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The Origins Of Roman Religion And Its Progress

3385 words - 14 pages

The Origins of Roman Religion and Its Progress

Introduction
============

Throughout the ages, beliefs have changed, advanced, and occasionally
begun. In the time of Ancient Rome, the people began observing one
religion; that which was similar to the Greeks; the pantheon. Through
the Roman Empire, the worship of twelve central deities was observed
carefully. The Romans themselves began all the beliefs contained
within the worship. This was of great importance to the Roman people,
and helped the empire to expand through its strong religious centre.

"The presence of the gods gives the past a certain dignity, and if any
nation deserves to be ...view middle of the document...

Many of their festival days remain in our society today; floralia (May
Day), lupercalia (Valentine's Day), All Fool's Day (April Fool's Day)
and Saturnalia (Christmas). As in our present society, we come
together on Christmas Day to listen to the Queen's Speech or such
like, in Ancient Rome the citizens would all stand and watch the
festivals pass through the forum or a similar place.

The Roman Forum where festivals would have taken place.

The layout of Roman religion

The majority of worship took place in the many temples in the centre
of Rome, an idea taken from the Etruscans. These people also
instigated the production of statues of the gods and goddesses within
and around the temples. The temples were, in effect, the stage for
religious activity. Here citizens would come to worship, pray in times
of personal crisis and atone of their sins. In times of national and
empirical crisis, the temples would also be used to perform animal
sacrifices. These were also performed on festival days.

Roman religion was, in some ways, very similar to the social ladder of
Rome itself. At the head was the emperor, who would eventually become
a deity after his death. Below him would come the Pontifex Maximus, or
the chief priest. Julius Caesar held this position at one time, which
was very helpful to his political career. The Pontifex Maximus had
power over the Vestal Virgins and the sixteen priests below them.

The Vestal Virgins held a great deal of power within the religious
structure, as their primary function was to keep alight the sacred
flame in the Temple of Vesta. They still managed to remain at the
centre of the Roman life, as was pointed out by one Roman citizen;

"If the gods did not hear the Vestal Virgins' prayers, the state would
not survive."

Cicero

To become a Vestal Virgin was obviously an important undertaking. One
Roman man closely linked with the Virgins tells us of how strictly
they were chosen;

"A girl cannot be chosen under six or more than ten years old; her
father and mother must be alive; she must have no speech impediment,
hearing defect or other physical weakness, and her father must not
have surrendered his legal control over her."

Aulus Gellius

The undertaking of this role was very important to the chosen few.
Although the minimum period of service was thirty years, many Virgins
remained so for the duration of their lives. Junica Torquata in
particular served for a full sixty-four years of her life. It was
unsurprising that the majority of Virgins kept their oaths, as the
punishment for betrayal was very high. Also, the man with whom the
Virgin was with would be buried alive in a tomb of concrete!

The formation of the Vestal Virgins may come as a surprise to many
people. The gender issue is prominent here, as it is with the use...

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