Compare to modern society, the Romans seem extremely superstitious. But then today's major religions have all throughout their past discouraged, even combatted, superstitions. Also our sciences and our technological world allows little room for superstition.The Romans lived in an era previous to this. Their world was full of unexplained phenomena, darkness and fear. To Romans these superstitions were a perfectly natural part in the relationship between gods and men. The Roman habit of interpreting natural phenomena as signs from the beyond stemmed from the Etruscans.The Etruscans, who developed reading omens and auspices intoa form of science, knew different means of divination.
beliefs the signs they read were sent to them by a mythical boy called
Tages, who in their mythology was to have been ploughed up from the
They would seek to read the
future by examining the entrails of sacrificial animals, the liver
being of special importance for that purpose.
They would observe
lighting and interpret its meanings. And they would try and put meaning
to any unusual phenomena which occured.
The belief that objects, or
living beings could possess special spiritual properties was widespread
in primitive societies. The Romans were no strangers to this idea.
Stones, trees, springs, caves, lakes, swamps, mountains - even animals
and furniture - were all deemed to be hosts to spirits (numina). Stones
in particular were often seen to containspirits, especially if they
were boundary stones, dividing one man's property from the other. It is
very telling that the Latin word for such a boundary is terminus and
that there actually was a Roman god called Terminus. This odd deity
took the form of a huge piece of rock which rested in the temple of
Jupiter on the Capitoline Hill. Apparently several attempts to move the
bolder when constructing the temple had failed. And so it remained
within the temple, because it had 'refused to move, even for Jupiter'.
But Roman superstitions
didn't end there. Children were told stories of nasty creatures who'd
come to eat them if they weren't good. From the Greeks they had Mormo,
a terrifying woman with donkey legs. And the Roman Lamia who stalked
around looking for children to eat.
Children were by far not
the only ones to fear such bogeys. The ghos......
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