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Classics Roman Religion
by
Elaine Fantham, Emily Fairey

Introduction

Roman religion encompasses a wide variety of cult practices and beliefs, from the Early Republic to the Imperial era. Besides the many particular cults of the Romans, the connection of Greek and Roman religion is of great importance. The Romans had a tendency toward syncretism in religion, and there are many cults of foreign origin that became successful under Rome. From the time of Julius Caesar onward, Roman religion added the imperial cult of deified emperors to their already swelling host of gods and spirits. The structure of the Roman priesthoods was an important part of civic life, as were their temples, festivals, and calendars. Given the enormous range of studies in this field, this bibliography must be selective. Thus, studies in languages other than English have been limited to the most important, and when they have been translated only the translation is listed. In addition, archaeological treatment of religious buildings has been restricted to the main reference works, collections of articles by a single author or conference papers are listed in the group publication rather than any earlier separate version, and only those studies of Christianity that are concerned with its impact on pagan society and the imperial cult are included.

General Overviews

Beard, et al. 1998 has deservedly become the main academic text on this subject. At least partly intended as a text for a course, this is a highly sophisticated work. Each of the three authors has also published chapters on religion in the appropriate volume of The Cambridge Ancient History (Boardman 1982). Important articles by these authors started in the 1980s, with Beard’s work on the Vestals (Beard 1980, Beard 1995) and on religion and writing (Beard 1985). North’s earlier papers focus on the aristocracy’s attitude toward religion (North 1976, North 1979, North 2000).

  • Beard, Mary. 1980. The sexual status of Vestal virgins. Journal of Roman Studies 70:12–27.

    DOI: 10.2307/299553Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Analyzes and describes sexual elements in the sacred status of the Vestal virgins, with a social anthropological approach to the ambiguity and anomaly of the cult.

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  • Beard, Mary. 1985. Writing and ritual: A study of diversity and expansion in the Arval Acta. Papers of the British School at Rome 53:114–162.

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    Concentrates on the inscribed stone tablets, from 21 BCE to 304 CE, of the priesthood and the changing character of the function of writing in their ritual activity.

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  • Beard, Mary. 1995. Re-reading (Vestal) virginity. In Women in Antiquity: New assessments. Edited by Richard Hawley and Barbara Levick, 166–177. London and New York: Routledge.

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    Reexamines the author’s previous contribution to the myth of the Vestals.

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  • Beard, Mary, John North, and Simon Price. 1998. Religions of Rome. 2 vols. Cambridge, UK, and New York: Cambridge Univ. Press.

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    Relates Hellenistic philosophy and religion, and traditional to Imperial religious developments.

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  • Boardman, John, ed. 1982. The Cambridge ancient history. 2nd ed. London and New York: Cambridge Univ. Press.

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    For sections on religion, see chapters from North (ch. 12 in Vol. 7), Beard (ch. 19 in Vol. 9, 729–768), and Price (Part 2: Empire, ch. 16 in Vol. 10).

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  • North, J. A. 1976. Conservatism and change in Roman religion. Papers of the British School at Rome 44:1–12.

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    Conservative Rome’s free admission of foreign cults should not be explained, with Christian bias, as stemming from the dryness of state religion, but as arising from Rome’s famous openness to new citizens.

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  • North, J. A. 1979. Religious toleration in Republican Rome. Proceedings of the Cambridge Philological Society n.s. 25:98–103.

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    Coercion was not the key factor in the Republic’s religious tradition. The most illustrative example of the state’s lack of toleration is the suppression of the Bacchanalia in 186 BCE. Before this, a lack of religious alternatives limited the possibilities for tolerance as well as authoritarian responses against aberrations within the state’s authority.

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  • North, J. A. 2000. Roman religion. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press.

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    Designed for initiates into the subject, whether they are classicists or comparatists.

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Introductory Works

Scheid 2003 is the best single manual on the subject. Scheid cut his teeth on the relationship between elite magistrate and priest (Scheid 1984). He also produced the definitive study of the records of the Arval Brethren, an aristocratic college of twelve priests revived by Augustus whose religious importance was in inverse relationship to its extensive documentation (Scheid 1990). Two other important contributions by Scheid are on the religious roles of Roman women (Scheid 1992) and a typically Roman way of honoring the gods (Scheid 1996). Jörg Rüpke is an expert on the Roman calendar; his recent book A Companion to Roman Religion (Rüpke 2007) is in some ways more elementary than Scheid 2003, but it contains a substantial bibliography and valuable analyses of religion in Roman society.

  • Rüpke, Jörg, ed. 2007. A companion to Roman religion. Malden, MA: Blackwell.

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    Places the diverse religious practices, discourses, and symbols of Roman religion into their larger context. A comprehensive study of all institutions and symbols, including those of Christianity and Judaism.

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  • Scheid, John. 1984. Le prêtre et le magistrat: Réflexions sur les sacerdoces et le droit public à la fin de la République. In Des ordres à Rome. Edited by Claude Nicolet, 243–280. Paris: Publications de la Sorbonne.

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    Explores the relationship between the civic and sacred, and how it evolved.

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  • Scheid, John. 1990. Romulus et ses frères: Le collège des Frères Arvales, modèle du culte public dans la Rome des empereurs. Rome: École française de Rome.

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    Concerns the Roman cults of the Emperor and the Arval Brethren.In French.

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  • Scheid, John. 1992. The religious roles of Roman women. In A history of women in the West. Vol. 1, From ancient goddesses to Christian saints. Edited by Pauline Schmitt Pantel, 377–408. Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard Univ. Press.

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    Roman women were mainly excluded from religious rituals, with a few exceptions.

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  • Scheid, John. 1996. Graeco ritu: A typically Roman way of honoring the gods. Harvard Studies in Classical Philology 98:15–31

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    Concerns the relation of the ritus Graecus (equivalent to mos) to the whole of Roman Augustan religion.

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  • Scheid, John. 2003. An introduction to Roman religion. Translated by Janet Lloyd. Bloomington: Indiana Univ. Press.

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    A very short book on the essentials of Roman religion, including key studies of rituals such as the ritus Graecus and the triumph, as well as a concise discussion of priesthoods and their roles (ch. 4). A clear translation from the French.

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History of Scholarship

Major treatments in 20th-century scholarship were lacking in the English language until Fowler 1911; this is also a good place to note Bailey 1935, which has now been largely supplanted by Denis Feeney’s studies of aspects of religion in Latin poetry (Feeney 1991, Feeney 1998). There is a long lapse of time and a shift of scope between these earlier books and J. H. W. G. Liebeschuetz’s comprehensive book (Liebeschuetz 1979), which takes in the whole sweep of Roman religion from Romulus to Christianity. However it is the French tradition, from the conservative Jean Bayet (see Bayet 1957) to the studies of various cults (Apollo, Venus, Ceres, Pan) by his students, and the radical reinterpretation of Roman kingship and society in terms of their Indo-European context in Dumézil 1996. After thirty years, Dumézil’s overall vision has come to be seen as heterodox, but much of his analysis still provides convincing interpretations of individual religious phenomena.

  • Bailey, Cyril. 1935. Religion in Virgil. Oxford: Clarendon.

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    An examination of the religious practices in the poetry, not the life, of Virgil.

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  • Bayet, Jean. 1957. Histoire politique et psychologique de la religion romaine. Paris: Payot.

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    Studies the 1,200-year-long juxtaposition of the stubbornly conservative ceremonial and basic priesthoods with the explosion of various foreign cults, up until the triumph of Christianity.

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  • Dumézil, Georges. 1996. Archaic Roman religion. 2 vols. Translated by Philip Krapp. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Univ. Press.

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    Studies the inscriptions, texts, and archaeology of Roman sacred sites and traces the beginnings of archaic Roman religion from Indo-European roots to the beliefs and rites of the Republic. First published in 1970 (Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press).

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  • Feeney, Denis. 1991. The gods in epic: Poets and critics of the Classical tradition. Oxford: Clarendon; New York: Oxford Univ. Press.

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    Focuses on the themes associated with each poet of the Classical literary tradition, such as Ovid’s anthropomorphism, Statius’s allegory, and Apollonius’s fiction. The first study to examine the whole literary tradition and its critical apparatus.

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  • Feeney, Denis. 1998. Literature and religion at Rome: Cultures, contexts, and beliefs. New York: Cambridge Univ. Press.

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    An argument for taking the religious aspects of Roman literature as creative and powerful interactions with Greek originals, rather than viewing them as merely derivative. Based on recent reevaluations, this book calls the biases of classical studies into question.

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  • Fowler, W. Warde. 1911. The religious experience of the Roman people, from the earliest times to the age of Augustus: The Gifford lectures for 1909–10. London and New York: Macmillan.

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    Drawing on the previous work of German scholars like Wissowa, this book is a fresh and imaginative adaptation of the author’s 1910–1911 Gifford Lectures.

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  • Liebeschuetz, J. H. W. G. 1979. Continuity and change in Roman religion. Oxford: Clarendon; New York: Oxford Univ. Press.

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    A survey of religious perspectives in Latin literature from the Late Republic to the era of Constantine. Out of print since 1986.

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Roman Priesthoods

Varro’s Divine Antiquities (Antiquitates rerum divinarum) was composed just after 50 BCE. According to Augustine (City of God 6.3), this work, now extant only in fragments, consisted of fifteen books grouped into five triads; the first group, on men, gives a book each to pontifices, augurs, and the quindecimviri. In addition to these priesthoods, Varro continues to discuss shrines (sacella), temples and sacred places (loca religiosa), festivals (divided into holy days, the circus games, and the theatrical shows), rites, and “certain gods,” “uncertain gods,” and important and selected gods. Mary Beard and John North edited the definitive work on pagan priests (Beard and North 1990). Chapters 1 and 2 are fundamental—they are titled “Priesthoods in the Roman Republic” and “Diviners and Divination in Ancient Rome.” Three pieces by Richard Gordon on Roman imperial religion close the work: “From Republic to Principate: Priesthood, Religion and Ideology”; “The Veil of Power: Emperors, Sacrificers, and Benefactors”; and “Religion in the Roman Empire: The Civic Compromise and its Limits.” Classical Athens, Ptolemaic Memphis, the Babylonian priesthood, and Mycenaean Pylos each receive one chapter.

  • Beard, Mary, and John North, eds. 1990. Pagan priests: Religion and power in the ancient world. Ithaca, NY: Cornell Univ. Press.

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    Includes essays primarily concerning the Roman Republic and Empire.

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  • Varro, M. Terentius. 1976. Antiquitates rerum divinarum. 2 vols. Edited by Burkhart Cardauns. Mainz, Germany: Akademie der Wissenschaften und der Literatur.

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    Suggests that Varro’s view of religion is less theological than concrete and worldly. The work is divided into philosophical theories inappropriate to public life, the mythical tales of poets, and the tenets of public religion.

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Pontifices

On the pontifices, see Szemler 1972. While the participation of one or more pontifices was necessary at many ceremonies, the college of pontifices operated chiefly at the request of the Senate (which most pontifices were members of); requests are surprisingly infrequent, but the Senate was obliged to act on their advice. See also Weinstock 1971 on Caesar’s successive priesthoods, and Linderski 1995 for a controversial account of Scipio Nasica’s exercise of his powers. Much of our limited knowledge derives from the religious code proposed by Cicero in the second book of his De Legibus, on which see Dyck 2004, based on the text later published as a critical edition by J. G. F. Powell (Cicero 2006). Even aristocrats did not normally hold more than one holy office, but Octavian (who would later become the emperor Augustus), after being made a pontifex by his adoptive father, Julius Caesar, at the age of fifteen, and accumulating the status of augur and quindecimvir, waited until the death of Lepidus to stand for the office of pontifex maximus, to which he was unanimously elected in 13 BCE.

  • Cicero (Marcus Tullius Cicero). De Re Publica; De Legibus; Cato Maior de Senectute; Laelius de Amicitia. 2006. Edited by J. G. F. Powell. Oxford and New York: Oxford Univ. Press.

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    A clear and readable presentation based on a reconsideration of the manuscript evidence for Cicero’s political dialogues De Re Publica and De Legibus. Offers corrected versions of the editor’s previous editions of Cato Maior de Senectute and Laelius de Amicitia.

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  • Dyck, Andrew R. 2004. A commentary on Cicero, De Legibus. Ann Arbor: Univ. of Michigan Press.

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    In a detailed interpretation, Dyck puts his commentary into the context of the politics and philosophical thought of its time. The essay is founded upon a new text that was carried out in consultation with Jonathan Powell of Royal Holloway, London.

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  • Linderski, Jerzy. 2007. The pontiff and the tribune: The death of Tiberius Gracchus. In Roman questions II: Selected papers. By Jerzy Linderski, 88–114. Stuttgart, Germany: Franz Steiner Verlag.

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    A collection of seventy-two articles (written mostly in English, with one paper in German and one in Latin), mostly published in the last twenty years by different leading journals in America and Europe. They have been received positively by the academic community, though they do not avoid polemic in asking and answering questions.

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  • Szemler, G. J. 1972. The priests of the Roman Republic: A study of interactions between priesthoods and magistracies. Brussels: Latomus.

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    Expands Szemler’s dissertation, attempts to revise the work of Bardt a century before on priesthoods, and adds new categories of priests.

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  • Weinstock, Stefan. 1971. Divus Julius. Oxford: Clarendon.

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    This illustrated work is divided into forty-two sections on Caesar’s successive priesthoods and life in general.

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Augurs

Augurs exercised a more obvious power to mark divine acceptance or refusal of a proposed ceremony or engagement. Linderski is again the authority (Linderski 2007). The biggest problems arise with the earliest source for Rome’s foundation, Ennius’s account.

Divination

Divination was chiefly a response to prodigies (see MacBain 1982) and was usually entrusted to quindecimviri, but at times also to haruspices. In the two books of De Divinatione, Cicero considers beliefs concerning fate and the possibility of prediction: in the first book he puts the (principally Stoic) case for them in the mouth of his brother Quintus; in the second, speaking in his own person, he argues against them. Cicero 2006 is a new translation and commentary. See Linderski 1982 for a more general approach, as well as the juxtaposed articles Beard 1986 and Schofield 1986.

  • Beard, Mary. 1986. Cicero and divination: The formation of a Latin discourse. Journal of Roman Studies 76:33–46.

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    One cannot deduce Cicero’s personal skepticism towards divination from Book II of De divinatione, since he is forming a discourse on theology in his handling of state religion in his philological works.

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  • Cicero (Marcus Tullius Cicero). 2006. Cicero: On divination, Book 1. Translated with introduction and commentary by D. Wardle. Oxford: Clarendon.

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    Wardle guides the reader through Cicero’s argument, focusing on the philosophical as well as the traditional Roman concepts of divination. The first English translation and commentary of the work in more than eighty years.

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  • Linderski, J. 1982. Cicero and Roman divination. La Parola del Passato 37:12–38.

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    In Book 2 of De divinatione, Cicero condemns divination as superstition, though he had defended it without reserve in Book 2 of Legibus. However, there is neither contradiction nor different evolution here, but two points of view: in the Laws, as in the Republic, Cicero speaks as a princeps civitatis, but in De divinatione he speaks as a philosopher.

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  • MacBain, Bruce. 1982. Prodigy and expiation: A study in religion and politics in Republican Rome. Brussels: Latomus.

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    Concentrates on the Romans’ need to increase military defenses and raise morale in Etruria and covers Etruscan elements of rituals.

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  • Schofield, Malcolm. 1986. Cicero for and against divination. Journal of Roman Studies 76:47–65.

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    The special opportunities for exercising philosophical rhetoric attracted Cicero to write De divinatione. His conjunction of Greek and Roman rhetorical styles was intended as practice in opposing arguments, not as a tract against superstition.

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Priestesses

The only female priests in Rome were the unworldly Vestals and the (probably imported) priestesses of the south Italian form of the cult of Ceres. But Richlin 1997 has gathered from epigraphic material abundant evidence of priestesses, magistrae and ministrae of Cybele and Venus and other goddesses in Italian towns, and Purcell 1986 shows how Livia set an example for elite women in her religious activities, restoring the shrine of Pudicitia and dedicating a portico to Concordia in honor of marital harmony. On this see Takács 2008.

  • Purcell, Nicholas. 1986. Livia and the womanhood of Rome. Proceedings of the Cambridge Philological Society 32:78–103.

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    Argues that Livia honored marital harmony and set an example for elite women by dedicating a portico to Concord and restoring the shrine of Pudicitia.

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  • Richlin, Amy. 1997. Carrying water in a sieve: Class and the body in Roman women’s religion. In Women and goddess traditions in Antiquity and today. Edited by Karen L. King, 330–374. Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press.

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    Offers plentiful epigraphic evidence for female priestesses (magistrae and ministrae) of Venus, Cybele, and other goddesses in Italian towns.

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  • Takács, Sarolta A. 2008. Vestal virgins, sibyls, and matrons: Women in Roman religion. Austin: Univ. of Texas Press.

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    A versatile and useful academic text, usable for primary levels or as a supplement in religious and cultural history, Roman history, or women’s studies.

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Holy Places and Temples

Recent excavations have exposed a number of significant early temples, such as the temples of Mater Matuta and Fortuna under the Sant’Omobono church. On these and other early temples, see Holloway 1994. More generally, for topography and architectural details of temples, see Richardson 1992 and the archaeological guides of F. Coarelli (Longhi and Coarelli 1981, Coarelli 1983–1985, Coarelli 1988). On the vowing, dedication, and foundation of temples, see Orlin 1997. Public religious sites extended more significantly to include the sacred groves of Rome and Latium, on which a number of important papers are contained in Cazenove and Scheid 1993. Among many sacred sites outside Rome the grove and cult of Diana at Aricia deserves special mention; on this, see Green 2007.

  • Cazanove, Olivier de, and John Scheid, eds. 1993. Les bois sacrés: Actes du colloque international organisé par le Centre Jean Bérard et l’École pratique des hautes études (Ve section), Naples, 23–25 novembre 1989. Naples, Italy: Centre Jean Bérard.

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    A collection of important papers on religious sites in Rome and Latium, including sacred groves, among others.

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  • Coarelli, Filippo. 1983–1985. Il Foro Romano. 3 vols. Rome: Quasar.

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    Sacred sites such as the Nova Via, Via Sacra, and Comitium are described in connection with their cults and rituals in this iconoclastic book.

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  • Coarelli, Filippo. 1988. Il Foro Boario: Dalle origini alla fine della Repubblica. Rome: Quasar.

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    With its tight organization and a holistic approach to its topics, this book is a fine example of the “Coarellian Revolution.”

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  • Green, C. M. C. 2007. Roman religion and the cult of Diana at Aricia. Cambridge, UK, and New York: Cambridge Univ. Press.

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    Green reconsiders the myth of the Silvan King that Frazer made famous and provides a new, comprehensive examination of the archaeological and literary evidence for Diana’s cult.

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  • Holloway, R. Ross. 1994. The archaeology of early Rome and Latium. London and New York: Routledge.

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    Originally delivered as lectures at the University of São Paolo (Brazil). Each chapter addresses an important issue, ultimately creating a difficult synthesis.

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  • Longhi, Giuseppe Marchetti, and Filippo Coarelli. 1981. L’area Sacra Di Largo Argentina. Rome: X Ripartizione Antichità Belle Arti e Problemi di Cultura.

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    Describes the site and findings of the Area Sacra in three discrete parts, without a consistently clear rationale for this division.

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  • Orlin, Eric M. 1997. Temples, religion, and politics in the Roman Republic. Leiden, The Netherlands, and New York: E. J. Brill.

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    Well-organized yet uneven coverage of the three title topics. Strong on politics and temples in Republican Rome, but less so on religion. Perhaps this is due to the weakness in the secondary scholarship of the field.

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  • Richardson, L., Jr. 1992. A new topographical dictionary of ancient Rome. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Univ. Press.

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    For its nature and size, a reasonably priced, attractively laid-out, and well-produced book. With carefully chosen (albeit somewhat scarce) illustrations, an excellent bibliography, and useful bibliographic summaries at the end of each chapter.

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  • Steinby, Eva Margareta. 2001. Lexicon topographicum Urbis Romae. 6 vols. New York: Oxford Univ. Press.

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    Collects and describes current research on the buildings and monuments, public and private, constructed within the walls of Aurelian up to the early 7th century. Discusses Christian as well as classical edifices, using archaeological, literary, or artistic sources. Extensively illustrated with maps, floor plans, photographs, and drawings.

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Time

Varro uses the term tempora to describe Roman festivals, or more precisely, holy days (feriae) and the ludi (games). Varro obviously paid much attention to the circus races and the dramatic contests in tragedy and comedy. But tempora is closer in meaning to “occasions.” There is much exciting new scholarship on the Roman calendar. The calendrical year was essentially religious in nature. Michels 1967 has not been superseded (except perhaps by Jörg Rüpke’s German works [e.g., Rüpke 1995]) because of its clear account of the diverse status of each calendar day—lawful or unlawful for court business, split (endotercisus) between the two, comitiales (days designated for assemblies), the mysterious but negative “NP,” and the exceptional “black” or ill-omened anniversaries of the defeats of Allia and Cannae. Michels 1967 provides a visual reconstruction of a republican (pre-Julian) calendar. For readers of German there is now Rüpke’s monumental study (Rüpke 1995).

The Temple Calendar of Hercules Musarum

Rome’s first inscribed calendar was set up by Fulvius Nobilior in the temple he dedicated after his triumph in 184 BCE to contain statues of Hercules and the Muses which he had taken from the palace of Pyrrhus in Ambracia; Fulvius incorporated the shrine of the Roman Camenae (nymphs associated with poetry) into his temple of the Muses and may have used his protégé Ennius to compose the annotations of the (now lost) Fasti. On this see Feeney 2007, particularly chapters 5 and 6; on Ovid’s tribute to the temple in the last lines of his Fasti, see the last pages of Newlands 1995.

  • Feeney, Denis. 2007. Caesar’s calendar: Ancient time and the beginnings of history. Berkeley: Univ. of California Press.

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    Arising from the author’s Sather Classical Lectures, this book contains six chapters arranged in three pairs. There are two on the division between myth and history, two on synchronism, and two on the Roman time schemes (consular lists and calendars). This brings the author back around to the subject of Ovid’s Fasti.

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  • Newlands, Carole E. 1995. Playing with time: Ovid and the Fasti. Ithaca, NY: Cornell Univ. Press.

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    Argues that the text of the Fasti is constructed to adhere to the format of the calendar while reflecting a humorous scrutiny of the political ideology inherent in the new Roman calendar. See the final pages for the Temple calendar.

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Republican Calendars

Only one double calendar survives from the Late Republic, the fasti of Antium: on this and the far greater number of surviving Augustan calendars, see Degrassi 1963. The most studied of these is the fasti of Praeneste, composed between 6 and 10 CE from the research of Verrius Flaccus and used by Ovid as the basis for his Fasti about official occasions (tempora) and their origins (cum causis), six months of which survive. Beard, et al. 1998 includes samples of the month of April from the inscribed republican fasti from Antium and the Augustan calendar of Praeneste, as well as excerpts from the Augustan calendar of Cumae, a 3rd-century CE calendar from Dura-Europus, and the Christian calendar in book form of Philocalus from 354 CE. On the forty-five major festivals of the republican year, see Fowler 1899 and Scullard 1981. Roman drama was also a part of Roman religion: besides performances at the five regular ludi, Roman historical plays (praetextae) were probably presented at votive and funeral games for individuals (see Flower 1995).

  • Beard, Mary, John North, and Simon Price. 1998. Religions of Rome. Vol. 2, A sourcebook. Cambridge, UK, and New York: Cambridge Univ. Press.

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    Contains cross-references to the epigraphic and visual material in volume 1, but the two volumes have distinct systems that do not interrelate.

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  • Degrassi, Attilio. 1963. Fasti et Elogia. Rome: La Librerio dello Stato.

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    Ovid used the most studied of all Italian inscriptions, the Fasti of Praenestae, which were composed between 6 and 10 CE from the research of Verrius Flaccus, to create a basis for his Fasti.

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  • Flower, Harriet I. 1995. Fabulae Praetextae in context: When were plays on contemporary subjects performed in Republican Rome? Classical Quarterly 45:170–190.

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    Looks at the religious aspects of drama. Roman historical plays, or praetextae, were probably performed at funeral and votive games, as well as at the five regular ludi.

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  • Fowler, W. Warde. 1899. Roman festivals of the period of the Republic: An introduction to the study of the religion of the Romans. London and New York: Macmillan.

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    Examines the forty-five major festivals of the republican year in a technical fashion, going by the yearly calendar. Available online.

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  • Scullard, H. H. 1981. Festivals and ceremonies of the Roman Republic. London: Thames and Hudson.

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    The author looks at elements of Roman life that have religious aspects, such as the census, and reviews the religious festivals of the year, providing a generalized look at Roman religious practices.

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Calendars of the Caesars

Feeney 2007 reconstructs the role of national chronology in Roman historiography and Julius Caesar’s Alexandrian-inspired calendar reform. Wallace-Hadrill’s pioneering article (Wallace-Hadrill 1987) brings out how much Augustus’s inclusion of new dynastic celebrations (not to mention the renaming of the months Quintilis and Sextilis as Julius and Augustus) changed the nature of the public calendar.

  • Feeney, Denis. 2007. Caesar’s calendar: Ancient time and the beginnings of history. Berkeley: Univ. of California Press.

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    Looks at the Alexandrian-inspired calendar reform of Julius Caesar and examines the effect of national chronology on Roman historiography.

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  • Wallace-Hadrill, Andrew. 1987. Time for Augustus. In Homo Viator: Classical essays for John Bramble. Edited by Michael Whitby, Philip Hardie, and Mary Whitby, 221–230. Bristol, UK: Bristol Classical Press; Oak Park, IL: Bolchazy-Carducci.

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    The studies in this collection have a common theme: they all examine the ways Augustus changed the public calendar by, for example, renaming the months Quintilis and Sextilis as Julius and Augustus, or by including new dynastic celebrations.

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Ovid’s Fasti

Ovid’s Fasti is both learned and imaginative, and it was treated as a source for early Roman religion by Sir George Frazer in his five-volume text, translation, and commentary (Ovid 1929). His text and translation, separately published by the Loeb Classical Library, is still in print. There has been intense recent interest in Ovid’s poem, with commentaries on Book 1 by Steven J. Green (Green 2004), Book 4 by Elaine Fantham (Ovid 1998), and Book 6 by R. Joy Littlewood (Littlewood 2006); this last book is particularly strong on archaeology and topography. See also Herbert-Brown 1994; the author has also edited Ovid’s Fasti: A Collection for its Bimillennium (Herbert-Brown 2002). Two influential monographs, Barchiesi 1997 and Newlands 1995, question the surface loyalism of Ovid’s poem for Augustus. Feeney 1998 considers the treatment of myth and ritual in Ovid’s poem.

  • Barchiesi, Alessandro. 1997. The poet and the prince: Ovid and Augustan discourse. Berkeley: Univ. of California Press.

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    A revised translation of Il poeta e il principe: Ovido e il discorso Augusteo (1994). Barchiesi goes beyond the opposition of pro-Augustan or anti-Augustan readings, creating a work that is fascinating and useful for scholars and general readers alike.

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  • Feeney, Denis. 1998. Literature and religion at Rome: Cultures, contexts, and beliefs. New York: Cambridge Univ. Press.

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    Using recent reevaluations of Roman religion, this book questions the biases of former classical studies and argues that religious elements of Roman literature, rather than simply deriving a parasitic existence from Greek originals, have their own cultural importance and reflect a Roman creativity and power in contact with Greek culture.

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  • Green, Steven J. 2004. Ovid, Fasti I. Leiden, The Netherlands, and Boston: Brill.

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    This commentary is an excellent tool for the advanced student coming to the first poem of the Fasti. Based on the text of Alton, Wormell, and Courtney’s Teubner edition.

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  • Herbert-Brown, Geraldine. 1994. Ovid and the Fasti: An historical study. Oxford: Clarendon; New York: Oxford Univ. Press.

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    An especially profitable historical investigation for students of the late Augustan period that studies Ovid’s treatment of imperial themes and increases our understanding of his engagement with Augustan ideology.

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  • Herbert-Brown, Geraldine, ed. 2002. Ovid’s Fasti: Historical readings at its bimillennium. Oxford and New York: Oxford Univ. Press.

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    This supplement to the collection of papers published in Arethusa 1992 includes S. Hinds’s reinterpretation of Ovid’s domestication of the epic Mars for pacific elegy and J. Miller’s discussion of Ovid’s Callimachean aetiology elegy.

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  • Littlewood, R. Joy. 2006. A commentary on Ovid’s Fasti, Book 6. Oxford and New York: Oxford Univ. Press.

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    Archaeology and topography are especially strong elements of this commentary.

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  • Newlands, Carole E. 1995. Playing with time: Ovid and the Fasti. Ithaca, NY: Cornell Univ. Press.

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    Newlands argues that the Fasti does not interpret the Augustan era as a time of peace and prosperity but rather one of unresolved tensions, experimentation, and compromise, all of which the text is carefully constructed to reflect while adhering to the new Roman year’s basic format.

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  • Ovid (Publius Ovidius Naso). 1929. Fasti. 5 vols. Edited with a translation and commentary by James George. London: Macmillan.

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    Frazer used the Fasti as a learned and imaginative source for early Roman religion in this five-volume text, translation, and commentary. English and Latin edition.

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  • Ovid (Publius Ovidius Naso). 1998. Fasti, Book 4. Edited by Elaine Fantham. Cambridge, UK, and New York: Cambridge Univ. Press.

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    A commentary with a lengthy introduction that situates the poem in its Augustan context and surveys style, versification, language, and textual transmission, as well as examining the changes in the traditions of Greek and Roman elegy. Revised text.

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Rites

Varro’s three books on rites include forms of rites for seeking peace with the gods, above all sacrifice, including the self-sacrifice of devotio. Two articles by Versnel (Versnel 1976, Versnel 1981) are both valuable on this topic. On human sacrifice, see Rives 1995. Defeat and victory in war could lead to supplicatio (either thanks for a victory or petitions to reverse a defeat), and victory led to the ultimate rite of triumph (see Versnel 1970 on triumphs). Other types of Roman rites are the lectisternia and sellisternia, which set out feasts for the images of gods and goddesses, and the pompae, or parades, in which images of the gods were conveyed to and from the circus games. Most scholars assume that household slaves did not participate publicly but instead attended domestic rites like the ambarvalia and terminalia. Urban rituals occurred in public space and can hardly have excluded slaves or foreign noncitizens. On the common elements of religion and festival, see Rüpke 2007. On women in religious rites, see Schultz 2006, Takács 2008, and Fantham 2002 on women’s cults.

  • Fantham, Elaine. 2002. The Fasti as a source for women’s participation in Roman cult. In Ovid’s Fasti: Historical readings at its bimillennium. Edited by Geraldine Herbert-Brown, 23–46. Oxford and New York: Oxford Univ. Press.

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    Examines individual books of the Fasti to discover if Ovid offers any evidence of Roman women’s roles in religious practice, particularly in public cults.

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  • Rives, J. 1995. Human sacrifice among pagans and Christians. Journal of Roman Studies 85:65–85.

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    Begins with the dialogue of Minucius Felix on the value of Christianity.

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  • Rüpke, Jörg, ed. 2007. A companion to Roman religion. Oxford: Blackwell.

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    Places significant symbols, discourses, practices, and institutions, including Judaism and Christianity, into the larger context of Roman religion, creating a comprehensive view of its wide landscape.

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  • Schultz, Celia E. 2006. Women’s religious activity in the Roman Republic. Chapel Hill: Univ. of North Carolina Press.

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    Most useful for the reader who is already grounded in Roman history and religion. Argues, with a series of case studies, that women were far more involved in Roman religious life than previous scholars have believed.

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  • Takács, Sarolta A. 2008. Vestal virgins, sibyls, and matrons: Women in Roman religion. Austin: Univ. of Texas Press.

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    Illustrates the key importance of women’s religious roles in understanding their functions in Roman society. Examines the shifting of these roles in time and includes a timeline of Roman history, detailed endnotes, maps, and a concise and current bibliography, as well as short biographical sketches of relevant ancient authors.

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  • Versnel, H. S. 1970. Triumphus: An inquiry into the origin, development, and meaning of the Roman triumph. Leiden, The Netherlands: E. J. Brill.

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    Originally a thesis, containing a valuable index of terminology.

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  • Versnel, H. S. 1976. Two types of Roman devotio. Mnemosyne 29:379–410.

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    Argues that while the devotio hostium is truly a devotio, the devotio ducis is actually a consecratio. While the former is an independently celebrated, frequently practiced ancient rite, the latter is attested for the first time in 340 CE, is restricted to two or three cases only, and appears only in the context of the former.

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  • Versnel, H. S. 1981. Self-sacrifice, compensation, and the anonymous gods. In Le sacrifice dans l’antiquité. Edited by Jean Rudhardt and Olivier Reverdin, 135–194. Geneva, Switzerland: Fondation Hardt.

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    Contained in a collection of eight exposés and discussions in French, English, German, or Italian.

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The Gods: Greco-Roman

Most important in modern eyes, but last in order in Varro’s Antiquities, come the gods themselves. We can’t be sure what Varro meant by “uncertain or undefined” gods, but modern research has not wasted time on the primitive indigitamenta like Porrima and Postverta, who supervised babies delivered head or feet first. Preeminent are the Olympian gods and the Italic deities assimilated to them. For every Olympian like Apollo, Venus, or Ceres, there was a corresponding local Roman deity. See Gagé 1955, Le Bonniec 1958, Spaeth 1996, Schilling 1954, and Schilling 1979.

The Gods: Roman

There are cults that have Greek equivalents but are far more prominent in Roman thinking. Hence, Bayet 1926 discusses Roman Hercules and Gagé 1963 examines the cult of Mater Matuta. See also Champeaux’s two-volume study of Fortuna (Champeaux 1982–1987) and Dorcey 1992 on Silvanus. Other deities seem peculiar to Rome; Mater Matuta was identified in Cicero’s time with the Greek Ino/Leucothea, but there are no cult overlaps, nor does Bona Dea, whose rites were violated by the intrusion of the male Clodius, have any obvious parallel. On this, see Versnel 1992. Using reliefs and other artifacts from Rome’s preliterary period, Wiseman 2008 reconstructs the cults of Faunus/Pan, the “God of the Lupercal,” and Liber and the Liberalia. But new studies are needed of other Italic cults like Castor and Pollux. For the “undefined-indefinite gods” such as Concordia and Victoria, Honos, and Virtus, the title of Anna Clark’s 2007 monograph, “Divine Qualities,” is a fitting epithet. As Clark 2007 shows, abstract qualities continued to be added to the pantheon. For a balanced assessment of the view of the suppressed Bacchanalian cult, the object of a militarized witch hunt with mass executions, as a kind of rival community, see Gruen 1990.

  • Bayet, Jean. 1926. Les origines de l’Hercule romain. Paris: E. de Boccard.

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    A French-language book on Hercules that is accompanied by a volume on the Etruscan Hercules.

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  • Champeaux, Jacqueline. 1982–1987. Fortuna: Recherches sur le culte de la Fortune à Rome et dans le monde romain des origines à la mort de César. Rome: École Française de Rome.

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    A two-volume study of the Roman goddess Fortuna. In French.

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  • Clark, Anna J. 2007. Divine qualities: Cult and community in Republican Rome. Oxford and New York: Oxford Univ. Press.

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    Demonstrates the continuing addition of abstract qualities to the divine pantheon, such as Spes, Salus, and Mens, all added in the period of the Hannibalic Wars. Such divine qualities were relevant to a broad sector of the population and are important for our understanding of society as a whole.

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  • Dorcey, Peter F. 1992. The cult of Silvanus: A study in Roman folk religion. Leiden, The Netherlands, and New York: E. J. Brill.

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    A study that improves our knowledge of the domestic religious practices of the lower classes. Dorcey collects and analyzes the manifold archeological and epigraphic evidence for the cult of Silvanus, an important subject because of his popular and private character.

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  • Gagé, Jean. 1963. Matronalia: Essai sur les dévotions et les organisations cultuelles des femmes dans l’ancienne Rome. Brussels: Latomus.

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    This French-language volume is concerned mainly with the argument that women’s cults that determined their status by means of specific categories were recognized by Roman society from earliest times. Not actually primarily on the cult of Mater Matuta.

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  • Gruen, Erich S. 1990. Studies in Greek culture and Roman policy. Leiden, The Netherlands, and New York: E. J. Brill.

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    Chapter 2, “The Bacchanalian Affair,” deals specifically with the discovery and repression of the Bacchanalian conspiracy in Italy in 186 BCE.

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  • Versnel, H. S. 1992. The festival for Bona Dea and the Thesmophoria. Greece and Rome 39 (1992): 31–55.

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    Married women temporarily abandoned their domestic roles and took on the cultural and political privileges of men during these two festivals. By changing their status back to that of unmarried maidens, the threat of unchastity inherent in this transformation was neutralized.

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  • Wiseman, T. P. 2008. Unwritten Rome. Exeter, UK: Univ. of Exeter Press.

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    Presents early, preliterary Rome as an uninhibited arena for entertainment and the arts. With reconstructions of the cult of Liber and the Liberalia (84–139), and of Faunus/Pan, “the God of the Lupercal” (52–83).

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Mythology

It used to be said that there was no Roman mythology, but many scholars from Michael Grant (Grant 1973) to J. N. Bremmer and N. M. Horsfall (Bremmer and Horsfall 1987) to Matthew Fox (Fox 1996) to T.P.Wiseman (Wiseman 2004) have granted the status of myth to the legends of Roman kings and the Early Republic. It is instructive to contrast Bremmer’s account of Romulus and Remus (chapter 3 in Bremmer and Horsfall 1987) with the deconstruction of Remus as a 4th-century BCE “myth” in Wiseman 2004. But Wiseman also claims the status of myth for later quasi-historical events (such as the exemplary anecdotes of Valerius Maximus) on the basis of their function in edifying and inspiring the populace. Similarly, Beard 1993 considers declamatory themes as a body of myth in their own right. What is exemplarity if it is not a form of mythmaking? Livy presents religious issues in many forms, but they are clustered around mythical figures like Lucretia and Virginia; readers should consult both Liebeschutz 1967 and Levene 1993. Livy’s younger, more verbose contemporary Dionysius carries the myths of Hercules, Evander, and Aeneas to extremes (see Gabba 1991).We may see these texts as offshoots of Augustus’s refashioning of both Rome and himself, but their subject matter is drawn from Rome’s monarchy and republic.

Towards Empire

Ovid sardonically remarked in his Metamporphoses that for Augustus not to be born of a mortal, his father (albeit adoptive) had to become a god (15.760–761). It is difficult to detach the stages in the living Caesar’s divinization from the more rapid increase in his sanctity under the guidance of his son and his triumviral colleagues. For approaches toward the deification of an earlier Roman hero, see Walbank 1967, and for divine kingship and deification in the East and in the cult of Alexander, see Taylor 1981. Weinstock 1971 follows the antecedents of each aspect of Caesar’s honors: triumphator, liberator, savior, founder, father, and the aspects of Caesar’s honors that assimilated him to the ancient kings. After Caesar’s assassination and funeral, honors quickly came into place once Octavian had claimed his inheritance. On the comet seen during the games of Caesarian Victory, see Ramsey and Licht 1997. On Antony’s acceptance of the flaminate and title Jupiter Julius, see Cicero’s Philippic 2.110–111 (Cicero 2003). This was followed by the decree of the triumvirs in 42 BCE establishing a temple of Divus Julius (not dedicated until 29 BCE) on the site where Julius Caesar’s body was burned. Octavian affirmed his inheritance through the coinage he issued with the title divi filius (son of the deified), notably a denarius showing Caesar’s image in its temple, surmounted by the star. Nonetheless, once established as emperor, Octavian-Augustus would be more chary of stressing the career of his “father” (see White 1988). On the visual representation of young Octavian and his shifting association with the divine, see Pollini 1990.

  • Cicero (Marcus Tullius Cicero). 2003. Philippics I–II. Edited by John T. Ramsey. Cambridge, UK, and New York: Cambridge Univ. Press.

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    An illustrated edition of the polished orations of Cicero, composed less than half a year after Julius Caesar’s murder on the Ides of March in 44 BCE. The first since Denniston’s 1926 edition to present the combined Latin text and commentary.

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  • Pollini, J. 1990. Man or god: Divine assimilation and imitation in the Late Republic and Early Principate. In Between republic and empire: Interpretations of Augustus and his principate. Edited by Kurt A. Raaflaub and Mark Toher, 334–363. Berkeley: Univ. of California Press.

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    Examines the ever-changing associations with the divine of the youthful Octavian’s visual representations. From a book with nineteen contributors to a current assessment of Augustus’s principate. Covers five major areas of Augustan scholarship: poetry, historiography, art, politics, and religion.

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  • Ramsey, John T., and A. Lewis Licht. 1997. The comet of 44 BC and Caesar’s funeral games. Atlanta: Scholars Press.

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    Shows the importance of the titular events for Octavian’s success against Antony, introduces new evidence, and clarifies old issues on the appearance of the comet. The funeral games in conjunction with the appearance of the comet gave Octavian a combined pretext for his own right of succession and the divinity of his adopted father.

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  • Taylor, Lily Ross. 1981. The divinity of the Roman emperor. Chico, CA: Scholars Press.

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    Presents a thorough account regarding the circumstances and means by which this aspect of Roman religion originally developed. Originally published in 1931.

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  • Walbank, F. W. 1967. The Scipionic legend. Proceedings of the Cambridge Philological Society 13:54–69.

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    Discusses the scarcity of contemporary sources that shed light on the legend of Scipio Africanus’s divine favor, which was probably generated by his remarkable personality. Polybius’s overrationalized explanation is examined along with the prophecy that the army would receive help from Neptune in capturing New Carthage.

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  • Weinstock, Stefan. 1971. Divus Julius. Oxford: Clarendon.

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    A beautifully constructed book that is well worth reading for its religious and political interest, but it must be questioned carefully.

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  • White, Peter. 1988. Julius Caesar in Augustan Rome. Phoenix 42:334–356.

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    After establishing himself, Augustus-Octavian avoided emphasizing his adoptive father’s past deeds.

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Age of Augustus

The age of Augustus—the name Octavian adopted in 27 BCE—suffers from a bibliographical overload; on his religious acts and policy, only a few principal works are cited here. Religious restoration comes early in his funeral inscription, the Res Gestae (see the edition of Brunt and Moore: Augustus 1970), in the form of his triple triumph over Illyria, Actium, and Egypt and accompanying vows and supplications (para. 4), vows and votive games in his honor (para. 9), the insertion of his name in the hymn of the Salii, and his demurral when offered the position of Pontifex Maximus until Lepidus’s natural death triggered his unanimous election (para. 10); but his program of temple restoration spreads across three paragraphs (paras. 19.2; 20.4, 21.1) and he stresses his appointment of 170 senators to various priesthoods in paragraph 25. Octavian/Augustus’s desire to be seen as a religious leader only increased as he grew too old for claims to military achievement.

  • Augustus 1970. Res gestae divi Augusti: The achievements of the divine Augustus. Rev. ed. Translation and commentary by P. A. Brunt, and J. M. Moore. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press.

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    A key document of the Principate and a crucially important resource for students of Roman history. In Latin with a facing English translation.

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Landmarks

The early landmarks after Octavian’s return from Egypt and the triple triumph in 29 BCE are the delayed consecration of the temple to Divus Julius (with its rostra for public address that same year) and the dedication in 28 BCE of the temple of Palatine Apollo, vowed after the victory of Naulochus in 36 BCE, adjacent to Octavian’s house. On Augustus’s construction of his family mausoleum, see Zanker 1988; this mausoleum was first used for Marcellus, who died in 23 BCE. On the temple of Apollo Palatinus, see Zanker 1988 and Galinsky 1996. Despite its representation on Aeneas’s shield in Book 8 of the Aeneid, this temple was not dedicated until a year after Octavian’s triumph. The new title Augustus (reverend one) was offered after Octavian had “restored” to senatorial control all the nonmilitary provinces; for its meaning and association with augere and augurium, compare Ovid’s Fasti 1.580–616 and pp. 315–318 of Galinsky 1996. The religious ideology of the twenties BCE is reflected in the hierarchization of Augustus as vicegerent of Jupiter in Horace’s Odes 1.12 and 3.1, and the injunction in 3.6 to the Romans to restore the temples. Augustus was already preparing another religious milestone, the Secular Games, scheduled (with some recalculation) for 17 BCE, attested by an inscription (CIL VI 32323, for a translation see Vol. 2, 5.7b of Beard, et al. 1998, cited in General Overviews) recording the rites and theatrical offerings, and naming Horace as composer of the carmen saeculare (secular hymn) to be performed by twenty-seven ritually pure boys and girls. See pp. 100–106 of Galinsky 1996, and the critical appraisal of Barchiesi 2001.

  • Barchiesi, Allesandro. 2001. Carmina: Odes and Carmen saeculare. In The Cambridge companion to Horace. Edited by Stephen Harrison, 144–161. Cambridge, UK, and New York: Cambridge Univ. Press.

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    Barchiesi argues that Horace’s success can be ascribed to his mainstream appeal: the fact that his readers are mainly “those who really matter—the modern, European, middle-aged male, empowered citizens of a nation-state.” Additionally, the poet himself is “an honorary Englishman and an ideal clubman.”

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  • Galinsky, Karl. 1996. Augustan culture: An interpretive introduction. Princeton, NJ: Princeton Univ. Press.

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    A synopsis in one volume of the most dominant subject of Roman studies for more than a hundred years.

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  • Putnam, Michael C. J. 2000. Horace’s Carmen saeculare: Ritual magic and the poet’s art. New Haven, CT: Yale Univ. Press.

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    Putnam does not agree that the poem is only propagandistic.

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  • Zanker, Paul. 1988. The power of images in the age of Augustus. Translated by Alan Shapiro. Ann Arbor: Univ. of Michigan Press.

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    Guides the reader to understand the compiled propagandistic images of the age of Augustus, including statues, monuments, and coins. Presents the historical context precisely—and separately from the theme of propaganda.

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Augustus in Religious Life

The Augustan period saw various moves to extend Augustus’s role in popular religious life, notably the insertion of his numen into the prayers offered to the Lares of the local wards (vici) and the provision of minor offices for the freedman class as vicomagistri and seviri Augustales. On the nature of genius and numen and their role in diluting potential emperor worship see Fishwick 1969. Augustus is no longer represented as the heroic general of the Prima Porta statue, but as priest and sacrifice; for a cross-section of these local altar reliefs, see Galinsky 1996. See Glen Bowersock’s discussion on the pontificate of Augustus (Bowersock 1990). In 13 BCE, Augustus had vowed to erect an Altar of Augustan peace, which was finally dedicated in 9 BCE, when Agrippa, shown on the altar sacrificing with covered head like Augustus himself, was now dead. The iconography of the altar is much discussed; see Zanker 1968 (especially pp. 172–176 and fig. 136); also see Galinsky 1996 (pp. 141–155) and Galinsky 1992. Zanker is the author of a detailed guide to the forum (Zanker 1968). Luce 1990 shows that Augustus’s elogia did not always coincide with Livy’s evaluation. Each time Augustus created a new religious rite or monument, it usurped some of the functions of preexisting ones.

  • Bowersock, Glen. 1990. The pontificate of Augustus. In Between republic and empire: Interpretations of Augustus and his principate. Edited by Kurt A. Raaflaub and Mark Toher, 380–394. Berkeley: Univ. of California Press.

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    Discusses Augustus’s incorporation of a shrine to Vesta within his own house, which was subsequently made public, in order to replace the temple of Vesta in the Forum. This was his most radical action as pontifex maximus. From a book with nineteen contributors assessing Augustus’s principate. Covers five major areas of Augustan scholarship: poetry, historiography, art, politics, and religion.

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  • Fishwick, Duncan. 1969. Genius and numen. Harvard Theological Review 62:356–367.

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    Discusses the role of the titular spirits in the mitigation of possible ruler-cult.

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  • Galinsky, Karl. 1992. Venus, polysemy, and the Ara Pacis Augustae. American Journal of Archaeology 96:457–475.

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    Argues that the intention of the “Tellus” relief on the Ara Pacis was to create multiple associations, such as Pax, Terra Mater, and Venus.

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  • Galinsky, Karl. 1996. Augustan culture: An interpretive introduction. Princeton, NJ: Princeton Univ. Press.

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    A synopsis in one volume of the most dominant subject of Roman studies for more than a hundred years.

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  • Luce, T. J. 1990. Livy, Augustus, and the Forum Augustum. In Between republic and empire: Interpretations of Augustus and his principate. Edited by Kurt A. Raaflaub and Mark Toher, 123–138. Berkeley: Univ. of California Press.

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    Argues that Livy’s evaluation of Augustus did not always match his elogia. From a book with nineteen contributors assessing Augustus’s principate. Covers five major areas of Augustan scholarship: poetry, historiography, art, politics, and religion.

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  • Zanker, Paul. 1968. Forum Augustum: Das Bildprogramm. Tübingen, Germany: E. Wasmuth.

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    A German-language survey of architecture and archeology.

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Imperial Developments

After surveying Augustus’s innovations, this survey will explore religious changes in the Empire (particularly the Greek east) before turning to the centripetal development of the “emperor cult” during and after his long rule. This will involve expanding the portrait of religion in Rome and Italy by surveying the imported religions that had long been diversifying the religions of the city. For a full treatment of these various cults, see Turcan 1996. James B. Rives’s monograph Religion in the Roman Empire (Rives 2007) is more concerned with relationships between communities.

  • Rives, James B. Religion in the Roman Empire. Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2007.

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    This systematic book introduces the broad subject of Roman religion under the Empire. It draws on a wide range of primary textual and visual material, from literature to inscriptions and monuments; it examines the dynamics and assumptions of religious life; and it looks into the religious world that gave rise to contemporary rabbinic Judaism and Christianity. Geographically, it covers both mainstream Greco-Roman religion and regional religious traditions, from Egypt to western Europe.

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  • Turcan, Robert. 1996. The cults of the Roman Empire. Translated by Antonia Nevill. Oxford and Cambridge, MA: Blackwell.

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    An interesting book for students of religious history of the Roman world before Constantine, and for general readers. Turcan argues that it was the bizarre-seeming rituals and observances of earthly gods—rather than noble deities such as Jove, Apollo, and Diana—that were most important to the lives of common people.

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Cybele/The Great Mother

As early as 205 BCE, the Senate had been advised by the Sibylline books to fetch the Great Mother Cybele from Pessinus in Phrygia to Rome. Her arrival at Ostia is attested by Livy (with variants by Ovid) and the goddess (or the baetyl that stood in for her) was housed on the Palatine in the Temple of Victory to await the completion of her own temple. Theatrical games were given annually in her honor, and Plautus’s Pseudolus was chosen for performance in 191 BCE; several of Terence’s comedies were also performed at the Megalesia, the games of Cybele. She came complete with Phrygian eunuch priests, and Roman citizens were discouraged from participating in her processions, but the cult of her consort Attis seems not to have accompanied her and is attested by figurines a century later. See Vermaseren 1977 and Wiseman 1984.

  • Vermaseren, Maarten J. 1977. Cybele and Attis: The myth and the cult. Translated by A. M. H. Lemmers. London: Thames and Hudson.

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    By presenting the manifold evidence geographically rather than by chronology or theme, the author makes his subject far more complicated.

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  • Wiseman, T. P. 1984. Cybele, Virgil, and Augustus. In Poetry and politics in the age of Augustus. Edited by Tony Woodman and David West, 117–128. Cambridge, UK, and New York: Cambridge Univ. Press.

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    Debates whether Dionysius of Halicarnassus asserted truthfully that the manly Roman character rejected the Phrygian worship of Cybele.

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Isis

While the changes in the cult of Bacchus that provoked such alarm in the early 2nd century can be seen as in some sense a new foreign (that is, Greek) cult, the next most senior importation was the cult of Isis, popularly played down due to its association with women and foreigners. The governing elite did not want temples of Isis in the ancient center, and in the last century BCE her shrines were repeatedly closed or destroyed, until the triumvirs gave her cult legitimacy. By the time of Domitian, Isis and Sarapis shared an extravagant precinct in the Campus Martius. While the cult’s predominance in Ostia supports the notion that Isis was worshipped by foreigners and traders, Takács 1995 shows far more conventional acceptance—not just by women, nor confined to trading communities, but along the Rhine and Danube—and brings out the frequency of worshippers’ inscriptions on behalf of the emperor and his family. But the fullest portrayal of Isis worship is still the eleventh book of Apuleius’s Golden Ass (Apuleius 1994), with the protagonist’s personal litany, the great parade at Corinth escorting the navigium Isidis (vessel of Isis), and his successive initiations.

  • Apuleius 1994. The golden ass. Translated with introduction and explanatory notes by P. G. Walsh. Oxford: Clarendon; New York: Oxford Univ. Press.

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    This version is faithful to the Latin and avoids the practice of other translators of Apuleius of dividing the text arbitrarily into chapters, instead preserving the author’s original division into eleven books and giving chapter numbers in the margins. This makes it much easier for students to use in conjunction with secondary literature.

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  • Takács, Sarolta A. 1995. Isis and Sarapis in the Roman world. Leiden, The Netherlands, and New York: E. J. Brill, 1995.

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    Deals with the epigraphic use of the names of Isis and Sarapis independent from their cultic context, as well as their integration into the Roman cults and transformation into gods of the state.

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Mithraism

See the studies of Robert Beck, (Beck 1984, Beck 1992, Beck 2006) on the common elements of these pagan cults and the militaristic cult of Mithras found abundantly in Rome but also on most of the Empire’s northern frontiers. It is not usual to view Judaism and Christianity (to Romans a renegade distortion of Judaism, deserving less tolerance than traditional Jewish orthodoxy) in the same category as these salvific faiths. Caesar had established a good relationship between Romans and Jews, and Rome had many synagogues and an established community in Trastevere; Jewish exemption from ritual acts of emperor worship was only damaged by the megalomania of Caligula and Roman violations of the temple in Jerusalem. See MacMullen 1996 on the “persecution” of Christian; see also Ste. Croix 1963 (pp. 6–38), Dodds 1965; Momigliano 1963, and Lane Fox 1986.

  • Beck, R. 1984. Mithraism since Franz Cumont. Aufstieg und Niedergang der Römischen Welt 2.17.4: 2002–2115.

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    Reviews and summarizes the scholarship on the title subject.

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  • Beck, R. 1992. The Mithras cult as association. Studies in Religion 21:3–13.

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    Argues that one should take at face value Porphyry’s statement that the Mithraeum was literally a place from which the soul could travel to heaven and back.

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  • Beck, Roger. 2006. The religion of the Mithras cult in the Roman Empire: Mysteries of the unconquered sun. Oxford and New York: Oxford Univ. Press.

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    Beck presents extensive material on Mithraism, attempting to cement a different perspective on the mysteries. On the whole convincing, although a bit dense in style.

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  • Dodds, E. R. 1965. Pagan and Christian in an age of anxiety: Some aspects of religious experience from Marcus Aurelius to Constantine. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.

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    An examination of the personal religious attitudes and common experiences of Christians and pagans in the era between Marcus Aurelius and Constantine.

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  • Lane Fox, Robin. 1986. Pagans and Christians. New York: Knopf.

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    Beginning with descriptions of pagan festivals, oracles, and cults, the text then contrasts these with the history of early Christianity. It ends with the religious conversion of Constantine in CE 312.

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  • MacMullen, Ramsay. 1966. Enemies of the Roman order: Treason, unrest, and alienation in the Empire. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Univ. Press.

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    These “enemies” range from the political and secular, such as Brutus, Soranus, and the Donatists, to the religious, such as magicians, Pythagoras, Apuleius, astrologers, diviners, and prophets.

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  • Momigliano, Arnaldo, ed. 1963. The conflict between paganism and Christianity in the fourth century: Essays. Oxford: Clarendon.

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    Scholars from England, France, Germany, Italy, and the United States gave eight lectures at the Warburg Institute in 1958–1959. These lectures are collected here and cover diverse subjects, but they focus on changes in the societal and military structures, philosophical and historiographical problems, the revival of ancient beliefs and cults, and the new perspectives toward the barbarians.

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  • Ste. Croix, G. E. M. de. 1963. Why were the early Christians persecuted? Past and Present 26:6–38.

    DOI: 10.1093/past/26.1.6Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    The exclusive nature of the Christian religion, which caused its practitioners to reject all other gods or religious ceremonies, is felt to be the cause of persecution by the pagan majority. In contrast, the government’s reasons mainly stemmed from religious policy and superstition.

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Imperial Cult/The Cult of Emperors

Rome herself had been offered as a cult as early as the 2nd century BCE by Greek communities, notably Chios, which dedicated temples to Thea Roma (Mellor 1981), while other communities like Ephesus honored the memory of Julius Caesar with a temple of Rome and Julius Caesar. Price 1984 notes that Augustus authorized Roman citizens at Ephesus to worship in this temple. But the chief site of worship of Roma and Augustus for the assembly of Asia was assigned to Pergamum in 29 BCE, on the advice of the governor, who also marked the occasion with a decree to begin the new year on Augustus’s birthday. The initiative undoubtedly came from cities competing for imperial favor, and Price also records a temple of Augustus at Miletus and some thirty cities of Asia with priests of Augustus. Bowersock 1973 discusses consecratio (see also Price 1987).

  • Bowersock, Glen W. 1973. Greek intellectuals and the imperial cult in the second century A.D. In Le culte des souverains dans l’empire Romain: 7 exposés suivis de discussions. Edited by Elias Bickerman, 177–212. Vandoeuvres, Switzerland: Fondation Hardt.

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    Includes seven discussions by different scholars, with indices and bibliographic notes.

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  • Mellor, Ronald. 1981. The goddess Roma. Auftstieg und Niedergang der Römischen Welt 2.17.2: 950–1030

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    Political cults are even more difficult to understand than other aspects of Roman religion, but Mellor attempts the task, discussing the origins of the imperial cult in 195 BCE and its continuance, as well as its aspects, such as priests, games, and honors.

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  • Price, S. R. F. 1984. Rituals and power: The Roman imperial cult in Asia Minor. Cambridge, UK, and New York: Cambridge Univ. Press.

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    Attempts to discover the reasons why Roman emperors were considered gods, analyzing the cultural, social, and historical contexts of the cults and clarifying the relationship between religious and political power.

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  • Price, Simon. 1987. From noble funerals to divine cult. In Rituals of royalty: Power and ceremonial in traditional societies. Edited by David Cannadine and Simon Price, 56–105. Cambridge, UK, and New York: Cambridge Univ. Press.

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    Includes specially commissioned contributions from historians and anthropologists, who address the key problem in the comprehension of royal rituals: the relation between ceremonial and power.

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Divine Status

Price 1980, an important discussion of the divine/human status of emperors, opens with the comment that “over 1,500 items about the imperial cult [have appeared] in the past twenty years.” This article carefully examines the implications of formulae of sacrifice: sacrifice to the emperor would treat him as a god, whereas sacrifice to the gods on behalf of the emperor’s well-being (such as was vowed annually in Rome itself) would be in keeping with his status as a mortal. However, as Price illustrates, many records from imperial Asia and mainland Greece steer between the two, or they refer instead to the emperor as offering or performing the sacrifice. What could be a clear distinction has been carefully blurred by civic or priestly diplomacy. A good case study, Aphrodisias, has been unusually well documented by excavation since Price 1984. Inscriptions and public reliefs at Aphrodisias reflect both exchanges of diplomacy with Rome and symbolic representations of the emperors as conquerors. Besides Reynolds and Erim 1982, see the lavishly illustrated volume by Kenan Erim (Erim 1986) and a series of studies of the reliefs and portraits by R. R. R. Smith (Smith 1987). But while the Greek epigraphic habit has made it easier to access the records of imperial cult in Asia Minor, there is firm evidence for cult in the West, starting with the altar of the Three Gauls at Lugdunum, dedicated in 12 BCE. (On the West in general, see Fishwick 1978). Three chapters in Gordon 1990 also deal with the elements of prestige and material exchange for honors, and with the predominance of the emperor in representations of sacrifice. In addition Price’s valuable study can now be paired with the renewed focus on the emperor cult in Rome and Italy of Gradel 2002. The scope of this work is best illustrated by some chapter headings: chapter 7, “The Emperor’s Genius in State Cult; chapter 8, “‘In Every House’? The Emperor in the Roman Household”; chapter 9, “Corporate Worship”; and chapter 10, “Numen Augustum.”

  • Erim, Kenan T. 1986. Aphrodisias, city of Venus Aphrodite. London: Müller, Blond, and White.

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    Tells the story of the excavation and most important discoveries of the ancient Greek city that is now a part of Turkey. Also examines the sculpture and the earthquake-destroyed ruins.

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  • Fishwick, Duncan. 1978. The development of provincial ruler worship in the western Roman Empire. Aufstieg und Niedergang der Römischer Welt 2.16.2: 1201–1253.

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    An examination of the imperial cult in the western provinces of the Roman Empire, by the greatest authority on the subject.

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  • Gordon, Richard. 1990. The veil of power: Emperors, sacrificers, and benefactors. In Pagan priests: Religion and power in the ancient world. Edited by Mary Beard and John A. North, 199–232. Ithaca, NY: Cornell Univ. Press.

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    Concerns the predominance of the emperor in depictions of sacrifice, the exchange of material goods for honors, and elements of prestige. Closes with three essays by Gordon on Roman Imperial religion.

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  • Gradel, Ittai. 2002. Emperor worship and Roman religion. Oxford: Clarendon; New York: Oxford Univ. Press.

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    A study of emperor worship in the city of Rome and in Italy. Gradel argues that it was not actually alien to the character of traditional Roman religion, as later anachronistic opinions on the divine human relationship have held.

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  • Price, S. R. F. 1980. Between man and god: Sacrifice in the Roman imperial cult. Journal of Roman Studies 70:28–43.

    DOI: 10.2307/299554Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    This important article examines the formulas of sacrifice and makes the point that sacrifices to the emperor imply he was as a god, whereas sacrifice to the gods on behalf of the emperor’s well-being would have assisted him in keeping his status as a mortal. Proce notes that that more than 1,500 items about the imperial cult had appeared in the past twenty years.

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  • Price, S. R. F. 1984. Rituals and power: The Roman imperial cult in Asia Minor. Cambridge, UK, and New York: Cambridge Univ. Press.

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    Clarifies the relationship between religion and political power as it illuminates the reasons why the Roman emperors were considered gods. Also analyzed are social, historical, and cultural contexts of the cults.

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  • Reynolds, Joyce Maire, and Kenan T. Erim. 1982. Aphrodisias and Rome: Documents from the excavation of the theatre at Aphrodisias conducted by Professor Kenan T. Erim, together with some related texts. London: Society for the Promotion of Roman Studies.

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    Clarifies many details on Roman administrative practice in the provinces and on provincial attitudes toward Rome. Historical documentation from the Mithridatic War, the Second Triumvirate, and the 2nd and 3rd centuries CE are included, as well as a translation of the senatus consultum and imperial letters in Greek.

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  • Smith, R. R. R. 1987. The imperial reliefs from the Sebasteion at Aphrodisias. Journal of Roman Studies 77:88–138.

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    Looks at Kenan Erim’s excavation of the imperial reliefs of the Sebasteion at Aphrodias, setting them into the wider context of contemporary architecture.

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Paganism versus Christianity

In 1980, John North commented that in the eyes of a traditionally minded Roman noble, “magic, dream interpretation and cults reaching the Roman world from Greece were new and disturbing developments in religious life… achieving greater power and dissemination than he would have thought tolerable… He would have placed Christianity in the same category” (North 1980, p. 186). But paganism itself was something more than ruler cult, without being limited to exotic religions of salvation. Lane Fox 1986 and MacMullen 1981, a shorter study, offer an altogether more varied picture of pagan life and imaginative, if not intellectual, activities, covering divine epiphanies (Lane Fox 1986, pp. 98–167); oracles, especially Claros and Didyma and the delegations and choirs sent by communities to consult them (Lane Fox 1986, pp. 168–261); and the healing and incubation cults of Asclepius at Epidaurus and Pergamum (Lane Fox 1986, pp. 34, 71–75, 151–153) and dream interpretation (Lane Fox 1987, 149–166). Lane Fox’s long undivided chapters are difficult to navigate but fascinating and well annotated, with bibliographies for each chapter; MacMullen 1981, a more impressionistic book, gives vivid examples of religious displays and performances with music choirs and dancing (pp. 16–24) cult festivals (pp. 25–26) and processions (pp. 27–28), even if skepticism is prompted by accounts of prolonged banqueting and partying that make life in the Empire (he is chiefly drawing on Asia Minor) sound alarmingly like that of undergraduates. Lane Fox, in particular, presents a panorama of pagan texts and activities that make their survival among thoughtful people comprehensible—and a worthy adversary for the rise of Christianity. On the subject of the often violent relationship between Christianity and paganism, see Ste. Croix 1963, and see Rives 1999 on the early 3rd-century CE decree of the “Balkan” emperor Decius. On the Roman saint Perpetua, see Salisbury 1997 and Shaw 1993. Finally, Musurillo 1954 and Musurillo 1972 are definitive editions of the Acts of the Pagan Martyrs and the Acts of the Christian Martyrs, respectively.

  • Lane Fox, Robin. 1986. Pagans and Christians. New York: Knopf.

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    With chapters that are long and undivided, this book can be difficult for finding ready information; nevertheless, it contains much useful information, with well annotated bibliographies. It contains examples of texts and details on religious and secular daily life that pertain to both paganism and early Christianity, as well as the state of paganism at its overthrow.

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  • MacMullen, Ramsay. 1981. Paganism in the Roman Empire. New Haven, CT: Yale Univ. Press.

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    Contains examples of religious performance with choral musical and dancing (16–24), cult festivals (25–26), and processions (27–28). An impressionistic text, concentrating on festive hedonism to the point of exaggeration.

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  • Musurillo, Herbert A., ed. 1954. The acts of the pagan martyrs = Acta Alexandrinorum. Oxford: Clarendon.

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    includes Greek and Latin texts on pagan martyrs with parallel English translations.

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  • Musurillo, Herbert. 1972. The acts of the Christian martyrs: Introduction, text, and translation. Oxford: Clarendon.

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    Contains parallel Greek or Latin texts with parallel English translations.

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  • North, John. 1980. Novelty and choice in Roman religion. Journal of Roman Studies 70:186–191.

    DOI: 10.2307/299565Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Reviews seven books on cult and magic, from the viewpoint of the traditional Roman aristocrat.

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  • Rives, J. B. 1999. The decree of Decius and the religion of empire. Journal of Roman Studies 89:135–154.

    DOI: 10.2307/300738Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    The first systematic persecution of Christianity, Decius’s decree of 249 CE, was most likely intended to reestablish traditional religion rather than to root out Christianity. By establishing norms of religious practice over the entire empire, local religious authorities would be undermined. Yet Christianity, with its systematic structures, was better able to do this than localized paganism.

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  • Salisbury, Joyce E. 1997. Perpetua’s passion: The death and memory of a young Roman woman. New York: Routledge.

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    An account of the early 3rd-century martyr, built upon her diary. Gives a feminist perspective on the contrasts between traditional Roman religion and Christianity. The former had thousands of gods and limited the roles of women in society; the latter had the Trinity and the belief that all, even women, were equal before God.

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  • Shaw, Brent D. 1993. The passion of Perpetua. Past and Present 139:3–45.

    DOI: 10.1093/past/139.1.3Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    An attempt to remove the additions by later male editors from Perperua’s original Passio. The starkness of the essential document, after the removal of these additions, makes their distortions all the more glaring.

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  • Ste. Croix, G. E. M. de. 1963. Why were the early Christians persecuted? Past and Present 26:6–38.

    DOI: 10.1093/past/26.1.6Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    It was the exclusive nature of Christianity, rejecting any other religious practice or god, that alienated the pagan masses. Policy and superstition, on the other hand, motivated the government.

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Astrology

No other area of religion caused as much controversy in Rome as astrology. For surveys of the topic, see Barton 1994, which is good for the general reader, but weak on mathematics; for a more concise version, see Beck 2007. Cramer 1954 is good on the conjunction of Roman astrology and law, and Long 1982 considers the question of whether Roman astrology can truly be called a science.

Magic

Graf 1997 is a work for specialists that focuses on the Hellenistic and material evidence rather than the Roman and historical evidence. Luck 1985 includes translations of 130 ancient texts dating from the 8th century BCE through the 4th century CE. Finally, Rives 2003 discusses the famous trial of Apuleius.

  • Graf, Fritz. 1997. Magic in the ancient world. Translated by Franklin Philip. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Univ. Press.

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    Implies that ancient magic was separate from religion, leaving room for a discussion of Roman magic and an introduction for the nonspecialist.

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  • Luck, Georg. 1985. Arcana Mundi: Magic and the occult in the Greek and Roman worlds: A collection of ancient texts. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Univ. Press.

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    Contains 130 translated texts, from the 8th century BCE through the 4th century CE. A fascinating and startling alternative view of ancient magic. Second edition published in 2006.

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  • Rives, James B. 2003. Magic in Roman law: The reconstruction of a crime. Classical Antiquity 22:313–339.

    DOI: 10.1525/ca.2003.22.2.313Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    At the time of Apuleius’s trial (Apologia, esp. 102.9–103.1), the Roman law on magic was already shifting from a concern with harmful actions to religious deviance; “magic,” however, is a fluid enough category to describe both of these sets of concerns.

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Dream Interpretation

Dream interpretation was a popular subject in the Roman world. The classic ancient manual of dream interpretation is, of course, Artemidorus. White’s 1975 translation and commentary (Artemidorus 1975) is useful. For a modern take, see Lewis 1996, in the Aspects of Antiquity series.

LAST MODIFIED: 02/15/2010

DOI: 10.1093/OBO/9780195389661-0059

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