Public and Private Religion David Stell (Severinus)

The domestic cult
Rites of passage
Death, Burial and remembrance
Other family festivals

The huge importance of correct religious observance to the Romans may be discerned from the writings of Cicero, who despite himself being something of a sceptic on certain aspects of religious practice could still proudly assert that

"..if we care to compare our national characteristics with those of foreign peoples, we shall find that , while in all other respects we are only the equals or even the inferiors of others, yet in the sense of religion, that is in reverence for the gods, we are far superior" (De Natura Deorum II.iii.8 - 9).

This national preoccupation with correct religious practices is also confirmed by the Greek historian Polybius who says that it " actually the element which holds the Roman state together. These matters are treated with such solemnity and introduced so frequently both into public and into private life that nothing could exceed them in importance." (Histories VI,56.2)

The relationship between the Romans and their gods requires some clarification before moving on to consider family religion specifically. In the Regal period and the early Republic, Romans saw divine hands behind the vital processes of life such as birth, health, death, harvest, trade and war as well as many other aspects of their family lives and identified a deity with each function.

As Rome matured and expanded many ancient religious forms were retained as they had proved effective in the past, but new forms were developed as a perceived need arose. Roman religion was not a matter of moral rectitude but was rather a matter of establishing contractual agreements with the gods in order to achieve a successful outcome, happiness or wealth; Cicero asserts that for all mortals "..all the comfort and prosperity of their lives, they think of as coming to them from the gods ; but virtue no one ever imputed to a god's bounty" (De Natura Deorum III, xxxvi.86). The view that correct usage of tried and tested formulae for dealing with the gods was more important than one's moral state persisted until the 2nd century A.D. due to the Roman concern for mos - the customs of the ancestors.

Only one ancient text gives us a definition of what constituted public religion and what private, the 'De Significatione Verborum' of Sextus Pompeius Festus from the 2nd century A.D. Public religion is that which is carried out at public expense either on behalf of the populus as a whole or of specific subsections of the populus, although private individuals could be permitted to finance temples and festivals on behalf of the People. Private religion is on behalf of individuals, familiae and gentes as well as certain other small groups such as collegiae, guilds and sodalities.

Private religion did not require the services of state priests, but there were several areas of overlapping between the two and they did not operate separately. Thus state pontifices would give advice on private religious matters and on inheritance passing outside a familia on the death of the last member. This was because both public and private religions were officially overseen by the state through the ius divinum. But whereas public religion was restricted to the worship of a limited number of approved gods and select festivals private religion allowed for the worship of any god and celebration of any festival providing that no breach of the peace occurred.

Legally there was also a major difference between things dedicated to the gods as part of public and private religion; things dedicated for the people became consecrated res sacra whereas private dedications did not and so theft of such items would constitute sacrilegium in the first case but not in the second.
Before examining the details of the domestic cult I must present some caveats. The picture of Roman domestic religion is clouded by the restricted nature of the evidence currently available. Thus much of our evidence comes from the Campanian towns of Pompeii and Herculaneum as well as from Ostia and Rome itself and thus a question arises as to how 'Roman' our current view of the subject actually is.
Certainly we know of huge regional variations in terms of both the patron deities, the festivals and the rituals used throughout Italy as well as variations over the time period in question. I will seek to point these out where the evidence for them is clear. Finally I have omitted detailed discussion of the Mystery religions such as Mithras and Isis on the basis that these were for individual initiates rather than families as a whole.


Roman domestic religion was generally simpler and less formalized than public religion and primarily concerned the acquisition of support for the constituent members of the familia from several groups of deities. Some of these protected and aided all within the house while others benefited only the free or only the slaves and still others were only concerned with a particular part of the house or a particular function. Essentially "the household shrine of the Roman bound the family to its past and encouraged its present success" (Orr p. 1559).

As with state religion it was the leaders of any group or society who were responsible for the proper observance of their religious rites. Thus, as in state religion it was the senior magistrates of the city who carried out most sacrifices for the people, who were not required to be present in many cases, in private religion the burden of ensuring the success of family endeavours through the appropriate religious observance for the various groups of deities of the household fell to the paterfamilias and sometimes to his wife or a senior member of the familia.

The first of these groups of deities were the Lares. There is great controversy about the origin of these various spirits that is not aided by the fact that even the ancient authors disagree on the subject. Nor did they have a specific sphere of influence but were rather general protecting tutelary forces. Ovid (Fasti, ii, 615 - 6) identifies the earliest form of Lares, the Lares compitales as the sons of the naiad Lara and Mercury (which tentatively identifies the Mater Larum of the ritual of the Fratres Aruales). Current scholarship splits into two camps one believing that the Lares were originally gods of the fields who were first adopted at the compita by the slaves of the familia and later taken by them to the household focus indoors.
The alternative view suggests that they were deified ancestors; possibly an idea of Greek origin given the similarity to Greek notions of the which Dionysius of Halicarnassus uses in place of the word lar (4.2.3) and also on account of certain Greek aspects of their appearance in standard iconography, for example their hair styles, footwear and rhyton cups.

The very vagueness and flexibility of the functions of the Lares led, by the end of the Republic, to a range of adjectival epithets being attached to the word to indicate more precisely the supplicants' area of interest. It also indicates a major area of religious concern to the Romans namely that any prayer offered should be "sent to the right address" if it were to be effective. Thus they went to great lengths to give all the possible names of the god to whom they were praying and even added expressions like "..or by whatever other style you wish to be addressed" (Servius, On the Aeneid II, 351).
So a traveller about to leave home might pray to the Lares uiales before journeying by road, to the Lares semitales if going by byways and remote paths or to the Lares permarini if the journey were to be a long sea voyage. Similarly a man on military service would pray to the Lares militares.

Yet for the study of Roman family religion the most significant was the Lar Familiaris. This spirit gave protection to all the members of the household both free and servile. Cato in his De Agri Cultura (143.1) makes it clear that although "…it is the master who sacrifices on behalf of all the familia" a uilicus or uilica could also do so "…on the master's or mistresses express orders." Indeed he goes on to show that these overseers had specific religious responsibilities within the household; "On the Kalends, Ides, Nones and other feast-days, she must put up a garland over the hearth. And on the same days she must offer supplication to the family lares as well as she can" (De Agri Cultura 143.2).In the Imperial period there is evidence that such servile worship became a virtual subsection of the domestic cult in the form of collegiae of the lares domini (cf. Columella, De Re Rustica 11, 1, 19). These collegiae were recorded amongst both Imperial slaves and freemen and amongst those of other notables and they very rarely contained any free people.
Originally there was a single Lar Familiaris as represented in Plautus' Aulularia, but by Imperial times they are represented as a pair on all extant shrines and aediculae. Typical offerings to the Lares recorded by ancient authors include Spelt (Juvenal, 9.138) Grapes, Garlands of grain, Honey cakes and Honeycomb (Tibullus, 1. 10. 21-4), as well as first Fruits, Wine and Blood sacrifices (Plautus, Rudens, 1208).
Roman families would certainly worship their lares on the principal days of each month and on feast-days as we have seen Cato suggest, but they may well have done so on other days too according to the piety of the householders. Thus in his Aulularia Plautus depicts the miser Euclio as being scorned by his Lar Familiaris because he pays him scant respect, while Euclio's daughter is beloved of the Lar since she carries out regular worship and shows proper respect.

Before leaving the Lares mention must also be made of the Lares Augusti. In 7 B.C. the emperor Augustus carried out a major overhaul of Roman religious affairs in response to a general feeling in Rome that religion had been neglected during the preceding civil wars. One of his most significant reforms was to significantly reduce the number of compita sodalities, which had in the previous century become more like hotbeds of political radicalism than religious institutions, and at the same time to institute the worship of the Lares & Genius Augusti at those remaining. In this way he effectively included all his subjects as members of his familia by having all people worship his own household gods and thus linked personal loyalty to the emperor with religious duty.

Depicted with the Lares on the Campanian painted shrines is the Genius Familiae, the second of the major religious numena that formed the core of Roman family religion during this period. He is depicted as a togate man sacrificing from a patera and frequently holding a cornucopia. The genius was the principal guiding numen of the family, representing its continuity and fertility as well as the embodiment of the male procreative power of the paterfamilias. For this reason the main feast-day of the genius was the dies natalis of the paterfamilias. The genius was worshipped by the whole household, and many examples of dedications to him exist from all around the empire (e.g. ILS 3025 (GW27), ILS 3643 (GW30)). Indeed the genius "served mainly to personalise the unity of the family, which is why slaves swore by their master's genius" (Ogilvie p.123). Paired with the togate representations of the genius in the majority of cases are depictions of snakes.

Snakes appear to have had a very wide range of religious associations for the Romans and even served as portents according to Cicero (De Divinatione 2, 29. 61). On these shrine paintings they are generally believed to represent the genii loci or guardians of the place and as such convey good luck. They also indicate that the site is sacred and should be treated accordingly.

As with the Lares the genius underwent some changes during the late Republic and early Imperial period from the earlier form where he protects the vitality of the family to include a wide variety of other tutelary roles. This may well be when the genii loci began to be associated with the zoomorphic depictions on aediculae paintings as snakes. So by the early empire genii could be found associated with individuals, households, places, guilds and sodalities and even with military units.

Although the genius served as the procreative source for the entire family and could thus represent either gender, there was also a female spirit of the same kind that represented each woman in the house. This was the Juno, which despite being a later addition to the domestic cult became closely linked with the genius by the late Republic. The cult of Juno Sospita, which was imported from Lanuuium in the fourth century B.C., was associated both with female fecundity and with a sacred serpent (Dumezil vol.1 p.298). It is tempting therefore to see the representation of twin snakes on many painted family shrines in Italy, one of which is bearded and crested and one not, as being depictions of respectively the genius and the Juno in their procreative capacity. This idea is partly supported by Aelian's misconception of how to tell male and female snakes apart; he believes that male snakes have crests and beards and female ones do not (De Natura.Animalium. 11.26 & 10.25). Be this as it may, other representations or epigraphical references to the Juno are very scarce indeed (e.g. ILS 3644 (GW28)).

Usual sacrifices to the genius included wine and honey-cakes that were shared by both the numen and the worshippers. Tibullus infers that sacrifices to the genius were bloodless (1.7.49), but in Carmina 3.17.14 Horace contradicts him and says that pigs or occasionally lambs were suitable offerings. The third group of the family numina are the Di Penates with whom Vesta is closely linked. In fact the term Penates was by the first century A.D. commonly being used as a blanket expression for all the deities of the household who are worshipped at the hearth. Cicero confirms the association:-

"..the name Vesta comes from the Greeks, for she is the goddess whom they call Hestia. Her power extends over altars and hearths, and therefore all prayers and all sacrifices end with this goddess, because she is the guardian of the innermost things".

Closely related to this function are the Penates or household gods, a name derived either from penus, which means a store of human food of any kind, or from the fact that they reside penitus , in the recesses of the house, owing to which they are also called penetrales by the poets.(De Natura Deorum II, xxvii, 67 - 68).

Whichever is the correct version their function was to protect the innermost areas of the house and particularly to safeguard the food supply, thus ensuring the family's survival and continuance. So it is not surprising that many examples of shrines have been discovered in and near kitchen areas in the houses of Pompeii and Herculaneum, although they are rarer in Ostia where the remains are mostly of later periods. Yet as Bakker points out "these gods seem to have been intimately related to the wealthier, free-born people" (p.43) since no dedications survive to them from either slaves or freedmen. Also there are dedications at some of these shrines to the Lares from slaves, so can we justify them as the place of worship for the Di Penates? I believe that we can for two reasons; firstly as we have already seen the expression Penates by the early first century was commonly used of all the household gods connected with the hearth, including the lares, to whom servile dedications certainly exist and secondly the ancient authors consistently state that this was the area of the house that was under their protection.

Another interesting question exists however; both Ovid (Fasti VI, 310) and Servius (Aen. 1.730) refer to the rite before every meal when the gathered family remained silent while a plateful of food is placed on the hearth or a portion thrown to the flames for the Penates and until a slave declared the gods to be satisfied.(cf. Dumezil p.354). If this was the case then it appears that the slave is conducting the sacrifice (perhaps in the kitchen). But if the sacrifice was performed by the paterfamilias as head of the household in the more usual Roman style, then presumably some facility must have been made for sacrificing in the triclinium such as a portable altar with coals from the hearth that could then have been removed, or perhaps the portable bronze thermopodium stoves used for both cooking at table and keeping food warm also filled this requirement.

The evidence for other gods in the domestic cult there is very varied. Janus was traditionally associated both with the fauces or entry lobby (Ovid, Fasti I, 133 - 139) and with Vesta whose hearth had originally been located in the atrium beyond it. Prayers would be offered to him when about to depart the house. However no specific evidence exists for his presence in the Campanian house shrines, although as his image is very rare in any case this is not conclusive. Deities that have been found at these shrines include Jupiter the patron god of Rome and protector of the state (eight times), Minerva goddess of technology and patroness of artisans and doctors (nine times), Fortuna the goddess of chance and patroness of women and slaves and Hercules who represented success in heroic activities and was patron to entrepreneurs (seven times each). Bacchus the god of wine, Mercurius god of journeys and patron of merchants, and Venus goddess of love who was associated with couples and with both Rome and the gens Iulia were all represented five times. Aesculapius the god of healing and another patron of doctors is found in both house and uiridaria a total of seven times and Apollo the god of good order and patron of Augustus Caesar six. Egyptian gods were discovered on seven occasions, but surprisingly the Imperial cult is only detected once. Regional variation is also apparent in the presence of Sarnus (a Campanian river god), Venus Pompeiana and Vulcanus.

A further aspect of Roman family religion is evident in the cults and festivals associated with various patrician gentes. Dumezil has identified in the cognomina of the branch of the gens Lucretia called Tricipitinus (vol.2 p.621) a reference to an antique family cult. Festus (p.345 L2) similarly shows that the gens Claudia had a special type of victim associated with its rites called a propudialis porcus, while tradition had it that the state had taken over the duties of two extinct gentes, the Potitii and the Pinarii, in the care of the rites at the Ara Maxima. The Fabii had its own cult mentioned by Livy in his account of the siege of the Capitol by the Gauls (5.46.2) elements of which seem to have been shared with the Quinctii and subsequently preserved in the popular festival of the Lupercalia where the two gentes gave their names to the two teams of runners. The Aurelii are known to have had cult associations with the worship of Sol and Festus says that they did this on land gifted to them by the Roman people (p.120 L2). Most of these subside in importance towards the end of the Republic, but of all the gentes the most significant was the gens Iulia with its associations with Venus and through her son Iulus with the founding of Rome; for this was the cult of Augustus and effectively from the institution of the Imperial cult in 7 B.C. it became the cult of all loyal subjects.


As with most societies both before and since, the Romans were concerned to mark the key stages in the lifecycle of its members with all due solemnity. Given their reputation as a religious people and their desire to achieve a felicitous continuation of their families, it is not surprising that these occasions were marked with family religious rites nor that some of these overlapped with state religion on particular festal days

Birth and naming - As soon as a child was born to a Roman family it was customary for it to be immediately laid upon the ground. Its father would then lift it up with a ritual gesture to accept it as his own. That this was performed immediately after birth is supported by Suetonius' comments about the birth of Nero; "The sun was rising and his earliest rays touched the newly-born boy almost before he could be laid on the ground, as the custom was, for his father either to acknowledge or disavow" (Nero, 6). Harmon adds that "the door was wreathed and a flame was lit upon the altar (Stat.Silv. 4.8.40)".

In Republican times a modest lectisternium or banquet was laid for the ancient gods of babies, Pilumnus and Picumnus. By the Imperial epoch these had come to be regarded as quaint, rustic numena and a much grander lectisternium was set out in honour of Juno Lucina. if the child was a girl and Hercules if it was a boy. This would remain in place for eight days if the child was a girl and nine days if a boy. The time immediately after birth was an extremely dangerous time for both mother and infant, so Roman families took every precaution to ensure the assistance of all the appropriate gods in their survival and the continuance of the household. A ceremony was carried out on the night of the birth that was described by Varro and subsequently mocked by St.Augustine It was designed to protect mother and child from the nocturnal depredations of Siluanus the god of the wild, and invoked the protection of three guardian deities including Pilumnus:

To represent the three guardian gods, three men go about the thresholds of the house at night and strike the threshold first with an axe, next with a pestle, and in the third place sweep it with a broom. These symbols of agriculture prevent Siluanus from entering- for trees are not cut down or pruned without iron tools, nor is grain ground without a pestle, nor is the harvested grain collected in a heap without a broom. From these operations three gods get their names: Intercidona from cutting down (intercisio) with an axe, Pilumnus from the pestle, Deuerra from the broom. These gods were the guardians by whom the new mother was to be preserved from attack by the god Siluanus." (De Ciuitate Dei 6.9.2)

Whether this rite persisted beyond the end of the Republic is not clear, but given that St Augustine has taken the time to mock it one would assume that his audience were expected to have at least heard of it. The dies natalis or birthday would now become a family festival (feriae familiares), and would call for a major sacrifice to the household gods. As we have seen for a boy this would become the principal festival of his genius once he became a paterfamilias himself.

On the eighth day for a girl or the ninth day for a boy fell the dies lustricus, when a lustratio or rite of purification for both mother and child to remove the pollution of the birth process were performed and when the child was named, presented as a person to the household gods and officially became a member of the family. To mark this the child also received a talisman called a bulla which they would wear until they came of age. This bulla was only worn by freeborn children and so would not have featured for slaves.

Coming of age - Just as family religious observances marked a birth, so too did they mark the reaching of manhood for a boy. This was generally held to arrive between the ages of fourteen and seventeen. Propertius remarks that this was the day:-

At novice age no more
Your neck put off the golden badge it bore,
And for boy's clothing you were called to don
The freeman's, while you mother's gods looked on" (IV.i.131 ff)

Here he refers to the setting aside of the bulla and also of the striped toga praetexta in favour of the plain white toga uirilis or toga libera as it is also known. We know that the bulla was dedicated to the Lares on this day with due sacrifices and was commonly hung from their figurines at the shrines. This is used by Petronius to mock the pretension of the nouveau riches freedman Trimalcio: "..three boys entered with their white tunics ritually tucked into their belts. Two of them placed images of the Lares wearing bullae round their necks on the table, the other carried a dish of wine round and cried, 'May the gods be favourable'."(Satyricon 60 (GW26)) Clearly as he had not been born free he was not entitled to a bulla anyway.

Scheid mentions that the first beard and toys also formed a part of the dedication to the household gods (p.99). Although we know that certain people did celebrate this landmark in their lives on other days, "we know, for instance, that Virgil assumed the toga uirilis on 15 October and Nero on 7 July" (Ogilvie p.103), most seem to have celebrated it on 17th March as part of the festival of Liberalia. This public festival two days after the original Roman date of New Year was sacred to Bacchus or Liber as he was also known. Ovid (Fasti III 771 - 788) seems quite uncertain about why the association with this day in particular had arisen, so it seems to be an ancient one. Several sources indicate that it was customary for fathers to take their sons with their friends to the Forum to enrol them as men and voters with the Censor. The family also made appropriate dedications to Iuuentas in the temple of Jupiter Optimus Maximus.

Girls did not go through so grand a rite of passage Instead a more basic transition ceremony was conducted the day before they were due to marry at which dolls (pupas), soft balls (mollis pilas), hair-nets (reticula) and head bands (strophia) were set aside as things of childhood (Harmon p.1598) and dedicated to the lares.



Religious rites were only a requirement in one of the three forms of Roman marriage, namely confarreatio, which was only practiced by the patrician gentes. However there is evidence to show that such an important stage in the lifecycle of the family was generally accompanied by some degree of religious devotion, particularly to Juno Pronuba

The confarreatio marriage was a requirement for holders of the major state flaminates and for the rex sacrorum, and was performed by the leading priests of the state and thus involved a high level of state involvement in the wedding. As Gaius points out "Women come into manus by farreum through a type of sacrifice to Jupiter Farreus. A loaf of emmer is used in this, and the name confarreatio derives from it. A number of acts and rituals take place in performing this procedure in due order. There are prescribed and solemn words and ten witnesses are present" (1.112). This union "per fruges et molam salsam" is confirmed by Seruius (Georgics !.31), and Treggiari asserts that in at least some cases "a sheep was sacrificed and the couple then, with their heads veiled, sat on two seats covered by the sheepskin" (O.P.Collection p.108).

In addition to these special religious observances for confarreatio there is a large corpus of evidence concerning marriage in general. Both Cicero (De Diuinatione1.104) and Catullus (poem 61 v.4) make reference to the established practice of taking the auspices for the marriage, and there were many days each year that were automatically considered to be inauspicious because of their religious associations. In the same poem Catullus describes many of the customs associated with marriage, including the torch lit procession from the bride's house to the groom's, accompanied by bawdy jokes and the throwing of nuts, and the still performed act of carrying the bride across the threshold to avoid the bad omen of her tripping (poem 61 v.33).

She would then be presented with the fire and water, traditional symbols of the basic essentials of life "because fire purifies and water cleanses, and a married woman must remain pure and clean (Plutarch, Roman Questions, 1). The bride also seems to have carried with her three as ,"one in her hand, which she gave to her husband; the second on her foot, which she placed on the hearth "of the Lares familiares "..and the last in a purse, which she jingled (?) at the neighbouring crossroads (Non.p.852 L). In this way she incorporated herself in her household, her home, and her neighbourhood" (Dumezil vol.2, p.615). It is unclear if this happened in all marriages, however. Treggiari says of the wife in manu that "when she entered her husband's family, the wife became part of his kindred for legal and religious purposes" (O.P.Collection p.112). This poses the interesting question about the religious status of non manu wives; as they were legally a part of their natural family it seems highly likely that they would also remain as a religious part of that entity. It could also explain to some extent the testamentary dislocation between such wives and their children who were affiliated to her husband's household gods and not hers. Unfortunately the evidence here is inconclusive. The wife brought too her Juno with her and placed it on the lectus genialis alongside the genius of her husband as a religious representation of the main reason for marriage in the Romans' eyes, the procreation of children.



Just as it was central to the life of the Roman family, so too religion was pivotal in how they reacted to death. Although there was considerable confusion and scepticism about what happened after death it was certainly recognised by the Romans that all care had to exercised in performing the proper rites of the dead. The main concern was that the defilement of death should be removed from the living members of the family. This was achieved by an elaborate set of religious rituals. First the body was washed, anointed and dressed in fine clothing. It was then taken in procession with more or less pomp and ceremony according to the family's social standing either to the public burial grounds (ustrina) which were located along the roadsides of the highways outside the city gates, or to similar private ones on the boundaries of country estates. From the first century B.C. until the reign of Hadrian the usual form of disposing of the body was by cremation, after that burial became once more the favoured method. Whichever was the style of the moment the deceased person was believed to have joined their di manes. There are huge numbers of tomb inscriptions dedicated to these spirits often with the abbreviated formula D.M.

A sacrifice was then made to Ceres of a sow known as the porca praesentanea and offerings were made to the di manes of the deceased of perfume, wine and oil either on the pyre itself or on a fire next to the tomb in the case of burials. This 'meal' was not shared by the relatives, but rather seems to have symbolised the deceased's change of status from living to spirit as their food changed from solid to smoke. The family also sacrificed to the Penates and did share in this meal known as the "silicernium". The bones and ashes were then collected up, washed in wine, and placed in an urn, which was deposited in the tomb(Scheid, p.168). Thereafter the anniversary of the funeral would be observed as feriae with offerings of perfume, wine and oil being made at the graveside.

To aid in the cleansing of the family the house would be specially swept after the corpse had departed and as the mourning family returned from the funeral they would undergo a ritual cleansing by fire and water called a suffitio. The family would then remain in mourning for a further eight days during which they would wear dark clothing and would neither shave nor attend to personal grooming. Nor would they carry out any public function during this period.

Finally their period of isolation ended after the funeral with the feast known as the nouemdialis cena that was for both family and friends and in the case of the great patrician gentes could include memorial games. After this the family was free of any pollution and could both conduct business as usual and deal with inheritance matters. However, this was not the end of the matter as far as family religious duties to the dead were concerned. There existed a number of state religious festivals that overlap with private religion that Festus called popularia sacra (p.357 L2), and several of these relate to the dead. First of these was the Parentalia from 13th February to 21st February the last day of which was also known as the Feralia. During this festival every family went into mourning and was expected to pay respects to their dead with the usual offerings of perfume, wine and oil. The kind of pious commemoration of the departed that was made can be seen in Ausonius' poem called the Parentalia (O.P.Collection, p.186). Another of these festivals was the Caristia the day after the Feralia which Ovid tells us was when "a crowd of near relations comes to meet the family gods…Give incense to the family gods, ye virtuous ones (on that day above all others Concord is said to lend her gentle presence); and offer food, that the Lares, in their girt-up robes, may feed at the platter presented to them as a pledge of the homage that they love." (Fasti, II.618 - 634)

For those deceased whose burials had not been carried out properly, or indeed at all, there was another of these popularia sacra on 9th, 11th and 13th May called the Lemuria. On each of these nights the paterfamilias would seek to appease these wandering spirits (lemures) with a token repast of beans. At midnight he would process through the house ensuring that "no knots constrict his feet; and he makes a sign with his thumb in the middle of his closed fingers, lest in his silence an unsubstantial shade should meet him. And after washing his hands clean in spring water, he turns, and first he receives black beans and throws them away with face averted; but while he throws them , he says: 'These I cast; with these beans I redeem me and mine.' This he says nine times, without looking back; the shade is thought to follow unseen behind. Again he touches water, and clashes Temesan bronze, and asks the shade to go out of his house. When he has said nine times 'Ghosts of my fathers, go forth!' he looks back, and thinks that he has duly performed the sacred rites." (Fasti. V.432 - 444).
Thus concluded the rites for the dead.



In addition to these rites for the dead there were several other festivals of the popularia sacra that should be mentioned as of particular religious significance to the Roman family. First of these was the Compitalia at the beginning of January. This was the feast day of the lares compitales and thus had great significance for the entire household including the slaves and also for whole neighbourhoods. It was a time of much celebration and very popular. Next came the Fornacalia which was the feast of Ovens and baking on around 20th February. One of the most important for the Roman family was the Matronalia of the kalends of March that was the dies natalis of Juno Lucina. It was set aside for the mother of the family to visit the shrine of the goddess on the Esquiline hill while her husband offered prayers at home for the preservation of their marriage. It was usual for the husband to bestow his wife with gifts and money on this day too, while she prepared a special feast in person for the serui according to Macrobius (1.12.7).

The Saturnalia of 17th December also was an occasion for great public and household celebration and here too the slaves took a full part, being served at the feast before their masters.

Finally a brief mention should be made of the several festivals relating to the agrarian cycle of the year. Although these are not specifically related to the family they too held a deep significance for a mostly agricultural economy such as Rome was in her earlier days, even if by the Imperial age this was only one aspect of state revenue. They none the less retain some of their importance for the Roman family since, as the continued veneration of the Penates shows, there is always concern about the availability of adequate food. Each had its primary focus from growth of crops and their protection to broaching of the new vintage, the harvest and its storage and the locating of water springs. Many of these would have a huge daily significance for large numbers of Roman families in particular families in rural areas for which we have less information



Although there were undoubtedly huge variations in how strictly religious rites were observed from one time to another and in different parts of Italy and the Empire, it cannot be denied that religion is to be found behind all the key aspects of the lifecycle of the Roman family. If a man is as sceptical as Cicero and can yet assert that "our empire was won by those commanders who obeyed the dictates of religion" (De Natura Deorum, II.iii.8), then surely it must have been one of the key shaping influences of Roman society.

That much in Roman religious observance, both public and private, survived unchanged up until the advent of Christianity indicates two things; firstly that for most of society it fulfilled its role satisfactorily and secondly it became an integral part of the much revered mos maiorum. In these circumstances then, no study of the Roman family can be considered complete if it does not consider the role played by the sacra priuata.