Roman Religion

Step I

In this exercise you will write an essay using primary sources, that compares Roman religious experience in the many generations before emperor Constantine adopted Christianity with the transformation religious life he initiated as ruler. The point of the exercise is not to argue what religion is better, but to use ancient sources to inform you about Romans’ religious life and how things changed as the older religious ideas gave way to new ones. To do so you will assume the role two characters listed below.


•A Vestal Virgin
•A devotee of the cult of Castor and Pollux
•A soldier who follows Mithraism
•A Roman devotee of the cult of Isis
•A wife of a Roman aristocrat in Pompeii circa 70 CE (about a decade before the great destruction of the city).
•A devotee of the cult of the sun
•A Roman senator from Gaul
•A Roman “new man” aristocrat in the city of Rome
•A Jewish zealot in first century CE Judea
•A Jewish member of the Sanhedrin in first century Judea
•A “Pauline” Christian (one who followed the gentile, not Jewish/family of Jesus and James version of The Path)
•A Christian bishop in Greece after the Council of Nicaea.
Step 2:
From the perspective of your role/character, describe what your religious life was probably like before Constantine’s conversion and the Edict of Milan. As you read, consider several of the following questions from the perspective of your role/character:

•Describe the nature of your character’s religious beliefs and practices–not that not all are associated with a particular religion; if that is the case for you character do not choose Christianity for them. Romans had a plethora of religions from which to choose–all had to honor the religion of the State.
•What were some of the particularities of your character’s religious worship?
•How might your character have reacted to the empire’s toleration (or not) of their particular religion?
•What would the conversion of the emperor Constantine have meant to persons like your character had he or she lived in the 4th century CE?
•What customs would your character believe to be threatened, if any?
•What role did the emperor play in Roman religious rituals and how did all this affect your religious experiences?

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