The Importance Of Religion In The Matters Of War At Rome Essays Examples
Of all the states of antiquity, perhaps ancient Rome can be noted to consider war and conquest as not only important goals of the society, but also as a matter of support of the gods. Already in the early days of the Roman Republic censors have addressed a prayer to the gods, urged them to promote not only prosperity, but also the expansion of the Roman state.
Romans did not use to believe in one God. They have several gods and deities, and even adapt the deities of their conquered place such as Egyptian god Isis and Persian god Mithras. They worship them at home or in temples and also provide burnt offerings when needed to make their gods happy and to get their favor. They are almost like the Greeks who have gods and goddesses. But as for Romans, their gods do not have specific image but most of what they have are the equivalent of Greek gods. They don’t have myths like the Greeks but their own story of the heroic deed of the ‘god’ in their homeland.
They have gods for everything, plowing, harvesting, war, love, first cry of a child, pallor, etc. Some special deities in the Ancient Rome were dead ancestors. Romans wait for their god’s assistance and not miracles. That’s why it is very important for them to please the gods so that they can be assisted and have benefit for everyone’s sake.
Religion has been widely used in Rome in various things especially in politics and war. On the first day of consuls, they are being told by the Senate to sacrifice a special prayer to the deities (Fowler, 2007, 192). Religion is also being used to influence people in voting if for or against war to be made by Rome.
With this, priests, perform such big role in the society. And because they have such big role, priests were united in colleges. The most popular among the colleges were college of pontiffs, augurs and haruspex, as well as those that have served to the highest gods of Rome - Jupiter and Mars.
It was Pontiffs who have exercised the highest supervision of worship in Rome, constituted State calendar days, and determined the appropriate treatment for the gods and of the people. Augurs have found out and interpreted the will of the gods by certain signs that were atmospheric phenomena, and flight behavior of birds or other animals (Potter, 1994).
During the ancient times in Rome, people are very familiar with following omens. Military or warfare success and failure were all attributed to their belief in gods. But despite the fame of religion during that time, still, there were also people who openly defied signs of the divine will. However, according to historical works, those who defied the divine failed and suffered from disastrous consequences. Typical example tells about consul Publius Claudius Pulcher, who has commanded the Roman fleet during the first war with Carthage (Suetonius, 2007). According to the stories, on the eve of the battle the sacred chickens refused to peck grain, heralding the defeat, the consul ordered to throw them overboard, adding: "so that they might drink, since they refused to eat", and gave the signal for battle. But at the end, the Romans, were defeated (Cicero, 2008).
Another example of which took place in 223 BC, during the time when Consul Flaminius and the Furies were marching with a large army on the Gallic tribes of Insubres, a river in Italy begun to flow with blood and the sky appeared to have three moons (Plutarch, 2001). It was said that during the consular elections, the priests observed the flight of birds and said that the proclamation of the new consuls was wrong and was accompanied by ominous portents.
With so much belief in the priests, the Senate immediately sent out a letter to the camp asking for the consuls to come back as soon as possible to renounce the power and position given to them and to not do any action against the enemy, as it may bring bad thing to the empire. However, Flaminius was only able to open the letter after his triumphant battle. Thus when he returned to Rome with all the spoils they got, because of the strong belief of the people, they were denied of their victory.
The Romans were very firm with their belief that in every war that they set foot into, they have gods who lead and protect them, and this is what gives them power and discipline to move forward. Even for new recruits, they recite oath to the emperor and swear before the gods (Chomiak, 2006, 9). They have to swear that they will be protecting the emperor and his people even with their lives. Their belief was even expressed in one of Cicero’s speeches, in which he acknowledged that they won primarily because of the help of deity, their worship and confidence to the gods (Livy, 2002).
The main symbol of the god was a spear, which was stored in the royal palace with the twelve sacred shields. According to legend, one of those shields fell from the sky and is the key to the invincibility of the Romans. To prevent theft of this shield, King Numa Pompilius has ordered skillful blacksmith to produce eleven copies (Plutarch, 2001). By tradition, it is the commander going to war who carries the shield and spear.
But in other reference, it says that every legion has an eagle standard, which is the supreme standard of the Roman Republic. It was said that eagle is the representation of the highest deity of Rome who is Jupiter. Jupiter, has many titles in the population of armies such as ‘Best and Greatest’ and Jupiter Dolichenus. Loss of an eagle to an enemy was considered before as a “permanent disgrace and stain in the regiment” and the recovery on the other hand is an imperial pride (Chomiak, 2006, 7-8).
With such value of representation, it can be seen that the gods the roman army men followed, whether it was Jupiter or Mars, was highly regarded as part of their mission in warfare. Losing a representation, spear or eagle can mean not valuing their gods and an act of treason to the oath that they took before other gods when they were still recruits. But winning brings so much grace, as they were able to stand for with the gods who gave them favor during the war. Roman triumph was inherently religious event. It was dedicated to the supreme god of the Roman community - Capitoline Jupiter. Going to war, the Roman commanders have vowed on Capitol Hill, the site of Rome's main temple dedicated to Jupiter (Beard, 2007).
However, man's dependence on the Divine Plan and support of the celestials have not exclude the need to show their individual effort and will. It is significant that in the inscriptions made in honor of the commanders-winners, often pointed out that the victory was won at auspices of commander, his power, his leadership and his happiness. It was considered that battles are won under the direct command of the commander, on the basis of his personal energy, experience and knowledge. At the same time, talents and prowess of commander were inextricably linked to his happiness, which seemed to the Romans a special gift of gods.
The right to host the auspices and other religious rituals were necessary and very important part of the powers given to the higher magistrates. The priests, in fact, only helped officials to perform sacrifices and other ceremonies. Priest titles in Rome like the Magistrates were elected, although engaged, usually for life. Cicero writes that both positions were often combined (Cicero, Oxford).
Interestingly, the victorious Roman general, in gratitude for their help erected temples of deities that were directly responsible for wars and battles, such as Mars, Jupiter, Bellona - the goddess of war or Fortune - the goddess of fortune and fate, which is thought to Romans, subject to all human affairs. There were also temples dedicated to the gods and goddesses that were very far from military affairs, for example, the goddess of love and beauty Venus. The more successfully fought the Romans, the more it became the city of Rome temples.
Rome’s victory is also gods’ victory. Their god’s are attached to their city’s triumph while city’s failure is attached to the people failing in something more than the physical things but more likely failing in moral level. Even in political fights, religion has an interplay. One or both parties will claim that their leadership will be more favoured by god, just like during the competition of Pompey and Verres in 56 BC. Pompey got Cicero’s full backing for a new military command as he said that he is more favored by the gods (Beard, North, and Price, 1996, 115).
There were no other nations that have had so many special military seasonal celebrations, like the Romans. Most of these festivals were dedicated to Mars, the most ancient and most revered of the Italian gods. According to the poet Ovid, Romans have worshiped to the Mars more then to other gods (Ovid, 2013). Mars was devoted to the first day of the first month of the year - according to the ancient Roman calendar year starting on March 1 (Beard, 2007). This month was named in honor of Mars, and in March were main military holidays are celebrated.
Even after war, religion is being used to convince the people on what they have to do next. Some say that the religiousness of the Romans was only used for politics. But even so, with such idea, every people became united and more spirited in what they do.
This goes to show that religion has a strong effect and is very important in Roman wars. With their innumerable gods, it served as their witness during oath taking. Some served as symbol of their fight while some where symbol of the head of the group.
It also showed that ancient Romans were very superstitious and very much influenced by their gods. Every action that can be related to religion was looked at. Disobeying a deity was believed to cause trouble and can give disgrace to a person despite from winning.
All these evidences showed that Romans were serving the gods while they fight. But conclusions that religion could have been used for political purposes cannot be overlooked as well.
Since people were looking at priests as the symbol or a bridge to their gods and priest are connected to Senate and consuls, decisions of those people could have also waiver for some time. And since it was the priests who were in touch with the people, it can show that at some point, religion could have had just mask the politics of Roman wars during the ancient time of Rome.
But nonetheless, in the eyes of the people, especially the army men, it was the divine force or deity that they are working for and not just the emperor and the people.
Beard, M., 2007. The Roman Triumph. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
Beard, M., North J., and Price S. 1996. Religions of Rome. Campbridge University Press.
Chomiak, A. 2004. Eastern Religious Influences. Universit y of Lethbridge
Cicero, 2008. The Nature of the Gods. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Cicero, Oxford. Political Speeches. 2009: Oxford University Press.
Fowler, W., 1909-1910. The Religious Experience of the Roman People
Livy, T., 2002. Livy: The Early History of Rome. London: Penguin Classics.
Ovid, 2013. Fasti. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Plutarch, 2001. Plutarch's Lives. New York: Modern Library.
Potter, D., 1994. Prophets and Emperors. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
Suetonius, 2007. The Twelve Caesars. London: Penguin Classics.