Religion in Republican Rome: Rationalization and Ritual Change

Religion in Republican Rome: Rationalization and Ritual Change

Religion in Republican Rome: Rationalization and Ritual Change

Religion in Republican Rome: Rationalization and Ritual Change

Synopsis

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.

Excerpt

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 in 89.

Impelled by sea changes in the nature and structure of the Roman aristocracy, and itself helping to consolidate, channel, and constrain those changes, Roman religion was transformed over this period. The inventions and revisions then undertaken might be separately classified and analyzed under rubrics like ritualization, routinization, systematization, even abstraction, skepticism, Hellenization, and modernization. In this book, I shall argue that the bulk of this change might helpfully be understood as rationalizing: rules and principles were abstracted from practice; these were made the object of a specialized discourse, with its own rules of argument, and institutional loci; and, thus codified and elaborated, these then guided future conduct and innovation.

Let me make one thing clear at the outset. The evidence does not permit us to say, and I will in any event not argue, that all change in this period was systematic or purposive, or that it was driven by processes in the intellectual sphere. The massive changes that took place in Roman ritual life in the late fourth century, when sweeping accretions were made to an earlier calendrical and topographically localized ritual system, are a case in point. As I shall describe and attempt to explain in Chapter 2, these changes should be seen as driven in the first instance by varied political motives. But in the period that followed, and continuing throughout the third century, religious changes exhibit a logic that is the product at once of their formation in a particular place and time, and also of their subjection to discursive control. What we know of them, what they became, is the result of their revision and performance under the rationalizing and systematizing pressures of late . . .

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