from: The Romans and Their Gods, In the Age of Augustus, R.M. Ogilvie, Fellow and
Tutor in Classics, Balliol College, University of Oxford, Chatto & Windus, 1969.
|"Ancient Culture and Society
M.I. Finley [see
Reader in Ancient Social and Economic
History in the University of Cambridge
C. Mosse The Ancient World at Work
R.M. Ogilvie The Romans and Their Gods
B.H. Warmington Nero: Reality and Legend
M.I. Finley Early Greece: the Bronze and
Archaic AgesOther titles in preparation" [opposite title page].
"....THERE WAS NO DOGMA IN ROMAN RELIGION, no Thirty-Nine Articles or
Westminster Confession to which a believer had to subscribe. A Roman was free to
think what he liked about the gods; what mattered was what religious action he performed.
For a Roman, there was no contradiction when JULIUS CAESAR, AS PONTIFEX
MAXIMUS, head of the Roman state religion, and so responsible for several
official festivals concerned with the dead, publicly expressed his opinion that
'DEATH WAS THE END OF EVERYTHING HUMAN AND THAT THERE WAS NO
PLACE FOR JOY OR SORROW HEREAFTER' (Sallust, Catiline 51). Such views would
be unthinkable in an Archbishop of Canterbury. It would be quite wrong to suppose that a
substantial body of Romans would have shared the beliefs outlined in this book: some
might have held some of them." .
"ANCIENT RELIGION WAS TOLERANT AND NON-SECTARIAN. In this it was
unlike ancient philosophy. The adherents of Epicurean and Stoic philosophy fought long
and acrimonious feuds, as one can see by reading Lucretius. The reason for this
difference between religion and philosophy is that the philosophers maintained various
factual propositions about the world--that it was made of 'breath' or atoms, that it was finite
or infinite, and so on--whereas ancient religions only presupposed the existence of forces
capable of being persuaded by prayer and sacrifice. SINCE ROMAN RELIGION
OFFERED NO DOGMAS ABOUT THE UNIVERSE, THERE WAS NOTHING FOR
PEOPLE TO CONTRADICT OR TO ARGUE ABOUT. Philosophers [(since) and
Christians] on the other hand, had elaborate systems which they defended to the last
detail with GROTESQUE INGENUITY [see 1021].
THERE WAS, however, ONE RELIGION IN THE ANCIENT WORLD WHICH
WAS STUBBORNLY EXCLUSIVE--JUDAISM (AND, LATER, CHRISTIANITY). The
Jews believed that there was only one God and only one acceptable form of worshipping
that God. A Jew who allowed himself to offer sacrifice to any other god thereby
compromised himself. The God of the Jews was a jealous god. To recognise the
possible existence of other gods was betrayal and apostasy. Hence the Jews always
refused to make even the token gesture of acknowledging Roman gods, although it
was a gesture which all the other nations of the Roman Empire were prepared to make. It
is no wonder that the Jews were so heartily disliked by the Roman authorities. But for long
it was not a serious problem; Judaea was a very small country and the Jews in the rest of
the Empire belonged to the lowest orders of society. It was only WHEN CHRISTIANITY,
the successor to Judaism, BECAME, about A.D. 250, A POWERFUL FORCE IN THE
ROMAN WORLD and absorbed a Greek philosophical system that BIGOTRY AND
PERSECUTION BEGAN IN EARNEST."