Alternate History

Roman religion (Abrittus)

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The Roman religion is (post-)polytheistic and over 2700 years old. It is not a scriptural religion, and has undergone dramatic changes throughout its history. It was the official state religion of the Roman Kingdom, the First Roman Republic and the Roman Empire under the Principate, already undergoing significant changes during this millennium of religious history. With the establishment of the Second Republic, its loss of the Roman religious monopoly became official, and it underwent another transformation. In the 15th century, it has become submerged into Lysianism, which it has shaped to a significant extent. The Roman religious substrate is still discernible in the specific Lysianist religious practices found within the Roman Empire.

Situation around PoD

In the middle of the 3rd century AD, Roman state cult experienced a deep crisis. Politically, a quick succession of baracks emperors often no longer consulted the augurs or cared for interpretations of the libri sibyllinae. Spiritually, monotheistic and mystical religions from the East gained ground among both the lower classes and the educated. The Roman cult itself, which had always had a propensity for syncretism, began to be mantled by monistic tendencies (present both in the cult of the emperor(s) and in cults of Mithras, Sol Invictus, etc.). Stoicist philosophy had also contributed to a distanced relationship of the intellectual elites from Rome`s traditional cult. Nevertheless, elements of private Roman cult were still very much alive and practiced by a majority in Italy and large minorities in Gaul, Hispania, Dalmatia, Sicily, Sardinia and Corsica and Africa.

What Became of the State Cult

In the revolution of 259-263, the Roman cult played a minor role. Most flamines and sacerdotes opposed it and did not participate in the drafting of the constitution, which would reduce their role from state priests to one cult among many others.

The haruspices and augurs were hit hardest by the constitutional changes. The last emperors of the Principate had not cared much for what they had to say, either, but at least officially, their role had still been important. Under the new constitution, they no longer had any official function. While this was true of the Vestal virgins, the flamines of the lupercalia and the sacerdotes in the temples of Jupiter, Juno, Ceres etc., too, all these still were still viewed with a certain respect by most non-Christian, non-Jewish Romans, whereas the official prophets had been widely criticised before. Although prophecies would still remain popular (with more and less prophecy-inclined fashions alternating) for several centuries, the prophets now had to offer their service to "customers" and depended on fashions. Increasingly, not only Christians and Jews would denounce their prophecies, but also Alexandrian / empiricist philosophers would challenge the validity of their predictions. Like their Celtic counterparts - bards and vates - in the 6th century, Roman prophets began to combine their prophetic activities with other occupations (personal counselling, political philosophy, music, literature and arts, later even journalism). Unlike their Celtic counterparts, though, they had lost much support among the social elites and never managed to redefine their roles so as to uphold a dignified identity of divination within their new roles. Roman prophets either became entirely absorbed in their new professions - this was the socially more prestigious choice -, or they maintained their focus on prophesying and had to diversify, which especially during less prophecy-inclined decades meant low income and low social esteem (some prophets sunk as low as to sell their advice at fairs and move around with other showmen).

Other branches of the state cult, their temples and personnel were maintained by wealthy patrician families and closely linked to reactionary groups who wanted to overthrow the new republic ("temple societies").

After several coups and conspiracies failed, they began to accommodate towards the turn of the 3rd and 4th centuries and sought to gain influence on the Pontificium Maximum in order to secure public financing. Priests of temples formed collegia, like almost everyone else at this point in history, and collected donations from believers (donations were, thus, no longer solely for the gods, but also for those who officially served them).

A Millennium of Slow Transformations in the Private Cult

Private Roman cult was largely unaffected by the upheaval of the Roman revolution. If anything, it experienced a revival, since former slaves and paupers - the main support base of redemptorist religious alternatives - could now participate and influence the cult to a greater degree, too. Except for those (mostly Eastern) regions, where monotheistic religions which claimed exclusive truth dominated, Romans continued to give to the Lares Compitalicii on crossroads, and to interact with and honour their Di Parentes and Flamines at home. The Roman festive calendar, from the Paternalia to the Saturnalia, continued to shape the year, and its celebrations were shared by more and more people in the Mediterranean and Pontic regions throughout the first millennium.

The "numina", an important part of Roman religious ethics, underwent a reinterpretation with the revolution of the 260s, but their role even increased, being explicitly named in the Second Republic`s constitution. Numina like libertas, concordia or mens gained prominence and filled the vacuum left behind by the cult of the emperor`s genius.

Roman cult continued to absorb foreign influences and syncretise with them. The increasingly private and decentralised nature of the Roman religion under the Second Republic strengthened this tendency towards syncretism and regional variation. In ceremonies of lustration, for example, the Christian practice of baptism became popular since the 4th century. During the same time, breaking a loaf of bread and sharing wine from one goblet like the Christians became common in public as well as private "meals with the gods" - but of course a large part of the bread was left "for the gods" or "the spirits of the elder", along with the best parts of sacrificed lambs and chickens, which were roast entirely, with the rest being shared by the festive community. Praying to the sun, like the followers of Mithras, also became popular.

With the spread of Alexandrian empiricist philosophy, technological innovations and increased education based on the applied sciences, the "do ut des" nature of the Roman cult and its relations between the pious and the deities and spirits became a target of educated criticism. The large majority of the population remained unaffected by these tendencies well into the 11th and 12th centuries, though, and, except for outspoken atheists, who also existed, of course, most Roman critics condemned the "do ut des" as "superstitio" without questioning the value of "religio" in general. Among the educated classes, a more and more abstract concept of the Roman religion evolved, which paved the way for Lysianism.

The Lysianist Turn

In the first centuries of the second millennium CE, Roman religion had entered another multi-faceted crisis:

  • Universal literacy and the unrestricted access to print work had strengthened the position of scriptural religions: they lost their disadvantage of requiring an educated priesthood and reached the greater population more directly, while keeping their advantage of offering a greater degree of coherence and sophistication than the pragmatic everyday Roman cult
  • An increasingly rational, educated and empiricist mindset brought the criticism of the "do ut des" relation to the deities, lares, flamines, etc. closer to the general population.
  • Opportunities to earn a good living through wage labour as well as to live a fearless libertine and promiscuous life through the use of reliable contraceptives, along with the incompatibility of the principle of seniority within the family with a greatly lengthened life span, had undermined Roman patriarchy. In the traditional Roman private cult, the pater familias played a vital role, though, and the crisis of this figure of authority was thus also a crisis of the cult he stood for.

It was in this context of modernisation and social and cultural conflicts that large segments of the population of the Roman Empire (and also of the Celtic Empire, Eran and many Germanic and Slavic states) embraced the teachings of Lysia, an Iranian priestess and philosopher, who has been compared to Buddha in her role in reforming Western Indo-European cult to Siddharta Gautama`s earlier far-reaching impulses for a reform of Eastern Eurasian cult.

Just like elsewhere, Lysian teachings soon became syncretised with various local traditions (not unlike Buddhism`s local syntheses with Daoism, Shintoism, Thai and Hmong animism etc.). In many regions of the Third Roman Republic, Lysianism has become syncretised with elements of the Roman cult, which in turn has been reinterpreted in the light of Lysian teachings. Chiefly among these modern transformations were

  • the transformation of the deities into mythical characters with whom one did not directly interact anymore, but from whose lives and deeds one could learn,
  • an increasingly symbolical interpretation of cult rituals
  • and the integration of the moral theology of the Roman numina as well as of the malevolent and benevolent spirits into a universalist framework and eschatology of the battle between good and evil, life and death, creation and destruction,
  • complete with a modified view on the afterlife, where the Iranian influences are felt strongest.

Not all adherents of the traditional Roman religion accepted these interpretations. Orthodox practitioners were faced with the problem that the shared, communal nature of their cult had disappeared (because it had been reinterpreted). Thus, only few isolated communities of orthodox practitioners survived. Their communities, most often found in Italia`s and Sardinia`s remote mountain valleys, have been reputed as socioeconomically and culturally backwards, extremely patriarchal and more and more isolationist (perhaps comparable to OTL Amische?).

The life cycle of a typical adherent of the Roman-Lysianist syncretism, on the other hand, looks more or less like this:

His or her life is protected from a much earlier point on, when compared with Roman Antiquity. Modern Romans believe that the genius (individual soul) enters the body at some stage of the pregnancy (the exact date is not defined, therefore early abortions are culturally accepted), from which moment on the fetus enjoys the full protection as a human being. Its birth is celebrated with - - - insert here - - -. Religious initiation happens in the informal community, whereas kindergarten, school and higher education are secular and religiously neutral. - - - Insert coming of age rites - - - age of peregrinatio, choice of and initiation into one of the spiritual paths - - - absence of formal marriage - - - cultic spiritual healing - - - self-determined moment of death - - -

The Roman religious calendar structures the year with

  • the carmentalia in January (celebration of wisdom and science; traditionally graduation and admission ceremonies in the scholae and academiae)
  • the genialia in February (a succession of the highest and certainly the most solemn festivities immediately linked to the core of Lysian teachings about good and evil forces and the pacation of the souls; it includes parentalia, a day of family reunion, lupercalia, a day of lustration, lemuria, a day of exorcism and a celebration of light, and caristia, a day of celebration with friends). The genialia last more than two weeks; fast and feasts, days destined to meditation and those destined to festive gatherings alternate. They are one of Rome`s long holiday seasons (inter semestres).
  • the liberalia in March (orgies linked to mythological hierogamies, a wild festivity and at the same tme a traditional time for initiation rites of the young)
  • the cerialia in April (public sacrifices and public feasts with a agro-pastoralist focus, often a time when townsfolk flock to the countryside)
  • the games in August or September (the other long holiday season inter semestres)
  • libation festivities in October
  • and the saturnalia (a carnivalesque and intensely inebriated festivity of role reversion, whose modern Lysianist addendum is the quest for potentials of the genius which have been blocked because of one`s choices in life; an extended holiday period in semestre).

In all of these festivities and most of the individual rites concerning the life cycle participate, at least to some degree, even the majority of those Roman citizens who consider themselves neither Lysianists or Mazdakists, nor traditional Roman believers, but as Christians, Jews or irreligious.

The globalisation in the age of modernity, the common overarching philosophy of Lysianism and other, more direct forms of intercultural exchange have fostered a sense of commonalities and differences with other religions of a formerly polytheistic background - such as Celtic, Germanic, Slavic, Uralic, Nahua, Maya, Caribian and Hindu cults.


Salvador79 (talk) 22:03, March 17, 2015 (UTC)

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