Roman Religion
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15 slides

Roman Religions

A lesson with questions along the way!

Different Religions in the Roman Empire

  • The official religion of the Roman state was a pantheon of gods

  • Many "cults" became popular as Rome's borders expanded

  • Different regions within the Empire had their own religions

  • Sometimes these regional beliefs would spread to Rome itself


Did all Romans follow one common religion?

answer choices



The "Roman" Religion

Romans inherited some primitive beliefs from native Italian tribes like the Etruscans, Latins, and Volscians (y'all know Rome is in Italy...right?).

The "Roman" Religion

When Rome's borders expanded and trade with Greece increased, they were very taken by Greek culture. When Rome eventually conquered Greece, Greek culture became even more influential. As the Roman poet Horace quipped, "Conquered Greece conquered its uncultured conqueror." This led to a "Hellenization" (Greek-making) of Roman religion.

The "Roman" Religion

Romans, captivated by Greek mythology, looked for parallels between their traditional beliefs and Greek stories. This led Greek stories and beliefs being overlaid on Roman gods. Hence, the notion of Greek vs. Roman names for the "same" gods and mythological characters. For example, the Roman agricultural god Mars got a makeover, now conflated with the Greek war god Ares. Mars became a god of war, patron of soldiers, yet also retained influence over farming.


Summarize how Roman gods got mixed with Greek mythical stories.


  • Some Roman/Greek gods had specific cults devoted to them

  • "Cults of Mysteries" were common, where secret rites would initiate members and exclude outsiders (sort of like modern Scientology)

  • A popular one was the Cult of the Eleusinian Mysteries, a cult devoted to the goddess Demeter

  • Learn more here: https://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/myst/hd_myst.htm


What was a common feature of Roman cults?

answer choices

secret rites

foreign gods

festivals open to all

Other Religions

  • The Egyptian religion (Ra, Osiris, Isis, etc.) became popular when Rome acquired Egypt as part of its Empire. It had some of its own cult offshoots.

  • Judaism was practiced in the Roman province of Judaea and was a source of conflict with the Roman government, since Jews only acknowledged one god (therefore would not accept the legitimacy of other religions) and questioned the power of the Roman Emperor.

  • Christianity emerged in the later Roman Empire. It was persecuted at first for the same reasons as Judaism. Eventually it became wildly popular and spread across the Empire.


These religions are NO LONGER practiced by a significant number of people:

answer choices


the Roman pantheon

Egyptian religion

Mystery Cults


Judaism and Christianity are the two surviving religions from the Roman period. Other Roman religions are popular for their mythology and mystery, but there is no longer a significant number of people who believe in them.

Elements Common to Religions of the Roman Period

  • Holidays and Festivals

  • Sacrificing Animals (not people)

  • Prayer at Altars

  • Votive Offerings, like money and figurines

  • Patronage (asking certain gods to help with certain things)

  • Temples and other holy sites

Further Reading

  • https://www.ancient.eu/Roman_Religion/

  • https://www.mentalfloss.com/article/501560/7-greco-roman-mystery-cults-you-should-know

  • https://www.pbs.org/empires/romans/empire/jews.html

  • https://www.khanacademy.org/humanities/world-history/ancient-medieval/christianity/a/roman-culture

  • https://classicalstudies.org/scs-blog/vivian-laughlin/blog-dissertation-spotlight-understanding-roman-appropriation-ancient


Compare and Contrast Ancient Roman religion with whatever modern religion you know most about.

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