Hearth & Home
{Household Religion in Ancient Rome}

The Ancient Romans were a pretty practical people. They approached their religious beliefs with the same practicality as the rest of their lives; this is probably why they had trouble believing in a single "higher power". Instead, they believed that nearly everything had its own patron (or patroness) deity. The Romans even would take the ideas of certain deities from other cultures, such as Sul, the goddess of Aquae Sulis whom the Romans actually combined with their own goddess Minerva to form a new deity, Sulis Minerva.

a lararium depicting the lares and a genius (represented by a snake)

There were gods and spirits for everything in a Roman's life; each man and woman even had their own genius or juno, which were supposedly deities responsible for the creation of each individual. They would make sacrifices to their genius or juno on birthdays.

Each family and household also had lares that they made prayers or small offerings to daily. The lares were considered to be the spirits of a family's ancestors and small figurines representing them were usually kept in a special cabinet. The most important lar was the lar familiaris, or the spirit of the family. Lares were not the only household spirits, however; there were also penates. Penates were the spirits of what was essentially the pantry in a Roman home. They too had representative statuettes kept in a special cupboard; these were often taken out at mealtime and placed on the table to be given thanks to for the food.

Janus has two faces. One face looks to the past; the other, to the future.

In addition to the family spirits, Roman households also had gods who guarded their homes. Janus, the two-faced god of doorways and beginnings (for whom January was named), was the main guardian of the home. Cardea, the goddess of hinges; Limentius, the god of the threshold; and Forculus, the god of door leaves, all were considered guardians of the entrance as well.

the Temple of Vesta

Next to Janus, Vesta was the second deity of the home. She was the goddess of the hearth, which was often both literally and metaphorically the center of a Roman household. The hearth was located in the middle of the atrium of a typical Roman home, and the fire within was traditionally kept burning even through the night. The hearth was where many sacrifices and offerings were made to the household spirits as well as the gods.

As one may be able to tell by their huge pantheon of deities, the Ancient Romans were not so much what we consider today as religious; they were more extremely superstitious. They needed the belief of a god or some sort of spirit affecting every aspect of their lives, especially their home lives. The gods and spirits of the household were among the most important and most commonly prayed to of the Roman deities.

{a project by Rosemarie P}

photo credit: Lararium via photopin license

photo credit:Janus via photopin license

photo credit: The Temple of Vesta via photopin license

Comment Stream