The History of Rome (Mommsen)/Book 1/Chapter 12



The gods. The Roman world of gods, as we hare already indicated (P. 28), was a higher counterpart, an ideal reflection, of the earthly Rome, in which the little and the great were alike reproduced with painstaking exactness. The state and the clan, the individual phenomena of nature as well as the individual operations of mind, every man, every place and object, every act even falling within the sphere of Roman law, reappeared in the Roman world of gods; and, as earthly things come and go in perpetual flux, the circle of the gods underwent a corresponding fluctuation. The tutelary spirit, which presided over the individual act, lasted no longer than that act itself: the tutelary spirit of the individual man lived and died with the man; and eternal duration belonged to divinities of this sort only in so far as similar acts and similarly constituted men and therefore spirits of a similar kind ever coming into existence afresh. As the Roman gods ruled over the Roman community, so every foreign community was presided over by its own gods; but strict as was the distinction between the burgess and non-burgess, between the Roman and the foreign god, both foreign men and foreign divinities might be admitted by resolution of the community to the freedom of Rome, and when the citizens of a conquered city were transported to Rome, the gods of that were also invited to take up their new abode there.

It is no part of our present task to consider the Roman deities in detail; but it is important, even in an historical point of view, to call attention to the peculiar narrowness of conception and at the same time the deeply rooted earnestness that marked the Roman faith. Abstraction and personification lay at the root of the Roman as well as Hellenic mythology: the Hellenic as well as the Roman god was originally suggested by some natural phenomenon or some mental conception, and to the Roman just as to the Greek every divinity appeared a person. This is evident from their apprehending the individual gods as male or female; from their style of appeal to an unknown deity,—"Be thou god or goddess, man or woman;" and from the cherished belief that the name of the true tutelary spirit of the community ought to remain for ever unpronounced, lest an enemy should come to learn it and calling the god by his name should entice him beyond the bounds. A remnant of this strongly sensuous view clung to Mars in particular, the oldest and most national form of divinity in Italy. But while abstraction, which lies at the foundation of every religion, elsewhere endeavoured to rise to wider and more enlarged conceptions, and to penetrate ever more deeply into the essence of things, the forms of the Roman faith remained at, or sank to, a singularly low level of conception and of insight. While in the case of the Greek every important notion speedily expanded into a group of forms, and gathered around it a circle of legends and ideas, in the case of the Roman the fundamental thought remained stationary in its original naked rigidity. The religion of Rome had nothing of its own peculiar growth even remotely parallel to the religion of Apollo investing earthly morality with its halo of glory, to the divine intoxication of Dionysus, or to the Chthonian and mystical worships with their profound and hidden meanings. It had indeed its "bad god" (Ve-diovis), its deities of foul air, of fever, of diseases, perhaps even of theft (Laverna), its apparitions and ghosts (Lemures); but it was unable to excite that mysterious awe after which the human heart has ever a longing, or thoroughly to incorporate the incomprehensible and even the malignant elements in nature and in man, which must not be wanting in religion if it would reflect man as a whole. In the religion of Rome there was hardly anything secret except the names of the gods of the city, the Penates; the real character, moreover, even of these gods was manifest to every one.

The national Roman theology sought on all hands to form distinct conceptions of important phenomena and qualities, to express them in its terminology, and to classify them systematically (primarily according to that division of persons and things which also formed the basis of private law), that it might thus be able in due fashion to invoke the gods individually or by classes, and to point out (indigitare) to the multitude the modes of appropriate invocation. Of such notions, the products of outward abstraction, of the homeliest simplicity sometimes venerable sometimes ridiculous, Roman theology was in substance made up. Conceptions such as Sowing (Sæturnus) and Field-labour (Ops), Blossom (Flora), War (Bellona), Boundary (Terminus), Youth (Juventus), Health (Salus), Faithfulness (Fides), Harmony (Concordia), were among the oldest and most sacred of Roman divinities. Perhaps the most peculiar of all the forms of deity in Rome, and probably the only one for whose worship there was devised an effigy peculiarly Italian, was the double-headed Ianus; and yet it was simply suggestive of the idea so characteristic of the scrupulousness of the religious sentiment in Rome, that at the commencement of every act the "spirit of opening" should first be invoked, while it especially betokened the deep conviction that it was as indispensable to combine the Roman gods in sets as it was necessary that the more personal gods of the Hellenes should stand singly and apart.[1] Of all the worships of Rome that which perhaps had the deepest hold was the worship of the tutelary spirits that presided in and over the household and the store-chamber: these were in public worship Vesta and the Penates, and in family worship the gods of forest and field the Silvani, and above all the gods of the household in its strict sense, the Lases or Lares, to whom their share of the family meal was regularly assigned, and before whom it was, even in the time of Cato the elder, the first duty of the father of the household on returning home to perform his devotions. In the ranking of the gods, however, these spirits of the house and of the field occupied the lowest rather than the highest place; it was (and it could not be otherwise with a religion which renounced all attempts to idealize) not in the broadest and most general, but in the simplest and most individual abstraction, that the pious heart found most nourishment.

This indifference to ideal elements in the Roman religion was accompanied by a practical and utilitarian tendency. The divinity who next to the gods of the house and the forest was held in most general reverence, not merely among the Latins, but also among the Sabellian stocks, was Herculus or Hercules, the god of the enclosed homestead (from hercere), and thence in general the god of property and of gain. Nothing was more common in Roman life than for a man to make a vow to present to this god the tenth part of his property at the "chief altar" (ara maxima) in the cattle-market for the averting of threatened losses or the securing of desired gains. At this same altar it was customary to conclude contracts and to confirm them by oath; on which account Hercules himself came early to be identified with the god of good faith (Deus Fidius). It was no mere result of accident that this tutelary god of speculation was, to employ the language of an ancient author, reverenced in every spot of Italy, and had altars erected to him everywhere in the streets of the towns as well as by the roadsides; and just as little the result of accident was the similarly early and widely diffused worship of the goddess of chance and good luck (Fors Fortuna), and of the god of traffic (Mercurius). Strict frugality and mercantile speculation were rooted in the Roman character too deeply not to find their thorough reflection in its divine counterpart.

Spirits. Respecting the world of spirits little can be said. The departed souls of mortal men, the "good" (manes) continued to exist as shades haunting the spot where the body reposed, and received meat and drink from the survivors. But they dwelt in the depths beneath, and there was no bridge that led from the lower world either to men ruling on earth or upward to the gods above. The hero-worship of the Greeks was wholly foreign to the Romans, and the late origin and poor invention of the legend as to the foundation of Rome are shown by the thoroughly unRoman transformation of king Romulus into the god Quirinus. Numa, the oldest and most venerable name in Roman tradition, never received the honours of a god in Rome as Theseus did in Athens.

Priests. The central object not only of Roman but Italian worship in general, in that epoch when the Italian stock still dwelt by itself in the peninsula, was the god Maurs or Mars, the killing god,[2] pre-eminently regarded as the divine champion of the burgesses, hurling the spear, protecting the flock, and throwing the foe. Each community of course had its own Mars, and deemed him to be the strongest and holiest of all; and accordingly every "ver sacrum" setting out to found a new community marched under the protection of its own Mars. To Mars was dedicated the first month not only in the Roman calendar, which in no other instance refers to the gods, but also probably in all the other Latin and Sabellian calendars: among the Roman proper names, which in like manner contain no allusion to any other god, Marcus, Mamercus, and Mamurius appear in prevailing use from primitive times; with Mars and his sacred woodpecker was connected the oldest Italian prophecy; the wolf, the animal sacred to Mars, was the sign of the Roman burgesses, and such sacred national legends as the Roman imagination was able to produce referred exclusively to the god Mars and to his duplicate Quirinus. To his worship, accordingly, the most ancient priesthoods in the community bore reference, especially the priest of the god of the community, nominated for life, the "kindler of Mars" (flamen Partialis) as he was designated from presenting burnt-offerings, and the twelve "dancers" (Salii), a band of young men who in March performed the war-dance in honour of Mars and accompanied it by song. We have already explained (P. 87) how the amalgamation of the Hill-community with that of the Palatine gave rise to the duplication of the Roman Mars, and thereby to the introduction of a second priest of Mars—the flamen Quirinalis—and a second guild of dancers—the Salii Collini.

To these were added other public worships, some of which probably had an origin far earlier than 'that of Rome, and the celebration of which was committed to particular colleges in name of the people. Such a college was that of twelve "Field Brethren" (Fratres Arvales) who invoked the creative goddess (Dea Dia) in May to bless the growth of the seed, and who, along with the two colleges of Salii, were regarded as the chief of the priestly colleges of Rome. These were accompanied by the Titian brotherhood, which had to preserve and to attend to the distinctive cultus of that Roman tribe (P. 46), and by the thirty "curial kindlers" (flamines curiales), instituted for the hearths of the thirty curies. There were several religious observances of less repute given in charge to certain gentes, but in which the people also took part. Such was the "wolf-festival" (Lupercalia) which was celebrated for the protection of the flocks and herds in honour of the "favourable god" (Faunus), by the Quinctian gens and the Fabii who were associated with them after the admission of the Hill-Romans, in the month of February—a genuine shepherds' carnival, in which the "wolf-repellers" (Luperci) jumped about naked with a girdle of goatskin, and whipped the people with thongs. In like manner the service of Hercules devolved on the Potitii and Pinarii, and the community was doubtless conceived as represented and participating in the case of numerous other gentile rites.

To this earliest worship of the Roman community new rites were gradually added. The most important of these worships had reference to the city as newly united and founded as it were anew by the construction of the great wall and stronghold. In it the Iovis of the Capitol highest and best, that is, the genius of the Roman people, was placed at the head of all the Roman divinities, and his "kindler" thenceforth appointed, the Flamen Dialis, formed in conjunction with the two priests of Mars the sacred triad of high-priests. Contemporaneously began the cultus of the new single city-hearth—Vesta—and the kindred cultus of the Penates of the community (P. 117). Six chaste virgins, daughters as it were of the household of the Roman people, attended to that pious service, and had to maintain the wholesome fire of the common hearth always blazing as an example (P. 37) and a sign to the burgesses. This worship, half-domestic, half-public, was the most sacred of all in Rome, and it accordingly was the latest of all the heathen worships there to give way before the ban of Christianity. The Aventine, moreover, was assigned to Diana as the representative of the Latin confederacy (P. 111), but for that very reason no special Roman priesthood was appointed for her; and the community gradually became accustomed to render definite homage to numerous other deified abstractions by means of general festivals or by representative priesthoods specially destined for their service; in particular instances it appointed also special flamines, so that the number of them was at length tifteen. But among these they carefully distinguished the three great kindlers (famines majores), who down to the latest times could only be taken from the ranks of the old burgesses, just as the three old incorporations, the Palatine and Quirinal Salii and the Arvales, always asserted precedence over all the other colleges of priests. Thus the necessary and stated observances due to the gods of the community were intrusted once for all by the state to fixed corporations or regular ministers; and the expense of sacrifices, which was probably not inconsiderable, was covered partly by the assignation of certain lands to particular temples, partly by fines (P. 80, 163).

It cannot be doubted that the public worship of the other Latin, and probably of the Sabellian, communities also was essentially similar in character. At any rate it can be shown that the Flamines, Salii, Luperci, and Vestales were institutions not special to Rome, but general among the Latins, and at least the three first colleges appear to have been formed in the kindred communities independently of the Roman model.

Lastly, as the state made arrangements in reference to its own gods, so each burgess might make similar arrangements in his individual sphere, and might not only present sacrifices, but might also consecrate set places and ministers, to his own divinities.

Colleges of sacred lore. There was thus enough of priesthood and of priests in Rome. Those, however, who had business with a god, resorted to the god, and not to the priest. Every suppliant and inquirer addressed himself directly to the divinity—the community of course by the king as its mouthpiece, just as the curia by the curio and the equites by their colonels; no intervention of a priest was allowed to conceal or to obscure this original and simple relation. But it was no easy matter withal to hold converse with a god. The god had his own way of speaking, which was intelligible only to one who was acquainted with it. He who did rightly understand it knew not only how to ascertain, but also how to manage, the will of the god, and even in case of need to overreach or to constrain him. It was natural, therefore, that the worshipper of the god should regularly consult such men of skill, and listen to their advice; and thence arose the corporations or colleges of men specially skilled in religious lore, a thoroughly national Italian institution, which had a far more important influence on political development than the individual priests or priesthoods. These colleges have been often, but erroneously, confounded with the priesthoods. The priesthoods were charged with the worship of a specific divinity; the skilled colleges, on the other hand, were charged with the preservation of traditional rules regarding those more general religious observances, the proper fulfilment of which implied a certain amount of information, and rendered it necessary for the state in its own interest to provide for the faithful transmission of that information. These close corporations, supplying their own vacancies, of course from the ranks of the burgesses, became in this way the depositaries of skilled arts and sciences. Under the Roman constitution and that of the Latin communities in general there were originally but two such colleges, that of the augurs and that of the pontifices.[3] The augurs. The six augurs were skilled in interpreting the language of the gods from the flight of birds, an art which was prosecuted with great earnestness and reduced to a quasi-scientific system. The pontifices. The five "bridge-builders" (pontifices) derived their name from their function, as sacred as it was politically important, of conducting the building and demolition of the bridge over the Tiber. They were the Roman engineers, who understood the mystery of measures and numbers; whence there devolved upon them also the duties of managing the calendar of the state, of proclaiming to the people the time of new and full moon and the days of festivals, and of seeing that every religious and judicial act took place on the right day. As they had thus an especial supervision of all religious observances, it to them in case of need (as on occasion of marriage, testament, or arrogatio) that the preliminary question was addressed, whether the matter proposed did not in any respect offend against divine law; and it was they that fixed and promulgated the general exoteric precepts of ritual, which were known under the name of the "royal laws." Thus they acquired (although not probably in its full extent till after the abolition of the monarchy) the general oversight of Roman worship and of whatever was connected with it—and what was there that was not so connected? They themselves described the sum of their knowledge as "the science of things divine and human." In fact the rudiments of spiritual and temporal jurisprudence as well as of historical composition had their origin in the bosom of this college. For the writing of history was associated with the calendar and the book of annals; and as, according to the organization of the Roman courts of law, no tradition could originate in these courts themselves, it was necessary that the knowledge of legal principles and procedure should be traditionally preserved in the college of the pontifices, which alone was competent to give an opinion respecting court-days and questions of religious law.

Fetiales. By the side of these two oldest and most eminent corporations of men versed in spiritual lore may be, to some extent, ranked the college of the twenty state-heralds (fetiales, of uncertain derivation), destined as a living repository to preserve a traditionary remembrance of the treaties concluded with neighbouring communities, to pronounce an authoritative opinion on alleged infractions of treaty-rights, and in case of need to demand satisfaction and declare war. They had precisely the same position with reference to international, as the pontifices had with reference to religious, law, and were therefore, like the latter, entitled to point out the law, although not to administer it.

But in however high repute these colleges were, and important and comprehensive as were the functions assigned to them, it was never forgotten (least of all in the case of those who held the highest position) that their duty was not to command, but to tender skilled advice—not directly by entreaty to obtain the answer of the gods, but to explain the answer, when obtained, to the inquirer. The highest of the priests was not merely inferior in rank to the king, but might not even give advice to him unasked. It was the province of the king to determine whether and when he would take an observation of birds; the "bird seer" simply stood beside him, and interpreted to him, when necessary, the language of the messengers of heaven. In like manner the Fetialis and the Pontifex could not interfere in matters of international or common law except when those concerned therewith desired it. Notwithstanding all their zeal for religion, the Romans adhered with unbending strictness to the principle that the priest ought to remain completely powerless in the state, and, excluded from all command, ought like any other burgess to render obedience to the humblest magistrate.

Character of their cultus. The Latin worship was grounded mainly on man's enjoyment of earthly pleasures, and only in a subordinate degree on his fear of the wild forces of nature; it consisted preeminently therefore in expressions of joy, in lays and songs, in games and dances, and above all in banquets. In Italy, as everywhere among agricultural tribes whose ordinary food consists of vegetables, the slaughter of cattle formed at once a household feast and an act of worship: a pig was the most acceptable offering to the gods, just because it was the usual roast for a feast. But all extravagance of expense, as well as all excess of rejoicing, was inconsistent with the solid character of the Romans. Frugality in relation to the gods was one of the most prominent traits of the primitive Latin worship; and the free play of imagination was repressed with iron severity by the moral self-discipline which the nation maintained. In consequence, the Latins remained strangers to the abominations which grow out of imagination's unrestrained excess. At the very core, indeed, of the Latin religion there lay that profoundly moral impulse which leads men to bring earthly guilt and earthly punishment into relation with the world of the gods, and to view the former as a crime against the deity, and the latter as its expiation. The execution of the criminal condemned to death was as much an expiatory sacrifice offered to the divinity as was the killing of an enemy in just war; the thief who by night stole the fruits of the field paid the penalty to Ceres on the gallows just as did the enemy to Mother Earth and the good spirits on the field of battle. The profound and fearful idea of substitution also meets us here; when the gods of the community spry, and no one could be laid hold of as definitely guilty, they might be appeased by one who voluntarily gave himself up (devovere se); and noxious chasms in the ground were closed, and battles half lost were converted into victories, when a brave burgess threw himself as an expiatory ring into the abyss or upon the foe. The "sacred spring" was based on a similar view; all the offspring whether of cattle or of men within a specified period were presented to the gods. If acts of this nature are to be called human sacrifices, then such sacrifices belonged to the essence of the Latin faith; but we are bound to add that, so far back as our view reaches into the past, this immolation where life was concerned was limited to the guilty who had been convicted before a civil tribunal, or to the innocent who voluntarily chose to die. Human sacrifices of a different description, which are inconsistent with the fundamental idea of a sacrificial act, and which, wherever they have occurred among the Indo-Germanic stocks at least, have been the offspring of later degeneracy and barbarism, never gained admission among the Romans; hardly in a single instance were superstition and despair induced, in times of extreme distress, to seek an extraordinary deliverance through means so revolting. Comparatively slight traces are to be found among the Romans of belief in ghosts, fear of magical arts, or dealing in mysteries. Oracles and prophecy never acquired the importance in Italy which they obtained in Greece, and never were able to exercise a really commanding influence over public or private life.

But on the other hand the Latin religion sank into a singular sobriety and dullness, and early became shrivelled into an anxious and dreary round of ceremonies. The god of the Italian was, as we have already said, above all things an instrument for helping him to the attainment of very solid earthly objects; indeed the turn thus given to his religious views by the tendency of the Italian towards the palpable and the real is no less distinctly apparent in the saint-worship of the modern inhabitants of Italy. The gods confronted man just as a creditor confronted his debtor; each of them had a duly acquired right to certain performances and payments; and as the number of the gods was as great as the number of the contingencies in earthly life, and the neglect or wrongous performance of the worship of each god revenged itself in the corresponding occurrence, it was a laborious and difficult task to gain even a knowledge of one's religious obligations, and the priests who were skilled in the law of divine things and pointed out its requirements—the pontifices—could not fail to attain an extraordinary influence. The upright man fulfilled the requirements of sacred ritual with the same mercantile punctuality with which he met his earthly obligations, and, it might be, did more than was due, if the god had done so on his part. Man even dealt in speculation with his god; a vow was in reality as in name a formal contract between the god and the man, by which the latter promised to the former for a certain service to be rendered a certain equivalent return; and the Roman legal principle that no contract could be concluded by deputy was not the least important of the reasons on account of which all priestly mediation was excluded from the religious concerns of man in Latium. Indeed, as the Roman merchant was entitled, without injury to his conventional reputation for integrity, to fulfil his contract merely in the letter, so in dealing with the gods, according to the teaching of Roman theology, the copy of an object was given and received instead of the object itself. They presented to the lord of the sky heads of onions and poppies, that he might launch his lightnings at these rather than at the heads of men. In payment of the offering annually demanded by father Tiber, thirty puppets plaited of rushes were annually thrown into the stream.[4] The ideas of divine mercy and placability were in these instances inseparably mixed up with a pious fraudulence, which tried to delude and to pacify so formidable a master by means of a sham satisfaction. The Roman fear of the gods accordingly exercised powerful influence over the minds of the multitude; but it was by no means that sense of awe in the presence of an all-controlling nature or of an almighty God, that lies at the foundation of the views of pantheism and monotheism respectively; on the contrary, it was of a very earthly character, and scarcely different in any material respect from the trembling with which the Roman debtor approached his just, but very strict and very powerful, creditor. It is plain that such a religion was fitted rather than to foster artistic and speculative views. When the Greek had clothed the simple thoughts of primitive times with human flesh and blood, the ideas of the gods thus formed not only became the elements of plastic and poetic art, but acquired also that universality and elasticity which are the profoundest characteristics of human nature, and for that very reason are essential to all religions that aspire to rule the world. Through such ideas the simple view of nature became expanded into the conception of a cosmogony, the homely moral notion became enlarged into a principle of universal humanity; and for a long period the Greek religion was enabled to embrace within it the physical and metaphysical views—the whole ideal development of the nation, and to expand in depth and breadth with the increase of its contents, until imagination and speculation rent asunder the vessel which had nursed them. But in Latium the embodiment of the conceptions of deity continued so wholly transparent that it afforded no opportunity for the training either of artist or poet, and the Latin religion always held a distant and indeed hostile attitude towards art. As the god was not, and could not be, aught else than the spiritualization of an earthly phenomenon, this same earthly counterpart naturally formed his place of abode (templum) and his image; walls and effigies made by the hands of men seemed only to obscure and to embarrass the spiritual conception. Accordingly the original Roman worship had no images of the gods or houses set apart for them; and although the gods were at an early period worshipped in Latium, probably in imitation of the Greeks, by means of images, and had little chapels (ædiculæ) built for them, such a figurative representation was reckoned contrary to the laws of Numa, and was generally regarded as an impure and foreign innovation. The Roman religion could exhibit no image of a god peculiar to it, with the exception, perhaps, of the doubleheaded Ianus; and Varro even in his time derided the desire of the multitude for puppets and effigies. The utter want of productive power in the Roman religion was likewise the ultimate cause of the thorough poverty which marked Roman poetry and still more Roman speculation.

The same distinctive character was manifest, moreover, in the domain of its practical uses. The sole practical gain, which accrued to the Roman community from their religion, was a code of moral formulæ gradually developed by the priests, and the pontifices in particular, over and above their regulation of legal procedure. This moral law on the one hand supplied the place of police regulations at a period when the state was still far from providing any direct police-guardianship for its citizens; and on the other hand it brought to the bar of the gods and visited with divine penalties the breach of those moral obligations which could not be reached at all, or could be but imperfectly enforced, by the law of the state. The regulations of the former class religiously inculcated the due observance of holidays, and the cultivation of the fields and vineyards according to the rules of good husbandry, which we shall have occasion to notice more fully in the sequel. To this class belonged also the worship of the hearth or of the Lares, which was connected with considerations of sanitary police (P. 173), and above all the practice of burning the bodies of the dead, adopted among the Romans at a singularly early period, far earlier than among the Greeks—a practice implying a rational conception of life and of death, such as was foreign to primitive times and is even foreign to ourselves at the present day. It must be reckoned no small achievement that the national religion of the Latins was able to carry out these and similar improvements. But the moral effect of this law was still more important. Under this head we might take notice of the fact itself, that every sentence, at least every capital sentence, was primarily conceived as the curse of the divinity offended by the crime. But not only did that curse accompany the judgment pronounced by the community; it also supplemented its deficiencies. If a husband sold his wife, or a father sold his married son; if a child struck the father, or a daughter-in-law her father-in-law; if a patron violated his obligation to keep faith with his guest or dependent, the civil law had no penalty for such outrages, but the burden of the curse of the gods lay thenceforth on the head of the offender. Not that the person thus accursed (sacer) was outlawed; such an outlawry, inconsistent in its very nature with all civil order, was only an exceptional occurrence in Rome—an aggravation of the religious curse at the time of the quarrels between the orders. It was not the province of the civil authorities, still less of the individual burgess or of the wholly powerless priest, to carry into effect the divine curse; the life of the person accursed was forfeited not to man but to the gods. But the pious popular faith, on which that curse was based, would in earlier times have power even over natures frivolous and wicked; and the civilizing agency of religion must have exercised an influence deeper and purer precisely because it was not contaminated by any appeal to the secular arm. But it performed no higher service in Latium than the furtherance of civil order and morality by such means as these. In this field Hellas had an unspeakable advantage over Latium; it owed to its relinot merely its whole intellectual development, but also itional union, so far as such an union was attained at all; the oracles and festivals of the gods, Delphi and Olympia, and the Muses, daughters of Faith, were the centres round which revolved all that was great in Hellenic life and all in it that was the common heritage of the nation. And yet Latium had as compared with Hellas its own advantages. The Latin religion, reduced as it was to the level of ordinary perception, was completely intelligible to every one, and accessible in common to all; and therefore the Roman community preserved the equality of its citizens, while Hellas, where religion rose to the level of the highest thought, had from the earliest times to endure all the blessing and curse of an aristocracy of intellect. The Latin religion like every other had its origin in the effort to fathom the abyss of thought; it is only to a superficial view, which is deceived as to the depth of the stream because it is clear, that its transparent spirit-world can appear to be shallow. This deeply-rooted faith disappeared indeed with the progress of time, as necessarily as the dew of morning disappears before the rising sun; and in consequence the Latin religion came at length to wither; but the Latins preserved their simplicity of faith longer than most peoples and longer especially than the Greeks. As colours are effects of light and at the same time dim it, so art and science are not merely the creations, but also the destroyers of faith; and, much as this process at once of development and of destruction is swayed by necessity, by the same necessity certain results have been reserved to the epoch of early simplicity—results which subsequent epochs make vain endeavours to attain. The mighty intellectual development of the Hellenes, which created their religious and literary unity (ever imperfect as that unity was), the very thing that made it impossible for them to attain to a genuine political union; they sacrificed thereby the simplicity, the tractableness, the self-devotion, the power of amalgamation, which constitute the conditions of any such union. It is time therefore to desist from that childish view of history which believes that it can commend the Greeks only at the expense of the Romans, or the Romans only at the expense of the Greeks; and as we allow the oak to hold its own beside the rose, so should we abstain from praising or censuring the two noblest organizations which antiquity has produced, and comprehend the truth that their distinctive excellences have a necessary connection with their respective defects. The deepest and ultimate reason of the diversity between the two nations lay beyond doubt in the fact that Latium did not, and that Hellas did, in the season of growth, come into contact with the East. No people on earth was great enough by its own efforts to create either the marvel of Hellenic, or the marvel in a later period of Christian culture; history has produced these most brilliant results only where the ideas of Aramaic religion have sunk into an Indo-Germanic soil. But if for this reason Hellas is the prototype of purely human, Latium is not less for all time the prototype of national development; and it is the duty of us their successors to honour both and to learn from both.

Foreign worships. Such was the nature and such the influence of the Roman religion in its pure, unhampered, and thoroughly national development. Its national character was not infringed by the fact that, from the earliest times, modes and systems of worship were introduced from abroad; no more than the bestowal of the rights of citizenship on individual foreigners denationalized the Roman state. An exchange of gods as well as of goods with the Latins must have taken place as a matter of course; the transplantation to Rome of gods and worships belonging to less cognate races is more remarkable. Of the distinctive Sabine worship maintained by the Tities we have already spoken (P. 176). Whether any of their conceptions of the gods were borrowed from Etruria is more doubtful: for the Lases, the older designation of the genii (from lascivus) and Minerva the goddess of memory (mens menervare), which have been usually described as originally Etruscan, were on the contrary, judging from philological grounds, indigenous to Latium. It is at any rate certain, and in keeping with all that we otherwise know of Roman intercourse, that the Greek worship received an earlier and more extensive consideration in Rome than any other of foreign origin. The Greek oracles furnished the earliest occasion of its introduction. The language of the Roman gods was wholly confined to Yea and Nay or at the most to the making their will known by the method of casting lots, which appears in its origin Italian;[5] while, from very ancient times (although not apparently until the impulse was received from the East), the more talkative gods of the Greeks imparted actual utterances of prophecy. The Romans made efforts, even at an early period, to treasure up such counsels, and copies of the laws of the soothsaying priestess of Apollo, the Cumæan Sibyl, were accordingly a highly valued gift on the part of their Greek guest-friends from Campania. For the reading and interpretation of the fortune-telling book a special college, inferior in rank only to the augurs and pontifices, was instituted in early times, consisting of two men of lore (duoviri sacris faciundis), who were furnished at the expense of the state with two slaves acquainted with the Greek language. To these custodiers of oracles the people resorted in cases of doubt, when some act of worship was needed in order to avoid some impending evil and they did not know to which of the gods or with what rites it was to be performed. But Romans in search of advice early betook themselves also to the Delphic Apollo himself. Besides the legends relating to such an intercourse already mentioned (P. 149), it is attested partly by the reception of the word thesaurus so closely connected with the Delphic oracle, into all the Italian languages with which we are acquainted, and partly by the oldest Roman form of the name of Apollo, Aperta, the "opener," an etymological perversion of the Doric Apellon, the antiquity of which is betrayed by its very barbarism. The gods also of the mariner, Castor and Polydeukes or with the Romans Pollux, the god of traffic Hermes—the Roman Mercurius, and the god of healing, Asklapios or Æsculapius, were, from causes which naturally suggest themselves, early known to the Romans, although their public worship only began at a later period. The name of the festival of the "good goddess" (Bona Dea) damium, corresponding to the Greek δάμιον, or δήμιον, may likewise reach back as far as our present epoch. It is certain that in very early times the Italian tutelary genius of the farm-yard, Herculus or Hercules (from hercere to enclose, P. 174), was identified with the totally different Hellenic Herakles. In like manner it may be rather the result of ancient borrowing than of an original community of religious ideas, that the Roman as well as the Greek called the God of wine by the name of the care-dispelling "deliverer" (Lyæos, Liber Pater), and the divinity of the bosom of the earth the "dispenser of riches" (PlutoDis Pater), and that the spouse of the latter, Persephone, became converted at once by change of the initial sound and by transference of the idea into the Roman Proserpina, that is, "germinatrix." Even the goddess of the Romano-Latin league, Diana of the Aventine, seems to have been copied from the federal goddess of the Ionians of Asia Minor, the Ephesian Artemis; at least her carved image in the Roman temple was formed after the Ephesian type (P. 119). It was in this way alone, through the myths of Apollo, Dionysus, Pluto, Herakles, and Artemis, which were early pervaded by Oriental ideas, that the Aramaic religion exercised, at this period a remote and indirect influence on Italy.

These individual cases however of derivation from abroad were of little moment, and equally unimportant and verging on extinction were the remains of the natural symbolism of primeval times, of which the legend of the oxen of Caeus may perhaps be a specimen (P. 19). In all its leading features the Roman religion was an organic creation of the people among whom we find it.

Religion of the Sabellians. The Sabellian and Umbrian worship, judging from the little we know of it, rested upon quite the same fundamental views as the Latin with local variations of colour and form. That it was different from the Latin is very distinctly apparent from the establishment of a special college at Rome for the preservation of the Sabine rites (P. 46); but that very fact affords an instructive illustration of the nature of the difference. Observation of the flight of birds was with both stocks the regular mode of consulting the gods; but the Titles observed different birds from the Ramnian augurs. Similar relations present themselves, wherever we have opportunity of comparing them. Both stocks in common regarded the gods as abstractions of the earthly and as of an impersonal nature; they differed in expression and ritual. It was natural that these diversities should appear of importance to the worshippers of those days; we are no longer able to apprehend what was the characteristic distinction, if any really existed.

Religion of the Etruscans. The remains of the sacred rites of the Etruscans that have reached us are marked by a different spirit. Their prevailing characteristics are a gloomy and withal tiresome mysticism, a ringing the changes on numbers, soothsaying, and that solemn enthroning of pure absurdity which at all times finds its own circle of devotees. We are far from knowing the Etruscan worship in such completeness and purity as we know the Latin; and it is not improbable—indeed it cannot well be doubted—that several of its features were first iniced into it by the minute subtlety of a later period, and that the gloomy and fantastic principles that were most alien to the Latin worship are those that have been especially handed down to us by tradition. But after all enough still remains to show that the mysticism and barbarism of this worship had their foundation in the essential character of the Etruscan people.

With our very unsatisfactory knowledge we cannot delineate the intrinsic contrast subsisting between the Etruscan conceptions of deity and the Italian; but it is clear that the most prominent among the Etruscan gods were the malignant and the mischievous. Their worship moreover was cruel, including in particular the sacrifice of their captives; thus at Cære they slaughtered their Phocæan, and at Tarquinii their Roman prisoners. Instead of a tranquil world of departed "good spirits" ruling peacefully in the realms beneath, such as the Latins had conceived, the Etruscan religion presented a veritable hell, in which the poor souls were doomed to be tortured by means of mallets and serpents, and to which they were conveyed by the conductor of the dead, a savage semi-brutal figure of an old man with wings and a large hammer—a figure which afterwards served in the gladiatorial games at Rome as a model for the costume of the man who removed the corpses of the slain from the arena. So fixed was the association of torture with the condition of the shades, that there was provided a redemption from it, which after certain mysterious offerings transferred the poor soul to the society of the gods above. It is remarkable that, in order to people their lower world, the Etruscans early borrowed from the Greeks their gloomiest notions, such as the doctrine of Acheron and Charon, which play an important part in the Etruscan discipline.

But the Etruscan occupied himself above all in the interpretation of signs and portents. The Romans heard the voice of the gods in nature; but their bird-seer understood only the signs in their simplicity, and knew only generally whether the occurrence boded good or ill. Disturbances of the ordinary course of nature were regarded by him as boding evil, and put a stop to the business in hand, as when for example a storm of thunder and lightning dispersed the comitia; and it was sought to get rid of them, as in the case of monstrous births, which were put to death as speedily as possible. But beyond the Tiber matters were carried much further. The penetrating Etruscan read off to the believer his future fortunes in detail from the lightning and from the entrails of animals offered in sacrifice, and the more singular the language of the gods, the more startling the portent or prodigy, the more confidently did he declare what they foretold and the means by which it was possible to avert the mischief. Thus arose the lore of lightning, and of the inspection of entrails, and of the interpretation of prodigies—all of them, and the science of lightning especially, devised with the hair-splitting subtlety which the mind indulges in when pursuing absurdities. A dwarf called Tages, with the figure of a child but with gray hairs, who had been ploughed up by a peasant in a field near Tarquinii—we might almost fancy that practices at once so childish and drivelling had sought to present in this figure a caricature of themselves—betrayed the secret of this lore to the Etruscans, and then straightway died. His disciples and successors taught what gods were in the habit of hurling the lightning; how, moreover, the lightning of each god might be recognized by its colour and the quarter of the heavens whence it came; whether the lightning boded a permanent change of things or a single event; and in the latter case whether the event was one unalterably fixed, or whether it could be up to a certain limit postponed; how they might convey the lightning away when it struck, or compel the threatening lightning to strike, and various marvellous arts of the like kind, with which by-the-way there was conjoined no small desire of pocketing fees. How deeply repugnant all this was to the Roman character is shown by the fact that, even when people came at a later period to employ the Etruscan lore in Rome, no attempt was made to naturalize it; during our present period the Romans were probably still content with their own, and with the Grecian, oracles.

The Etruscan religion occupied a higher level than the Roman, in so far as it developed at least the rudiments of that of which the Romans were wholly destitute—speculation veiled under the forms of religion. Over the world and its gods there ruled the veiled gods (Dii involuti), consulted by Etruscan Jupiter himself; that world moreover was finite, and, as it had come into being, so would it again pass away after the expiry of a definite period of time, whose sections were the sæcula. Respecting the intellectual value which may once have belonged to this Etruscan cosmogony and philosophy, it is difficult to form a judgment; they appear however to have been from the very first characterized by a dull fatalism and an insipid play upon numbers.

  1. The facts, that gates and doors and the morning (Ianus matutinus) were sacred to Ianus, and that he was always invoked before any other god and was even represented in the series of coins before Jupiter and the other gods, indicate unmistakeably that he was the abstraction of opening and beginning. The double-head looking both ways was connected with the gate that opened both ways. To make him god of the sun and of the year is the less justifiable, because the month that bears his name was originally the eleventh, not the first; that month seems rather to have derived its name from the circumstance, that at this season after the rest of the middle of winter the cycle of the labours of the field begins afresh. It was, moreover, a matter of course that the opening of the year should also be included in the sphere of Ianus, particularly after Ianuarius came to be placed at its head.
  2. From Maurs, which is the oldest form handed down by tradition, there developed by different treatment of the u Mars, Mavors, Mors; the transition to ŏ (like Paula, Pola, &c.) appears also in the double form Mar-Mor (comp. Ma-mŭrius) alongside of Mar-Mar and Ma-Mers.
  3. The clearest evidence of this is the fact, that in the communities organized on the Latin scheme augurs and pontifices occur everywhere (e. g. Cic. de lege agr. ii. 35, 96, and numerous inscriptions), but the other colleges do not. The former, therefore, stand on the same footing with the constitution of ten curies and the Flamines, Salii, and Luperci, as very ancient heirlooms of the Latin stock; whereas the Duoviri, the Fetiales, and other colleges, like the thirty curies and the Servian tribes and centuries, originated in, remained therefore confined to, Rome. Only in the case of the second college, the pontifices, the influence of Rome probably led to the introduction of that name into the general Latin scheme instead of some earlier, perhaps more variable name; or (a hypothesis which philologically has much in its favour) pons originally signified not "bridge" but "way" generally, and pontifex therefore meant "constructor of ways."

    The statements regarding the original number, of the augurs in particular, vary. The view that it was necessary for the number to be an odd one is refuted by Cic. de lege agr. ii. 35, 96; and Livy (x. 6) does not say so, but only states that the number of Roman augurs had to be divisible by three, and must therefore have had an odd number as its basis. According to Livy (l. c.) the number was six down to the Ogulnian law, and the same is virtually affirmed by Cicero (de Rep. ii. 9, 14) when he represents Romulus as instituting four, and Numa two, augurial stalls.

  4. It is only an unreflecting misconception that can discover in this usage a reminiscence of ancient human sacrifices.
  5. Sors from serere, to place in a row. The sortes were probably small wooden tablets arranged upon a string, which when thrown formed figures of kinds; an arrangement which puts one in mind of the Runic characters.