Ancient Roman Sacrificing

In the many years the Romans ruled Europe, they made sacrifices to their gods for many different reasons. One might sacrifice for personal or international purposes. Mainly, for the rituals, they consisted of the same materials of sacrifice. What value did the ancient Romans get from their sacrifice?

The first and possibly most obvious of the purposes of sacrifice was for food, one of the necessities of life. A few rituals were done in order to encourage a good harvest. Among those were land purification and the ritual before clearing a grove or tilling land. Land purification prayers were directed towards Mars. In Cato’s description of these prayers, it was implied that the ritual occurred even if the land was not pure by the Romans’ standards. The procedure could be used in different areas of farming, although most intentions of the ritual were to yield good crops on farms. The times in which the procedure was carried out could have been yearly. The material remained the same, which was the pig, no matter what the time of year.

The ritual before clearing a grove or tilling land was used often. To disrupt land or chop down trees without performing a ritual first to the proper gods was not accepted probably because the Roman people believed that trees or shrubbery had their own living spirit, or being inside. Therefore it was not thought of well to do so. Cato described two different accounts of land rituals; both are identical until the procedure tells the purpose of the prayer. Those two rituals were for digging and for pruning a grove and were carried out before doing work on a garden.

The ritual at the start of a harvest season was called “Offering to Ceres, Janus, Jupiter and Juno.” The purpose of this ritual was to indicate the start of the harvest season and to thank the gods for the crops. It was to be done before the year’s harvest was gathered. Among the offerings, cakes and wine were to be sacrificed before and after a larger, more important offering. The cakes were made strictly for sacrificial purposes and were called Fertum. The main offering was a pig and sometimes pumpkins were used in the place of pigs if pigs were not available.

One other ritual was called “Prayer to Iuppiter.” This prayer occurred for a broad variety of reasons, in everyday rituals. Among those were prayers carried out before eating, washing and cooking. These prayers were conducted without being considered terribly important since they were often performed daily. Sometimes incense, wine, sacred flour or an ox were used as sacrifices. Most commonly, the sacrifices were burned because the Romans thought the smoke journeyed to the heavens and eventually to God.

Not always were sacrifices allowed to be done. In the case of Julian, who was a pagan and Roman interested in blood sacrifices and pagan rituals, he was shunned as a result. As written by Eusebius, Constantine is said to have passed a law prohibiting human sacrifice. Constantine was a high-ranking Roman official. The law somewhat involved the Druidical religion which permitted people to sacrifice until they started sacrificing humans. During the rule of Claudius, the Druidical religion was not to be practiced. In an isolated case Augustus was another Roman who constructed an altar to the Gallic religion, which was known to perform human sacrifices. Those occurrences were not unlike the blood sacrificing of Eastern cults. These blood sacrifices were horrible to the Romans whose largest sacrifices were cows.

Romans attained some kind of false sense of security when they performed these rituals. It seems that the rituals centered everything in their lifestyle on sacrifice. This behavior can be compared to society’s common daily ritual of eating three meals a day. The Romans felt they were doing the right thing, which cannot be compared with anything in this day and age because the world is living in different times.

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