|The temple of Jupiter Optimus Maximus on the Capitoline Hill|
Roman religion had many gods and their number was not fixed. There were no tenets of belief and no authoritative sacred texts. The community’s adherence to its religion was demonstrated through action and ritual rather than words, and the chief ritual was animal sacrifice. Romans did not doubt that the gods existed. They believed that all the important processes in the world were divinely activated, and that different gods had charge of particular functions and spheres of activity. As an intensely practical people, they thought of the gods in terms of what they did rather than what they were. For example, a 'jack of all trades' was 'a man of every Minerva' - Minerva was the goddess of trade and commerce.
Roman religion had both Greek and Italian elements. The Romans imported the Greek pantheon from the Greek colonies of the south of Italy. Below are some examples:
|Janus: the god who faced both ways|
Patriotism and the state religion are indistinguishable. The Capitol was a religious centres as well as a citadel. All formal activity took place in an explicitly religious context. Assemblies were preceded by religious rituals to ascertain the approval of the gods. Magistrates, when conducting their business, stood in a specially designated area, the templum. The sanction of the gods was required before any major public action was taken, such as the holding of an assembly, or the departure of a commander for war. The state religion was a vehicle for Roman patriotism and this provided with its emotional content.
‘Among the many things…that our ancestors created and established under divine inspiration, nothing is more renowned than their decision to entrust the worship of the gods and the highest interests of the state to the same men.’The most important priesthood, the office of pontifex maximus, had an influential role in political decisions, and was particularly prized for its prestige. Julius Caesar's election to this post in 63 BC was his first major career achievement
The essential function of any Greek and Roman temple was to house a statue of a god or goddess. Sacrifices always took place outside in the open air. Temples could also serve other public functions: for example the state treasure was housed in the temple of Saturn.
|The Maison Carée in Nîmes, southern France;|
built in the time of Augustus in honour of his grandsons
Stylistically, a Roman temple differed from a Greek in several respects:
- A Greek temple has a colonnade all round; most Roman temples only have sham colonnades at the side.
- A Roman temple has a deep porch, with a cella occupying the whole width of the temple.
- Roman temples are built on a high podium 9 or 10 feet high so they can only be approached by a flight of steps at the front. Greek temples are open on all sides.
The godsThe Capitol was the home of the Capitoline Triad (Jupiter, Juno, Minerva), the Vestal Virgins, and the priest of Jupiter (the most senior of the priests).
|Jupiter with his thunderbolt|
|A lar, wearing his dog-skin tunic|
and carrying a horn of plenty
Rural religion was older than the official religion of Rome (the term 'pagan' simply means rural or rustic). Household and wayside shrines were found all over Italy - these commemorated a host of minor deities whose function was to look after fields or households. Trees and groves were dedicated to individual gods, the Tiber and the Po developed cults of their own. Father Tiber was usually portrayed as an old bearded man, but though he was thought to show his anger by flooding, he was not the object of formal worship. Every May, however, a procession of priests and Vestal Virgins cast human effigies into the Tiber as an act of purification.