Of such notions, the products of outward abstraction--of the homeliest simplicity, sometimes venerable, sometimes ridiculous--Roman theology was in substance made up. Conceptions such as sowing (-saeturnus-) and field-labour (-ops-) ground (-tellus-) and boundary-stone (-terminus-), were among the oldest and most sacred of Roman divinities. Perhaps the most peculiar of all the forms of deity in Rome, and probably the only one for whose worship there was devised an effigy peculiarly Italian, was the double-headed lanus; and yet it was simply suggestive of the idea so characteristic of the scrupulous spirit of Roman religion, that at the commencement of every act the "spirit of opening" should first be invoked, while it above all betokened the deep conviction that it was as indispensable to combine the Roman gods in sets as it was necessary that the more personal gods of the Hellenes should stand singly and apart.(4) Of all the worships of Rome that which perhaps had the deepest hold was the worship of the tutelary spirits that presided in and over the household and the storechamber: these were in public worship Vesta and the Penates, in family worship the gods of forest and field, the Silvani, and above all the gods of the household in its strict sense, the Lases or Lares, to whom their share of the family meal was regularly assigned, and before whom it was, even in the time of Cato the Elder, the first duty of the father of the household on returning home to perform his devotions. In the ranking of the gods, however, these spirits of the house and of the field occupied the lowest rather than the highest place; it was--and it could not be otherwise with a religion which renounced all attempts to idealize--not the broadest and most general, but the simplest and most individual abstraction, in which the pious heart found most nourishment.

This indifference to ideal elements in the Roman religion was accompanied by a practical and utilitarian tendency, as is clearly enough apparent in the table of festivals which has been already explained. Increase of substance and of prosperity by husbandry and the rearing of flocks and herds, by seafaring and commerce--this was what the Roman desired from his gods; and it very well accords with this view, that the god of good faith (-deus fidius-), the goddess of chance and good luck (-fors fortuna-), and the god of traffic (-mercurius-), all originating out of their daily dealings, although not occurring in that ancient table of festivals, appear very early as adored far and near by the Romans. Strict frugality and mercantile speculation were rooted in the Roman character too deeply not to find their thorough reflection in its divine counterpart.


Respecting the world of spirits little can be said. The departed souls of mortal men, the "good" (-manes-) continued to exist as shades haunting the spot where the body reposed (-dii inferi-), and received meat and drink from the survivors. But they dwelt in the depths beneath, and there was no bridge that led from the lower world either to men ruling on earth or upward to the gods above. The hero-worship of the Greeks was wholly foreign to the Romans, and the late origin and poor invention of the legend as to the foundation of Rome are shown by the thoroughly unRoman transformation of king Romulus into the god Quirinus. Numa, the oldest and most venerable name in Roman tradition, never received the honours of a god in Rome as Theseus did in Athens.


The most ancient priesthoods in the community bore reference to Mars; especially the priest of the god of the community, nominated for life, "the kindler of Mars" (-flamen Martialis-) as he was designated from presenting burnt-offerings, and the twelve "leapers" (-salii-), a band of young men who in March performed the war-dance in honour of Mars and accompanied it by song. We have already explained(5) how the amalgamation of the Hill-community with that of the Palatine gave rise to the duplication of the Roman Mars, and thereby to the introduction of a second priest of Mars--the -flamen Quirinalis- --and a second guild of dancers--the -salii collini-.

To these were added other public worships (some of which probably had an origin far earlier than that of Rome), for which either single priests were appointed--as those of Carmentis, of Volcanus, of the god of the harbour and the river--or the celebration of which was committed to particular colleges or clans in name of the people. Such a college was probably that of the twelve "field-brethren" (-fratres arvales-) who invoked the "creative goddess" (-dea dia-) in May to bless the growth of the seed; although it is very doubtful whether they already at this period enjoyed that peculiar consideration which we find subsequently accorded to them in the time of the empire. These were accompanied by the Titian brotherhood, which had to preserve and to attend to the distinctive -cultus- of the Roman Sabines,(6) and by the thirty "curial kindlers" (-flamines curiales-), instituted for the hearth of the thirty curies. The "wolf festival" (-lupercalia-) already mentioned was celebrated for the protection of the flocks and herds in honour of the "favourable god" (-faunus-) by the Quinctian clan and the Fabii who were associated with them after the admission of the Hill-Romans, in the month of February--a genuine shepherds' carnival, in which the "Wolves" (-luperci-) jumped about naked with a girdle of goatskin, and whipped with thongs those whom they met. In like manner the community may be conceived as represented and participating in the case of other gentile worships.

To this earliest worship of the Roman community new rites were gradually added. The most important of these worships had reference to the city as newly united and virtually founded afresh by the construction of the great wall and stronghold. In it the highest and best lovis of the Capitol--that is, the genius of the Roman people--was placed at the head of all the Roman divinities, and his "kindler" thenceforth appointed, the -flamen Dialis-, formed in conjunction with the two priests of Mars the sacred triad of high-priests.

Italian Books
Theodor Mommsen
Classic Literature Library

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