CHAPTER IV. EARLY HISTORY OF ROME—THE AGRICULTURAL COMMUNITY
Worship, Religion, Settlement, Roman, Fields, Palatine
After this sketch of the main features which we must expect to find in Roman religion, we may attempt to look a little more in detail at its various departments, but before doing so it is necessary to form some notion of the situation and character of the Roman community: religion is not a little determined by men's natural surroundings and occupations. The subject is naturally one of considerable controversy, but certain facts of great significance for our purpose may fairly be taken as established. The earliest settlement which can be called 'Rome' was the community of the Palatine hill, which rises out of the valleys more abruptly than any of the other hills and was the natural place to be selected for fortification: the outline of the walls and sacred enclosure running outside them (pomoerium) may still be traced, marking the limits of 'square Rome' (Roma quadrata), as the historians called it. The Palatine community no doubt pursued their agricultural labours over the neighbouring valleys and hills, and gradually began to extend their settlement till it included the Esquiline and Caelian and other lesser heights which made up the Septimontium—the next stage of Rome's development. Meanwhile a kindred settlement had been established on the opposite hills of the Quirinal and Viminal, and ultimately the two communities united, enclosing within their boundaries the Capitol and their meeting-place in the valley which separated them—the Forum. In this way was formed the Rome of the Four Regions, which represents the utmost extent of its development during the period which gave rise to the genuine Roman religion. All these stages have left their mark on the customs of religion. Roma quadrata comes to the fore in the Lupercalia: not merely is the site of the ceremony a grotto on the Palatine (Lupercal), but when the Luperci run their purificatory course around the boundaries, it is the circuit of the Palatine hill which marks its limits. Annually on the 11th of December the festival of the Septimontium was celebrated, not by the whole people, but by the montani, presumably the inhabitants of those parts of Rome which were included in the second settlement. Finally, the addition of the Quirinal settlement is marked by the inclusion among the great state-gods of Quirinus, who must have been previously the local deity of the Quirinal community.
But more important for us than the history of the early settlement is its character. We have spoken of early Rome as an agricultural community: it would be more exact and more helpful to describe it as a community of agricultural households. The institutions of Rome, legal as well as religious, all point to the household (familia) as the original unit of organisation: the individual, as such, counted for nothing, the community was but the aggregate of families. Domestic worship then was not merely independent of the religion of the community: it was prior to it, and is both its historical and logical origin. Yet the life of the early Roman agriculturalist could not be confined to the household: in the tilling of the fields and the care of his cattle he meets his neighbour, and common interests suggest common prayer and thanksgiving. Thus there sprung up the great series of agricultural festivals which form the basis of the state-calendar, but were in origin—as some of them still continued to be—the independent acts of worship of groups of agricultural households. Gradually, as the community grew on the lines we have just seen, there grew with it a sense of an organised state, as something more than the casual aggregation of households or clans (gentes). As the feeling of union became stronger, so did the necessity for common worship of the gods, and the state-cult came into being primarily as the repetition on behalf of the community as a whole of the worship which its members performed separately in their households or as joint-worshippers in the fields. But the conception of a state must carry with it at least two ideas over and beyond the common needs of its members: there must be internal organisation to secure domestic tranquillity, and—since there will be collision with other states—external organisation for purposes of offence and defence. Religion follows the new ideas, and in two of the older deities of the fields develops the notions of justice and war. Organisation ensues, and the general conceptions of state-deities and state-ritual are made more definite and precise.
It will be at once natural and convenient that we should consider these three departments of religion in the order that has just been suggested—the worship of the household, the worship of the fields, the worship of the state. But it must not be forgotten that both the departments themselves and the evidence for them frequently overlap. The domestic worship is not wholly distinguishable from that of the fields, the state-cult is, as we have seen, very largely a replica of the other two. The evidence for the domestic and agricultural cults is in itself very scanty, and we shall frequently have to draw inferences from their counterparts in the state. Above all, it is not to be supposed that any hard and fast line between the three existed in the Roman's mind; but for the purposes of analysis the distinction is valuable and represents a historical reality.
|Written By Cyril Bailey|
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