Roman Religion

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Classics essay- task 1

Roman religion played a fundamental role in most aspects of Roman society. It was a polytheistic religion with many gods, each with their own specific role. The Roman religion emerged from the worship of Numina and was combined with elements from the religions of surrounding countries. It could be divided into state and private religion. The two strands of religion each have their own ceremonies and significance. Fate is another important strand of Roman religion which had an impact on the Roman people. The main belief of Roman religion was that if the gods were happy, then they would ensure that the Romans had good fortune.

Roman religion emerged from the beliefs of the early Roman people combined with other neighbouring country’s beliefs. The early Roman people lived in an agricultural society. Their livelihood depended on the weather and other elements which were out of their control. Drought could lead to crops failing and food shortages while the dangers of child birth affected the birth rate of the population. Numina were their way of explaining these dangers as they didn’t have science. Numina were nature spirits which lived in streams, rocks, trees and other aspects of the natural environment. They were believed to have the ability to control nature and event in human life. They were neutral and could harm or help whoever they wanted. The Romans believed if they prayed or sacrificed to the Numina at small alters then they could gain their favour or at least avoid offending them. It was from this early Roman religion that the main view of worship as a contract came. If you worshipped the gods then they would help you. From the Etruscans to the north came temples and divination while from the Greeks who lived in Italy came the 12 Olympians and their myths. The Olympians became the Pantheon gods who were important in state religion. It was the second king of Rome, Pompilius who established the Roman state religion and the gods which were worshipped.

The state gods had major influences upon the Romans. There were 12 main state gods. Jupiter, who was the king of the gods and the enforcer of fate. Juno, his wife who was the queen of the gods and the goddess of womanly things. Mars, the god of war. Vesta, the goddess of the hearth and domestic fire. Neptune, god of the sea. Minerva, goddess of wisdom. Ceres, goddess of crop fertility. Diana, goddess of the hunt. Apollo, god of healing and prophecy. Venus, goddess of love and beauty. Mercury, the messenger of the gods and lastly Vulcan, god of uncontrollable fire and metalwork. These 12 gods each had their own temples and the Romans would give offerings to them there. The four most important gods within the main 12 were most likely Jupiter, Juno, Mars and Vesta. Jupiter was portrayed as being the Paterfamilias of the empire. He was the chief god and defender of the state and could be asked for help in war. The portrayal of Jupiter as the father of the empire meant that Romans looked to him for the health of the state. Juno as Jupiter’s wife could be seen as the Matrona of the nation. She was responsible for the birth rate of the nation as well as female concerns such as childbirth and marriage. Because of this she was often prayed to by the Roman women and was important in many ceremonies and rituals. Mars became important to the Romans in terms of empire building. He was seen as a protector and defender of Rome as well as a promoter of military victory and glory. He was prayed and sacrificed to for good success in war and conquests. Vesta was important in that she personified domestic fire which was essential for daily life. Her priestesses, the Vestal Virgins, attended to a fire that burned in her temple. It was believed that while the fire burned, Rome was safe.3 The Romans were influenced by the state gods as they were able to ask the gods for help within the area of power that the god had control over. All of the 12 state gods, along...
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