The Roman has a long history and their religious development has equally a long history which is, in fact, going long way back before Christianity strikes Rome. The ancient Roman religious practice ranges from the era of the late republic to the early time of the Roman Empire.
Like many western civilizations, it begins from a supernatural basis such as mythologies and deities where sacrifice and festivals were the common practice. Then, it slowly dissolves into Christianity. However, albeit the simple notion, the Roman is just as rich in their religious practice as they’re in other aspects. Thus, let’s return back and see what are the ten major aspects of Roman religious practice from the antiquity until the emerging of Christianity.
Counting from ten, the oldest and primitive religious practice in Roman history is animal and human sacrifices for ritual, festival, and ceremony. As other ancient civilizations have it, sacrificing animal or human is the fundamental practice for the Romans.
It’s especially done by the upper class to worship and thank god for the wealth surrounding them. The sacrifice was often made as they organized a dinner party which usually filled with food of exotic animals. That exotic and rare animal is usually served in the wish of fortune and prosperity. In addition, albeit the plainer sacrifices, the majority of citizen in ancient Rome also sacrificed animals for the same wish within their community. Thus, sacrificing animal or human is an essential part of Roman religious practice in the past.
When it came to making a sacrifice, the old Romans took it really seriously. They had rule specified to regulate that. One of the rules was that the animal sacrificed in a ritual should have the same sex as the god worshiped. In addition, it’s because the gods had a great role in their life and so sacrifice also took a big place there. The common animals used are flamingo, soliaurilia, pig, sheep, ox, and dormice
However, while the sacrifice of animals is used to worship and to wish for fortune, the sacrifice of human was quite different. The aim wasn’t merely to please gods. When the Romans sacrificed a living human, it’s to honor the dead and to depict the mythical struggle. The show of gladiator introduced in 264 BCE, as for example, was to honor the benevolent spirit of Roman ancestors. The human sacrifice for ceremony or ritual was usually slaves or rebels.
The next religious practice which often held by the Roman was festivals to celebrate and glorify gods. It’s an important aspect for the pagan. In the ancient calendars, there were many days dedicated to worship deities. Those days were deemed vital for the Romans since it’s required for them to close their business and stop other activities in order to celebrate the religious ceremonies.
Each god and goddess in Roman religious practice had at least a day when their name was celebrated through the city and by the people. Accordingly, sacrifices were often made to praise them. Either it’s for the major deities such as Jupiter and Juno or the minor ones, the ancient Roman people held a festival to show their gratitude of fortune and prosper given in their life.
However, the major gods usually had more than one festival or special days. Let’s take Juno for example. This god of fertility had the first day of the month (Kalends) and the day of the new moon (Regina Sacrorum) dedicated to worship her. Another example is Jupiter and the Ides day celebrated in every 13th or 15th every month. People usually prepared the best white lamb for them.
On different notes, in celebrating the festivals, the Romans didn’t always make a sacrifice. As for Adonia, which was a festival to tribute Venus and Adonis, the women celebrated it by planting flowers and taking care of it to be abandoned later for eight months. Later, they would mourn for it as the flowers withered. There’s also Agonalia to celebrate Janus which was distinguished by serving fig dates, honey in white jars, and sharing their wealth to family and relatives.
If you’re an enthusiast of Greek mythologies, the gods in Roman mythologies might seem familiar to your ear. Well, that’s because Roman adapted them from Greek around 484 BC. Roman religious practice is indeed influenced heavily by the Greek’s. Their polytheism was assimilation from the civilization they conquered. Thus, it wasn’t peculiar if you spot any similarity between them.
Roman people copied numerous of Greek gods and made it into their own that was eventually become the focal point in their ancient belief. From the ten popular Greek gods such as Zeus, as well the minor gods such as Hephaestus, the Romans took it as theirs and turned it to be their gods with different names.
For further example, the king of God, Zeus, is named Jupiter; Hera is given the title Juno; Athena is regarded as Minerva, and Hephaestus is called Vulcan.
While it might seem that so far there’s no uniquely distinctive religious practice of Roman people, there’s actually one unique figure in Romans’ belief, Numina. Numina for the Roman is quite the resemblance of God widely known nowadays.
In Roman religious practice, it is believed that Numina is a spirit with the force that made the universe they lived in. Within the old belief, Numina created everything from the emptiness and had control over it. Therefore, it could be said the Numina was a sort of entity like God worshiped by the ancient Roman people.
Accordingly, they believed that since Numina made everything, it is in everything. In the natural event such as lunar eclipse, or wind breeze, there’s Numina present. It’s also existed in the social event such as wars in which Numina is the one to decide the outcome and the winner of the war. Hence, Numina is one of the major aspects of ancient religious practice since it relates to the moment of creation for them.
Superstition surely isn’t an alien word for many of us, since it’s one of belief from the antiquity that survives today. The ancient Romans also had a strong belief for superstition. In fact, it’s a practice they do as often as possible to bring good luck and avoid ardently if it brings bad luck. Superstition was a common phenomenon in the old civilization. The belief of supernatural causations of spirits and gods to decide the future is something the Roman held strongly.
This religious practice actually meant life for them especially when it comes about future-reading. As you might see in the movie depicting the antiquity of Roman civilization, many of them would go for a lengthy effort because of reading. They would do everything in their power to avoid bad omen and reach for the better option.
While there are many superstitions living the Roman religious history, there are a few superstitions still known till today. Picking up or saving a discarded horseshoe, for an example, is said to bring good luck. Owning a comb of the deceased is also believed to give fortunes. On the other hand, having a black crow intrudes your house is said to a sign of bad luck. The same thing applies if anyone sees a snake fall from the roof.
On the fifth position, prayers, vows, and oaths make a major aspect in Roman religious practice. Like any other culture, such as the Egyptian, the roman has prayers, vows, and oaths in their religious practice. And it’s not something the roman can negotiate to not have.
Prayers, specifically, is utterly important for rituals and ceremonies. Without prayer, any ceremony and ritual, as well as the sacrifice made, are meaningless because it won’t reach the gods. For their religious practice, the prayers are the only way to communicate with gods. Hence, it’s a determining factor of either the sacrifice is accepted or no. Thus, in the ancient time, if there’s any mistake in the prayer, they would redo the whole ritual from the beginning. Accordingly, only a priest who’s been trained can have the role to chant and lead the prayer.
For every ritual and ceremony, the Romans had different prayers which make the Roman religious practice as one of the richest civilization regarding their religious practices. Since they really worshiped the gods, they kind of specialized the prayers for every occasion as told by the Emperor when he reminisced about them in his writing.
For vows and oaths made under the gods’ name, it’s also a great deal none would dare to mess. The society rule about breaking the vows or oaths were strong in the ancient Roman and none would love to be caught on the bad side. If anyone breaks the vows or oaths, people will avoid making any relation with them. The social punishment for those who broke the religious practice was a strong one.
In Roman religious practice, funeral and afterlife are taken seriously and systematically. The original concept has gone through a significant change since the emerging of Christianity. Nonetheless, the Roman is very careful when it’s about treating the body after death.
After a man met his death, a person from the family would close his eyes and bid him goodbye by calling his name and wishing him to rest. Then, the body is washed properly from any dirt before it’s prepared for the funeral. A coin is later put in the mouth of the deceased. This step is seen as a crucial step since without the coin he couldn’t cross the river and might turn to be a vengeful spirit. The coin was believed to pay the Charon who guarded the river connecting the living world and afterlife.
Furthermore, the deceased body would be put on display which shows their social status and importance. If he’s a famous figure, the deceased body would be displayed around a week. If he’s from lower status, it’s usually about a day. And, if he’s nobody, he likely won’t be put on display.
While in modern days the deceased usually earthed under the sun, the ancient Romans did it at night to avoid the crowd. However, a figure like the emperor would get a parade made for him on the way. Accordingly, the body was taken by the Collegia (Funeral societies responsible to bury the body and take care of it) to be buried in Columbarium.
When a civilization worships gods for their religious practice, temples and shrines would be inseparable of its history. Hence, in the ancient Roman time, temples and shrines are often used as a center for many activities such as praying and learning. Many popular temples and shrines become a witness of how powerful the religious practice affecting roman civilization.
Unlike other western architectures, Roman temples are the true definition of versatile. There’s a clear touch of Greek and Etruscan design since they adopted a lot from them, yet there’s also a grand touch of Roman architects. Thus, it’s very versatile in design.
Roman temples were constructed of concrete and brick which is embroidered by expensive stones. For the design, it’s generally built with a grand opening which makes it looks luxurious and mesmerizing, emphasizing their great devotion for the deities. It’s then completed with a high podium and a broad stair as well as a deep colonnade portico in front of cella picturing the god whom the temple belongs to.
As most ancient civilization worships different gods for they bring different purposes and values, the ancient Roman shares the same belief. In the past, the deities were revered by the Roman people. They’re worshiped, praised, and glorified in almost every aspect of their civilization. It especially appears in the Roman Empire era. Festivals were celebrated, scarifies were made, and prayers were uttered.
Worshiping deities, the gods and goddess, is one of the top legacies of Roman religious practices. It’s a prominent aspect which can’t be separated from their life. For the ancient Roman, worshiping the gods kept their life together and gave them the fortune.
In the ancient Roman, the gods are worshiped regarding the purpose or value they protect. For example, Juno stands for women and fertility. This goddess, the wife of Jupiter, is the figure for many women. Some other examples of Roman gods are as these; Venus represents the love and beauty; Mars bring the glory of war; Minerva stands for peace and wisdom, and Vulcan rules the underworld. The ancient Romans worshiped the gods depend on what they wish for.
Although the polytheism would take a great shift to Christianity and Judaism in the future, it was a wide and popular religious practice in Roman history.
Come to the number one, the main and major turn for Roman religious practice is Christianity. It’s a vibrant legacy of Roman belief which lasts until today. This belief revokes many Romans’ view of their religious practice.
After Constantine the great announced himself as a Christian, that’s truly a breakthrough which makes many Romans turn their back on the gods and goddess they have worshiped for centuries. The influence of Christianity in Rome civilization marks a great turn of event in their history as well as world history.
As Christianity surfaced and introduced to Roman society, the concept of deities gradually lost the shine and disappeared behind the shadow. The new concept of God as the Prima Causa is embedded in their religious practice.
Thus, the Roman religious practices are changed almost entirely to a new face. The festivals which previously intended to praise their gods were shifted to celebrate Jesus Christ and the teaching he brought. This religious practice lasts until today and becomes one of the big religions in world history.
The beginning of Roman religious practice is as primitive as any other civilization has it. It was popular for the Roman to sacrifice animals as a form of love and loyalty to the gods. They did it to wish for fortune and prosperity in their life as well as a token of gratitude of what they already have. For the upper-class, the sacrifice usually consists of exotic animals while the lower-class goes with sheep. In the ancient Roman, human sacrifice is also made, but it’s to respect the benevolent spirit of their great ancestor. For that purpose, they take slaves or rebels. Accordingly, festivals and ceremonies are also major aspects of Roman religious practice since it’s essential to praise and please the gods. After all, the Roman has a strong concept and belief about the gods which they heavily adopted from the Greek. As strong as they believed in the deities, they also believed in superstition and they will go for a great length to stop a bad omen which said to come to their course. However, their religious practice takes a big shift when they’re introduced to Christianity. Since then, the concept of deities gradually fades away and is replaced with a new practice that lasts until today.