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Roman mythology III Posted by on May 11, 2012 in Roman culture

Religious festivities

The Roman religious calendar reflected Rome’s hospitality to the cults and deities of conquered territories. Originally there were few Roman religious festivals. Some of the oldest survived until the end of the pagan empire, preserving the memory of the fertility and propitiatory rites of a primitive agricultural people. However they introduced new festivities that marked the naturalization of new gods. They introduced so many festivities that holidays were more numerous than those of work. Among the most important Roman religious holidays there were: Saturnalia, Lupercalia, Equiria and Secular Games.

Under the empire, the Saturnalia were celebrated for seven days, from 17 to 23 December, during the beggining of the winter solstice. All economic activity was suspended, slaves were temporarily free, people used to exchange gifts and prevailed an atmosphere of joy. The Lupercalia was an ancient festival in which originally Lupercus was honored, a pastoral god of Italics. The festival was celebrated on February 15 in the cave of Lupercal on the Palatine hill, where it was assumed that a wolf had suckled the legendary founders of Rome, the twins Romulus and Remus. Among the Roman legends connected with them is that of Faustulus, the shepard who was supposed to have discovered the children in the lair of the wolf and brought them home, where his wife Aca Larentia  grew them up.



The Equiria, festival in honor of Mars, was celebrated on February 27 and March 14, traditionally the time of year when new military campaigns were prepared. In Campus Martius (Mars Field) they made horse races.

The Secular Games, which included both athletic spectacles and sacrifices, were held at regular intervals, traditionally once only in each saeculum (century) to mark the beginning of a new one. Tradition, however, was not always respected.


Roman temples

The architecture of Roman temples, and their total number also, reflect the city’s receptivity to all religions of the known world. The temple of Isis and Serapis in the Campus Martius, built in Egyptian style and materials to accommodate the Hellenized cult of the Egyptian deity Isis, is representative of the heterogeneity of Roman religious monuments. The temples well-known temples of Rome were the temple of Jupiter Capitolinus and the Pantheon. The temple of Jupiter Capitolinus on the Capitoline Hill, was dedicated in 509 BC to Jupiter, Juno and Minerva. Originally built in Etruscan style, was rebuilt and restored several times during the Empire and finally destroyed by the Vandals in 455 AD. The Pantheon was built from 117 to 138 AD by Emperor Hadrian and it was dedicated to all gods, this building replaced a smaller temple that Marcus Agrippa had built before. The Pantheon became a Christian church in 607 and is now an Italian national monument.



Decline of roman religion

The translation of the anthropomorphic qualities of Greek gods to Roman religion, and perhaps even more, the prevalence of Greek philosophy among educated Romans, brought a growing disinterest in the old rites, so much so that in the first century BC the old offices disappeared. Many men whose patrician home enabled them to these tasks did not believe in rituals, and if they did it was practiced for political interest, and the mass of uneducated people was increasingly accepting foreign rites. However, the positions of pontiff and augur remained coveted political positions.

The Emperor Augustus undertook a complete renovation and restoration of the old system, and he became a member of all priestly orders. Although the first rituals had little to do with morality (understood as a relationship with the occult powers where individuals served the gods and received in exchange safety) they did produce a pious and religious discipline and, therefore, Augustus was seen as a safeguard against any defect. During this period, the legend of the founding of Rome by the Trojan hero Aeneas took force with the publication of the Aeneid by Virgil.

Despite the reforms instituted by Augustus, the Roman religion in the empire tended more and more to focus on the Imperial House and, consequently, the emperors were deified after their death. This deification began even before the establishment of the empire with Julius Caesar. The emperors Augustus, Claudius, Vespasian and Titus were also deified, and after the reign (96-98 AD) of Marco Cocceius Nerva, few emperors did not receive such distinction.

During the Empire became popular and spread many foreign cults such as the Egyptian goddess Isis and the Persian god Mithras, who was in some respects similar to Christianity. Despite the persecutions which extended from the reign of Nero to Diocletian, Christianity was gaining popularity and became a religion officially tolerated in Rome under Constantine the Great, who ruled as sole emperor from 324 to 337 AD. All the pagan cults were banned in 392 by an edict of Emperor Theodosius.

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