Friday, September 11, 2009

Roman Religion was different from Greek

Now the fact is that while Greek religion conquered Rome, Italy had an older religion of its own, which was not annihilated by the more brilliant newcomer, but remained beside it and never entered into entire fusion with it. The Romans were not a thinking so much as an organising race; in politics they were far ahead of the rest of the world, but in thought and imagination they were children; and so it happened that they borrowed ideas and usages from neighbours on this side and on that, and organised the whole into a system they could use, the organism being their own, but only little of the contents.

We must therefore inquire, in the first place, as to the religion the Romans had before they came under the influence of Greek ideas. Their earliest religion is to be traced in the calendar of their sacred year, in the lists of gods preserved for us in the writings of the fathers, and in numberless usages and institutions descended from early times.

The sacred year of early Rome is that of an agricultural community. The festivals have to do with sowing and reaping and storing corn, with vintage, with flocks and herds, with wolves, with spirits of the woods, with boundaries, with fountains, with changes of the sun and of the moon. There are festivals of domestic life, of the household fire, and of the spirits of the storeroom, of the spirits of the departed, and of the household ghosts. There are also festivals connected with warlike matters, some connected with the river and the harbour at its mouth, and some having to do with the arts of a simple population. The calendar, taken by itself, would create the impression that the community using it began with agriculture and added to it afterwards various other activities; there is nothing in it to contradict the supposition that Roman religion had its beginnings in the fields and in the woods.

Friday, May 15, 2009


The Roman divinity most closely resembling the Greek Ares, and identified with him, was called Mars, Mamers, and Marspiter or Father Mars.

The earliest Italian tribes, who were mostly engaged in the pursuit of husbandry, regarded this deity more especially as the god of spring, who vanquished the powers of winter, and encouraged the peaceful arts of agriculture. But with the Romans, who were an essentially warlike nation, Mars gradually loses his peaceful character, and, as god of war, attains, after Jupiter, the highest position among the Olympic gods. The Romans looked upon him as their special protector, and declared him to have been the father of Romulus and Remus, the founders of their city. But although he was especially worshipped in Rome as god of war, he still continued to preside over agriculture, and was also the protecting deity who watched over the welfare of the state.

As the god who strode with warlike step to the battlefield, he was called Gradivus (from gradus, a step), it being popularly believed by the Romans that he himself marched before them to battle, and acted as their invisible protector. As the presiding deity over agriculture, he was styled Sylvanus, whilst in his character as guardian of the state, he bore the name of Quirinus.

The priests of Mars were twelve in number, and were called Salii, or the dancers, from the fact that sacred dances, in full armour, formed an important item in their peculiar ceremonial. This religious order, the members of which were always chosen from the noblest families in Rome, was first instituted by Numa Pompilius, who intrusted to their special charge the Anciliæ, or sacred shields. It is said that one morning, when Numa was imploring the protection of Jupiter for the newly-founded city of Rome, the god of heaven, as though in answer to his prayer, sent down an oblong brazen shield, and, as it fell at the feet of the king, a voice was heard announcing that on its preservation depended the future safety and prosperity of Rome. In order, therefore, to lessen the chances of this sacred treasure being abstracted, Numa caused eleven more to be made exactly like it, which were then given into the care of the Salii.

The assistance and protection of the god of war was always solemnly invoked before the departure of a Roman army for the field of battle, and any reverses of fortune were invariably ascribed to his anger, which was accordingly propitiated by means of extraordinary sin-offerings and prayers.

In Rome a field, called the Campus Martius, was dedicated to Mars. It was a large, open space, in which armies were collected and reviewed, general assemblies of the people held, and the young nobility trained to martial exercises.

The most celebrated and magnificent of the numerous temples built by the Romans in honour of this deity was the one erected by Augustus in the Forum, to commemorate the overthrow of the murderers of Cæsar.

Of all existing statues of Mars the most renowned is that in the Villa Ludovisi at Rome, in which he is represented as a powerful, muscular man in the full vigour of youth. The attitude is that of thoughtful repose, but the short, curly hair, dilated nostrils, and strongly marked features leave no doubt as to the force and turbulence of his character. At his feet, the sculptor has placed the little god of love, who looks up all undaunted at the mighty war-god, as though mischievously conscious that this unusually quiet mood is attributable to his influence.

Religious festivals in honour of Mars were generally held in the month of March; but he had also a festival on the Ides of October, when chariot-races took place, after which, the right-hand horse of the team which had drawn the victorious chariot, was sacrificed to him. In ancient times, human sacrifices, more especially prisoners of war, were offered to him; but, at a later period, this cruel practice was discontinued.

The attributes of this divinity are the helmet, shield, and spear. The animals consecrated to him were the wolf, horse, vulture, and woodpecker.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Roman Apollo

The worship of Apollo never occupied the all-important position in Rome which it held in Greece, nor was it introduced till a comparatively late period. There was no sanctuary erected to this divinity until B.C. 430, when the Romans, in order to avert a plague, built a temple in his honour; but we do not find the worship of Apollo becoming in any way prominent until the time of Augustus, who, having called upon this god for aid before the famous battle of Actium, ascribed the victory which he gained, to his influence, and accordingly erected a temple there, which he enriched with a portion of the spoil.

Augustus afterwards built another temple in honour of Apollo, on the Palatine Hill, in which at the foot of his statue, were deposited two gilt chests, containing the Sibylline oracles. These oracles were collected to replace the Sibylline books originally preserved in the temple of Jupiter, which were destroyed when that edifice was burned.

The Sibyls were maidens who had received the gift of prophecy, and the privilege of living to an incredible age. One of these Sibyls (known as the Cumæan) appeared to Tarquinius Superbus, the last king of Rome, offering for sale nine books, which she informed him had been written by herself. Not knowing who she was, Tarquin refused to buy them, upon which she burned three, and returned with six, demanding the same price as before. Being again driven away as an impostor, she again retired and burned three more, returning with the remaining three, for which she still asked the same price as at first. Tarquin, amazed at her inconsistency, now consulted the Augurs, who blamed him for not having bought the nine books when they were first offered to him, and desired him to secure the remaining three, at whatever price they were to be had. He, accordingly, purchased the volumes, which were found to contain predictions of great importance to the Romans. After the disposal of the books, the Sibyl vanished, and was seen no more.

The most beautiful and renowned of all the statues of Apollo now in existence, is that known as the Apollo Belvedere, which was found in 1503 among the ruins of ancient Antium. It was purchased by Pope Julius II., who removed it to the Belvedere of the Vatican, from whence it takes its name, and where it has been, for more than three hundred years, the admiration of the world. When Rome was taken, and plundered by the French, this celebrated statue was transported to Paris, and placed in the museum there, but in 1815 it was restored to its former place in the Vatican. The attitude of the figure, which is more than seven feet high, is inimitable in its freedom, grace, and majesty. The forehead is noble and intellectual, and the whole countenance so exquisite in its beauty, that one pauses spell-bound to gaze on so perfect a conception. The god has a very youthful appearance, as is usual in all his representations, and with the exception of a short mantle which falls from his shoulders, is unclothed. He stands against the trunk of a tree, up which a serpent is creeping, and his left arm is outstretched, as though about to punish.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Roman Religion: Diana

Roman religionThe Diana of the Romans was identified with the Greek Artemis, with whom she shares that peculiar tripartite character, which so strongly marks the individuality of the Greek goddess. In heaven she was Luna (the moon), on earth Diana (the huntress-goddess), and in the lower world Proserpine; but, unlike the Ephesian Artemis, Diana, in her character as Proserpine, carries with her into the lower world no element of love or sympathy; she is, on the contrary, characterized by practices altogether hostile to man, such as the exercise of witchcraft, evil charms, and other antagonistic influences, and is, in fact, the Greek Hecate, in her later development.

The statues of Diana were generally erected at a point where three roads met, for which reason she is called Trivia (from tri, three, and via, way).

A temple was dedicated to her on the Aventine hill by Servius Tullius, who is said to have first introduced the worship of this divinity into Rome.

The Nemoralia, or Grove Festivals, were celebrated in her honour on the 13th of August, on the Lacus Nemorensis, or forest-buried lake, near Aricia. The priest who officiated in her temple on this spot, was always a fugitive slave, who had gained his office by murdering his predecessor, and hence was constantly armed, in order that he might thus be prepared to encounter a new aspirant.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

August Festivals

In August the farmer's hopes are at last realised, and the harvest is brought in. The season is marked by two closely connected festivals on the 21st and 25th in honour of the old divinity-pair, Consus (condere), the god of the storehouse and Ops, the deity of the wealth of harvest.

At the Consualia, an offering is made by the flamen Quirinalis, assisted by the Vestal virgins, at an underground altar in the Circus Maximus, specially uncovered for the occasion: here we have probably not so much the notion of a chthonic deity, as a relic of the simple practices of an early agricultural age, when the crops were stored underground. The beasts who had taken part in the harvest were released from their labours during the day, and were decorated with flowers: the festival included a race of mules, the regular Italian beasts of burden.

Four days after this general festivity occurred the second harvest-ceremony of the Opiconsivia, held in the shrine (sacrarium) of the Regia, and attended only by the pontifex maximus and the Vestal virgins. This is clearly the state-harvest of the regal period, the symbolic storing of the state-crops in the sacred storehouse of the palace by the king and his daughters. Both festivals are significant, and we shall meet with Consus and Ops again in close connection in December.

The Portunalia of the 17th may have been another harvest-home, if we can believe the old authorities, who tell us that Portunus was a 'god of doors' (portae).

Monday, February 9, 2009

The Genius

The Genius is perhaps the most difficult conception in the Roman religion for the modern mind to grasp. It has been spoken of as the 'patron-saint' or 'guardian-angel,' both of them conceptions akin to that of the Genius, but both far too definite and anthropomorphic: we shall understand it best by keeping the 'numen' notion clearly in mind and looking to the root-meaning of the word (genius connected with the root of gignere, to beget). It was after all only a natural development of the notions of 'animism' to imagine that man too, like other objects, had his indwelling spirit—not his 'soul' either in our sense of moral and intellectual powers, or in the ancient sense of the vital principle—but rather as the derivation suggests, in origin simply the spirit which gave him the power of generation. Hence in the house, the sphere of the Genius is no longer the hearth but the marriage-bed (lectus genialis). This notion growing somewhat wider, the Genius comes to denote all the full powers, almost the personality, of developed manhood, and especially those powers which make for pleasure and happiness: this is the origin of such common phrases as genium curare, genio indulgere, meaning practically to 'look after oneself,' 'to indulge oneself.' Every man, then, has this 'spirit of his manhood' in his Genius, and correspondingly every woman her Iuno, or spirit of womanhood, which are worshipped on the birthdays of their owners.

No doubt later the Genius was accredited with powers over the fortune and misfortune of his possessor, but he never really developed anything like the independence of a god, and remained always rather a numen. The individual revered his own Genius, but the household cult was concerned, as one would expect, with the Genius of the master of the house, the pre-eminent Genius of the family. Its special locality was, for the reason just noticed, the marriage-bed and its symbol, the house-snake, kept as a revered inmate and cherished in the feeling that evil happening to it meant misfortune to the master.

The festival of the Genius was naturally the master's birthday, and on that day slaves and freedmen kept holiday with the family and brought offerings to the Genius domus. It is a significant fact, and may serve to bring out the underlying notion, that in later paintings, when anthropomorphism and sensuous representation held sway over all Roman religion, though the other gods of the household were depicted after the manner of Greek deities, the Genius is either represented by his symbolic snake or appears with the human features and characteristics of the head of the house, his owner.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Roman Names for Greek Gods

Here is a basic list of the translations from the Greek Gods into the Roman:

Zeus, Jupiter.
Here, Juno.
Poseidon, Neptune.
Plouton, Pluto.
Demeter, Ceres.
Apollo, Apolo.
Artemis, Diana.
Hephaistos, Vulcan.
Athene, Minerva.
Ares, Mars.
Aphrodite, Venus.
Hermes, Mercury.
Hestia, Vesta.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Roman Religion: Juno

Juno, the Roman divinity supposed to be identical with the Greek Hera, differed from her in the most salient points, for whereas Hera invariably appears as the haughty, unbending queen of heaven, Juno, on the other hand, is revered and beloved as the type of a matron and housewife. She was worshipped in Rome under various titles, most of which point to her vocation as the protectress of married women. Juno was believed to watch over and guard the life of every woman from her birth to her death. The principal temples dedicated to her were in Rome, one being erected on the Aventine, and the other on the Capitoline Hill. She had also a temple on the Arx, in which she was worshipped as Juno Moneta, or the warning goddess. Adjacent to this shrine was the public mint.

On the 1st of March a grand annual festival, called the Matronalia, was celebrated in her honour by all the married women of Rome, and this religious institution was accompanied with much solemnity.

Monday, February 2, 2009


The Saturnalia, a national festival held in December in honour of Saturn, was celebrated after the ingathering of the harvest, and lasted several days.

It was a time of universal rejoicing, cessation from labour, and merry-making. School children had holidays, friends sent presents to each other, the law-courts were closed, and no business was transacted.

Crowds of people from the surrounding country flocked to Rome for this festival attired in every variety of masquerade dress; practical jokes were given and received with the utmost good humour, shouts of exultation filled [201]the air, all classes abandoned themselves to enjoyment, and unrestrained hilarity reigned supreme. Social distinctions were for a time suspended, or even reversed; and so heartily was the spirit of this festival entered into, that masters waited upon their slaves at banquets which they provided for them; the slaves being dressed upon these occasions in the garments of their masters.

There appears little doubt that the modern Carnival is a survival of the ancient Saturnalia.


A comforting and assuring belief existed among the Romans, that each individual was accompanied through life, from the hour of his birth to that of his death, by a protecting spirit, called his genius, who prompted him to good and noble deeds, and acted towards him as a guardian angel, comforting him in sorrow, and guiding him throughout his earthly career.

In the course of time a second genius was believed to exist, of an evil nature, who, as the instigator of all wrong-doing, was ever at war with the beneficent genius; and on the issue of the conflict between these antagonistic influences, depended the fate of the individual. The genii were depicted as winged beings, greatly resembling our modern representations of guardian angels.

Every state, town, or city, (as well as every man), possessed its special genius. The sacrifices to the genii consisted of wine, cakes, and incense, which were offered to them on birthdays.

The genius which guided a woman was called, after the queen of heaven, Juno.

Among the Greeks, beings called Dæmons were regarded as exercising similar functions to those of the Roman genii. They were believed to be the spirits of the righteous race which existed in the Golden Age, who watched over mankind, carrying their prayers to the gods, and the gifts of the gods to them.

Saturday, January 31, 2009


The Roman Jupiter, who is so frequently confounded with the Greek Zeus, is identical with him only as being the head of the Olympic gods, and the presiding deity over Life, Light, and Aërial Phenomena. Jupiter is lord of life in its widest and most comprehensive signification, having absolute power over life and death, in which respect he differed from the Greek Zeus, who was to a certain extent controlled by the all-potent sway of the Moiræ or Fates. Zeus, as we have seen, often condescends to visit mankind, either as a mortal, or under various disguises, whereas Jupiter always remains essentially the supreme god of heaven, and never appears upon earth.

The most celebrated temple of Jupiter was that on the Capitoline Hill in the city of Rome, where he was worshipped under the names of Jupiter-Optimus-Maximus, Capitolinus, and Tarpeius.

The Romans represented him seated on a throne of ivory, holding in his right hand a sheaf of thunderbolts, and in his left a sceptre, whilst an eagle stands beside his throne.


Janus, ever since he ceased to be an intelligible deity, has been the sport of speculators; and this happened long before the Roman religion came to an end. In the last century b.c. philosophic writers about the gods got hold of him, and Varro tells us that some made him out to be the heaven, others the universe (mundus). Ovid amused himself with this uncertainty of the philosophers, and in the first book of his Fasti "interviewed" the god, whose answers are unluckily of little value for us. At various times and in different hands Janus has been pronounced a sun-god, a heaven-god, a year-god, a wind-god; and now a Cambridge school of speculators, to whose learning I am in many ways indebted, has claimed him as an oak-god, the mate of Diana, the Jupiter of aboriginal Latium, and so on. We have fortunately long left behind us the age when it was thought necessary to resolve the Greek and Roman gods into personifications of natural phenomena, and to try to explain all their attributes on one principle; but my learned friends at Cambridge have of late been showing a tendency to return to methods not less dangerous; they hanker, for example, after etymological evidence, which in the case of deities is almost sure to be misleading unless it is absolutely certain, and supported by the history of the name. This is unluckily not the case with Janus; his etymology is matter of dispute, and he is therefore open, and always will be so, to the inquirer who is hunting a scent, and more concerned to prove a point than to discover what the early Romans really thought about a god. In this lecture I am but humbly trying to do this last, and I may therefore leave etymology, with the mythology and philosophy of a later age, and confine myself to such facts of the cult of Janus as are quite undisputed. They will admit of being put together very shortly.

The first and leading fact is that Janus was the first deity to be addressed in all prayers and invocations; of this we have abundant evidence, as also of the corresponding fact that Vesta came last. Secondly, we know that he was the object of worship on the Kalends of January, and probably of every month, and that the sacrificing priest was in this case the rex sacrorum. Thirdly, we know that he had no temple until the year 260 b.c., but that he was associated with the famous gateway at the north-east end of the Forum—not a gate in the wall, but a symbolic entrance to the heart of the city, as the round temple of Vesta at the opposite end, with its eternal fire, was symbolic of the common life of the community. Fourthly, we know a few cult-titles of Janus, among them Clusius (or Clusivius), and Patulcius, in which the connection with gates is obvious; Junonius, which may have originated in the fact that Juno also was worshipped on the Kalends; Matutinus, which seems to be a late reference to the dawn as the opening or gate of the day, and Quirinus, which last is also almost certainly of late origin. Clusius and Patulcius are genuine old titles, if the text of the Salian hymn is rightly interpreted; so too is another, Curiatius, for it was used of the god only as residing in an ancient gateway near the Subura called the tigillum sororium.249 These are all the most important facts we have to go upon; the double head of Janus on the earliest Roman as is of uncertain origin, and Wissowa seems to have conclusively shown that this representation was not admitted to the gate called Janus Geminus until towards the close of the republican period. The connection of the god with the fortress on the hill across the Tiber, which still bears his name, admits of no quite satisfactory explanation.

Now if we recall the fact that the entrance to the house and the entrance to a city were points of great moment, and the cause of constant anxiety to the early Italian mind, we may naturally infer that they would be in the care of some particular numen, and that his worship would be in the care of the head of the family or community—in the case of the city, in the care of the rex, whose duties of this kind were afterwards taken over by the priest called rex sacrorum. The fact that the word for an entrance was ianus confirms this conjecture; Janus was perhaps the spirit guarding the entrance to the real wall of the earliest city, but when the city was enlarged in the age from which the calendar dates, a symbolic gateway was set up where you entered the forum from the direction of Latium, answering to the symbolic hearth in the aedes Vestae, and this very naturally took the name of the deity associated with entrances. Two other iani probably existed in the forum, and the name was later on transferred as a substantive to similar objects in Roman colonies, while a feminine form, ianua, came to be used for ordinary house entrances.251 Whether there ever was a cult of the god at the real gateway of a city we do not know; there was none at the symbolic gateway of Rome, which was in no sense a temple. But the idea of entrance stuck to the old spirit of the doorway long after the reconstruction of the city, and the rex now sacrifices to him on the entrance-day of each month, and more particularly on the entrance-day of the month which bears his name and is the beginning of the natural year after the winter solstice. This is the best account to be had of the original Janus, a deity, let it be remembered, of a simple agricultural and warlike people, without literature or philosophy. But it is not difficult to see how, when philosophy and literature did at last come in a second-hand form to this people, they might well have overlaid with cobwebs of story and speculation a deity for whom they had no longer any real use, who was best known to them by the mysterious double-head on the as and the gateway, and for whom they could find no conclusive parallel among the gods of Greece.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Winter Festivals

The winter-festivals cannot be summed up under one general notion so easily as those of spring or summer, but they fall fairly naturally into two groups—the festivals immediately connected with agricultural life and those associated with the dead and the underworld or with solemn purification. The main action of the farmer's life during the winter is, of course, the sowing of the next year's crop, which was commemorated in the ancient festival of the Saturnalia on December 17. Though the Saturnalia is perhaps the most familiar to us of all the Roman festivals, partly from the allusions in the classics, especially in Horace, partly because it is no doubt the source of many of our own Christmas festivities, it is yet almost impossible now to recover anything of its original Roman character. Greek influence set to work on it very early, identifying Saturnus with Cronos and establishing him in a Greek temple with all the accompaniments of Greek ritual. All the familiar features of the festival—the freedom and license of the slaves, the giving of presents, even the wax-candles, which are the prototype of those on our own Christmas-tree—are almost certainly due to Greek origin. We are left with nothing but the name Saturnus (connected with the root of semen, serere) and the date to assure us that we have here in reality a genuine Roman festival of the sowing of the crops. Of a similar nature—marking, as Ovid tells us, the completion of the sowing—was the feriae sementivae or Paganalia, associated with the earth-goddesses, Ceres and Tellus. Meal-cakes and a pregnant sow were the offerings, the beasts who had helped in the ploughing were garlanded, and prayer was made for the seed resting in the ground. A curious feature of the winter worship is the repetition of festivals to the harvest deities, Consus and Ops, separated by the same interval of three days, on December 15 and 19: it may be that we have here an indication of the final completion of the harvest, or, as Mr. Warde Fowler has suggested, a ceremonial opening of the storehouses, to see that the harvest is not rotting. Among the other country festivals of the period we may notice that of Carmenta, on the 11th and 15th of January: she seems to have been in origin a water-numen, but was early associated with childbirth: hence the rigid exclusion of men from her ceremonies and possibly the taboo on leathern thongs, on the ground that nothing involving death must be used in the worship of a deity of birth. The repetition of her festival may possibly point to separate celebrations of the communities of Palatine and Quirinal. At this time, too, occurred the rustic ceremonies at the boundaries (Terminalia) and the offering to the Lares at the 'marches' (Compitalia), of which we have spoken in treating of the worship of the house.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Festivals in May

May was a month of more critical importance for the welfare of the crops, and therefore its festivals were mostly of a more sombre character. The 9th, 11th, and 13th were the days set apart for the Lemuria, the aversion of the hostile spirits of the dead, of which we have already spoken, and a similarly gloomy character probably attached to the Agonia of Vediovis on the 21st. But of far the greatest interest is the moveable feast of the Ambarvalia, the great lustration of the fields, which took place towards the end of the month: the date of its occurrence was no doubt fixed according to the state of the crops in any given year. As the individual farmer purified his own fields for the aversion of evil, so a solemn lustration of the boundaries of the state was performed by special priests, known as the Arval brethren (fratres Arvales). With ceremonial dancing (tripudium) they moved along the boundary-marks and made the farmer's most complete offering of the pig, sheep, and ox (suovetaurilia): the fruits of the last year and the new harvest (aridae et virides) played a large part in the ceremonial, and a solemn litany was recited for the aversion of every kind of pest from the crops. In Virgil's account the prayer is made to Ceres, and we know that in imperial times, when the Ambarvalia became very closely connected with the worship of the imperial house, the centre of the cult was the earth-goddess, Dea Dia; but in the earliest account of the rustic ceremony which we possess in Cato, Mars is addressed in the unmistakeable character of an agricultural deity. 'Father Mars, I pray and beseech thee that thou mayest be gracious and favourable to me, to my home, and my household, for which cause I have ordained that the offering of pig, sheep, and ox be carried round my fields, my land, and my farm: that thou mayest avert, ward off, and keep afar all disease, visible and invisible, all barrenness, waste, misfortune, and ill weather: that thou mayest suffer our crops, our corn, our vines and bushes to grow and come to prosperity: that thou mayest preserve the shepherds and the flocks in safety, and grant health and strength to me, to my home, and my household.' We have perhaps here another rustic ceremony addressed in origin to all numina, whom it might concern, and, as it were, specialising itself from time to time in an appeal to one definite deity or another, but it is also clear evidence of an early agricultural association of Mars. The Ambarvalia is one of the most picturesque of the field ceremonies, and a peculiarly beautiful and imaginative description of it may be found in the first chapter of Pater's Marius the Epicurean.

Festivals in April

The character of April is much more clearly marked: the month is filled with a series of festivals—all of a clearly agricultural nature—prayers for the crops now in the earth, and the purification of the men and animals on the farm. The series opens with the Fordicidia on the 15th, when pregnant cows were sacrificed: their unborn calves were torn from them and burnt, the ashes being kept by the Vestal Virgin in Vesta's storehouse (penus Vestæ) for use at the Parilia. The general symbolism of fertility is very clear; the goddess associated with the festival is Tellus, the earth herself, and the local origin of these festivals is shown in the fact that not only was the sacrifice made for the whole people on the Capitol, but separately in each one of the curiae. The Fordicidia is closely followed by the Cerealia on the 19th—the festival of another earth-goddess (Ceres, creare)—more especially connected with the growth of corn. A very curious feature of the ritual was the fastening of fire-brands to the tails of foxes, which were then let loose in what was afterwards the Circus Maximus: a symbol possibly, as Wissowa thinks, of sunlight, possibly of the vegetation-spirit. But the most important of the April ceremonies is undoubtedly the Parilia of the 21st, the festival of the very ancient rustic numen, Pales. Ovid's description of the celebration is so interesting and so full of the characteristic colour of the Roman rustic festivals that I may perhaps be pardoned for reproducing it at greater length. 'Shepherd,' he says, addressing the rustic worshipper, 'at the first streak of dawn purify thy well-fed flocks: let water first besprinkle them, and a branch sweep clean the ground. Let the folds be adorned with leaves and branches fastened to them, while a trailing wreath covers the gay-decked gates. Let blue flames rise from the living sulphur and the sheep bleat loud as she feels the touch of the smoking sulphur. Burn the male olive-branch and the pine twig and juniper, and let the blazing laurel crackle amid the hearth. A basket full of millet must go with the millet cakes: this is the food wherein the country goddess finds pleasure most of all. Give her too her own share of the feast and her pail of milk, and when her share has been set aside, then with milk warm from the cow make prayer to Pales, guardian of the woods.' The poet then recites a long prayer, in which the farmer first begs forgiveness for any unwitting sins he may have committed against the rustic deities, such as trespassing on their groves or sheltering his flocks beneath their altar, and then prays for the aversion of disease and the prosperity of crops, flocks, and herds. 'Thus must the goddess be won, this prayer say four times turning to the sunrise, and wash thy hands in the running stream. Then set the rustic bowl upon the table in place of the wine-bowl, and drink the snowy milk and dark must, and soon through the heaps of crackling straw leap in swift course with eager limbs.' All the worshippers then set to leaping through the blazing fires, even the flocks and herds were driven through, and general hilarity reigned. Many points of detail might be noticed, such as that in the urban counterpart of the festival, which Ovid carefully distinguishes from the country celebrations, the fire was sprinkled with the ashes from the calves of the Fordicidia and the blood of Mars' October horse—another link between Mars and agriculture. But it is most interesting to note the double character of the ceremony—as a purification of man and beast on the one hand, and on the other a prayer for the prosperity of the season to come. Three special festivals remain in April. At the Vinalia (priora) of the 23rd, the wine-skins of the previous year were opened and the wine tasted, and, we may suppose, supplication was made for the vintage to come, the festival being dedicated to the sky-god, Iuppiter. At the Robigalia of the 25th the offering of a dog was made for the aversion of mildew (robigo), to Robigus (who looks like a developed eponymous deity) at the fifth milestone on the Via Claudia—the ancient boundary of Roman territory. The Floralia of the 28th does not occur in the old Calendars, probably because it was a moveable feast (feriae conceptivae), but it is an unmistakeable petition to the numen Flora for the blossoming of the season's flowers.

Spring Festivals

The old Roman year—as may be seen clearly enough from the names of the months still known by numbers, September, October, etc.—began in March: according to tradition Romulus reckoned a year of ten months altogether, and Numa added January and February. The Spring months properly speaking may be reckoned as March, April, and May. In March there were in the developed Calendar no festivals of an immediately recognisable agricultural character, but the whole month was practically consecrated to its eponymous deity, Mars. Now, to the Roman of the Republic, Mars was undoubtedly the deity associated with war, and his special festivals in this month are of a warlike character: on the 9th the priests (Salii) began the ancient custom of carrying his sacred shields (ancilia) round the town from one ordained resting-place to another: on the 19th, Quinquatrus, the shields were solemnly purified, and on the 23rd the same ceremony was performed with the war-trumpets: the Equirria (horse-races) of March 14 may have had an agricultural origin—we shall meet with races later on as a feature of rustic festivals—but they were certainly celebrated in a military manner. Yet there is good reason for believing that Mars was in origin associated not with war, but with the growth of vegetation: he was, as we shall see, the chief deity addressed in the solemn lustration of the fields (Ambarvalia), and if our general notion of the development of religion with the growing needs of the agricultural community crystallising into a state be correct, it may well be that a deity originally concerned with the interests of the farmer took on himself the protection of the soldier, when the fully developed state came into collision with its neighbours. If so, we may well have in these recurring festivals of Mars the sense, as Mr. Warde Fowler has put it, of 'some great numen at work, quickening vegetation, and calling into life the powers of reproduction in man and the animals.' Possibly another agricultural note is struck in the Liberalia of the 17th: though the cult of Liber was almost entirely overlaid by his subsequent identification with Dionysus, it seems right to recognise in him and his female counterpart, Libera, a general spirit of creativeness.


The characteristic appellation of a divine spirit in the oldest stratum of the Roman religion is not deus, a god, but rather numen, a power: he becomes deus when he obtains a name, and so is on the way to acquiring a definite personality, but in origin he is simply the 'spirit' of the 'animistic' period, and retains something of the spirit's characteristics. Thus among the divinities of the household we shall see later that the Genius and even the Lar Familiaris, though they attained great dignity of conception, and were the centre of the family life, and to some extent of the family morality, never quite rose to the position of full-grown gods; while among the spirits of the field the wildness and impishness of character associated with Faunus and his companion Inuus—almost the cobolds or hobgoblins of the flocks—reflects clearly the old 'animistic' belief in the natural evilness of the spirits and their hostility to men. The notion of the numen is always vague and indefinite: even its sex may be uncertain. 'Be thou god or goddess' is the form of address in the farmer's prayer already quoted from Cato: 'be it male or female' is the constant formula in liturgies and even dedicatory inscriptions of a much later period.

These spirits are, as we have seen, indwellers in the objects of nature and controllers of the phenomena of nature: but to the Roman they were more. Not merely did they inhabit places and things, but they presided over each phase of natural development, each state or action in the life of man. Varro, for instance, gives us a list of the deities concerned in the early life of the child, which, though it bears the marks of priestly elaboration, may yet be taken as typical of the feeling of the normal Roman family. There is Vaticanus, who opens the child's mouth to cry, Cunina, who guards his cradle, Edulia and Potina, who teach him to eat and drink, Statilinus, who helps him to stand up, Adeona and Abeona, who watch over his first footstep, and many others each with his special province of protection or assistance. The farmer similarly is in the hands of a whole host of divinities who assist him at each stage of ploughing, hoeing, sowing, reaping, and so forth. If the numen then lacks personal individuality, he has a very distinct specialisation of function, and if man's appeal to the divinity is to be successful, he must be very careful to make it in the right quarter: it was a stock joke in Roman comedy to make a character 'ask for water from Liber, or wine from the nymphs.' Hence we find in the prayer formulæ in Cato and elsewhere the most careful precautions to prevent the accidental omission of the deity concerned: usually the worshipper will go through the whole list of the gods who may be thought to have power in the special circumstances; sometimes he will conclude his prayer with the formula 'whosoever thou art,' or 'and any other name by which thou mayest desire to be called.' The numen is thus vague in his conception but specialised in his function, and so later on, when certain deities have acquired definite names and become prominent above the rest, the worshipper in appealing to them will add a cult-title, to indicate the special character in which he wishes the deity to hear: the woman in childbirth will appeal to Iuno Lucina, the general praying for victory to Iuppiter Victor, the man who is taking an oath to Iuppiter as the deus Fidius. As a still later development the cult-title will, as it were, break off and set up for itself, usually in the form of an abstract personification: Iuppiter, in the two special capacities just noted, gives birth to Victoria and Fides.

The conception of the numen being so formless and indefinite, it is not surprising that in the genuine Roman religion there should have been no anthropomorphic representations of the divinity at all. 'For 170 years,' Varro tells us, taking his date from the traditional foundation of the city in 754 B.C., 'the Romans worshipped their gods without images,' and he adds the characteristic comment, 'those who introduced representations among the nations, took away fear and brought in falsehood.' Symbols of a few deities were no doubt recognised: we have noticed already the silex of Iuppiter and the boundary-stone of Terminus, which were probably at an earlier period themselves objects of worship, and to these we may add the sacred spears of Mars, and the sigilla of the State-Penates. But for the most part the numina were without even such symbolic representation, nor till about the end of the regal period was any form of temple built for them to dwell in. The sacred fire of Vesta near the Forum was, it is true, from the earliest times enclosed in a building; this, however, was no temple, but merely an erection with the essentially practical purpose of preventing the extinction of the fire by rain. The first temple in the full sense of the word was according to tradition built by Servius Tullius to Diana on the Aventine: the tradition is significant, for Diana was not one of the di indigetes, the old deities of the 'Religion of Numa,' but was introduced from the neighbouring town of Aricia, and the attribution to Servius Tullius nearly always denotes an Etruscan or at any rate a non-Roman origin. There were, however, altars in special places to particular deities, built sometimes of stone, sometimes in a more homely manner of earth or sods. We hear for instance of the altar of Mars in the Campus Martius, of Quirinus on the Quirinal, of Saturnus at the foot of the Capitol, and notably of the curious underground altar of Consus on what was later the site of the Circus Maximus. But more characteristic than the erection of altars is the connection of deities with special localities. Naturally enough in the worship of the household Vesta had her seat at the hearth, Ianus at the door, and the 'gods of the storehouse' (Penates) at the cupboard by the hearth, but the same idea appears too in the state-cult. Hilltops, groves, and especially clearings in groves (luci) are the most usual sacred localities. Thus Quirinus has his own sacred hill, Iuppiter is worshipped on the Capitol, Vesta and Iuno Lucina have their sacred groves within the boundaries of the city, and Dea Dia, Robigus, and Furrina similar groves at the limits of Roman territory. The record of almost every Roman cult reveals the importance of locality in connection with the di indigetes, and the localities are usually such as would be naturally chosen by a pastoral and agricultural people.


Such are some of the survivals of very early stages of religious custom which still kept their place in the developed religion of Rome, but by far the most important element in it, which might indeed be described as its 'immediate antecedent,' is the state of religious feeling to which anthropologists have given the name of 'Animism.' As far as we can follow the development of early religions, this attitude of mind seems to be the direct outcome of the failure of magic. Primitive man begins to see that neither he nor his magicians really possess that occult control over the forces of nature which was the supposed basis of magic: the charm fails, the spell does not produce the rain and when he looks for the cause, he can only argue that these things must be in the hands of some power higher than his own. The world then and its various familiar objects become for him peopled with spirits, like in character to men, but more powerful, and his success in life and its various operations depends on the degree in which he is able to propitiate these spirits and secure their co-operation. If he desires rain, he must win the favour of the spirit who controls it, if he would fell a tree and suffer no harm, he must by suitable offerings entice the indwelling spirit to leave it. His 'theology' in this stage is the knowledge of the various spirits and their dwellings, his ritual the due performance of sacrifice for purposes of propitiation and expiation. It was in this state of religious feeling that the ancestors of Rome must have lived before they founded their agricultural settlement on the Palatine: we must try now to see how far it had retained this character and what developments it had undergone when it had crystallised into the 'Religion of Numa.'

Worship of Animals

Of the worship of animals we have comparatively little evidence in Roman religion, though we may perhaps detect it in a portion of the mysterious ritual of the Lupercalia, where the Luperci dressed themselves in the skins of the sacrificed goats and smeared their faces with the blood, thus symbolically trying to bring themselves into communion with the sacred animal. We may recognise it too in the association of particular animals with divinities, such as the sacred wolf and woodpecker of Mars, but on the whole we may doubt whether the worship of animals ever played so prominent a part in Roman religion as the cult of other natural objects.

Worship of Trees

But most conspicuous among the cults of natural objects, as in so many primitive religions, is the worship of trees. Here, though doubtless at first the tree was itself the object of veneration, surviving instances seem rather to belong to the later period when it was regarded as the abode of the spirit. We may recognise a case of this sort in the ficus Ruminalis, once the recipient of worship, though later legend, which preferred to find an historical or mythical explanation of cults, looked upon it as sacred because it was the scene of the suckling of Romulus and Remus by the wolf. Another fig-tree with a similar history is the caprificus of the Campus Martius, subsequently the site of the worship of Iuno Caprotina. A more significant case is the sacred oak of Iuppiter Feretrius on the Capitol, on which the spolia opima were hung after the triumph—probably in early times a dedication of the booty to the spirit inhabiting the tree. Outside Rome, showing the same ideas at work among neighbouring peoples, was the 'golden bough' in the grove of Diana at Aricia. Nor was it only special trees which were thus regarded as the home of a deity; the tree in general is sacred, and any one may chance to be inhabited by a spirit. The feeling of the country population on this point comes out clearly in the prayer which Cato recommends his farmer to use before making a clearing in a wood: 'Be thou god or goddess, to whom this grove is sacred, be it granted to us to make propitiatory sacrifice to thee with a pig for the clearing of this sacred spot'; here we have a clear instance of the tree regarded as the dwelling of the sacred power, and it is interesting to compare the many similar examples which Dr. Frazer has collected from different parts of the world.

Worship of Natural Objects

A very common feature in the early development of religious consciousness is the worship of natural objects—in the first place of the objects themselves and no more, but later of a spirit indwelling in them. The distinction is no doubt in individual cases a difficult one to make, and we find that among the Romans the earlier worship of the object tends to give way to the cult of the inhabiting spirit, but examples may be found which seem to belong to the earlier stage. We have, for instance, the sacred stone (silex) which was preserved in the temple of Iuppiter on the Capitol, and was brought out to play a prominent part in the ceremony of treaty-making. The fetial, who on that occasion represented the Roman people, at the solemn moment of the oath-taking, struck the sacrificial pig with the silex, saying as he did so, 'Do thou, Diespiter, strike the Roman people as I strike this pig here to-day, and strike them the more, as thou art greater and stronger.' Here no doubt the underlying notion is not merely symbolical, but in origin the stone is itself the god, an idea which later religion expressed in the cult-title specially used in this connection, Iuppiter Lapis. So again, in all probability, the termini or boundary-stones between properties are in origin the objects—though later only the site—of a yearly ritual at the festival of the Terminalia on February the 23rd, and they are, as it were, summed up in 'the god Terminus,' the great sacred boundary-stone, which had its own shrine within the Capitoline temple, because, according to the legend, 'the god' refused to budge even to make room for Iuppiter. The same notion is most likely at the root of the two great domestic cults of Vesta, 'the hearth,' and Ianus, 'the door,' though a more spiritual idea was soon associated with them; we may notice too in this connection the worship of springs, summed up in the subsequent deity Fons, and of rivers, such as Volturnus, the cult-name of the Tiber.


Anthropology has taught us that in many primitive societies religion—a sense of man's dependence on a power higher than himself—is preceded by a stage of magic—a belief in man's own power to influence by occult means the action of the world around him. That the ancestors of the Roman community passed through this stage seems clear, and in surviving religious practice we may discover evidence of such magic in various forms. There is, for instance, what anthropology describes as 'sympathetic magic'—the attempt to influence the powers of nature by an imitation of the process which it is desired that they should perform. Of this we have a characteristic example in the ceremony of the aquaelicium, designed to produce rain after a long drought. In classical times the ceremony consisted in a procession headed by the pontifices, which bore the sacred rain-stone from its resting-place by the Porta Capena to the Capitol, where offerings were made to the sky-deity, Iuppiter, but from the analogy of other primitive cults and the sacred title of the stone (lapis manalis), it is practically certain that the original ritual was the purely imitative process of pouring water over the stone. A similar rain-charm may possibly be seen in the curious ritual of the argeorum sacra, when puppets of straw were thrown into the Tiber—a symbolic wetting of the crops to which many parallels may be found among other primitive peoples. A sympathetic charm of a rather different character seems to survive in the ceremony of the augurium canarium, at which a red dog was sacrificed for the prosperity of the crop—a symbolic killing of the red mildew (robigo); and again the slaughter of pregnant cows at the Fordicidia in the middle of April, before the sprouting of the corn, has a clearly sympathetic connection with the fertility of the earth. Another prominent survival—equally characteristic of primitive peoples—is the sacredness which attaches to the person of the priest-king, so that his every act or word may have a magic significance or effect. This is reflected generally in the Roman priesthood, but especially in the ceremonial surrounding the flamen Dialis, the priest of Iuppiter. He must appear always in festival garb, fire may never be taken from his hearth but for sacred purposes, no other person may ever sleep in his bed, the cuttings of his hair and nails must be preserved and buried beneath an arbor felix—no doubt a magic charm for fertility—he must not eat or even mention a goat or a bean, or other objects of an unlucky character.