Bryn Mawr Classical Review

BMCR 2014.08.62 on the BMCR blog

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2014.08.62

Martin Jehne, Bernhard Linke, Jörg Rüpke (ed.), Religiöse Vielfalt und soziale Integration: die Bedeutung der Religion für die kulturelle Identität und die politische Stabilität im republikanischen Italien. Studien zur Alten Geschichte, Bd 17.   Heidelberg:  Verlag Antike, 2013.  Pp. 333.  ISBN 9783938032589.  €64.90.  

Reviewed by Saskia T. Roselaar, University of Ghent (

[Authors and titles are listed at the end of the review.]

This volume collects the proceedings of a conference held in 2007 as a follow-up to an earlier conference, whose proceedings were published by Jehne and Pfeilschifter, 2006.1 As the previous conference was felt to have neglected the impact of religion on Roman and Italian society, the second meeting focused especially on the question of how religion contributed to the political stability of the network of allies that supported the Roman Republic, as well as to the development of a common identity within Italy during the Republican period.

In the introduction the three editors explain the close connection between religion and society in general: specific rituals were essential to the functioning of the Greek and Roman state, and citizens were connected to their states through their participation in civic religion. Thus, participation in religion, or the exclusion of certain people from religious events, was an essential mechanism for integration or separation in the ancient world. Religion also served to emphasize power relations between states and their allies. The editors rightly emphasize, however, that although religion indeed appears to have been an integrative mechanism, this was not necessarily the result of a conscious Roman policy, nor of a desire for cultural or political integration. Nor should its effects be overestimated; the limits of communication and the lack of an effective bureaucracy meant that Rome could not influence the Italians in all aspects of their society and culture.

The first article, by John Scheid, discusses how the Romans mobilised some of the most important cult places in Italy for their own purposes. Octavian, for example, reinvented the rituals of the Caeninenses, purportedly an ancient cult from the Latin town of Caenina, although the ritual as performed in the Augustan period was mostly fabricated by antiquarians. Augustus turned many cult places into colonies or municipia, e.g. Lucus Feroniae and Fanum Fortunae. Some of these had not been active for decades, but Augustus successfully mobilized these Italian cults in his effort to show his pietas to the old gods and his adherence to the values of the Roman state.

Nicola Terrenato traces the discourse on the Romanization of religion. It has been assumed that Italians and provincials shared a similar outlook on religion as the Romans, which meant that religious ‘Romanization’ did not have the same large impact as the Romanization of other aspects of life. Nevertheless, religion, e.g. adherence to ancient religious practices, was used by indigenous people as a way of silently resisting Romanization. Terrenato argues that the religious policy of the Roman state was concerned mostly with ritual practice, what he terms ‘metareligion’, rather than with the actual faith of worshippers. The Romans put in place sanctuaries and priesthoods if these did not exist, but did not disturb local cults that were functioning properly.

A short piece by Neville Morley argues for the importance of religion in the changes that occurred during the late Republic. Religion experienced the same developments as the wider economy and society of Italy, which were all subject to four basic processes: concentration, to wit, of people and resources in certain locations, mostly urban centres; crystallisation, i.e. the fixation of power and institutions and their connection to specific locations; integration, in the political, social, economic and ideological sense; and differentiation, e.g. a greater dichotomy between town and countryside and between rich and poor. As other papers in the volume argue, religion became more concentrated in urban centres, especially Rome, and its rituals became crystallized into fixed procedures; it was also essential in the integration of Italy into the Roman state, but at the same time differentiated those who belonged to the state from those who did not.

Bernhard Linke investigates the legal concept of ager romanus. The amount of ‘Roman’ land had not been expanded since the fourth century, meaning that most of Italy was not ‘Roman’ according to religious law. Most rituals of the Roman state could only take place in ager romanus, so that many Italians were in practice excluded, even if they were Roman citizens. Rituals that included Italians, such as the Latin festival, served to emphasize the power of Rome: the Lanuvians, for example, were Roman citizens, but had to pray for the wellbeing of the Romans. Religion could also serve to integrate, however: in the third century several temples for ‘integrating’ gods, e.g. Fides and Fortuna Publica, were inaugurated. Furthermore, the success of the Romans in battle suggested that they enjoyed the gods’ favour, thus binding the allies to Rome.

The religious power relations between Rome and her allies are also investigated by Veit Rosenberger. He firstly discusses the ritual of evocatio, by which the deity of a defeated people was transferred to Rome. The willingness of a foreign god to be worshipped in Rome legitimized the Roman conquest; the ritual also illustrates the great flexibility of Roman religion. Rosenberger also investigates prodigia, omens reported from Italy, but expiated by Roman priests.2 This religious communication illustrates Roman power over Italian religion; on the other hand, if cults were venerated in Rome, this increased their chances of (voluntary) worship in other Italian locations, so the religious discourse was not totally one-sided.

Olivier de Cazanove discusses an episode often regarded as an example of Roman abuse of power, namely the confiscation of roof tiles from the temple of Hera at Lacinion by the censor Fulvius Flaccus in 173 BCE. However, de Cazanove argues that, since the temple was located inside the Roman colony of Croton, a censor had the authority to interfere with its public buildings. Nevertheless, the local population was shocked by Flaccus’ actions, which was what he intended – to demonstrate Rome’s power and ensure the loyalty of the locals, who had recently revolted against Rome with Hannibal.

Tesse Stek re-evaluates a long-held idea about the structure of Italian settlement, namely the pagus-vicus settlement pattern.3 These structures also had religious connotations, since it is assumed that already in the pre-conquest period every vicus and pagus had its own sanctuary. Stek argues, however, that vici and pagi were essentially Roman creations and that most of the gods attested as deities connected to these settlement structures were introduced after the Roman conquest. When these new settlements were created, the introduction of new cults played an essential role in their self-definition.

Another long-held assumption relates to the Capitoline cult, i.e. the cults of Jupiter, Juno and Minerva, which were assumed to have been essential to Roman religious identity and therefore introduced in all colonies established by Rome. Eva-Maria Lackner argues that temples securely identified as Capitolia cannot be attested in the period of the foundation of most colonies, but date instead from the early second century onwards. Their purpose may have been the political stabilisation of Italy after the Second Punic War. Only after the Social War did Capitolia become a general feature of the urban landscape of Italy.

Colonies are also discussed by Daniel Gargola. It is often assumed that colonies were ‘mirror images’ of Rome, with an all-encompassing plan including a pomerium, mundus, Capitolium and other public buildings. However, such a general plan should not be assumed; colonial founders often incorporated pre-existing local cults in the colony’s pantheon. The law of Urso illustrates that the main focus of local religion was the correct execution of ritual, i.e. ‘metareligion,’ not the actual beliefs of the people; the correct performance of public sacra were essential to fulfil the obligations of the community to the gods. Belonging to a community was essential for an individual’s identity, and taking part in the rituals of Rome created a larger identity among all the cities that participated.

The relationship between religion and economy is investigated by Marta García Morcillo. There is a great deal of evidence for economic activity near sanctuaries, e.g. at religious festivals. Sanctuaries also possessed lands and other valuables; many temples were involved in the production of votive gifts. Among the most famous temples were those at Lucus Feroniae and Fanum Voltumnae in Etruria; it likely that there was a connection between them and the role of the Tiber as an economic corridor. Maritime sanctuaries, such as those of Hera at Graviscae and Marica at Minturnae, also served important economic functions. Others were located on transhumance trails or important roads. These temples were integrated into the local community, but, depending on their location also played a role in regional and even international exchange.

Jörg Rüpke discusses the variation of religious phenomena in Italy and the way the Romans handled this variation. The Romans were often willing to adopt and adapt religious aspects of other people, e.g. through evocatio; Roman religion eventually became strongly Hellenized, which dramatically changed pre-existing religious beliefs and rituals. Using the religious calendar and the lex Ursonensis as examples, Rüpke investigates the idea of ‘metareligion’, also discussed by other papers. The Romans saw religio not as a static system of beliefs and rituals, but as ‘the cult of the gods’; this could take many different shapes depending on what deity was venerated. Only public cults required regulation, so that religion – or the wrong way of worshipping – would not interfere with politics. Private religion was mostly unsupervised, so that religious diversity was no hindrance to the political (as well as economic and social) integration of Italy.

This book offers many new and fascinating insights into the interrelationship between religion and politics in Roman Italy. The idea of ‘metareligion,’ investigated by various authors, is interesting – it has been argued before that the Romans were more interested in the correct forms of ritual than in religious beliefs, but this book adds some very welcome theoretical background to this idea. Unfortunately, this theoretical background is only discussed in any detail by Rüpke; it would have been interesting to see more discussion of the theory behind the way Romans thought about their religion and the consequences of this vision for the religious practices of Rome and its allies. The religious philosophy of the Italians is not discussed at all – can we assume that it was similar to the Roman? The book is certainly correct in emphasizing that religion should not be seen in isolation; it is very clear throughout that the religious and political integration of Republican Italy were closely connected. The interaction of religion with other aspects of society, such as the economic or social history of Italy, receives less attention, unfortunately. This would be a worthwhile avenue of investigation for further conferences and publications.

The great merit of this book, for the moment, is to bring religion once again to the centre of academic attention in the study of the Roman Republic. Furthermore, the emphasis on Italy is very welcome – although the sources are written from a Roman perspective, the contributors rightly stress the agency of the Italian peoples in their religious choices, and the role of local and regional religious activity in the relationship between Rome and its allies. This Italian focus fits well with the recent renewed attention that academics have given to the Italian peoples in the study of the Republican period. The book is well formatted with very few typos, and should be essential reading for anyone interested in the history of the Roman Republic and the Italian allies who were essential for Rome’s political stability.

Table of Contents

Martin Jehne, Bernhard Linke & Jörg Rüpke, Einleitung, 7-24
John Scheid, Rom und die großen Kultorte Italiens, 25-42
Nicola Terrenato, Patterns of cultural change in Roman Italy. Non-elite religion and the defense of cultural self-consistency, 43-60
Neville Morley, Religion, Urbanisation and Social Change, 61-68
Bernhard Linke, Die Einheit nach der Vielfalt. Die religiöse Dimension des römischen Hegemonialanspruches in Latium (5. - 3. Jahrhundert v. Chr.), 69-94
Veit Rosenberger, Rom und Italien: Religiöse Kommunikation und die Aufnahme neuer Gottheiten, 95-110
Olivier de Cazanove, Un sanctuaire de Grande Grèce dans une colonie romaine: l'Héraion du Lacinion après la 2ème Guerre Punique, 111-136
Tesse D. Stek, Questions of cult and continuity in late Republican Roman Italy: ‘Italic’ or ‘Roman’ sanctuaries and the so-called pagus-vicus system, 137-162
Eva-Maria Lackner, Arx und Capitolinischer Kult in den Latinischen und Bürgerkolonien Italiens als Spiegel römischer Religionspolitik, 163-201
Daniel J. Gargola, Rome, its Colonies and the Maintenance of a Larger Identity, 202-235
Marta García Morcillo, Trade and Sacred Places: Fairs, Markets and Exchange in Ancient Italic Sanctuaries, 236-274
Jörg Rüpke, Regulating and Conceptualizing Religious Plurality: Italian Experiences and Roman Solutions, 275-295


1.   Martin Jehne and Rene Pfeilschifter (eds.), 2006, Herrschaft ohne Integration? Rom und Italien in republikanischer Zeit, Frankfurt am Main.
2.   For Rosenberger’s full argument on prodigia, see Veit Rosenberger, 2007, ‘Prodigien aus Italien. Geographische Verteilung und religiöse Kommunikation,’ Cahiers du Centre Gustave Glotz 16, 235-257.
3.   His ideas are more fully set out in Tesse D. Stek, 2009, Cult Places and Cultural Change in Republican Italy. A contextual approach to religious aspects of rural society after the Roman conquest, Amsterdam.

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