Deteriorating Paganism in Ancient Rome

Essay by sn03connCollege, UndergraduateA, October 2014

download word file, 14 pages 0.0

Deteriorating Paganism in Ancient Rome

"A faith must provide an all-embracing explanation of man, the world, and life."[1: Robert Turcan, The Cults of the Roman Empire (Cambridge: Blackwell Publishers Inc., 1996), 22.]

-Robert Turcan

The Ancient Romans had always been a religious people, but when their traditional religion failed to meet their needs, change within this long-standing system was inevitable. As author Robert Turcan stated, a promising religion is one that provides explanations to its followers - explanations of an individual's purpose in life and explanations of what one's afterlife shall bring. Rather than leading an individual to personal fulfillment, traditional Roman religion produced feelings of uncertainty about self-worth and the afterlife. This ambiguity left believers with more questions than answers; more doubt than assurance; and more fear than courage. Thus, the Romans adopted mystery cults: a religious practice that relieved the people of their fears and allowed them to live with a less distinctive barrier between man and god.

A mystery cult was a form of personal religion in which the participants shared similar ideals. Unlike state religion, the initiates, who were the participants of a cult, were sworn to secrecy about the cult's mysteries. The most popular and influential of the cults were in honor of Demeter, Persephone, Cybele, Isis, Dionysus, and Mithras, all of which helped their participants develop a sense of existence and a personal relationship with the deity they worshipped. The cults offered a theme of death and rebirth, which freed the people from their fearfulness.[2: James Renshaw, In Search of the Romans (London: Bristol Classical Press, 2012), 106.]

Compared to traditional religion, mystery cults allowed for a caring relationship between humans and their god(s), took one's spiritual needs into consideration, and offered an adequate concept of the afterlife. Rome's traditional religion was marked...