“We Romans”, said Cicero, “owe our supremacy overall other peoples to our piety and religious observances and to our wisdom in believing that the spirit of the gods rules and directs everything. ” Roman rites and observances took two main forms. One was the domestic reverence of the spirit or genius of the family. The other was the public attitude to the gods and goddesses by whom the destiny and welfare of the Roman people as a whole were supposed to be guided and controlled.
During the Classical period, religious observance accompanied all important private and public events and transactions and, no successful outcome went without a vow of thanks or public dedication. Temples, priests and sacred rites were provided by the State. Nothing in the nature of religious services as we know them, in which the body of worshipers as a whole were able to participate, seems to have been celebrated in the temples. Any set forms of prayers, hymns or chants were performed solely by the official priests whose secrets they remained.
The ordinary Roman man or woman had little personal part to play in such rites (Handbook To Life In Ancient Greece). While they were being undertaken and fulfilled it was the duty of the ordinary citizen not to interfere or make any disturbance and to refrain from any business affairs. When religiously minded Roman dropped in to a temple in order to worship the god or goddess whose house it was , they had some practical object in view : some personal favor or advantage. They came and perhaps burn incenses.
When praying they stood with upturned palms. Sometimes they got as close to the image of the god as they could in order to whisper their pleas; the feet of some of the images were worn by the kisses of generations of worshipers. In addition to paying a fee for admission, the grateful petitioner for divine aid also brought sacrifices and thankful offerings to the temples. Enormous numbers of livestock and cattle went to augment the wealth of the temples, and to swell the incomes of the priests and attendants, many of whom became extremely wealthy.
Temple worship was no essential part of Roman life. If it had been, it is difficult to understand why there were not more than about a hundred within the city confines, which is no large number in a city of some million inhabitants. Romans kept their religious faith because they grew up with it in their homes. Its strength did not depend so much upon visits to the temples or upon the services of the priests because every home had a domestic shrine and alter before which daily act of reverence could take place.
There were lares of the cross roads also, who could be worshiped out doors by the homeless or by those too poor to maintain their own family shrine (Handbook To Life In Ancient Greece). Roman religion had been heavily influenced by its surrounding civilizations, especially Greek and Etruscan. Characteristic for early Roman religion are the so called function gods : gods that perform only one specific function that was mostly agricultural. Rome used to be an agricultural community before evolving into a world power.
Apart from these , gods as Stercutus the god of the power of manure , nature itself was full of godly powers. In a later stage the Romans transformed under Greek influence. Since the beginning of their existence Romans tended to take over other cults and incorporate them into their own religion ; cults like the one of Cybele, originally from Anatolia, Mithras from the Persians and even Isis from Egypt where adapted and incorporated in Roman society.
During the Empire an important new cult was institutionalized , the cult of the Emperor. Starting from Augustus onwards the emperor was deified and worshiped (Home Work Help : History). This was very handy to unify the empire and show loyalty to the emperor. Roman religion was intended to keep the relation god/human healthy. The relation between god and man was kept somewhat like a contract, I give you something and you give me something in return, inscriptions on alters were often words of thanks to the god(s).
It was believed that the gods could see all human activities, provide for all human needs, protect against danger and heal the sick. In return, they were worshiped according to their functions and spheres of influence. People offered sacrifices, votive offerings and prayers , and looked after the gods’ sacred places. Except for a few specific cults the gods were not expected to provide salvation after death (as in the Christian sense), but rather rewards and favors during life in return for piety , service and sacrifice to them.
There were official gods like Jupiter or Juno who had their own official festivities , the Games began by being part of the public religious ceremonial of the Roman people. However, by the time of Martial and of Juvenal, the crowds who thronged the streets, the theaters and the circuses had very little knowledge of or interest in any ceremonial meaning there might have once been behind the Games ; nevertheless the ancient traditions inspiring them were kept alive.
Many of the Romans themselves were ignorant of this early religious aspect of their apparently mundane, secular games and festivals. So it came about that games staged at first to gratify the gods and to do them honor, soon descended to the very low level of gratifying the baser passions of the hungry, ignorant, lazy and idle mob (Handbook To Life In Ancient Greece). By the end of the Republic and in the early days of the Roman Empire very few educated Romans seemed to have retained any genuine belief in the existence of the gods.
The poet Ovid is a suitable sample, they thought it was a good idea to keep the popular beliefs alive, “It’s useful that there should be god”, he said, ” so let’s believe there are, and let incense and wine be brought to their ancient shrines. ” Mithra was the friend and champion of the poor. Like Christianity, Mithraism began as the religion of the poor and degraded servile classes. Christianity showed some similarities with the Mithras cult. It was influenced by the Mithras cult indeed. Like Jesus, Mithras had definite features of a savior.
Moreover the Mithras cult had aspects of messianism, including some kind of heaven and hell. In its liturgy bread and wine were taken, although transubstantiation was not considered to occur (Roman religion). The Mithras cult and Christianity were fierce competitors for a long time. When Christianity finally won, it took over the ‘Mithraeum’ on more than one occasion. The ‘Mithraeum’ was the place where the Mithras followers professed their faith, and the Christians made it their prayer room.
Modern day religion , Christianity especially with its teaching of mercy, gentleness, loving kindness and charity towards others, even towards enemies ; with is spurning of the world and worldly satisfactions ; with its gospel of self restraint , discipline and sobriety; with its care for the poor ; with its belief in the evil of sin and the faith in one God , the Savior of mankind controls the masses (Handbook To Life In Ancient Greece). I can’t help but have the crushing impression that the masses of todays’ youth are intentionally being deceived through lies; although it is just an impression.
Mistrust of every kind of authority can grew out of this experience of deceit, a skeptical attitude toward the convictions that are alive in any specific social environment an attitude that can never again leave them. It is quite clear to me that the religious paradise of youth, which is soon lost, is an attempt to free from the chains of the “merely personal,” from an existence dominated by wishes, hopes, and primitive feelings. I also think the pulpit has lost its position. It speaks no longer with authority. The pews determine what shall be preached.
They pay only for that which they wish to buy — for that which they wish to hear. Of course in every church there is an advance guard and a conservative party, and nearly every minister is obliged to preach a little for both (Crumbling Creeds). He now and then says a radical thing for one part of his congregation, and takes it mostly back on the next Sabbath, for the sake of the others. I think in the world today it all basically comes down to, people want immortality now and during the Romans’ time they were quite content just “knowing” they were being protected during their life time.
There is this huge world, which exists independently of us human beings and which stands before us like a great, eternal riddle, at least partially accessible to our inspection and thinking. The mental grasp of this extra-personal world within the frame of our capabilities presented itself to our minds, half consciously, half unconsciously, as a supreme goal that is never quite achievable. (Becoming a Freethinker and a Scientist).