Religion of ancient rome

A Roman priest was responsible for the proper ritual worship to the gods. The very success of the Roman Empire proved that the Romans had properly worshiped their gods. The Romans were tolerant of other peoples' gods, allowing natives in their provinces to worship whatever gods they chose. Beyond the official gods, individual families and regions had their local gods. In 63 BC the Romans became the indirect rulers of Judea. There the Romans found themselves often drawn into the divisions between various Jewish groups.

It was the Roman involvement in the divisions caused by Jesus of Nazareth that would change the world.

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Jesus was a Jew who preached for greater fulfillment of the words of Jewish prophets. The Romans considered Jesus a threat to their rule and had him crucified. His followers believed that he was resurrected. Initially, Christianity which the group became known after the Christo, the anointed one, was considered just another sect within Judaism.

Paul of Taurus considered by many as the second founder of Christianity. He believed that the word of Jesus should be spread not only to Jews but to all. Paul taught that Christ was the son of God and by accepting Christ as their savior people could be saved. Christianity spread steadily through the empire. By the yearthere were churches in the Empire. Initially, the Romans paid little attention to Christianities advances. At some point, however, Christians who refused to participate in Roman public ceremonies to the gods were considered a threat to the empire.

There followed a period of intermittent repressions of the Christians especially during Nero's time. Christianity however, continued to strengthen gaining support throughout the Empire. Constantine became the first Christian Emperor. Under Theodosius who ruled fromit became the official religion of the Roman Empire. Religion in the Roman Empire.The vocabulary of ancient Roman religion was highly specialized. Its study affords important information about the religion, traditions and beliefs of the ancient Romans.

This legacy is conspicuous in European cultural history in its influence on later juridical and religious vocabulary in Europe, particularly of the Western Church. For theonymsor the names and epithets of gods, see List of Roman deities. For public religious holidays, see Roman festivals.

Religion of Ancient Rome

For temples see the List of Ancient Roman temples. Individual landmarks of religious topography in ancient Rome are not included in this list; see Roman temple.

The verb abominari "to avert an omen", from ab-"away, off," and ominari"to pronounce on an omen" was a term of augury for an action that rejects or averts an unfavourable omen indicated by a signum"sign". The noun is abominatiofrom which English " abomination " derives. At the taking of formally solicited auspices auspicia impetrativathe observer was required to acknowledge any potentially bad sign occurring within the templum he was observing, regardless of the interpretation.

The latter tactic required promptness, wit and skill based on discipline and learning. The aedes was the dwelling place of a god. For instance, the Temple of Vestaas it is called in English, was in Latin an aedes.

religion of ancient rome

In his work On ArchitectureVitruvius always uses the word templum in the technical sense of a space defined through augurywith aedes the usual word for the building itself. For a celestial deity such as JupiterCoelusSol or Lunathe building should be open to the sky; an aedes for a god embodying virtus valoursuch as MinervaMarsor Herculesshould be Doric and without frills; the Corinthian order is suited for goddesses such as VenusFloraProserpina and the Lymphae ; and the Ionic is a middle ground between the two for JunoDianaand Father Liber.

Thus in theory, though not always in practice, architectural aesthetics had a theological dimension. The word aedilis aedilea public officialis related by etymology ; among the duties of the aediles was the overseeing of public worksincluding the building and maintenance of temples.

The plebeian aediles had their headquarters at the aedes of Ceres. In religious usage, ager territory, country, land, region was terrestrial space defined for the purposes of augury in relation to auspicia. There were five kinds of ager : Romanus, Gabinus, peregrinus, hosticus and incertus. The ager Romanus originally included the urban space outside the pomerium and the surrounding countryside. Ager hosticus meant foreign territory; incertus"uncertain" or "undetermined," that is, not falling into one of the four defined categories.

The ager Romanus could not be extended outside Italy terra Italia. The focal point of sacrifice was the altar araplural arae. Most altars throughout the city of Rome and in the countryside would have been simple, open-air structures; they may have been located within a sacred precinct templumbut often without an aedes housing a cult image. Perhaps the best-known Roman altar is the elaborate and Greek-influenced Ara Paciswhich has been called "the most representative work of Augustan art.

A tree arbor was categorized as felix if it was under the protection of the heavenly gods di superi. The adjective felix here means not only literally "fruitful" but more broadly "auspicious".

Macrobius [20] lists arbores felices plural as the oak four species thereofthe birch, the hazelnut, the sorbus, the white fig, the pear, the apple, the grape, the plum, the cornus and the lotus.

The oak was sacred to Jupiterand twigs of oak were used by the Vestals to ignite the sacred fire in March every year. Also among the felices were the olive tree, a twig of which was affixed to the hat of the Flamen Dialisand the laurel and the poplar, which crowned the Salian priests. Arbores infelices were those under the protection of chthonic gods or those gods who had the power of turning away misfortune avertentium.

As listed by Tarquitius Priscus in his lost ostentarium on trees, [22] these were buckthornred cornelfernblack fig"those that bear a black berry and black fruit," hollywoodland pearbutcher's broombriarand brambles. The verb attrectare "to touch, handle, lay hands on" referred in specialized religious usage to touching sacred objects while performing cultic actions.

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Attrectare had a positive meaning only in reference to the actions of the sacerdotes populi Romani "priests of the Roman people".

An augur Latin plural augures was an official and priest who solicited and interpreted the will of the gods regarding a proposed action.Expansion brought Rome into contact with many diverse cultures. The most important of these was the Greek culture in the eastern Mediterranean with its highly refined literature and learning.

Rome responded to it with ambivalence: although Greek doctrina was attractive, it was also the culture of the defeated and enslaved. Indeed, much Greek culture was brought to Rome in the aftermath of military victories, as Roman soldiers returned home not only with works of art but also with learned Greeks who had been enslaved. Despite the ambivalencenearly every facet of Roman culture was influenced by the Greeks, and it was a Greco-Roman culture that the Roman empire bequeathed to later European civilization.

As Roman aristocrats encountered Greeks in southern Italy and in the East in the 3rd century, they learned to speak and write in Greek. Scipio Africanus and Flamininus, for example, are known to have corresponded in Greek.

By the late republic it became standard for senators to be bilingual. Many were reared from infancy by Greek-speaking slaves and later tutored by Greek slaves or freedmen. Nonetheless, despite their increasing fluency in Greek, senators continued to insist on Latin as the official language of government; visiting dignitaries from the East addressing the Senate in Greek had their speeches translated—as a mark of their subordination.

Because Greek was the lingua franca of the East, Romans had to use Greek if they wished to reach a wider audience. Thus the first histories by Romans were written in Greek. Because Roman history was about politics and war, the writing of history was always judged by Romans to be a suitable pastime for men of politics— i.

Rome had had a folk tradition of poetry in the native Saturnian verse with a metre based on stress, but not a formal literature.

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Lucius Livius Andronicus was regarded as the father of Latin literaturea fact that illustrates to what extent the development of Roman literature was bound up with conquest and enslavement. Livius, a native Greek speaker from Tarentumwas brought as a slave to Rome, where he remained until his death c. Thus Latin literature began with a translation from Greek into the native metre.

Livius reached wider audiences through his translations of Greek plays for public performance. Gnaeus Naeviusthe next major figure c. In addition to translating Greek drama, he wrote the first major original work in Latin, an epic poem about the First Punic War.

Ennius was best known for his epic history of Rome in verse, the Annalesbut he also wrote tragedies and satires. Plautus produced comedies adapted from Greek New Comedy. None of the plays of his younger contemporaries, Caecilius Statius c. The six extant comedies of Terence Publius Terentius Afer; c. These authors also were outsiders, coming from the Celtic Po valley, Brundisium, Umbria, and North Africarespectively. Thus, while assorted foreigners, some of servile origin, established a Latin literature by adapting Greek genres, metrical forms, and content, native Roman senators began to write history in Greek.The origins of the Roman pantheon began with the small farming community that made up the ancient village of Rome.

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The foundations of the mythology included nameless and faceless deities that lended support to the community while inhabiting all objects and living things.

Numen, as the belief in a pantheistic inhabitation of all things is called, would later take root in more clearly defined system of gods, but early on this belief that everything was inhabited by numina was the prevalent system. According to some sources the religion of the very earliest Romans was simple animism: beliefs were centered around spirits which were not personified.

Modern sources however have rejected this theory, stating instead that belief in the Roman gods was present in the very earliest religion. Even though the early Romans were not very concerned with the distinct personalities of each god within their pantheon, there was a rigid clarification of what each particular deity was responsible for.

All aspects of life within Rome were guided not only by the pantheon of familiar names we are accustomed to, but to the household cult of the Dii Familiaris as well. With this belief set, every family or household was believed to be assigned a guardian spirit known as the Lar Familiaris Lars. All family functions included these spiritual guardians in some form or another. Among these spirits that played a role in the spiritual life of Romans were Genii for men and junii for women.

Each of these individual deities stayed with a person for life and represented the creative force that determined gender and allowed individuals to grow, learn and behave morally within society.

Roman religion

The Dii Familiaris were so ingrained within the household that several spirits were assigned to specific responsibilities within a home. Forculus protected the door, Limentinus the threshold, Cardea the hinges, and Vesta the hearth. Most of the Roman gods and goddesses were a blend of several religious influences. Many of these were introduced via the Greek colonies of southern Italy and others had their roots in the Etruscan or Latin tribes of the region.

In some cases the Etruscan or Latin names survived throughout the cultural existence of Rome, but many were adopted so completely that they maintained their names from other cultures. In the east, the Greek names remained the choice of the people and the major gods of the system therefore, were known by both. Rites of the early religion were simple and exact. As Rome grew, the beliefs of those who were conquered were slowly integrated into Roman culture and religion.

Many Greek gods and rituals became a part of Roman religion, and through study of Greek art, literature and mythology, many Greek gods came to be identified with Roman gods. The early Romans had no religious temples or statues to honor the spirits or gods. The first temples and statues of gods in Rome were built by Etruscan kings.

The first of these, a temple on Capitaline hill, was built to honor Jupiter, Juno, and Minerva. The gods of the Roman pantheon began taking on the forms known today during the dynasty of the Etruscan kings in the 6th century BC. As Rome's power grew and expanded throughout the known world, the Roman Empire came into contact with the cultures and religious beliefs of many cultures. The Romans, happy to absorb and assimilate any culture they encountered thereby reaping the benefits of both its wealth and religious influence, were a mosaic of belief systems.

On the most basic level, Romans saw their religion as a contract between man and the gods. For this reason, ceremonies were performed with the greatest attention to detail; if mistakes were made, it was believed that the gods would no longer be compelled to uphold their end of the contract.

religion of ancient rome

Along with the idea of a contract with the gods came the practice of the votum. The votum was a specific vow to the gods.Roman religionalso called Roman mythologybeliefs and practices of the inhabitants of the Italian peninsula from ancient times until the ascendancy of Christianity in the 4th century ad.

The Romans, according to the orator and politician Ciceroexcelled all other peoples in the unique wisdom that made them realize that everything is subordinate to the rule and direction of the gods. Yet Roman religion was based not on divine grace but instead on mutual trust fides between god and man.

Top 10 Religious Practices in Ancient Rome

The Romans believed that this divine help would make it possible for them to master the unknown forces around them that inspired awe and anxiety religioand thus they would be able to live successfully. These precepts for many centuries contained scarcely any moral element; they consisted of directions for the correct performance of ritual. Roman religion laid almost exclusive emphasis on cult acts, endowing them with all the sanctity of patriotic tradition.

Roman ceremonial was so obsessively meticulous and conservative that, if the various partisan accretions that grew upon it throughout the years can be eliminated, remnants of very early thought can be detected near the surface. This demonstrates one of the many differences between Roman religion and Greek religionin which such remnants tend to be deeply concealed. The Greeks, when they first began to document themselves, had already gone quite a long way toward sophisticated, abstract, and sometimes daring conceptions of divinity and its relation to man.

But the orderly, legalistic, and relatively inarticulate Romans never quite gave up their old practices. Moreover, until the vivid pictorial imagination of the Greeks began to influence them, they lacked the Greek taste for seeing their deities in personalized human form and endowing them with mythology. In a sense, there is no Roman mythology, or scarcely any.

Although discoveries in the 20th century, notably in the ancient region of Etruria between the Tiber and Arno rivers, west and south of the Apenninesconfirm that Italians were not entirely unmythological, their mythology is sparse. What is found at Rome is chiefly only a pseudomythology which, in due course, clothed their own nationalistic or family legends in mythical dress borrowed from the Greeks.

Nor did Roman religion have a creed; provided that a Roman performed the right religious actions, he was free to think what he liked about the gods. And, having no creed, he usually deprecated emotion as out of place in acts of worship.

In spite, however, of the antique features not far from the surface, it is difficult to reconstruct the history and evolution of Roman religion. The principal literary sources, antiquarians such as the 1st-century- bc Roman scholars Varro and Verrius Flaccusand the poets who were their contemporaries under the late Republic and Augustuswrote and years after the beginnings of Rome.

They wrote at a time when the introduction of Greek methods and myths had made erroneous and flattering interpretations of the distant Roman past unavoidable. In order to supplement such conjectures or facts as they may provide, scholars rely on surviving copies of the religious calendar and on other inscriptions.

religion of ancient rome

There is also a rich, though frequently cryptic, treasure-house of material in coins and medallions and in works of art. For the earliest times, there are the various finds and findings of archaeology. But they are not sufficient to enable scholars to reconstruct archaic Roman religion. They do, however, suggest that early in the 1st millennium bcthough not necessarily at the time of the traditional date for the founding of Rome bcLatin and Sabine shepherds and farmers with light plows came from the Alban Hills and the Sabine Hills, and that they proceeded to establish villages at Rome, the Latins on the Palatine Hill and the Sabines though this is uncertain on the Quirinal and Esquiline hills.

About the communities merged, and c. From such evidence it appears that the early Romans, like many other Italians, sometimes saw divine forceor divinity, operating in pure function and act, such as in human activities like opening doors or giving birth to children, and in nonhuman phenomena such as the movements of the sun and seasons of the soil. They directed this feeling of veneration both toward happenings that affected human beings regularly and, sometimes, toward single, unique manifestationssuch as a mysterious voice that once spoke and saved them in a crisis Aius Locutius.Religion in ancient Rome includes the ancestral ethnic religion of the city of Rome that the Romans used to define themselves as a people, as well as the religious practices of peoples brought under Roman rule, in so far as they became widely followed in Rome and Italy.

The Romans thought of themselves as highly religious, and attributed their success as a world power to their collective piety pietas in maintaining good relations with the gods. The Romans are known for the great number of deities they honored, a capacity that earned the mockery of early Christian polemicists.

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The presence of Greeks on the Italian peninsula from the beginning of the historical period influenced Roman culture, introducing some religious practices that became as fundamental as the cult of Apollo. The Romans looked for common ground between their major gods and those of the Greeks interpretatio graecaadapting Greek myths and iconography for Latin literature and Roman artas the Etruscans had. Etruscan religion was also a major influence, particularly on the practice of augury.

According to legendsmost of Rome's religious institutions could be traced to its foundersparticularly Numa Pompiliusthe Sabine second king of Romewho negotiated directly with the gods.

This archaic religion was the foundation of the mos maiorum"the way of the ancestors" or simply "tradition", viewed as central to Roman identity. Roman religion was practical and contractual, based on the principle of do ut des"I give that you might give". Religion depended on knowledge and the correct practice of prayer, ritual, and sacrifice, not on faith or dogma, although Latin literature preserves learned speculation on the nature of the divine and its relation to human affairs.

Even the most skeptical among Rome's intellectual elite such as Cicerowho was an augur, saw religion as a source of social order. As the Roman Empire expanded, migrants to the capital brought their local cults, many of which became popular among Italians. Christianity was in the end the most successful of these, and in became the official state religion.

For ordinary Romans, religion was a part of daily life. Neighborhood shrines and sacred places such as springs and groves dotted the city. Womenslavesand children all participated in a range of religious activities.

Some public rituals could be conducted only by women, and women formed what is perhaps Rome's most famous priesthood, the state-supported Vestalswho tended Rome's sacred hearth for centuries, until disbanded under Christian domination. The priesthoods of public religion were held by members of the elite classes.

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There was no principle analogous to separation of church and state in ancient Rome. During the Roman Republic —27 BCthe same men who were elected public officials might also serve as augurs and pontiffs.

Priests married, raised families, and led politically active lives.

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Julius Caesar became pontifex maximus before he was elected consul. The augurs read the will of the gods and supervised the marking of boundaries as a reflection of universal order, thus sanctioning Roman expansionism as a matter of divine destiny. The Roman triumph was at its core a religious procession in which the victorious general displayed his piety and his willingness to serve the public good by dedicating a portion of his spoils to the gods, especially Jupiterwho embodied just rule.

Religion in ancient Rome

As a result of the Punic Wars — BCwhen Rome struggled to establish itself as a dominant power, many new temples were built by magistrates in fulfillment of a vow to a deity for assuring their military success.

As the Romans extended their dominance throughout the Mediterranean world, their policy in general was to absorb the deities and cults of other peoples rather than try to eradicate them, [4] since they believed that preserving tradition promoted social stability. Inscriptions throughout the Empire record the side-by-side worship of local and Roman deities, including dedications made by Romans to local gods.

By the height of the Empire, numerous international deities were cultivated at Rome and had been carried to even the most remote provincesamong them CybeleIsisEponaand gods of solar monism such as Mithras and Sol Invictusfound as far north as Roman Britain. Foreign religions increasingly attracted devotees among Romans, who increasingly had ancestry from elsewhere in the Empire. Imported mystery religionswhich offered initiates salvation in the afterlife, were a matter of personal choice for an individual, practiced in addition to carrying on one's family rites and participating in public religion.

The mysteries, however, involved exclusive oaths and secrecy, conditions that conservative Romans viewed with suspicion as characteristic of " magic ", conspiratorial coniuratioor subversive activity.

Sporadic and sometimes brutal attempts were made to suppress religionists who seemed to threaten traditional morality and unity, as with the Senate 's efforts to restrict the Bacchanals in BC.

Because Romans had never been obligated to cultivate one god or one cult only, religious tolerance was not an issue in the sense that it is for monotheistic systems. In the wake of the Republic's collapsestate religion had adapted to support the new regime of the emperors.

Augustusthe first Roman emperor, justified the novelty of one-man rule with a vast program of religious revivalism and reform. Public vows formerly made for the security of the republic now were directed at the well-being of the emperor.The Religion in ancient Rome went through various stages throughout history. Since Rome was not a static state but continued to expand through the centuries. With this expansion, assimilation with other cultures and religious beliefs resulted in the constant evolution of ancient Roman religion.

The Religion of ancient Rome had their basis in various mythologies and legendary tales and it was thought that the religion of ancient Rome began as a result of the negotiations of Numa Pompilius, the Sabine second king of Rome, with the gods. The religion was viewed as an important part of Roman identity. The priests that overlooked the matters of religious significance comprised of the elite class and there was also heavy involvement of religion in the political affairs of the empire.

The founding myths, coupled with the concept of the divine destiny, played an important role in the formation of the religion of historic Rome.

These founding myths are rich not just in terms of human effort but also constant intervention from the gods. The relationship of these founding myths was the belief that Rome had a semi-divine ancestor Aeneas who was a Trojan refugee and son of Venus, and it was believed that it was he who established the religion of ancient Rome.

An elaborate genealogy was constructed that established the relationship between this Trojan founder and Greek influence, the legend of Rome being founded by Romulus and Remus. Prayers, vows, and oaths were central to the religion of ancient Rome, just like the religious practices of other civilisations of the time. The sacrifices and offerings for the gods were always accompanied with religious prayers and hymns.

Sacrifice was considered useless without prayers and often a priest performed loud public prayers on the behalf of the community. Religious oaths were sworn during important business transactions, client meetings and service, as well as during various other purposes, these prayers appealed to the sanction of the gods in addition to the witnesses.

Ancient Roman religion was polytheistic and thus there were various gods that were reserved for different purposes and had different powers. Jupiter was the most powerful of all Roman gods and was central to the religious offices of Rome. During the Republic Era of Rome, Jupiter shared several characteristics with other gods such as Mars and Quirinus, who were later replaced by Juno and Minerva.

With the passage of time, there was a conceptual tendency towards triads, one famous one being the plebeian triad of Ceres, Liber, and Libera. Deities were generally linked through marriages in various religious mythologies. Many of these gods were actually adopted from ancient Greek religion which had a considerable influence over the Roman religion.

Religious practises in Rome were naturally accompanied by various holidays and festivals and it is estimated that there were over forty annual religious festivals. These festivals were of varying durations with some lasting several days while other spanning over a single day. Some of the most famous festivals of religion of ancient Rome included the festival held at Palestrina to honour Fortuna Primigenia during Compitalia, and the festival of Ludi Romani in honour of Liber.

Other than religious prayers, vows, and ceremonies, various games were also an essential feature of these festivals. The origin of most of these festivals of religion of ancient Rome remained obscure even in their own time and this provided an opportunity to mythologise about them.

Sacrifices of animals were common in ancient Rome and there is also evidence of some human sacrifices, although the latter was quite rare.

Mostly domesticated animals such as cattle, sheep, and dogs were used for sacrifice and the best in the herd was chosen for the purpose. Different kinds of animals were sacrificed for different kinds of gods depending on their particular powers and functions. Personal virtues and divine will were both considered essential for military victories and thus religion played an important role in the military life of ancient Rome.

Lack of personal virtue and negligence of religious piety was thought to result in divine wrath in the form of military defeat. It was common for Roman commanders to offers vows to be fulfilled after a military success in addition to vows for expiation after a defeat.