10 Important Religious Practices in Ancient Rome

Sacrificing an animal or sometimes a human being to a god was a typical practice for the Romans. If they did not offer something valuable to the gods or goddesses, the Romans believed many bad things would happen. 

Also, they would make sure to avoid the bad omens and superstitions that happened in their daily life. Many times Romans were so superstitious that they would tell their children about horrible monsters that existed in order to make their children behave and believe the bad omens. 

Praying and worshipping the gods and goddesses were also expected of the Romans. Before Christianity, the Romans worshipped hundreds of gods and goddesses. They built temples, celebrated festivals and conducted many ceremonies.

With all of these practices and beliefs, the Romans spent much of their time devoted to their religion by either avoiding bad omens or trying to prevent bad things from happening.

1. Many gods

As time passed, ancient Rome worshipped more and more gods and goddesses. Romans even began worshipping Greek gods. By the time Christianity began, Rome had a wide array of gods that they worshipped.

Almost each and every object or thing had a god or goddess that could be worshipped for it. For example, marriage had a goddess that could be worshipped so that the Roman could pray for marriage. 

Many different gods and goddesses existed overtime during the ancient Roman historical time period. Mars was the god of war. Many soldiers in battle would pray to Mars in order to win the battle. Minerva was the goddess of wisdom, intelligence and learning.

Romans would worship her if they were trying to strategize or create a plan whether they were in school, in battle or in their workplace. Juno was the goddess of women or fertility. Women would obviously worship her if they were trying to get pregnant. During the course of a day, Romans would worship frequently during the many problems they endured.

2. Spirits

Besides worshipping gods and goddesses, the Romans would also worship spirits in their households. In their dwellings, many objects within the home had a spirit in them. Romans would spend many times a day praying to the spirits. These spirits would shield their home.

Sometimes, there were special holidays where the spirits would be worshipped. Each spirit, however, was not the same. There were different categories of spirits in the household to worship. Lares were household spirits that were associated with the family’s deceased relatives. 

One part of the house had to be separated and be dedicated to a place of worship for these spirits. In this part of the house, a shrine would be memorialized and symbolized the spirits. At this place, the members of the household could worship at this shrine. Sacrificing different things was a common occurrence in Ancient Rome’s religion. 

For the spirits, small amounts of food and drops of important wine would be “given” to the spirits in a sacrificial way. Since the spirits as well as the gods and goddesses would be insulted if the Romans sacrificed something that they did not find valuable, the sacrifice needed to be something that was treasured by the Romans. Therefore, the food and wine that would be sacrificed should be of high quality.

3. Sacrifice

To appease the gods and goddesses, Romans were required to sacrifice something that was extremely valuable to them. In the household, the Romans were required to sacrifice food like grain or wheat to the spirits. For the gods and goddesses that were more important in the Romans’ lives, they would sacrifice animals.

Due to their need to survive, killing their animals was a huge sacrifice on the part of the Romans. They usually needed these animals. For example, the cattle would produce milk. Not having as much milk created problems for the Romans. However, refusing to make a huge sacrifice seemed to cause a bigger problem according to them. 

The process for the sacrifice included selecting the sacrificial item and then making it presentable. The animals would be cleaned and decorated to look more appealing. Then the Roman would hand it over. Sometimes, the item would be thrown into a fire. If the offering was an animal, then the animal would be killed. Human sacrifices were evidenced by the Romans, but this only occurred once in a while.

4. Funerals and Burials

Like our funerals today, the ancient Romans had a process that was required to be done when someone died. If a funeral and burial were not conducted according to the procedure, the gods or spirits might create difficulties for those family members. Therefore, it was very important to prepare the funeral and burial corresponding to the Roman process even though the family was grieving. 

The Roman funeral and burial procedure included 5 parts. First, the Romans would create a loud and noticeable march for the deceased. The wealthier and more distinct the deceased person was, the more flamboyant the procession was. Music would be played and dramatic people would cry and pull out their locks of hair in grief.

Second, the body had to be cremated by hauling the deceased body to Necropolis where it would be laid down and set on fire. The ashes would be placed into an urn. A family member would speak about the deceased in an official eulogy followed by a meal. To celebrate the life of the deceased, days would be established in memory of the deceased family member. 

5. Temples

To say that there were many temples in ancient Rome would be an understatement. Temples were in abundance during the ancient Roman period. Romans knew that gods and goddesses wanted a temple to be dedicated to each of them.

Therefore, many temples were built and named after each god or goddess. Some of the minor or lesser-known gods or goddesses did not require a temple. The more important gods and goddesses had a big temple dedicated to him or her.

These temples were similar in appearance to each other. Their cone-shaped roof came to a point at the top and many temples had stairs leading to the front door as well as columns. Inside the temple, the walls were decorated with art depicting religion or characteristics pertaining to the god or goddess. Obviously, there would be worshipping elements like an altar in the temple. Many ceremonies and sacrifices took place in and outside the temples.

6. Festivals

To celebrate, Romans would prepare and join together for a festival. There were different types and variations of festivals. Some lasted for days whereas others lasted for a shorter period of time.

However, each festival pertained to something about their religion. Depending on the reason for the celebration, the festival would have specific activities to do.

Some of those included dramatic plays or chariot races. The victory of a battle may include a festival celebrating the god of war’s help during that conflict. 

7. Prayer

Another important part of the Romans’ religion included praying. Romans prayed frequently during the day. However, most prayers were conducted together in a central place in the city and it was usually by a priest.

These prayers were stated in a loud and clear voice. It was very important for the Roman to pray accurately. This meant that the Roman would be required to state exactly what or who the Roman was praying for. If the Roman forgot to pray for someone or something, problems could occur. For example, at a festival, a prayer was directed by an official.

However, the official forgot to mention the Roman people in the prayer. Therefore, the festival had to be started over. Praying silently was allowed by the Romans, but they were merely chants and not personal thoughts.

8. Omens

Romans would enter a house with the left foot and not the right foot. Otherwise, this was considered a bad omen. Many omens existed in the Roman religion.

Acting a certain way was important in their culture or bad things would happen. For example, weddings were arranged to be held on a specific day or even in a specific month. Holding a wedding on a lesser day would cause trouble. 

Several other examples of bad omens during ancient Roman days included having a black cat in the house and spilling a beverage.

9. Superstitions

Were you ever scared of the boogeyman when you were a child? During ancient Roman times, young Roman children were intentionally scared with stories about beasts who would devour them if they did not behave appropriately. This revolved around their superstitions. Since they truly believed this to be true, they would warn their children about this.

Romans’ religion included many superstitions. Avoiding these superstitions made Romans constantly think during each aspect of their daily life. Each object contained a spirit and the balance must be maintained in regard to living their life and keeping everything content.

Other superstitions included the belief in ghosts creeping around as well as haunting certain houses. Werewolves were believed to have existed and men could turn into them.

10. Office in the State Religion

In order to ensure order in practicing their religion, the Romans devised a system of officials to regulate their religious practices.

Four colleges were established and were overseen by priests who had this job for life. In this hierarchy, there was the top official known as the Rex Sacrorum. This official would supervise all religious matters. Under him, there were about 16 priests who were responsible for the festivals and other religious occasions that would take place.

The flamines were the priests who were in charge of worshipping the gods. At this point, when the prayers were conducted, these flamines would do the honor of having the prayers. Finally, there were flamen dialis. These priests had certain rules to follow.

For instance, they could not ride a horse and they must wear their head covering in public. These officials took pride in their jobs, but their jobs were very difficult.

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