THE RELIGION OF NUMA
by Jesse Benedict Carter
(the Capitoline Wolf nursing Romulus and Remus)
An Essay on Roman Religion
“The Religion of Numa”…..1
Syllabus and Assignment….11
ROME forms no exception to the general rule that nations, like individuals, grow by contact with the outside world. In the middle of the five centuries of her republic came the Punic wars and the intimate association with Greece which made the last half of her history as a republic so different from the first half; and in the kingdom, which preceded the republic, there was a similar coming of foreign influence, which made the later kingdom with its semi-historical names of the Tarquins and Servius Tullius so different from the earlier kingdom with its altogether legendary Romulus, Numa, Tullus Hostilius and Ancus Martins. We have thus four distinct phases in the history of Roman society, and a corresponding phase of religion in each period; and if we add to this that new social structure which came into being by the reforms of Augustus at the beginning of the empire, together with the religious changes which accompanied it, we shall have the five periods which these five essays try to describe: the period before the Tarquins, that is the "Religion of Numa"; the later kingdom, that is the "Reorganisation of Servius"; the first three centuries of the republic, that is the "Coming of the Sibyl"; the closing centuries of the republic, that is the "Decline of Faith"; and finally the early empire and the "Augustan Renaissance." Like all attempts to cut history into sections these divisions are more or less arbitrary, but their convenience sufficiently justifies their creation. They must be thought of however not as representing independent blocks, arbitrarily arranged in a certain consecutive order, not as five successive religious consciousnesses, but merely as marking the entrance of certain new ideas into the continuous religious consciousness of the Roman people. The history of each of these periods is simply the record of the change which new social conditions produced in that great barometer of society, the religious consciousness of the community. It is in the period of the old kingdom that our story begins.
At first sight it may seem a foolish thing to try to draw a picture of the religious condition of a time about the political history of which we know so little, and it is only right therefore that we should inquire what sources of knowledge we possess.
There was a time, not so very long ago, when under the banner of the new-born science of "Comparative Philology" there gathered together a group of men who thought they held the key to prehistoric history, and that words themselves would tell the story where ancient monuments and literature were silent. It was a great and beautiful thought, and the science which encouraged it has taken its place as a useful and reputable member of the community of sciences, but its pretensions to the throne of the revealer of mysteries have been withdrawn by those who are its most ardent followers, and the "Indo-Germanic religion" which is brought into being is a pleasant thought for an idle hour rather than a foundation and starting-point for the study of ancient religion in general. Altogether aside from the fact that although primitive religion and nationality are in the main identical, language and nationality are by no means so--we have the great practical difficulty in the case of Greece and Rome that in the earliest period of which we have knowledge these two religions bear so little resemblance that we must either assert for the time of Indo-Germanic unity a religious development much more primitive than that which comparative philology has sketched, or we must suppose the presence of a strong decadent influence in Rome's case after the separation, which is equally difficult. If we realise that in a primitive religion the name of the god is usually the same as the name of the thing which he represents, the existence of a Greek god and a Roman god with names which correspond to the same Indo-Germanic word proves linguistically that the thing existed and had a name before the separation, but not at all that the thing was deified or that the name was the name of a god at that time. We must therefore be content to begin our study of religion much more humbly and at a much later period.
In fact we cannot go back appreciably before the dawn of political history, but there are certain considerations which enable us at least to understand the phenomena of the dawn itself, those survivals in culture which loom up in the twilight and the understanding of which gives us a fair start in our historical development. For this knowledge we are indebted to the so-called "anthropological" method, which is based on the assumption that mankind is essentially uniform, and that this essential uniformity justifies us in drawing inferences about very ancient thought from the very primitive thought of the barbarous and savage peoples of our own day. At first sight the weakness of this contention is more apparent than its strength, and it is easy to show that the prehistoric primitive culture of a people destined to civilisation is one thing, and the retarded primitive culture of modern tribes stunted in their growth is quite another thing, so that, as has so often been said, the two bear a relation to each other not unlike that of a healthy young child to a full-grown idiot. And yet there is a decided resemblance between the child and the idiot, and whether prehistoric or retarded, primitive culture shows everywhere strong likeness, and the method is productive of good if we confine our reasoning backwards to those things in savage life which the two kinds of primitive culture, the prehistoric and the retarded, have in common. To do this however we must have some knowledge of the prehistoric, and our modern retarded savage must be used merely to illumine certain things which we see only in half-light; he must never be employed as a lay-figure in sketching in those features of prehistoric life of which we are totally in ignorance. It is peculiarly useful to the student of Roman religion because he stands on the borderland and looking backwards sees just enough dark shapes looming up behind him to crave more light. For in many phases of early Roman religion there are present characteristics which go back to old manners of thought, and these manners of thought are not peculiar to the Romans but are found in many primitive peoples of our own day. The greatest contribution which anthropology has made to the study of early Roman religion is "animism."
Not much more than a quarter of a century ago the word "animism" began to be used to describe that particular phase of the psychological condition of primitive peoples by which they believe that a spirit (anima) resides in everything, material and immaterial. This spirit is generally closely associated with the thing itself, sometimes actually identified with it. When it is thought of as distinct from the thing, it is supposed to have the form of the thing, to be in a word its "double." These doubles exercise an influence, often for evil, over the thing, and it is expedient and necessary therefore that they should be propitiated so that their evil influence may be removed and the thing itself may prosper. These doubles are not as yet gods, they are merely powers, potentialities, but in the course of time they develop into gods. The first step in this direction is the obtaining of a name, a name the knowledge of which gives a certain control over the power to him who knows it. Finally these powers equipped with a name begin to take on personal characteristics, to be thought of as individuals, and finally represented under the form of men.
It cannot be shown that all the gods of Rome originated in this way, but certainly many of them did, and it is not impossible that they all did; and this theory of their origin explains better than any other theory certain habits of thought which the early Romans cherished in regard to their gods. At the time when our knowledge of Roman religion begins, Rome is in possession of a great many gods, but very few of them are much more than names for powers. They are none of them personal enough to be connected together in myths. And this is the very simple reason why there was no such thing as a native Roman mythology, a blank in Rome's early development which many modern writers have refused to admit, taking upon themselves the unnecessary trouble of positing an original mythology later lost. The gods of early Rome were neither married nor given in marriage; they had no children or grandchildren and there were no divine genealogies. Instead they were thought of occasionally as more or less individual powers, but usually as masses of potentialities, grouped together for convenience as the "gods of the country," the "gods of the storeroom," the "gods of the dead," etc. Even when they were conceived of as somewhat individual, they were usually very closely associated with the corresponding object, for example Vesta was not so much the goddess of the hearth as the goddess "Hearth" itself, Janus not the god of doors so much as the god "Door."
But by just as much as the human element was absent from the concept of the deity, by just so much the element of formalism in the cult was greater. This formalism must not be interpreted according to our modern ideas; it was not a formalism which was the result and the successor of a decadent spirituality; it was not a secondary product in an age of the decline of faith; but it was itself the essence of religion in the period of the greatest religious purity. In the careful and conscientious fulfilment of the form consisted the whole duty of man toward his gods. Such a state of affairs would have been intolerable in any nation whose instincts were less purely legal. So identical were the laws concerning the gods and the laws concerning men that though in the earliest period of Roman jurisprudence the ius divinum and the ius humanum are already separated, they are separated merely formally as two separate fields or provinces in which the spirit of the law and often even the letter of its enactment are the same. Such a formalism implies a very firm belief in the existence of the gods. The dealings of a man with the gods are quite as really reciprocal as his dealings with his fellow citizens. But on the other hand though the existence of the gods is never doubted for a moment, the gods themselves are an unknown quantity; hence out of the formal relationship an intimacy never developed, and while it is scarcely just to characterise the early cult as exclusively a religion of fear, certainly real affection is not present until a much later day. The potentiality of the gods always overshadowed their personality. But this was not all loss, for the absence of personality prevented the growth of those gross myths which are usually, found among primitive peoples, for the purer more inspiring myths of gods are not the primitive product but result from the process of refining which accompanies a people's growth in culture. Thus the theory of animism illumines the religious condition of that borderlandof history in which Romulus and Numa Pompilius have their dwelling-place.
According to that pleasant fiction of which the ancient world was so extremely fond--the belief that all institutions could be traced back to their establishment by some individual--the religion of Rome was supposed to have been founded by her second king Numa, and it was the custom to refer to all that was most antique in the cult as forming a part of the venerable "religion of Numa." For us this can be merely a name, and even as a name misleading, for a part of the beliefs with which we are dealing go back for centuries before Romulus and the traditional B.C. 753 as the foundation of Rome. But it is a convenient term if we mean by it merely the old kingdom before foreign influences began to work. The Romans of a later time coined an excellent name not so much for the period as for the kind of religion which existed then, contrasting the original deities of Rome with the new foreign gods, calling the former the "old indigenous gods" (Di Indigetes) and the latter the "newly settled gods" (Di Novensides). For our knowledge of the religion of this period we are not dependent upon a mere theory, no matter how good it may be in itself, but we have the best sort of contemporary evidence in addition, and it is to the discovery of this evidence that the modern study of Roman religion virtually owes its existence. The records of early political history were largely destroyed in B.C. 390 when the Gauls sacked Rome, but the religious status, with the conservativeness characteristic of religion generally, suffered very few changes during all these years, and left a record of itself in the annually recurring festivals of the Roman year, festivals which grew into an instinctive function of the life of the common people. Many centuries later when the calendar was engraved on stone, these revered old festivals were inscribed on these stone calendars in peculiarly large letters as distinguished from all the other items. Thus from the fragments of these stone calendars, which have been found, and which are themselves nineteen centuries old, we can read back another eight or ten centuries further. By the aid of this "calendar of Numa" we are able to assert the presence of certain deities in the Rome of this time, and the equally important absence of others. And from the character of the deities present and of the festivals themselves a correct and more or less detailed picture of the religious condition of the time may be drawn. This calendar and the list of Indigetes extracted from it form the foundation for all our study of the history of Roman religion.
The religious forms of a community are always so bound up with its social organisation that a satisfactory knowledge of the one is practically impossible without some knowledge of the other. Unfortunately there is no field in Roman history where theories are so abundant and facts so rare as in regard to the question of the early social organisation. But without coming into conflict with any of the rival theories we may make at least the following statements. In the main the community was fairly uniform and homogeneous, there were no great social extremes and no conspicuous foreign element, so that each individual, had he stopped to analyse his social position, would have found himself in four distinct relationships: a relationship to himself as an individual; to his family; to the group of families which formed his clan (gens); and finally to the state. We may go a step further on safe ground and assert that the least important of these relations was that to himself, and the most important that to his family. The unit of early Roman social life was not the individual but the family, and in the most primitive ideas of life after death it is the family which has immortality, not the individual. The state is not a union of individuals but of families. The very psychological idea of the individual seems to have taken centuries to develop, and to have reached its real significance only under the empire. Of the four elements therefore we have established the pre-eminence of the family and the importance of the state as based on the family idea; the individual may be disregarded in this early period, and there is left only the clan, which however offers a difficult problem. The family and the state were destined to hold their own, merely exchanging places in the course of time, so that the state came first and the family second; the individual was to grow into ever increasing importance, but the clan is already dying when history begins. It is a pleasant theory and one that has a high degree of probability that there may have been a time when the clan was to the family what the state is when history begins, and that when the state arose out of a union of various clans, the immediate allegiance of each family was gradually alienated from its clan and transferred to the state, so that the clan gave up its life in order that the state, the child of its own creation, might live. If this be so, we can see why the social importance of the clan ceases so early in Roman history.
The centre therefore of early religious life is the family, and the state as a macrocosm of the family; and the father of each family is its chief priest, and the king as the father of the state is the chief priest of the state. As for the individual the only god which he has for worship is his "double," called in the case of a man his Genius and in that of a woman her Juno, her individualisation of the goddess Juno, quite a distinct deity, peculiar to herself. But even here the family instinct shows itself, and though later the Genius and the Juno represent all that is intellectual in the individual, they seem originally to have symbolised the procreative power of the individual in relation to the continuance of the family. The family and the state, however, side by side worshipped a number of deities.
In the primitive hut, the model of which has come down to us in so many little burial urns of early time (for example those that have recently been dug up in the wonderful cemetery under the Roman Forum), with its one door and no window, there were several elements which needed propitiation; the door itself as the keeper away of evil, the hearth, and the niche for the storage of food. The door-god was the god-door Janus, the ianua itself; the hearth was in the care of the womenfolk, the wife and daughters, so it was a goddess, Vesta, whom they served; and the storage-niche, the penus, was in the keeping of the "store-closet gods" (Di Penates). The state itself was modelled after the house. It had its Janus, its sacred door, down in the Forum, and the king himself, the father of the state, was his special priest; it had its hearth, where the sacred fire burned, and its own Vesta, tended by the vestal virgins, the daughters of the state; and it had its store-niche with its Penates. At a later date but still very early there was added to the household worship the idea of the general protector of the house, the Lar, which gave rise to the familiar expression "Lares and Penates." The origin of this Lar Familiaris, as he is called, is interesting, because it shows the intimate connection between the farming life of the community and its religion. The Lares were originally the group of gods who looked after the various farms; they were in the plural because they were worshipped where the boundary lines of several farms met, but though several of them were worshipped together, each farm had its one individual Lar. But the care of the farm included also the protection of the house on the farm, so that the Lar of the farm became also the Lar of the house, first of course of houses on farms, and then of every house everywhere even when no farm was connected with it.
Aside from Vesta, the Genius, the Lar, and the Penates, possibly the most important element in family worship was the cult of the dead ancestors. This cult is, of course, common to almost all religions, and its presence in Roman religion is in so far not surprising, but the form in which it occurs there is curious and relatively rare. just as the living man has a "double," the Genius, so the dead man also must have a double, but this double is originally not the Genius, who seems to have been thought of at first as ceasing with the individual. On the contrary as death is the great leveller and the remover of individuality, so the double of the dead was not thought of at first as an individual double but merely as forming a part of an indefinite mass of spirits, the "good gods" (Di Manes) as they were called because they were feared as being anything but good. These Di Manes had therefore no specific relation to the individual, and the individual really ceased at death; the only human relation which the Di Manes seem to have preserved was a connection with the living members of the family to which they had originally belonged. It is therefore very misleading to assert that the Romans had from the beginning a belief in immortality, when we instinctively think of the immortality of the individual. The thing that was immortal was not the individual but the family. It is thoroughly in keeping with the practical character of the Roman mind that they did not concern themselves with the place in which these spirits of the dead were supposed to reside, but merely with the door through which they could and did return to earth. We have no accounts of the Lower World until Greece lent her mythology to Rome, and imagination never built anything like the Greek palace of Pluto. But while they did not waste energy in furnishing the Lower World with the fittings of fancy, they did keep a careful guard over the door of egress. This door they called the mundus, and represented it crudely by a trench or shallow pit, at the bottom of which there lay a stone. On certain days of the year this stone: was removed, and then the spirits came back to earth again, where they were received and entertained by the living members of their family. There were a number of these days in the year, three of them scattered through the year: August 24, October 5, November 8; and two sets of days: February 13-21 and May 9, 11, 13. The February celebration, the so-called Parentalia, was calm and dignified and represented all that was least superstitious and fearful in the generally terrifying worship of the dead. The Lemuria in May had exactly the opposite character and belongs to the category of the "expulsion of evil spirits," of which Mr. Frazer in his Golden Bough has given so many instances.
In this connection it is interesting to notice two facts which stand almost as corollaries to these beliefs. One fact is the religious necessity for the continuance of the family, in order that there might always be a living representative of the family to perform the sacrifices to the ancestors. It was the duty of the head of the family not only to perform these sacrifices himself as long as he lived but also to provide a successor. The usual method was by marriage and the rearing of a family, but, in case there was no male child in the family, adoption was recurred to. Here it is peculiarly significant that the sanction of the chief priest was necessary, and he never gave his consent in case the man to be adopted was the only representative of his family, so that his removal from that family into another would leave his original family without a male representative. In cases of inheritance the first lien on the income was for the maintenance of the traditional sacrifices unless some special arrangement had been made. These exceptional inheritances, without the deduction for sacrifices, were naturally desired above all others and the phrase "an inheritance without sacrifices" (hereditas sine sacris) became by degrees the popular expression for a godsend. The other fact of interest in this connection is that, inasmuch as ancestors were worshipped only en masse and not as individuals, that process could not take place in Roman religion which is so familiar in many other religions, namely that the great gods of the state should some of them have been originally ancestors whose greatness during life had produced a corresponding emphasis in their worship after death, so that ultimately they were promoted from the ranks of the deified dead into the select Olympus of individual gods. This has been a favourite theory of the making of a god from the time of Euhemerus down to Herbert Spencer. There are religions in which it is true for certain of the major gods, but there are no traces of the process in Roman religion, and the reason is obvious in view of the peculiar character of ancestor worship in Rome.
We have now seen the principal elements which went to make up the family religion and that part of the state religion which was an enlargement and an imitation of the family religion. But even in the most primitive times a Roman's life was not bounded by his own hut and the phenomenon of death. There was work to be done in life, a living to be gained, and here, as everywhere, there were hosts of unseen powers who must be propitiated. His religion was not only coincident with every phase of private life, it was also closely related to the specific occupations and interests of the people, and just as the interests of the community, its means of livelihood, were agriculture and stock-raising, so the gods were those of the crops and the herds. Some years ago the late Professor Mommsen succeeded in extracting from the existing stone calendars a list of the religious festivals of the old Roman year, and also in proving that this list of festivals was complete in its present condition at a time before the city of Rome was surrounded by the wall which Servius Tullius built, and that it therefore goes back to the old kingdom, the time of what has been called the "Religion of Numa." We cannot go through all the festivals in detail, but it is extremely interesting to notice that almost every one of them is connected with the life of the farmer and represents the action of propitiation towards some god or group of gods at every time in the Roman year which was at all critical for agricultural interests.
It must not be forgotten also that this list is not absolutely complete, because it represents merely the official state festivals, and not even all of them but only those which fell upon the same day or days every year, so that they could be engraved in the stone to form a perpetual calendar. All state festivals, of which there were several, which were appointed in each particular year according to the backward or forward estate of the harvest, were omitted from the list, though they were celebrated at some time in every year; and naturally the public calendars contained no reference to the many private and semiprivate ceremonies of the year, with which the state had nothing official to do, festivals of the family and the clan, and even local festivals of various districts of the city.
In this list of peaceful deities of the farm there is one god whose character has been very much misunderstood because of the company which he keeps; this is the god Mars. It has become the fashion of late to consider him as a god of vegetation, and a great many ingenious arguments have been brought forward to show his agricultural character. But the more primitive a community is, the more intense is its struggle for existence, and the more rife its rivalries with its neighbours. Alongside of the ploughshare there must always have been the sword or its equivalent, and along with Flora and Ceres there must always have been a god of strife and battle. That Mars was this god in early as well as later times is shown above all things by the fact that he was always worshipped outside the city, as a god who must be kept at a distance. Naturally his cult was associated with the dominant interest of life, the crops, and he was worshipped in the beautiful ceremony of the purification of the fields, which Mr. Walter Pater has so exquisitely described at the opening of Marius the Epicurean. But he was regarded as the protector of the fields and the warder off of evil influences rather than as a positive factor in the development of the crops. Then too in the early days of the Roman militia, before the regular army had come into existence, the war season was only during the summer after the planting and before the harvest, so that the two festivals which marked the beginning and the end of that season were also readily associated with the state of the crops at that time.
But the most interesting and curious thing about this old religion is not so much what it does contain as what it does not. It is not so much what we find as what we miss, for more than half the gods whom we instinctively associate with Rome were not there under this old regime. Here is a partial list of those whose names we do not find: Minerva, Diana, Venus, Fortuna, Hercules, Castor, Pollux, Apollo, Mercury, Dis, Proserpina, Aesculapius, the Magna Mater. And yet their absence is not surprising when we realise that almost all of the gods in this list represent phases of life with which Rome in this early period was absolutely unacquainted. She had no appreciable trade or commerce, no manufactures or particular handicrafts, and no political interests except the simple patriarchal government which sufficed for her present needs. Her gods of water were the gods of rivers and springs; Neptune was there, but he was not the ocean-god like the Greek Poseidon. Vulcan, the god of fire, who was afterwards associated with the Greek Hephaistos and became the patron of metal-working, was at this time merely the god of destructive and not of constructive fire. Even the great god Juppiter who was destined to become almost identical with the name and fame of Rome was not yet a god of the state and politics, but merely the sky-god, especially the lightning god, Juppiter Feretrius, the "striker," who had a little shrine on the Capitoline where later the great Capitoline temple of Juppiter Optimus Maximus was to stand. Another curious characteristic of this early age, which, I think, has never been commented on, is the extraordinarily limited number of goddesses. Vesta is the only one who seems to stand by herself without a male parallel. Each of the others is merely the contrasted potentiality in a pair of which the male is much more famous, and the only ones in these pairs who ever obtained a pronounced individuality did so because their cult was afterwards reinforced by being associated with some extra-Roman cult. The best illustration of this last is Juno. We may go further and say that it seems highly probable that the worship of female deities was in the main confined to the women of the community, while the men worshipped the gods. This distinction extended even to the priesthoods where the wife of the priest of a god was the priestess of the corresponding goddess. Such a state of affairs is doubly interesting in view of the pre-eminence of female deities in the early Greek world, which has been so strikingly shown by Miss Jane Harrison in her recent book, Prolegomena to the Study of Greek Religion.
The most vital question which can be put to almost any religion is that in regard to its expansive power and its adaptability to new conditions. Society is bound to undergo changes, and a young social organism, if normal, is continually growing new cells. New conditions are arising and new interests are coming to the front. In addition, if the growth is to be continuous, new material is being constantly absorbed, and the simple homogeneous character of the old society is being entirely changed by the influx of foreign elements. This is what occurred in ancient Rome, and it is because ancient Roman religion was not capable of organic development from within, that the curious things happened to it which our history has to record. It is these strange external accretions which lend the chief interest to the story, while at the same time they conceal the original form so fully as to render the writing of a history of Roman religion extremely difficult.
Yet it must not be supposed because Roman religion was unable to adapt itself to the new constitution of society with its contrasted classes, and to the new commercial and political interests which attracted the attention of the upper classes, that it was absolutely devoid within itself, within its own limitations, of a certain capability of development. For several centuries after outside influences began to affect Rome, her original religion kept on developing alongside of the new forms. The manner in which it developed is thoroughly significant of the original national character of the Romans.
We have seen that from the very beginning the nature of the gods as powers rather than personalities tended to emphasise the value and importance of the name, which usually indicated the particular function or speciality of each deity and was very often the only thing known about him. In the course of time as the original name of the deity began to be thought of entirely as a proper name without any meaning, rather than as a common noun explaining the nature of the god to which it was attached, it became necessary to add to the original name some adjective which would adequately describe the god and do the work which the name by itself had originally done. And as the nature of the various deities grew more complicated along with the increasing complications of daily life, new adjectives were added, each one expressing some particular phase of the god's activity. Such an adjective was called a cognomen, and was often of very great importance because it began to be felt that a god with one adjective, i.e. invoked for one purpose, was almost a different god from the same god with a different adjective, i.e. invoked for another purpose. Thus a knowledge of these adjectives was almost as necessary as a knowledge of the name of the god. The next step in the development was one which followed very easily. These important adjectives began to be thought of as having a value and an existence in themselves, apart from the god to which they were attached. The grammatical change which accompanied this psychological movement was the transfer of the adjective into an abstract noun. Both adjectives and abstract nouns express quality, but the adjective is in a condition of dependence on a noun, while the abstract noun is independent and self-supporting. And thus, just as in certain of the lower organisms a group of cells breaks off and sets up an individual organism of its own, so in old Roman religion some phase of a god's activity, expressed in an adjective, broke off with the adjective from its original stock and set up for itself, turning its name from the dependent adjective form into the independent abstract noun. Thus Juppiter, worshipped as a god of good faith in the dealings of men with one another, the god by whom oaths were sworn under the open sky, was designated as "Juppiter, guarding-good-faith," Juppiter Fidius. There were however many other phases of Juppiter's work, and hence the adjective fidius became very important as the means of distinguishing this activity from all the others. Eventually it broke off from Juppiter and formed the abstract noun Fides, the goddess of good faith, where the sex of the deity as a goddess was entirely determined by the grammatical gender of abstract nouns as feminine.
This is all strange enough but there is one more step in the development even more curious yet. This abstract goddess Fides did not stay long in the purely abstract sphere; she began very soon to be made concrete again, as the Fides of this particular person or of that particular group and as this Fides or that, until she became almost as concrete as Juppiter himself had been, and hence we have a great many different Fides in seeming contradiction to the old grammatical rule that abstract nouns had no plural. Now all this development in the field of religion throws light upon the character of the Roman mind and its instinctive methods of thought, and we see why it is that the Romans were very great lawyers and very mediocre philosophers. Both law and philosophy require the ability for abstract thought; in both cases the essential qualities of a thing must be separated from the thing itself. But in the case of philosophic thought this abstraction, these qualities, do not immediately seek reincarnation. They continue as abstractions and do not immediately descend to earth again, whereas for law such a descent is absolutely necessary because jurisprudence is interested not so much in the abstraction by itself, but rather in the abstract as presented in concrete cases. Hence a type of mind which found it equally easy to make the concrete into the abstract and then to turn the abstract so made into a kind of concrete again, is par excellence the legal mind, and no better proof of the instinctive tendency to law-making on the part of the Romans can be found than in the fact that the same habits of mind which make laws also governed the development of their religion.
Unfortunately however it was not these abstract deities who could save old Roman religion. They were merely the logical outcome of the deities already existing, merely new offspring of the old breed. They did not represent any new interests, but were merely the individualisation of certain phases of the old deities, phases which had always been present and were now at most merely emphasised by being worshipped separately.
Professor: Judd H. Burton, MA
New Alexandria Academy
This course is a brief survey of the elements of traditional Roman religion. It is designed to introduce the student to the tenets, beliefs, and certain spiritual practices of the ancient Romans. Upon completion of the course students will better understand the uniqueness of Roman religion and gain perspective and direction for more advanced study of Roman mythology and religion.
Jesse Benedict Carter. “The Religion of Numa.” in The Religion of Numa (ed. Judd H. .
Burton). Dumas, Texas: Burton Beyond, 2007.
All students are required to read the text. It is a requirement, but it is also a gracious invitation. Students must also complete the assignment.
Upon completion of text, chose one of the following questions and write a one page, double spaced essay answering it:
1] What features of Roman religion make it distinctive (especially from that of
2] Is traditional Roman religion concerned more with mythology or ritual?
Explain your answer.
3] Often in grade school, we are taught that the Roman and Greek deities, and
therefore their religions, are analogous and interchangeable. In light of Carter’s essay, does this notion hold true?
When you complete your essay, email it to me in an attachment or in the text of the message at firstname.lastname@example.org. I will then grade it and return it to you with some comments.
Part of the mentoring process involves interaction between instructor and student. Please email any questions you may have concerning the course subject material and I will answer as promptly as possible.
*Godspeed in your pursuit of the truth. Thank you for choosing to sample the course material of the New Alexandria Academy. I look forward to our interaction.