Early Roman Cosmology-Origins and Practices

  • Twsoundsoff
  • Twsoundsoff's Avatar Topic Author
  • Guest
15 Sep 2007 02:29 #7112 by Twsoundsoff
Early Roman Cosmology-Origins and Practices was created by Twsoundsoff
Roman Paganism
The religion of Rome

If anything, the Romans had a practical attitude to religion, as to most things, which perhaps explains why they themselves had difficulty in taking to the idea of a single, all-seeing, all-powerful god.
In so far as the Romans had a religion of their own, it was not based on any central belief, but on a mixture of fragmented rituals, taboos, superstitions, and traditions which they collected over the years from a number of sources.
To the Romans, religion was less a spiritual experience than a contractual relationship between mankind and the forces which were believed to control people's existence and well-being.
The result of such religious attitudes were two things: a state cult, the significant influence on political and military events of which outlasted the republic, and a private concern, in which the head of the family oversaw the domestic rituals and prayers in the same way as the representatives of the people performed the public ceremonials.
However, as circumstances and people's view of the world changed, individuals whose personal religious needs remained unsatisfied turned increasingly during the first century AD to the mysteries, which were of Greek origin, and to the cults of the east.

The origins of Roman Religion

Most of the Roman gods and goddesses were a blend of several religious influences. Many were introduced via the Greek colonies of southern Italy. Many also had their roots in old religions of the Etruscans or Latin tribes.
Often the the old Etruscan or Latin name survived but the deity over time became to be seen as the Greek god of equivalent or similar nature. And so it is that the Greek and Roman pantheon look very similar, but for different names.
An example of such mixed origins is the goddess Diana to whom the Roman king Servius Tullius built the temple on the Aventine Hill. Essentially she was an old Latin goddess from the earliest of times.
Before Servius Tullius moved the center of her worship to Rome, it was based at Aricia.
There in Aricia it was always a runaway slave who would act as her priest. He would win the right to hold office by killing his predecessor. To challenge him to a fight he would though first have to manage to break off a branch of a particular sacred tree; a tree on which the current priest naturally would keep a close eye. From such obscure beginnings Diana was moved to Rome, where she then gradually became identified with the Greek goddess Artemis.

It could even occur that a deity was worshipped, for reasons no-one really could remember. An example for such a deity is Furrina. A festival was held every year in her honour on 25 July. But by the middle of the first century BC there was no-one left who actually remember what she was actually goddess of.
The Religion of the State

The Roman state religion was in a way much the same in essence as that of the individual home, only on a much larger and more magnificent scale.
State religion looked after the home of the Roman people, as compared to the home of an individual household. Just as the wife was supposed to guard the hearth at home, then Rome had the Vestal Virgins guard the holy flame of Rome. And if a family worshipped its lares, then, after the fall of the republic, the Roman state had its deified past Caesars which it paid tribute to.
And if the worship of a private household took place under guidance of the father, then the religion of state was in control of the pontifex maximus.

The High Offices of State Religion

If the pontifex maximus was the head of Roman state religion, then much of its organization rested with four religious colleges, whose members were appointed for life and , with a few exceptions, were selected among distinguished politicians.
The highest of these bodies was the Pontifical College, which consisted of the rex sacrorum, pontifices, flamines and the vestal virgins.
Rex sacrorum, the king of rites, was an office created under the early republic as a substitute for royal authority over religious matters. Later he might still have been the highest dignitary at any ritual, even higher than the pontifex maximus, but it became a purely honorary post.
Sixteen pontifices (priests) oversaw the organization of religious events. They kept records of proper religious procedures and the dates of festivals and days of special religious significance.
The flamines acted as priests to individual gods: three for the major gods Jupiter, Mars and Quirinus, and twelve for the lesser ones. These individual experts specialized in the knowledge of prayers and rituals specific to their particular deity.
The flamen dialis, the priest of Jupiter, was the most senior of the flamines. On certain occasions his status was equal to those of the pontifex maximus and the rex sacrorum.
Though the life of the flamen dialis was regulated by a whole host of strange rules.

Some of the rules surrounding the flamen dialis included. He was not allowed to go out without his cap of office.
He was not allowed to ride a horse.
If a person was into the house of the flamen dialis in any form of fetters he was to be untied at once and the shackles pulled up through the skylight of the house's atrium on to the roof and then carried away.
Only a free man was allowed to cut the hair of the flamen dialis.
The flamen dialis would neither ever touch, nor mention a goat, uncooked meat, ivy, or beans.
For the flamen dialis divorce was not possible. His marriage could only be ended by death. Should his wife have died, he was obliged to resign.

The Vestal Virgins

There were six vestal virgins. All were traditionally chosen from old patrician families at a young age. They would serve ten years as novices, then ten performing the actual duties, followed by a final ten years of teaching the novices. They lived in a palatial building next to the small temple of Vesta at the Roman forum. Their foremost duty was to guard the sacred fire in the temple. Other duties included performing rituals and baking the sacred salt cake to be used at numerous ceremonies in the year.
Punishment for vestal virgins was enormously harsh. If they let the flame go out, they would be whipped. And as they had to remain virgins, their punishment for breaking their vow of chastity was to be walled up alive underground.
But the honour and privilege surrounding the vestal virgins was enormous. In fact any criminal who was condemned to death and saw a vestal virgin was automatically pardoned.
A situation which illustrates high sought after the post of vestal virgin was, is that of emperor Tiberius having to decide between two very evenly matched candidates in AD 19. He chose the daughter of one Domitius Pollio, instead of the daughter of a certain Fonteius Agrippa, explaining that he had decided so, as the latter father was divorced. However he assured the other girl of a dowry of no less than a million sesterces to console her.

Other Religious Offices

The college of Augurs consisted of fifteen members. Theirs was the tricky job of interpreting the manifold omens of public life (and no doubt of the private life of the powerful).
No doubt these consultants in matters of omens must have been exceptionally diplomatic in the interpretations required from them. Each of them carried as his insignia a long, crooked staff. With this he would mark a square space on the ground from which he would look out for auspicious omens.
The quindecemviri sacris faciundis were the fifteen members of a college for less clearly defined religious duties. Most notably they guarded the Sibylline Books and it was for them to consult these scriptures and interpret them when requested to do so by the senate. The Sibylline books being evidently understood as something foreign by the Romans, this college also was to oversee the worship of any foreign gods which were introduced to Rome.

Initially there was three members to the college of epulones (banqueting managers), though later their number was enlarged to seven. Their college was by far the newest, being founded only in 196 BC. The necessity for such a college obviously arose as the increasingly elaborate festivals required experts to oversee their organization.

The Festivals

There was not a month in the Roman calendar which did not have its religious festivals.
And the very earliest festivals of the Roman state were already celebrated with games.
The consualia (celebrating the festival of Consus and the famous 'rape of the Sabine women'), which was held on 21 August, also was the main event of the chariot racing year. It can hence hardly be a coincidence that the underground granary and shrine of Consus, where the opening ceremonies of the festival were held, was accessed from the very center isle of the Circus Maximus.
But apart from the consualia August, the sixth month of the old calendar, also had festivals in honour of the gods Hercules, Portunus, Vulcan, Volturnus and Diana.
Festivals could be somber, dignified occasions, as well as joyful events.
The parentilia in February was a period of nine days in which the families would worship their dead ancestors. During this time, no official business was conducted, all temples were closed and marriages were outlawed.
But also in February was the lupercalia, a festival of fertility, most likely connected with the god Faunus. Its ancient ritual went back to the more mythical times of Roman origin. Ceremonies began in the cave in which the legendary twins Romulus and Remus were believed to have been suckled by the wolf. In that cave a number of goats and a dog were sacrificed and their blood was daubed onto the faces of two young boys of patrician families. Dressed in goatskins and carrying strips of leather in their hands, the boys would then run a traditional course. Anyone along the way would be whipped with the leather strips. However, these lashings were said to increase fertility. Therefore women who sought to get pregnant would wait along the course, to be whipped by the boys as they passed.
The festival of Mars lasted from 1 to 19 March. Two separate teams of a dozen men would dress up in armour and helmet of ancient design and would then jump, leap and bound through the streets, beating their shields with their swords, shouting and chanting. The men were known as the salii, the 'jumpers'. Apart from their noisy parade through the streets, they would spend every evening feasting in a different house in the city.
The festival of Vesta took place in June and, lasting for a week, it was an altogether calmer affair. No official business took place and the temple of Vesta was opened to married women who could make sacrifices of food to the goddess. As a more bizarre part of this festival, all mill-donkeys were given a day of rest on 9 June, as well as being decorated with garlands and loaves of bread.
On 15 June the temple would be closed again, but for the vestal virgins and the Roman state would go about its normal affairs again.

The Foreign Cults

The survival of a religious faith depends on a continual renewal and affirmation of its beliefs, and sometimes on adapting its rituals to changes in social conditions and attitudes. To the Romans, the observance of religious rites was a public duty rather than a private impulse. their beliefs were founded on a variety of unconnected and often inconsistent mythological traditions, many of them derived from the Greek rather than Italian models.
Since Roman religion was not founded on some core belief which ruled out other religions, foreign religions found it relatively easy to establish themselves in the imperial capital itself. The first such foreign cult to make its way to Rome was the goddess Cybele around 204 BC.
From Egypt the worship of Isis and Osiris came to Rome at the beginning of the first century BC Cults such as those of Cybele or Isis and Bacchus were known as the 'mysteries', having secret rituals which were only known to those initiated into the faith.
During the reign of Julius Caesar Jews were granted freedom of worship in the city of Rome, in recognition of the Jewish forces which had helped him at Alexandria.
Also very well known is the cult of the Persian sun god Mythras which reached Rome during the first century AD and found great following among the army.
Traditional Roman religion was further undermined by the growing influence of Greek philosophy, particularly Stoicism, which suggested the idea of there being a single god.

Please Log in to join the conversation.

Moderators: RexZero