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It evolved into a major part of the very fabric of society. Ambassadors from these provinces would report their sacral worship and elaborate religious practices when visiting Rome. Often, these rites and practices were woven into the religious system. The religious system in Rome and in the provinces in the time of Augustus, or Rex Gestae, was steeped in his achievements. He ordered the inscription of these achievements on bronze tablets and in front of his mausoleum. Rome was a functional state, which idealized men as gods who possessed or pursued faith, reason, wealth, salvation, liberty or victory. Cicero wrote that the common custom was for those who brought such great benefits to be deified out of gratitude. Divine honors promoted these virtues and made their possessors more willing to face hardships and dangers in the service of the state. Cicero further wrote that the state could be set into order and controlled through religious observances. Victory at war was customarily viewed as a sign of divine favor. They perceived divinity itself as militantly inclined. Thus, the victory of Augustus at Actium was proving this perception. Besides, hereditary privilege, deification was required by impressive skill in leading and achieving military conquests more than the practice of virtue or sanctity. Yet Augustan writers accorded the Emperor more than divine favor. They formulated a monarchial theory of divine election. One of these writers, Virgil, wrote that Jupiter had predestined the reigns of Augustus and his great uncle Julius long before Rome was itself founded. An Egyptian writer associated Augustus with the sun-god. The Roman astrologer Nigidius Figulus had foretold Augustus' father that his son would be the ruler of the world. Divine sanction from dreams, omens, astrological forecasts, miracles and auguries were taken as legitimizing imperial rule.
The achievements of Augustus were inscribed on bronze tablets and entrusted for safekeeping to the Vestal Virgins. These were chiseled on the walls of the Temple of Rome and Augustus at Ancyra at 2.70 meters each. The document was an extension of the eulogy for the Emperor. In this case, however, the eulogy was delivered by Augustus himself and in the first person. Although he was the first successful and sole heir to the Roman throne at his time, he did not consciously assume the authority accorded to religion by the Romans. Like Julius Caesar, he was the "pontifex maximus." Augustus dexterously aligned religious authority with political authority. At his time, worship of the emperor was infused into the already existing structures of Roman religion. Augustus, however, never personally claimed to possess divine status in his lifetime. He only permitted the worship of his genius and "numen." The difference between him and a god became blurred when he organized the worship of him "numen," although he never explicitly said or claimed to be a god. After his death, his successor and adopted son Tiberius had him deified. A senator gave witness under oath that he saw Augustus ascend into heaven. The senate had a temple built in his honor and a college of priests.
Under the monarchial rule of Rome, the king was in charge of the state's public religious activity. When the Romans dethroned kings, they created priesthood they called the "rex sacrorum" or king of rites. The holder of this priesthood would take over the function of the dethroned monarch's religious duties. He would be exempted from performing any political office and from sitting at the Senate. The founders of the Roman republic seemed to have deliberately placed religious authority of the "rex sacrorum" to the state authority of the "pontifex Maximum" as a safeguard against tyranny. Hence, Roman religious affairs came under the republic and were conducted by different groups of priests according to the rituals they performed. Their appointments were lifetime. These groups were the College of Pontiffs, the College of Augurs, the Haruspices, the Triumviri Epulones and the Sodales.
The practice of deifying or worshiping emperors developed after the Emperors' death. To the Romans, this always suggested that an emperor's great achievements earned him the honor and recognition. Unfit emperors, however, sometimes surfaced. Caligula, for example, did not qualify. He claimed to be a god but Roman historians and biographers attested and found proof to his dementia. The worship of emperors proved to be useful in integrating the increasingly growing but diverse populations within the empire into a single cultural identity. Beyond Rome, the imperial cult was often associated with the worship of the goddess, Roma. It was such an honor. Members of local elites gained enviable prominence by getting nominated to the college of priests set up in honor of Augustus. Even very poor but free men could be incorporated into the power structure by becoming priests in the college.
Pre-imperial Roman gods and goddesses possessed different religious influences. Many of them were brought in by Greek colonies from Southern Italy. Most of these were rooted in the Etruscan or Latin tribes. The gods of the Roman pantheon started to be viewed as incarnated among the Etruscan kings of the sixth century BC. They were believed to be the reincarnations of Jupiter or Zeus, Juno or Hera and Minerva or Athena and were thus worshipped at the grand temple on the Capitoline Hill. In its growth, the Roman Empire imbibed the cultures and beliefs of the different countries it came in contact with. The Romans happily accommodated this variety and believed that they stood to gain from the wealth and religious influences of these cultures. Hence, foreign gods and customs seeped into those of Rome. Temples and priesthoods were given these gods within Rome. Examples were the goddess Cybele of Phoenicia who entered Roman culture from the Second Punic War entered into by Hannibal. Another was the Persian god Mithra. Mithra was regarded as the deity of the Legions. It offered eternal salvation for the immortal soul. It became very popular. Its semblance to Christianity made it easy to adopt later.
As the Roman Republic evolved into an Imperial system, Roman religion expanded to include the Emperors themselves. Julius Caesar claimed that he was directly descended from Aeneas, the son of Venus. The people at first rejected the notion and practice of worshipping their emperor. But Caesar became intensely popular and the practice helped pave the way for the shaping of future leaders. These worshipped emperors who were considered living gods, required sacrificial rituals as the people's sign of loyalty. They entrenched themselves with the older and more familiar pagan gods. Those behind the cult required complete pantheon. Early Christians who refused to worship any other god were persecuted for their refusal to observe the practice. In the fourth century, Constantine converted Rome to Christianity and eliminated emperor deification completely. Some of the emperors who followed tried to reinstate it but Mithraism and Christianity combined would not let them. In 392 AD, Emperor Theodosium I banned the practice of pagan religions in Rome altogether. Hence, Christianity was firmly established as the official state religion.
Religious faith survives if there is continual renewal and affirmation of the beliefs it holds. Oftentimes, it needs to adapt its rituals to change in social circumstances and situations. The Romans at that time considered the observance of religious rites a fervent public duty rather than a private impulse or personal preference. Their beliefs were based on often unconnected and inconsistent mythological traditions. In the absence of opposing beliefs, foreign religious strains found their way into the Roman society at a time when their class-structure was under siege. Their constitution was also in the process of change with an increased population of freed slaves and immigrants. There was the worship of Mithras, the representative of light who symbolized life-giving forces against the powers of darkness and disorder. It reached Rome from Persia in the first century AD. It was particularly appealing to the army. Another was the worship of the Egyptian goddess Isis in the early years of the first century BC. This was considered a mystery. Mysteries were cults whose rituals were known only to those who practiced them. They were restricted when they came into conflict with the official state belief or practice. Traditional beliefs were further blurred by the introduction of the Greek philosophy of the Stoics, which then introduced the concept of a single deity. The Jewish diaspora also contributed its effect. A Jewish army helped Julius Caesar in his campaign in Egypt in 48 BC. On his return, he had to grant the Jews certain privileges. One of these was freedom of worship in Rome itself. A form of semi-Judaism then evolved and even became fashionable, especially among the women. It allowed them to attend synagogue services without the need to be full converts.
During his reign in AD 117, Hadrian tried to uproot Judaism by banning all Jewish practices. Antoninus, his successor, who became emperor in about AD 138, rescinded Hadrian's order, except circumcision, restricted only to the Jewish faith. Augustus reaffirmed the traditional…[continue]
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