Download AUGUSTUS` RELIGIOUS POLICY 1. The religion of the Roman state

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1. The religion of the Roman state was very much a public
2. Through its rituals, sacrifices, and festivals the state did
its utmost to keep the favour of the gods – so vital if the
state was to be successful in all its undertakings.
3. It is not unreasonable, therefore, to include Augustus’
religious policy in his more general ‘social policy’ which,
as we have seen, appears to have been geared to bringing
society back to a healthy state by trying to impose certain
standards in areas such as marriage, the procreation of
children and the manumission (‘freeing’) of slaves.
The Traditional State Religion
1. The traditional religion of the Roman state had been
badly neglected during the civil wars:
a) Temples were in a state of disrepair.
b) Religious observances had not always been kept.
c) Priesthoods had been left vacant.
2. i) The Augustan poet HORACE was only one of those
concerned about this overall neglect.
ii) In his Odes 3. 6 (written in 23 BC) Horace said:
“delicta maiorum inmeritus lues,
Romane, donec templa refeceris
aedisque labentis deorum et
foeda nigro simulacra fumo.”
“Undeservedly, Roman, you will pay the penalty for the sins of
your forefathers, until you rebuild the ruined temples of the
gods and restore their images besmirched with black smoke.”
3. Just as he wanted to strengthen society by regulating citizens’
relationships one with another, Augustus appears to have been
very eager also to restore the proper balance between human
society and the gods – and, again, to strengthen the citizen
body by doing so.
4. And so he put great effort into reviving religious institutions
and in his own Res Gestae (“Achievements”) he refers specifically
to his own restoration of temples and shrines and to the
construction of 82 new ones in the year 28 BC alone.
Instances of Religious Renewal
1. As with later “emperors”, so with Augustus who (like
them) had his favourite gods.
2. Under Augustus it was two gods in particular that were
given special attention:
a) APOLLO - who from being a god of healing
became the god of peace and civilisation, the god of
the arts and culture; and
b) MARS - who was honoured specifically under
Augtustus as MARS ULTOR (Mars the Avenger)
The two gods together under Augustus’ influence came to
represent “peace and civilisation” alongside “justified
ACTIUM” (since Apollo was believed to have
given Octavian victory over Marcus Antonius and
MARS ULTOR (Mars the Avenger)
Temple of MARS ULTOR in Augustus’
new Forum
DENARIUS depicting the temple of MARS ULTOR
Peace and civilization alongside just [justified] warfare
was stressed as Rome’s mission.
This was elegantly expressed by VIRGIL in Book 6 of his
Aeneid (lines 851 – 853) (after he has written about what Jupiter said other
peoples will contribute to the world):
“tu regere imperio populos, Romane, memento
(hae tibi erunt artes) pacique imponere morem,
parcere subiectis et debellare superbos.”
“Remember, Roman, it is for you to rule the nations
with your power - these will be your skills: to graft
law on to peace, to spare the conquered, and to vanquish
the haughty through war.”
Despite his extensive involvement in religious restoration,
Augustus, out of religious propriety, did not become
Pontifex Maximus (‘Chief Priest of the State Religion’)
himself until 12 BC with the death of Marcus Aemilius
LEPIDUS (the former ‘triumvir’) who had held that
office since 44 BC;
he celebrated the culmination of his own religious work
as early as 17 BC (the tenth anniversary of his becoming
“Augustus”) by holding, for three days and three nights, the
Huge effort must have gone into their organization – not
least to justify 17 BC as the year in which these “Games”
were to be hold (assuming that it mattered except to pedants).
1. The “Centennial Games” had, allegedly, been established
at the foundation of ‘the Republic’ in 509 BC and were to be
celebrated every 100 years – every saeculum.
2. The earliest recorded celebration belongs to 249 BC.
3. They seem to have been celebrated in 149 or 148 BC, but
civil warfare prevented their celebration in the 40s BC.
4. All of this made 17 BC a very awkward date to justify.
5. And so Augustus, as a member of the “Board of
Fifteen responsible for Religious Sacrifices” had ‘the
Sibylline Books’ consulted to see if any oracular
pronouncements provided guidance.
6. It was established
a) that “the Centennial Games” had been
instituted, after all, in 496 BC; and
b) that a saeculum was not a Roman period of 100
years but an Etruscan period of 110 years.
7. By some very creative arithmetic it was concluded that
17 BC was a reasonable year for their celebration
again - not that it really mattered: a new era, a ‘golden
age’, was beginning!
1. First the community was ritually purified.
2. Then Augustus and his close associate Marcus Agrippa on
three successive nights and three successive days - beginning
on the night of 31st May – honoured “the Gods Below” and
“the Gods Above”:
a) First PROSERPINA, the FATES (the Moerae), etc. were
honoured by night with the sacrifice of 9 female lambs
and 9 she-goats;
Optimus Maximus) was honoured by day with the sacrifice
of 2 bulls;
c) then the Illythiae (“the goddesses of childbirth”) were
honoured by night with 27 sacrificial cakes.
d) On the second day, JUNO REGINA was honoured with
the sacrifice of two cows.
e) On the third night a pregnant sow was sacrificed to
TERRA MATER (“the Earth Mother”).
f) And on the final day there were sacrifices to APOLLO
and DIANA in the form of 27 sacrificial cakes.
ALSO on the third day a choir of 27 boys and 27 girls sang
“the Centennial Hymn” (the “Carmen Saeculare”) which
the poet HORACE had been commissioned to compose.
It was considered that “THE GOLDEN AGE” had begun.
Augustan coin celebrating the Centennial Games
Augustan coin with an altar celebrating the
Later emperors also celebrated the “Centennial Games” -
for example CLAUDIUS in AD 47 and DOMITIAN in AD
In the monuments of the
age (especially with the Ara
Pacis [‘The Altar of the Augustan
Peace’], Augustus ensured
that the emphasis was on
the gods as the gods of ALL
ITALY (which had
comprised the Roman state
since 90 BC) and not just those
of the traditional Roman state
AENEAS sacrificing
on an end panel of the
great altar
Tellus (‘The Earth’) or Italia (‘Italy’)
on an end panel of the altar
Outside Italy we find, under Augustus, a religious INNOVATION
- the beginnings of a flourishing IMPERIAL CULT (sometimes
wrongly called ‘emperor worship’), which bound people more closely to
Rome and to Augustus himself.
1. In the eastern, predominantly Greek-speaking provinces of
the empire – particularly those which had been part of
Hellenistic kingdoms - rulers had long been considered divine.
2. a) Here Augustus did not actively discourage the growth of cults
to himself amongst the subject populations but
b) he insisted (if consulted) that the cult must associate
ROMA (the deity personifying Rome) with his name.
3. And so we find various temples, shrines and altars dedicated
1. In the western half of the empire there was no
established tradition of cults to leaders.
2. But the epigraphic evidence suggests that among the upper
classes, especially in urbanized areas, cults honouring the
empire’s “First Citizen” seem to have emerged fairly
spontaneously - as an expression of the gratitude of the
provincial elites to Augustus for bringing peace and
prosperity, from which they in particular benefitted.
3. Again , where formal permission was granted for
cults, Augustus required the name of ROMA to be
associated with his own.
This “imperial cult” in both east and west helped the
people of the provinces to learn more about the “First
Citizen” of the Roman state and his family – since
libations were often poured to celebrate, for example,
the birthdays of members of Augustus’ family too - as well
as directing their loyalty to him and to Rome.
The eastern half of the empire
Coin depicting a temple dedicated to “Roma et Augustus” in
“Asia” by the community of ‘Asia’
(ROM ET AVG appears on the front of the temple)
The great altar to ROMA ET AUGUSTUS dedicated by
Augustus at Lugdunum (Lyon) in southern France
1. ROMAN CITIZENS (found mainly in Italy) were positively
discouraged from setting up cults to Augustus who was
just a FELLOW CITIZEN – even if the “First Citizen”.
2. In Italy a different mechanism developed to allow the
Princeps and his family to be honoured.
Traditionally Roman citizens had long honoured the GENIUS
(the “guiding spirit”) of the head of their own family, the
PENATES (their own “household gods”/“the gods of the
family’s store-cupboard”) and the LARES (“their family’s
guardian spirits”).
A lar dances on each side of the
genius of the head of the family.
Snakes offered the household
additional protection.
With time, Roman citizens came to include
a) Augustus’ GENIUS (his guiding-spirit); and
b) the LARES (the ancestral spirits) of his ‘House’ along with the genius of the head of their own family
and the Lares of their own family in their ritual
Augustus’ Religious Programme
Opportunities, then, for citizens and non-citizens (provincial
subjects) alike to direct respect towards Augustus and his
family through this new “imperial cult” in all its different
renewal of traditional religion together with
an innovation (the “imperial cult”) – all binding people
more closely together and to Augustus and his family
(and, through him, to Rome).