Roman Religion - Cosmogony
The religion of the Romans was a polytheistic religion (with many gods, Polytheism). The Greek and then the Roman priests needed a story or myth which centered around the main Gods and Goddesses answering the questions of where they came from and their relationship to each other (this is called a Cosmogony). A 'family tree' of the Roman Gods and Goddesses explained 'who was who' and what relationships they had with each other. The mythology surrounding Mount Olympus contributes to the stories about the gods of the Roman Religion.
List of Roman Gods
Principles, Traditions and Ceremonies of the Roman Religion
The Roman Religion consisted of the following principles, traditions, ceremonies, priests and other elements:
Roman Religion was emphatically a state religion ***
The pontiffs (religious leaders) were presided over by one called Pontifex Maximus
Julius Caesar assumed the position of Pontifex Maximus to gain control of the popular worship of the Roman religion
Roman Religion accepted the gods of all the nations that composed the empire ***
The principal Roman divinities were the Olympic gods such as Jupiter, Juno, Mars, Minerva, Neptune, Vesta, Apollo, Venus, Ceres, and Diana ***
There were numerous secondary deities
Temples to worship the gods were built throughout the Roman Empire and each family home would also have a small altar and shrine
Roman Religion was practical - every Roman god had something to do and some useful office to perform
Many of the secondary deities were manufactured by the pontiffs for utilitarian purposes (determined by its utility) or abstractions like Hope, Fear, Concord, Justice and Clemency
In the Roman Religion every vocation and every household transaction had its presiding gods or goddesses
The powers of Nature were also worshipped, like the sun, the moon, and stars ***
Religion included many superstitious rites and ceremonies such as interpreting the will of the gods by studying omens, the flight of the birds, the behaviour of animals, interpreting dreams and natural phenomena
Priests called Augurs practised haruspicy which involved reading entrails of animal sacrifices and augury which involved interpreting the behaviour of birds
The Roman religion practised various ceremonies which included blood sacrifices
The Vestal virgins were the Roman priestesses of Vesta and were appointed by the Pontifex Maximus ***
Every public assembly was opened by the magistrate and augurs taking the auspices
Religion was taken extremely seriously by the Romans and one day in four was set apart for the worship of particular gods and were celebrated by feasts and games and sacrifices
For additional facts and information about priests and ceremonies please click the following links:
Ancient Roman Religion and Ceremonies
Roman Religion - The Penates
The Penates were the gods who were supposed to attend to the welfare and prosperity of the Roman family. The name 'penates' is derived from Penus, the pantry, which was sacred to them. Every master of a family was the priest to the Penates of his own house.
Roman Religion - The Lares
The Lares, or Lars, were also household gods, but differed from the Penates in being regarded as the deified spirits of mortals. The family Lars were held to be the souls of the ancestors, who watched over and protected their descendants.
Roman Religion - The Genius
The Romans believed that every man had his Genius, and every woman her Juno. The Genius was a spirit who had given them being, and was regarded as a protector through life. On birthdays men made offerings or sacrifices to their Genius and Roman women to their Juno. Regions, families, households and cities of Rome also had a genius.
The Decline of the Roman Religion and the Rise of Christianity
The Romans always adopted the gods of the conquered nations. Consequently, when the Empire became very extensive, the number of deities became absurdly excessive and the variety of religious worship perfectly ridiculous. This resulted in so much confusion in their mythology that Roman philosophers rejected the entire system and concepts of the Roman religion. This greatly facilitated the rise of Christianity which was simple in contrast to the Roman religion. Christianity furnished a powerful contrast to the confused and cumbrous mass of divinities who were worshipped during the period of the emperors.
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