Foreign Cults in Rome: Creating a Roman Empire

Foreign Cults in Rome: Creating a Roman Empire

Foreign Cults in Rome: Creating a Roman Empire

Foreign Cults in Rome: Creating a Roman Empire

Synopsis

Religion is a particularly useful field within which to study Roman self-definition, for the Romans considered themselves to be the most religious of all peoples and ascribed their imperial success to their religiosity. This study builds on the observation that the Romans were remarkably open to outside influences to explore how installing foreign religious elements as part of their own religious system affected their notions of what it meant to be Roman. The inclusion of so manyforeign elements posed difficulties for defining a sense of Romanness at the very moment when a territorial definition was becoming obsolete. Using models drawn from anthropology, this book demonstrates that Roman religious activity beginning in the middle Republic (early third century B.C.E.)contributed to redrawing the boundaries of Romanness. The methods by which the Romans absorbed cults and priests and their development of practices in regard to expiations and the celebration of ludi allowed them to recreate a clear sense of identity, one that could include the peoples they had conquered. While this identity faced further challenges during the civil wars of the Late Republic, the book suggests that Roman openness remained a vital part of their religious behavior duringthis time. Foreign Cults in Rome concludes with a brief look at the reforms of the first emperor Augustus, whose activity can be understood in light of Republican activity, and whose actions laid the foundation for further adaptation under the Empire.

Excerpt

The Ausonian tribes
shall keep the speech and customs of their sires;
the name remains as now; the Teucrian race,
abiding in the land, shall but infuse
the mixture of its blood. I will bestow
a league of worship, and to Latins give
one language only. From the mingled breed
a people shall come forth whom thou shalt see
surpass all mortal men and even outvie
the faithfulness of gods; for none that live
shall render to thy name an equal praise.

Vergil, Aeneid 12.823–28

The willingness of the Romans to incorporate new cults and foreign traditions within their religious system has become one of the most frequently noted aspects of religion in Rome. During the first three hundred years of the Republic, numerous cults and practices—first from neighboring communities and then from farther abroad—found a home in the city. Cults such as Hercules suggest that this willingness to adopt foreign cults extended back into the regal period as well, and this progression continued with such divinities as Castor and Pollux and Ceres, both of whose temples are said to have been dedicated in the . . .

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