The Role of Religion in Roman Society Essay

The Role of Religion in Roman Society Essay

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The Role of Religion in Roman Society


Throughout the history of Rome, from the monarchy to the late empire, religion had played a great role in it's society and was involved in almost every aspect of the life of the Roman citizen. It was common for each house to have it's own patron god/gods and ,on special occasions, the head of the house would make a sacrifice to the personal gods of the family. Also, great festivals were usually held in honor of certain gods and would include spectacles like chariot races and Gladiatorial fights.
The religious practices of the ancient Romans are best remembered with grand temples, great festivals and Christian persecution to the final acceptance of Christianity within the Roman empire over the traditional pagan religions. The Roman religious practices can be divided into three phases which span from the founding of the city to the fall of the empire.
The First Phase (753 BC to 500 BC) - The first phase of Roman religion dated from the founding of the city to the early republic. This phase occurred before the Roman civilization had really adopted the Greek ways and so the religious practices of this time consisted of only three gods and these gods were known as the Archaic Triad. The gods of the archaic Triad were Jupiter (Jove) ,Mars and Quirinus. These gods had their Greek counterparts and would later be identified with them. Jupiter was the supreme master god and so he was associated with Zeus of Greek mythology. Ares was the god of power and war and so he was associated with his Greek counterpart, Ares and Quirinus was the god of the Roman people in general and he had no Greek counterpart. Mars was valued and worshipped more by the conquering and warlike Romans than Ares was to the Greeks and ,as a result, he had The Fields of Mars named after him. The Fields of Mars was located outside of Rome and it is where the soldiers would train.
The Second Phase (500 BC to 313 AD) - Before the end of the 6th century BC Greek influence had begun to affect Roman religion and this resulted in the transformation from the Archaic Triad to the more Greek influenced Captioline triad. In this triad the gods Mars and Quirinus were replaced by Juno and Minerva. As time went on ,during the second phase, the Romans adopted more variations and the number of Roman deities grew as ,like the Greek counterparts, they had a god for alm...


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As the Imperial system gained hold, it was common practice for the Emperors to accept divine honors before their deaths. These living gods, in some cases, required sacrificial rituals as signs of loyalty and ingrained themselves with the older more traditional pagan gods. The requirement of a sacrifice to the emperor, as well as the forced belief in the complete pantheon became a significant source of conflict with early Christians. As Christians refused to worship the emperor as a god, persecution of the Christians and conflict with the cult was a constant source of strife. Emperor worship would continue until late in the western Empire until the reign of Constantine. In the early 4th century AD, Constantine either converted to Christianity or made it an acceptable part of Roman religion, eliminating the emperor deification altogether. Later Emperors such as Julian attempted to revive the old ways, but the deeply rooted Mithraism, and Christian cults combined were firmly set within Roman society. By 392 AD, Emperor Theodosius I banned the practice of pagan religions in Rome altogether and Christianity was, without question, the official religion of the state.

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