Roman mythology meets the beliefs, rituals and other practices pertaining to supernatural realm that ancient Roman people held or did since the ancient period until Christianity absorbed definitely the religions of the Roman Empire in the early Middle Ages.
The Roman religion was very ritualistic and had many priests in charge of the rites. Priests were organized into groups called schools:
- The pontiffs: in the beginning they were in charge of the bridges of Rome, but later they took charge of the rites.
- The vestals: with a vow of virginity, they kept lighted the sacred fire of the goddess Vesta.
- The augurs: they predicted the will of the gods watching the flight of birds.
The Roman ritual clearly distinguishes two classes of gods:
- Indigetes: national gods were the protectors of the state and the titles of the first priests and religious festivities, there were thirty venerated gods at special festivals.
- Novensides/novensiles: they were later divinities whose cult were introduced later, in the
The first Roman divinities included, in addition to the di indigetes, a series of gods, each of the
which protected a human activity and whose name is invoked when running the activity, e.g. the
harvesting. Fragments of old rituals accompanying such acts as plowing or sowing reveal
that at each stage of the operation it was invoked a different deity, whose name was derived regularly from
the verb for the action to be performed. Such divinities may be grouped under the general term
auxiliary or subordinate gods, who were invoked along with the greater divinities.
The character of the indigetes and festivals show that the primitive Roman people was not just a farming community but also practiced the fight and war. The gods clearly represented the practical needs of everyday life.
The house and the home fires were most sacred to the Romans. Each house had its gods. They worshiped the Lares (guardian gods of the countryside and the home), the Manes (spirits of deceased relatives), the Diparentes (souls of the ancestors), the Penates (gods of the family, protectors of provisions), the Genius (protectors of the procreative power of men).
The rites and offerings were exactly stipulated. For example, Janus and Vesta guarded the door and and the home fireplace, Lares protected the field and house, Pales the cattle, Saturn the sowing, Ceres the growth of grain, Pomona the fruit, and Consus and Ops the crops.
Even the majestic Jupiter, the ruler of the gods, was worshiped by the aid his rains might give to the farms and vineyards. In a broader sense he was regarded as having power over the lightning, he was charged with directing human activity and, given his absolute power, protected the Romans in their military activities on the borders of their own community.
In the early days the gods Mars and Quirinus were set apart, often identified with each other. Mars was the god protector of young people and their activities, especially war, he was honored in March and October. Modern researchers think that Quirinius was the patron of the armed community in time of peace.
Leading the oldest pantheon was the triad formed by Jupiter, Mars and Quirinus (whose three priests, or flamines belonged to the highest hierarchy), and Janus and Vesta. These gods in early times did not have a defined individuality and their personal histories lacked marriages and genealogies. Unlike Greek mythology, they were not considered that the gods acted like mortals, so there are not many stories about their activities. This oldest cult was associated with Numa Pompilius, the second legendary king of Rome, whose consort and counselor, was believed, was the Roman goddess of fountains and childbirth, Egeria. However, new elements were added at a relatively early date. The legend attached to the royal house of the Tarquins the establishment of the great Capitoline triad Jupiter, Juno and Minerva, who held the supreme place in Roman religion. Other additions were the worship of Diana on the Aventine and the introduction of the Sibylline Books, prophecies of world history, which according to the legend, Tarquin received them in the late sixth century BC from the Sibyl of Cumae.