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.