Roman Religion: The Early Period

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History of Scholarship

Although Roman religious institutions had been studied earlier (by, for example, Barnabé Brissonius, 1583), the differentiation between Greek and Roman religion within antique "heathendom" or "polytheism" was the work of nineteenth-century scholars. Concentrating on literary sources and on origins as described by ancient historiographers and critically reviewed by contemporary historians, the studies by J. A. Hartung (1836), Rudolph H. Klausen (1839), and J. A. Ambrosch (1839) marked the beginning of a scientific reconstruction of the religion of the city of Rome (and, marginally, of the religions of Italy). Under the impact of the extensive collection of inscriptions and the systematization of Roman law and the Roman "constitution" assembled by Theodor Mommsen (18171903), German scholars, especially Georg Wissowa (18591931), reconstructed authentic Roman religion as a body of sacral law and conservative ritualism informed by legal conceptions of deities. The Roman calendar, projected into the regal period as a document of early systematization, and the lost "books of the priests" (libri sacerdotum ), transmitted in occasional antiquarian quotations only, formed the basis of the reconstruction.

Wissowa's handbook (1902/1912), with its detailed account of deities, temples, and rituals, dominated factual research in the twentieth century. Less successful were the more experiential or expressive interpretations of Roman rituals (e.g., Fowler, 1899 and 1911) and the attempts of Hermann Usener's school and James George Frazer to elucidate these rituals by ethnographic comparison, opening classical material to late-nineteenth-century evolutionary schemes (late resonances in Bailey [1932] and Wagenvoort [1947]). Drawing on comparative linguistics and mythology, Georges Dumézil interpreted Roman deities within an Indo-European framework of three basic "functions" (sovereignty, warfare, and agriculture). Dumézil's impact remained limited, but his attention to a mythology present in the guise of Roman historiography re-enlarged the objects of studies.

The quest for origins and "Wesen" (spiritiual substance) led to a neglect of the interaction with Hellenic culture (an important exception was Altheim, 1930), visible already in the archaeology of early Rome (Foro Boario), and with Italian religions that were increasingly subjected to Roman domination and increasingly present in Rome. Thus the reinterpretation of public Roman religion within the framework of a more skeptical and more sociological image of the history of Roman political institutions (see Beard et al., 1998) must be supplemented by intensified research in Italian imagery and architecture (e.g., Wiseman, 1995, 2000; Coarelli, 1987), as well as a new look at late republican literature (e.g., Feeney, 1998; Barchiesi, Rüpke, and Stevens, 2004) and extra-urban inscriptions.


Any attempt at a historical reconstruction of republican Roman religion has to rely on a critical reading of early Augustan historiography (late first century bce). With a few exceptions (e.g., Plautus's comedies from the early second century bce, Cato the Elder, some inscriptions), contemporary literary evidence is lacking before the intensively documented first century. The most important antiquarian source, Marcus Terentius Varro (11627 bce), is mostly known through quotations from imperial times and late antiquity (Augustine, Servius) only. Although the calendar, including information on many temple foundation days, is known from a wall painting from shortly before the Julian calendar reform in 45 bce, an extended epigraphical culture did not begin until the reign of Augustus (r. 27 bce14 ce). Temple structures and fragments of architectural decor have been excavated, but the archaeological record of altars, reliefs, and statues is entirely dominated by the imperial rebuilding of Rome. However, a unique coinage features individual religious motifs from the late second century bce onward.

Major advances have been made in locating, documenting, and interpreting new archaeological and epigraphic sources outside Rome. Major findings of votive objects at different sites in Italy allow the reconstruction of the production, usage, local variations, and overarching trends, and help put the Roman material (mostly recovered from the Tiber) into context. Local archaeological research in the Roman colonies and a new edition and commentary on republican laws and statues (Crawford, 1996) have clarified the processes of expansion and Romanization. In addition, new archaeological methods used at excavations at Osteria dell'Osa (Bietti Sestieri, 1992) and other sites have added to the collections of funerary ware and provided insights into the formation and changes of early Italian pre-urban societies.

A history of Roman religion is impossible for any period before the fifth century bce, even though the archaeological record attests important religious sites and enables a reconstruction of the history of the early Forum Romanum (an unhesitatingly optimistic stance is taken by Carandini, 1997). Structurally, Rome has to be seen as a Latin city under Etruscan domination, increasingly establishing direct commercial and cultural relationships with (Italian) Greek and Punic cities.

Roman and Italian Religion

"Roman religion" is an analytical concept that is used to describe religious phenomena in the ancient city of Rome and to relate the growing variety of cults to the political and social structure of the city. Although Rome gradually became the dominant power in Italy during the third century bce, as well as the capital of an empire during the second century bce, its religious institutions and their administrative scope only occasionally extended beyond the city and its nearby surroundings (ager Romanus ). Nothing is known about the religious structure of the early Roman colonies in Italy. The establishment of towering Capitolia (replicas of the threefold temple on the Roman Capitoline hill, dedicated to Jupiter [Iuppiter ], Juno [Iuno ], and Minerva) had no structural necessity, but represented infrequent individual efforts to acquire prestige and demonstrate loyalty. Intense contacts led to manifold processes of exchange, the direction of which could hardly be ascertained. From the second century bce onward, intense urbanization led municipal elites to the reception of Roman models of administration and representation. The most visible effect of this process was the parallel Hellenization of the cities and townships.

The resulting similarities were due to competition among the cities, as well as adaptation from the cultural centers, including Rome, Athens, and Alexandria. The resulting Mediterranean koiné remains an object for further research. The process itself intensified in imperial times. The religious profile of Pompeii during the first centuries bce and ce is neither Oscan nor Roman, but rather a local variant of Mediterranean polis religion. The pantheon of the Umbrian town of Iguvium contained a grouping of three gods parallel to the Roman Capitoline triad: Iou, Mart, and Vofiono, all bearing the common epithet Grabovio (its meaning is obscure). This similarity between the two pantheons is all the more apparent since Vofiono is the exact linguistic equivalent of Quirinus, even to its adjectival form -no-, derived from a nominal root. Yet the tabulae Iguvinae, the Iguvine tablets from the second and first centuries bce, are not an independent attestation of an Indo-European structure, but rather the religious product of a city with confederate status from the first half of the third century bce onward. That is not to deny the importance of local and translocal cultures independent of or even superior or opposed to Rome (e.g., the religious conceptions and symbols of the Etruscan elites and the Greeks of Magna Graecia, located to the south of the Volturno River). The Roman solar calendar did not even replace middle Italian and Etruscan lunisolar calendars until the first century bce. And yet the Iguvine documents in Oscan language use Latin letters in their later section, and they attest an interest in documenting rituals that cannot be separated from the cultural developments of the whole peninsula, subjected to Roman rule.

Basic concepts

The idea of obligation lies at the very root of the Romans' attitude toward the gods, and it is expressed in the word religio. If the modern languages of the Western world (both Romance and Germanic) have failed to translate this word and have settled on a simple copy thereof (religion, religione ), the reason lies in the fact that this idiom is untranslatable. Indeed, in the ancient world there was no Greek equivalent. All the expressions that one can bring to mind by analogysebas (respect for the gods), proskunesis (adoration), eulabeia (reverential fear), threskeia (cult)fall far short of filling the semantic range of religio. Careful examination shows that the Latins, who were not concerned with philological rigor, connected religio more with the verb religare (to tie), alluding to the bonds between gods and humans, than with the verb relegere (to take up again with care). Such as it is, religio expresses a fundamental preoccupation manifested in two complementary ways: the care taken to avoid divine wrath, and the desire to win the benevolence and favor of the gods. It was the Romans' inner conviction that without the accord of the gods they could not succeed in their endeavors. This explains the solemn declaration of Cicero (10643 bce) proclaiming the Roman people to be "the most religious in the world" (De natura deorum 2.3).

This preoccupation is evident throughout the history of Livy (59 bce17 ce). Roman accomplishments rise and fall in complete rhythm with the disfavor or favor evinced by the gods. A revealing example is furnished in the Romans' desperation following the sack of Rome by the Gauls (in 390 bce by Varronian chronology, but probably, according to a Polybian synchronism, to be dated to 387/6). Overwhelmed, they were nearly resolved to abandon the ruins of their city, at the instigation of their tribunes, in order to emigrate to Veii. It was then that M. Furius Camillus, the predestined leader (dux fatalis) and dictator who conquered Veii in 396, and now the restorer of the situation in Rome, lit upon the decisive argument that inspired the mood reversal of the assembly: to abandon Rome, many times endowed with heavenly blessings since its origins, would be to commit sacrilege. In the course of his address, Camillus called to mind this permanent lesson for the benefit of his listeners: "Consider the events of these last years, whether successes or reversals. You will find that everything succeeded when we followed the gods, and everything failed when we scorned them" (Livy, 5.51.4).

Ideas as religio were not reflected upon before the very end of the Republic. It was under the influence of Greek philosophy that some Roman authors (usually at the end of their political career) started to systematically reflect upon their own religious tradition in order to clarify concepts. Cicero is the foremost exponent, realizing in his books On the Nature of the Gods, On Divination, and On Fate a multivolume theological project. However, his reflections on religion did not arrive at a unified concept: religio was a feeling of obligation; pietas (piety), a corresponding attitude; and sacra (rituals) and caerimonia (forms of veneration), were the way to put religio and pietas into practice.

Because a general concept of religion as a system of actions and ideas was lacking, no corresponding concept of "sacred law" could exist. There were rules to be followed in matters of divine property, divination, and priests, but they did not add up to a ius sacrum, a phrase that did not exist in antiquity. And even these rules were flexible, matters of debate, traditions frequently fixed only under the impact of the encounter with Greek critical thought. The term Roman religion, therefore, encompasses what belongs to our modern concept of religion.

Early Iron Age Latium

It is not before the beginning of the first millennium bce (between the end of the Bronze Age and the beginning of the Iron Age) that it becomes possible to identify traits of a Latin material culture attesting to an ethnogenesis in the plain south of the lower course of the Tiber, a territory that was bordered on the northwest by the Tiber and the hills north of it, and on the northeast by the (later) Sabine mountainous area. On the east this area was bound by the Alban chain from the mountains of Palombara, Tivoli (Tibur), Palestrina (Praeneste), and Cori (Cora) as far as Terracina (Anxur) and Circeo (Circei), and to the west was the shore of the Tyrrhenian Sea. Small settlements formed in this area within a population that was melted together from (probably) local people and immigrants from the north and northeast. Scholars know nothing of their religion apart from the tombs attesting inhumation, as well as cremation. At Rome traces of earlier presences of humans have been found, but continuous settlements on places like the Palatine started around the tenth century. From around 830 bce onward, smaller settlements took shape at privileged places of the plain, a proto-urban phase.

It is possible to give some detail of the conditions of life in these population centers. They drew their sustenance mainly from animal husbandry and from the exploitation of natural resources (salt, fruit, and game). Their inhabitants progressively took up agriculture in pace with the clearing of the woods and the draining of the marshes, at the same time making pottery and iron tools. Their language belonged to the Indo-European family. The first document in the Latin language may be an inscription on a golden brooch from Praeneste, dated to the end of the seventh century: "manios med fhefhaked numasioi" (in classical Latin: "Manius me fecit Numerio" ["Manius made me for Numerius"]). However, the authenticity of this inscription is doubtful.

The placing and the contents of tombs attest to growing social differentiation and the formation of gentilician groups; urns in the form of oblong huts are characteristic. At Osteria dell'Osa of the ninth century, cremation served as a social marker that separated outstanding male warriorsrecognizable by miniature weaponsfrom the rest of the population.

Social differentiation was certainly furthered by the presence of Greeks in Italy from 770 bce onward who could serve as traders and agents in long-distance contacts with the southern and eastern part of the Mediterranean. The Orientalizing period (c. 730630 bce) is present in the form of luxury tombs, princely burials with highly valuable and prestigious objects in sites around Rome (Praeneste, Ficana, Castel di Decima [= Politorium?]), though not in Rome itself. Social power offered the possibility of acquiring wealth and long-distance contacts; such contacts and goods served to further prestige.

Early Rome

The urbanization of Rome could be inferred from the paving of the Forum and the removal of preceding huts around 650 bce to form a central and common space soon to be enlarged and surrounded by a growing number of stone buildings from 600 onward. A site adjacent to the Comitium paved with black stones (lapis niger ) probably marked an open sanctuary to the god Vulcan. Another building that at least later on served as a cultic center, the Regia (king's palace), was built during the sixth century. It should be noted that Greek influence is visible in the arrangement of the central "political" space, as it is in archaeological details. The archaeological remnants of the earliest temples of the Forum Boarium (San Omobono), the cattle market on the border of the Tiber, are decorations by Greek artisans.

The most impressive testimony to early Rome's relation to the Mediterranean world dominated by the Greeks is the building project of the Capitoline temple of Jupiter Optimus Maximus (Jove [Iove ] the Best and Greatest), Juno, and Minerva, dateable to the latter part of the sixth century. By its sheer size the temple competes with the largest Greek sanctuaries, and the grouping of deities suggests that that was intended. The investment in the quality of the terracotta statuary (Varro in Pliny the Elder, Historia naturalis 35.157) points to the same intention. The actual size of the late-sixth-century city remains debated, but even as a larger city with international contacts, as shown by the treaty with Carthage, Rome was but one of the Latium townships. The conquests attributed to regal Rome in the Roman annalistic tradition were made up from a painful series of conflicts that ended with the Latin wars in 340 to 338 bce. The Latin league was dissolved and the Latins were incorporated into the Roman community.

Parallel to the central investment of resources, the luxury of individual tombsunlike in Etruscan centersreceded. Yet it would be erroneous to assume a highly centralized state. During republican times, even warfare was an enterprise frequently organized on a gentilician basis, as the institutions of the fetiales (legates that established the involvement or disinvolvement of the community as a whole into predatory conflicts) and the lapis Satricanus demonstrate. This dedicatory inscription from around 500 bce, found at Satricum (northeast of Antium), accompanied a dedication to the warrior god Mars by followers (sodales) of a certain Poplios Valesius.

Religion of the early period

Our image of the early period is far drier than the colorful narratives of late republican and Augustan times, transmitted especially by the historians Livy and Dionys of Halikarnassos. The earliest phase was organized narratively in the form of a diptych: the "providential" passage from the "savage" state to the "civilized" state. The narrative by Cicero follows this form (De republica 2.4). He first evokes the divine origin of the twins Romulus and Remus, born of the god Mars and the Vestal Virgin Rhea Silvia. Romulus and Remus were left exposed on the banks of the Tiber by their granduncle Amulius, king of Alba Longa, but were then miraculously saved by the intervention of a nursing wolf. The author draws a contrast between the pastoral phase, which saw the assertion of the authority of Romulus (the elimination of Remus is passed over in silence), and the civilizing phase of the city's founder.

Within the succession of seven kings, Romulus, the founder, and Numa, the second king, shared in the establishment of important institutions like central cults and priesthoods. Yet the picture of the net of traditions is complex: Numa is said to be a pupil of the southern Italian philosopher Pythagoras; King Tullius was killed in his attempts to manipulate flashes in secret rites.

As stated above, the archaeological record of temples remains meager. Nevertheless the statues of the temples of San Omobono belie later reconstructions of pure origins. A remark by Varro (Antiquitates rerum divinarum frg. 18, Cardauns, quoted by Augustine, De civitate Dei 4.31) deserves attention: "For more than 170 years, the Romans worshiped their gods without statues. If this custom had prevailed, the gods would be honored in a purer fashion." This reference to a lost state of purity (castitas ) is an indirect criticism of the Hellenic anthropomorphism that attributed human passions and vices to the gods, as in Homer's Iliad or in Hesiod's Theogony.

Rituals can be hypothetically reconstructed only on the basis of much larger attestations that try to account for social changes and external influences. Despite the probable short presence of Etruscan rule in the sixth century, symbols of power and some public rituals seem to have been heavily influenced by Etruscan models, perhaps indicating "self-Etruscanization" rather than conscious implantation by Etruscan tyrants. Etruscan influence is evident in the central position of the monthly festival of the full moon, the ides (eidus ), dedicated to Jupiter (Macrobius, Saturnalia 1.15.1416). Etruscan influence is also probable for the processional ritual and the chariot races of such old games as the Equirria. Chariots had been aristocratic prestige objects since the Orientalizing period, and they were no longer in use in middle Italian warfare by the end of the sixth century bce.

Religion and topography

Late republican tradition and religious practice included festivals related to topographical situations that might date back to regal or early republican times. The topographical grid that corresponds to the feast of the Septimontium, celebrated on December 11, reflects already an extended township. The three knolls of the Palatine region (Palatium, Cermalus, Velia) are joined with the three knolls of the Esquiline group (Fagutal, Oppius, Cispius), along with the Subura (the Caelius was added later to this list of seven names). These are the stages of the procession that the abridger Sextus Pompeius Festus outlines for this feast, but in a different order, probably in line with the liturgical itinerary. The list is borrowed, as is known, from the scholar M. Verrius Flaccus: Palatium, Velia, Fagutal, Subura, Cermalus, Oppius, Caelius, Cispius.

At a later stage of topographical development the city was divided into four regions: Palatina, Esquilina, Suburana, and Collina, the last comprising the Quirinal and the Viminal. Surrounding walls were constructed. Tradition attributes these initiatives to the next-to-last king, Servius Tullius. Recent archaeological discoveries have verified a notable territorial extension of the city during the sixth century. As for the ramparts, if the date of the wall made by Servius in opus quadratum should be advanced to the fourth century, after the burning of Rome by the Gauls, the existence of walls in the sixth century is nonetheless established by the vestiges of an agger found on the Quirinal. The discovery at Lavinium of a rampart in opus quadratum dating from the sixth century leads, analogously to the Roman situation, to the same conclusion.

A comparison of different cults gives profile to the developmentagain hypothetically, for contemporary evidence is lacking and the possibility of archaizing constructions of rituals cannot be ruled out. The latter is illustrated by the ritual of the declaration of war that is described by Livy (1.32) and was performed by Octavianus before the war against Cleopatra and Antonius. The antiquarian account supposes a fetial priest throwing a spear across the border of the hostile territory. The spear is made of cornel wood hardened by fire, without an iron point. This account forms the backdrop of the same rite being performed by Octavian in 32 bce in the city of Rome (Dio, Roman history 50.4.45), allegedly on "hostile" territory ritually set apart for that purpose (Servius, Ad Aeneidum 9.52). The new ritual made the observers forget that they were witnessing the opening of a major civil war, turning a ritual gesture, earlier attested for the general leading his army, into an archaized priestly activity: the late use of iron was part of Roman historical knowledge.

The Lupercalia, celebrated on February 15, delimited the very cradle of the city. On that date "the old Palatine stronghold ringed by a human flock" (Varro, De lingua Latina ) was purified by naked Luperci (a variety of wolf-men, dressed in loincloths), who, armed with whips, would flog the public. Everything about this ceremonythe "savage" rite (see Cicero, Pro Caelio 26) and the territorial circumscriptiondemonstrates its extreme archaism.

The feast of Septimontium on December 11 designated, as its name suggested, a more extended territory. It involved no one except the inhabitants of the montes (mountains). These seven mountains (which are not to be confused with the seven hills of the future Rome) are the following: the knolls of the Palatium, the Germalus, the Velia (which together would make up the Palatine), the Fagutal, the Oppius, the Cespius (which three would be absorbed by the Esquiline), and the Caelius (Sextus Pompeius Festus, while still asserting the number of seven montes, adds the Subura to this list). This amounted, then, to an intermediary stage between the primitive nucleus and the organized city. One will note the use of the word mons to designate these knolls, as opposed to collis, which would be reserved for referring to the northern hills.

The feast of the Argei, which required two separate rituals at two different times (on March 16 and 17, and on May 14), marks the last stage. It involved a procession in March in which mannequins made of rushes (Ovid, Fasti 5.621) were carried to the twenty-seven chapels prepared for this purpose. On May 14 they were taken out of the chapels and cast into the Tiber from the top of a bridge, the Pons Sublicius, in the presence of the pontiff and the Vestal Virgins. There are different opinions on the meaning of the ceremony. Wissowa saw in it a ritual of substitution taking the place of human sacrifices. (A note by Varro, De lingua Latina 7.44, specifies that these mannequins were human in shape.) However, Kurt Latte prefers to compare these mannequins of rushes to oscilla (figurines or small masks that were hung from trees), which absorbed the impurities that were to be purged from the city. The itinerary of the procession shows that it corresponds to the final stage of the city's development, the Rome of the quattuor regiones (four regions). Varro outlined the procession as follows: it proceeded through the heights of the Caelius, the Esquiline, the Viminal, the Quirinal, and the Palatine, and encircled the Forumhenceforth located in the heart of the city.

An important line, at least legitimated by religious arguments in later times, was the pomerium, separating the area of domi (at home, at peace) and militiae (the area of warfare and the unlimited power of the war leader). What was this pomerium ? According to Varro (De lingua Latina 5.143), it was a circle within the surrounding wall marked by stones and describing the limit inside of which urban auspices had to be taken. Rome included sectors outside the pomerial zone that were still part of the city: the Aventine Hill, which had been outside the city of the four regions (its incorporation into the city was attributed by tradition sometimes to Romulus and sometimes to Ancus Marcius), remained outside the pomerial zone until the time of Claudius (first century ce), even though it was surrounded by what was called "Servius's wall."

The same extrapomerial status held true for the Field of Mars, which owed its name to the military exercises that were conducted on its esplanade. Yet here there occurs a further practice that lies at the root of Roman law. On this emplacement there was an altar consecrated to Mars from time immemorial. It is mentioned by the "royal" law of Numa in relation to the distribution of the spolia opima (spoils taken from an enemy's general slain by one's own army commander) and was completed later by the erection of a temple in 138 bce. The assemblies of military centuries (comitia centuriata ) were also held there. In addition, every five years the purification of the people (lustrum ) was celebrated on the Field of Mars by the sacrifice of the suovetaurilia, the set of three victimsboar, ram, and bullthat had been paraded beforehand around the assembly of citizens. The presence of the old Mars outside the pomerium (similarly, another temple of Mars, constructed in 338 bce to the south of Rome outside the Porta Capena, was also outside the pomerial zone) was in strict conformity with the distinction established between the imperium domi, the jurisdiction of civil power circumscribed by the pomerial zone, and the imperium militiae that could not show itself except outside this zone. This is why it was necessary to take other auspices when one wanted to go from one zone to another. If one failed to do so, every official act was nullified. This misfortune befell the father of the Gracchi, T. Sempronius Gracchus, during his presidency of the comitia centuriata. While going back and forth between the Senate and the Field of Mars, he forgot to take the military auspices again; as a result, the election of consuls that took place in the midst of the assemblies when he returned was rejected by the Senate (see Cicero, De divinatione 1.33 and 2.11). The delimitation of Roman sacral space by the pomerial line explains the distribution of the sanctuaries. Vesta, the goddess of the public hearth, could only be situated at the heart of the city within the pomerium, whereas a new arrival, such as Juno Regina, originating in Veii, was received, as an outsider, in a temple built on the Aventine (in 392 bce).

Early festivals and priests

The calendar of festivals reflected and conventionalized temporal rhythms. The preparation for warfare finds ritual reflection in some festivals and in the ritual activities of the priesthood of the Salii in the month of March, the opening month of the year. Mars is the god presiding over warfare; the Salians performed dances clad in archaic warrior dress and cared for archaically formed shields in the shape of an eight. Agricultural and pastoral festivals could be found in the month of April, the Parilia with their lustration of cattle being probably the oldest one (April 21). Fordicidia, the killing of pregnant cows (April 15); the Cerialia (April 19), named after the goddess of cereals; the Vinalia, a wine festival (April 23); and the Robigalia, featuring the sacrifice of a dog to further the growing of the grain (April 25), might denote old rituals, too. Series of festivals in August and December, addressed to gods related to the securing of the harvest and abundance, might have produced other foci of communal and urban ritualizing of the economic activities of farmsteads. The subordination of the festival listed to the monthlyoriginally empirical, later fictitiouslunar phases of the developed calendar warns of the assumption of complex festival cycles, too easily postulated by scholars like Dumézil. The same warning holds true for the postulation of complex cycles of initiation rites (Torelli, 1984). Sociologically, Rome was not a tribal society, but a precarious public of gentilician leaders and their followers and an increasingly incoherent urban population. What looks like initiatory phenomena are rites reserved mostly for young aristocrats organized as representative priesthoods.

The concept of priesthood, however, is far from clear for the early period. At least from the late fourth century bce onward, the public priesthoods underwent a process of politicization, adapting these lifelong roles and the modes of accession to the model of annual magistracies. The preceding phase might have been one of a sacralization of ousted political positions that once combined political and religious authority. Such an interpretation is particularly plausible for the figures of the rex and the regina sacrorum (king and queen of the rites), who took care of important routine rites in the course of the month and year, but did not have any significant political or even religious competence in historical times. The Regia on the Forum Romanum formed one of the centers of their cult activities; it must have been part of a complex that embraced the atrium and aedes Vestae as well. Here, the Vestal Virgins, six in number, resided and performed. Under the direction of a virgo maxima, their essential mission was to maintain the public hearth in the aedes Vestae. Their service lasted thirty years and enjoyed great prestige (Cicero, Pro Fonteio 48). Their liturgical importance is confirmed by two significant points. Once a year, they would make their way to the king in order to ask him: "Are you vigilant, king? Be vigilant!" On another solemn occasion, the virgo maxima mounted the Capitolium in the company of the pontifex maximus (Horace, Carmina 3.30.8).

Drawing on the legendary figure of the seer Attus Navius, it might be asked whether a slow integration of charismatic religious figures into an organized public college of augurs would also be a possible line of development. In either case, the shift from regal to consular rule, from kingdom to Republic, would have been of the utmost importance.

Private worship is attested by votives from early on; Lavinium features dedications from the seventh century bce. Like several larger sanctuaries in the surroundings, it might have drawn clients from the city. Migrant artisans offered their services at the sanctuaries on a temporal basis; mass production, not individual expression, forms the economic basis of this form of material documentation of piety, even in lower social strata.

The regional context

Latium Vetus, or Latium Antiquum, was augmented later on by the Latium Adiectum, or Latium Novum (New Latium), formed by the territories won from the Volsci, the Aequi, the Hernici, and the Aurunci by conquests or federations (see Pliny the Elder, Historia naturalis 3.6870). Traditionally, the Latins are called populi Latini (Latin peoples) or by the collective noun nomen Latinum (Latin nation). In the historical epoch, older structures, including those around the sanctuary of Jupiter Latiaris on Mons Albanus and those surrounding the sanctuary of Diana Aricina located in "the sacred grove" of Aricia (Nemus Dianae), were preserved by religious federations based on common cults.

Another federal cult would play an important role in history because it held privileged ties with the Romans. This cult was centered at Lavinium, which Varro (De lingua Latina 5.144) identifies as the religious metropolis of Rome: "Lavinium:ibi di Penates nostri" ("Lavinium: there are our household gods"). Excavations have uncovered the site, which includes a necropolis dating back to the tenth century bce. There are also ruins of ramparts dating from the sixth century, the vestiges of a house of worship flanked by thirteen altars, and a mausoleum (it could be a heroion in memory of Aeneas) that houses an archaic tomb from the seventh century bce. Thousands of votives attest the appeal of a healing sanctuary for several centuries. In the imperial period, the religious existence of the city was preserved in the form of a symbolic community, whose offices were assigned like priesthoods to members of the Roman equestrian class.

The integration of federal cults into Roman dominance could follow different routes. The Romans' capacity for adaptation to different circumstances is evident here in an especially remarkable way, as illustrated by the following three cases.

One of the most ancient federal cults presupposes the original preeminence of the ancient city of Alba Longa: the Feriae Latinae (Latin holidays) were celebrated at the summit of the Alban Hills in honor of Jupiter Latiaris. In earlier times, the Latins had been granted an equal share of the sacrifice, which consisted of a white bull (this detail, coming from Arnobius in Adversus nationes 2.68, would show that the ordinary rule, which provided a castrated victim for Jupiter, did not apply here). Once the consecrated entrails (exta) were offered to the god, all in attendance would share the meat, thus demonstrating their bonds of community. After the destruction of Alba Longa, Rome quite naturally picked up the thread of this tradition by incorporating the Feriae Latinae as a movable feast into its liturgical calendar. Still, the attitude of the Romans was selective: even though they transferred the entire Alban population to Rome itself, they kept the Alban celebrations in their usual locations. They simply built a temple to Jupiter Latiaris where previously there was only a lucus, a sacred grove. During the historical epoch, the Roman consuls, accompanied by representatives of the state, would make their way to the federal sanctuary shortly after assuming their responsibilities and would preside there over the ceremonies. The Feriae Latinae had come under Roman control.

The conduct of the Romans was very different with regard to the federal cult of Diana. Tradition places this cult at Aricia near Lake Nemi, which is known as the speculum Dianae, "mirror of Diana" (Servius, Ad Aeneidem 7.515). An archaic rite determined that the priest of Diana's sacred grove, called the rex nemorensis, could hold office there until he was killed by his successor in single combat (the point of departure of J. G. Frazer's Golden Bough). During the historical period, this odd priesthood attracted only fugitive slaves. The federal altar had been consecrated to Diana by the Latin dictator Egerius Laevius, a native of Tusculum. Tusculum was the center of a federation of Latin towns, established perhaps after the disappearance of Alba Longa. When the cult came under Roman authority, it was transferred into the city on the extrapomerial hill of the Aventine. It had nothing there at first except an altar, then a temple that Varro acknowledges as having federal status: commune Latinorum templum. Yet this status was only one of appearance, since no assembly of Latin cities is recorded as ever having occurred on the Aventine during the Roman period, any more than at Aricia. Another point is significant: the anniversary of the temple fell on the ides of August and bore the name Dies Servorum (slaves' day). Whatever interpretation one gives to this designation, the fact remains that the cult of Diana was not of concern either on the Aventine or in Aricia. This time Rome had reduced a federal cult to a suitable level. In contrast with Jupiter Latiaris, Diana, whose name is a semantic homologue of Jupiter (since both names were formed from the root *diu ; she signified nocturnal light, just as he signified the light of day), was doomed to fade gradually away. Identified with Artemis, she would be invoked in Horace's Carmen saeculare as the sister of Apollo.

The relations that Rome held with Lavinium were very different. In the Roman mind, Lavinium had the same resonance as the Alban Hills, judging from the discourse that Livy attributes to the dictator Camillus. Camillus did not hesitate to put these two high places on the same level: "Our ancestors entrusted to us the celebration of religious ceremonies on Mount Alban and in Lavinium." In reality, the latter ranked higher than the former. Varro (De lingua Latina 5.144) specifies it as the source of Roman lineage and the cradle of the Roman penates. Lavinium benefited from a continual deference on the part of the Romans after the treaty that tradition traced back to the time of T. Tatius (Livy, 1.14.2). This deference was evident in the ritual processions of higher magistrates to the penates and to Vesta as they entered their office and as they left it. The deference was likewise evident in the annual pilgrimages by the pontiffs and the consuls to the sanctuary of Aeneas Indiges, which Ascanius is reputed to have built for his divinized father. If one considers that Lavinium was also the cradle of the religion of Venus, who was understood according to Trojan legend to be the Aeneadum genetrix ("mother of the descendants of Aeneas"), one can imagine that this exceptional site exerted in every way a great attraction for the Romans.

Archaeology has recently made an important contribution concerning the territory of Lavinium by bringing to light, among other things, a heroion (temple) from the fourth century bce, constructed upon an archaic tomb (which its discoverer, Paolo Sommella, identifies as the mausoleum of Aeneas) and a set of thirteen altars, of which twelve were in use in the middle of the fourth century. They may have served a new Latin federation presided over by Rome. Indeed, Rome did not stop at destroying the Latin confederation in 338 bce, but also reinforced the privileges of Lavinium. For Lavinium, as Livy points out (8.11.15), had added to its titles the merit of loyalty by refusing to join the Latin revolt. It brought even more renown upon itself as a pilgrimage center. Thus Rome's attitude toward federal cults was definitively shown under three very different aspects: sometimes Rome assumed them (Alba Longa), sometimes Rome restricted them (Aricia), and sometimes Rome exalted them (Lavinium).

Conceptions of the divine

The Latin word designating divinity has an Indo-European origin. Deus, which phonetically comes from the ancient deivos (just as dea comes from deiva ), means "heavenly being." In line with this etymology, deus and dea represent for the Latins powers in relation to the luminous sky (divum), in opposition to humans (homo), who are bound to the earth (humus), homo itself being a derivative of an Indo-European word meaning "earth." One immediate consequence of this is the fact that the Latin noun is distinguished from its Greek homologue theos, which takes its meaning from a different etymology: theos probably is connected with the prototype *thesos, which refers to the sphere of the sacred (Émile Benveniste), though no one has been able to specify the limits of its meaning. We note, however, that this difference of vocabulary between the Latin and the Greek in naming the divinity fades at the level of the supreme god: Iuppiter (*Iou-pater, with *Iou- deriving from *dyeu- ) and Zeus (*dyeus) both go back to the same Indo-European root. It also follows that the Latins represented the divinity as an individual and personal being. This linguistic fact at once discredits the "animist" or pre-animist notion that would postulate a pre-deist phase in Rome which would have preceded the advent of the personal divinity.

And yet, compared to the gods of Homer's Greek pantheon, the Roman gods lack in personality. They lack the embellishments of a mythology that is more or less abundant with picturesque variations. They were mainly defined by their specific competence, far from any tie with the human condition. Wissowa (1912) observed that there was no marriage or union between gods and goddesses at Rome. This fact is particularly verified by the existence of many divinized abstractions, such as Fides, the goddess of good faith, who received each year the common homage of three major priests. They would come in an open chariot to her chapel to ask her to preserve harmonious relations within the city. Also, Ceres, the etymology of whose name places her in charge of growth (especially of grains), appears as the background to the feast of the Cerialia, which was celebrated annually on April 19. These, then, are not minor divinities, nor is Consus, the god of grain storage (condere, "to store"), who was celebrated at the time of the Consualia on August 21, as well as at the time of the Opiconsiva on August 25, when he was in association with Ops, the goddess who watched over abundance. As for Janus (Ianus ), god of beginnings and of passages, and Vesta, the goddess of the sacred fire, their importance in the Roman liturgy was such, as reported by Cicero (De natura deorum 2.67), that the former shared in the beginning of every religious ceremony, while the latter was invoked at the end.

Did this tendency toward divinized abstraction lend itself to excesses? One readily cites the example of the minor specialist gods that assisted Ceres in her functions, according to Fabius Pictor (quoted by Servius Danielis, Ad Georgica 1.21): Vervactor (for the plowing of fallow land), Reparator (for the renewal of cultivation), Imporcitor (for marking out the furrows), Insitor (for sowing), Obarator (for plowing the surface), Occator (for harrowing), Sarritor (for weeding), Subruncinator (for hoeing), Messor (for harvesting), Convector (for carting the harvest), Conditor (for storage), and Promitor (for distribution). Another group of minor divinities gave Augustine of Hippo occasion for sarcastic comments in detailing its list. This group included lesser divine entities who were regarded as aiding the husband on his wedding night: Virginensis (to loosen the belt of the young virgin), Subigus (to subdue her), and Prema (to embrace her). "And what is the goddess Pertunda [from pertundere, "to penetrate"] doing here? Let her blush, let her flee! Let her leave the husband something to do! It is really a disgrace that someone else besides himself is fulfilling the duty that this goddess's name embodies" (De civitate dei 6.9.264265).

What can be said about all this? Whatever the merit of these lists of specialized divinities (the first one, transmitted by Servius, is guaranteed by the quality of the source: Fabius Pictor, the author of books on pontifical law, contemporary with Cato the Elder), one can observe that they name only secondary entities that are served by no particular priest (even though the Roman institution recognized the flamines minores, the "lesser priests"). Nor did they appear in the liturgical calendar. Moreover, these entities moved in the wake of top-level divinities. This trait is expressly brought out by the list of lesser specialists who gravitate toward Ceres: the flamen (priest) of this goddess invokes them when he offers, during the Cerialia, the sacrifice to Tellus (earth) and to Ceres. Everything indicates that the same applies to the list drawn up by Augustine: all those names fit easily within the circle of Juno Pronuba, protector of marriages. They demonstrate the analytic abilities of pontifical experts and their concern for accompanying each phase of an activity with a religious factor. Finally, this tendency to divine miniaturization corresponds to a kind of luxuriant manifestation of the inclination of Roman pontiffs toward abstract analysis. At the same time it should not be forgotten that the Romans started to put their religion into writing from the third century bce onward. It is difficult to ascertain which degree of systematization had been reached before the writing process began.

These divine abstractions exist in both masculine and feminine forms, without any interference between the two. The apparent exceptions are only illusory. Thus it is that Faunus has no feminine counterpart. (His name's meaning is uncertain; it has sometimes been compared by the ancients with fari, "to talk," as in Varro, De lingua Latina 7.36, and sometimes with favere, "to be favorable," as in Servius Danielis, Ad Georgica 1.10; this god had been assimilated to the Greek Pan, as is confirmed by the location of his temple, erected in 194 bce on the Isle of the Tiber, in the extrapomerial zone.) Indeed, Fauna seems to be an artificial construction of syncretic casuistry that attempted to associate her with Faunus as either wife or sister or daughter (Wissowa, 1912). Her name was later confused with Fatua and with Bona Dea (an appellation also used in turn by Damia, a goddess originating in Tarentum).

The same holds true for Pales, the goddess whose feast, the Parilia, occurred on April 21, the anniversary of the foundation of Rome. (In contrast, two Pales appear on the date of July 7 on the pre-Julian calendar of the town of Antium. Nothing prevents us from considering these as two goddesses liable for distinct tasks, the protection of different categories of animals: small and large livestock.) The god Pales, mentioned by Varro (quoted by Servius, Ad Georgica 3.1), belongs to the Etruscan pantheon and has no liturgical place in Rome.

How then is one to understand the expression "sive deus sive dea" ("whether god or goddess"), which is found in many prayers? It does not reflect uncertainty about the gender of a possibly epicene divinity but rather uncertainty about the identity of the divinity that one is addressing. In Cato's example the peasant, careful not to make a mistake in the form of address when pruning a lucus, where he does not know the protective divinity, envisions the two possibilities: he thus invokes either a god or a goddess.

The same prudence is evident in the precautionary formula inserted by the pontiffs, cited by Servius (Ad Aeneidem 2.351): "Et pontifices ita precabantur: Iupiter Optime Maxime, sive quo alio nomine te appellari volueris" ("And the pontiffs uttered this prayer: Jupiter, Best and Greatest, or whatever be the name by which you choose to be called"). This formula is all the more instructive in that it provides for the case in which Jupiter, while well identified by his Capitoline titles, might by chance desire some other name.

Since a Roman divinity is essentially defined by its action, even a single manifestation of this action suffices for the existence of the divinity to be acknowledged. Such would be an exceptional, but significant, case. In vain a voice once called out on the Via Nova in the silence of the night to announce the approach of the Gauls. The Romans later reproached themselves for their culpable negligence and erected a sanctuary to the voice under the name of Aius Locutius ("he who talks, he who tells"; Livy, 5.32.6; 50.5; 52.11). Similarly, a fanum (shrine) was constructed outside of the Porta Capena to the god Rediculus. This was because Hannibal in his march on Rome had retreated, overcome by apparitions, from that place.

Changes in hierarchy

As noted above, the Capitoline triad of Jupiter, Juno, and Minerva dominated the republican self-image of the city's pantheon. Wissowa (1912) pointed to the importance in Roman religion of another configuration, the triad of Jupiter-Mars-Quirinus, which appears at the point of convergence of several factors and proceeds from the ancient priestly hierarchy as transmitted by Festus, who set down the following hierarchy: the king, the flamen Dialis, the flamen Martialis, the flamen Quirinalis, and the pontifex maximus. Framed by the king and the grand pontiff, the three major flamines (the flamines maiores ) bring into relief the gods to which they are respectively attached: Jupiter, Mars, and Quirinus. Their close union is emphasized by the ritual in which, once a year, they would go together to the chapel of Fides, to venerate the goddess of good faith.

The same triad is manifest in the interior arrangement of the Regia, which under the Republic became the official seat of the pontifical college. Indeed, this building housed three different cults in addition to the cults of Janus and Juno, who were honored respectively as ushers of the year and of the month: the routine cult of Jupiter, associated with all the nundinae (market days); that of Mars, in the sacrarium Martis ; and, in another room, the cult of Ops Consiva (abundance personified) in conjunction with Consus, the god of the storage (condere) of grains. This last goddess belongs to the group of agrarian divinities headed by Quirinus (whose flamen could act in related cults, too: thus, in Ovid's Fasti 4.910 we learn that the flamen Quirinalis officiated in the ceremonies of Robigus, or Robigo, the divinity invoked against mildew in grains). These deities are involved in what has been described as a group of festivals accentuating the rhythm of agrarian activities in the city of Rome.

The same triad of Jupiter, Mars, and Quirinus is found after Janus, the god of passage, and before the divinities invoked by reason of particular circumstances in the old hymn of the devotio (Livy, 8.9.6) that a Roman general uttered in order to consecrate himself, at the same time as the enemy army, to the di manes. The triad also appears in the regulations provided by the ancient royal law of Numa Pompilius for the distribution of the spolia opima. The first of these spoils were offered to Jupiter Feretrius, the second to Mars, the third to Janus Quirinus (Plutarch, Life of Marcellus 8.5; Servius, Ad Aeneidum 6.859). The ternary scheme is clearly supported by the document, despite some difficulties of interpretation. The meaning of Feretrius (derived from ferire, "to smite," or from ferre, "to carry") is not certain. As for the expression Ianus Quirinus, Robert Schilling has offered the explanation that the presence of Janus comes from his role as the initiator of the peacemaking function of Quirinus in opposition to the fury of Mars Gradivus. The tertiary scheme appears finally in the threefold patronage of the college of Salian priests ("who are under the protection of Jupiter, Mars and Quirinus"; Servius, Ad Aeneidum 8.663).

This archaic triad had been interpreted by Dumézil as corresponding, in an Indo-European world, to three diversified functions. Jupiter embodies sovereignty in its magical and juridical aspects, which in Vedic India belong respectively to Varua and Mithra; Mars embodies power (his physical and military attributes are similar to Indra in India); Quirinus (*Couirio-no, the god of the community of citizens in time of peace) is connected with fruitfulness and with prosperity in its pastoral and agrarian forms. This triad would show the survival of the characteristic tripartite ideology of the Indo-European world, which considered the hierarchical structuring of these three complementary functions to be indispensable for the prosperity of society. Despite a later evolution that would progressively fossilize their offices as the pantheon was opened to new gods, the three major flamines would remain the unimpeachable witnesses of this Indo-European heritage in Rome. However, such an interpretation is highly problematical with regard to the postulation of a historical Indo-European society that would be attested in but a few words and conceptual configurations. For Rome, it supposes a hierarchical structuring of the pantheon, which is visible only in an antiquarian attempt at systematization (the Augustan scholar Verrius Flaccus as quoted by Festus). The dedication of the calends to Juno and the ides to Jupiter, and the acting of the rex and regina sacrorum as priests to these two, suggest an early importance of Juno. The pantheon of Roman gods was never fully hierarchized, but is characterized by different, incoherent, and very partial internal configurations. When the Romans presented for the first time several gods and goddesses in the necessarily hierarchical order of a banquet within the ritual of lectisternium (see below), they fall back on undeniably Greek principles of grouping.

Given this background, the establishment of the Capitoline triad by dedicating a temple to Jupiter, Juno, and Minerva at the end of the sixth century bce was no revolution. The project being associated with an unclear form of temporary Etruscan dominance toward the end of the sixth century (tradition named three kings who were of Etruscan origin: Tarquin the Elder, Servius Tullius, and Tarquin the Proud) transformed the masculine triad into a new triad in which Jupiter's masculine associates were replaced by two goddesses. That these goddesses were none other than Juno and Minerva can be explained not only by the fact that their Etruscan homologues, Uni and Mernva, held respectable places in their pantheon, but by reference to important Greek cultic centers as well. Schilling offered an even larger sociological interpretation. Juno, the patroness of iuniores (especially of youth available for battle), succeeded Mars, the god of war; Minerva, the protector of artisans and crafts, succeeded Quirinus, the god overseeing economic activity. The keystone of the triad remained immovable, even though Jupiter took on the traits of Tinia, as illustrated by the Etruscan artist Vulca of Veii, who produced the cult statue.

Tradition associated the temple built on the Capitoline Hill in honor of the new triad of Jupiter, Juno, and Minerva with the transition from the royal to the republican period. According to tradition, the construction of the Capitoline temple was begun under the Tarquins, while the dedication was performed by the consul M. Horatius Pulvillus in the first year of the Republic (509 bce, a constructed synchronism).

Yet, it has to be stressed again: the political change from lifelong monarchs to an annual consul (the collegiality of two consuls might be a later development) did not provoke any religious upheaval. The Capitoline triad was not called into question, in spite of its strong Etruscan connotation. Instead, Jupiter more and more dominated the representation of the res publica, the "common affair," of the family leaders. If there was a conscious demythologization of the Roman pantheon, it was, as Carl Koch has demonstrated, focused on the figure of this god. None of the competing aristocrats could claim descent from this god (and hence superiority); even references to divine offspringalthough present in nearby sanctuarieswere removed from Roman cults. At the end of the Republic, it was the second-rank families that claimed divine ancestors, as they were not able to claim a sufficient number of consular forefathers, Caesar and the gens Iulia offering a splendid example. The attempt of Scipio Africanus to associate himself with Jupiter by frequent presence and prayer in his temple was highly suspicious.

The title of king was maintained on the religious level. On that account, the official designation from then on was rex sacrorum or rex sacrificulus in other words, a king limited to his liturgical functions but stripped of his political privileges. This point of prudence is explained by observing the care that the Romans took to avoid irritating their gods with untimely interventions in the realm of the sacred.


Throughout its history, Rome was a city on the margin of Greek culture. Influence was both indirect and direct. It was indirectly influenced by the Etruscans, to the extent that Etruscan culture, its script as well as its material culture and pantheon, was itself Hellenized. It was directly influence by the nearness of Magna Graecia. All the parties involved took it for granted that, within a horizon of benevolent ethnography, deities of the other culture could be interpreted as the deities known to one's own society. Interpretatio graeca or romana was practiced by travelers, diplomats, and ethnographers, and put to use by artisans and storytellers. Thus, the large body of Greek mythology and imagery (itself already enriched by even more ancient Middle Eastern traditions) was available and attractive for middle Italian, Etruscan, and Roman reception and consumption.

A Greek ceramic fragment, showing Hephaistos, under the earliest layer of the Volcanal, the sanctuary for the Italian god Vulcan, offers an early example for equations. The sanctuary at San Omobono featured a statue group of Athena and Herakles (Minerva and Hercules), thus attesting the presence of whole narratives; the grouping would probably show the story of the apotheosis of the hero-god. The archaic sanctuary of Anna Perenna, a new year and fluvial deity venerated on the shore of the Tiber to the north of the city, contained a tile decoration of the Greek fluvial deity Achelous. If a continuity of the cult at that place (down to late antiquity) is admitted, the seemingly abstract and popular (rather than public) deity Anna Perenna was inserted into narrative patterns from Greek mythology. Instead of remaining an abstract concept of "creative" force (creare), Ceres was more or less identified with a Demeter in human form and enhanced by a moving legend (Demeter in search of her daughter Kore, abducted by Pluto). This "new" Ceres was made into a statue which, according to Pliny the Elder, was "the first bronze statue made in Rome." Consequently, she gained a "house," the temple built in 493 bce to the triad near the Circus Maximus. The temple was decorated with the paintings and sculptures of Damophilos and Gorgasos, two celebrated Greek artists.

Patricians and plebeians

Other cults reflect, so to speak, the specific aspirations of the two classes that formed the basis of Roman society, the patricians and the plebeians. One observes an antagonism between the two classes that is evident not only on economic, social, and political levels, but also on the religious level. Until 300 bce only the patricians were allowed to discharge as an official function the great traditional priesthoods, such as the pontificate and the augury. At that date a kind of religious equality was established by a law (the Lex Ogulnia ), which, in providing members for these two colleges, reserved half of the seats for plebeians. Nevertheless, the patricians kept for themselves the privilege of admittance to the archaic priesthoods: the rex sacrorum, the three major flamines, and the Salii. The question of the origin of the differentiation of the two "orders" remains a matter of debate and has been dated to the regal, as well as early republican, period.

This rivalry between the two classes explains diverse cult initiatives that are nonetheless not necessarily mutually exclusive. In the critical phases of the city's history, they were able to coexist in a way that was satisfactory to both parties. A particularly convincing example comes to us from the beginning of the fifth century, when one individual strove to balance the two tendencies. It was the time when, according to Livy (2.18.3), "a coalition of thirty tribes" was formed against Rome. The situation induced the Romans to name a dictator, Aulus Postumius, who was vested with full powers, in place of the two consuls.

Aulus Postumius had two problems to resolve: stabilizing the food supply, which had been disrupted by war, and confronting the enemy in decisive combat. He successfully accomplished his twofold mission. The victory he won over the Latins (in 499 bce) near Lake Regillus is celebrated in the annals. This battle entered a critical phase when the infantry failed to hold its ground. On that account, the dictator decided to send in the Roman cavalry and, at the same time, made a vow to build a temple dedicated to Castor. He thus combined, according to Livy's expression, "human and divine" means. He did so because this god, of Greek origin, was the patron of horsemen. Before going into the campaign, the dictator took another step toward easing the difficulties surrounding the food supply: he made a vow to build a temple to the Roman triad of Ceres-Liber-Libera, the names of which barely disguised the Greek divinities Demeter-Dionysos-Kore.

The victory enabled Castor to become a Roman god and to acquire a temple above the Forum: the aedes Castoris (dedicated in 484 by the dictator's son; Pollux was not to join his brother until the beginning of the Empire, and even then the name aedes Castorum recalled the original primacy of Castor). Since the harvests were abundant, Aulus Postumius also fulfilled his vow to the triad of Ceres-Liber-Libera by dedicating a sanctuary. This was a source of great satisfaction for the plebeians, for the sanctuary was entrusted to their charge and served as a meeting place for aediles (plebeian officials). Thus, circumstances had moved Aulus Postumius to achieve a skillful balance by the concomitant foundation of a patrician cult and a plebeian cult. Only the placement of the sanctuaries revealed a difference of status: Castor was installed inside the pomerium, in the heart of the Forum, while Ceres and her associates had to be located outside of the pomerium, near the Circus Maximus.

The codification of law of the Twelve Tables, which made law an (ever more) important instrument in dealing with social conflicts, is said to have entailed regulation of the calendar. Whereas such an exact dating remains questionable, it is certain that during the fifth century the commonly used lunisolar calendar was replaced by a purely solar calendar with fixed lengths of month, a civil calendar without parallel in the Mediterranean world. Thereafter, the lunar cult was kept but became fossilized, and observation of the lunar phases were declamatory only. It is perhaps a consequence of this change that astronomical deities did not gain in importance until the Italian reception of astrological practices beginning in the late second century bce.

The Middle Republic: Social and Religious Changes

It is not before the fourth century bce that we reach surer ground for historical reconstruction. Even then, the processes leading to the formation of a new patricio-plebeian elite in the second half of the century remain obscure in their details and sequence. The closing of the mainly religiously defined patriciate, marked by the interdict on intermarriage in the law of the Twelve Tables (around 450 bce), and their monopolization of political roles gave way to a balance between patrician and plebeian office holders (the leges Liciniae Sextia are traditionally assigned to 367 bce). The result was the formation of a new elite that channeled their competition into office holding and military success as public Roman generals.

Rituals were important in giving profile to achievements. The pompa imaginum, the funerary procession that paraded living statuesactors wearing masks representing the ancestorsto give a summary of all the achievements of the deceased's family in terms of higher offices held, was perhaps the most characteristic expression of the new culture. Ancestors who had not performed any higher magistracy did not participate and were not commemorated in the speech (laudatio funebris) that explained the file of ancestors on display in the Forum, the pinnacle of the procession (Polybios, 6.53). As Harriet Flower has shown, this ritual must have originated in the latter part of the fourth century.

Wealth was not eliminated as an instrument to gain prestige, but its legitimate spending depended on electoral success and the attainment of offices that offered the opportunity to stage attractive rituals. Praetorships and especially consulates provided opportunities to greatly enlarge one's wealth through successful warfare and the acquisition of booty. The contribution of such gains into the public fund was expected, but the share was never regulated. A victory enlarged the general's clientela by adding the legionaries who had sworn on his name. The festival of return consisted of impressive processions (the triumph), ever more attractive games, and occasionally temple dedications.

The proliferation of games was the most important religious innovation of the period. The combination of processional rituals parading gods and actors through the city of Rome and the competitions in circuses or the presentation of dramas on temporary stages brought religion into the central public space and enabled the participation of larger shares of the populace as spectators. Thus, the rituals gave information about foreign affairs and culture, they offered space for communication between the various social groups seated in an orderly arrangement in the theater or circus, and they produced a feeling of common identitya victorious Roman identity.


The checks and balances developed in the formation of the new political elite entailed an exceptional use of divination in politics. Despite the usually distanced relationship to their gods, every important act of the higher magistrates was subjected to the prior assent of the gods, in particular Jupiter. Religious legitimation of the elected magistrates was not given once and for all, but in a piecemeal manner. To this end, there existed an indigenous institution especially charged with this mission: auspicy. On the morning of the action planned, the magistrate had to observe the cries and the flight of birds, checking them against the rule specified by himself concerning what would count as divine assent. A large number of forms eventually became standard. At least from the third century bce onward, the tripudium, the observation of the hens picking fodder in cages, was the usual form. Such a technique was open to manipulation, but the lack of empirical input did not devaluate the system in the eyes of contemporaries. The duty to read auspices was at some points of the political process an opportunity to question the validity of the legitimation, or to announce the observation of adverse signs (obnuntiatio). Augurs were specialists of the techniques; they had an individual right to observe contrary signs in the context of popular assemblies, but the normal right to the observation (spectio) was held by the magistrates.

Other techniques, borrowed from Rome's neighbors in Etruria or Magna Graecia and employed collectively or individually included haruspicinae disciplina (lore of the haruspex) and the consultation of the Sibylline Books. This accumulation of divination methods is explained by the desire to benefit from new techniques, which were all the more seductive when they appeared to offer independent access to the will of the gods. Whereas auspicia indicated Jupiter's assent for the very day of the procedure only, Etruscan soothsayers boasted of being able to foretell the future, either by examining the entrails of sacrificed animals (libri haruspicini), by observing lightning (libri fulgurales), or by interpreting marvels (libri rituales). The first method, divining by examination of entrails, was especially popular. It featured, among the exta (entrails) used, the liver, which was considered a microcosm of the world. Every lesion detected in some part of the former allowed an inference on the fate of the latter.

The Sibylline Books, which had been introduced, according to tradition, in regal times under Tarquin the Proud, purported to contain prophetic verses. These books, kept in the temple of Capitoline Jupiter (they would later be transferred by Augustus to the sanctuary of Apollo Palatine), could be consulted, upon order of the Senate, by persons specialized in that office, the X, later XV viri sacris faciundis. Usually, the announcement of bad signs (monstra, prodigia) instigated an examination of their significance and measures to placate the gods. The measures advocated (often the introduction of new divinities) were evaluated by the Senate, which would make the final decision. The sibyl did not enjoy a liberty comparable to that of the oracle of Delphi: Her responses were always subject to senatorial censorship. There is no need to stress further the benefit that the Romans hoped to gain from these divination techniques of foreign origin. This cluster of methods is instructive, moreover, to the extent that it reveals a fundamental trait of Roman polytheism. Founded upon a conservative tradition, it was always open to enrichment and renewal.

New divinities and temples

The Senate controlled claims to triumph and the selection of sites for new temples, and probably also the date of their dedication. The erection of permanent theaters was delayed until the very end of the Republic when Pompey built a theater on the Campus Martius. Initiative, however, rested with individuals, and the introduction of a new god into the pantheon of Rome generated more attention than, for example, the restoration of an old temple. Rome's loosely organized polytheism lent itself to this sort of openness when the traditional gods proved to be inadequate in critical situations. Circumstances, perhaps family practices or local practices of significant places, inspired the Romans' attitude. An early example is demonstrated by the entry of Castor into Rome, described above.

There were other ways for foreign gods to be introduced into Rome. When the Romans had trouble with an enemy city, they resorted to the evocatio, which consisted of a kind of abduction of divine power at the adversary's expense and to Rome's benefit. A famous case (and also unique in the annals) occurred in the siege of Veii in 396 bce. The war against that Etruscan city seemed endless (it was to last ten years, as long as the Trojan war). Finally, the dictator M. Furius Camillus directly addressed the city's protective divinity, Uni (the Etruscan homologue of Juno): "Juno Regina, who resides now in Veii, I pray that you will follow us after our victory into our city, which will soon be yours; you will there have a temple worthy of your majesty" (Livy, 5.21.3). In this way Juno Regina acquired a temple on the Aventine, as a divinity of outside origin, while continuing to sit, as a national divinity, on the Capitolium at the side of Jupiter. The practice is still attested in the late Republic, even if the cult offered to the tutelary deity of Isaura vetus in Asia minor was realized on the spot (Année épigraphique 1977, 816).

There was another procedure for introducing foreign gods into Rome: the capture, pure and simple, of a foreign divinity. This arrogant approach may seem strange on the part of a people imbued with "religious" respect toward the supernatural world. By way of explaining the evocatio, Macrobius (in Saturnalia 3.9.2) advanced precisely this reason: "Quodnefas aestimarent deos habere captivos" ("they regarded it as sacrilege to make prisoners of the gods"). However, the seizure of Falerii in 241 bce resulted in captivity for its goddess, who was then given a small shrine in Rome at the foot of the slope of Caelius, under the name of Minerva Capta (Ovid, Fasti 3.837). During the campaigns of the second century, most gods from the eastern part of the Mediterranean entered Rome only as artistic valuables, and, as such, they were not offered cults but were given a place in a villa or a public colonnade.

For the third century before the start of the second Punic War (218), the following temples were established: Bellona (296), Venus Obsequens (295), Iuppiter Victor (295), Iuppiter Stator (294), Fors Fortuna (293), Aesculapius (292), Hercules Invictus (292), Portunus (292), Summanus (276), Consus (272), Tellus (268), Pales (267), Vortumnus (264), Minerva (263/2), Ianus (260), Tempestates (Storms, 259), Spes and Fides (258/7), Volcanus (252), Ops Opifera (250), Neptunus (257), Iuturna (242/1), Iuno Curritis (241), Fortuna Publica (241), Flora (240), Honos (233), Fons (231), Feronia (225), Hercules Magnus custos (223), and Honos et Virtus (222). Further temples to Flora, Hercules, Honos, Hora Quirini, Lares, Luna, Penates, Sol et Luna, Sol Indiges, Tiberinus, Vica Pota, Iuppiter Fulgur, and Ops cannot be dated with certainty (Ziolkowski, 1992, pp. 187188).

The list is remarkable in its incoherency. In the long run, the popularity of the gods invoked was very divergent. The temple of Asklepios, for example, introduced as a filiation of the great healing sanctuary of Epidaurus, flourished as a center of private devotion, a healing cult in the Greek manner. Thus, the specter of shrines that could be addressed for personal needs (as Minerva Medica) was significantly enlarged. It should not be forgotten that the importance of public religion did not stop or diminish private cult activities and traditional ways of dealing with personal crises. Individual religion was taken seriously: one could legitimately, for example, temporarily defer the military draft if one had to care for private cults and auspices (Cincius in Gellius, Attic Nights 16.4.45).

Influences of Hellenism

The military expansion gradually intensified cultural contacts. As discussed earlier, Rome was from its beginning within reach of direct and indirect Greek influence. The Dionysian cult that was fought in 186 bce (see below), was, despite perhaps some recent organizational changes, a long-established private cult in Italy. During the third century, Rome came in direct contact with the southern Italian Magna Graecia, and during the second century the Romans installed themselves in continental Greece and Asia Minor. The speed of imports and the quality of the reaction changed.

Some gods of the Greek world had particularly attractive features. Aesculapius has already been mentioned, and Apollo, whose introduction was due to an epidemic, was equally appealing to the Romans. Indeed it was not the god of the Muses, nor the sun god, nor the prophet god who would later become the patron of the Sibylline Books (these titles would appear in the Carmen saeculare by Horace during the time of Augustus) and to whom the Romans had appealed for aid at the beginning of the fifth century; rather, this Apollo was the healing god. His temple, voted "pro valetudine populi" ("for the people's health") in 433, was dedicated in 431 in the Flaminian Meadows at the southwest of the Capitol, within a sector that already bore the name Apollinare ("Apollo's enclosure"; Livy, 4.25.3, 40.51.4). The oldest invocation used in the prayers of the Vestals was directed to the "physician": Apollo Medice, Apollo Paean (Macrobius, Saturnalia 1.17.15).

New rituals

The introduction of the lectisternia ritual had been recommended by the Sibylline Books, which were consulted upon orders of the Senate by the II viri sacris faciundis in the face of an alarming pestilence. This ritual would be used more and more, and, as a result, the Romans became very familiar with this new form of devotion, which had more significance on the emotional level than was usual in Roman worship. The standard Roman sacrificial ritual consisted essentially of a canonical prayer followed by the slaughtering of an animal and the offering of consecrated entrails (the exta ) to the divinity (the distinction between exta comprising the lungs, heart, liver, gall bladder, and peritoneumand the viscera, flesh given over for profane consumption, is fundamental in Roman ritual). The sacrificial ceremony was celebrated by qualified magistrates or priests on private initiative around an altar placed in front of the temple. In the new ritual, however, statues of the deities reposing on cushions (pulvinaria) were displayed within the temples on ceremonial beds (lectisternia). Men, women, and children could approach them and offer them food and prayers in fervent supplication (see Livy, 24.10.13; 32.1.14), often presided over by the II or X viri sacris faciundis (cf. Livy, 4.21.5).

The first lectisternium, which was allegedly celebrated in 399 bce, joined in heterogeneous pairs Apollo and Latona, Hercules and Diana, and Mercury and Neptune (Livy, 5.13.46). Outwardly, half of the names were of purely Greek origin (Apollo, Latona, Hercules), and the other half of Latin origin. In fact, even these Latin names applied to Hellenic divinities: Diana/Artemis, Mercury/Hermes, Neptune/Poseidon. The healing god Apollo, accompanied by his mother Latona, was at the head of the list during this period of epidemic.

Much more dramatic circumstancesHannibal at the walls of Romeinstigated in 217 bce the last and most celebrated lectisternium in the history of the Republic (Livy, 22.10.9). On this occasion, the Romans for the first time adopted the Greek plan of a set of twelve deities divided into six couples in the following order: Jupiter and Juno, Neptune and Minerva, Mars and Venus, Apollo and Diana, Vulcan and Vesta, and Mercury and Ceres. This ceremony would remain unique (one cannot regard as a parallel the merry parody organized by Augustus during a cena where the twelve dinner companions disguised themselves as gods and goddesses; see Suetonius, Life of Augustus 70). Without a doubt, the Greek inspiration is evident in this list in the presentation of pairs of gods and goddesses (the idea of grouping twelve principal deities would be repeated later by the installation of gilded bronze statues of the di consentes in the niches located below the Portico at the foot of the Capitolium).

Yet it is necessary to avoid misunderstanding the meaning of the coupling here. The Greek model appeared in outline after the first four couples: Zeus-Hera, Poseidon-Athena; Ares-Aphrodite, Apollo-Artemis. It could suggest a conjugal meaning for Jupiter and Juno and an erotic meaning for Mars and Venus, but nothing of the kind would apply to the association of Neptune and Minerva (which evokes the rivalry of Poseidon and Athena in giving a name to Athens), nor for Apollo and Diana/Artemis, who were brother and sister. One can also wonder if the Romans were not still more heedful of the representative value of these divine pairs. Only a functional bond makes sense for the two last couples, in Rome as well as in Greece: fire for Vulcan and Vesta, economic activity (commerce and grain) for Mercury and Ceres. As for the couples that seemed most to bear the stamp of Hellenism, they were explained perfectly in accord with Roman norms. Thus Jupiter and Juno were associated here, just as they had been in the Capitoline cult since the sixth century. Nor did Venus and Mars form a couple in Rome in the strict sense of the term. Mars, father of Romulus, is the old Italic god, while Venus, mother of Aeneas, appeared as the protector of the Romans-Aeneades. In a word, Rome knew how to utilize the Greek plan to its own ends without in turn submitting to it. Rome joined together the two essential personages of its history: Aeneas, founder of the nation, and Romulus, founder of the city.

Putting the Mediterranean to use

The example described above makes manifest a constant attitude. Nothing is more significant in this connection than the introduction of the cult of Venus Erycina. Once again the circumstantial cause was the imperative need for supplementary divine aid, this time during the Second Punic War (218210) after the disaster of Trasimene in 217 bce. Named as dictator, Q. Fabius Maximus (who would bear the surname Cunctator, or "delayer") obtained from the Senate a consultation with the Sibylline Books, which prescribed, among other measures, a promise to provide a temple dedicated to Venus Erycina (Livy, 22.9.711). This choice becomes clear when one recalls that, at the time of the First Punic War, the consul Lucius Junius had "recognized" Venus, the mother of Aeneas, in the Aphrodite of Mount Eryx, which he had succeeded in occupying from the start (248 bce) till the victorious finish. Thus Q. Fabius Maximus, who was struggling with the same enemy (the Carthaginians), vowed to give the same goddessas a pledge of victorya temple, which was dedicated in 215 on the Capitolium. It was the "Trojan light" that earned for Venus Erycina, "mother of the Aeneades," this majestic entry to the summit of the Capitolium, which was included at that date within the pomerial zone.

Some ten years later, the Oriental goddess Cybele was introduced on the same basis, and marvels impressed religious awareness: "two suns were seen; intermittent flashes had streaked through the night; etc." (Livy, 29.14.3). An oracle drawn from the Sibylline Books had predicted "the day when an enemy of foreign race would bring war to Italian soil, he could be defeated and banished from Italy, if the Mater Idaea were carried from Pessinus to Rome" (Livy, 29.10.5). In this way the Magna Mater (alias Cybele), honored as a "Trojan" ancestor, was solemnly received in Rome in 204 bce and was installed on the Palatine. Until the building of her own temple, which was dedicated in 191 bce, she was provisionally lodged in the temple of Victoria.

The entry of these two goddesses, understood in terms of the "Trojan light," is instructive on another account as well. In spite of the considerable honors that Rome accorded them (far from treating them as outsiders, they were installed on the prestigious hills of the Capitoline and the Palatine), Rome did not neglect to subject their cults to discreet censorship. Venus Erycina was treated in two ways. In the temple on the Capitoline (dedicated in 215) Rome venerated her as a Roman goddess. However, in the extrapomerial temple, built later outside of the Porta Collina and dedicated in 181, Rome considered her to be a foreign goddess, covered by the statute of the peregrina sacra (foreign rites), which allowed for tolerance of certain original customs. The temple of Venus Erycina outside the Porta Collina admitted, as an extension of the one on Mount Eryx, the presence of prostitutes in imitation of the sacred courtesans on the Sicilian mountain. The restraints were even stricter for the Mater deum Magna Idaea. Her routine cult could be practiced only by the Galli, the eunuch-priests, positions from which Roman citizens were excluded, and the cult was placed under the surveillance of the urban praetor. Still, the aristocrats did not hesitate to institute mutual visits and banquets during the goddess's festival. Her games were among the most splendid public rituals in the Roman festival list of the late Republic.

The supplicatio (organized in 207 bce, following a miracle) in honor of Juno Regina of the Aventine make a particularly memorable impression with an innovation: twenty-seven girls sang a hymn composed especially for the occasion by the poet Livius Andronicus (Livy, 27.37.715)

Public worship

The aim of public worship (the sacra publica ) was to assure or to restore the "benevolence and grace of the gods," which the Romans considered indispensable for the state's well-being. Annually returning rituals dominated public cultic activity. The feasts were fixed (stativae) or movable (conceptivae) or organized around some particular circumstance (imperativae). The feriae, a special class of days given to the gods as property (and hence free from every mundane activity) were marked as a special class of dies nefasti (days not to be used), namely as a group of days whose violation made piacular sacrifices necessary (hence marked by the letters NP and abbreviations of the festival names). Many of these festivals go back to the early Republic or an even earlier period. Usually, they were coordinated with the days that structured each month. The calendae, often marked by festivals to Juno, were the first day of the month, the nonae, were the ninth day before the ides (accordingly the fifth or seventh day) and the idus fell on the thirteenth or the fifteenth, respectively, according to whether they were ordinary months or March, May, July, or October. The idus were usually dedicated to Jupiter, but the same day staged other important festivals, too.

To that end, the calendar days were divided into profane days (dies profesti) and days reserved for the gods (dies festi or feriae ), and thus for liturgical celebrations. However, if one looks at a Roman calendar, one observes that the list of days contains other signs. When the days are profane, they are marked by the letter F (fasti) ; when they pertain to the gods, by N (nefasti). This presentation does not call into question the division of "profane" and "sacred" times. It simply changes the perspective as to when "divine" becomes "human." Indeed, for the Romans, the day is fastus when it is fas (religiously licit) to engage in profane occupations, nefastus when it is nefas (religiously prohibited) to do so, since the day belongs to the gods. In reality, the analytical spirit of the pontiffs came up with yet a third category of C days (comitiales), which, while profane, lent themselves in addition to the comitia, or "assemblies." Furthermore, there are other rarely used letters, such as the three dies fissi (half nefasti, half fasti ). The dies religiosi (or atri ) are outside these categories: they are dates that commemorate public misfortunes, such as July 18, the Dies Alliensis (commemorating the disaster of the battle of Allia in 390 bce).

The republican calendar (called fasti ) divided the ferial days over the course of twelve months. Each month was marked by the calendae (the first day), the nonae, and the idus (the last two fell respectively on the fifth or seventh, and the thirteenth or the fifteenth, according to whether they were ordinary months or March, May, July, or October). The feasts were fixed (stativae) or movable (conceptivae) or organized around some particular circumstance.

The Roman liturgy developed in line with an order of feasts consecrated to particular deities. An overlap was therefore possible: since the ides, "days of full light," were always dedicated to Jupiter. The sacrifice of the Equus October (horse of October) on October 15 coincided with the ides.

This ritual sequence was punctuated by the rhythm of seasons for the agrarian celebrations (especially in April and in July and August) and by the schedule of training for military campaigns. Thus it is interesting to note that the month of March contained several feasts marking the opening of martial activities. There was registered on the calendars a sacrifice to the god Mars; the blessing of horses on the Equirria on February 27 and March 14; and the blessing of arms on the Quinquatrus and of trumpets on the Tubilustrium on March 19. In addition, there was the Agonium Martiale on March 17. The Salii, carrying lances (hastae) and shields (ancilia), roamed the city performing martial dances. Apart from the feriae and connected ritual sequences, many commemoration days of the dedication of temples filled the calendar. The annual sacrifice in front of the temple sometimes gave rise to very popular festivals.

Besides the liturgical feasts, it is also necessary to cite the ludi, games consisting essentially of chariot races. They went back to an old tradition represented by the Equirria. The new ludi replaced the bigae, teams of two horses, with the quadrigae, teams of four, for the races in the Circus Maximus and included various performances: riders leaping from one horse to another, fights with wrestlers and boxers. (The gladiator fights, which were Etruscan in origin, appeared in 264 bce for private funeral feasts, but they did not become part of the public games until the end of the second century bce.) These competitions were soon complemented by other spectacles: pantomimes and dances accompanied by the flute. The principal ones were the Ludi Magni or Ludi Romani, celebrated from the fifteenth through the eighteenth of September after the ides that coincided with the anniversary of the temple of Jupiter Capitoline. Considered to have been instituted by Tarquin the Elder (Livy, 1.35.9), they became annual events starting in 367 bce, which is the date that saw the creation of the curule magistracy (aediles curules). The Ludi Plebei, a kind of plebeian reply to preceding games, were instituted later: they are mentioned for the first time in 216 bce (Livy, 23.30.17). They took place in the Circus Flaminius, involved the same kind of games as the Ludi Romani, and were celebrated around the ides of November. It is also noteworthy that the Ludi Romani and the Ludi Plebei were both held around the ides (of September or November) and dedicated to Jupiter, to whom a sacrificial meal, the Epulum Iovis, was offered.

The priesthood

Priests were not necessary for private cult. An aedituus, a guardian of a temple, would have to open a temple that was normally closed or provide items necessary for the cult (water, for example). However, much of private ritual was performed on private ground. Neither prayer nor animal sacrifice was in need of a cultic specialist other than the pater familias, the head of the family, a person in charge of a farm, or the president of an association. The same holds true for public rituals. Many were led by the chosen magistrates, who gave the order to kill an oxen or start a horse race. A pontiff might assist in reciting a prayer that the magistrate uttered aloud, but it was the magistrate who performed, for example, the dedication of a new temple.

By the late Republic, certain priests who were dedicated to special cultsfunctioning, perhaps, but one or two times a yearwere hardly important or prestigious. Few of these twelve flamines minores are known by name. The same type of specialized priesthood, but more to the fore, was represented by the rex sacrorum and the three major flamines of Jupiter (Dialis), Mars (Martialis) andalready a lesser figureQuirinus (Quirinalis). The flamines minores oversaw a number of central, but routine, rituals that probably took place without a large public audience, and their priestly role was not more than a part-time job. They were, however, subjected to rules that limited their opportunities for entering a political careera subject frequently leading to conflict. On the other hand, they were recruited at a comparatively young age, in their early twenties during the late Republic (and later), which is more than fifteen years before a consulate would take office. The wives of the rex and the flamines minores supplemented their ritual tasks as regina sacrorum (with a separate range of cults) or flaminica.

The only exception to the latter characterization were the six Vestal Virgins, who had to live in celibacy in the atrium Vestae on the Forum Romanum, adjacent to the Regia and the aedes Vestae, a circular sanctuary accessible to nobody else. "Caught," as the technical expression was, by the pontifex maximus at a minimum age of six years, their period of service was said to last for thirty years, although no case of a Vestal who left after that period is known. Instead, the role of the Vestalis maxima, the eldest one, was one of utmost authority and sanctity in the eyes of the public.

The predominant priests from perhaps the fourth century bce onward were those organized as collegia sacerdotum. They were responsible for certain procedures and areas of religious regulation, but wereas a rulenot dedicated to the cult of specific deities. The mode of their recruitment and the persons recruited were increasingly adapted to the rules and personal reservoirs of the political magistrates. Although election was not implemented for most of them before 104 bce (Lex Domitia), they came from the leading families only, being appointed shortly before the consulate or even afterward in the case of "new men" risen from nonconsular families. These colleges had no special building for their meetings, but regularly (probably monthly) met at their private homes. Holding their offices as lifetime appointments, they formed powerful networks within the political elite.

The most important and most politicized position was held by the pontifex maximus. He presided over the pontifical college, to which the flamines and Vestales (both "caught" by him), as well as the rex sacrorum, were attached. Jurisdictional competence and participation in large public rituals led to an enlargement or, even better, differentiation of the college. Its scribes were given the title "minor pontiffs" and the status of priests; a second college, the three (later seven) "men for Jupiter's banquets" (Septemviri epulonum), was split off in 196 bce and ascended to nearly equal dignity under the Empire. In particular, it was their duty to organize the sacrificial supper, the Epulum Iovis, at the Ludi Romani and the Ludi Plebei, the Roman and Plebeian games on the ides of September and November. They numbered three at first, then seven, and finally (without a change of name) ten. The pontiffs were early specialists of Roman public and private law; the realm of religious property rightsdivine property, tombs (locus religiosus), the juridical and religious quality of the time, and intercalation were in their hands. The college, originally recruited from patricians only, grewalways in parallel to the augural collegeto nine members by the Lex Ogulnia of 300 bce, then to fifteen by the Lex Cornelia of 82 bce (opening prestigious positions for Sulla's supporters in the Civil war), and finally to sixteen by Caesar's Lex Julia of 46 bce.

The augurs made up the second college. Their competence encompassed divination and the change of sacral status. Thus, it fell upon them to inaugurate both persons (the rex sacrorum and the three flamines maiores ) and space (templa) ; in the ritual of the augurium maximum they even checked for the status of a ritual; that is, they asked for Jupiter's consent to have the ritual performed. As a college, and in certain functions as individuals, they served as experts for everything concerning the auspicia, the divination by means of the observation of birds regularly performed by magistrates. Being able to question or invalidate auspicial legitimation, they were highly political figures, and the regulations concerning the college were at pains to ensure the independence of its members, who would not loose their priesthood even if they were condemned or exiled.

The Duo viri sacris faciundis (men in charge of the celebration of sacrifices) were responsible for safeguarding and for consulting the Sibylline Books by order of the Senate. There were at first two of them, then ten (Decemviri, beginning in 367 bce), and finallyequating them to the other collegesfifteen (quindecimviri).

The electoral procedures for the members of these priestly colleges, probably enacted for the first time in the second half of the third century, show how carefully Roman procedures regulated the religious realm. Only a minority (seventeen chosen by lot) of the thirty-five "tribes," originally regional voting units, selected among the candidates nominated by the surviving priests. The successful candidate was than formally adrogated by the college, thus continuing the practice of cooptatio (cooptation) that remained the rule for all the other, politically less important priestly groups. Even priests elected in a popular assembly were not installed by majority vote.

In addition to the four collegia, it is worth mentioning the fraternities that confirm the preference in Rome for priestly specialization and the division of religious authority. The twenty Fetiales saw to the protection of Rome in foreign relations, especially with regard to declarations of war and conclusion of peace treaties. The twenty-four Salii (twelve Salii Palatini and twelve Salii Collini, from Augustus onward) were dancer-priests who opened the season of war in March and who were the youngest aristocratic priests; female Salians are mentioned only once (Servius, Ad Aeneiden 8.285). The twenty-four Luperci (twelve Fabiani and twelve Quinctiales ) acted only in the rites of the Lupercalia on February 15. The twelve Arval Brethren were in charge of the cult of the agrarian deity Dea Dia, whose sanctuary was located outside the city in the fields (arva). The function of the Sodales Titii (perhaps likewise twelve men) remains unknown; perhaps they continued a regal heroic cult. It is characteristic of the reduced political importance of these priesthoods that hardly any member is known, or rather the membership of those who are known was rarely made explicit. In contrast, between one- and two-thirds of the members of the major colleges are known for most years from the Second Punic War onward. By way of a unique ensemble of marble inscriptions from their sanctuary, the fratres Arvales are the best documented priesthood of the Empire.

Private worship

Religion as organized by the nobility, the political elite, and paid for by state fundshence religio publica offered a space for religious activities for the aristocracy and the framework for various collective or individual activities on the part of ordinary citizens or simply inhabitants of Rome. The sacra publica, publicly financed ritual, were not restricted to activities of the city as a whole. Territorial subdivisions, such as the curiae or the neighborhoods of the compitalia (crossroad sanctuaries), offered space for ritual interaction and communication. The curio maximus was the second priesthood to be included into the procedure of popular election, more than one hundred years before the augurs and the other pontiffs. In imperial times, the vicomagistri who presided over compitalician cult were given the right to wear the toga praetexta, togas with a purple strip distinguishing Roman magistrates, during their services.

We do not know much about gentilician cult, but much is known about family and household cult from literary and archaeological sources, which serve as a helpful corrective against poetic or antiquarian idealization. Rented Roman flats lacked built-in altars, and the ancestor cult of deceased relatives simply dumped into the extra-urban pits might have been limited.

The cult within the familia, the extended Roman family placed under the unrestricted authority of the pater familias, may be regarded in a biographical perspective. The day of birth (dies natalis) and the day of purification (dies lustricus : the ninth day for boys, the eighth for girls, when the infant received its name) were family feasts. In the atrium of the family home, the infant would acquire the habit of honoring the household gods (the lar familiaris and the di penates ). The allusion made in the Aulularia (v. 24s) by Plautus to a young daughter who every day would bring "some gift such as incense, wine, or garlands" to the lar familiaris shows that personal devotion was not unknown in Rome. Livy (26.19.5) cites a more illustrious example of this kind about P. Cornelius Scipio, the future conqueror of Hannibal. "After he received the toga virilis, he undertook no action, whether public or private, without going right away to the Capitolium. Once he reached the sanctuary, he remained there in contemplation, normally all alone in private for some time." (It is true that a rumor attributed divine ancestry to Scipio, something he very carefully neither confirmed nor denied; see above).

The taking of the toga virilis, or pura (as opposed to the toga praetexta, bordered with a purple ribbon and worn by children), generally took place at age seventeen during the feast of the Liberalia on March 17. Before this point, the puer (boy) offered his bulla (a golden amulet) to the lar familiaris. From then on, he was a iuvenis, and he would go to the Capitolium to offer a sacrifice and leave an offering in the sanctuary of the goddess Juventus (Iuventas ). Girls would offer dolls and clothing on the day of their wedding. Another family feast honored the father of the family on his birthday; for reasons of convenience the commemoration and party seems to have frequently been moved to the next calends or ides. A warm atmosphere brought together the whole family, including the servants, at least twice a year. On March 1, the feast of the Matronalia, mothers of families would make their way up the Esquiline to the temple of Juno Lucina, whose anniversary it was. Together with their husbands they prayed "for the safeguarding of their union" and received presents. They then prepared dinner for their slaves. Macrobius (Saturnalia 1.12.7), who mentions this custom, adds that on December 17, the feast of the Saturnalia, it was the masters' turn to serve their slaves, unless they preferred to share dinner with them (Saturnalia 1.7.37). It is characteristic of the gendered perspective of the Romans that the "male" Saturnalia developed into a carnival lasting for several days, characterized by an exchange of gifts, as well as excessive drinking.

At the end of life, the Feriae Denecales (denecales or deni-, perhaps from de nece, "following death") took place. The purpose was to purify the family in mourning, for the deceased was regarded as having defiled his or her family, which thus became funesta (defiled by death). To this end, a novemdiale sacrum was offered on the ninth day after burial. As for the deceased, the body, or a finger thereof kept aside (os resectum) in the case of cremation, was buried in a place that become inviolable (religiosus). The burial was indispensable in order to assure the repose of the deceased, who from then on was venerated among the di parentes (later the di manes ). If there were no burial, the deceased risked becoming one of the mischievous spirits, the lemures, which the father of the family would expel at midnight on the Lemuria of May 9, 11, and 13.

During the Dies Parentales, from February 13 to 21, the family would go to the tombs of their dead in order to bring them gifts. Since the period ended on February 21 with a public feast called the Feralia, the following day, February 22, reverted to a private feast, the Caristia or Cara Cognatio, in which the members of the family gathered and comforted one another around a banquet. This explains the compelling need in an old family for legitimate offspring (either by bloodline or by adoption). In their turn, the duty of the descendants was to carry on the family worship and to calm the souls of their ancestors. Foundations or donations to associations could serve the same purpose.

Religious associations

The sacrifice and banquet framed family festivals and organized social space for secondary groups as well. The Romans believed that their associations dated back to the early regal period. Common economic interest and sociability usually went together, formally united by the cult of a suitable deity. Bakers, for example, venerated Vesta, the goddess of the hearth. In addition, slaves of large households were known to have organized themselves into associations during imperial times. Given the weak economic position of many individuals and families, associations might provide funeral services as well.

The multifunctional form of the association (collegium) often opened them to criticism and suspicion. For example, associations of venerators of the goddess Isis, originally stemming from Egypt but present at Rome from the second century bce onward, were regarded as political troublemakers and organizers of popular unrest in the last decennium of the Republic. Even the territorially organized groups of the compitalia were subject to suspicion, and they eventually dissolved. The most famous and best documented conflict between a religious organization and Roman officials is the persecution of the Italian Bacchanalia in 186 bce.

The affair is known from Livy's extensive narrative (39.818) and from a bronze copy of the final decree of the Senate, which enforced the Roman sanctions of the cult within the whole of Italy, or at least the Roman territories (Senatusconsultum de Bacchanalibus). The cult of Dionysos had a long history and was widespread throughout Italy. Accordingly, the Senate's action was not directed against the god Bacchus or his cult in principle. Following a denunciation, alarm had been created by the secret gatherings (Livy, 39.8.3) that reeked of scandals involving both men and women. The bacchants were accused of taking part in criminal orgies in a milieu marked by "the groans of victims amid debaucheries and murders." The prohibition was dictated out of a concern for public order. The reaction involved draconian sanctions, including the death penalty for some leading figures. The cult however, was not suppressed. If restricted to five persons or fewer and to female priests and a majority of female members, and with the renunciation of a associative framework (money, officers), the cult could continueeverything else had to be explicitly requested and permitted by the Senate.

The Bacchanalian affair illustrates the Roman approach of honoring the religious obligations of subjects as the city itself fulfilled the religious obligations that had arisen in the long course of history (religiones). The gods would be helpful and would not interfere, if they were given their due. In this process there was an acceptable range of behavior, but any excess would be superstitious (superstitio). In founding new colonies and regulating their affairs, Roman officials were forced to address the religious basics and put them into legal terms: that was part of the ius publicum. With regard to such decisions, the most important source is the Lex Coloniae Iuliae Genetivae Ursonensis, a law written in 44 bce for a Spanish colony founded by C. Julius Caesar, which survived in fragmentary form in a copy from the end of the first century ce (Crawford, 1996). The basics are few: a college of augurs and pontiffs had to be installed (without specifying their tasks); their succession was to be regulated; and the (low) pay of the haruspices was specified. Games had to be held for the Capitoline triad and Venus, the tutelary deities. The introduction of every other cult was left to the city council, as was probably the calendar. It was made certain that the colony was able to pay for the cults and the religious obligation it had taken up: the coordination of contracts with suppliers of victims and organizers of games was the first topic in the city council every year.

See Also

Indo-European Religions, overview article.


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