The Role of Religion in Roman Society
Throughout the history of Rome, from the monarchy to the late empire, religion had played a great role in it's society and was involved in almost every aspect of the life of the Roman citizen. It was common for each house to have it's own patron god/gods and ,on special occasions, the head of the house would make a sacrifice to the personal gods of the family. Also, great festivals were usually held in honor of certain gods and would include spectacles like chariot races and Gladiatorial fights.
The religious practices of the ancient Romans are best remembered with grand temples, great festivals and Christian persecution to the final acceptance of Christianity within the Roman empire over the traditional pagan religions. The Roman religious practices can be divided into three phases which span from the founding of the city to the fall of the empire.
The First Phase (753 BC to 500 BC) - The first phase of Roman religion dated from the founding of the city to the early republic. This phase occurred before the Roman civilization had really adopted the Greek ways and so the religious practices of this time consisted of only three gods and these gods were known as the Archaic Triad. The gods of the archaic Triad were Jupiter (Jove) ,Mars and Quirinus. These gods had their Greek counterparts and would later be identified with them. Jupiter was the supreme master god and so he was associated with Zeus of Greek mythology. Ares was the god of power and war and so he was associated with his Greek counterpart, Ares and Quirinus was the god of the Roman people in general and he had no Greek counterpart. Mars was valued and worshipped more by the conquering and warlike Romans than Ares was to the Greeks and ,as a result, he had The Fields of Mars named after him. The Fields of Mars was located outside of Rome and it is where the soldiers would train.
The Second Phase (500 BC to 313 AD) - Before the end of the 6th century BC Greek influence had begun to affect Roman religion and this resulted in the transformation from the Archaic Triad to the more Greek influenced Captioline triad. In this triad the gods Mars and Quirinus were replaced by Juno and Minerva. As time went on ,during the second phase, the Romans adopted more variations and the number of Roman deities grew as ,like the Greek counterparts, they had a god for almost every aspect of society.
During the later part of the Republic and throughout most of the pagan empire, the Romans deified ( or made gods of) people who were well loved or committed great deeds during their life. People were usually deified after their death and the deification was most always done by the senate. With the assination (and later deification) of Julius Caesar, it became popular for the senate to reward dead emperors ,who had served well in life, with deification. A humorous note to this involves the death of the emperor Vespasian in which he said ,just before he died, "...