Roman Cults

HideShow resource information
  • Created by: MaaB
  • Created on: 13-06-16 20:28


  • Christianity reached the city by Claudius' reign.
  • Less than 30 years after Jesus died, his followers reached Rome.
  • Christians in Rome were inspired by the teaching of Paul the Apostle, a Roman citizen who converted to Christianity.
  • He was probably later killed by Nero following the Pisonian conspiracy.
  • This new religion welcomed converts from all backgrounds.
  • Most Christian converts came from poorer sections of society who were attracted, especially, by the belief in life after death and the promise that Christ was soon to establish his kingdom on earth.
  • The Christians were treated badly by the Roman authorities and by most of the population and by 337AD, Emperor Constantine was baptised and around 50 years late, it was adopted as the official state religion.
1 of 6


  • Jews had lived in Rome since the second century BC.
  • Julius Caesar and Augustus supported laws that allowed Jews' protection to worship as they chose.
  • Communities of Jews could be found in almost all major cities in the Mediterranean, especially in the East.
  • The Jews were largely Greek-speaking and poor.
  • As Rome had increasing contact, military/trade dealings with the Greek-speaking areas, is what are now countries like Israel and Lebanon during the first/second century BC, many Greeks, as well as Jews, came to Rome as merchants or were brought there as slaves.
  • Their worship seemed particularly strange to the Romans as they only worshipped one God.
  • Jews practiced their religion very differently to the Romans and had a Holy Day, every seventh day where they would attend the synagogue.
  • Therefore, no Jewish person could appear in court on the Sabbath and Jewish soldiers couldn't parade on these days.
  • Jewish communities did face opposition, but, despite their disdain, the Romans did recognise and respect the antiquity of the Jew's religion and the fame of their Temple in Jerusalem (many Romans did not know much about Judaism).
2 of 6

Other Cults

  • The Egyptian Goddess Isis was worshipped by a number of Romans who were attracted to the ancient myths that surrounded her.
  • It produced a deep personal commitment (like Christianity), and central figure was a remote legendary character from a distant past (unlike Christianity).
  • A festival was held on 5th March, every year, to honour Isis and mark the return of spring and worship was accompanied by cult objects and routines.
  • Another foreign god that was worshipped by some groups in Roman society was Mithras (Persian god) who was poular with Roman soldiers.
  • Followers were initiated into and ate ceremonial meals and temples to this god were designed as caves.
  • Many Romans were also interested in astrology so as astrologers were extremely influential.
  • Some emperors were interested in astrology whereas others discounted them as frauds
3 of 6

Tolerance Of Christianity

  • Persecution of the Christians began with Nero after the Great Fire.
  • Before this, it is unlikely Romans thought Jews and Christians were different.
  • Tacitus writes that:
    • "Nero produced scapegoats and punished in every way possible the Christians... First Nero had self-confessed Christians arrested. Then, on their information, many others were condemned. They were dressed in wild animal skins and torn to pieces by dogs, or crucified, or made into torches to provide artificial daylight after dark."
  • It is believed Paul the Apostle, who taught Roman Christians about the teachings of Jesus, was killed at this time.
  • From Nero's persecution onwards early Christian communities were treated with hatred and suspicion by Roman authorities and most of the population.
  • Like the Jews, they appeared disloyal as they refused to worship the Emperor.
  • At first, persecution was limited to small areas+random outbreaks of violence.
  • However, under Emperors Domitian and Marcus Aurelius, there were large-scale attempts to wipe them out, using violence and torture against them.
  • Crucifixion was often used as a way to kill Christians and send out a strong message to those that supported this cult.
  • But this persecution didn't wipe out the cult as they met secretly in the catacombs and their numbers grew.
  • Their strength came largely from the belief that Jesus gave them salvation and eternal life if they stayed loyal under torture.
4 of 6

Tolerance Of Judaism

  • Although they were often unpopular and sometimes victimised, Rome was tolerant of Jews.
  • Caesar and Augustus supported laws allowing Jews' protection to worship as they chose.
  • Synagogues were classified as colleges to get past Roman laws banning secret societies, and temples were allowed to collect yearly tax paid by all Jewish men for temple maintenance.
  • As worship of the emperor became more popular, they were considered disloyal.
  • As a result, Jewish communities were often close-knit - to protect themselves and their faith.
  • There had been upsets: Jews had been banished from Rome in: 139BC and 19AD under Claudius' reign.
  • They were allowed to return and continue their independant existence under Roman law.
  • A rebellion in Judaea in 66AD led to Romans destroying Jews' temple in Jerusalem, taking precious objects, and demanding that Jews pay tax to state, rather than temple.
  • Some slaves were also taken back from Judaea and it is thought many built Colosseum.
  • Despite this, Jews had built a strong community in Rome by the end of the first century AD.
5 of 6

Tolerance Of Other Cults

  • Since Roman religion was not founded on some core belief that ruled out other religions, foreign religions found it relatively easy to establish themselves in the imperial capital itself and didn't always face opposition.
  • This made these different cults popular but part of their appeal was that they were shrouded in secrecy, making them difficult for historians to find out about.
  • Some emperors opposed people like astrologers, arguing that they were fakes.
  • It is believed that Emperor Tiberius killed astrologers who did not convince him of their powers.
6 of 6


No comments have yet been made

Similar Classical Civilization resources:

See all Classical Civilization resources »See all Social Life In Rome resources »