Thursday, 22 November 2012

The Gods of Rome

This week we have a look at the Ancient Romans. They were depicted by Father Bernard de Montfaucon in his books, which can be seen in Worcester Cathedral library. More specifically, we look at who the Romans worshiped and how they went about it. Like many cultures before and after them, the Romans worshiped a Pantheon of gods rather than a single entity. This Roman Pantheon is most closely related to the previous Greek Pantheon which was adapted and influenced by their new culture. This caused some gods to change their names, others to gain or lose their connections to certain areas of influence and still more were created for areas where no god previously existed (they even created a goddess for door hinges called Cardea).

This engraving is a representation of ten major gods or goddesses. From B. de Montfaucon  Antiquity- explained and represented in sculptures (1721-25). Image is copyright Dean and Chapter of Worcester Cathedral.
The Romans did not pray as we do today but instead sacrificed various livestock and burnt the most flavour-filled parts in tribute. They would also offer up the first cup of wine and the best parts of each meal in the same way. This was collectively known as supplication. A Roman citizen would make a supplication several times a day while a soldier would make additional sacrifices before and after all battles in hope or thanks for protection.

There were fourteen major gods and goddesses, thirteen of whom presided in the palace of the gods on mount Olympus while the fourteenth ruled over the dead in the Underworld. They are as follows; Jupiter the King of the gods and god of the sky, Juno the Queen of the gods and the goddess of marriage and family, Neptune the god of the sea and earthquakes, Mars the god of war, Apollo the god of the sun and culture (meaning everything from medicine to music), Mercury the god of thieves and roads, Bacchus the god of wine and madness, Minerva the goddess of weaving and handicrafts, Diana the goddess of maidens, hunting and the moon, Ceres the goddess of farming and harvest, Vulcan the God of fire and forging, Vesta the goddess of home and the hearth, Venus the goddess of love and Pluto the god of the Underworld and wealth. There are also a great many more ‘minor’ gods and goddesses like Somnus the god of sleep and Janus the god of beginnings and endings, and finally there are the few heroes whom the people came to refer to as gods like Hercules and Adonis.

This is a montage of many different minor gods and goddesses. B. de Montfaucon, Antiquity- explained and represented in sculptures (1721-25). Image is copyright Dean and Chapter of Worcester Cathedral. 
Some of the gods were worshiped and praised for their relation to success at war or the Emperor, namely Mars and Jupiter, however some were only worshiped out of fear for what they would do to you, mostly Pluto and Neptune who controlled the afterlife and earthquakes respectively. Some of the gods were blamed for the various inexplicable deaths at the time, such as plagues, sunstroke and other assorted illnesses, so needless to say the Romans continued to supplicate themselves to the gods so they would not unleash these horrors upon them. They might even ask them to be unleashed upon their enemies.

As might be expected the Romans found other ways to show their faith too, mainly by immortalizing the gods in the form of pottery, paintings and statues as well as in their literature, both written and in songs or poems. It is from these things that we have learnt of Roman culture and their gods even today.

by Nick Robinson

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