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I wish to express my warm thanks to Mr. W. Warde Fowler for his
kindness in reading my proofs, and for many valuable hints and


_Jan 25th, 1907_.















The conditions of our knowledge of the native religion of early Rome
may perhaps be best illustrated by a parallel from Roman archæology.
The visitor to the Roman Forum at the present day, if he wishes to
reconstruct in imagination the Forum of the early Republic, must not
merely 'think away' many strata of later buildings, but, we are told,
must picture to himself a totally different orientation of the whole:
the upper layer of remains, which he sees before him, is for his
purpose in most cases not merely useless, but positively misleading.
In the same way, if we wish to form a picture of the genuine Roman
religion, we cannot find it immediately in classical literature; we
must banish from our minds all that is due to the contact with the
East and Egypt, and even with the other races of Italy, and we must
imagine, so to speak, a totally different mental orientation before
the great influx of Greek literature and Greek thought, which gave
an entirely new turn to Roman ideas in general, and in particular
revolutionised religion by the introduction of anthropomorphic notions
and sensuous representations. But in this difficult search we are not
left without indications to guide us. In the writings of the savants of
the late Republic and of the Empire, and in the Augustan poets, biassed
though they are in their interpretations by Greek tendencies, there is
embodied a great wealth of ancient custom and ritual, which becomes
significant when we have once got the clue to its meaning. More direct
evidence is afforded by a large body of inscriptions and monuments, and
above all by the surviving Calendars of the Roman festival year, which
give us the true outline of the ceremonial observances of the early

It is not within the scope of this sketch to enter, except by way of
occasional illustration, into the process of interpretation by which
the patient work of scholars has disentangled the form and spirit of
the native religion from the mass of foreign accretions. I intend
rather to assume the process, and deal, as far as it is possible in so
controversial a subject, with results upon which authorities are
generally agreed. Neither will any attempt be made to follow the
development which the early religion underwent in later periods, when
foreign elements were added and foreign ideas altered and remoulded the
old tradition. We must confine ourselves to a single epoch, in which
the native Roman spirit worked out unaided the ideas inherited from
half-civilised ancestors, and formed that body of belief and ritual,
which was always, at least officially, the kernel of Roman religion,
and constituted what the Romans themselves - staunch believers in their
own traditional history - loved to describe as the 'Religion of Numa.'
We must discover, as far as we can, how far its inherited notions ran
parallel with those of other primitive religions, but more especially
we must try to note what is characteristically Roman alike in custom
and ritual and in the motives and spirit which prompted them.



In every early religion there will of course be found, apart from
external influence, traces of its own internal development, of stages
by which it must have advanced from a mass of vague and primitive
belief and custom to the organised worship of a civilised community.
The religion of Rome is no exception to this rule; we can detect in its
later practice evidences of primitive notions and habits which it had
in common with other semi-barbarous peoples, and we shall see that the
leading idea in its theology is but a characteristically Roman
development of a marked feature in most early religions.

=1. Magic.= - Anthropology has taught us that in many primitive
societies religion - a sense of man's dependence on a power higher than
himself - is preceded by a stage of magic - a belief in man's own power
to influence by occult means the action of the world around him. That
the ancestors of the Roman community passed through this stage seems
clear, and in surviving religious practice we may discover evidence of
such magic in various forms. There is, for instance, what anthropology
describes as 'sympathetic magic' - the attempt to influence the powers
of nature by an imitation of the process which it is desired that they
should perform. Of this we have a characteristic example in the
ceremony of the _aquaelicium_, designed to produce rain after a long
drought. In classical times the ceremony consisted in a procession
headed by the pontifices, which bore the sacred rain-stone from its
resting-place by the Porta Capena to the Capitol, where offerings were
made to the sky-deity, Iuppiter, but[1] from the analogy of other
primitive cults and the sacred title of the stone (_lapis manalis_), it
is practically certain that the original ritual was the purely
imitative process of pouring water over the stone. A similar rain-charm
may possibly be seen in the curious ritual of the _argeorum sacra_,
when puppets of straw were thrown into the Tiber - a symbolic wetting of
the crops to which many parallels may be found among other primitive
peoples. A sympathetic charm of a rather different character seems to
survive in the ceremony of the _augurium canarium_, at which a red dog
was sacrificed for the prosperity of the crop - a symbolic killing of
the red mildew (_robigo_); and again the slaughter of pregnant cows at
the _Fordicidia_ in the middle of April, before the sprouting of the
corn, has a clearly sympathetic connection with the fertility of the
earth. Another prominent survival - equally characteristic of primitive
peoples - is the sacredness which attaches to the person of the
priest-king, so that his every act or word may have a magic
significance or effect. This is reflected generally in the Roman
priesthood, but especially in the ceremonial surrounding the _flamen
Dialis_, the priest of Iuppiter. He must appear always in festival
garb, fire may never be taken from his hearth but for sacred purposes,
no other person may ever sleep in his bed, the cuttings of his hair and
nails must be preserved and buried beneath an _arbor felix_ - no doubt a
magic charm for fertility - he must not eat or even mention a goat or a
bean, or other objects of an unlucky character.

=2. Worship of Natural Objects.= - A very common feature in the early
development of religious consciousness is the worship of natural
objects - in the first place of the objects themselves and no more, but
later of a spirit indwelling in them. The distinction is no doubt in
individual cases a difficult one to make, and we find that among the
Romans the earlier worship of the object tends to give way to the cult
of the inhabiting spirit, but examples may be found which seem to
belong to the earlier stage. We have, for instance, the sacred stone
(_silex_) which was preserved in the temple of Iuppiter on the Capitol,
and was brought out to play a prominent part in the ceremony of
treaty-making. The fetial, who on that occasion represented the Roman
people, at the solemn moment of the oath-taking, struck the sacrificial
pig with the _silex_, saying as he did so, 'Do thou, Diespiter, strike
the Roman people as I strike this pig here to-day, and strike them the
more, as thou art greater and stronger.' Here no doubt the underlying
notion is not merely symbolical, but in origin the stone is itself the
god, an idea which later religion expressed in the cult-title specially
used in this connection, _Iuppiter Lapis_. So again, in all
probability, the _termini_ or boundary-stones between properties are in
origin the objects - though later only the site - of a yearly ritual at
the festival of the Terminalia on February the 23rd, and they are, as
it were, summed up in 'the god Terminus,' the great sacred
boundary-stone, which had its own shrine within the Capitoline temple,
because, according to the legend, 'the god' refused to budge even to
make room for Iuppiter. The same notion is most likely at the root of
the two great domestic cults of Vesta, 'the hearth,' and Ianus, 'the
door,' though a more spiritual idea was soon associated with them; we
may notice too in this connection the worship of springs, summed up in
the subsequent deity Fons, and of rivers, such as Volturnus, the
cult-name of the Tiber.

=3. Worship of Trees.= - But most conspicuous among the cults of natural
objects, as in so many primitive religions, is the worship of trees.
Here, though doubtless at first the tree was itself the object of
veneration, surviving instances seem rather to belong to the later
period when it was regarded as the abode of the spirit. We may
recognise a case of this sort in the _ficus Ruminalis_, once the
recipient of worship, though later legend, which preferred to find an
historical or mythical explanation of cults, looked upon it as sacred
because it was the scene of the suckling of Romulus and Remus by the
wolf. Another fig-tree with a similar history is the _caprificus_ of
the Campus Martius, subsequently the site of the worship of Iuno
Caprotina. A more significant case is the sacred oak of Iuppiter
Feretrius on the Capitol, on which the _spolia opima_ were hung after
the triumph - probably in early times a dedication of the booty to the
spirit inhabiting the tree. Outside Rome, showing the same ideas at
work among neighbouring peoples, was the 'golden bough' in the grove of
Diana at Aricia. Nor was it only special trees which were thus regarded
as the home of a deity; the tree in general is sacred, and any one may
chance to be inhabited by a spirit. The feeling of the country
population on this point comes out clearly in the prayer which Cato
recommends his farmer to use before making a clearing in a wood: 'Be
thou god or goddess, to whom this grove is sacred, be it granted to us
to make propitiatory sacrifice to thee with a pig for the clearing of
this sacred spot'; here we have a clear instance of the tree regarded
as the dwelling of the sacred power, and it is interesting to compare
the many similar examples which[2] Dr. Frazer has collected from
different parts of the world.

=4. Worship of Animals.= - Of the worship of animals we have
comparatively little evidence in Roman religion, though we may perhaps
detect it in a portion of the mysterious ritual of the Lupercalia,
where the Luperci dressed themselves in the skins of the sacrificed
goats and smeared their faces with the blood, thus symbolically trying
to bring themselves into communion with the sacred animal. We may
recognise it too in the association of particular animals with
divinities, such as the sacred wolf and woodpecker of Mars, but on the
whole we may doubt whether the worship of animals ever played so
prominent a part in Roman religion as the cult of other natural

=5. Animism.= - Such are some of the survivals of very early stages of
religious custom which still kept their place in the developed religion
of Rome, but by far the most important element in it, which might
indeed be described as its 'immediate antecedent,' is the state of
religious feeling to which anthropologists have given the name of
'Animism.' As far as we can follow the development of early religions,
this attitude of mind seems to be the direct outcome of the failure of
magic. Primitive man begins to see that neither he nor his magicians
really possess that occult control over the forces of nature which was
the supposed basis of magic: the charm fails, the spell does not
produce the rain and when he looks for the cause, he can only argue
that these things must be in the hands of some power higher than his
own. The world then and its various familiar objects become for him
peopled with spirits, like in character to men, but more powerful, and
his success in life and its various operations depends on the degree in
which he is able to propitiate these spirits and secure their
co-operation. If he desires rain, he must win the favour of the spirit
who controls it, if he would fell a tree and suffer no harm, he must by
suitable offerings entice the indwelling spirit to leave it. His
'theology' in this stage is the knowledge of the various spirits and
their dwellings, his ritual the due performance of sacrifice for
purposes of propitiation and expiation. It was in this state of
religious feeling that the ancestors of Rome must have lived before
they founded their agricultural settlement on the Palatine: we must try
now to see how far it had retained this character and what developments
it had undergone when it had crystallised into the 'Religion of Numa.'


[1] Frazer, _Golden Bough_, vol. i. pp. 81 ff.

[2] _Golden Bough_, vol. i. pp. 181-185.



=1. Theology.= - The characteristic appellation of a divine spirit in
the oldest stratum of the Roman religion is not _deus_, a god, but
rather _numen_, a power: he becomes _deus_ when he obtains a name, and
so is on the way to acquiring a definite personality, but in origin he
is simply the 'spirit' of the 'animistic' period, and retains something
of the spirit's characteristics. Thus among the divinities of the
household we shall see later that the Genius and even the Lar
Familiaris, though they attained great dignity of conception, and were
the centre of the family life, and to some extent of the family
morality, never quite rose to the position of full-grown gods; while
among the spirits of the field the wildness and impishness of character
associated with Faunus and his companion Inuus - almost the cobolds or
hobgoblins of the flocks - reflects clearly the old 'animistic' belief
in the natural evilness of the spirits and their hostility to men. The
notion of the _numen_ is always vague and indefinite: even its sex may
be uncertain. 'Be thou god or goddess' is the form of address in the
farmer's prayer already quoted from Cato: 'be it male or female' is the
constant formula in liturgies and even dedicatory inscriptions of a
much later period.

These spirits are, as we have seen, indwellers in the objects of nature
and controllers of the phenomena of nature: but to the Roman they were
more. Not merely did they inhabit places and things, but they presided
over each phase of natural development, each state or action in the
life of man. Varro, for instance, gives us a list of the deities
concerned in the early life of the child, which, though it bears the
marks of priestly elaboration, may yet be taken as typical of the
feeling of the normal Roman family. There is Vaticanus, who opens the
child's mouth to cry, Cunina, who guards his cradle, Edulia and Potina,
who teach him to eat and drink, Statilinus, who helps him to stand up,
Adeona and Abeona, who watch over his first footstep, and many others
each with his special province of protection or assistance. The farmer
similarly is in the hands of a whole host of divinities who assist him
at each stage of ploughing, hoeing, sowing, reaping, and so forth. If
the _numen_ then lacks personal individuality, he has a very distinct
specialisation of function, and if man's appeal to the divinity is to
be successful, he must be very careful to make it in the right quarter:
it was a stock joke in Roman comedy to make a character 'ask for water
from Liber, or wine from the nymphs.' Hence we find in the prayer
formulæ in Cato and elsewhere the most careful precautions to prevent
the accidental omission of the deity concerned: usually the worshipper
will go through the whole list of the gods who may be thought to have
power in the special circumstances; sometimes he will conclude his
prayer with the formula 'whosoever thou art,' or 'and any other name by
which thou mayest desire to be called.' The _numen_ is thus vague in
his conception but specialised in his function, and so later on, when
certain deities have acquired definite names and become prominent above
the rest, the worshipper in appealing to them will add a cult-title, to
indicate the special character in which he wishes the deity to hear:
the woman in childbirth will appeal to Iuno Lucina, the general praying
for victory to Iuppiter Victor, the man who is taking an oath to
Iuppiter as the deus Fidius. As a still later development the
cult-title will, as it were, break off and set up for itself, usually
in the form of an abstract personification: Iuppiter, in the two
special capacities just noted, gives birth to Victoria and Fides.

The conception of the _numen_ being so formless and indefinite, it is
not surprising that in the genuine Roman religion there should have
been no anthropomorphic representations of the divinity at all. 'For
170 years,' Varro tells us, taking his date from the traditional
foundation of the city in 754 B.C., 'the Romans worshipped their gods
without images,' and he adds the characteristic comment, 'those who
introduced representations among the nations, took away fear and
brought in falsehood.' Symbols of a few deities were no doubt
recognised: we have noticed already the _silex_ of Iuppiter and the
boundary-stone of Terminus, which were probably at an earlier period
themselves objects of worship, and to these we may add the sacred
spears of Mars, and the _sigilla_ of the State-Penates. But for the
most part the _numina_ were without even such symbolic representation,
nor till about the end of the regal period was any form of temple built
for them to dwell in. The sacred fire of Vesta near the Forum was, it
is true, from the earliest times enclosed in a building; this, however,
was no temple, but merely an erection with the essentially practical
purpose of preventing the extinction of the fire by rain. The first
temple in the full sense of the word was according to tradition built
by Servius Tullius to Diana on the Aventine: the tradition is
significant, for Diana was not one of the _di indigetes_, the old
deities of the 'Religion of Numa,' but was introduced from the
neighbouring town of Aricia, and the attribution to Servius Tullius
nearly always denotes an Etruscan[3] or at any rate a non-Roman origin.
There were, however, altars in special places to particular deities,
built sometimes of stone, sometimes in a more homely manner of earth or
sods. We hear for instance of the altar of Mars in the Campus Martius,
of Quirinus on the Quirinal, of Saturnus at the foot of the Capitol,
and notably of the curious underground altar of Consus on what was
later the site of the Circus Maximus. But more characteristic than the
erection of altars is the connection of deities with special
localities. Naturally enough in the worship of the household Vesta had
her seat at the hearth, Ianus at the door, and the 'gods of the
storehouse' (_Penates_) at the cupboard by the hearth, but the same
idea appears too in the state-cult. Hilltops, groves, and especially
clearings in groves (_luci_) are the most usual sacred localities. Thus
Quirinus has his own sacred hill, Iuppiter is worshipped on the
Capitol, Vesta and Iuno Lucina have their sacred groves within the
boundaries of the city, and Dea Dia, Robigus, and Furrina similar
groves at the limits of Roman territory. The record of almost every
Roman cult reveals the importance of locality in connection with the
_di indigetes_, and the localities are usually such as would be
naturally chosen by a pastoral and agricultural people.

Such were roughly the main outlines of the genuine Roman 'theology.'
It has no gods of human form with human relations to one another,
interested in the life of men and capable of the deepest passions of
hatred and affection towards them, such as we meet, for instance, in
the mythology of Greece, but only these impersonal individualities, if
we may so call them, capable of no relation to one another, but able to
bring good or ill to men, localised usually in their habitations, but
requiring no artificial dwelling or elaborate adornment of their abode;
becoming gradually more and more specialised in function, yet gaining
thereby no more real protective care for their worshippers - a cold and
heartless hierarchy, ready to exact their due, but incapable of
inspiring devotion or enthusiasm. Let us ask next how the Romans
conceived of their own relations towards them.

=2. The Relation of Gods and Men.= - The character of the Roman was
essentially practical and his natural mental attitude that of the
lawyer. And so in his relation towards the divine beings whom he
worshipped there was little of sentiment or affection: all must be
regulated by clearly understood principles and carried out with formal
exactness. Hence the _ius sacrum_, the body of rights and duties in the
matter of religion, is regarded as a department of the _ius publicum_,
the fundamental constitution of the state, and it is significant, as
Marquardt has observed, that it was Numa, a king and lawgiver, and not
a prophet or a poet, who was looked upon as the founder of the Roman
religion. Starting from the simple general feeling of a dependence on a
higher power (_religio_), which is common to all religions, the Roman
gives it his own characteristic colour when he conceives of that
dependence as analogous to a civil contract between man and god. Both
sides are under obligation to fulfil their part: if a god answers a
man's prayer, he must be repaid by a thank-offering: if the man has
fulfilled 'his bounden duty and service,' the god must make his return:
if he does not, either the cause lies in an unconscious failure on the
human side to carry out the exact letter of the law, or else, if the
god has really broken his contract, he has, as it were, put himself out
of court and the man may seek aid elsewhere. In this notion we have the
secret of Rome's readiness under stress of circumstances, when all
appeals to the old gods have failed, to adopt foreign deities and cults
in the hope of a greater measure of success.

The contract-notion may perhaps appear more clearly if we consider one
or two of the normal religious acts of the Roman individual or state.
Take first of all the performance of the regular sacrifices or acts of
worship ordained by the state-calendar or the celebration of the
household _sacra_. The _pietas_ of man consists in their due
fulfilment, but he may through negligence omit them or make a mistake
in the ritual to be employed. In that case the gods, as it were, have
the upper hand in the contract and are not obliged to fulfil their
share, but the man can set himself right again by the offering of a
_piaculum_, which may take the form either of an additional sacrifice
or a repetition of the original rite. So, for instance, when Cato is
giving his farmer directions for the lustration of his fields, he
supplies him at the end with two significant formulæ: 'if,' he says,
'you have failed in any respect with regard to all your offerings, use

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