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But if you see something that doesn't look right, click here to contact us! Subscribe for fascinating stories connecting the past to the present. The Roman politician and general Mark Antony 83—30 B. His romantic and political alliance with the Cleopatra VII ruled ancient Egypt as co-regent first with her two younger brothers and then with her son for almost three decades.

She became the last in a dynasty of Macedonian rulers founded by Ptolemy, who served as general under Alexander the Great during his conquest of Greek philosophy and rhetoric moved fully into Latin for the first time in the speeches, letters and dialogues of Cicero B.

A brilliant lawyer and the first of his family to achieve Roman office, Cicero was one of the The son of a great military leader, he escaped family intrigues to take the throne, but his He is best known for his debaucheries, political murders, persecution of Christians and a passion for music that led to the probably The statesman and general Julius Caesar B. He died famously on the steps of the Senate at the hands of political rivals.

Julius Caesar is often remembered In B. He then marched his massive army across the Pyrenees and Alps into central Italy in what would be remembered as one of the most By the time the First Punic War broke out, Rome had become the dominant power throughout the Italian peninsula, while Known for his philosophical interests, Marcus Aurelius was one of the most respected emperors in Roman history. He was born into a wealthy and politically prominent family.

Growing up, Marcus Aurelius was a dedicated student, learning Latin and Greek. But his greatest This Day In History. Julius Caesar. Rome's Ancient Highways. Public priests were appointed by the collegia. Once elected, a priest held permanent religious authority from the eternal divine, which offered him lifetime influence, privilege and immunity. Therefore, civil and religious law limited the number and kind of religious offices allowed an individual and his family.

Religious law was collegial and traditional; it informed political decisions, could overturn them, and was difficult to exploit for personal gain. Priesthood was a costly honour: in traditional Roman practice, a priest drew no stipend. Cult donations were the property of the deity, whose priest must provide cult regardless of shortfalls in public funding — this could mean subsidy of acolytes and all other cult maintenance from personal funds. For a freedman or slave, promotion as one of the Compitalia seviri offered a high local profile, and opportunities in local politics; and therefore business.

During the Imperial era, priesthood of the Imperial cult offered provincial elites full Roman citizenship and public prominence beyond their single year in religious office; in effect, it was the first step in a provincial cursus honorum. In Rome, the same Imperial cult role was performed by the Arval Brethren , once an obscure Republican priesthood dedicated to several deities, then co-opted by Augustus as part of his religious reforms. The Arvals offered prayer and sacrifice to Roman state gods at various temples for the continued welfare of the Imperial family on their birthdays, accession anniversaries and to mark extraordinary events such as the quashing of conspiracy or revolt.

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Every 3 January they consecrated the annual vows and rendered any sacrifice promised in the previous year, provided the gods had kept the Imperial family safe for the contracted time. The Vestals were a public priesthood of six women devoted to the cultivation of Vesta , goddess of the hearth of the Roman state and its vital flame. A girl chosen to be a Vestal achieved unique religious distinction, public status and privileges, and could exercise considerable political influence. Upon entering her office, a Vestal was emancipated from her father's authority. In archaic Roman society, these priestesses were the only women not required to be under the legal guardianship of a man, instead answering directly to the Pontifex Maximus.

A Vestal's dress represented her status outside the usual categories that defined Roman women, with elements of both virgin bride and daughter, and Roman matron and wife. The Vestals embody the profound connection between domestic cult and the religious life of the community. The Vestals cared for the Lares and Penates of the state that were the equivalent of those enshrined in each home. Besides their own festival of Vestalia , they participated directly in the rites of Parilia , Parentalia and Fordicidia.

Indirectly, they played a role in every official sacrifice; among their duties was the preparation of the mola salsa , the salted flour that was sprinkled on every sacrificial victim as part of its immolation. One mythological tradition held that the mother of Romulus and Remus was a Vestal virgin of royal blood. A tale of miraculous birth also attended on Servius Tullius , sixth king of Rome, son of a virgin slave-girl impregnated by a disembodied phallus arising mysteriously on the royal hearth; the story was connected to the fascinus that was among the cult objects under the guardianship of the Vestals.

Augustus' religious reformations raised the funding and public profile of the Vestals. They were given high-status seating at games and theatres. The emperor Claudius appointed them as priestesses to the cult of the deified Livia , wife of Augustus. When the Christian emperor Gratian refused the office of pontifex maximus , he took steps toward the dissolution of the order. His successor Theodosius I extinguished Vesta's sacred fire and vacated her temple. Public religion took place within a sacred precinct that had been marked out ritually by an augur.

The original meaning of the Latin word templum was this sacred space, and only later referred to a building. In Rome, the central references for the establishment of an augural templum appear to have been the Via Sacra Sacred Way and the pomerium. Divine disapproval could arise through unfit sacrifice, errant rites vitium or an unacceptable plan of action. If an unfavourable sign was given, the magistrate could repeat the sacrifice until favourable signs were seen, consult with his augural colleagues, or abandon the project.

Magistrates could use their right of augury ius augurum to adjourn and overturn the process of law, but were obliged to base their decision on the augur's observations and advice. For Cicero, himself an augur, this made the augur the most powerful authority in the Late Republic. Haruspicy was also used in public cult, under the supervision of the augur or presiding magistrate.

The haruspices divined the will of the gods through examination of entrails after sacrifice, particularly the liver. They also interpreted omens, prodigies and portents, and formulated their expiation. Most Roman authors describe haruspicy as an ancient, ethnically Etruscan "outsider" religious profession, separate from Rome's internal and largely unpaid priestly hierarchy, essential but never quite respectable.

The senate and armies used the public haruspices: at some time during the late Republic, the Senate decreed that Roman boys of noble family be sent to Etruria for training in haruspicy and divination. Being of independent means, they would be better motivated to maintain a pure, religious practice for the public good. Omens observed within or from a divine augural templum — especially the flight of birds — were sent by the gods in response to official queries. A magistrate with ius augurium the right of augury could declare the suspension of all official business for the day obnuntiato if he deemed the omens unfavourable.

Prodigies were transgressions in the natural, predictable order of the cosmos — signs of divine anger that portended conflict and misfortune. The Senate decided whether a reported prodigy was false, or genuine and in the public interest, in which case it was referred to the public priests, augurs and haruspices for ritual expiation. Livy presents these as signs of widespread failure in Roman religio. The major prodigies included the spontaneous combustion of weapons, the apparent shrinking of the sun's disc, two moons in a daylit sky, a cosmic battle between sun and moon, a rain of red-hot stones, a bloody sweat on statues, and blood in fountains and on ears of corn: all were expiated by sacrifice of "greater victims".

The minor prodigies were less warlike but equally unnatural; sheep become goats, a hen become a cock and vice versa — these were expiated with "lesser victims". The discovery of an androgynous four-year-old child was expiated by its drowning [97] and the holy procession of 27 virgins to the temple of Juno Regina , singing a hymn to avert disaster: a lightning strike during the hymn rehearsals required further expiation.

In the wider context of Graeco-Roman religious culture, Rome's earliest reported portents and prodigies stand out as atypically dire. Whereas for Romans, a comet presaged misfortune, for Greeks it might equally signal a divine or exceptionally fortunate birth. Roman beliefs about an afterlife varied, and are known mostly for the educated elite who expressed their views in terms of their chosen philosophy. The traditional care of the dead, however, and the perpetuation after death of their status in life were part of the most archaic practices of Roman religion.

Ancient votive deposits to the noble dead of Latium and Rome suggest elaborate and costly funeral offerings and banquets in the company of the deceased, an expectation of afterlife and their association with the gods. Funeral and commemorative rites varied according to wealth, status and religious context. In Cicero's time, the better-off sacrificed a sow at the funeral pyre before cremation.

The dead consumed their portion in the flames of the pyre, Ceres her portion through the flame of her altar, and the family at the site of the cremation. For the less well-off, inhumation with "a libation of wine, incense, and fruit or crops was sufficient". Ceres functioned as an intermediary between the realms of the living and the dead: the deceased had not yet fully passed to the world of the dead and could share a last meal with the living. The ashes or body were entombed or buried.

On the eighth day of mourning, the family offered further sacrifice, this time on the ground; the shade of the departed was assumed to have passed entirely into the underworld. They had become one of the di Manes , who were collectively celebrated and appeased at the Parentalia , a multi-day festival of remembrance in February.

A standard Roman funerary inscription is Dis Manibus to the Manes-gods. In the later Imperial era, the burial and commemorative practises of Christian and non-Christians overlapped. Tombs were shared by Christian and non-Christian family members, and the traditional funeral rites and feast of novemdialis found a part-match in the Christian Constitutio Apostolica. Christians attended Parentalia and its accompanying Feralia and Caristia in sufficient numbers for the Council of Tours to forbid them in AD Other funerary and commemorative practices were very different.

Traditional Roman practice spurned the corpse as a ritual pollution; inscriptions noted the day of birth and duration of life. The Christian Church fostered the veneration of saintly relics , and inscriptions marked the day of death as a transition to "new life". Military success was achieved through a combination of personal and collective virtus roughly, "manly virtue" and the divine will: lack of virtus , civic or private negligence in religio and the growth of superstitio provoked divine wrath and led to military disaster.

Military success was the touchstone of a special relationship with the gods, and to Jupiter Capitolinus in particular; triumphal generals were dressed as Jupiter, and laid their victor's laurels at his feet. Roman commanders offered vows to be fulfilled after success in battle or siege; and further vows to expiate their failures. Camillus promised Veii's goddess Juno a temple in Rome as incentive for her desertion evocatio , conquered the city in her name, brought her cult statue to Rome "with miraculous ease" and dedicated a temple to her on the Aventine Hill. Roman camps followed a standard pattern for defense and religious ritual; in effect they were Rome in miniature.

The commander's headquarters stood at the centre; he took the auspices on a dais in front. A small building behind housed the legionary standards, the divine images used in religious rites and in the Imperial era, the image of the ruling emperor. In one camp, this shrine is even called Capitolium.

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The most important camp-offering appears to have been the suovetaurilia performed before a major, set battle. A ram, a boar and a bull were ritually garlanded, led around the outer perimeter of the camp a lustratio exercitus and in through a gate, then sacrificed: Trajan's column shows three such events from his Dacian wars. The perimeter procession and sacrifice suggest the entire camp as a divine templum ; all within are purified and protected. Each camp had its own religious personnel; standard bearers, priestly officers and their assistants, including a haruspex, and housekeepers of shrines and images.

A senior magistrate-commander sometimes even a consul headed it, his chain of subordinates ran it and a ferocious system of training and discipline ensured that every citizen-soldier knew his duty. As in Rome, whatever gods he served in his own time seem to have been his own business; legionary forts and vici included shrines to household gods, personal deities and deities otherwise unknown. From the earliest Imperial era, citizen legionaries and provincial auxiliaries gave cult to the emperor and his familia on Imperial accessions, anniversaries and their renewal of annual vows.

They celebrated Rome's official festivals in absentia , and had the official triads appropriate to their function — in the Empire, Jupiter, Victoria and Concordia were typical. By the early Severan era, the military also offered cult to the Imperial divi , the current emperor's numen , genius and domus or familia , and special cult to the Empress as "mother of the camp".

The near ubiquitous legionary shrines to Mithras of the later Imperial era were not part of official cult until Mithras was absorbed into Solar and Stoic Monism as a focus of military concordia and Imperial loyalty. The devotio was the most extreme offering a Roman general could make, promising to offer his own life in battle along with the enemy as an offering to the underworld gods. Livy offers a detailed account of the devotio carried out by Decius Mus ; family tradition maintained that his son and grandson , all bearing the same name, also devoted themselves. Before the battle, Decius is granted a prescient dream that reveals his fate.

When he offers sacrifice, the victim's liver appears "damaged where it refers to his own fortunes". Otherwise, the haruspex tells him, the sacrifice is entirely acceptable to the gods. In a prayer recorded by Livy , Decius commits himself and the enemy to the dii Manes and Tellus , charges alone and headlong into the enemy ranks, and is killed; his action cleanses the sacrificial offering. Had he failed to die, his sacrificial offering would have been tainted and therefore void, with possibly disastrous consequences.

The efforts of military commanders to channel the divine will were on occasion less successful. In the early days of Rome's war against Carthage, the commander Publius Claudius Pulcher consul BC launched a sea campaign "though the sacred chickens would not eat when he took the auspices". In defiance of the omen, he threw them into the sea, "saying that they might drink, since they would not eat. He was defeated, and on being bidden by the senate to appoint a dictator, he appointed his messenger Glycias, as if again making a jest of his country's peril.

Roman women were present at most festivals and cult observances. Some rituals specifically required the presence of women, but their active participation was limited. As a rule women did not perform animal sacrifice, the central rite of most major public ceremonies. The rites of the Bona Dea excluded men entirely. A host of deities, however, are associated with motherhood. Juno , Diana , Lucina , and specialized divine attendants presided over the life-threatening act of giving birth and the perils of caring for a baby at a time when the infant mortality rate was as high as 40 percent.

Literary sources vary in their depiction of women's religiosity: some represent women as paragons of Roman virtue and devotion, but also inclined by temperament to self-indulgent religious enthusiasms, novelties and the seductions of superstitio. Excessive devotion and enthusiasm in religious observance were superstitio , in the sense of "doing or believing more than was necessary", [] to which women and foreigners were considered particularly prone.

The famous tirade of Lucretius , the Epicurean rationalist, against what is usually translated as "superstition" was in fact aimed at excessive religio. Roman religion was based on knowledge rather than faith, [] but superstitio was viewed as an "inappropriate desire for knowledge"; in effect, an abuse of religio. In the everyday world, many individuals sought to divine the future, influence it through magic, or seek vengeance with help from "private" diviners.

The state-sanctioned taking of auspices was a form of public divination with the intent of ascertaining the will of the gods, not foretelling the future. Secretive consultations between private diviners and their clients were thus suspect. So were divinatory techniques such as astrology when used for illicit, subversive or magical purposes. Astrologers and magicians were officially expelled from Rome at various times, notably in BC and 33 BC. In 16 BC Tiberius expelled them under extreme penalty because an astrologer had predicted his death.

In the late 1st century AD, Tacitus observed that astrologers "would always be banned and always retained at Rome". In the Graeco-Roman world, practitioners of magic were known as magi singular magus , a "foreign" title of Persian priests. Apuleius , defending himself against accusations of casting magic spells, defined the magician as "in popular tradition more vulgari Lucan depicts Sextus Pompeius , the doomed son of Pompey the Great , as convinced "the gods of heaven knew too little" and awaiting the Battle of Pharsalus by consulting with the Thessalian witch Erichtho , who practices necromancy and inhabits deserted graves, feeding on rotting corpses.

Erichtho, it is said, can arrest "the rotation of the heavens and the flow of rivers" and make "austere old men blaze with illicit passions". She and her clients are portrayed as undermining the natural order of gods, mankind and destiny. A female foreigner from Thessaly, notorious for witchcraft, Erichtho is the stereotypical witch of Latin literature, [] along with Horace's Canidia.

The Twelve Tables forbade any harmful incantation malum carmen , or 'noisome metrical charm' ; this included the "charming of crops from one field to another" excantatio frugum and any rite that sought harm or death to others. Chthonic deities functioned at the margins of Rome's divine and human communities; although sometimes the recipients of public rites, these were conducted outside the sacred boundary of the pomerium. Individuals seeking their aid did so away from the public gaze, during the hours of darkness. Burial grounds and isolated crossroads were among the likely portals.

By this she invokes Tacita, the "Silent One" of the underworld. Archaeology confirms the widespread use of binding spells defixiones , magical papyri and so-called "voodoo dolls" from a very early era. Around defixiones have been recovered just from Roman Britain , in both urban and rural settings. Some seek straightforward, usually gruesome revenge, often for a lover's offense or rejection. Others appeal for divine redress of wrongs, in terms familiar to any Roman magistrate, and promise a portion of the value usually small of lost or stolen property in return for its restoration.

None of these defixiones seem produced by, or on behalf of the elite, who had more immediate recourse to human law and justice. Similar traditions existed throughout the empire, persisting until around the 7th century AD, well into the Christian era. Rome's government, politics and religion were dominated by an educated, male, landowning military aristocracy. Approximately half Rome's population were slave or free non-citizens. Most others were plebeians , the lowest class of Roman citizens. Less than a quarter of adult males had voting rights; far fewer could actually exercise them.

Women had no vote. The links between religious and political life were vital to Rome's internal governance, diplomacy and development from kingdom, to Republic and to Empire. Post-regal politics dispersed the civil and religious authority of the kings more or less equitably among the patrician elite: kingship was replaced by two annually elected consular offices. In the early Republic, as presumably in the regal era, plebeians were excluded from high religious and civil office, and could be punished for offenses against laws of which they had no knowledge.

The senate appointed Camillus as dictator to handle the emergency; he negotiated a settlement, and sanctified it by the dedication of a temple to Concordia. Plebeian tribunes were appointed, with sacrosanct status and the right of veto in legislative debate.

In principle, the augural and pontifical colleges were now open to plebeians. While the new plebeian nobility made social, political and religious inroads on traditionally patrician preserves, their electorate maintained their distinctive political traditions and religious cults.

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Official consternation at these enthusiastic, unofficial Bacchanalia cults was expressed as moral outrage at their supposed subversion, and was followed by ferocious suppression. Much later, a statue of Marsyas , the silen of Dionysus flayed by Apollo , became a focus of brief symbolic resistance to Augustus' censorship. Augustus himself claimed the patronage of Venus and Apollo; but his settlement appealed to all classes. Where loyalty was implicit, no divine hierarchy need be politically enforced; Liber's festival continued.

The Augustan settlement built upon a cultural shift in Roman society. In the middle Republican era, even Scipio 's tentative hints that he might be Jupiter's special protege sat ill with his colleagues. Julius Caesar went further; he claimed her as his ancestress , and thus an intimate source of divine inspiration for his personal character and policies. In 63 BC, his appointment as pontifex maximus "signaled his emergence as a major player in Roman politics".

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By the end of the regal period Rome had developed into a city-state, with a large plebeian, artisan class excluded from the old patrician gentes and from the state priesthoods. The city had commercial and political treaties with its neighbours; according to tradition, Rome's Etruscan connections established a temple to Minerva on the predominantly plebeian Aventine ; she became part of a new Capitoline triad of Jupiter, Juno and Minerva, installed in a Capitoline temple, built in an Etruscan style and dedicated in a new September festival, Epulum Jovis.

Rome's diplomatic agreement with its neighbours of Latium confirmed the Latin league and brought the cult of Diana from Aricia to the Aventine. Rome's affinity to the Latins allowed two Latin cults within the pomoerium : [] and the cult to Hercules at the ara maxima in the Forum Boarium was established through commercial connections with Tibur. In , Venus was brought from Sicily and installed in a temple on the Capitoline hill. The disasters of the early part of Rome's second Punic War were attributed, in Livy's account, to a growth of superstitious cults, errors in augury and the neglect of Rome's traditional gods, whose anger was expressed directly in Rome's defeat at Cannae BC.

The Sibilline books were consulted. They recommended a general vowing of the ver sacrum [] and in the following year, the burial of two Greeks and two Gauls ; not the first or the last of its kind, according to Livy. The introduction of new or equivalent deities coincided with Rome's most significant aggressive and defensive military forays. The mystery cult to Bacchus followed; it was suppressed as subversive and unruly by decree of the Senate in BC.

Further Greek influences on cult images and types represented the Roman Penates as forms of the Greek Dioscuri.

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The spread of Greek literature, mythology and philosophy offered Roman poets and antiquarians a model for the interpretation of Rome's festivals and rituals, and the embellishment of its mythology. Ennius translated the work of Graeco-Sicilian Euhemerus , who explained the genesis of the gods as apotheosized mortals. In the last century of the Republic, Epicurean and particularly Stoic interpretations were a preoccupation of the literate elite, most of whom held — or had held — high office and traditional Roman priesthoods; notably, Scaevola and the polymath Varro.

For Varro — well versed in Euhemerus' theory — popular religious observance was based on a necessary fiction; what the people believed was not itself the truth, but their observance led them to as much higher truth as their limited capacity could deal with. Whereas in popular belief deities held power over mortal lives, the skeptic might say that mortal devotion had made gods of mortals, and these same gods were only sustained by devotion and cult.

Just as Rome itself claimed the favour of the gods, so did some individual Romans. In the mid-to-late Republican era, and probably much earlier, many of Rome's leading clans acknowledged a divine or semi-divine ancestor and laid personal claim to their favour and cult, along with a share of their divinity. Most notably in the very late Republic, the Julii claimed Venus Genetrix as ancestor; this would be one of many foundations for the Imperial cult. The claim was further elaborated and justified in Vergil's poetic, Imperial vision of the past.

In the late Republic, the Marian reforms lowered an existing property bar on conscription and increased the efficiency of Rome's armies but made them available as instruments of political ambition and factional conflict. Augustus' principate established peace and subtly transformed Rome's religious life — or, in the new ideology of Empire, restored it see below. Towards the end of the Republic, religious and political offices became more closely intertwined; the office of pontifex maximus became a de facto consular prerogative. He acquired or was granted an unprecedented number of Rome's major priesthoods, including that of pontifex maximus ; as he invented none, he could claim them as traditional honours.

His reforms were represented as adaptive, restorative and regulatory, rather than innovative; most notably his elevation and membership of the ancient Arvales , his timely promotion of the plebeian Compitalia shortly before his election and his patronage of the Vestals as a visible restoration of Roman morality. This remained a primary religious and social duty of emperors. The Roman Empire expanded to include different peoples and cultures; in principle, Rome followed the same inclusionist policies that had recognised Latin, Etruscan and other Italian peoples, cults and deities as Roman. Those who acknowledged Rome's hegemony retained their own cult and religious calendars, independent of Roman religious law.

Autonomy and concord were official policy, but new foundations by Roman citizens or their Romanised allies were likely to follow Roman cultic models. All the known effigies from the 2nd century AD forum at Cuicul are of emperors or Concordia. By the middle of the 1st century AD, Gaulish Vertault seems to have abandoned its native cultic sacrifice of horses and dogs in favour of a newly established, Romanised cult nearby: by the end of that century, Sabratha's so-called tophet was no longer in use.

The overall scarcity of evidence for smaller or local cults does not always imply their neglect; votive inscriptions are inconsistently scattered throughout Rome's geography and history. Inscribed dedications were an expensive public declaration, one to be expected within the Graeco-Roman cultural ambit but by no means universal. Innumerable smaller, personal or more secretive cults would have persisted and left no trace. Military settlement within the empire and at its borders broadened the context of Romanitas.

Rome's citizen-soldiers set up altars to multiple deities, including their traditional gods, the Imperial genius and local deities — sometimes with the usefully open-ended dedication to the diis deabusque omnibus all the gods and goddesses. They also brought Roman "domestic" deities and cult practices with them.


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Traders, legions and other travellers brought home cults originating from Egypt, Greece, Iberia, India and Persia. Some of those were initiatory religions of intense personal significance, similar to Christianity in those respects. In the early Imperial era, the princeps lit. His cult had further precedents: popular, unofficial cult offered to powerful benefactors in Rome: the kingly, god-like honours granted a Roman general on the day of his triumph ; and in the divine honours paid to Roman magnates in the Greek East from at least BC.

The deification of deceased emperors had precedent in Roman domestic cult to the dii parentes deified ancestors and the mythic apotheosis of Rome's founders. A deceased emperor granted apotheosis by his successor and the Senate became an official State divus divinity. Members of the Imperial family could be granted similar honours and cult; an Emperor's deceased wife, sister or daughter could be promoted to diva female divinity. The first and last Roman known as a living divus was Julius Caesar , who seems to have aspired to divine monarchy; he was murdered soon after. Greek allies had their own traditional cults to rulers as divine benefactors, and offered similar cult to Caesar's successor, Augustus, who accepted with the cautious proviso that expatriate Roman citizens refrain from such worship; it might prove fatal.

Towards the end of his life, he cautiously allowed cult to his numen. By then the Imperial cult apparatus was fully developed, first in the Eastern Provinces, then in the West. In the early Imperial period, the promotion of local elites to Imperial priesthood gave them Roman citizenship. In an empire of great religious and cultural diversity, the Imperial cult offered a common Roman identity and dynastic stability. In Rome, the framework of government was recognisably Republican. In the Provinces, this would not have mattered; in Greece, the emperor was "not only endowed with special, super-human abilities, but In Rome, state cult to a living emperor acknowledged his rule as divinely approved and constitutional.

As princeps first citizen he must respect traditional Republican mores; given virtually monarchic powers, he must restrain them. He was not a living divus but father of his country pater patriae , its pontifex maximus greatest priest and at least notionally, its leading Republican.

When he died, his ascent to heaven, or his descent to join the dii manes was decided by a vote in the Senate. As a divus , he could receive much the same honours as any other state deity — libations of wine, garlands, incense, hymns and sacrificial oxen at games and festivals. What he did in return for these favours is unknown, but literary hints and the later adoption of divus as a title for Christian Saints suggest him as a heavenly intercessor.

In the crises leading up to the Dominate, Imperial titles and honours multiplied, reaching a peak under Diocletian. Emperors before him had attempted to guarantee traditional cults as the core of Roman identity and well-being; refusal of cult undermined the state and was treasonous.

For at least a century before the establishment of the Augustan principate, Jews and Judaism were tolerated in Rome by diplomatic treaty with Judaea's Hellenised elite. Diaspora Jews had much in common with the overwhelmingly Hellenic or Hellenised communities that surrounded them.

Early Italian synagogues have left few traces; but one was dedicated in Ostia around the mid-1st century BC and several more are attested during the Imperial period. Judaea's enrollment as a client kingdom in 63 BC increased the Jewish diaspora; in Rome, this led to closer official scrutiny of their religion. Their synagogues were recognised as legitimate collegia by Julius Caesar.

By the Augustan era, the city of Rome was home to several thousand Jews. Judaism was a superstitio to Cicero, but the Church Father Tertullian described it as religio licita an officially permitted religion in contrast to Christianity. Roman investigations into early Christianity found it an irreligious, novel, disobedient, even atheistic sub-sect of Judaism: it appeared to deny all forms of religion and was therefore superstitio.

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By the end of the Imperial era, Nicene Christianity was the one permitted Roman religio ; all other cults were heretical or pagan superstitiones. From that point on, Roman official policy towards Christianity tended towards persecution. During the various Imperial crises of the 3rd century, "contemporaries were predisposed to decode any crisis in religious terms", regardless of their allegiance to particular practices or belief systems.

Christianity drew its traditional base of support from the powerless, who seemed to have no religious stake in the well-being of the Roman State, and therefore threatened its existence.


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Christians saw these practices as ungodly, and a primary cause of economic and political crisis. In the wake of religious riots in Egypt, the emperor Decius decreed that all subjects of the Empire must actively seek to benefit the state through witnessed and certified sacrifice to "ancestral gods" or suffer a penalty: only Jews were exempt. The fulfillment of sacrificial obligation by loyal subjects would define them and their gods as Roman.

Valerian singled out Christianity as a particularly self-interested and subversive foreign cult, outlawed its assemblies and urged Christians to sacrifice to Rome's traditional gods. Christian apologists interpreted his eventual fate — a disgraceful capture and death — as divine judgement. The next forty years were peaceful; the Christian church grew stronger and its literature and theology gained a higher social and intellectual profile, due in part to its own search for political toleration and theological coherence.

Origen discussed theological issues with traditionalist elites in a common Neoplatonist frame of reference — he had written to Decius' predecessor Philip the Arab in similar vein — and Hippolytus recognised a "pagan" basis in Christian heresies. In , Maximilian of Tebessa refused military service; in Marcellus renounced his military oath. Both were executed for treason; both were Christians. In some cases and in some places the edicts were strictly enforced: some Christians resisted and were imprisoned or martyred.

Others complied. Some local communities were not only pre-dominantly Christian, but powerful and influential; and some provincial authorities were lenient, notably the Caesar in Gaul, Constantius Chlorus , the father of Constantine I. Diocletian's successor Galerius maintained anti-Christian policy until his deathbed revocation in , when he asked Christians to pray for him. The conversion of Constantine I ended the Christian persecutions. Constantine successfully balanced his own role as an instrument of the pax deorum with the power of the Christian priesthoods in determining what was in traditional Roman terms auspicious — or in Christian terms, what was orthodox.

The edict of Milan redefined Imperial ideology as one of mutual toleration. Constantine had triumphed under the signum sign of the Christ: Christianity was therefore officially embraced along with traditional religions and from his new Eastern capital , Constantine could be seen to embody both Christian and Hellenic religious interests.

He passed laws to protect Christians from persecution; [] he also funded the building of churches, including Saint Peter's basilica. He may have officially ended — or attempted to end — blood sacrifices to the genius of living emperors, though his Imperial iconography and court ceremonial outstripped Diocletian's in their supra-human elevation of the Imperial hierarch. Constantine promoted orthodoxy in Christian doctrine, so that Christianity might become a unitary force, rather than divisive.

He summoned Christian bishops to a meeting, later known as the First Council of Nicaea , at which some bishops mostly easterners debated and decided what was orthodox, and what was heresy. The meeting reached consensus on the Nicene Creed. Christianity and traditional Roman religion proved incompatible. From the 2nd century onward, the Church Fathers had condemned the diverse non-Christian religions practiced throughout the Empire as "pagan". After his death in , two of his sons, Constantius II and Constans , took over the leadership of the empire and re-divided their Imperial inheritance.

Constantius was an Arian and his brothers were Nicene Christians. Constantine's nephew Julian rejected the "Galilean madness" of his upbringing for an idiosyncratic synthesis of neo-Platonism , Stoic asceticism and universal solar cult. Julian became Augustus in and actively but vainly fostered a religious and cultural pluralism, attempting a restitution of non-Christian practices and rights.

The empire once again fell under Christian control, this time permanently. Christian heretics as well as non-Christians were subject to exclusion from public life or persecution, though Rome's original religious hierarchy and many aspects of its ritual influenced Christian forms, [] and many pre-Christian beliefs and practices survived in Christian festivals and local traditions. The Western emperor Gratian refused the office of pontifex maximus , and against the protests of the senate, removed the altar of Victory from the senate house and began the disestablishment of the Vestals.

Theodosius I briefly re-united the Empire: in he officially adopted Nicene Christianity as the Imperial religion and ended official support for all other creeds and cults. He not only refused to restore Victory to the senate-house, but extinguished the Sacred fire of the Vestals and vacated their temple: the senatorial protest was expressed in a letter by Quintus Aurelius Symmachus to the Western and Eastern emperors. Ambrose , the influential Bishop of Milan and future saint, wrote urging the rejection of Symmachus's request for tolerance.

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Marcus Aurelius head covered sacrificing at the Temple of Jupiter. See also: Roman mythology and Founding of Rome. See also: List of Roman deities. Main article: Greco-Roman mysteries. Main article: Roman temple. Main article: Augur. Main article: haruspex. Main article: Roman funerals and burial. See also: Magic in the Greco-Roman world. Main article: Imperial cult of ancient Rome. Main article: Decline of Greco-Roman polytheism.

See also: Persecution of pagans in the late Roman Empire. See, for instance, the altar dedicated by a Roman citizen and depicting a sacrifice conducted in the Roman manner for the Germanic goddess Vagdavercustis in the 2nd-century CE. See also Vergil, Aeneid. See Beard et al. Festus connects Numa to the triumphal spolia opima and Jupiter Feretrius. His near contemporary Dionysius of Halicarnassus appear to share some common sources, including an earlier history by Quintus Fabius Pictor , of which only a terse summary survives.

Loeb edn. Fragments of an important earlier work now lost of Quintus Ennius are cited by various later Roman authors. On the chronological problems of the kings' list, see Cornell, pp. For a summary of Jupiter's complex development from the Regal to Republican eras, see Beard et al. Jupiter's image in the Republican and Imperial Capitol bore regalia associated with Rome's ancient kings and the highest consular and Imperial honours. Jupiter, Mars and Quirinus were collectively and individually associated with Rome's agricultural economy, social organisation and success in war.

Their attribution to Numa or Romulus is doubtful.