MusesRealm.Net--What Inspires You?
Herodotus' Corner

This session's topic: Foreign Influences on Roman Religion

As Rome gained more territory it assimilated many different religious ideas into the popular culture. Some of these elements were more prevalent than others, but they all had an impact on some part of Roman life. As long as new ideas didn't go against the Empire then the religions were welcome to be praticed by any Roman citizen. The Pantheon was a temple built in Rome that was sacred to all of the gods and goddesses from throughout the Empire. It was a place for worshiping any gods, especially if they did not have a temple of their own in Rome.

Many cults were assimiliated into Roman religious life as Rome's territory expanded. One such cult is the cult of the Greek god Dionysus, which attracted women and men from across the Mediterranean world. The cult of Dionysus became so popular and out of control that the Roman Senate deemed it a threat and banned participation in it in 168 BCE. The cults of deities that were not part of mainstream Roman life were called "mystery cults", and they were extremely popular. If these cults gained enough followers and importance a feast day for that deity could be ordered by the government. By the end of the Empire it was thought that there were more feast days than regular days on the Roman calendar.

The Romans gained some of their religious ideas from the Etruscans, who were fond of nature deities. The Romans had deities for everything natural, from lakes to flowers, and these deities ranged in importance from very important like Flora, goddess of flowers, to local fountain deities. These deities usually did not have temples, as what every they were deity of was sacred to them, but they could have a shrine, and were often represented in art.

From the Greeks the Roman incorporated much of their myths and stories as well as some of their gods. Much of the Roman pantheon came from Greece, with only the names of the deities changed. The Romans took the goes that they had that resembled the Greek gods and placed their gods in the stories of their Greek counterparts. Not all of the Greek gods had Roman equivalents, such as Apollo, and were brought into the Roman religion as they were. The Romans used the Greek deoty hierarchical structure to classigy their own gods. Three of the most important Roman deities were Jupiter, Minerva, and Juno, who were important to the Greeks as Zeus, Athena, and Hera, respectively. Roman authors used Greek historical myths to vaildate their own stories, thus providing a history for the Roman people that fit with the myths of an older, more established civilisation. The Greeks infulenced the Tomans to worship and glorify their gods with statues and pictures. The Romans had not been using iconography much in their religious practices until it was introduced to them by the Greeks, possibly by way of the Etruscans.

Mythraism was a very important religion with Roman soldiers, and it came from Persia around the beginning of the Roman empire. Mithraism fit very well in with the structure of the Roman Army: it was hierarchical, and it was only available to men. Temples and shrines dedicated to Mithras, the main god in Mithraism, have been cound all over the Empire in places were the soldiers were camped for extended periods of time, even as far away as Britania and Iberia.

Many local and foreign gods gained importance over other gods from the same culture and were used all over the Empire. Sometimes these gods were linked with already popular gods, such as the Egyptian goddess Isis being related with the Roman goddess Fortuna and worshiped together as the new goddess Isis-Fortuna. Such an idea was already popular with the Egyptians and with the Greeks to some extent. Gods were also used and incorporated into the Roman pantheon to fill a position that had not been filled. This is the case with the Greek god Apollo, who filled the position as the god of the sun, whom the Romans did not really have until Apollo was introduced. The Egypt god Amon is another god who was assimiliated as-is, and shows up in the Roman Imperial cults as a protector god. His likeness graces armor and many public buildings. Roman religion can be regarded as a hodgepodge of religions from across the Empire.


Le Glay, Marcel, and Jean-Louis Voisin, and Yann Le Bohec. A History of Rome. Blackwell Publishing: Malden, MA, 2001.

Potter, T.W. Roman Italy. University of California Press: Los Angeles, 1987.

Roerts, Timothy R. Ancient Rome: Chronicles of the Roman World. MetroBooks: New York, 2000.