Wednesday, 2 March 2011

Roman Family Gods

Each Roman family had a number of deities that were sacred to that family, and to nobody else. These were seen rather like guardian angels that took care of the members of the family.

The most important family god was the Lar. The lar may have been a deified ancestor of the family. Each family had a small wooden statue of their lar placed in a small shrine somewhere in the house.

Whenever a person joined or left the family a sacrifice had to be made to the lar. If a woman joined the family by marriage or a man was adopted, incense and wine had to be offered to the lar.

After a funeral another sacrifice had to be made to the lar. Richer families offered two sheep to the lar, but poorer families probably offered just some bones and fat from a sheep.

Viriplaca was a goddess who had the task of soothing quarrels within a family. A small statuette of Viriplaca might be placed alongside that of the lar if the head of the family wanted to see a dispute ended.

Each household had two Penates. Small figures of these two gods were placed near the entrance to a house. Their main task was to care for the food of the family, making sure that stored food did not go bad.

When a meal was served, a small sample of the food was put before the statuettes of the Penates. This was so that the gods could bless the food and make sure it was nutritious.

When a person was born the gods were believed to send a genius to care for the baby. This genius stayed with the person all through life, returning to the gods only when that person died.

The genius was thought to summon other spirits to help it. Vaticanus helped the baby to speak, Educa taught it to eat and Ossipago made sure that its bones grew properly. Adeona helped the child learn to walk while Sentinus helped it become intelligent.

Each person was expected to honour his or her genius on their birthday. A small amount of wine or some flowers were offered at a shrine to the genius and there was a short ritual dance that was supposed to be performed.

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