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The Religious Experience of the Roman People from the Earliest Times to the Age of Augustus

1909 to 1910
University of Edinburgh

In The Religious Experience of the Roman People, Fowler examines the historical development of the Roman religious system, emphasizing the importation of Greek ritual and philosophy onto Roman soil. Explaining the contribution of Roman religion to the formation of Christian religion, which he regards as ‘the greatest of all religious movements’, the author illuminates not only the details of Roman faith but the religion in light of the overall of religion. He argues that the religious experience of the ‘genuine’ Roman people was not magic, but a religion.

He divided his lectures into two parts. The first ten lectures (I to X) deal with the early formation of rules and materials in the old Roman religion for getting into ‘right’ relations with the Power in the universe. The next ten lectures (XI to XX) examine the gradual change of the Roman religious system with the introduction of foreign rites and deities.

In Lecture I, ‘Introduction’, the author defines the term ‘religion’ as ‘the effective desire to be in right relations with Power manifesting itself in the universe’, locating the subject of Roman religion in its historical context. Lecture II, ‘On the Threshold of Religion: Survivals’, and Lecture III, ‘On the Threshold of Religion: Magic’, address the dimension of taboo and magic in the early Roman religion. Lecture IV, ‘The Religion of the Family’, holds that the Roman family had a strong desire to be in a relationship with the Power in the universe. Lecture V, ‘The Calendar of Numa’, examines the religious calendar of the earliest historical form of the city-state. Lecture VI, ‘The Divine Objects of Worship’, and Lecture VII, ‘The Deities of the Earliest Religion: General Characteristics’, are devoted to the early Roman ideas of divinity, and the character of their deities in the calendar and in Roman and Greek literature. Lectures VIII and IX, ‘Ritual of the Ius Divinum’, deal with the ritual of sacrifice and prayer, the priests and the ritual of vow and purification. Lecture X, ‘The First Arrival of New Cults in Rome’, presents the problem of the state religion and new deities from abroad.

Lecture XI, ‘Contact of the Old and New in Religion’, deals with the first introduction of Greek rites into the state worship under the directions of the Sibylline books. Lecture XII, ‘The Pontifices and the Secularization of Religion’, and Lecture XIII, ‘The Augurs and the Art of Divination’, present the efforts of lay priests, pontifices and augurs, and the calls for secularizing the old religion. Lecture XIV, ‘The Hannibalic War’, and Lecture XV, ‘After the Hannibalic War’, explore the significance and consequence of the war on Roman religion. Lecture XVI, ‘Greek Philosophy and Roman Religion’, sketches the influence on Roman religious ideas of the Stoic school of philosophy. Lecture XVII, ‘Mysticism’, deals with transcendentalism, in which the soul became of greater interest than the body in the last period of the life of the Republic. Lecture XVIII, ‘Religious Feeling in the Poems of Virgil’, covers the idea of duty and honorable service in Virgil’s attempt to combine religion, legend, philosophy and art. Lecture XIX, ‘The Augustan Revival’, addresses the revival of the old religious forms by Augustus. Lecture XX, ‘Conclusion’, summarizes the contribution of the Roman religion to the early Christian church.

  • Shin Ahn, University of Edinburgh