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The Gods of Ancient Rome: Religion in Everyday Life from Archaic to Imperial Times [Paperback]

Robert Turcan , Antonia Nevill

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Book Description

18 Oct 2000
This is a vivid account of what their gods meant to the Romans from archaic times to late antiquity, and of the rites and rituals connected with them. After an introduction into the nature of classical religion, the book is divided into three parts: religions of the family and land; religions of the city; and religions of the empire. The book ends with a discussion of the rise and impact of Christianity. For the Romans, the author argues, religion was almost as much a form of insurance as it was a question of belief. The gods were valued according to the degree of protection they afforded against natural hazards and occult powers. They were a crucial source of tactical information in time of war and their approval was vital to the success of agriculture, marriage and childbirth. Appeasing the gods and enlisting their help involved ritual and sacrifice which required the arcane knoweldge of the priesthood. Because there were so many gods, it might be hard to know which one to invoke and perilous to get it wrong. The Romasn took their gods extremely seriously, there was nothing more complicated than a Roman sacrifice or more precise than the preparation of the meal offered to the god; the slightest infringement of the priestly recipe would spoil the feast and might jeopardise the affairs of Rome itself. Robert Turcan shows that Roman attitudes towards the gods continued to be pragmatic throughout the millennium coverd by the book. Useful gods discovered among conquered peoples of the Empire were adopted without rejecting any from the old pantheon. Traditional worship remained strong long after the emperors converted to Christianity, and many of the early Roman Christians maintained a tactful respect for older deities. Up-to-date in its archaeological and epigraphic evidence, and drawing extensively on a wide range of relevant literary material this book is ideally suited for undergraduate courses in the history of Romand and its religions. Its urbane style and lightly worn scholarship will broaden its appeal to non-academic readers with a serious interest in the classical world.

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The Gods of Ancient Rome: Religion in Everyday Life from Archaic to Imperial Times + Religions of Rome: Volume 2, A Sourcebook. + An Introduction to Roman Religion
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Review

The style adopted by Turcan is accessible and readable. His work covers an immense amount of ground in a very small space. At times his abundance of examples is breathtaking. The reader is given a very real sense of the profusion of rites and ritual that accompanied everyday life in private and in public in the Roman world... The wealth of information in this book makes it a most useful introduction to the world of Roman religion." The style adopted by Turcan is accessible and readable. His work covers an immense amount of ground in a very small space. At times his abundance of examples is breathtaking. The reader is given a very real sense of the profusion of rites and ritual that accompanied everyday life in private and in public in the Roman world... The wealth of information in this book makes it a most useful introduction to the world of Roman religion."

About the Author

Robert Turcan is Professor of Roman History at the University of Paris, Sorbonne.

Inside This Book (Learn More)
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First Sentence
There was nothing more specifically Roman than domestic worship; it was what immediately distinguished Roman religion, for example on Delos, from the Greek environment, in the case of the colonists who lived on the island. Read the first page
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Amazon.com: 4.2 out of 5 stars  4 reviews
18 of 19 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Not for the Average Reader 26 Aug 2003
By WSV - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
I recently used this book as part of a Summer-session university course on the Archaeology of Religion. Although it contains a healthy amount of information about little known facts concerning Roman religion, it is not for the average reader. Originally written in French, the translation is somewhat poor and confusing.
The majority of the class was at a loss due to the complexity of the book. Even my somewhat rudimentary knowledge of Roman religion was barely adequate to follow the writings. The book lacks adequate chapter breaks resulting in the reader being forced to read the entirety in order not to lose his place.
It says a lot when the professor privately told me that it was a poor choice for a textbook.
16 of 21 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A short but surprisingly detailed view of Roman Polytheism 20 Feb 2005
By Jill Malter - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
The Roman Pagans were a deeply religious people. Turcan's book shows us a great deal about how they worshipped and what rituals they observed. And this book gives even a secular reader a chance to make some sense of it.

Unlike the monotheist god, Roman Goddesses and Gods are perfections of actual attributes. Romans hailed the Gods and Goddesses casually. But their rituals were often serious and complex, for they had to instill a sense of the importance of a vow to be worthy of a particular Goddess or God. And Turcan's book shows us some of these rituals in detail.

As Turcan mentions, when the Romans stopped worshipping the Gods and Goddesses, the Roman Empire quickly fell apart. I think the Christian religion that replaced the Pantheon with a nailed corpse gave Romans little reason to defend their Empire. The new religion was too nihilistic and atheistic. Turcan does not appear to agree with me about this, but he does cite Zosimus who did hold Constantine's failure to celebrate the Secular Games in 314 AD to be responsible for the ruin of the Empire. Turcan also explains that by celebrating the Secular Games, the Romans were in effect "taking out a new 'lease' with the gods."

This is a scholarly and interesting work. I recommend it to Pagans and non-Pagans alike.
2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Academic, trustworthy 28 Nov 2009
By Ingela - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This book is dry and scholarly at times and yet I still enjoyed it because the subject matter is interesting and I trusted the information contained therein. This is one of those books I know I will be happy to have on my shelf as a solid reference text. I think one of the problems with the book is that is does not discuss each God (not even the major ones) in detail, nor the practices associated with a specific God (except re the mystery cults). It is very much an overview of Pagan practices in ancient Rome and the broad way in which the author deals with the subject probably accounts for the occaisional dryness of the text. It is probably directed more at academic types who wish to improve their understanding of the daily life and mentality ancient Romans (which is a noble subject in itself) more than really looking at the spiritual aspect of Pagan deities and practice.
0 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Personable and Efficient 5 Jan 2012
By sccarroll - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Amaranth Books did an excellent job of keeping in contact with me, and responded to my order quicker than anyone I have ever bought from. The book arrived exactly as it was described and they even included a personalized message thanking me for ordering. I originally chose to order this book from Amaranth on a whim, but now I will always look to see if they have my book before I look anywhere else.
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