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Given the important role religion played in early Roman affairs and in shaping Rome’s institutions, an overview of the subject may be considered essential for a full understanding of early Roman society and its cultural and political development.1 Since we possess a substantial amount of ancient evidence about religious ideas and practices among other peoples of Italy, Rome’s religious history can also serve as a useful model in suggesting how Rome’s cultural development occurred within a larger Italian context. Unlike much of our other ancient evidence, it can even offer interesting glimpses into early modes of Roman thought, behavior, and patterns of life. Furthermore, since Roman religion evolved over time as the Romans adapted themselves and their institutions to new circumstances, familiarity with archaic Roman religion can serve to illustrate the tremendous change and growth in Roman society from early to historical times. Such flexibility was central to Rome’s success as an imperial power. Roman religion is fairly well documented: the names, powers, and shrines of deities, the religious calendar, the organization and duties of priestly colleges, and the nature of religious ceremonies and procedures are quite well known. Even though the surviving ancient evidence for archaic religion comes to us from sources written in later historical times and has been distorted by later modes of thought in many ways, a comparative study of other primitive religious Chapter 5 Archaic Roman Religion 125 1. For the Iguvine Tablets from Umbria see Rosenzweig 1937, Coli 1958, Poultney 1959, Devoto 1974, and Ancillotti-Cerri 1996. Buck 1904, Vetter 1953, Prosdocimi 1978, and Poccetti 1979 are scholarly editions of non-Latin Italic texts important for comparative study of the early native peoples of Italy. Radke 1979 is an excellent encyclopedic source for the divinities of archaic Rome and early Italy. systems (early Italian, ancient Mediterranean, and others) can often be used to clarify early Roman religious thought and practices.2 SOME IMPORTANT ROMAN DIVINITIES To begin with, the Romans, like so many other ancient peoples, believed in the existence of numerous deities, each of whom possessed specific powers exercised over discrete aspects of the physical world. Unlike the Greeks, however, the Romans did not develop a complex and colorful mythology; they simply conceived of the gods in rather practical terms as being powerful entities, whom they diligently worshipped in order to receive benefactions and to avert evil. Supreme in the divine sphere was Jupiter (or Jove), who was the god of the sky and its weather. His name is etymologically related to Zeus, the Greek sky god, so that Jupiter’s name is testimony to the Romans’ primordial link to other Indo-European peoples. As the god of the sky and weather, Jupiter was believed to control lightning, which the Romans regarded as one of the most important ways in which divine favor and displeasure were made manifest to humankind. His supremacy in the Roman state religion was symbolized by the great temple on the Capitoline Hill, the single most important shrine in Rome, dedicated to the worship of the Capitoline triad: Jupiter, Juno, and Minerva. Janus was the god of doors, passageways, and comings and goings. His name most likely derives from ire, the Latin verb “to go,” and is probably cognate with Sanskrit yana, the path which led souls to their proper abode. Janus’s two chief epithets, Patulcius (“opener”) and Clusivius (“closer”), were illustrated iconographically by depicting the god’s head as having two faces. Since he was thought to exercise power over accessibility, he was usually invoked first in official prayers, along with Jupiter, in order to gain access to the other gods. His most famous shrine in Rome was a small oblong structure with doors on each end which were kept closed in peacetime but opened in wartime (Müller 1943). According to one modern scholar (Holland 1961, 118 ff.), this shrine was originally an early Roman crossing over a brook in the Forum, which was later completely paved over. 126 archaic roman religion 2. Despite their age, perhaps the two best modern treatments of early Roman religion are still Fowler 1899, 1911. Although Scullard 1981 covers the same ground as Fowler 1899 and contains more recent bibliography, it is not informed by an insightful understanding of early Roman religion. Wissowa 1912 and Latte 1960 are detailed and well-documented accounts of Roman religious history, but Wissowa is sometimes gullible in accepting later Roman explanations of early practices. Dumézil 1966 treats...


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