Roman Superstitions

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Roman Superstitions
Superstitions were an essential staple in various ancient cultures, and Roman culture was no exception. There superstitious customs derived from the Etruscans, who established reading omens and other precepts into a form of science. The Romans were troubled by a world full of unexplained phenomena. Thus, their superstitions became the most popular way to interpret the unknown and the relationship between gods and humans.

Spirits, luck, and omens were apparent in almost every aspect of ancient Roman life. Many ancient cultures, including the Roman’s, believed that objects or living things possessed spiritual properties. Trees, stones, mountains, springs, and animals were all thought to host spirits. Children were also told horrific stories of creatures that would hurt them if they misbehaved, such as the Roman Lamina, who wandered looking for children to eat. Both children and adults were haunted by ghosts of the dead, or lemures, who roamed in dark places. People wore lucky charms or amulets to thwart off the ‘evil eye’ and other bad omens. Omens were taken very seriously in society, even by politicians and officials. For example, newly passed laws could be repealed if the omens concerning them had not been considered, and before any ceremony took place, conditions were checked carefully to avoid disasters.

Roman government relied heavily on superstitions as well. The Sibylline Books were consulted by the Senate during times of crisis to determine how to calm the gods. The legend says a sibyl offered Tarquinius Superbus an expensive compilation of prophecies and warnings in the structure of nine books. Every time he refused to buy them she would burn three books and offer them to him again at the same price. Eventually he bought the remaining three, at what he could have paid for all nine. These superstitions had a major impact on both Roman life and government in many ways.
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