Roman State Religion

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  • Created by: MaaB
  • Created on: 13-06-16 15:51

State Religion

  • The official state religion was established by Rome's second king, Numa Pompilius.
  • He made himself the priest king, and the head of state religion.
  • He fixed festival dates and created the role of priests to supervise state religion.
  • There are three different types of priests:
    • Pontifices, who administered Roman religion.
    • Flamines, who were responsible for running the temples of specific gods.
    • Augurs, who carried out divination.
  • State religion was badly damaged during the years of civil war of the Roman republic.
  • However, it was restored during the reign of Augustus who wanted to ensure the Romans would be at 'peace with the gods'.
  • He restored the roles, rituals, and temples that had been established by Pompilius over 500 years beforehand.
  • Roman state religion was intended to ensure that the gods favoured decisions made by the state.
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Pontifex Maximus and The Imperial Cult

  • Pontifex Maximus (chief priests) were the head of state religion in Rome.
  • After Augustus' decision to restore state religion, emperors took the Chief Priests' role.
  • This was either because they were worried about a rival assuming this powerful position or they wanted the prestige that went along with having this position.
  • This also emphasised the link between politics and state religion, until Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire.
  • The Pontifex Maximus were in charge of Vestal Virgins and 16 other priests.
  • This religion was generally referred to as the 'Imperial Cult' which regards emperors and members of their families as gods.
  • On his death, Julius Caesar was officially regarded as a god, Divius Julius.
  • In 29BC, the first Roman emperor, Augustus, allowed the culturally Greek cities of Asia Minor to set up temples to him which was the first instance of Roman emperor-worship, and continued through the Imperial period.
  • Worship of living emperors was acceptable in areas, but not in Rome and Italy.
  • There, an emperor was usually declared a 'divus' only on his death, and was subsequently worshipped (especially on anniversaries, like that of his accession) with sacrifices like any other gods.
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The Temples And Worship

  • Roman gods were worshipped in Rome's many temples.
  • At one end of the Forum was the Temple of Vesta (Goddess of family, hearth, and family) and home to the Vestal Virgins.
  • Next door was the Priests' house and nearby was the Temple of Saturn.
  • On the Palatine Hill, over a dozen temples have been identified including to the God Viriplaca, a goddess who acted as a marriage guidance counsellor.
  • On the Capitoline Hill, the 'Great Gods' had their centre, the temple of Jupiter Capitolinus, associated with Juno and Jupiter.
  • These gods were offered animal sacrifices at times of national crisis or during festival days.
  • The people believed that these sacrifices would protect the city.
  • However, on most days, these temples would be closed and would only be carried out by priests.
  • For most normal Roman people, religion was something done at home.
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Vestal Virgins

  • At the centre of the Roman state religion were the VV.
  • VVs were 6-10 years old, whose parents had surrendered their legal control over them.
  • 6 VVs served for 30 years and had to pledge to remain virgins.
  • A VV who lost her virginity would be buried alive in an underground chamber.
  • When VVs finished their service, they could get married and have children.
  • The writer Cicero echoed the official attitude when he said: "If the gods did not hear the Vestal Virgins' prayers, the state would not survive."
  • Their function was to keep the sacred flame in the ToV alight and they took turns doing this.
  • Nero's visit: "Suddenly all his limbs began trembling. He was frightened by the Goddess." (Tacitus)
  • The office carried great prestige for the VV and their families.
  • The only women allowed to ride in carriages were the emperor's wife and the VVs.
  • In court, they did not swear an oath and had splendid banquets.
  • They were supported by the state, and given special seats at public events.
  • They wore a stola (a special kind of tunic) to easily identify them.
  • Despite the danger of the fire setting the temple alight, only water from one spring could be used.
  • One virgin had to carry this water in a jar and place it into a marble tank.
  • If she put the water down along the way, it would lose its holiness.
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The Role Of The Priests

  • 16 pontifices (priests) oversaw the organisation of religious events.
  • They kept records of proper religious procedures, the dates of festivals, and days of special religious significance.
  • Pontifices were in charge of organising and carrying out sacrifices on festival days or in times of crisis.
  • Flamines were dedicated to one type of god e.g. flamendialis served Jupiter.
  • Pontifices also gave advice to magistrates on religious matters.
  • Divination was carried out by augures:
    • Signs from animals: inspecting of bird flights/entrails of sacrificed chickens. Any abnormal size/colour was a bad omen.
    • Inanimate objects: a divine power would guide the fall of dice/knucklebones.
    • Unusual natural events: storms, earthquakes, or meteorites were thought to herald great political changes.
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