The Roman Religion
Delving into the ancient Roman religion does not clearly bring out a sense of spiritualism that people have come to expect from religious groups such as Christianity, Islam or Hinduism. The ancient Romans did not really believe in a central being that would be considered all-powerful. Instead, they had a collection of several gods and goddesses, some of which they could not even tell why they were being worshipped or whether they were male or not. Such was the confusion back in the days, around the 1st century AD (Rüpke 24). However, after a while, people who sought spiritualism took up other faiths such as Christianity that gained a lot of prominence throughout the Roman Empire after the death of Jesus. In the traditional Roman societies, religion took a practical aspect and the leaders were expected to perform sacrifices and prayers in ceremonies to honor the gods. In a family setting, this responsibility was left to the father. The initial Roman religion is referred to as Polytheistic. The name resulted from the many gods that the Romans worshipped. The array of gods traced their origins to the Greek culture and ancient cults from the East. However, as Christianity grew in influence, the Roman Empire slowly embraced it. Embracing the Christian culture has been blamed for the fall of the great Roman Empire (Garnsey and Richard 1). This paper seeks to discuss the Roman religion and the various transformations that occurred within the Roman society.
Early Influences and Beliefs
In ancient Rome, religion took an animistic approach and the people of the Roman Empire believed in spirits. They believed that spirits could inhabit everything that surrounded them, including human beings. The ancient Romans also believed in ancestral spirits and that the spirits would watch over them. The Triad, formed by three gods, was the main belief in ancient Rome. The three gods included Mars, Remus and Romulus. Later on, the Triad expanded to include Jupiter, the supreme god. The Triad was worshipped around Rome before its expansion activities. Wars and acquiring new colonies affected the Roman culture and religion (Garnsey and Richard 1). The Greek colonies had a significant influence on the Romans due to their colonies in the Southern Peninsula region. At the time, the Greek mythology that had an assortment of beliefs as well as gods to match the array of beliefs was adopted by the Romans. However, despite the heavy influence and the adoption of their gods, the Romans did not reach the degree of the ancient Greeks and did not believe in individual expression to the gods. The Romans maintained a strict adherence to the rules, both in the management of their colonies and in the religious activities and rituals. The cities that were built during the Roman Empire rule were allowed to worship their gods. This worshipping was done through temples that were built across all the cities under the empire (Rüpke 50).
The Roman Empire retained their practical nature despite the heavy influence of the Greek culture and gods. As the empire grew, so did the Roman gods. For every Greek god, a Roman counterpart existed with slightly different names, but serving more or less the same purpose. The Roman religious world maintained a hierarchy that included four colleges of priests. However, unlike the Greek culture, the head of the religious function remained a public officer, the leader of Rome. The emperor always acted as the chief priest and would oversee the public religious ceremonies with the guidance of the other priests. The gods were always consulted before embarking on major events such as wars. This consultation was done through diviners who were believed to be able to communicate with the spirits and the gods. Ignoring messages from the spirit world was considered a bad omen. The gods would approve any battles without which the empire could not continue with the war. For instance, the infamous Publius Claudius, a general Roman commander ignored a religious requirement in which refused sacred chickens from feeding. He subsequently lost his battle, and his military career came to an end (Rüpke 45).
Roles and impacts of the gods
The gods of the Roman Empire did not carry equal significance and power. Some gods were never even recognized by all the citizens. However, a few of the gods standout in terms of significance. These gods also had their Greek equivalents. Jupiter was the supreme god, the king among the gods and controlled the most powerful forces, the weather and the forces of nature. However, his significance grew with time as the Roman Empire grew. Originally, Jupiter was associated with farming, but as his significance grew, his recognition was matched with temples at the cores of the Roman cities. Next in power was Juno. Juno was the wife of Jupiter. Some ancient literature believes that Juno was his sister. The month of June is named after her. She was the goddess in charge of the Moon and the light, later on, the power of childbirth and fertility were also attributed to her. Minerva is next in line. She was the goddess in charge of commerce, education and industry. Of equal importance was Mars, the god of war. Later, Minerva was also attributed with other duties such as war, artists, craftsmen and musicians. These gods represented the mighty Roman gods (Rüpke 45). However, there were also a number of other gods with lesser importance to the Roman society. These included, but were not limited to, Apollo, Saturn, Venus, Janus, Vulcan and Diana. Apollo was the god of poetry, medicine and science. Diana was Apollo’s sister, and she was the goddess of wild beasts and hunting. All the gods, including the smaller gods, had temples in the Roman Empire cities where they were worshipped and honored.
Significance of the gods
Each of the gods carried significance in ancient Rome, and the Romans spent a lot of their time worshipping their gods. The Roman citizenry believed that the gods bore great significance and that they controlled all aspects of their lives and would often seek their approval for various events. Whenever bad things happened such as losing in battle, floods, storms, hurricanes, and hunger hit the Romans, they would often seek the guidance of their gods through their priests. The Romans also had interpreters who would interpret weird things that happened and that try to find a meaning to the events in case it was the gods trying to send a message indirectly. In the temples that were built specifically to worship these gods, the Romans would often sacrifice animals to appease the gods as well as seek their approval on various matters such as war. All the temples were built with a particular pattern and priests often took charge of the sacrifices at the altars.
The public rules were also replicated at home. Every home had small altars and shrines where the sacrifices and prayers would be done. The father would perform the sacrifices just as a priest would. Each household had their gods that they referred to as ‘lares.’ These spirits were worshipped every day. The Romans believed that the spirits would influence their daily activities and, therefore, their guidance needed to be sought daily (Garnsey and Richard 1).
The Roman religion history is filled with history of gods and spirits. The Roman gods and spirits had great significance to the Roman people. The Romans built temples across all the cities in which they ruled with patterns that were replicated throughout the Empire. The public worshipping rituals and routines were also replicated in the homes with fathers acting as home priests. As the empire grew, their religion was influenced by other religions and the Romans adopted other beliefs and gods from the Greeks and also from Cults from the East. Even with the influence from the Greek gods and cults from the East, the Roman practice remained practical, and religion was public event. The emperor acted as the chief priest and would oversee the public rituals. However, as time passed, the Roman religion and culture was influenced by other religions. Slowly, Christianity took over as more Roman citizens sought for a more central being to believe in instead of their assortment of gods. The significance of various gods kept changing with time, a reason perhaps that led to the fall of the Roman religion.
Garnsey, Peter, and Richard Saller. The Roman Empire: economy, society and culture. Univ of California Press, 2014. Web.Rüpke, Jörg, ed. A companion to Roman religion. Vol. 78. John Wiley & Sons, 2011. Print.