The Religious Experience of the Roman People - From the Earliest Times to the Age of Augustus
by W. Warde Fowler
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"Sanctos ausus recludere fontes"




Lord Gifford in founding his lectureship directed that the lectures should be public and popular, i.e. not restricted to members of a University. Accordingly in lecturing I endeavoured to make myself intelligible to a general audience by avoiding much technical discussion and controversial matter, and by keeping to the plan of describing in outline the development and decay of the religion of the Roman City-state. And on the whole I have thought it better to keep to this principle in publishing the lectures; they are printed for the most part much as they were delivered, and without footnotes, but at the end of each lecture students of the subject will find the notes referred to by the numbers in the text, containing such further information or discussion as has seemed desirable. My model in this method has been the admirable lectures of Prof. Cumont on "les Religions Orientales dans le Paganisme Romain."

I wish to make two remarks about the subject-matter of the lectures. First, the idea running through them is that the primitive religious (or magico-religious) instinct, which was the germ of the religion of the historical Romans, was gradually atrophied by over-elaboration of ritual, but showed itself again in strange forms from the period of the Punic wars onwards. For this religious instinct I have used the Latin word religio, as I have explained in the Transactions of the Third International Congress for the History of Religions, vol. ii. p. 169 foll. I am, however, well aware that some scholars take a different view of the original meaning of this famous word, which has been much discussed since I formed my plan of lecturing. But I do not think that those who differ from me on this point will find that my general argument is seriously affected one way or another by my use of the word.

Secondly, while I have been at work on the lectures, the idea seems to have been slowly gaining ground that the patrician religion of the early City-state, which became so highly formalised, so clean and austere, and eventually so political, was really the religion of an invading race, like that of the Achaeans in Greece, engrafted on the religion of a primitive and less civilised population. I have not definitely adopted this idea; but I am inclined to think that a good deal of what I have said in the earlier lectures may be found to support it. Once only, in Lecture XVII., I have used it myself to support a hypothesis there advanced.

I have retained the familiar English spelling of certain divine names, e.g. Jupiter (instead of Iuppiter), as less startling to British readers.

I wish to express my very deep obligations to the works of Prof. Wissowa and Dr. J. G. Frazer, and also to Mr. R. R. Marett, who gave me useful personal help in my second and third lectures. From Prof. Wissowa and Dr. Frazer I have had the misfortune to differ on one or two points; but "difference of opinion is the salt of life," as a great scholar said to me not long ago. In reading the proofs I have had much kind and valuable help from my Oxford friends Mr. Cyril Bailey and Mr. A. S. L. Farquharson, who have read certain parts of the work, and to whose suggestions I am greatly indebted. The whole has been read through by my old pupil Mr. Hugh Parr, now of Clifton College, to whom my best thanks are due for his timely discovery of many misprints and awkward expressions. The loyalty and goodwill of my old Oxford pupils never seem to fail me.

W. W. F.

Kingham, Oxon, 3rd March 1911.




Accounts of the Roman religion in recent standard works; a hard and highly formalised system. Its interest lies partly in this fact. How did it come to be so? This the main question of the first epoch of Roman religious experience. Roman religion and Roman law compared. Roman religion a technical subject. What we mean by religion. A useful definition applied to the plan of Lectures I.-X.; including (1) survivals of primitive or quasi-magical religion; (2) the religion of the agricultural family; (3) that of the City-state, in its simplest form, and in its first period of expansion. Difficulties of the subject; present position of knowledge and criticism. Help obtainable from (1) archaeology, (2) anthropology 1-23



Survivals at Rome of previous eras of quasi-religious experience. Totemism not discernible. Taboo, and the means adopted of escaping from it; both survived at Rome into an age of real religion. Examples: impurity (or holiness) of new-born infants; of a corpse; of women in certain worships; of strangers; of criminals. Almost complete absence of blood-taboo. Iron. Strange taboos on the priest of Jupiter and his wife. Holy or tabooed places; holy or tabooed days; the word religiosus as applied to both of these 24-46



Magic; distinction between magic and religion. Religious authorities seek to exclude magic, and did so at Rome. Few survivals of magic in the State religion. The aquaelicium. Vestals and runaway slaves. The magical whipping at the Lupercalia. The throwing of puppets from the pons sublicius. Magical processes surviving in religious ritual with their meaning lost. Private magic: excantatio in the XII. Tables; other spells or carmina. Amulets: the bulla; oscilla 47-67



Continuity of the religion of the Latin agricultural family. What the family was; its relation to the gens. The familia as settled on the land, an economic unit, embodied in a pagus. The house as the religious centre of the familia; its holy places. Vesta, Penates, Genius, and the spirit of the doorway. The Lar familiaris on the land. Festival of the Lar belongs to the religion of the pagus: other festivals of the pagus. Religio terminorum. Religion of the household: marriage, childbirth, burial and cult of the dead 68-91



Beginnings of the City-state: the oppidum. The earliest historical Rome, the city of the four regions; to this belongs the surviving religious calendar. This calendar described; the basis of our knowledge of early Roman religion. It expresses a life agricultural, political, and military. Days of gods distinguished from days of man. Agricultural life the real basis of the calendar; gradual effacement of it. Results of a fixed routine in calendar; discipline, religious confidence. Exclusion from it of the barbarous and grotesque. Decency and order under an organising priestly authority 92-113



Sources of knowledge about Roman deities. What did the Romans themselves know about them? No personal deity in the religion of the family. Those of the City-state are numina, marking a transition from animism to polytheism. Meaning of numen. Importance of names, which are chiefly adjectival, marking functional activity. Tellus an exception. Importance of priests in development of dei. The four great Roman gods and their priests: Janus, Jupiter, Mars, Quirinus. Characteristics of each of these in earliest Rome. Juno and the difficulties she presents. Vesta 114-144



No temples in the earliest Rome; meaning of fanum, ara, lucus, sacellum. No images of gods in these places, until end of regal period. Thus deities not conceived as persons. Though masculine and feminine they were not married pairs; Dr. Frazer's opinion on this point. Examination of his evidence derived from the libri sacerdotum; meaning of Nerio Martis. Such combinations of names suggest forms or manifestations of a deity's activity, not likely to grow into personal deities without Greek help. Meaning of pater and mater applied to deities; procreation not indicated by them. The deities of the Indigitamenta; priestly inventions of a later age. Usener's theory of Sondergoetter criticised so far as it applies to Rome 145-168



Main object of ius divinum to keep up the pax deorum; meaning of pax in this phrase. Means towards the maintenance of the pax: sacrifice and prayer, fulfilment of vows, lustratio, divination. Meaning of sacrificium. Little trace of sacramental sacrifice. Typical sacrifice of ius divinum: both priest and victim must be acceptable to the deity; means taken to secure this. Ritual of slaughter: examination and porrectio of entrails. Prayer; the phrase Macte esto and its importance in explaining Roman sacrifice. Magical survivals in Roman and Italian prayers; yet they are essentially religious 169-199


RITUAL (continued)

Vota (vows) have suggested the idea that Roman worship was bargaining. Examination of private vows, which do not prove this; of public vows, which in some degree do so. Moral elements in both these. Other forms of vow: evocatio and devotio.

Lustratio: meaning of lustrare in successive stages of Roman experience. Lustratio of the farm and pagus; of the city; of the people (at Rome and Iguvium); of the army; of the arms and trumpets of the army: meaning of lustratio in these last cases, both before and after a campaign 200-222



Recapitulation of foregoing lectures. Weak point of the organised State religion: it discouraged individual development. Its moral influence mainly a disciplinary one; and it hypnotised the religious instinct.

Growth of a new population at end of regal period, also of trade and industry. New deities from abroad represent these changes: Hercules of Ara Maxima; Castor and Pollux; Minerva. Diana of the Aventine reflects a new relation with Latium. Question as to the real religious influence of these deities. The Capitoline temple of Jupiter, Juno, and Minerva, of Etruscan origin. Meaning of cult-titles Optimus Maximus, and significance of this great Jupiter in Roman religious experience 223-247



Plan of this and following lectures. The formalised Roman religion meets with perils, material and moral, and ultimately proves inadequate. Subject of this lecture, the introduction of Greek deities and rites; but first a proof that the Romans were a really religious people; evidence from literature, from worship, from the practice of public life, and from Latin religious vocabulary.

Temple of Ceres, Liber, Libera (Demeter, Dionysus, Persephone); its importance for the date of Sibylline influence at Rome. Nature of this influence; how and when it reached Rome. The keepers of the "Sibylline books"; new cults introduced by them. New rites: lectisternia and supplicationes, their meaning and historical importance 248-269



Historical facts about the Pontifices in this period; a powerful exclusive "collegium" taking charge of the ius divinum. The legal side of their work; they administered the oldest rules of law, which belonged to that ius. New ideas of law after Etruscan period; increasing social complexity and its effect on legal matters; result, publication of rules of law, civil and religious, in XII. Tables, and abolition of legal monopoly of Pontifices. But they keep control of (1) procedure, (2) interpretation, till end of fourth century B.C. Publication of Fasti and Legis actiones; the college opened to Plebeians. Work of Pontifices in third century: (1) admission of new deities, (2) compilation of annals, (3) collection of religious formulae. General result; formalisation of religion; and secularisation of pontifical influence 270-291



Divination a universal practice: its relation to magic. Want of a comprehensive treatment of it. Its object at Rome: to assure oneself of the pax deorum; but it was the most futile method used. Private divination; limited and discouraged by the State, except in the form of family auspicia. Public divination; auspicia needed in all State operations; close connection with imperium. The augurs were skilled advisers of the magistrates, but could not themselves take the auspices. Probable result of this: Rome escaped subjection to a hierarchy. Augurs and auspicia become politically important, but cease to belong to religion. State divination a clog on political progress. Sinister influence on Rome of Etruscan divination; history of the haruspices 292-313



Tendency towards contempt of religious forms in third century B.C.; disappears during this war. Religio in the old sense takes its place, i.e. fear and anxiety. This takes the form of reporting prodigia; account of these in 218 B.C., and of the prescriptions supplied by Sibylline books. Fresh outbreak of religio after battle of Trasimene; lectisternium of 216, without distinction of Greek and Roman deities; importance of this. Religious panic after battle of Cannae; extraordinary religious measures, including human sacrifice. Embassy to Delphi and its result; symptoms of renewed confidence. But fresh and alarming outbreak in 213; met with remarkable skill. Institution of Apolline games. Summary of religious history in last years of the war; gratitude to the gods after battle of Metaurus. Arrival of the Great Mother of Phrygia at Rome. Hannibal leaves Italy 314-334



Religion used to support Senatorial policy in declaring war (1) with Philip of Macedon, (2) with Antiochus of Syria; but this is not the old religion. Use of prodigia and Sibylline oracles to secure political and personal objects; mischief caused in this way. Growth of individualism; rebellion of the individual against the ius divinum. Examples of this from the history of the priesthoods; strange story of a Flamen Dialis. The story of the introduction of Bacchic rites in 186 B.C.; interference of the Senate and Magistrates, and significance of this. Strange attempt to propagate Pythagoreanism; this also dealt with by the government. Influence of Ennius and Plautus, and of translations from Greek comedy, on the dying Roman religion 335-356



Religious destitution of the Roman in second century B.C. in regard to (1) his idea of God, (2) his sense of Duty. No help from Epicurism, which provided no religious sanction for conduct; Lucretius, and Epicurean idea of the Divine. Arrival of Stoicism at Rome; Panaetius and the Scipionic circle. Character of Scipio. The religious side of Stoicism; it teaches a new doctrine of the relation of man to God. Stoic idea of God as Reason, and as pervading the universe; adjustment of this to Roman idea of numina. Stoic idea of Man as possessing Reason, and so partaking the Divine nature. Influence of these two ideas on the best type of Roman; they appeal to his idea of Duty, and ennoble his idea of Law. Weak points in Roman Stoicism: (1) doctrine of Will, (2) neglect of emotions and sympathy. It failed to rouse an "enthusiasm of humanity" 357-379



Early Pythagoreanism in S. Italy; its reappearance in last century B.C. under the influence of Posidonius, who combined Stoicism with Platonic Pythagoreanism. Cicero affected by this revival; his Somnium Scipionis and other later works. His mysticism takes practical form on the death of his daughter; letters to Atticus about a fanum. Individualisation of the Manes; freedom of belief on such questions. Further evidence of Cicero's tendency to mysticism at this time (45 B.C.), and his belief in a future life. But did the ordinary Roman so believe? Question whether he really believed in the torments of Hades. Probability of this: explanation to be found in the influence of Etruscan art and Greek plays on primitive Roman ideas of the dead. Mysticism in the form of astrology; Nigidius Figulus 380-402



Virgil sums up Roman religious experience, and combines it with hope for the future. Sense of depression in his day; want of sympathy and goodwill towards men. Virgil's sympathetic outlook; shown in his treatment of animals, Italian scenery, man's labour, and man's worship. His idea of pietas. The theme of the Aeneid; Rome's mission in the world, and the pietas needed to carry it out. Development of the character of Aeneas; his pietas imperfect in the first six books, perfected in the last six, resulting in a balance between the ideas of the Individual and the State. Illustration of this from the poem. Importance of Book vi., which describes the ordeal destined to perfect the pietas of the hero. The sense of Duty never afterwards deserts him; his pietas enlarged in a religious sense 403-427



Connection of Augustus and Virgil. Augustus aims at re-establishing the national pietas, and securing the pax deorum by means of the ius divinum. How this formed part of his political plans. Temple restoration and its practical result. Revival of the ancient ritual; illustrated from the records of the Arval Brethren. The new element in it; Caesar-worship; but Augustus was content with the honour of re-establishing the pax deorum. Celebration of this in the Ludi saeculares, 17 B.C. Our detailed knowledge of this festival; meaning of saeculum; description of the ludi, and illustration of their meaning from the Carmen saeculare of Horace. Discussion of the performance of this hymn by the choirs of boys and girls 428-451



Religious ingredients in Roman soil likely to be utilised by Christianity. The Stoic ingredient; revelation of the Universal, and ennobling of Individual. The contribution of Mysticism; preparation for Christian eschatology. The contribution of Virgil; sympathy and sense of Duty. The contribution of Roman religion proper: (1) sane and orderly character of ritual, (2) practical character of Latin Christianity visible in early Christian writings, (3) a religious vocabulary, e.g. religio, pietas, sanctus, sacramentum. But all this is but a slight contribution; essential difference between Christianity and all that preceded it in Italy; illustration from the language of St. Paul 452-472










I was invited to prepare these lectures, on Lord Gifford's foundation, as one who has made a special study of the religious ideas and practice of the Roman people. So far as I know, the subject has not been touched upon as yet by any Gifford lecturer. We are in these days interested in every form of religion, from the most rudimentary to the most highly developed; from the ideas of the aborigines of Australia, which have now become the common property of anthropologists, to the ethical and spiritual religions of civilised man. Yet it is remarkable how few students of the history of religion, apart from one or two specialists, have been able to find anything instructive in the religion of the Romans—of the Romans, I mean, as distinguished from that vast collection of races and nationalities which eventually came to be called by the name of Rome. At the Congress for the History of Religions held at Oxford in 1908, out of scores of papers read and offered, not more than one or two even touched on the early religious ideas of the most practical and powerful people that the world has ever known.

This is due, in part at least, to the fact that just when Roman history begins to be of absorbing interest, and fairly well substantiated by evidence, the Roman religion, as religion, has already begun to lose its vitality, its purity, its efficacy. It has become overlaid with foreign rites and ideas, and it has also become a religious monopoly of the State; of which the essential characteristic, as Mommsen has well put it, and as we shall see later on, was "the conscious retention of the principles of the popular belief, which were recognised as irrational, for reasons of outward convenience."[1] It was not unlike the religion of the Jews in the period immediately before the Captivity, and it was never to profit by the refining and chastening influence of such lengthy suffering. In this later condition it has not been attractive to students of religious history; and to penetrate farther back into the real religious ideas of the genuine Roman people is a task very far from easy, of which indeed the difficulties only seem to increase as we become more familiar with it.

It must be remarked, too, that as a consequence of this unattractiveness, the accounts given in standard works of the general features of this religion are rather chilling and repellent. More than fifty years ago, in the first book of his Roman History, Mommsen so treated of it—not indeed without some reservation,—and in this matter, as in so many others, his view remained for many years the dominant one. He looked at this religion, as was natural to him, from the point of view of law; in religion as such he had no particular interest. If I am not mistaken, it was for him, except in so far as it is connected with Roman law, the least interesting part of all his far-reaching Roman studies. More recent writers of credit and ability have followed his lead, and stress has been laid on the legal side of religion at Rome; it has been described over and over again as merely a system of contracts between gods and worshippers, secured by hard and literal formalism, and without ethical value or any native principle of growth. Quite recently, for example, so great an authority as Professor Cumont has written of it thus:—

"Il n'a peut etre jamais existe aucune religion aussi froide, aussi prosaique que celle des Romains. Subordonnee a la politique, elle cherche avant tout, par la stricte execution de pratiques appropriees, a assurer a l'Etat la protection des dieux ou a detourner les effets de leur malveillance. Elle a conclu avec les puissances celestes un contrat synallagmatique d'ou decoulent des obligations reciproques: sacrifices d'une part, faveurs de l'autre.... Sa liturgie rappelle par la minutie de ses prescriptions l'ancien droit civil. Cette religion se defie des abandons de l'ame et des elans de la devotion." And he finishes his description by quoting a few words of the late M. Jean Reville: "The legalism of the Pharisees, in spite of the dryness of their ritualistic minutiae, could make the heart vibrate more than the formalism of the Romans."[2]

Now it is not for me to deny the truth of such statements as this, though I might be disposed to say that it is rather approximate than complete truth as here expressed, does not sum up the whole story, and only holds good for a single epoch of this religious history. But surely, for anyone interested in the history of religion, a religious system of such an unusual kind, with characteristics so well marked, must, one would suppose, be itself an attractive subject. A religion that becomes highly formalised claims attention by this very characteristic. At one time, however far back, it must have accurately expressed the needs and the aspirations of the Roman people in their struggle for existence. It is obviously, as described by the writers I have quoted, a very mature growth, a highly developed system; and the story, if we could recover it, of the way in which it came to be thus formalised, should be one of the deepest interest for students of the history of religion. Another story, too, that of the gradual discovery of the inadequacy of this system, and of the engrafting upon it, or substitution for it, of foreign rites and beliefs, is assuredly not less instructive; and here, fortunately, our records make the task of telling it an easier one.

Now these two stories, taken together, sum up what we may call the religious experience of the Roman people; and as it is upon these that I wish to concentrate your attention during this and the following course, I have called these lectures by that name. My plan is not to provide an exhaustive account of the details of the Roman worship or of the nature of the Roman gods: that can be found in the works of carefully trained specialists, of whom I shall have something to say presently. More in accordance with the intentions of the Founder of these lectures, I think, will be an attempt to follow out, with such detailed comment as may be necessary, the religious experience of the Romans, as an important part of their history. And this happens to coincide with my own inclination and training; for I have been all my academic life occupied in learning and teaching Roman history, and the fascination which the study of the Roman religion has long had for me is simply due to this fact. Whatever may be the case with other religions, it is impossible to think of that of the Romans as detached from their history as a whole; it is an integral part of the life and growth of the people. An adequate knowledge of Roman history, with all its difficulties and doubts, is the only scientific basis for the study of Roman religion, just as an adequate knowledge of Jewish history is the only scientific basis for a study of Jewish religion. The same rule must hold good in a greater or less degree with all other forms of religion of the higher type, and even when we are dealing with the religious ideas of savage peoples it is well to bear it steadfastly in mind. I may be excused for suggesting that in works on comparative religion and morals this principle is not always sufficiently realised, and that the panorama of religious or quasi-religious practice from all parts of the world, and found among peoples of very different stages of development, with which we are now so familiar, needs constant testing by increased knowledge of those peoples in all their relations of life. At any rate, in dealing with Roman evidence the investigator of religious history should also be a student of Roman history generally, for the facts of Roman life, public and private, are all closely concatenated together, and spring with an organic growth from the same root. The branches tend to separate, but the tree is of regular growth, compact in all its parts, and you cannot safely concentrate your attention on one of these parts to the comparative neglect of the rest. Conversely, too, the great story of the rise and decay of the Roman dominion cannot be properly understood without following out the religious history of this people—their religious experience, as I prefer to call it. To take an example of this, let me remind you of two leading facts in Roman history: first, the strength and tenacity of the family as a group under the absolute government of the paterfamilias; secondly, the strength and tenacity of the idea of the State as represented by the imperium of its magistrates. How different in these respects are the Romans from the Celts, the Scandinavians, even from the Greeks! But these two facts are in great measure the result of the religious ideas of the people, and, on the other hand, they themselves react with astonishing force on the fortunes of that religion.

I do not indeed wish to be understood as maintaining that the religion of the Roman was the most important element in his mental or civic development: far from it. I should be the first to concede that the religious element in the Roman mind was not that part of it which has left the deepest impress on history, or contributed much, except in externals, to our modern ideas of the Divine and of worship. It is not, as Roman law was, the one great contribution of the Roman genius to the evolution of humanity. But Roman law and Roman religion sprang from the same root; they were indeed in origin one and the same thing. Religious law was a part of the ius civile, and both were originally administered by the same authority, the Rex. Following the course of the two side by side for a few centuries, we come upon an astonishing phenomenon, which I will mention now (it will meet us again) as showing how far more interest can be aroused in our subject if we are fully equipped as Roman historians than if we were to study the religion alone, torn from the living body of the State, and placed on the dissecting-board by itself. As the State grew in population and importance, and came into contact, friendly or hostile, with other peoples, both the religion and the law of the State were called upon to expand, and they did so. But they did so in different ways; Roman law expanded organically and intensively, absorbing into its own body the experience and practice of other peoples, while Roman religion expanded mechanically and extensively, by taking on the deities and worship of others without any organic change of its own being. Just as the English language has been able to absorb words of Latin origin, through its early contact with French, into the very tissue and fibre of its being, while German has for certain reasons never been able to do this, but has adopted them as strangers only, without making them its very own: so Roman law contrived to take into its own being the rules and practices of strangers, while Roman religion, though it eventually admitted the ideas and cults of Greeks and others, did so without taking them by a digestive process into its own system. Had the law of Rome remained as inelastic as the religion, the Roman people would have advanced as little in civilisation as those races which embraced the faith of Islam, with its law and religion alike impermeable to any change.[3] Here is a phenomenon that at once attracts attention and suggests questions not easy to answer. Why is it that the Roman religion can never have the same interest and value for mankind as Roman law? I hope that we shall find an answer to this question in the course of our studies: at this moment I only propose it as an example of the advantage gained for the study of one department of Roman life and thought by a pretty complete equipment in the knowledge of others.

At the same time we must remember that the religion of the Romans is a highly technical subject, like Roman law, the Roman constitution, and almost everything else Roman; it calls for special knowledge as well as a sufficient training in Roman institutions generally. Each of these Roman subjects is like a language with a delicate accidence, which is always presenting the unwary with pitfalls into which they are sure to blunder unless they have a thorough mastery of it. I could mention a book full of valuable thoughts about the relation to Paganism of the early Christian Church, by a scholar at once learned and sympathetic;[4] who when he happens to deal for a moment with the old Roman religion, is inaccurate and misleading at every point. He knew, for example, that this religion is built on the foundation of the worship of the family, but he yielded to the temptation to assume that the family in heaven was a counterpart of the family on earth, "as it might be seen in any palace of the Roman nobility." "Jupiter and Juno," he says, "were the lord and lady, and beneath them was an army of officers, attendants, ministers, of every rank and degree." Such a description of the pantheon of his religion would have utterly puzzled a Roman, even in the later days of theological syncretism. Again he says that this religion was strongly moral; that "the gods gave every man his duty, and expected him to perform it." Here again no Roman of historical times, or indeed of any age, could have allowed this to be his creed. Had it really been so, not only the history of the Roman religion, but that of the Roman state, would have been very different from what it actually was.

The principles then on which I wish to proceed in these lectures are—(1) to keep the subject in continual touch with Roman history and the development of the Roman state; (2) to exercise all possible care and accuracy in dealing with the technical matters of the religion itself. I may now go on to explain more exactly the plan I propose to follow.

It will greatly assist me in this explanation if I begin by making clear what I understand, for our present purposes, by the word religion. There have been many definitions propounded—more in recent years than ever before, owing to the recognition of the study of religion as a department of anthropology. Controversies are going on which call for new definitions, and it is only by slow degrees that we are arriving at any common understanding as to the real essential thing or fact for which we should reserve this famous word, and other words closely connected with it, e.g. the supernatural. We are still disputing, for example, as to the relation of religion to magic, and therefore as to the exact meaning to be attributed to each of these terms.

Among the many definitions of religion which I have met with, there is one which seems to me to be particularly helpful for our present purposes; it is contributed by an American investigator. "Religion is the effective desire to be in right relation to the Power manifesting itself in the universe."[5] Dr. Frazer's definition is not different in essentials: "By religion I understand a propitiation or conciliation of powers superior to man which are believed to direct and control the course of nature and of human life;"[6] only that here the word is used of acts of worship rather than of the feeling or desire that prompts them. The definition of the late M. Jean Reville, in a chapter on "Religious Experience," written near the end of his valuable life, is in my view nearer the mark, and more comprehensive. "Religion," he says, "is essentially a principle of life, the feeling of a living relation between the human individual and the powers or power of which the universe is the manifestation. What characterises each religion is its way of looking upon this relation and its method of applying it."[7] And a little further on he writes: "It is generally admitted that this feeling of dependence upon the universe is the root of all religion." But this is not so succinct as the definition which I quoted first, and it introduces at least one term, the individual, which, for certain good reasons, I think it will be better for us to avoid in studying the early Roman religious ideas.

"Religion is the effective desire to be in right relations with the Power manifesting itself in the universe." This has the advantage of treating religion as primarily and essentially a feeling, an instinctive desire, and the word "effective," skilfully introduced, suggests that this feeling manifests itself in certain actions undertaken in order to secure a desired end. Again, the phrase "right relations" seems to me well chosen, and better than the "living relation" of M. Reville, which if applied to the religions of antiquity can only be understood in a sacramental sense, and is not obviously so intended. "Right relation" will cover all religious feeling, from the most material to the most spiritual. Think for a moment of the 119th Psalm, the high-water mark of the religious feeling of the most religious people of antiquity; it is a magnificent declaration of conformity to the will of God, i.e. of the desire to be in right relation to Him, to His statutes, judgments, laws, commands, testimonies, righteousness. This is religion in a high state of development; but our definition is so skilfully worded as to adapt itself readily to much earlier and simpler forms. The "Power manifesting itself in the universe" may be taken as including all the workings of nature, which even now we most imperfectly understand, and which primitive man so little understood that he misinterpreted them in a hundred different ways. The effective desire to be in right relation with these mysterious powers, so that they might not interfere with his material well-being—with his flocks and herds, with his crops, too, if he were in the agricultural stage, with his dwelling and his land, or with his city if he had got so far in social development—this is what we may call the religious instinct, the origin of what the Romans called religio.[8] The effective desire to have your own will brought into conformity to the will of a heavenly Father is a later development of the same feeling; to this the genuine Roman never attained, and the Greek very imperfectly.

If we keep this definition steadily in mind, I think we shall find it a valuable guide in following out what I call the religious experience of the Roman people; and at the present moment it will help me to explain my plan in drawing up these lectures. To begin with, in the prehistoric age of Rome, so far as we can discern from survivals of a later age, the feeling or desire must have taken shape, ineffectively indeed, in many quaint acts, some of them magical or quasi-magical, and possibly taken over from an earlier and ruder population among whom the Latins settled. Many of these continued, doubtless, to exist among the common folk, unauthorised by any constituted power, while some few were absorbed into the religious practice of the State, probably with the speedy loss of their original significance. Such survivals of ineffective religion are of course to be found in the lowest stratum of the religious ideas of every people, ancient and modern; even among the Israelites,[9] and in the rites of Islam or Christianity. They form, as it were, a kind of protoplasm of religious vitality, from which an organic growth was gradually developed. But though they are necessarily a matter of investigation as survivals which have a story to tell, they do not carry us very far when we are tracing the religious experience of a people, and in any case the process of investigating them is one of groping in the dark. I shall deal with these survivals in my next two lectures, and then leave them for good.

I am more immediately concerned with the desire expressed in our definition when it has become more effective; and this we find in the Latins when they have attained to a complete settlement on the land, and are well on in the agricultural stage of social development. This stage we can dimly see reflected in the life of the home and farm of later times; we have, I need hardly say, no contemporary evidence of it, though archaeology may yet yield us something. But the conservatism of rural life is a familiar fact, and comes home to me when I reflect that in my own English village the main features of work and worship remained the same through many centuries, until we were revolutionised by the enclosure of the parish and the coming of the railroad in the middle of the nineteenth century. The intense conservatism of rural Italy, up to the present day, has always been an acknowledged fact, and admits of easy explanation. We may be sure that the Latin farmer, before the City-state was developed, was like his descendants of historical times, the religious head of a family, whose household deities were effectively worshipped by a regular and orderly procedure, whose dead were cared for in like manner, and whose land and stock were protected from malignant spirits by a boundary made sacred by yearly rites of sacrifice and prayer. Doubtless these wild spirits beyond his boundaries were a constant source of anxiety to him; doubtless charms and spells and other survivals from the earlier stage were in use to keep them from mischief; but these tend to become exceptions in an orderly life of agricultural routine which we may call religious. Spirits may accept domicile within the limits of the farm, and tend, as always in this agricultural stage, to become fixed to the soil and to take more definite shape as in some sense deities. This stage—that of the agricultural family—is the foundation of Roman civilised life, in religious as in all other aspects, and it will form the subject of my fourth lecture.

The growing effectiveness of the desire, as seen in the family and in the agricultural stage, prepares us for still greater effectiveness in the higher form of civilisation which we know as that of the City-state. That desire, let me say once more, is to be in right relations with the Power manifesting itself in the universe. It is only in the higher stages of civilisation that this desire can really become effective; social organisation, as I shall show, produces an increased knowledge of the nature of the Power, and with it a systematisation of the means deemed necessary to secure the right relations. The City-state, the peculiar form in which Greek and Italian social and political life eventually blossomed and fructified, was admirably fitted to secure this effectiveness. It was, of course, an intensely local system; and the result was, first, that the Power is localised in certain spots and propitiated by certain forms of cult within the city wall, thus bringing the divine into closest touch with the human population and its interests; and secondly, that the concentration of intelligence and will-power within a small space might, and did at Rome, develop a very elaborate system for securing the right relations—in other words, it produced a religious system as highly ritualistic as that of the Jews.

With the several aspects of this system my fifth and succeeding lectures will be occupied. I shall deal first with the religious calendar of the earliest historical form of the City-state, which most fortunately has come down to us entire. I shall devote two lectures to the early Roman ideas of divinity, and the character of their deities as reflected in the calendar, and as further explained by Roman and Greek writers of the literary age. Two other lectures will discuss the ritual of sacrifice and prayer, with the priests in charge of these ceremonies, and the ritual of vows and of "purification." In each of these I shall try to point out wherein the weakness of this religious system lay—viz. in attempts at effectiveness so elaborate that they overshot their mark, in a misconception of the means necessary to secure the right relations, and in a failure to grow in knowledge of the Power itself.

Lastly, as the City-state advances socially and politically, in trade and commerce, in alliance and conquest, we shall find that the ideas of other peoples about the Power, and their methods of propitiation, begin to be adopted in addition to the native stock. The first stages of this revolution will bring us to the conclusion of my present course; but we shall be then well prepared for what follows. For later on we shall find the Romans feeling afresh the desire to be in right relation with the Power, discovering that their own highly formalised system is no longer equal to the work demanded of it, and pitiably mistaking their true course in seeking a remedy. Their knowledge of the Divine, always narrow and limited, becomes by degrees blurred and obscured, and their sight begins to fail them. I hope in due course to explain this, and to give you some idea of the sadness of their religious experience before the advent of an age of philosophy, of theological syncretism, and of the worship of the rulers of the state.

Let us now turn for a few minutes to the special difficulties of our subject. These are serious enough; but they have been wonderfully and happily reduced since I began to be interested in the Roman religion some twenty-five years ago. There were then only two really valuable books which dealt with the whole subject. Though I could avail myself of many treatises, good and bad, on particular aspects of it, some few of which still survive, the only two comprehensive and illuminating books were Preller's Roemische Mythologie, and Marquardt's volume on the cult in his Staatsverwaltung. Both of these were then already many years old, but they had just been re-edited by two eminent scholars thoroughly well equipped for the task—Preller's work by H. Jordan, and Marquardt's by Georg Wissowa. They were written from different points of view; Preller dealt with the deities and the ideas about them rather than with the cults and the priests concerned with them; while Marquardt treated the subject as a part of the administration of government, dealing with the worship and the ius divinum, and claiming that this was the only safe and true way of arriving at the ideas underlying that law and worship.[10] Both books are still indispensable for the student; but Marquardt's is the safer guide, as dealing with facts to the exclusion of fancies. The two taken together had collected and sifted the evidence so far as it was then available.

The Corpus Inscriptionum had not at that time got very far, but its first volume, edited by Mommsen, contained the ancient Fasti, which supply us with the religious calendar of early Rome, and with other matter throwing light upon it. This first volume was an invaluable help, and formed the basis (in a second edition) of the book I was eventually able to write on the Roman Festivals of the Period of the Republic. At that time, too, in the 'eighties, Roscher's Lexicon of Greek and Roman Mythology began to appear, which aimed at summing up all that was then known about the deities of both peoples; this is not even yet completed, and many of the earlier articles seem now almost antiquated, as propounding theories which have not met with general acceptance. All these earlier articles are now being superseded by those in the new edition of Pauly's Real-Encyclopaedie, edited by Wissowa. Lastly, Wissowa himself in 1902 published a large volume entitled Die Religion und Kultus der Roemer, which will probably be for many years the best and safest guide for all students of our subject. Thoroughly trained in the methods of dealing with evidence both literary and archaeological, Wissowa produced a work which, though it has certain limitations, has the great merit of not being likely to lead anyone astray. More skilfully and successfully than any of his predecessors, he avoided the chief danger and difficulty that beset all who meddle with Roman religious antiquities, and invariably lead the unwary to their destruction; he declined to accept as evidence what in nine cases out of ten is no true evidence at all—the statements of ancient authors influenced by Greek ideas and Greek fancy. He holds in the main to the principle laid down by Marquardt, that we may use, as evidence for their religious ideas, what we are told that the Romans did in practising their worship, but must regard with suspicion, and subject to severe criticism, what either they themselves or the Greeks wrote about those religious ideas—that is, about divine beings and their doings.

It is indeed true that the one great difficulty of our subject lies in the nature of the evidence; and it is one which we can never hope entirely to overcome. We have always to bear in mind that the Romans produced no literature till the third century B.C.; and the documentary evidence that survives from an earlier age in the form of inscriptions, or fragments of hymns or of ancient law (such as the calendar of which I spoke just now), is of the most meagre character, and usually most difficult to interpret. Thus the Roman religion stands alone among the religions of ancient civilisations in that we are almost entirely without surviving texts of its forms of prayer, of its hymns or its legends;[11] even in Greece the Homeric poems, with all the earliest Greek literature and art, make up to some extent for the want of that documentary evidence which throws a flood of light on the religions of Babylon, Egypt, the Hindus, and the Jewish people. We know in fact as little about the religion of the old Italian populations as we do about that of our own Teutonic ancestors, less perhaps than we do about that of the Celtic peoples. The Romans were a rude and warlike folk, and meddled neither with literature nor philosophy until they came into immediate contact with the Greeks; thus it was that, unfortunately for our purposes, the literary spirit, when at last it was born in Italy, was rather Greek than Roman. When that birth took place Rome had spread her influence over Italy,—perhaps the greatest work she ever accomplished; and thus the latest historian of Latin literature can venture to write that "the greatest time in Roman history was already past when real historical evidence becomes available."[12]

We have thus to face two formidable facts: (1) that the period covered by my earlier lectures must in honesty be called prehistoric; and (2) that when the Romans themselves began to write about it they did so under the overwhelming influence of Greek culture. With few exceptions, all that we can learn of the early Roman religion from Roman or Greek writers comes to us, not in a pure Roman form, clearly conceived as all things truly Roman were, but seen dimly through the mist of the Hellenistic age. The Roman gods, for example, are made the sport of fancy and the subject of Hellenistic love-stories, by Greek poets and their Roman imitators,[13] or are more seriously treated by Graeco-Roman philosophy after a fashion which would have been absolutely incomprehensible to the primitive men in whose minds they first had their being. The process of disentangling the Roman element from the Greek in the literary evidence is one which can never be satisfactorily accomplished; and on the whole it is better, with Wissowa and Marquardt, to hold fast by the facts of the cult, where the distinction between the two is usually obvious, than to flounder about in a slough of what I can only call pseudo-evidence. If all that English people knew about their Anglo-Saxon forefathers were derived from Norman-French chroniclers, how much should we really know about government or religion in the centuries before the Conquest! And yet this comparison gives but a faint idea of the treacherous nature of the literary evidence I am speaking of. It is true indeed that in the last age of the Republic a few Romans began to take something like a scientific interest in their own religious antiquities; and to Varro, by far the most learned of these, and to Verrius Flaccus, who succeeded him in the Augustan age, we owe directly or indirectly almost all the solid facts on which our knowledge of the Roman worship rests. But their works have come down to us in a most imperfect and fragmentary state, and what we have of them we owe mainly to the erudition of later grammarians and commentators, and the learning of the early Christian fathers, who drew upon them freely for illustrations of the absurdities of paganism. And it must be added that when Varro himself deals with the Roman gods and the old ideas about them, he is by no means free from the inevitable influence of Greek thought.

Apart from the literary material and the few surviving fragments of religious law and ritual, there are two other sources of light of which we can now avail ourselves, archaeology and anthropology; but it must be confessed that as yet their illuminating power is somewhat uncertain. It reminds the scrupulous investigator of those early days of the electric light, when its flickering tremulousness made it often painful to read by, and when, too, it might suddenly go out and leave the reader in darkness. It is well to remember that both sciences are young, and have much of the self-confidence of youth; and that Italian archaeology, now fast becoming well organised within Italy, has also to be co-ordinated with the archaeology of the whole Mediterranean basin, before we can expect from it clear and unmistakable answers to hard questions about race and religion. This work, which cannot possibly be done by an individual without co-operation—the secret of sound work which the Germans have long ago discovered—is in course of being carried out, so far as is at present possible, by a syndicate of competent investigators.[14]

In order to indicate the uncertain nature of the light which for a long time to come is all we can expect from Italian archaeology, I have only to remind you that one of the chief questions we have to ask of it is the relation of the mysterious Etruscan people to the other Italian stocks, in respect of language, religion, and art. Whether the Etruscans were the same people whom the Greeks called Pelasgians, as many investigators now hold: whether the earliest Roman city was in any true sense an Etruscan one: these are questions on the answers to which it is not as yet safe to build further hypotheses. In regard to religion, too, we are still very much in the dark. For example, there are many Etruscan works of art in which Roman deities are portrayed, as is certain from the fact that their names accompany the figures; but it is as yet almost impossible to determine how far we can use these for the interpretation of Roman religious ideas or legends. Many years ago a most attractive hypothesis was raised on the evidence of certain of these works of art, where Hercules and Juno appear together in a manner which strongly suggests that they are meant to represent the male and female principles of human life; this hypothesis was taken up by early writers in the Mythological Lexicon, and relying upon them I adopted it in my Roman Festivals,[15] and further applied it to the interpretation of an unsolved problem in the fourth Eclogue of Virgil.[16] But since then doubt has been thrown on it by Wissowa, who had formerly accepted it. As being of Etruscan origin, and found in places very distant from each other and from Rome, we have, he says, no good right to use these works of art as evidence for the Roman religion.[17] The question remains open as to these and many other works of art, but the fact that the man of coolest judgment and most absolute honesty is doubtful, suggests that we had best wait patiently for more certain light.

In Rome itself, where archaeological study is concentrated and admirably staffed, great progress has been made, and much light thrown on the later periods of religious history. But for the religion of the ancient Roman state, with which we are at present concerned, it must be confessed that very little has been gleaned. The most famous discovery is that recently made in the Forum of an archaic inscription which almost certainly relates to some religious act; but as yet no scholar has been able to interpret it with anything approaching to certainty.[18] More recently excavations on the further bank of the Tiber threw a glint of light on the nature of an ancient deity, Furrina, about whom till then we practically knew nothing at all; but the evidence thus obtained was late and in Greek characters. We must in fact entertain no great hopes of illumination from excavations, but accept thankfully what little may be vouchsafed to us. On the other hand, from the gradual development of Italian archaeology as a whole, and, I must here add, from the study of the several old Italian languages, much may be expected in the future.

The other chief contributory science is anthropology, i.e. the study of the working of the mind of primitive man, as it is seen in the ideas and practices of uncivilised peoples at the present day, and also as it can be traced in survivals among more civilised races. For the history of the religion of the Roman City-state its contribution must of necessity be a limited one; that is a part of Roman history in general, and its material is purely Roman, or perhaps I should say, Graeco-Roman; and Wissowa in all his work has consistently declined to admit the value of anthropological researches for the elucidation of Roman problems. Perhaps it is for this very reason that his book is the safest guide we possess for the study of what the Romans did and thought in the matter of religion; but if we wish to try and get to the original significance of those acts and thoughts, it is absolutely impossible in these days to dispense with the works of a long series of anthropologists, many of them fortunately British, who have gradually been collecting and classifying the material which in the long run will fructify in definite results. If we consider the writings of eminent scholars who wrote about Greek and Roman religion and mythology before the appearance of Dr. Tylor's Primitive Culture—Klausen, Preuner, Preller, Kuhn, and many others, who worked on the comparative method but with slender material for the use of it—we see at once what an immense advance has been effected by that monumental work, and by the stimulus that it gave to others to follow the same track. Now we have in this country the works of Lang, Robertson Smith, Farnell, Frazer, Hartland, Jevons, and others, while a host of students on the Continent are writing in all languages on anthropological subjects. Some of these I shall quote incidentally in the course of these lectures; at present I will content myself with making one or two suggestions as to the care needed in using the collections and theories of anthropologists, as an aid in Roman religious studies.

First, let us bear in mind that anthropologists are apt to have their favourite theories—conclusions, that is, which are the legitimate result of reasoning inductively on the class of facts which they have more particularly studied. Thus Mannhardt had his theory of the Vegetation-spirit, Robertson Smith that of the sacramental meal, Usener that of the Sondergoetter, Dr. Frazer that of divine Kingship; all of which are perfectly sound conclusions based on facts which no one disputes. They have been of the greatest value to anthropological research; but when they are applied to the explanation of Roman practices we should be instantly on our guard, ready indeed to welcome any glint of light that we may get from them, but most carefully critical and even suspicious of their application to other phenomena than those which originally suggested them. It is in the nature of man as a researcher, when he has found a key, to hasten to apply it to all the doors he can find, and sometimes, it must be said, to use violence in the application; and though the greatest masters of the science will rarely try to force the lock, they will use so much gentle persuasion as sometimes to make us fancy that they have unfastened it. All such attempts have their value, but it behoves us to be cautious in accepting them. The application by Mannhardt of the theory of the Vegetation-spirit to certain Roman problems, e.g. to that of the Lupercalia,[19] and the October horse,[20] must be allowed, fascinating as it was, to have failed in the main. The application by Dr. Frazer of the theory of divine Kingship to the early religious history of Rome, is still sub judice, and calls for most careful and discriminating criticism.[21]

Secondly, as I have already said, Roman evidence is peculiarly difficult to handle, except in so far as it deals with the simple facts of worship; when we use it for traditions, myths, ideas about the nature of divine beings, we need a training not only in the use of evidence in general, but in the use of Roman evidence in particular. Anthropologists, as a rule, have not been through such a training, and they are apt to handle the evidence of Roman writers with a light heart and rather a rough hand. The result is that bits of evidence are put together, each needing conscientious criticism, to support hypotheses often of the flimsiest kind, which again are used to support further hypotheses, and so on, until the sober inquirer begins to feel his brain reeling and his footing giving way beneath him. I shall have occasion to notice one or two examples of this uncritical use of evidence later on, and will say no more of it now. No one can feel more grateful than I do to the many leading anthropologists who have touched in one way or another on Roman evidence; but for myself I try never to forget the words of Columella, with which a great German scholar began one of his most difficult investigations: "In universa vita pretiosissimum est intellegere quemque nescire se quod nesciat."[22]


[1] Mommsen, Hist. of Rome (E.T.), vol. ii. p. 433.

[2] Cumont, Les Religions orientales dans le paganisme romain, p. 36. Cp. Dill, Roman Society in the Last Century of the Western Empire, p. 63. Gwatkin, The Knowledge of God, vol. ii. p. 133.

[3] See some valuable remarks in Lord Cromer's Modern Egypt, vol. ii. p. 135.

[4] Since this lecture was written this scholar has passed away, to the great grief of his many friends; and I refrain from mentioning his name.

[5] Ira W. Howerth, in International Journal of Ethics, 1903, p. 205. I owe the reference to R. Karsten, The Origin of Worship, Wasa, 1905, p. 2, note. Cp. E. Caird, Gifford Lectures ("Evolution of Theology in the Greek Philosophers"), vol. i. p. 32. "That which underlies all forms of religion, from the highest to the lowest, is the idea of God as an absolute power or principle." To this need only be added the desire to be in right relation to it. Mr. Marett's word "supernaturalism" seems to mean the same thing; "There arises in the region of human thought a powerful impulse to objectify, and even to personify, the mysterious or supernatural something felt; and in the region of will a corresponding impulse to render it innocuous, or, better still, propitious, by force of constraint (i.e. magic), communion, or conciliation." See his Threshold of Religion, p. 11. Prof. Haddon, commenting on this (Magic and Fetishism, p. 93), adds that "there are thus produced the two fundamental factors of religion, the belief in some mysterious power, and the desire to enter into communication with the power by means of worship." Our succinct definition seems thus to be adequate.

[6] The Golden Bough, ed. 2, vol. i. p. 62.

[7] Liberal Protestantism, p. 64.

[8] For religio as a feeling essentially, see Wissowa, Religion und Kultus der Roemer, p. 318 (henceforward to be cited as R.K.). For further development of the meaning of the word in Latin literature, see the author's paper in Proceedings of the Congress for the History of Religions (Oxford, 1908), vol. ii. p. 169 foll. A different view of the original meaning of the word is put forward by W. Otto in Archiv fuer Religionswissenschaft, vol. xii., 1909, p. 533 (henceforward to be cited as Archiv simply). See also below, p. 459 foll.

[9] See, e.g., Frazer in Anthropological Essays presented to E. B. Tylor, p. 101 foll.

[10] Staatsverwaltung, iii. p. 2. This will henceforward be cited as Marquardt simply. It forms part of the great Handbuch der roemischen Alterthuemer of Mommsen and Marquardt, and is translated into French, but unfortunately not into English. I may add here that I have only recently become acquainted with what was, at the time it was written, a remarkably good account of the Roman religion, full of insight as well as learning, viz. Doellinger's The Gentile and the Jew, Book VII. (vol. ii. of the English translation, 1906).

[11] Two fragments of ancient carmina, i.e. formulae which are partly spells and partly hymns, survive—those of the Fratres Arvales and the Salii or dancing priests of Mars. For surviving formulae of prayer see below, p. 185 foll. Our chief authority on the ritual of prayer and sacrifice comes from Iguvium in Umbria, and is in the Umbrian dialect; it will be referred to in Buecheler's Umbrica (1883), where a Latin translation will be found. The Umbrian text revised by Prof. Conway forms an important part of that eminent scholar's work on the Italian dialects.

[12] F. Leo, in Die griechische und lateinische Literatur und Sprache, p. 328. Cp. Schanz, Geschichte der roem. Literatur, vol. i. p. 54 foll.

[13] Among Roman poets Ovid is the worst offender, Propertius and Tibullus mislead in a less degree; but they all make up for it to some extent by preserving for us features of the worship as it existed in their own day. The confusion that has been caused in Roman religious history by mixing up Greek and Roman evidence is incalculable, and has recently been increased by Pais (Storia di Roma, and Ancient Legends of Roman History), and by Dr. Frazer in his lectures on the early history of Kingship—writers to whom in some ways we owe valuable hints for the elucidation of Roman problems. See also Soltau, Die Anfaenge der roemischen Geschichtsschreibung, 1909, p. 3.

[14] Most welcome to English readers has been Mr. T. E. Peet's recently published volume on The Stone and Bronze Ages in Italy, and still more valuable for our purposes will be its sequel, when it appears, on the Iron Age.

[15] Roman Festivals, p. 142 foll.; henceforward to be cited as R.F.

[16] See Virgil's Messianic Eclogue, by Mayor, Fowler, and Conway, p. 75 foll.

[17] Wissowa, R.K. p. 227.

[18] An account of this in English, with photographs, will be found in Pais's Ancient Legends of Roman History, p. 21 foll., and notes.

[19] Mannhardt, Mythologische Forschungen, p. 72 foll.

[20] Ibid., p. 156 foll.

[21] Lectures on the Early History of Kingship, lectures 7-9.

[22] Not long after these last sentences were written, a large work appeared by Dr. Binder, a German professor of law, entitled Die Plebs, which deals freely with the oldest Roman religion, and well illustrates the difficulties under which we have to work while archaeologists, ethnologists, and philologists are still constantly in disagreement as to almost every important question in the history of early Italian culture. Dr. Binder's main thesis is that the earliest Rome was composed of two distinct communities, each with its own religion, i.e. deities, priests, and sacra; the one settled on the Palatine, a pastoral folk of primitive culture, and of pure Latin race; the other settled on the Quirinal, Sabine in origin and language, and of more advanced development in social and religious matters. So far this sounds more or less familiar to us, but when Dr. Binder goes on to identify the Latin folk with the Plebs and the Sabine settlement with the Patricians, and calls in religion to help him with the proof of this, it is necessary to look very carefully into the religious evidence he adduces. So far as I can see, the limitation of the word patrician to the Quirinal settlement is very far from being proved by this evidence (see The Year's Work in Classical Studies, 1909, p. 69). Yet the hypothesis is an extremely interesting one, and were it generally accepted, would compel us to modify in some important points our ideas of Roman religious history, and also of Roman legal history, with which Dr. Binder is mainly concerned.



My subject proper is the religion of an organised State: the religious experience of a comparatively civilised people. But I wish, in the first place, to do what has never yet been done by those who have written on the Roman religion—I wish to take a survey of the relics, surviving in later Roman practice and belief, of earlier stages of rudimentary religious experience. In these days of anthropological and sociological research, it is possible to do this without great difficulty; and if I left it undone, our story of the development of religion at Rome would be mutilated at the beginning. Also we should be at a disadvantage in trying to realise the wonderful work done by the early authorities of the State in eliminating from their rule of worship (ius divinum) almost all that was magical, barbarous, or, as later Romans would have called it, superstitious. This is a point on which I wish to lay especial stress in the next few lectures, and it entails a somewhat tiresome account of the ideas and practices of which, as I believe, they sought to get rid. These, I may as well say at once, are to be found for the most part surviving, as we might expect, outside of the religion of the State; where they survive within its limits, they will be found to have almost entirely lost their original force and meaning.

Every student of religious history knows that a religious system is a complex growth, far more complex than would appear at first sight; that it is sure to contain relics of previous eras of human experience, embedded in the social strata as lifeless fossils. These only indeed survive because human nature is intensely conservative, especially in religious matters; and of this conservative instinct the Romans afford as striking an example as we can readily find. They clung with extraordinary tenacity, all through their history, to old forms; they seem to have had a kind of superstitious feeling that these dead forms had still a value as such, though all the life was gone out of them. It would be easy to illustrate this curious feature of the Roman mind from the history of its religion; it never disappeared; and to this day the Catholic church in Italy retains in a thinly-disguised form many of the religious practices of the Roman people.

Stage after stage must have been passed by the Latins long before our story rightly begins; how many revolutions of thought they underwent, how much they learnt and took over from earlier inhabitants of the country in which they finally settled, we cannot even guess. As I said in the last lecture, we have no really ancient history of the Romans, as we have, for example, of the Egyptians or Babylonians; to us it is all darkness, save where a little light has been thrown on the buried strata by archaeology and anthropology. That little light, which may be expected to increase in power, shows survivals here and there of primitive modes of thought; and these I propose to deal with now in the following order. Totemism I shall mention merely to clear it out of the way; but taboo will take us some little time, and so will magic in its various forms.

About totemism all I have to say is this. As I write, Dr. Frazer's great work on this subject has just appeared; it is entirely occupied with totemism among modern savages, true totemic peoples, with the object of getting at the real principles of that curious stratum of human thought, and he leaves to others the discussion of possible survivals of it among Aryans, Semites, and Egyptians. He himself is sceptical about all the evidence that has been adduced to prove its existence in classical antiquity (see vol. i. p. 86 and vol. iv. p. 13). Under these circumstances, and seeing that Dr. Frazer has always been the accepted exponent of totemism in this country since the epoch-making works appeared of Tylor and Robertson Smith, it is obviously unnecessary for me either to attempt to explain what it is, or to examine the attempts to find survivals of it in ancient Italy. When it first became matter of interest to anthropologists it was only natural that they should be apt to find it everywhere. Dr. Jevons, for example, following in the steps of Robertson Smith, found plenty of totemistic survivals both in Greece and Italy in writing his valuable Introduction to the History of Religion; but he is now aware that he went too far in this direction. Quite recently there has been a run after the same scent in France; not long ago a French scholar published a book on the ensigns of the Roman army,[23] which originally represented certain animals, and using Dr. Frazer's early work on totemism with a very imperfect knowledge of the subject, tried to prove that these were originally totem signs. Roman names of families and old Italian tribe-names are still often quoted as totemistic; but the Fabii and Caepiones, named after cultivated plants, and the Picentes and Hirpini, after woodpecker and wolf, though tempting to the totemist, have not persuaded Dr. Frazer to accept them as totemistic, and may be left out of account here; there may be many reasons for the adoption of such names besides the totemistic one. In the course of the last Congress of religious history, a sober French scholar, M. Toutain, made an emphatic protest against the prevailing tendency in France, of which the leading representative is M. Salomon Reinach.[24] Let us pass on at once to the second primitive mode of thought which I mentioned just now, and which is not nearly so remote—speaking anthropologically—from classical times as totemism. Totemism belongs to a form of society, that of tribe or clan, in which family life is unknown in our sense of the word, and it is therefore wholly remote from the life of the ancient Italian stocks, in whose social organisation the family was a leading fact; but taboo seems rather to be a mode of thought common to primitive peoples up to a comparatively advanced stage of development, and has left its traces in all systems of religion, including those of the present day.

By this famous word taboo, of Polynesian origin, is to be understood a very important part of what I have called the protoplasm of primitive religion, and one closely allied both to magic and fetishism. For our present purposes we may define it as a mysterious influence believed to exist in objects both animate and inanimate, which makes them dangerous, infectious, unclean, or holy, which two last qualities are often almost identical in primitive thought, as Robertson Smith originally taught us.[25] What exactly the savage or semi-civilised mind thought about this influence we hardly yet know; we have another Polynesian word, mana, which expresses conveniently its positive aspect, and may in time help us towards a better understanding of it.[26] It is in origin pre-animistic, i.e. it is not so much believed to emanate from a spirit residing in the object, as from some occult miasmatic quality. All human beings in contact with other men or things possessing this quality are believed to suffer in some way, and to communicate the infection which they themselves receive. As Dr. Farnell says in his chapter on the ritual of purification,[27] "The sense-instinct that suggests all this was probably some primeval terror or aversion evoked by certain objects, as we see animals shrink with disgust at the sight or smell of blood. The nerves of savage man are strangely excited by certain stimuli of touch, smell, taste, sight; the specially exciting object is something that we should call mysterious, weird, or uncanny."

Based on this notion of constant danger from infection, there arose a code of unwritten custom as rigid as that enforced by a careful physician in infectious cases at the present day; and thus, too, in course of time there was developed the idea of the possibility of disinfection, an idea as salutary as the discovery in medical science of effective methods for the disinfection of disease. The code of taboo had an obvious ethical value, as Dr. Jevons pointed out long ago;[28] like all discipline carried out with a social end in view, it helped men to realise that they were under obligations to the community of which they were a part, and that they would be visited by severe penalties if they neglected these duties. But it inevitably tended to forge a set of fetters binding and cramping the minds of its captives with a countless number of terrors; life was full of constant anxiety, of that feeling expressed by the later Romans in the word religio,[29] which, as we shall see, probably had its origin in this period of primitive superstition. The only remedy is the discovery of the means of disinfection, or, as we commonly call it, of purification: a discovery which must have been going on for ages, and only finds its completion at Rome in the era of the City-state. We shall return to this part of the subject when we deal with the ritual of purification; at present we must attend to certain survivals in that ritual which suggest that at one time the ancestors of the Roman people lived under this unwritten code of taboo.

Let us see, in the first place, how human beings were supposed to be affected by this mysterious influence under certain circumstances and at particular periods of their existence. As universally in primitive life, the new-born infant must originally have been taboo; for every Roman child needed purification or disinfection, boys on the ninth, girls on the eighth day after birth. This day was called the dies lustricus, the day of a purificatory rite; "est lustricus dies," says Macrobius, "quo infantes lustrantur et nomen accipiunt."[30] In historical times the naming of the child was doubtless the more practically important part of the ceremony; though we may note in passing that the mystic value attaching to names, of which there are traces in Roman usage, may have even originally given that part a greater significance than we should naturally attribute to it.[31] Again, when the child reaches the age of puberty, it is all the world over believed to be in a critical or dangerous condition, needing disinfection; of this idea, so far as I know, the later Romans show hardly a trace, but we may suppose that the ceremony of laying aside the toga of childhood, which was accompanied by a sacrifice, was a faint survival of some process of purification.[32] Once more, after a death the whole family had to be purified with particular care from the contagion of the corpse,[33] which was here as everywhere taboo; a cypress bough was stuck over the door of the house of a noble family to give warning to any passing pontifex that he was not to enter it;[34] and those who followed the funeral cortege were purified by being sprinkled with water and by stepping over fire.[35] Society had effectually protected itself against the miasma in all these cases by the discovery of the means of disinfection.

One of the commonest forms of taboo is that on women, who, especially at certain periods, were apparently believed to be "infectious."[36] Of this belief we have very distinct survivals in Roman ritual, which I must here be content to mention only, leaving details to trained anthropologists to explain. We find them both in sacra privata and sacra publica. Cato has preserved the formula for the propitiation of Mars Silvanus in the private rites of the farm; it is to take place in silva, and its object is the protection of the cattle, doubtless those which have been turned out to pasture in the forest, and are therefore in danger from evil beasts and evil spirits. Now this res divina may be performed either by a free man or a slave, but no woman may be present, nor see what is going on.[37] In sacra publica women were excluded from the cult of Hercules at the Ara Maxima, and were not allowed to swear by the name of that god; facts which are usually connected with the doubtful identification of Hercules with Genius, or the male principle of life.[38] More conclusive evidence of taboo in the case of women is the fact that at certain sacrifices they were ordered to withdraw, both mulieres and virgines, together with other persons to be mentioned directly.[39] Unfortunately we are not told what those sacrifices were; but it seems clear enough that there had been at one time a scruple (religio) about admitting women of any age to certain sacred rites. If so, it is remarkable how the good sense of the Roman people overcame any serious disabilities which might have been produced by such ideas; the Roman woman gained for herself a position of dignity, and even of authority, in her household, which had very important results on the formation of the character of the people.[40] Traces of the old superstition doubtless continued to survive in folklore; an example, interesting because it seems to illustrate the positive aspect of taboo (mana), may be found by the curious in Pliny's Natural History, xxviii. 78.

Another widely-spread example of the class of ideas we are discussing is the belief that strangers are dangerous. Dr. Frazer tells us that "to guard against the baneful influence exerted voluntarily or involuntarily by strangers is an elementary dictate of savage prudence." You have to disarm them of their magical powers, to counteract "the baneful influence which is believed to emanate from them."[41] Of this feeling he has collected a great number of convincing illustrations. We find it also surviving in Roman ritual. A note, referred to above, which has come down to us from the learned Verrius Flaccus, informs us that at certain sacrifices the lictor proclaimed "hostis vinctus mulier virgo exesto," where hostis has its old meaning of stranger.[42] This is, of course, merely the old feeling of taboo surviving in the religious ritual of the City-state, and is also no doubt connected with the belief that the recognised deities of a community could not be approached by any but the members of that community; but its taproot is probably to be found in the ideas described by Dr. Frazer. We can illustrate it well from the ritual of another Italian city, Iguvium in Umbria, which, as I mentioned in a note to my last lecture, has come down to us in a very elaborate form. In the ordinance for the lustratio populi of that city the magistrate is directed to expel all members of certain neighbouring communities by a thrice-repeated proclamation.[43] Such fear of strangers is not even yet extinct in Italy. Professor von Duhn told me that once when approaching an Italian village in search of inscriptions he was taken for the devil, being unluckily mounted on a black horse and dressed in black, and was met by a priest with a crucifix, who was at last persuaded to "disinfect" him with holy water as a condition of his being admitted to the village. But the Romans of historical times, in this as in so many other ways, discovered easy methods of overcoming these fears and scruples: we find a good example of this in the organised college of Fetiales, who, on entering as envoys a foreign territory, were fully protected by their sacred herbs, carried by a verbenarius, against all hostile contamination.[44]

A remark seems here necessary about the apparent inconsistency between this feeling of anxiety about strangers and the well-known ancient Italian practice of hospitium, by which two communities, or two individuals, or an individual and a community, entered into relations which bound them to mutual hospitality and kindness in case of need:[45] a practice so widely spread and so highly developed that it may be considered one of the most valuable civilising agents in the early history of Italy. There is, however, no real inconsistency here. In the first place, the stranger who was removed on the occasion of solemn public religious rites may be assumed not to have been in possession of the ius hospitii with the Roman state, and in any case it must be doubtful whether that ius would give him the right of being present at all sacrificial rites. Secondly, the researches of Dr. Westermarck have recently, for the first time, made it clear that both the taboo on strangers and the very widely-spread practice of hospitality can ultimately be traced down to the same root. The stranger is dangerous; but for that very reason it is desirable to secure his good-will at once. He may have the evil eye; but if so, it is as well to disarm him by offering him food and drink, and, when he has partaken of these, by entering into communion with him in the act of partaking also yourself. Expediency would obviously suggest some such remedy for the danger of his presence, and this would in course of time, in accordance with the instinct of Romans and Italians, grow into a set of rules sanctioned by law as well as custom—the ius hospitii.[46]

Hostis vinctus mulier virgo exesto. We have noticed traces of taboo on women and strangers: what of the vinctus? This is, so far as I know, the only proof we have that a man in chains was thought to be religiously dangerous. I am not sure how his expulsion from religious rites is to be explained. It is, however, as well to note that criminals were in primitive societies thought to be uncanny, probably because the commonest of all crimes, if not the only one affecting society as a whole, was the breaking of taboo, which made the individual an outcast.[47] And we may put this together with the fact that in the early City-state such outcasts were probably not kept shut up in a prison, but allowed to wander about secured with chains; this seems a fair inference from the power which the priest of Jupiter (Flamen Dialis) possessed of releasing from his chains any prisoner who entered his house, i.e. who had taken refuge there as in an asylum.[48] Thus the fettered criminal, who was certainly not a citizen, might find his way to the place where a sacrifice was going on, and have to submit to expulsion together with the strangers. It is, however, also possible that the iron of the chains, if they were of iron, made him doubly dangerous; for, as we shall see directly, iron was taboo, and the chains of the prisoner who took refuge with the Flamen had to be thrown out of the house, no doubt for this reason, by the impluvium.[49]

Turning to inanimate objects, which are supposed by primitive man to be dangerous or taboo, we are met by a fact which will astonish anthropologists, and which I cannot satisfactorily explain. Blood is everywhere in the savage world regarded with suspicion and anxiety; there is something mysterious about it as containing (so they thought) the life, and its colour and smell are also uncanny; horses cannot endure it, and there are still strong men who faint at the sight of it. Yet at Rome, so far as I can discover, there was in historical times hardly a trace left of this anxiety in its original form of taboo; the religious law had effectually eliminated the various chances that might arouse it. No student of Roman religious antiquities seems to have noticed this singular fact. No anthropologist, as far as I know, has observed that among the many taboos to which the Flamen Dialis was subject, blood does not appear. The reason no doubt is that anthropologists are not as a rule Roman historians; their curiosity is not excited by a fact which must have some explanation in Roman religious history. From a single passage of Festus (p. 117) we learn that soldiers following the triumphal car carried laurel "ut quasi purgati a caede humana intrarent urbem"; and this is the only distinct relic of the idea that I can find. Pliny's Natural History, that wonderful thesaurus of odds and ends, affords no help; the mystic qualities of blood are hardly alluded to there, and the same can be said of Servius' commentary on the Aeneid. The word blood is not to be found in the index to Wissowa's great work, of which the supreme value is its accurate record of the religious law and all the ceremonies of the State. I am constrained to believe that the priests or priest-kings who developed the ius divinum of the Roman City-state deliberately suppressed the superstition, for reasons which it is impossible to conjecture with certainty. And this guess, which I put forward with hesitation, is indeed in keeping with certain other facts of Roman life. It is doubtful whether human sacrifice ever existed among this people;[50] it is certain that the execution of citizens in civil life by beheading was abandoned at a very early period.[51] The shedding of blood, except when a victim was sacrificed under the rules of sacred law, was carefully avoided; thus the horror of blood had a social and ethical result of value, instead of remaining a mere religio (taboo). It is true that in one or two rites, such as that of the October horse, the blood of a sacrifice seems to have been thought to possess peculiar powers;[52] but it is at the same time noticeable that this rite is not included in the old calendar, a fact of which a wholly satisfactory explanation has not yet been offered. In the Lupercalia there is a trace of the mystic use of blood in sacrifice, but a very faint one: to this we shall return later on. The two Luperci had their foreheads smeared with the knife bloody from the slaughter of the victims, but the blood was at once wiped off with wool dipped in milk.[53] This rite is of course in the old calendar; it stands almost alone in its mystical character, and may have been taken over by the Romans from previous inhabitants of the site of Rome. Lastly, in the Terminalia, or boundary-festival of arable land in country districts, the boundary-stone was sprinkled with the blood of the victims, showing that a spirit, or numen, was believed to reside in it;[54] but I cannot find that this practice survived in the public sacrifices of the city. It is found only in the sacrifices (Graeco ritu) supervised by the XV viri sacris faciundis in that part of the Ludi Saeculares of Augustus which was concerned with Greek chthonic deities in the Campus Martius.[55]

Yet unquestionably there had been a time when many inanimate objects were supposed to have a mystic or dangerous influence; this is sufficiently proved by the long list of taboos to which the unfortunate Flamen Dialis was even in historical times subject. He was forbidden to touch a goat, a dog, raw meat, beans, ivy, wheat, leavened bread; he might not walk under a vine, and his hair and nails might not be cut with an iron knife; and he might not have any knot or unbroken ring about his person. Dr. Frazer has the merit of being the first to point out the real meaning of this strange list of disabilities, and to explain the mystic or miasmatic origin of some of them.[56] They need not detain us now, as they are survivals only, and survivals of ideas which must have been long extinct before Roman history can be said to begin. Almost the only one among them of which we have other traces is the taboo on iron, which must have been of comparatively late date, as the use of iron in Italy seems only to have begun about the eighth century B.C.[57] This is found also in the ritual of the Arval Brotherhood, the ancient agricultural priesthood revived by Augustus, and better known to us than any other owing to the discovery of its Acta in the site of the sacred grove between Rome and Ostia. These Brethren had originally suffered from the taboo on iron; but in characteristic fashion they had discovered that a piacular or disinfecting sacrifice would sufficiently atone for its use whenever it was necessary to take a pruning-hook within the limits of the grove.[58] We may here also recall the fact that no iron might be used in the building or repairing of the ancient pons sublicius, the oldest of all the bridges of the Tiber.[59]

Every one who wishes to get an idea of the nature of taboo in primitive Rome, and of the way in which it was got rid of, should study the disabilities of the Flamen Dialis, and satisfy himself of their absence, with the exception just mentioned, and possibly one or two more, in the ritual of historical Rome. Nothing is more likely to convince him of the way in which Roman civilisation contrived to leave these superstitions as mere fossils, incapable any longer of doing mischief by cramping the conscience and inducing constant anxiety. If he is disposed to ask why such a large number of these fossils should be found attached to the priesthood of Jupiter, I must ask him to let me postpone that question, which would at this moment lead us too far afield.

I may, however, mention here that the Flaminica Dialis, who was not priestess of Juno as is commonly supposed, but assisted her husband in the cult of Jupiter, was also subject to certain taboos. On three occasions in the religious year she might not appear in public with her hair "done up," viz. the moving of the ancilia in March, the festival of the Argei in March and May, and during the cleansing of the penus Vestae in June. Also she might not wear shoes made from the skin of a beast that had died a natural death, but only from that of a sacrificial victim. There are traces of a religio about shoe-leather, I may remark, both in the Roman and in other religious systems. Varro tells us that "in aliquot sacris et sacellis scriptum habemus, Ne quid scorteum adhibeatur: ideo ne morticinum quid adsit." Leather was taboo in the worship of the almost unknown deity Carmenta. Petronius describes women in the cult of Jupiter Elicius walking barefoot; and we are reminded of the well-known rule which still survives in Mahommedan mosques.[60] The original idea may have been that the skin of an animal not made sacred by sacrifice might destroy the efficacy of the worship contemplated. On the other hand, the skin of a duly sacrificed animal had potency of a useful kind—a fact or belief so widespread as to need no illustration here; but we shall come upon an example of it in my next lecture.

Certain places were also affected by the idea of taboo. In the later religious law of the City-state the sites of all temples, i.e. all places in which deities had consented to take up their abode, were of course holy; but this is a much more mature development, though it unquestionably had its root in the same idea that we are now discussing. Such sites, as we shall see in a later lecture, were loca sacra, and sacer is a word of legal ritual, meaning that the place has been made over to the deity by certain formulae, accompanied with favourable auspices, under the authority of the State.[61] But there were other holy places which were not sacra but religiosa; and the word religiosum here might almost be translated "affected by taboo." Wissowa provides us with a list of these places, and this and the quotations he supplies with it are of the utmost value for my present subject.[62] They comprised, of course, all holy places which the State had not duly consecrated, and therefore some which hardly concern us here, such as shrines belonging to families and gentes, and temple-sites in the provinces of a later age. More to our purpose at this moment are the spots where thunderbolts were supposed to have fallen. Such spots were encircled with a low wall and called puteal from their resemblance to a well, or bidental from the sacrifice there of a lamb as a piaculum; the bolt was supposed to be thus buried, and the place became religiosum.[63] So, too, all burial-grounds were not loca sacra but loca religiosa, technically because they were not the property of the state or consecrated by it; in reality, I venture to say, because the place where a corpse was deposited was of necessity taboo. Such places were extra commercium, and their sanctity might not be violated: "religiosum est," wrote the learned Roman Masurius Sabinus, "quod propter sanctitatem aliquam remotum et sepositum est a nobis."[64] So, too, the great lawyer of Cicero's time, Servius Sulpicius, defines religio as "quae propter sanctitatem aliquam remota ac seposita a nobis sit," where he is using religio in the sense of a thing or place to which a taboo attaches.[65] And again, another authority, Aelius Gallus, said that religiosum was properly applied to an object in regard to which there were things which a man might not do: "quod si faciat," he goes on, "adversus deorum voluntatem videatur facere."[66] These last words are in the language of the City-state; if we would go behind it to that of an earlier age, we should substitute words which would express the feeling or scruple, the religio, without reference to any special deity. Virgil has pictured admirably this feeling as applied to places, in describing the visit of Aeneas to the site of the future Rome under the guidance of his host Evander (Aen. viii. 347):—

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