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Roman Gods and Religion

Tales beyond belief

Ancient Roman Gods and Religion
This article provides interesting facts and information about Roman Gods and Religion. The Romans conquered the Greeks in 146BC and incorporated various gods and religions from other cultures and civilisations into their own beliefs, just changing the Greek names to Roman equivalents. Many of the Roman gods and goddesses were therefore the counterparts of the Greek gods and goddesses and also some Egyptian gods.

This practice is called 'syncretism' which means the fusion of religious beliefs and practices to form a new religious belief system.

Roman Gods and Religion
Although they shared many of the same divinities and deities there were many differences between foreign and Roman Religion. The Roman religion placed all their adopted gods in the Roman Pantheon including Mithras, the Persian sun-god and the Egyptian gods Isis and Osiris. The Roman religion was far more practical than the poetical and fanciful Greek religion. Each of the Roman gods had a useful function to perform - every occupation and every household operation had its presiding Roman gods and goddesses. The Romans practised more superstitious rites than the Greeks, such as examining the entrails of beasts and birds for good or bad omens. The Roman priests included Augurs and Haruspices who sought to discover the will of the gods, according to entrails and the flight of birds.

Roman Gods and Religion - The Vestal Virgins
The Vestal Virgins played an important role in the worship of Roman gods and religion. The duty of the Vestal Virgins was to keep the sacred fire that burned on the altar of the goddess Vesta from being extinguished.  The sacred duty of the Vestal Virgins to preserve a sacred pledge on which the safety of Rome was believed to depend. The Romans looked upon Vesta as one of the protective deities of the whole of the Roman empire and that the fate and safety of Rome depended upon the preservation of the sacred fire of Vesta.  The Romans believed that the extinction of the sacred fire would result in the most terrible misfortune to Rome and its empire.

Roman Gods and Religion
The Romans were eminently practical and believed that their gods and goddesses controlled everything in their lives and their environment. Every occupation and every household operation had its presiding Roman gods and goddesses. But what kind of beings were these divinities?

  • The Romans placed little importance on the personality and characteristics of their divinities and deities but, like the Greeks, Roman gods and goddesses married and had families

  • The Roman religion was emphatically a state religion and Roman gods and goddesses were revered at every public event

  • Blood sacrifices were made to the Roman gods and goddesses

  • The Romans focussed on the functions of their gods and goddesses and had 'specialist gods' for nearly every job, occasion and task

  • The Romans also worshipped natural objects, especially trees and to some extent the worship of animals. The worship of the fields and the worship of the state was also included in Roman religion

  • The Romans adopted the Imperial cult in which Roman emperors were worshipped as divinities and deities

  • The Romans worshipped their ancestors and the ancestral and familial gods were called the Manes

  • Household divinities and deities were called the Lares and Penates

  • The Numina represented the power of a god and was contained in a place or thing

  • Genius Loci was the name for the spirit of a place

The Romans were highly superstitious and great attention was given to dreams and rites of divination. Romans were particularly anxious to receive the blessings of the Roman divinities and deities. The Augurs sought to discover the will of the gods, according to entrails of sacrificial animals and the flight of birds.

Roman Gods and Religion - Worship of the Roman Gods - the Festivals
The were many more festivals in Rome than in Greece. About one in every four days was set apart for the worship of particular divinities and deities. The Roman forms of worship included feasts, games and sacrifices. There were Roman celebrations and feasts in honor of the gods Janus, Mars, Vesta, Minerva, Venus, Ceres, Juno, Jupiter and Saturn. The Saturnalia lasted seven days, the feast of Minerva lasted five days, and the feast of Cybele lasted six days. The Bacchanalia was celebrated with sacrifices, ribald songs and promiscuity.

Roman Gods and Religion - Sacrifices at the Roman Colosseum
The games at the Roman Colosseum were opened by a formal procession of priests who entered the arena of the Roman Colosseum with carriages holding statues to the divinities and deities.  A marble altar was set in the middle of the arena of the Roman Colosseum that was dedicated to the worship of of Diana, Pluto or Jupiter. Roman priests would take the auspices by which they believed that the will of the gods could be determined. The worship of the god Jupiter involved human sacrifice although animal sacrifice was more common with a bull or an ox as the usual victims. The sex of the sacrificial animal had to correspond to the sex of the divinities and deities to whom it was offered. White animals were selected to be sacrificed to the divinities and deities of the upper world and black animals were sacrificed to Roman gods and deities of the underworld. Following the sacrifices of animals the priests would examine their entrails and declare that the gods wished the games to begin.

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