The Roman Empire - In The First Century
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Religious ceremony
In Latin, “religio” means “something that binds.” For Romans, religion was a force that bound families together, bound subjects to their ruler and bound men to the gods.

Private and public

Roman religion was divided into two. Spirits watched over people, families and households, and the paterfamilias was in charge of the household worship that honored them.

Romans also had a set of public gods, such as Jupiter and Mars. State worship was much more formal: colleges of priests paid tribute to these gods on behalf of Rome itself.

Divine blessing

The objective of Roman worship was to gain the blessing of the gods and thereby gain prosperity for themselves, their families and communities.

Emperors understood the central importance of religion to the lives of the Romans and used it for their own ends. Augustus appointed himself as the chief priest – or Pontifex Maximus – and used the appearance of Halley’s Comet to claim that he was, himself, the son of a god.

Cult worship

Unlike most religions today, the Roman gods did not demand strong moral behavior. Roman religion involved cult worship. Approval from the gods did not depend on a person’s behavior, but on perfectly accurate observance of religious rituals. Each god needed an image – usually a statue or relief in stone or bronze – and an altar or temple at which to offer the prayers and sacrifices.

Judaism in Ancient Rome

However, the Roman religion was not the only one practiced in the first century AD. Far from it. Communities of Jews had existed in cities throughout the Roman Empire for centuries. Although they were generally treated with respect, trouble did occur. The Jewish philosopher, Philo, wrote of brutal treatment in Alexandria, while a revolt in Judaea led to the destruction of the temple and a change in the practice of the Jewish faith.

Rise of Christianity

The first century also saw the birth of a brand new religion. Although he was executed by Rome at an early age, Jesus would have a massive impact on the Roman Empire. After his death, his message of eternal life and hope was spread across the empire by missionaries such as Paul. And although Christians in Rome suffered appalling persecution at times, their ideas refused to die: instead, they would conquer Rome itself.

Where to next:
Enemies and Rebels – Josephus & Judaea
Life in Roman Times – Family Life

Related Links:

Worship   Worship
Early Christians   Early Christians
The Roman Empire

Republic to Empire

Age of Augustus

Years of Trial

Empire Reborn


Social Order

Life in Roman Times


Enemies and Rebels

- Mythology
- Roman Gods
- Worship
- Jews in Roman Times
- Early Christians
- Augustus
- Philo
- Paul
- Jesus

The Roman Empire - In The First Century