Religion in ancient Rome
From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
Ancient Roman religion encompasses the collection of beliefs and rituals practised in ancient Rome in the form of cult practices. It is therefore the practical counterpart of Roman mythology. Within the Roman world, religious practice varied enough so that one might speak of Roman religions. The cult practices of Rome extended across Italy with the rise of the Roman Empire. These religions were polytheistic, and as such are sometimes referred to as "pagan".
The Romans originally followed a rural animistic tradition, in which many spirits were each responsible for specific, limited aspects of the cosmos and human activities, such as ploughing. The early Romans referred to these as numina. Another aspect of this animistic belief was ancestor, or genius, worship, with each family honoring their own dead by their own rites. Rome had a strong belief in gods. When they took over Greece, they inherited the Greek gods but fused them with their Roman counterparts.
Based heavily in Greek and Etruscan mythology, Roman religion came to encompass and absorb hundreds of other religions, developing a rich and complex mythology. In addition, an Imperial cult supplemented the pantheon with Julius Caesar and some of the emperors.
Under the Empire, religion in Rome evolved in many ways. Numerous foreign cults grew popular, such as the worship of the Egyptian Isis and the Persian Mithras. The importance of the imperial cult grew steadily, reaching its peak during the Crisis of the Third Century. Also, Christianity began to spread in the Empire, gaining momentum in the second century. Despite persecutions, it steadily gained converts. It became an officially supported religion in the Roman state under Constantine I. All cults except Christianity were prohibited in 391 by an edict of Emperor Theodosius I. However, even in the fourth and fifth century Roman paganism kept its vitality. Temples were still frequently visited, ancient beliefs and practices continued. As the original Roman religion faded, many aspects of its hierarchy remain ingrained in Christian ritual and in Western traditions.
- Religion in ancient Greece
- Hellenistic religion
- Roman festivals
- Roman mythology
- Sibylline Oracles
- Dii Consentes
- Nova Roma