Religion played a very important role in the daily life of Ancient Rome and the Romans. Roman religion was centred around gods and explanations for events usually involved the gods in some way or another. The Romans believed that gods controlled their lives and, as a result, spent a great deal of their time worshipping them.

The most important god was Jupiter. He was the king of gods who ruled with his wife Juno, the goddess of the sky. Other gods were:

Mars God of War
Mercury The messenger of the gods
Nepture God of the Sea
Janus God of the Doorway
Diana Goddess of Hunting
Vesta Goddess of the Hearth
Minerva Goddess of Healing and Wisdom
Venus Goddess of Love

After the reign of the Emperor Augustus (27 BC to AD 14), the emperor was also considered to be a god and he was worshipped on special occasions. Each god had a special festival day which was usually a public holiday. This holiday gave people the opportunity to visit the temple for whichever god was being celebrated. At this temple, priests would sacrifice animals and offer them to the god.


Animals being led to slaughter at a temple sacrifice

Temples to worship the gods were built throughout the Roman Empire. Temples usually always followed the same building pattern. The roof was triangular shaped and supported by great pillars. Steps led up to the main doorway that was usually built behind the pillars. The inside of the temple would have been very well decorated and there would have been a statue of the god in it. There would also have been an altar where a priest would have served the god and made sacrifices. People called augurs could also be found in the temples. These people used the entrails of the dead animals to predict the future. The Romans took these predictions very seriously and few ignored the advice of an augur.

Each family home would also have a small altar and shrine. The Romans had personal household gods or spirits called ‘lares’ which were worshipped every day at home. The shrine contained statues of the ‘lares’ and the head of the household led family prayers around the shrine each day. The service was considered so important that family slaves were also invited. It is believed that most Romans were more keen to please their ‘lares’ than the public gods such as Jupiter.


A family shrine at a house in Pompeii


“In a corner at the entrance to the house was a huge cupboard with a small built-in shrine. Inside the shrine were the silver statuettes of the household gods, a Venus in marble and a golden casket.”Written in AD 60