The Romans had a religion like no other. It was practicly
the same as the Greek religion but
the names are slightly altered. The names in Roman are names of
If anything, the Romans had a pragmatic attitude to
religion, as to most
things, which perhaps explains why they themselves had difficulty
to the idea of a single, all-seeing, all-powerful god.
In so far as they had a religion of their own, it was not based
central belief, but on a mixture of fragmented rituals, taboos,
superstitions, and traditions which they collected over the years
number of sources.
To the Romans, religious faith was less a spiritual experience
contractual relationship between mankind and the forces which
to control people's existence and well-being.
The result was essentially twofold: a state cult whose significant
influence on political and military events outlasted the republic,
private concern, in which the head of the family supervised the
rituals and prayers in the same way as the elected representatives
people performed the public ceremonials. As circumstances and
man's view of
the world changed, individuals whose personal religious needs
unsatisfied turned increasingly during the first century AD to
which were of Greek origin, and to the cults of the East.
Many of the gods and goddesses worshipped by the Romans were borrowed
from the Greeks, or had their equivalent in Greek mythology. Some
came by way of the Etruscans or the tribes of Latium. The Diana
Servius Tullius built the temple on the Aventine Hill was identified
Greek Artemis, but some of the rites attached to her at Aricia,
from which he transferred her worship, went back to an even mistier
The priest of Diana at Aricia, who was always a runaway slave,
held the title
of king. He took office by killing his predecessor, and held it
for as long
as he was able to defeat other runaway slaves in single combat.
slave could challenge him by breaking off a branch from a particular
the sacred grove; no naturally the resident priest kept a close
Occasionally tradition threw up a deity whose roots had been forgotten.
a one was the goddess Furrina, who gave her name to the grove
in which Gaius
Gracchus met his death; her festival was regularly observed on
Unfortunately, by the middle of the first century BC, no one could
who she was or why she was being celebrated.
Most form of religious activity required some kind of sacrifice.
prayer could be a confusing matter due to some gods having multiple
their gender even
being unknown. The practice of Roman religion was a confusing
The Roman was by nature a very superstitious people. Emperors
tremble and even legions refuse to march if the omens were bad
If the Roman State entertained temples and rituals for the benefit
the greater gods, then the Romans in the privacy of their own
worshipped their domestic deities.
To the Roman peasant the world around simply teemed with spirits,
and religions phenomena.
The religion of the Roman State reflected the ways of private
while retaining traditions from the period of the kings.
Under the nominal direction of the pontifex Maximus, administrative
ritualistic matters were the responsibility of four colleges,
with one or two exceptions, were appointed or elected from the
politicians and held office for life.
The fifteen members of the College of Augurs exercised great learning,
and presumably also diplomacy, in the interpretation of omens
in public and
private life, and acted as consultants in cases of doubt. Each
crooked staff, without any knot in it, with which he marked out
space of ground from which official auspices were observed. The
the College of 'Quindecemviri Sacris Faciundis', the fifteen priests
special religious duties, were the keepers of the Sibylline Books,
consulted and interpreted when requested to do so, and ensured
actions prescribed were properly carried out. They also had responsibility
for supervising the worship of any foreign deity which was introduced
the religion of the state from time to time, usually on the recommendation
the Sibylline Books.
The earliest state religious festivals were celebrated with games,
the very first one recorded at Rome, the festival to Conusees
at which the
Serbian women were kidnapped. The Consualia, traditionally celebrated
Rome on 21 August, was also the local Derby Day, the main event
chariot racing calendar. Whether it was a case of cause or effect,
underground granary, which housed the sacred shrine of Consus
opening sacrifice was conducted, was conveniently situated in
the middle of
the Circus Maximus, where the racing took place.
Another of the original racing festivals was the Equirria to Mars
October, this time on the Campus Martius, with its grisly climax.
Religious festivals could be grave as well as joyful. February
kinds. During the nine days of the Parentilia, during which the
were worshipped, state officials did no business, temples were
marriages forbidden. In complete contrast was the ancient and
gruesome Lupercalia, at which the deity honored was probably Faunus,
fertility, but the proceedings reflected the origins of Rome itself.
started in the cave where Romulus and Remus were supposed to have
suckled by the wolf. Several goats and a dog were sacrificed,
and the blood
smeared over two youths of noble birth. The pair then ran a prescribed
cross-country course, wearing goatskins and carrying strips of
which they whipped people as they passed. They blows were supposed
promote fertility, and women wanting to become pregnant would
themselves at strategic points on the course to receive their
The marathon festivities of Mars from 1 to 19 March were even
for the participants. Two teams each of twelve celebrants known
(jumpers) put on the helmets, uniform and armor of Bronze Age
leapt through the streets, chanting and beating their shields.
they rested, and feasted, at a prearranged hostelry or private
The festival of Vesta in June was a more sedate and dignified
For a week, the storehouse of treasures in the temple was open
to the public
(but to married women only), who came barefooted with offerings
of food. On
15 June the vestal virgins swept the place out, and public business,
had been suspended during the festival, was resumed. As an extra
touch, on 9
June mill-donkeys were hung with garlands of violets, decorated
of bread, and given the day off. There was not a month in the
which did not have its religious festivals. August, the sixth
month of the
old calendar, hosted, in addition to the Consualia, festivals
(god, not just of victory, but also of enterprise in business),
of harbors), Vulcan (god of fire), and Volturnus (god the river
was the month, too, in which the ancient festival of Diana was
That January should find itself the first month in the revised
entirely appropriate. Janis, who gave his name to it, was a god
the Romans and has no equivalent in any other mythology. He was
the god of
beginnings as well as of the door, which you meet you of course
meet when you
first enter a house. He not only began the year, and received
state sacrifice of the year at the Agonia on 9 January, but the
first hour of
the day was sacred to him, and his name took precedence over all
prayers. He's bearded, double-headed image appeared on the first
bronze coin of the republic, the as, in about 300 BC, and also
earliest silver coins, minted in Capua. The gates of his temple
in the north
east corner of the forum were, it is said, kept wide open in times
This meant that they were closed only twice in the succeeding