IV. Roman Religion.

1. Deities:
(1) The Roman religion was originally more consistent than the Greek, because th
e deities as conceived by the unimaginative Latin genius were entirely without h
uman character. They were the influences or forces which directed the visible ph
enomena of the physical world, whose favor was necessary to the material prosper
ity of mankind. It would be incongruous to assume the existence of a system of t
heological doctrines in the primitive period. Ethical considerations entered to
only a limited extent into the attitude of the Romans toward their gods. Religio
n partook of the nature of a contract by which men pledged themselves to the scr
upulous observance of certain sacrifices and other ceremonies, and in return dee
med themselves entitled to expect the active support of the gods in bringing the
ir projects to a fortunate conclusion. The Romans were naturally polytheists as
a result of their conception of divinity. Since before the dawn of science there
was no semblance of unity in the natural world, there could be no unity in heav
en. There must be a controlling spirit over every important object or class of o
bjects, every person, and every process of nature. The gods, therefore, were mor
e numerous than mankind itself.
(2) At an early period the government became distinctly secular. The priests wer
e the servants of the community for preserving the venerable aggregation of form
ulas and ceremonies, many of which lost at an early period such spirit as they o
nce possessed. The magistrates were the true representatives of the community in
its relationship with the deities both in seeking the divine will in the auspic
es and in performing the more important sacrifices.
(3) The Romans at first did not make statues of their gods. This was partly due
to lack of skill, but mainly to the vagueness of their conceptions of the higher
beings. Symbols sufficed to signify their existence, a spear, for instance, sta
nding for Mars. The process of reducing the gods to human form was inaugurated w
hen they came into contact with the Etruscans and Greeks. The Tarquins summoned
Etruscan artisans and artists to Rome, who made from terra cotta cult statues an
d a pediment group for the Capitoline temple.
The types of the Greek deities had already been definitely established when the
Hellenic influence in molding Roman culture became predominant. When the form of
the Greek gods became familiar to the Romans in works of sculpture, they gradua
lly supplanted those Roman deities with which they were nominally identified as
a result of a real or fancied resemblance.

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