sacrificed to male deities; female victims to goddesses: white animals are the due of the di superi, the gods of the upper world, black animals of the gods below. Special deities, moreover, will demand special victims, while the more rustic numina, such as Pales, should be given milk and millet cakes rather than a blood-offering. All-important, too, is the order of ceremonial and the formula of prayer: a mistake or omission or an unpropitious interruption may vitiate the whole ritual, and though such misfortunes may occasionally be expiated by the additional offering of a piaculum, in more serious cases the whole ceremony must be recommenced ab initio. Herein lies the importance of the priesthood: the priest is not, as in other religions, the mediator between god and man, but on the one hand for the purpose of state-worship the chosen representative of the whole people, on the other the repository of tradition and ritual lore.

This conception of the nature of the numina and man's relation to them is the root notion of the old Roman religion, and the fully-formed state cult of the di indigetes even at the earliest historical period, must have been the result of long and gradual development, of which we can to a certain extent trace the stages. The original settlement on the Palatine, like its neighbour on the Quirinal, was an agricultural community, whose unit both from the legal and religious point of view was not the individual but the household. The household is thus at once the logical starting-point of religious cult, and throughout Roman history the centre of its most real and vital activity. The head of the house (paterfamilias) is the natural priest and has control of the domestic worship: he is assisted by his sons as acolytes (camilli) and deputes certain portions of the ritual to his wife and daughters and even to his bailiff (vilicus) and his bailiff's wife. The worship centres round certain numina, the spirits indwelling in the sacred places of the original round hut in which the family lived. Janus, the god of the door, comes undoubtedly first, though unfortunately we know but little of his worship in the household, except that it was the concern of the men. To the women is committed the worship of the "blazing hearth," Vesta, the natural centre of the family life, and it is noticeable that even to Ovid (Fast. vi. 2919 2) the conception of Vesta was still material and not anthropomorphic. The Penates were the numina of the store-cupboard, at first vague and animistic, but later on, as the definite deus-notion was developed, identified with certain of the other divinities of household or state religion.

To these numina of the sacred places must be added two other important conceptions, that of the Lar familiaris and the Genius. The Lar familiaris has been regarded' as the embodiment of all the family dead and his cult as a consummation of ancestor-worship, but a more probable explanation regards him as one of the Lares (q.v.; numina of the fields worshipped at the compita, the places where properties marched) who had special charge of the house or possibly of the household servants (familia); for it is significant that his worship was committed to the charge of the vilica. The Genius is originally the "spirit of developed manhood," the numen which is attached to every man and represents the sum total of his powers and faculties as the Juno does of the woman: each individual worships his own Genius on his birthday, but the household-cult is concerned with the Genius of the paterfamilias. The established worship of the household then represents the various members of the family and the central points of the domestic activity; but we find also in the ordinary religious life of the family a more direct connexion with morality and a greater religious sense than in any other part of the Roman cult. The family meal is sanctified by the offering of a portion of the food to the household numina: the chief events in the individual life, birth, infancy, puberty, marriage, are all marked by religious ceremonial, in some cases of a distinctively primitive character. The dead, too, though it is doubtful whether in early times they were actually worshipped, at any rate have a religious commemoration as in some sense still members of the family.

The next stage in the logical development of the state religion should naturally be found in the worship of the gens, the aggregate of households belonging to one clan, Agri- but our information about the gentile worship is so scanty and uncertain 2 that we cannot make practical use of it. It is more profitable to turn from the life of the household to the outdoor occupations of the fields, where the early Roman settler met with his neighbours to celebrate the various stages of the agricultural year in religious ceremonies which afterwards became the festivals of the state calendar. Here we have a series of celebrations representing the occupations of the successive seasons, addressed sometimes to numina who developed later on into the great gods of the state, such as Jupiter, Mars or Ceres, sometimes to vaguer divinities who remained always indefinite and rustic in character, such as Pales and Consus. Sometimes again, as in the case of the Lupercalia, the attribution is so indefinite that it is hard to discover who was the special deity concerned; in other cases, such as those of the Robigalia and the Meditrinalia, the festival seems at first to have been addressed generally to any interested numina and only later to have developed an eponymous deity of its own. Roughly we may distinguish three main divisions of the calendar year, the festivals of Spring, of the Harvest and of Winter, preserving on the whole their peculiar characteristics. (I) In the Spring (it must be remembered that the old Roman calendar began the year with March) we have ceremonials of anticipation and prayer for the crops to come: prominent among them are the Fordicidia, with its symbolic slaughter of pregnant cows, addressed to Tellus, the Cerealia, a prayer-service to Ceres for the corn-crop, and the most important of the rustic celebrations of lustration and propitiation, the Parilia, the festival of Pales. To these must be added the Ambarvalia, the lustration of the fields, a movable feast (and therefore not found in the calendars) addressed at first to Mars in his original agricultural character (see Mars). (2) Of the Harvest festivals the most significant are the twin celebrations on August 21st and 25th to the divinity pair Consus and Ops, who are both concerned with the storing of the year's produce, and two mysterious vintage festivals, the Vinalia Rustica and the Meditrinalia, connected originally with Jupiter. (3) The Winter festivals are less homogeneous in character, but we may distinguish among them certain undoubtedly agricultural celebrations, the Saturnalia (at first connected with the sowing of the next year's crop, but afterwards overlaid with Greek ceremonial), and a curious repetition of the harvest festivals to Consus and Ops.

1 e.g. by De Marchi.

2 See, however, De Marchi, Il Culto Privato di Roma Antica, vol. ii.

In passing to the religion of the state we are clearly entering on a later period and a more developed form of society. The loose aggregation of agricultural households gives place t o the organized community with new needs and new g y ideals, and at the same time in religious thought the old vague notion of the numen is almost universally superseded by the more definite conception of the dens - not even now quite anthropomorphic, but with a much more clearly realized personality. We find then two prominent notes of the state influence, firstly, the adaptation of the old ideas of the household and agricultural cults to the broader needs of the community, especially to the new necessities of internal justice between citizens and war against external enemies, and secondly the organization of more or less casual worship into something like a consistent system. Adaptation proceeds at first naturally enough on the lines of analogy. As Janus is in the household the numen of the door, so in the state he is the god associated with the great gate near the corner of the forum: the Penates have their analogy in the Di Penates populi Romani Quiritium by whom the magistrates take their oath on entering office, the Lar familiaris in the Lares Praestites of the community, and the Genius in the new notion of the Genius populi Romani or Genius urbis Romae. But the closest and most curious analogy is seen in the case of Vesta. The Vesta of the state is in fact the king's hearth, standing in close proximity to the Regia, the king's palace; the Vestal Virgins, who have charge of the sacred fire, are the "king's daughters," and as such even in republican times were in the manus of the pontifex maximus, who was the successor of the king on the legal side of his religious duties, as the rex sacrorum was on the sacrificial side. But adaptation meant also reflection and the widening of old conceptions under the influence of thought and even of abstract ideas. Thus, the simple reflection that the door is used for the double purpose of entrance and exit leads to the notion of the Janus of the state as bifrons (" two-faced"): the thought of the door as the first part of the house to which one comes, produces the more abstract idea of Janus as the "god of beginning," in which character he has special charge of the first beginnings of human life (Consevius), the first hour of the day, the Calends of the month and the first month of the year in the later calendar: for the same reason his name takes the first place in the indigitamenta. But development proceeds also on broader and more important lines. Jupiter in the rusticcult was a sky-god concerned mainly with the wine festivals and associated with the sacred oak on the Capitol. Now he develops a twofold character: as the receiver of the spolia opima he becomes associated with war, especially in the double character of the stayer of rout (Stator) and the giver of victory (Victor), in which last capacity he later gives birth to an offshoot in the abstract conception of the goddess Victoria. As the sky-god again he is appealed to as the witness of oaths in the special capacity of the Dins Fidius, producing once more an abstract offshoot in the goddess Fides. In these two conceptions, justice and war, lie the germs of the later idea of Jupiter as the embodiment of the life of the Roman people both in their internal organization and in their external relations. In much the same manner Mars takes on in addition to his agricultural character the functions of war-god, which in time completely superseded the earlier idea. Finally, we must notice, as the sign of the synoecismus of the two settlements, the inclusion of the Colline deity, Quirinus, apparently the Mars of the originally rival community. In these three deities, Jupiter, Mars, Quirinus, we have the great triad of the earliest stage of the state religion.

Organization showed itself in the fixing of the annual calendar and the development of the character and functions of the priesthood, and as we should expect, in a new conception of the legal relation of the gods to the state. In the earlier stage - whose notions of course still persist alongside of the state religion - each household has its own relations to its numina: now the state approaches the gods through its duly appointed representatives, the magistrates and priests. Their presence is typical of that of the whole people, and the private citizen is required to do no more on festival days than a ceremonial abstinence from work. It is obvious that the state religion has a less direct connexion with morality and the religious sense than the worship of the household, but it has its ethical value in a sense of discipline and a consecration of the spirit of patriotism.

The later stages represent not the spontaneous development of the genuine Roman religion, but its alteration and supersession by new cults and ideas introduced from foreign sources. Authorities are generally agreed in recog nizing three periods: - (1) from the end of the Regal epoch to the second Punic War, when Rome was influenced by other peoples in Italy, with whom she was brought into contact by commerce or war; (2) from the second Punic War to the end of the Republic, when contact with Greek and oriental sources and the growth of literature revolutionized religious notions and led to a philosophic scepticism; (3) the Imperial epoch, opening with a revival of old religious notions and later marked by the official worship of the deified emperors and the wide influence of oriental cults.

(I) By the end of the regal period Rome had ceased to be a mere agricultural community and had developed into a city-state. There had consequently grown up within the state a large artisan class, excluded from the old patrician gentes and therefore from the state cult: at the same time the beginnings of commerce had opened relations with neighbouring peoples. The consequence was the introduction of certain new deities, the di novensides, from external sources, and the birth of new conceptions of the gods and their worship. We may distinguish three main influences, to a certain extent historically successive. (a) Tradition always assigned to the last three kings of Rome a connexion with the mysterious people of Etruria, and their influence at this period though not very definite was certainly extensive. To them, possibly Etruria. through the mediation of Falerii, a Latin town on the Etruscan border, was due the introduction of Minerva, who, as the goddess of handicraft and protectress of the artisan gilds, was established in a temple on the Aventine. Soon, however, she found her way on to the Capitol, and there a new Etruscan triad, Jupiter, Juno and Minerva, possibly going back from Etruria to Greece, was enshrined in a magnificent new temple built by Etruscan workmen and decorated in the Etruscan manner. In this temple the deities were represented by images, and on its dedication day, September 13th, at the novel festival of the epulum Jovis, the images were adorned and set out as partakers of the feast, a proceeding wholly foreign to the native Roman religion (see further Etruria, § Religion). (b) Secondly, in war and peace Rome formed relations with her neighbours of Latium, and, as a sign of the Latin league which resulted, the cult of Diana was brought from Aricia and established on the Aventine in the "commune Latinorum Dianae templum" (Varro, Ling. Lat. v. 43): about the same time was built the temple of Jupiter Latiaris on the Alban mount, its resemblance in style to the new Capitoline temple pointing to Rome's hegemony. So great was Rome's sense of kinship to the Latins that in two cases Latin cults were introduced inside the pomoerium: the worship of Hercules, which came from Tibur in connexion with commerce, was established at the ara maxima in the forum boarium, and the Tusculan cult of Castor as the patron of cavalry found a home close to the forum Romanum: it is a strange irony that both these deities should in reality have been in their origin Greek. Other Italian cults introduced at this period were those of Juno Sospes and Juno Regina, Venus and Fortuna Primigenia, a goddess of childbirth who came from Praeneste. (c) Later on in the same period contact with the cities of Magna Graecia brought about the wide-reaching introduction of the Sibylline books. Whatever may be their origin - and they came from Cumae - they were placed in the Capitoline temple under the care of a special commission of two (duoviri sacris faciundis, later decemviri and quindecimviri), and their "oracles," which were referred to in times of great national stress, recommended the introduction of foreign cults. In 493 B.C., at a time of serious famine, they ordered the building of a temple to the Greek triad Demeter, Dionysus and Persephone, who were identified with the old Roman divinities Ceres, Liber and Libera: Apollo must have come with or before the books themselves, though his temple was not built till 433 B.C.: Mercury followed, the representative of `Epµns 'E,uuroXaaos, Asclepius was brought from Epidaurus to the Tiber island in 293 B.C., and Dis and Proserpina, with their strange chthonic associations and night ritual, probably from Tarentum in 249 B.C. With new deities came new modes of worship: the graecus ritus, in which, contrary to Roman usage, the worshipper's head was unveiled, and the lectisternium, an elaborate form of the "banquet of the gods." In this period, then, we find first a legitimate extension of cults corresponding to the needs of the growing community, and secondly a religious restlessness and a consequent tendency to more dramatic forms of worship.

(2) The two chief notes of the next period are superstition and scepticism: both the populace and the educated classes lose faith in the old religion, but they supply its place in different Greek cities . ways. The disasters of the early part of the second Punic War revealed an unparalleled religious nervousness: portents and prodigies were announced from all quarters, it was felt that the divine anger was on the state, yet there was no belief in the efficacy of the old methods for restoring the pax deum. Accordingly recourse is had, tinder the direction of the Sibylline books, to new forms of appeal for the divine help, the general vowing of the ver sacrum and the elaborate Greek lectisternium after Trasimene in 217 B.C., and the human sacrifice in the forum after Cannae in the following year. The same spirit continues to show itself in the almost reckless introduction of Greek deities even within the walls of the pomoerium and their ready identification with gods of the old religion, whose cult they in reality superseded. Thus we hear of temples dedicated to Juventas=Hebe (191 B.C.), Diana=Artemis (179 B.C.), Mars=Ares (138 B.C.), and find even such unexpected identifications as that of the Bona Dea - a cult title of the ancient Fauna, the female counterpart of the countryside numen Faunus - with a Greek goddess of women, Damia. At the same time the new acquaintance with Greek art introduces the making of cult statues, in which the identified Greek type is usually adopted without change, with such curious results as the representation of the Penates under the form of the Dioscuri. But more significant still was the order of the Sibylline books in 206 B.C. for the introduction of the worship of the Magna Mater(see Great Mother Of The Gods) from Pessinus and her ultimate installation on the Palatine in 191 B.C.: the door was thus opened to the wilder and more orgiastic cults of Greece and the Orient, which at once laid hold on the popular mind. In the train of the Magna Mater came the secret Oriental cult of Bacchus, which grew to such proportions in deities . private worship that it had to be suppressed by decree of the Senate in 186 B.C., and later on were established the cults of Ma of Phrygia, introduced by Sulla and identified with Bellona, the Egyptian Isis, and, after Pompey's war with the pirates, even the Persian Mithras. In all these more emotional rituals, the populace sought expression for the religious emotions which were not satisfied by the cold worship of the older deities.

Meanwhile a corresponding change was taking place in the attitude of the educated classes owing to the spread of Greek literature. The knowledge of Greek mythology, to which they were thus introduced, set poets and antiquarians at work in a field wholly foreign to the Roman religious spirit, the task of creating a Roman anthropomorphic mythology. This they accomplished partly by the popular process of adoption and identification, partly by imitative creation. In this way grew up the "religion of the poets," whose falseness and shallowness was patent even to contemporary thinkers. But more important was the influence of philosophy, which led soon enough to a general scepticism among the upper classes. Its first note is struck by Ennius in his translation of the Sceptl- Sicilian rationalist Euhemerus, who explained the genesis m, of the gods as apotheosized mortals. In the last century cis of the Republic the two later Greek schools of Epicureanism and Stoicism laid hold on Roman society. The influence of Epicureanism was wholly destructive to religion, but not perhaps very widespread: Stoicism became the creed of the educated classes and produced several attempts, notably those of Scaevola and Varro, at a reconciliation of philosophy and popular religion, in which it was maintained that the latter was in itself untrue, but a presentation of a higher truth suited to the capacity of the popular mind. Such a theory was bound to be fatal, as it makes religion at once a mere instrument of statecraft.

The result on the old religion was twofold. On the one hand, worship passed into formalism and formalism into disuse. Some of the old cults passed away altogether, others survived in name and form, but were so wholly devoid of inner meaning that even the learning of a Varro could not tell their intention or the character of the deity with whom they were concerned. The old priesthood, and in particular the flaminia, came to be regarded as tiresome restrictions on political life and were neglected: from 87 to II B.C. the office of flamen Dialis was vacant. On the other hand, as the result in part of the theory of Stoicism, religion passed into the hands of the politicians: cults were encouraged or suppressed from political motives, the membership of the colleges of pontifices and augurs, now conferred by popular vote, was sought for its social and political advantages, and augury was debased till it became the meanest tool of the politician. In the general wreck of the old religion, little survived but the household cult, protected by its own genuineness and vitality.

(3) The revival of Augustus, which marks the opening of the last stage, was perhaps the most remarkable phenomenon in the whole story. It was no doubt very largely political, a part of his plan for the general renaissance of Roman life, which was to centre no longer round the abstract notion of the state, but round the persons Imperial of an imperial house. But it was genuinely religious, in religion. that he saw that no revival could be effective which did not appeal to the deeper sentiments of the populace. It was thus his business to revitalize the old forms with a new and more vigorous content. His new palace on the Palatine he intended to be primarily the seat of the Julian family and the cults associated with it, and secondarily the centre of the new popular religion. With this object he consecrated there his new temple of Apollo (28 B.C.), associated for long with the Julian house, and adopted by Augustus as his special patron at Actium, and transferred to its keeping the Sibylline books, thus marking the new headquarters of the Graeco-Roman religion. Similar in purpose was his institution of the ludi saeculares in 17 B.C., in which a day celebration was added to the old 7ravvv X ir, and Apollo and Diana deliberately set up as a counterpart to the Capitoline Jupiter and Juno: Horace's hymn written for the festival is a good epitome of Augustus's religious intentions. In the same spirit, he established a new shrine of Vesta Augusta within the palace, a private cult at first, but destined to be a serious rival of the ancient worship in the forum. A still more marked action was the building of a great temple at the end of his own new forum to Mars Ultor, - Mars, the ancestor of the Julian gens, as of the Roman people itself, and now to be worshipped as the avenger of Caesar's murderers. Nor did he hesitate to avail himself of the popular outburst, which immediately after the murder had consecrated the site of Caesar's cremation with a bustum, to erect on the spot a permanent temple to his adopted father, under the definitely religious title of divus Julius. No doubt he also did much generally to revive the ancient cults: he rebuilt, as he tells us himself, eighty-two temples which had fallen into disrepair, he re-established the old priesthoods, filling once more the office of flamen Dialis and reviving such bodies as the Sodales Titii (see Titus Tatius) and the Arval Brothers; but the new revival attached itself primarily to these four cults, and their tendency was unmistakable. Originally, no doubt, Augustus designed to attract religious feeling generally to the reigning house, but it was inevitable that the more personal note should be given to it. The deification of Julius Caesar was one important step: another was the natural prominence in the palace of the cult of the Genius of the emperor himself. As the palace cults became national, the worship of the Genius was bound to spread, and ultimately Augustus sanctioned its celebration at the compita together with the worship of the old Lares. But here he and the wiser of his successors drew the line, and though under oriental influence divine honours were paid to the living emperor outside Italy, they were never permitted officially in Rome. In the succeeding centuries Augustus's intentions were realized with a fullness which he would hardly have wished, and the cult of the imperial house practically superseded the state religion as the official form of worship.

With this last period the story of Roman religion really draws to a close. For, though the form of the old cults was long preserved and even Antoninus Pius was honoured in an inscription for his care of the ancient rites of religion, the vital spirit was almost gone. In the popular mind the hosts of exciting oriental cults, which in the 3rd and 4th centuries of the Empire filled Rome with the rites of mysticism and initiation, held undisputed sway; and with the more educated a revived philosophy, less accurate perhaps in thought, but more satisfying to the religious conscience, gave men a clearer monotheistic conception, and a notion of individual relations with the divine in prayer and even of consecration. It was with these elements - fiercely antagonistic because so closely allied in character - that the battle of Christianity was really fought, and though, after its official adoption, the old religion lingered on as "paganism" and died hard at the end, it was really doomed from the moment when the Augustan revival had taken its irrecoverable bias in the direction of the emperorworship.

Bibliography. - (a) General. - Preller, Romische Mythologie, edited by Jordan; J. Marquardt, Romische Staatsverwaltung, vol. iii., edited by Wissowa; Th. Mommsen, History of Rome; E. Aust, Die Religion der Romer; G. Wissowa, Religion and Kultus der Romer and Gesammelte Abhandlungen zur romischen Religionsund Stadtgeschichte; W. Warde Fowler, The Roman Festivals; J. B. Carter, The Religion of Numa; W. H. Roscher, Lexicon der griechischen and romischen Mythologie; Pauly-Wissowa, Realencyclopcidie der klassischen Altertumswissenschaft; Corpus Inscriptionum Latinarum. See further, Greek Religion; Mithras; Etruria, Religion; and articles on the deities, festivals and colleges.

(b) Special. - For the Imperial Period, G. Boissier, La Religion romaine d'Auguste aux Antonins: La fin du Paganisme; Henzen, Acta Fratrum Arvalium; for the private and gentile cults, A. de Marchi, Il culto privato di Roma Antica. (C. BA.)

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