LARES (older form Lases), Roman tutelary deities. The word is generally supposed to mean “lords,” and identified with Etruscan larth, lar; but this is by no means certain. The attempt to harmonize the Stoic demonology with Roman religion led to the Lares being compared with the Greek “heroes” during the period of Greco-Roman culture, and the word is frequently translated ἥρωες. In the later period of the republic they are confounded with the Penates (and other deities), though the distinction between them was probably more sharply marked in earlier times. They were originally gods of the cultivated fields, worshipped by each household where its allotment joined those of others (see below). The distinction between public and private Lares existed from early times. The latter were worshipped in the house by the family alone, and the household Lar (familiaris) was conceived of as the centre-point of the family and of the family cult. The word itself (in the singular) came to be used in the general sense of “home.” It is certain that originally each household had only one Lar; the plural was at first only used to include other classes of Lares, and only gradually, after the time of Cicero, ousted the singular. The image of the Lar, made of wood, stone or metal, sometimes even of silver, stood in its special shrine (lararium), which in early times was in the atrium, but was afterwards transferred to other parts of the house, when the family hearth was removed from the atrium. In some of the Pompeian houses the lararium was represented by a niche only, containing the image of the lar. It was usually a youthful figure, dressed in a short, high-girt tunic, holding in one hand a rhyton (drinking-horn), in the other a patera (cup). Under the Empire we find usually two of these, one on each side of the central figure of the Genius of the head of the household, sometimes of Vesta the hearth-deity. The whole group was called indifferently Lares or Penates. A prayer was said to the Lar every morning, and at each meal offerings of food and drink were set before him; a portion of these was placed on the hearth and afterwards shaken into the fire. Special sacrifices were offered on the kalends, nones, and ides of every month, and on the occasion of important family events. Such events were the birthday of the head of the household; the assumption of the toga virilis by a son; the festival of the Caristia in memory of deceased members of the household; recovery from illness; the entry of a young bride into the house for the first time; return home after a long absence. On these occasions the Lares were crowned with garlands, and offerings of cakes and honey, wine and incense, but especially swine, were laid before them. Their worship persisted throughout the pagan period, although its character changed considerably in later times. The emperor Alexander Severus had images of Abraham, Christ and Alexander the Great among his household Lares.
The public Lares belonged to the state religion. Amongst these must be included, at least after the time of Augustus, the Lares compitales. Originally two in number, mythologically the sons of Mercurius and Lara (or Larunda), they were the presiding deities of the cross-roads (compita), where they had their special chapels. It has been maintained by some that they are the twin brothers so frequent in early religions, the Romulus and Remus of the Roman foundation legends. Their sphere of influence included not only the cross-roads, but the whole neighbouring district of the town and country in which they were situated. They had a special annual festival, called Compitalia, to which public games were added some time during the republican period. When the colleges of freedmen and slaves, who assisted the presidents of the festival, were abolished by Julius Caesar, it fell into disuse. Its importance was revived by Augustus, who added to these Lares his own Genius, the religious personification of the empire.
The state itself had its own Lares, called praestites, the protecting patrons and guardians of the city. They had a temple and altar on the Via Sacra, near the Palatine, and were represented on coins as young men wearing the chlamys, carrying lances, seated, with a dog, the emblem of watchfulness, at their feet. Mention may also be made of the Lares grundules, whose worship was connected with the white sow of Alba Longa and its thirty young (the epithet has been connected with grunnire, to grunt): the viales, who protected travellers; the hostilii, who kept off the enemies of the state; the permarini, connected with the sea, to whom L. Aemilius Regillus, after a naval victory over Antiochus (190 B.C.), vowed a temple in the Campus Martius, which was dedicated by M. Aemilius Lepidus the censor in 179.
The old view that the Lares were the deified ancestors of the family has been rejected lately by Wissowa, who holds that the Lar was originally the protecting spirit of a man’s lot of arable land, with a shrine at the compitum, i.e. the spot where the path bounding his arable met that of another holding; and thence found his way into the house.
In addition to the manuals of Marquardt and Preller-Jordan, and Roscher’s Lexikon der Mythologie, see A. de Marchi, Il Culto privato di Roma antica (1896–1903), p. 28 foll.; G. Wissowa, Religion und Kultus der Römer (1902), p. 148 foll.; Archiv für Religionswissenschaft (1904, p. 42 foll.) and W. Warde Fowler in the same periodical (1906; p. 529).