Roman religion during the times of Early Christianity

Seraphiel

Banned
So what exactly was Roman religion like during the years between 33 AD and 100 AD? How was it organized, how much was it influenced by the Emperors, did it have a large devout following? Stuff like that. Also what was the general pagan populaces opinion of Christianity?
 
So what exactly was Roman religion like during the years between 33 AD and 100 AD? How was it organized, how much was it influenced by the Emperors, did it have a large devout following? Stuff like that. Also what was the general pagan populaces opinion of Christianity?

Well, most Romans didn't even perceive Christianity as its own religion. It was at best some splinter sect of Judaism, which was a weird backwater faith that was giving the Empire a headache. In fact, most called them "Chrestios" which meant "the Best" because it sounded like "Christios", and that made more sense than talking about "The Anointed One".
 
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Mookie

Banned
Well, most Romans didn't even perceive Christianity as its own religion. It was at best some splinter sect of Judaism, which was a weird backwater faith that was giving the Empire a headache. In fact, most called them "Chrestios" which meant "the Best" because it sounded like "Christios", and that made more sense than talking about "The Anointed One".

In that time period, if you were to bet on a religion that is to succede you wouldnt pick christianity :D
Yet trough some smart moves it made it. Now roman religion was very organised, almost like Catholicism today, it had pontifex maximus (pope) it had bishoprics, temple priests, and priestly/religious orders

Mithraism was widespread in military, allmost every soldier was mithraist. Worship of Isis from Egypt was also widespread. In total there were all kinds of religions then, and romans didnt mind them as long as they accepted the divinity of the emperor :)
 
So what exactly was Roman religion like during the years between 33 AD and 100 AD? How was it organized, how much was it influenced by the Emperors, did it have a large devout following? Stuff like that. Also what was the general pagan populaces opinion of Christianity?

For starters, the emperor was the pontifex maximus.
 

Abhakhazia

Banned
Roman religion was never very organized. Certain orders, like the Vestal Virgins, were excessively organized (though not always corruption-free, old saying was "you show me a Vestal that's a virgin, and I'll show you an ugly Vestal"), and the worship of the Capitoline Trio (Jupiter, Juno and Minerva) were fairly organized. But getting beyond that, worship was really a regional thing. Roman religion was often fused with local religions, infused with cults of Mithras and Bacchus, along with tamer cults of Isis and Serapis.

Christianity had some starting problems, but it was simple, fairly unified and, most importantly carried a clear message (which is what caused it to be so organized) that Roman religion was not, which is why Julian the Apostate's reforms failed.

EDIT: On the Emperor's thing, certain Emperors were "Divio" or the Divine. Julius Caesar, Augustus and Vespasian were probably the most commonly worshipped. IIRC, Julius Caesar, Augustus, Claudius, Vespasian, Titus, Nerva, Trajan and Hadrian were all "divine". There were more after that, not sure how many.
 
Roman religion was never very organized. Certain orders, like the Vestal Virgins, were excessively organized (though not always corruption-free, old saying was "you show me a Vestal that's a virgin, and I'll show you an ugly Vestal"), and the worship of the Capitoline Trio (Jupiter, Juno and Minerva) were fairly organized. But getting beyond that, worship was really a regional thing. Roman religion was often fused with local religions, infused with cults of Mithras and Bacchus, along with tamer cults of Isis and Serapis.

Christianity had some starting problems, but it was simple, fairly unified and, most importantly carried a clear message (which is what caused it to be so organized) that Roman religion was not, which is why Julian the Apostate's reforms failed.

EDIT: On the Emperor's thing, certain Emperors were "Divio" or the Divine. Julius Caesar, Augustus and Vespasian were probably the most commonly worshipped. IIRC, Julius Caesar, Augustus, Claudius, Vespasian, Titus, Nerva, Trajan and Hadrian were all "divine". There were more after that, not sure how many.

No, no, no. The Roman Religion was essentially tied into the social and public order of the Roman State! Infact their was very little boundary between the two given a lack of a separation of church and state. The Roman Religio had a whole hierarchy of Pontiffs, Augurs, and so forth.

The only reason why Christianity prevailed so was due to that it seized political control and came about during a period of the disintegration of the Roman society.

Granted, Christians were among the original Atheists.
 
No, no, no. The Roman Religion was essentially tied into the social and public order of the Roman State! Infact their was very little boundary between the two given a lack of a separation of church and state. The Roman Religio had a whole hierarchy of Pontiffs, Augurs, and so forth.

The only reason why Christianity prevailed so was due to that it seized political control and came about during a period of the disintegration of the Roman society.

Granted, Christians were among the original Atheists.

On the last point, what?

Everything else, yeah, had the Roman state not started splintering in this time Roman Religion would likely have evolved into something like what Hinduism is today (not in specifics, just in that its a non-missionary religion that is heavily based on the culture of the people who follow it and an engrained aspect of Roman culture).
 
On the last point, what?

Religious neglect was seen as a form of Atheism so they were initially called Atheists due to the fact they gave up worship of many gods and customs. Why do you think the Romans were pissed off at the Christians? They disdained their sacred duties to the Empire. People thought they were going to rain down doom upon the Empire...which sort of did happen but, due to economic and political reasons.

wikipedia for ease.
Religious law centered on the ritualised system of honours and sacrifice that brought divine blessings, according to the principle do ut des ("I give, that you might give"). Proper, respectful religio brought social harmony and prosperity. Religious neglect was a form of atheism: impure sacrifice and incorrect ritual were vitia (impious errors). Excessive devotion, fearful grovelling to deities and the improper use or seeking of divine knowledge were superstitio. Any of these moral deviations could cause divine anger (ira deorum) and therefore harm the State.[66] The official deities of the state were identified with its lawful offices and institutions, and Romans of every class were expected to honour the beneficence and protection of mortal and divine superiors. Participation in public rites showed a personal commitment to their community and its values.

superstitio
Superstitio was excessive devotion and enthusiasm in religious observance, in the sense of "doing or believing more than was necessary",[538] or "irregular" religious practice that conflicted with Roman custom. "Religiosity" in its pejorative sense may be a better translation than "superstition", the English word derived from the Latin.[539] Cicero defined superstitio as the "empty fear of the gods" (timor inanis deorum) in contrast to the properly pious cultivation of the gods that constituted lawful religio,[540] a view that Seneca expressed as "religio honours the gods, superstitio wrongs them."[541] Seneca wrote an entire treatise on superstitio, known to St. Augustine but no longer extant.[542] Lucretius's famous condemnation of what is often translated as "Superstition" in his Epicurean didactic epic De rerum natura is actually directed at Religio.[543]

Before the Christian era, superstitio was seen as a vice of individuals. Practices characterized as "magic" could be a form of superstitio as an excessive and dangerous quest for personal knowledge.[544] By the early 2nd century AD, religions of other peoples that were perceived as resistant to religious assimilation began to be labeled by some Latin authors as superstitio, including druidism, Judaism, and Christianity.[545] Under Christian hegemony, religio and superstitio were redefined as a dichotomy between Christianity, viewed as true religio, and the superstitiones or false religions of those who declined to convert.

Remember who invented skepticism...
 
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I suppose I should also mention separately that Christianity should not see itself as being 'special' in terms of being the focus of ire by the Roman State. Isis, Bacchus Worship, the Jews, the Druids and a host of cults and gods that were considered 'subversive' were targeted by the Republic and Empire. Eventually, they of course were absorbed into the frame of the Empire.

Julian's attempts I should say failed because he died and did not leave a stable dynasty after him. He drew upon Neo Platonism, Sun Cult imagery, and stoic beliefs that were wide spread and long established by this point.
 
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Here is what I now:

  • As already stated, Roman religion was, you could say, very political in nature. Family life and state was at the center of religious activity. The welfare of both the family and Pax Romana depended on pleasing the gods, including the spirit (genius) of the Emperor. This was the Pax Deorum. So, religion was a part of civic duty like paying taxes. So, technically, being an atheist was doing harm to the state.
  • There was a religious ceremony called the evocatio. When the roman Army came to a city, they would hold a religious ceremony calling out to the protector god(s) of said city and promising the gods a new shrine in Rome if they withdrew their support of said city. If Rome won, they would then set up a temple in Rome. Doing this over and over again, Rome now had a lot of gods and would be weakened if any of those new gods were upset.
  • Rome was open to other faiths for this reason. There was no such thing as orthodoxy in Rome, and it was more decentralized. You cannot really think of "Roman Religion" as solely Rome...it was a mixture of Greek, Roman, Egyptian, traditions. It truly was a Mediterranean religion. Greece has a huge impact on Roman religion ie. Zeus=Jupiter.
  • They had gods for absolutely everything...even closing doors and mildew. Every place (springs, caves, woods, etc) had a spirit connected to them.
  • How Romans view Christians:
because of their shameless activities. During the reign of Tiberius, Christus, who gave his name to this group, had suffered crucifixion under the procurator Pontius Pilatus; and a dangerous cult, which had been kept in check for the moment, burst forth again, not only throughout Judaea, the origin of the evil, but even in Rome, where all the hideous and shameful things from all over the world flow together and swarm. Therefore, first of all, people who admitted their belief were arrested, and later, through their information, a huge crowd was convicted not so much of the crime of setting the fire, as of hating humankind. Mockery was heaped upon them as they were killed: wrapped in the skins of wild animals, they were torn apart by dogs, or nailed to crosses, or set on fire and burned alive at night, when the daylight had faded.”(Tacitus, Annals 15.44, on Nero's persecutions of Christians)


Wow, I am surprised...a lot of it came from memory.:)
 
It is important to keep in mind that there really is no such thing as "the" Roman religion. All attempt to reconstruct what "the Romans" believed are efforts to make a more or less cohesive whole out of something that was in all likelihood much more amorphous. I think what we so charmingly call "traditional Chionese religion" is a good copmpüarison, and if you read a book on that you will very soon lose any illusion of finding coherence or logic. Taking, e.g., the cult of the Capitoline Triad (Iupiter, Iuno and Minerva) that was pacticed throughout the Empire, it is hard to say what role this played in the lives of participants. Most likely, it functioned as an aspect of civic religion, something like Independence Day parades.

As was said before, the main thing about religious practice in the Roman tradition was that it was bound up with social and political structures. That does not mean, though,m that it was something like a state cult (it is too easy to draw parallels with the royal summepiscopate or vilayet-e-faqih). Cicero, who was a much better theologian than he is usually given credit for, observed that the Immortal Gods emerge from the actions of mortal men; that men worship the good things they do. And traditional Roman religion had a deity for pretty much everything - the fasti list them with tedious (and spurious) precision. That is also where our traditional idea of "God" gets in the way of understanding. THe Roman world was full of Gods - every home had lares, every family manes, every person a genius or iuno, every road crossing had lares compitales and every spring nymphae. To most religious Romans, an existence at peace and respectful distance from those beings was what 'religion' was all about. In rural context, it is likely that those practices continued far after they had become antiquarian oddities to educated urbanites.

On top of that was a layer of civic religion, practices that bound together communities. The Capitoline deities were shared by all Roman citizens, though not with equal devotion. The cult of the imperial genius (a nice touch, since only "bad" emperors demanded to be worshipped as Gods, but nobody could object to a cult of the emperor's guardian spirit) was originally a pretty limited affair, but spread. In addition to those, there were vocationally specific cults (e.g. the deities of the signa and the camp for soldiers, Isis among sailors) that are found in much of the Empire. Regional communities had shared cults, often with festivals people travelled very far to attend such as the feriae Latinae, the Olympic and Isthmian games, or the Eleusinian mysteries. And every city had a collection of shrines at which its citizens practiced religious ritual together. Being part of these activities cemented your communal status. In either case, BTW, there was no question of belief. Cicero believed that the Divine preexisted humanity, and that the contrary assumption was a mark of a bad character, but he himself had to admit that the Gods most likely were not real persons. The pax deorum did not require belief. If you participated in the rites that defined your community, you were a member of that community in good standing asnd could believe whatever you wanted.

In addition, there was private religious (or philosophical) practice. Philosophical schools would have been the closest, socially speaking, to what we think of as "religions": groups of people reading the same scripture, sharing the same beliefs about body, soul, and afterlife, a moral teaching, and a dogma that they debated and interpreted. A lot of the vocabulary of Christianity - othodoxy, dogma, heresy - comes from these schools. Philosopher-preachers could earn money in much the same way Evangelicals do now, by assembling a community of the faithful and collecting donations in return for guidance and spiritual comfort. Some of the abuses, too, appear to have been similar.

Together with philosophical schools, more traditiuonally religious cults became popular for individuals throughout the Empire. Many of them remain quite mysterious to us. Iuppiter Dolichenus was worshipped by individuals as far away as the Rhine frontier, and we would dearly wish to know how or why. Isis was extremely popular. And of course, synagogue-going became a common practice. I sometimes envision rabbis as something like Tibetan Buddhist lamas today: we don't really understand what they do, but surely they must be much more spiritual than us corrupted Westerners (apparently, Tibetan Buddhism has considerable pop appeal in China, too). All these things were firmly in the private sphere. The broader community only interfered when it felt that there were practices contrary to propriety or dangerous to the social order.

What an individual believed or practiced religiously depended on where that person located him- or herself geographically, socially and personally. Religion did not unify people in an overarching church or ummah. The religious calendar of a soldier would be a very different one from that of a farmer or a freedman barber. Calling all of this "a" religion is difficult, but of course, in Latin, "religio" is not properly countable. It's a property of persons and societies, not a specific practice or belief. That is why, as many Romans saw it, the Christians lacked "religio".
 
Sounds like a passable term (To pick a term derived from Latin) for Christians as they were seen would be infidels, in the pure sense of the term - unfaithful. Not a matter of wrong belief but of vaguely or not so vaguely treacherous actions.
 
Constantine or Julian could have been like the Tang Emperors regarding Confucianism-Buddhism?
 
So having read through this thread, I'm now wondering that if Roman religion had survived up until the empire's collapse, what would the religious make-up of its former territories turn into?
 

Seraphiel

Banned
So having read through this thread, I'm now wondering that if Roman religion had survived up until the empire's collapse, what would the religious make-up of its former territories turn into?

Im betting it would probally turn into a number of different versions of the same religion and might even become different rwligions altogether, considering regionalism and the state based aspect of the roman religion.
 
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