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Religion in Republican Rome

Rationalization and Ritual Change

By Jorg Rupke

Publication Year: 2012

Roman religion as we know it is largely the product of the middle and late republic, the period falling roughly between the victory of Rome over its Latin allies in 338 B.C.E. and the attempt of the Italian peoples in the Social War to stop Roman domination, resulting in the victory of Rome over all of Italy in 89 B.C.E. This period witnessed the expansion and elaboration of large public rituals such as the games and the triumph as well as significant changes to Roman intellectual life, including the emergence of new media like the written calendar and new genres such as law, antiquarian writing, and philosophical discourse.

In Religion in Republican Rome Jörg Rüpke argues that religious change in the period is best understood as a process of rationalization: rules and principles were abstracted from practice, then made the object of a specialized discourse with its own rules of argument and institutional loci. Thus codified and elaborated, these then guided future conduct and elaboration. Rüpke concentrates on figures both famous and less well known, including Gnaeus Flavius, Ennius, Accius, Varro, Cicero, and Julius Caesar. He contextualizes the development of rational argument about religion and antiquarian systematization of religious practices with respect to two complex processes: Roman expansion in its manifold dimensions on the one hand and cultural exchange between Greece and Rome on the other.

Published by: University of Pennsylvania Press

Series: Empire and After


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pp. v-vi

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pp. 1-7

Roman religion as we know it is largely the product of the middle and late Republic, the period falling roughly between the victory of Rome over its Latin allies in 338 b.c.e. and the attempt of Italian peoples in the Social War to stop Roman domination, resulting in the victory of Rome over all of Italy...

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1. The Background: Roman Religion of the Archaic and Early Republican Periods

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pp. 8-23

The mapping of change needs a background. However, our knowledge of religion in early Rome is very limited. Contemporary literary sources or reliable later accounts are not available before the second half of the fourth or third century b.c.e. respectively.1 Already by this time, the armies of Rome...

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2. Institutionalizing and Ordering Public Communication

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pp. 24-34

This chapter will substantiate the claim made earlier that religion is an important and growing field in public communication. The analysis undertaken here seeks to document the extent and boundaries of processes of rationalization. I concentrate on systematization as a historical process and form of rationalization. It is seen above all in the growing number of explicit...

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3. Changes in Religious Festivals

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pp. 35-50

As sketched in the previous chapter, the mixture of Roman festivals changed from the fifth and fourth to the second and first centuries, a ‘‘long’’ third century being the turning point. How is this change related to the religious and political development of the Republic? I contended that the ritual...

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4. Incipient Systematization of Religion in Second-Century Drama: Accius

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pp. 51-61

So far systematization has been observed in the form of changes in institutions. In this, the rationalization of communication served the feathering of space, and the public religion appeared as an instrument rather than an object of rationalization. This chapter will address the first stages of a process that could be termed the theoretical rationalization of religion, turning religion...

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5. Ritualization and Control

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pp. 62-81

The findings of the previous chapters invite us to apply a historicizing analysis to a ritual that took on many different usages in the late Republic but is said to be a remnant of a very early layer of Roman religion, surely predating the period analyzed here: the triumph.1 From the formation of the republican...

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6. Writing and Systematization

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pp. 82-93

The analysis of rituals in the previous chapters has shown changes in the forms and functions of religious communication. Beyond the emergence of a field that we more and more plausibly describe as ‘‘religion,’’ these developments are indicative of social change. In a growing city, communication...

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7. The Pontifical Calendar and the Law

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pp. 94-110

The development of the Roman calendar between the end of the fourth century and the second century can be followed in some detail. In this chapter I will advance the thesis that this development can best be analyzed as a process of rationalization. New rules are developed and coherently applied to...

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8. Religion and Divination in the Second Century

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pp. 111-125

This chapter investigates additional institutional changes that may betray rationalization or at least systematization in religious thought and practice. As we reach into the second century b.c.e., the increasing richness of the historical record will enable us to employ methods of analysis not possible up...

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9. Religion in the Lex Ursonensis

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pp. 126-143

Compared to the texts analyzed in the previous chapters, the late republican lex Ursonensis professes a type of legal reasoning that, in the first century b.c.e., is new to Roman religious thought.1 Before we continue to consider earlier and less pronounced systematic forms of describing religion in the chapters that follow, the lex Ursonensis offers us the opportunity to examine...

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10. Religious Discourses in the Second and First Centuries: Antiquarianism and Philosophy

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pp. 144-151

I stressed at the very beginning of this work that the Weberian concept of rationality should not be restricted in its usage to theoretical rationality, that is, to a certain way of arguing by applying Aristotelian logic. Instead, starting with ritual, I have traced the systematization of procedures and institutional...

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11. Ennius’s Fasti in Fulvius’s Temple: Greek Rationality and Roman Tradition

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pp. 152-171

The choice of sources for this chapter, purportedly dealing with antiquarian texts in republican antiquarianism, may come as a surprise. The fasti painted in the temple of Hercules of the Muses are hardly ever considered in accounts of early antiquarian writing. Thus my claim that it is an important early example of a specific intellectual form of systematizing religion within the...

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12. Varro’s tria genera theologiae: Crossing Antiquarianism and Philosophy

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pp. 172-185

For writers in the Roman Empire, and for Christian apologists, Varro’s Antiquitates rerum divinarum supplied the canonical description of traditional Roman religion. Quite a number of literary sources for Roman religion point or lead back to Varro, whose books have for the most part not been preserved. But it is not as a source of factual knowledge that Varro is of interest for this...

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13. Cicero’s Discourse on Religion

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pp. 186-204

Throughout this book, and in particular in Chapter 12, Cicero has been looming in the background. While the whole process—or rather the bundle of processes—analyzed so far was decisively informed by the (or some) Romans’ reaction to Greek rational thought, Cicero must be given pride of place. Toward the end of his life, motivated by the death of his daughter Tullia as...

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14. Greek Rationality and Roman Traditions in the Late Republic

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pp. 205-220

Historical change is a difficult thing to analyze and involves many areas and interacting factors. Previous research on the middle and late Republic has concentrated on only a few of these and has tended to do so from a political, cultural, or literary perspective. Research with a political focus has been concentrated on the elite, on the Roman nobility. Karl-Joachim Hölkeskamp’s...


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pp. 221-260


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pp. 261-300

Index Locorum

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pp. 301-310

General Index

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pp. 311-318


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pp. 319-321

E-ISBN-13: 9780812206579
Print-ISBN-13: 9780812243949

Page Count: 336
Publication Year: 2012

Series Title: Empire and After