The Roman Empire - In The First Century
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Roman Gods
Aside from the spirits, worshipped privately at home, the Romans had a large number of public gods.

Many gods were believed to have taken part in the founding of Rome. All were consulted and honored to make sure that the actions of the state met with divine approval.

Roman religion was split in two: privately, families and households worshipped specific, individual spirits. Publicly, the Roman state honored many gods, all of which were believed to have human characteristics.

Blended gods

Over the centuries, the movement of large numbers of people meant that gods from a variety of cultures, including Etruscan and Greek, merged together. As a result, Roman gods were a blend of deities, with close similarities to the gods worshipped by the ancient Greeks.

In particular, the twelve greatest gods and goddesses in the Roman state religion called the di consentes paralleled the gods of Greek mythology. Although they kept Latin names and images, the links between Roman and Greek gods gradually came together to form one divine family that ruled over other gods, as well as mortals.

The big three

The three most important gods were Jupiter (protector of the state), Juno (protector of women) and Minerva (goddess of craft and wisdom). Other major gods included Mars (god of war), Mercury (god of trade and messenger of the gods) and Bacchus (god of grapes and wine production).

Romans also believed that many of their gods had played an active part in the foundation of Rome. Venus was believed to be the mother of Aeneas, who according to legend had founded Rome, making her the divine mother of the Roman people. Similarly, Mars was the father of Romulus and Remus, the founders of Rome.

Divine rule

Aeneas and Romulus themselves were believed to have been made gods after their deaths and the family of Augustus traced their roots back to these divine ancestors. As a result, the fact that Julius Caesar and his descendants were made into gods after they died was not just a way of honoring their achievements in power, it was also simple recognition of the fact that they belonged to a divine family.

Over time, the same divinity was extended to wives and children. The whole imperial family came to be seen as gods and was often commemorated with temples and coins.

New religions spread

As the Empire expanded, it took control of new countries that had their own cultures and their own gods. In Egypt, Isis was a goddess of fertility; she was also a mother and a symbol of death and rebirth. She therefore combined the duties of several Roman goddesses, including Cybele, Aphrodite and Demeter.

The trade and travel that was integral to the Roman Empire made it easy for the worship of gods to spread abroad and Isis came to be worshipped across the Empire. In the same way, the Persian god Mithras was popular with the Roman legions many of whose soldiers had served in Persia and shrines to him have been found in Britain, Syria, and across North Africa. Such was the effect of a multicultural Empire that spanned continents and countries.

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Religion in Ancient Rome Augustus
Religion in Ancient Rome Roman Worship

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The Roman Empire - In The First Century