Religio Romana is a pagan religion dedicated to the Gods of classical Rome.
The name of the religion[edit | edit source]
This religion is variously called “Roman paganism”, “Religio Romana” or “Cultus Deorum”. There is a growing trend to prefer the last one, because it is what Romans themselves called their religion.
“Pagan" was applied in late antiquity to religions as a negative term; it was not used by Romans to refer to their indigenous religious system. The Latin word "religio" resembles the English word "religion", and so some years ago when some English speaking people tried to come up with a name, it seems that they hit on “Religio Romana”. This is really a mistranslation that betrays a limited understanding of Latin. The word “religio” has a unique and specialized meaning. It did not mean a religious system, but rather the belief and attitude that the gods are "the benevolent partners of mortals in the management of the world, and that the prescribed rituals [are] the rightly expected counterpart to the help offered by the immortals" (Scheid, An Introduction to Roman Religion, p. 173).
"Cultus deorum" is a phrase that Romans (for example, Cicero, De Natura Deorum II, 71) did use in our sense of “religion”:
- "We must revere and worship the gods, and the best religion ("cultus deorum") is the most sacred, the most holy and the most full of dutifulness, in order to adorn them always with pure, whole and uncorrupted mind and word. Not only the philosophers but also our ancestors divided the superstitio from the religio."
- (Quos deos et venerari et colere debemus, cultus autem deorum est optumus idemque castissimus atque sanctissimus plenissimusque pietatis, ut eos semper pura integra incorrupta et mente et voce veneremur. Non enim philosophi solum verum etiam maiores nostri superstitionem a religione separaverunt.)
In this quote we also see Cicero using the term “religio” in the sense mentioned above, that of an attitude that is in contrast with “superstitio”, not a name for the religious system as a whole.
Sometimes "Romanorum" is now added to specify which “cultus deorum” is meant. In antiquity this would not have been needed. However, in practice, followers of this path often use “cultus deorum” and call themselves “cultores” (in the plural) or “cultor” or ‘cultrix” for individual men and women respectively.
Beliefs[edit | edit source]
The Cultus Deorum is usually characterised as orthopraxic, not orthodoxic. Adherents of orthodoxic religions are expected sincerely to hold a specific belief or set of beliefs. These beliefs may be summarised in a type of document known as a "creed". The Cultus Deorum is a religion without a list of hard and fast "beliefs", but with a long and rich tradition of attitudes and practices. It would be wrong to conclude that followers have no beliefs at all, or that they mindlessly perform empty ritual out of a spirit of fear or cynical conservatism. Some followers of the Religio Romana aspire to adopt Roman values - although adaptations to theses values may occur to make allowances for changed social realties - but there is no requirement to express or hold a specific creed.
The Cultus Deorum lacks an "inspired" text and is generally classified as orthopraxic, but adherents, share a common outlook, a common culture and a common body of knowledge about the world and the gods. Although it is an essentially orthopraxic system, the Cultus Deorum was (and is) flexible enough to change over time and to adapt to the changing needs of the Roman people.
Most adherents broadly agree on these points:
- The gods exist and are essentially benevolent.
- A natural relationship unites people with the gods.
- Human relationship with the gods requires human action.
- The gods can communicate their will.
Pax Deorum[edit | edit source]
It can be said that the purpose of the Religio Romana is to gain the goodwill of divine forces and establish peace with the Gods (the Pax Deorum). The Pax Deorum is established through the carrying out of rituals which demonstrate respect for their power. These rituals generally involve communicating with the Gods by the making of offerings (to give thanks and facilitate divine goodwill), as well as by prayers and by vows to make certain offerings.
The will of the Gods may be interpreted by the granting (or not) of that which has been prayed for and by, inter alia, observing the natural world, for example, by looking at the behaviour of birds and being alert to the occurence of prodigia. Note, however, that superstitio, in the form of uncontrolled mysticism, excessive emotional devotion or a morbid dread of the supernatural is generally discouraged within the context of the Religio Romana.
Non-Roman Gods and the Interpretatio Romana[edit | edit source]
Followers of the Religio Romana may also venerate Gods that are non-Roman in origin - usually Gods who were venerated within the Roman empire. Such Gods include those that are indigenous to the Greeks, Celts, Germanic tribes, Egyptians and peoples of the near east. When this occurs the Interpretatio Romana may in some instances be used to identify or conflate non-Roman Gods with Roman deities. For example, the Germanic Gods Tyr, Woden and Thor may be identified as Mars, Mercury and Jupiter respectively.
Reenactors and Reconstructionists[edit | edit source]
There are two groups of people who are very interested in Romans; reenactors and reconstructionists.
Reenactors can be thought of as applied historians, teachers and experimental archaeologists. Their primary goal is to study Romans in order to present historically accurate portrayals of Roman life, often for the purpose of education. Some reenactors are interested in several different historical periods and so they may be Romans on one weekend and American Civil War soldiers on another. Some of these groups have made appearances in films and documentaries, a tribute to the quality of their scholarship and craftsmanship.
Reconstructionists, on the other hand, use their study to reconstruct Roman culture as a viable modern alternative lifestyle. They form a sincere cultural identification as modern Romans. In other words, they reconstruct in order to adopt Roman cultural identity.
Some reconstructionists are also reenactors, of course, and it is increasingly common to find "mixed" events. Cultores participating in a weekend event might perform sincere lararium rituals in the mornings and then later give public demonstrations, lectures or workshops on the lararium and lararium rituals. There are various aspects of Roman culture, broadly speaking, that are of interest to both groups. For reconstructionists, these things can serve as a reminder and reenforcement of who we are (or who we are becoming). In fact, it is often difficult to say where religion (the Cultus Deorum) stops and Roman culture starts because in fact they were so closely intertwined. A Roman would probably not see how they could be separated.
Related Pages[edit | edit source]
- Major Gods of the Roman Pantheon
- Roman Household Shrine
- The Lares
- Roman Values
- Roman Virtues
- Afterlife beliefs in the Religio Romana
External Links[edit | edit source]
- Roman Republic’s Core Concepts of the Cultus Deorum
- Nova Roma's Religio Romana Web Site
- Roman Republic’s Guide to Conducting Ceremonies & Sacrifice
- Roman Republic’s Introduction to the Roman Deities
- "Cultus Deorum" Facebook Group
- “Communitas Religiosa Romana | Ancient Roman Religion Community“ Facebook Group
- "United Greco-Roman Polytheists" Facebook Group
- “Roman Republic“ Discussion Forum
- "Nova Roma" Facebook Group
- "Religio Romana" Discussion Group
- "Religio Romana Cultorum Deorum" Discussion Group
- Saturnia Tellus
Latin Translations Online [edit | edit source]
- www.naderlibrary.com (scroll down to classics)
- poetryintranslation.com (scroll down to Latin)
- sacred-texts.com (scroll down to Roman)
Further Sources[edit | edit source]
- “Roman Republic“ Comprehensive reading list for the cultus deorum
- Cultus Deorum Online Calendar
- "Nova Roma" Reading list for the Cultus Deorum
- M Beard et al, Religions of Rome (Vol 1), Cambridge, 2010
- J Shelton, As the Romans Did (2nd ed), New York, 1998
- R Turcan, The Gods of Ancient Rome, New York, 2001