In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Roman Religion

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Introductory Works
  • History of Scholarship
  • Ovid’s Fasti
  • Rites
  • The Gods: Greco-Roman
  • The Gods: Roman
  • Mythology
  • Towards Empire
  • Imperial Developments
  • Cybele/The Great Mother
  • Isis
  • Mithraism
  • Imperial Cult/The Cult of Emperors
  • Divine Status
  • Paganism versus Christianity
  • Astrology
  • Magic
  • Dream Interpretation

Classics Roman Religion
Elaine Fantham, Emily Fairey
  • LAST REVIEWED: 15 February 2010
  • LAST MODIFIED: 15 February 2010
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195389661-0059


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: 10.2307/299553

    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.

  • 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.

    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.

  • 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.

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

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

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

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

    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).

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

    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.

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

    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.

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

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

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