Review of The ancient Romans: Their lives and their world by Paul Roberts

Chapter; Gods and Goddesses

The text includes subjects that most readers would have knowledge about, for example; gladiators,gods and goddesses and emperors. It also includes debateably lesser known subjects such as; craftsmen and artists, farmers and food makers and Roman children. “Although technically written for children ages twelve and up,The Ancient Romans; Their Lives and Their World will serve as an outstanding introduction to the world of the Ancient Romans, for readers of all ages.1 This review will be focusing on the fourth chapter; “Gods and Goddesses.”

It is clear that Roberts over all aim is to give a younger audience (“ twelve and up”2) a brief overview into the world of the Romans.(Due to this aim his work is not influential on other historians research) Roberts use of simple and direct vocabulary allows him to communicate the knowledge effectively. This does not necessarily mean that his readers would engage properly, however it is a “highly visual resource book, packed with authentic pictures, that show first-hand how the people of ancient Rome and the wider empire lived and worked”3 This means that children of all abilities are able to go to this book to gain a basic understanding. The pictures also break up the words to make it less daunting, and over all more accessible.

The chapter incorporates all the main aspects of the Roman religious world. This gives the reader information from the main gods such as; Apollo, Venus and Jupiter. To the minor gods that were worshipped in the home ,and those gods that were worshipped in the countryside. But what allows this chapter to give a fully rounded understanding and overview, is it takes in to consideration foreign gods, emperor worship (imperial cult) and new religious values that were adopted in the third century. “Leaving the relative calm of the second century AD behind, the third century Roman Empire descended into an ever widening spiral of crisis.” 4the ordered civilization of the Pax Romana ended. Several elements caused this disruption. The Roman Empire was plunged into military anarchy, raided by Germanic tribes, and burdened by economic dislocations.”5 This meant that “many people stopped believing in the old gods and turned to religions that promised them a better life after they died.”6 Though Roberts does not state it this statement shows how important religion was to the people of Rome,it gave them a sense of hope in a period of dismay. Roberts overview ,allows him to explore some of the history between the Christians and the Romans. He mentions the ill treatment throughout Nero’s reign. But it also shows how attitudes changed towards this religious group. The emperor Constantine “issued an imperial proclamation that gave equal rights to the Christians.”7 in 313 AD. This shows the Romans progression with the acceptance of Christianity. However, he does not mention of the ill treatment of religious groups such as the Druids. Another group that isn’t mentioned are the Jews, the Romans normally allowed those they conquered to practice there own religion, as long as they also made sacrifices to the Roman gods. But as Nero taxed the Jewish people more and more to pay for the rebuilding of Rome after the great fire , in 64 AD. The relationship withered, and by 66 AD the first revolt occurred. These wars were extremely important to the history of Rome, the most important being the start of the Flavian era. The victory over the Jews in 70 AD, after many failed attacks, secured the reign of Vespasian and his two sons , Tits and Domition. This significant event is not mentioned and thus the overview of different types of religion in the Roman empire is limited.

As this book is an overview it misses out on a lot of important information. Roberts target audience , though are of a younger demographic, would still need a little more detailed information to gain a proper understanding of the topic. The purpose of the book is to give an outline of life in Rome. What it fails to mention is what followed Julius Caesar’

assassination on the ides of March 44 BCE, was years of civil war and political upheaval. Throughout these years there was a significant declined in both moral and religious behaviour. Poets such as Horace recorded the behaviour of the people during this time. In Horace’ Odes he records how they would not become good people until they “atone, for the sins of [their] ancestors… till [they] repair the temples and tottering shrines of the gods, and their statues,[which were] defiled with sooty smoke.”8 This loss of information creates an illusion that Rome always respected and worshipped their gods. It is understandable why this has not been included, as this book is a introduction. However, not mentioning that the attitudes towards the gods wavered for a period of time gives the wrong impression and therefore a different understanding of the Roman religious world.

Another subject that is greatly skimmed over is the emperor worship, or imperial cult. Though it mentions Augustus , it does not go into detail of how “he believed that it was necessary to return to the old Roman virtues, in order to strengthen his new regime and bring about permanent improvement.”9 This book also states that “Augustus didn’t like the idea of this in the city itself, but allowed it in the other parts of the empire.” 10 This statement is not strictly true. “ Families [were allowed to] worship the genius [ of Augustus in their homes with] incense , flowers and libations of unmixed wines [this was] especially [done] on the birthday of the paterfamilias”11 Augustus was not the only emperor to use the imperial cult, though his successor Tiberius did not use it many other emperors did. Caligula is a prime example of an emperor that used it. Though in his early years he “forbade anyone to worship him directly…later he insisted on divine honours.”12 “ Caligula appeared in public in the dress and with the insignia of one god or the other, believing that he was the incarnation of Jupiter.” 13 He also demanded that statues of himself should be put up everywhere. This is an example of the imperial cult being used in a bad way, and is one of the many reasons for his assassination . These two examples could have been compared to show how the worshipping of gods and goddesses is so important. It can help determine, with many other factors, how successful and emperor is. But in this book this point is completely ignored.

In conclusion this book can only provide a limited amount of knowledge. It provides a good starting point for the understanding of Roman gods and goddesses, but does not provide a good grasp of this topic. This book is perfect for its demographic as it seems to focus more on the archaeological evidence with the photos, then the true academic information. This text could not be used in schools as it ignores or skims pass important parts of this topic. Instead it should be used for a small introduction into the Roman world in children’s spare time. In this way this book for-fills its aim or being a short overview into the world of the Romans.

1 Auggie Moore ‘History in review ‘ September 9, 2009


3The British museum shoponline

4Thomas F.X.Noble Western Civilization : beyond boundaries pg 167

5Marvin B. Perry Myrna Chase Margaret Jacob Western civilisation:ideas, politics and society. To 1789 pg 160

6 Paul Roberts The ancient Romans: Their lives and their world pg 24

7Ibid pg 25

8Horace The third book of the Odes of Horace

9Pamela Bradley Ancient Rome using evidence pg439

10 Paul Roberts The ancient Romans: Their lives and their world pg 22

11J.Bert Lott The neighbourhoods of Augustan Roman pg 111

12Carl Sommer We look for a kingdom: The everyday lives of the early Christians pg 33

13Helmut Koster Introduction to the new testament: history, culture, and religion pg 298


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