Roman Religion, Mythology and Magic

© Copyright Peter Crawford 2016


In attempting to reconstruct Roman society, it is essential to take into account the immense significance that religion had on Roman attitudes to all aspects of life, from marriage, to sexuality, the family and the home, and most significantly the political decisions taken by the state.
Roman religion was basically 'syncretic', deriving many features from the cults of Latium, Eturia and Alba Longa - the precursor of Rome.
In addition there was the influence of Greek colonies in the south of the Italian peninsular.
From a range of deities adopted from the Greeks, the Romans altered the gods' identities, but left their characters unchanged.
Jupiter Optimus Maximus
The Greek king of the gods, Zeus, was in Rome the god Jupiter.

The Romans believed that Jupiter granted them supremacy because they had honored him more than any other people had. Jupiter was "the fount of the auspices upon which the relationship of the city with the gods rested." He personified the divine authority of Rome's highest offices, internal organization, and external relations. The cult of Iuppiter Latiaris was the most ancient known cult of the god: it was practised since very remote times near the top of the Mons Albanus on which the god was venerated as the high protector of the Latin League under the hegemony of Alba Longa.

Hera was called Juno, Aphrodite was called Venus.
Most of the Greek gods could be found in Rome: going through the same drama, the same complications and conflicts.
Temple of Jupiter Optimus Maximus - Capitol - Rome
Both cultures, Greek and Roman, incorporated the idea that the gods were susceptible to making mistakes, much like humans.
Gods and goddesses were just as likely to fall into temptation as mortals, in fact, Roman gods were even prone to sexual liaisons, both heterosexual and homosexual, as their Greek counterparts.
Beginning in the culture of the Greeks, and then moving onward through that of the ancient Romans, there was also a tangled parallelism of human and  divine action.
In the absence of rational explanations for what the people of these cultures witnessed around them, it seemed as if everything that happened, good or bad, was due to the intervention of the gods.
Military triumphs were seen as a sign of the celestial rewards, regardless of the comparative strength of the armies involved.
Defeats were seen as an example of divine retribution, and an indication that certain gods demanded to be appeased.
During the intense battle sequences depicted in the last book of 'The Aeneid', Aeneas is badly injured. For a moment, it looks as if he would not survive.
However, instead of leaving it to happen naturally, Aeneas' mother, the goddess Venus, intervenes.
There were all types of religious and mythological examples found sprinkled throughout Virgil's epic, all leading to the adoption of the mythology and beliefs of the Greeks by Roman society.
Even the fables, actions, and faults have a direct correlation to those that had been believed in Hellas (Greece).
To the Romans, religion was less a spiritual experience than a contractual relationship between mankind and the forces which were believed to control people's existence and well-being.
The result of such religious attitudes were two things: a state cult, which was a significant influence on political and military events of which outlasted the republic, continuing on into the Empire and Principate, and a private concern, in which the head of the family oversaw the domestic rituals and prayers in the same way as the representatives of the people performed the public ceremonials.
As has been stated, to the Roman mind, there was a sacred contract between the gods and the mortals. As part of this agreement each side would provide, as well as receive, services.
The role of the mortal in this partnership with the gods was to worship the gods.
Essential to the Roman concept of worship was prayer and sacrifice, and for both of these activities there were firmly defined rituals.
To perform these ritual correctly was of paramount importance.
One mistake and one would have to begin all over again.
Roman Sacrifice
The very nature of Roman religion itself, with its numerous gods, many of which had multiple roles, was cause for problems.
Particularly as in some cases not even the sex of a deity was clear.
Hence the phrase 'whether you be god or goddess' was a widespread in the worship of certain deities.
Many Roman gods also had entire collection of additional names, according to what aspect of life they were a patron to.
So, for example Juno was 'Juno Lucina', in her role of goddess of childbirth, but as goddess of the mint she was known as 'Juno Moneta', (this curious role came about because for a long time the Roman state mint was housed in her temple on the Capitoline hill).
For the official rituals of the state gods it was animals which most of the time were sacrificed, and for each god there would be different animals.
For Janus one sacrificed a ram - for Jupiter it was a heifer (a heifer is a young cow which has not yet had more than one calf).
Mars demanded a ox, a pig and or sheep, except for 15 October when it had to be the winning race horse of the day (the near side horse of a chariot team).
Such animal sacrifices were by their mere nature very elaborate and bloody affairs.
The animal's head had wine and sacred bread sprinkled over it.
The animal was killed by having its throat cut.
It was also disemboweled, for inspection of its internal organs for omens.
The most important organs of the dead beast would then be burnt on the altar.
The rest of the animal was then either moved away, or later eaten as part of a feast.
A priest would then say prayers, or better he would whisper them.
This too was a closely guarded ritual, by which the priest himself would be wearing some form of mask or blindfold to protect his eyes from seeing any evil, and a flute would be played to drown out any evil sounds.
Should anything about the sacrifice go wrong, then it had to be repeated, but only after another, additional, sacrifice had been made to allay any anger of the god about the failure of the first one.
For this purpose one would usually sacrifice a pig. Thereafter the real sacrifice would be repeated.
Roman religion did not as such really practice human sacrifice.
Although it was not totally unknown. in the third and the second century BC it was the case that slaves were walled up underground by demand of the 'Sibylline Books'.
Also the gladiatorial Munera were a form of sacrifice to the dead.
In 'The Story of Gracchus', Markos first banquet at the Villa Auri - to celebrate the birthday of Augustus Caesar -  begins with sacrifices to Mars Ultor, Venus, the Divine Augustus and Mercury, and also features a Munera involving three pairs of gladiators.
Of particular significance in Roman religion was the concept of augury.
According to ancient sources the use of auspices as a means to decipher the will of the gods was more ancient than Rome itself.
The use of the word is usually associated with Latins, though the act of observing Auspices is also attributed to the Etruscans.
Cicero describes in 'De Divinatione' several differences between the auspicial of the Romans and the Etruscan system of interpreting the will of the gods.
Cumaen Sibyl
Though auspices were prevalent before the Romans, Romans are often linked with auspices because of both their connection to Rome’s foundation and because Romans were the first to take the system and lay out such fixed and fundamental rules for the reading of auspices that it remained an essential part of Roman culture.
Stoics, for instance, maintained that if there are gods, they care for men, and that if they care for men they must send them signs of their will.
Associated with augurs are the oracles of the gods.
These were numerous, and in some cases renowned in Greece, and included the famous oracle of Apollo at Delphi.
The Romans had their own oracle of Apollo, in this case situated at Cumae, in the person of the Cumaen Sibyl.
Cumae, of course, is very close to Baiae, where, in 'The Story of Gracchus', the Villa Auri is situated and, in the story, Gracchus visits Cumae, and receives a significant oracular message from the Sibyl.
Text © Copyright Vittorio Carvelli 2016


Roman mythology is the body of traditional stories pertaining to ancient Rome's legendary origins and religious system, as represented in the literature and visual arts of the Romans.The Romans usually treated their traditional narratives as historical, even when these have miraculous or supernatural elements.
The stories are often concerned with politics and morality, and how an individual's personal integrity relates to his or her responsibility to the community or Roman state.
Heroism is an important theme.
When the stories illuminate Roman religious practices, they are more concerned with ritual, augury, and institutions than with theology or cosmogony.
The study of Roman religion and myth is complicated by the early influence of Greek religion on the Italian peninsula during Rome's proto-history, and by the later artistic imitation of Greek literary models by Roman authors.
In matters of theology, the Romans were eager to identify their own gods with those of the Greeks (interpretatio graeca), and to reinterpret stories about Greek deities under the names of their Roman counterparts.
Rome's early myths and legends also have a dynamic relationship with Etruscan religion, less documented than that of the Greeks.
While Roman mythology may lack a body of divine narratives as extensive as that found in Greek literature, Romulus and Remus suckling the she-wolf is as famous as any image from Greek mythology except for the Trojan Horse.
Because Latin literature became more widely known in Europe, the interpretations of Greek myths by the Romans often had the greater influence on narrative and pictorial representations of "classical mythology" than Greek sources.
In particular, the versions of Greek myths in Ovid's 'Metamorphoses', written during the reign of Augustus, came to be regarded as canonical.
Because ritual played the central role in Roman religion that myth did for the Greeks, it is sometimes doubted that the Romans had much of a native mythology.
This perception is a product of Romanticism and the classical scholarship of the 19th century, which valued Greek civilization as more "authentically creative."
The Roman tradition, however, is rich in historical myths, or legends, concerning the foundation and rise of the city.
These narratives focus on human actors, with only occasional intervention from deities but a pervasive sense of divinely ordered destiny.

In Rome's earliest period, history and myth have a mutual and complementary relationship.
Major sources for Roman myth include the 'Aeneid' of Virgil, and the first few books of Livy's history as well as Dionysius' s 'Roman Antiquities'.
Other important sources are the 'Fasti' of Ovid, a six-book poem structured by the Roman religious calendar, and the fourth book of elegies by Propertius.
Scenes from Roman myth also appear in Roman wall painting, coins, and sculpture, particularly reliefs.


The characteristic myths of Rome are often political or moral, that is, they deal with the development of Roman government in accordance with divine law, as expressed by Roman religion, and with demonstrations of the individual's adherence to moral expectations (mos maiorum) or failures to do so.

  • Rape of the Sabine women, explaining the importance of the Sabines in the formation of Roman culture, and the growth of Rome through conflict and alliance.
  • Numa Pompilius, the Sabine second king of Rome who consorted with the nymph Egeria and established many of Rome's legal and religious institutions.
  • Servius Tullius, the sixth king of Rome, whose mysterious origins were freely mythologized and who was said to have been the lover of the goddess Fortuna.
  • The Tarpeian Rock, and why it was used for the execution of traitors.
  • Lucretia, whose self-sacrifice prompted the overthrow of the early Roman monarchy and led to the establishment of the Republic.
  • Cloelia, A Roman woman taken hostage by Lars Porsena. She escaped the Clusian camp with a group of Roman virgins.
  • Horatius at the bridge, on the importance of individual valor.
  • Mucius Scaevola, who thrust his right hand into the fire to prove his loyalty to Rome.
  • Caeculus and the founding of Praeneste.
  • Manlius and the geese, about divine intervention at the Gallic siege of Rome.
  • Stories pertaining to the Nonae Caprotinae and Poplifugia festivals.
  • Coriolanus, a story of politics and morality.
  • The Etruscan city of Corythus as the "cradle" of Trojan and Italian civilization.
  • The arrival of the Great Mother (Cybele) in Rome.

Divine narrative played a more important role in the system of Greek religious belief than among the Romans, for whom ritual and cult were primary.
Although Roman religion was not based on scriptures and exegesis, priestly literature was one of the earliest written forms of Latin prose.
The books (libri) and commentaries (commentarii) of the 'College of Pontiffs', and of the Augurs contained religious procedures, prayers, and rulings and opinions on points of religious law.
Although at least some of this archived material was available for consultation by the Roman senate, it was often occultum genus litterarum, an arcane form of literature to which by definition only priests had access.

The Cumaean Sibyl - Elihu Vedder
Prophecies pertaining to world history and Rome's destiny turn up fortuitously at critical junctures in history, discovered suddenly in the mysterious Sibylline Books, which according to legend were purchased by Tarquin the Proud in the late 6th century BC from the Cumaean Sibyl.
Some aspects of archaic Roman religion were preserved by the lost theological works of the 1st-century BC scholar Varro.
At the head of the earliest pantheon were the so-called 'Archaic Triad' of Jupiter, Mars, and Quirinus, whose flamens were of the highest order, and Janus and Vesta.

A flamen was a priest assigned to one of fifteen deities with official cults during the Roman Republic. The most important three were the flamines maiores (or "major priests"), who served the three chief Roman gods of the Archaic Triad (see above). The remaining twelve were the flamines minores ("lesser priests"). Two of the minores cultivated deities whose names are now unknown; among the others are deities about whom little is known other than the name. During the Imperial era, the cult of a deified emperor (divus) also had a flamen. The fifteen Republican flamens were part of the Pontifical College, which administered state-sponsored religion. When the office of flamen was vacant, a pontifex could serve as a temporary replacement, although only the Pontifex Maximus is known to have substituted for the Flamen Dialis.
According to tradition, the founder of Roman religion was Numa Pompilius, the Sabine second king of Rome, who was believed to have had as his consort and adviser a Roman goddess or nymph of fountains and prophecy, Egeria.
The Etruscan-influenced 'Capitoline Triad' of Jupiter, Juno and Minerva later became central to official religion, replacing the Archaic Triad - an unusual example within Indo-European religion of a supreme triad formed of two female deities and only one male. 
The cult of Diana was established on the Aventine Hill.
The gods represented distinctly the practical needs of daily life, and they were scrupulously accorded the rites and offerings considered proper.
Early Roman divinities included a host of "specialist gods", whose names were invoked in the carrying out of various specific activities.
Fragments of old ritual accompanying such acts as plowing or sowing reveal that at every stage of the operation a separate deity was invoked, the name of each deity being regularly derived from the verb for the operation.
Tutelary deities were particularly important in ancient Rome.
Tutelary deities who guard and preserve a place or a person are fundamental to ancient Roman religion. A tutelary (also tutelar) is a deity or spirit who is a guardian, patron or protector of a particular place, geographic feature, person, lineage, nation, culture or occupation. One type of tutelary deity is the genius, the personal deity or daimon of an individual from birth to death. 

Thus, Janus and Vesta guarded the door and hearth, the Lares protected the field and house, Pales the pasture, Saturn the sowing, Ceres the growth of the grain, Pomona the fruit, and Consus and Ops the harvest.
Even the majestic Jupiter, the ruler of the gods, was honored for the aid his rains might give to the farms and vineyards.
In his more encompassing character he was considered, through his weapon of lightning, the director of human activity and, by his widespread domain, the protector of the Romans in their military activities beyond the borders of their own community.
Prominent in early times were the gods Mars and Quirinus, who were often identified with each other. Mars was a god of war; he was honored in March and October. Quirinus was the patron of the armed community in time of peace. The Romans distinguished two classes of gods, the di indigetes and the di novensides or novensiles: the indigetes were the original gods of the Roman state, their names and nature indicated by the titles of the earliest priests and by the fixed festivals of the calendar, with 30 such gods honored by special festivals; the novensides were later divinities whose cults were introduced to the city in the historical period, usually at a known date and in response to a specific crisis or felt need.
The impressive, costly, and centralized rites to the deities of the Roman state were vastly outnumbered in everyday life by commonplace religious observances pertaining to an individual's domestic and personal deities, the patron divinities of Rome's various neighborhoods and communities, and the often idiosyncratic blends of official, unofficial, local and personal cults that characterized lawful Roman religion.
In this spirit, a provincial Roman citizen who made the long journey from Bordeaux to Italy to consult the Sibyl at Tibur did not neglect his devotion to his own goddess from home.


Roman Temple - Reconstruction
© Copyright Peter Crawford 2016
The Latin word templum originally referred not to the temple building itself, but to a sacred space surveyed and plotted ritually through augury: "The architecture of the ancient Romans was, from first to last, an art of shaping space around ritual."
The Roman architect Vitruvius always uses the word templum to refer to this sacred precinct, and the more common Latin words aedes, delubrum, or fanum for a temple or shrine as a building.
Animal sacrifice took place at an altar outdoors, as did public religious ceremonies.
The main room (cella) inside a temple housed the cult image of the deity to whom the temple was dedicated, and often a small altar for incense or libations.
It might also display art works taken in war and rededicated to the gods.
Temple buildings and shrines within the city commemorated significant political settlements in its development: the Aventine Temple of Diana supposedly marked the founding of the Latin League under Servius Tullius.
Many temples in the Republican era were built as the fulfillment of a vow made by a general in exchange for a victory.


Sacrifice in front of the Temple of Juppiter Capitolinus
In Latin, the word sacrificium means the performance of an act that renders something sacer, sacred.
Sacrifice reinforced the powers and attributes of divine beings, and inclined them to render benefits in return (the principle of do ut des).
Offerings to household deities were part of daily life.
Lares might be offered spelt wheat and grain-garlands, grapes and first fruits in due season, honey cakes and honeycombs, wine and incense, food that fell to the floor during any family meal, or at their Compitalia festival, honey-cakes and a pig on behalf of the community.
Their supposed underworld relatives, the malicious and vagrant Lemures, might be placated with midnight offerings of black beans and spring water.
The most potent offering was animal sacrifice, typically of domesticated animals such as cattle, sheep and pigs.
Each was the best specimen of its kind, cleansed, clad in sacrificial regalia and garlanded; the horns of oxen might be gilded.
Sacrifice sought the harmonization of the earthly and divine, so the victim must seem willing to offer its own life on behalf of the community; it must remain calm and be quickly and cleanly dispatched.
Sacrifice to deities of the heavens (di superi, "gods above") was performed in daylight, and under the public gaze.
Deities of the upper heavens required white, infertile victims of their own sex: Juno a white heifer (possibly a white cow); Jupiter a white, castrated ox (bos mas) for the annual oath-taking by the consuls.
Di superi with strong connections to the earth, such as Mars, Janus, Neptune and various genii – including the Emperor's - were offered fertile victims.
After the sacrifice, a banquet was held; in state cults, the images of honored deities took pride of place on banqueting couches and by means of the sacrificial fire consumed their proper portion (exta, the innards).
Rome's officials and priests reclined in order of precedence alongside and ate the meat; lesser citizens may have had to provide their own.
Chthonic gods such as Dis pater, the di inferi ("gods below"), and the collective shades of the departed (di Manes) were given dark, fertile victims in nighttime rituals.
Animal sacrifice usually took the form of a holocaust or burnt offering, and there was no shared banquet, as "the living cannot share a meal with the dead".
Ceres and other underworld goddesses of fruitfulness were sometimes offered pregnant female animals; Tellus was given a pregnant cow at the Fordicidia festival.
Color had a general symbolic value for sacrifices.
Demigods and heroes, who belonged to the heavens and the underworld, were sometimes given black-and-white victims.
Robigo (or Robigus) was given red dogs and libations of red wine at the Robigalia for the protection of crops from blight and red mildew.
A sacrifice might be made in thanksgiving or as an expiation of a sacrilege or potential sacrilege (piaculum); a piaculum might also be offered as a sort of advance payment; the Arval Brethren, for instance, offered a piaculum before entering their sacred grove with an iron implement, which was forbidden, as well as after.
The pig was a common victim for a piaculum.
The same divine agencies who caused disease or harm also had the power to avert it, and so might be placated in advance.
Divine consideration might be sought to avoid the inconvenient delays of a journey, or encounters with banditry, piracy and shipwreck, with due gratitude to be rendered on safe arrival or return.
In times of great crisis, the Senate could decree collective public rites, in which Rome's citizens, including women and children, moved in procession from one temple to the next, supplicating the gods.
Extraordinary circumstances called for extraordinary sacrifice: in one of the many crises of the Second Punic War, Jupiter Capitolinus was promised every animal born that spring (see ver sacrum), to be rendered after five more years of protection from Hannibal and his allies.
The "contract" with Jupiter is exceptionally detailed.
Normally, if the gods failed to keep their side of the bargain, the offered sacrifice would be withheld.
In the imperial period, sacrifice was withheld following Trajan's death because the gods had not kept the Emperor safe for the stipulated period.
In Pompeii, the Genius of the living emperor was offered a bull: presumably a standard practice in Imperial cult, though minor offerings (incense and wine) were also made.
The exta were the entrails of a sacrificed animal, comprising in Cicero's enumeration the gall bladder (fel), liver (iecur), heart (cor), and lungs (pulmones).
The exta were exposed for litatio (divine approval) as part of Roman liturgy, but were "read" in the context of the disciplina Etrusca.
As a product of Roman sacrifice, the exta and blood are reserved for the gods, while the meat (viscera) is shared among human beings in a communal meal.
The exta of bovine victims were usually stewed in a pot (olla or aula), while those of sheep or pigs were grilled on skewers.
When the deity's portion was cooked, it was sprinkled with mola salsa (ritually prepared salted flour) and wine, then placed in the fire on the altar for the offering; the technical verb for this action was porricere.


Etruscan Wallpainting - Vulci François Tomb
Human sacrifice in ancient Rome was rare but documented, and there is some evidence that the custom was inherited, like so much else in the ancient Roman religion, from the Etruscans
After the Roman defeat at Cannae two Gauls and two Greeks were buried under the Forum Boarium, in a stone chamber "which had on a previous occasion (228 BC) also been polluted by human victims,".
Livy avoids the word "sacrifice" in connection with this bloodless human life-offering; Plutarch does not.
The rite was apparently repeated in 113 BC, preparatory to an invasion of Gaul.
Its religious dimensions and purpose remain uncertain.
In the early stages of the First Punic War (264 BC) the first known Roman gladiatorial munus was held, described as a funeral blood-rite to the manes of a Roman military aristocrat.
The gladiator 'munus' was never explicitly acknowledged as a human sacrifice, although in reality it was.
In this way, the gladiators swore their lives to the infernal gods, and the combat was dedicated as an offering to the di manes or other gods.
The event was therefore a sacrificium in the strict sense of the term.
In ancient Rome, munera (Latin plural) were public works provided for the benefit of the Roman people (populus Romanus) by individuals of high status and wealth. The word munera, singular munus (cf. English "munificence") means "duty, obligation", expressing the individual's responsibility to provide a service or contribution to his community. Munera are owing to the private largesse of an individual, in contrast to the ludi, "games," athletic contests or spectacles sponsored by the state. The most famous of the munera were the gladiatorial contests, which began as a service or sacrifice rendered to the dead at funeral games.
Political or military executions were sometimes conducted in such a way that they evoked human sacrifice, whether deliberately or in the perception of witnesses; Marcus Marius Gratidianus was a gruesome example.


Roman calendars show roughly forty annual religious festivals.
Some lasted several days, others a single day or less: sacred days (dies fasti) outnumbered "non-sacred" days (dies nefasti).
A comparison of surviving Roman religious calendars suggests that official festivals were organized according to broad seasonal groups that allowed for different local traditions.
Some of the most ancient and popular festivals incorporated ludi ("games," such as chariot races and theatrical performances), with examples including those held at Palestrina in honour of Fortuna Primigenia during Compitalia, and the Ludi Romani in honour of Liber. 
Other festivals may have required only the presence and rites of their priests and acolytes, or particular groups, such as women at the Bona Dea rites.
Other public festivals were not required by the calendar, but occasioned by events.
The triumph of a Roman general was celebrated as the fulfillment of religious vows, though these tended to be overshadowed by the political and social significance of the event. 
During the late Republic, the political elite competed to outdo each other in public display, and the ludi attendant on a triumph were expanded to include gladiator contests. 
Under the Principate, all such spectacular displays came under Imperial control: the most lavish were subsidised by emperors, and lesser events were provided by magistrates as a sacred duty and privilege of office. 
Additional festivals and games celebrated Imperial accessions and anniversaries.
Others, such as the traditional Republican Secular Games to mark a new era (saeculum), became imperially funded to maintain traditional values and a common Roman identity.
The meaning and origin of many archaic festivals baffled even Rome's intellectual elite, but the more obscure they were, the greater the opportunity for reinvention and reinterpretation - a fact lost neither on Augustus in his program of religious reform, which often cloaked autocratic innovation, nor on his only rival as mythmaker of the era, Ovid.
In his Fasti, a long-form poem covering Roman holidays from January to June, Ovid presents a unique look at Roman antiquarian lore, popular customs, and religious practice that is by turns imaginative, entertaining, high-minded, and scurrilous; not a priestly account, despite the speaker's pose as a vates or inspired poet-prophet, but a work of description, imagination and poetic etymology that reflects the broad humor and burlesque spirit of such venerable festivals as the Saturnalia, Consualia, and feast of Anna Perenna on the Ides of March, where Ovid treats the assassination of the newly deified Julius Caesar as utterly incidental to the festivities among the Roman people.
But official calendars preserved from different times and places also show a flexibility in omitting or expanding events, indicating that there was no single static and authoritative calendar of required observances.

Temple of Isis - Pompeii
The absorption of neighboring local gods took place as the Roman state conquered the surrounding territory.
The Romans commonly granted the local gods of the conquered territory the same honors as the earlier gods of the Roman state religion.
In addition to Castor and Pollux, the conquered settlements in Italy seem to have contributed to the Roman pantheon Diana, Minerva, Hercules, Venus, and deities of lesser rank, some of whom were Italic divinities, others originally derived from the Greek culture of Magna Graecia.
In 203 BC, the cult object embodying Cybele was brought from Pessinus in Phrygia, and welcomed with due ceremony to Rome, centuries before the territory was annexed formally.
Both Lucretius and Catullus, poets contemporary in the mid-1st century BC, offer disapproving glimpses of her wildly ecstatic cult.

In some instances, deities of an enemy power were formally invited, through the ritual of evocatio, to take up their abode in new sanctuaries at Rome.

Communities of foreigners (peregrini) and former slaves (libertini) continued their own religious practices within the city.
In this way Mithras came to Rome, and his popularity within the Roman army spread his cult as far afield as Roman Britain.
During the late Republic, the Egyptian goddess Isis, despite Rome's hostility to Egypt during the clash between Octavian and Cleopatra, became well established in Rome, and many town and cities on the Italian mainland.

Bona Dea
Bona Dea was a divinity in ancient Roman religion.
She was associated with chastity and fertility in women, healing, and the protection of the Roman state and people.
According to Roman literary sources, she was brought from Magna Graecia at some time during the early or middle Republic, and was given her own state cult on the Aventine Hill.
Her rites allowed women the use of strong wine and blood-sacrifice, things otherwise forbidden them by Roman tradition. 
Men were barred from her mysteries and the possession of her true name.
The goddess had two annual festivals.
One was held at her Aventine temple; the other was hosted by the wife of Rome's senior annual magistrate, for an invited group of elite matrons and female attendants.

The important Roman deities were eventually identified with the more anthropomorphic Greek gods and goddesses, and assumed many of their attributes and myths.


The Roman period is characterized by an avid interest in magic, though this may simply be because from this period a greater abundance of texts, both literary, and some from actual practitioners, in Greek and in Latin remains.
Much of our information comes from  magical papyri  originating in the ‘melting pot’ of varying cultures that was Egypt under the Ptolemies and under Rome.
Many terms in Roman magical texts are borrowed from the mystery cults; thus magical formulas are sometimes called teletai (literally, "celebration of mysteries"), or the magician himself is called mystagogos (the priest who leads the candidates for initiation).
Greek and Latin magical texts are often written as we might write a recipe: "Take the eyes of a bat..." for example.
So in other words the magic requires certain ingredients, much as Odysseus required the herb Moly to defeat the magic of Circe.
But of course it is not just as simple as knowing how to put a recipe together.
Appropriate gestures, at certain points in the magical ritual, are required to accompany the ingredients, different gestures it would seem produce various effects.
A magical ritual performed in the right way can guarantee the revealing of dreams, and of course the useful talent of interpreting them correctly.
In other cases certain spells allow one to send out a daemon or daemons to harm one's enemies or even to break up someone's marriage.
There seems to be a self-defining negativity to some of the magical rituals being expressed in the texts.
So, for example, love magic can turn into hate magic if the victim does not respond to the love magic.
This self-defined negative aspect to magic (as opposed to other groups defining your practices as negative even if you don’t) is found in various ‘curse tablets,’ (tabellae defixionum) left to us from the Roman world.
The term defixio is derived from the Latin verb defigere, which means literally "to pin down," but which was also associated with the idea of delivering someone to the powers of the underworld.
Of course, it was also possible to curse an enemy through a spoken word, either in his presence or behind his back, but due to numbers of curse tablets that have been found it would seem that this type of magic was considered more effective.
The process involved writing the victim's name on a thin sheet of lead, along with varying magical formulas or symbols, then burying the tablet in or near a tomb, a place of execution, or a battlefield, to give spirits of the dead power over the victim.
Sometimes the curse tablets were even transfixed with various items – such as nails, which were believed to add magical potency.
Of course for most magic acts or rituals there existed magic to counter the effects.
Amulets were one of the most common protections used in the Roman world as protection against such fearful things as curses and the evil eye; which were seen as very real by most Romans.
While amulets were often made of cheap materials, precious stones were believed to have special efficacy.
Many thousands of carved gems were found that clearly had a magical rather than an ornamental function.
Amulets were a very widespread type of magic, because of the fear of other types of magic such as curses being used against oneself.
Thus amulets were actually often a mixture of various formulas from Babylonian, Egyptian, and Greek elements that were probably worn by those of most affiliations so as to protect against other forms of magic.
It is interesting to note that amulets are actually often abbreviated forms of the formulas found in the extant magical texts.
Magical tools were thus very common in magical rituals.
Tools were probably just as important as the spells and incantations that were repeated for each magical ritual.
A magician's kit, probably dating from the 3rd century CE, was discovered in the remains of the ancient city of Pergamon in Asia Minor and gives direct evidence of this.
The find consisted of a bronze table and base, covered with symbols, a dish (also decorated with symbols), a large bronze nail with letters inscribed on its flat sides, two bronze rings, and three black polished stones inscribed with the names of supernatural powers.
What emerges then, from this evidence, is the conclusion that a type of permanence and universality of magic had developed in the Roman world.
The scholarly consensus strongly suggests that although many testimonies about magic are relatively late, the practices they reveal are almost certainly much older. However the level of credence or efficacy given to magical practices in the Greek and Roman worlds is not well known.

Magical operations largely fall into two categories: theurgical and goetic.
The word theurgia in some contexts appears simply to try and glorify the kind of magic that is being practiced – usually a respectable priest-like figure is associated with the ritual.
Proclus grandiloquently defines theurgy as, 'a power higher than all human wisdom, embracing the blessings of divination, the purifying powers of initiation, and in a word all operations of divine possession' (Theol. Plat. p. 63).
It may be described more simply as magic applied to a religious purpose, and resting on a supposed revelation of a religious character.
Whereas vulgar magic used names and formula of religious origin to profane ends, theurgy used the procedures of vulgar magic primarily to a religious end.
In a typical theurgical rite, contact with divinity occurs either through the soul of the theurgist or medium leaving the body and ascending to heaven, where the divinity is perceived, or through the descent of the divinity to earth to appear to the theurgist in a vision or a dream.
In the latter case, the divinity is drawn down by appropriate "symbols" or magical formulae.
According to the Greek philosopher Plotinus (205–270 CE) theurgy attempts to bring all things in the universe into sympathy, and man into connection with all things via the forces that flow through them.
Theurgia connoted an exalted form of magic, and philosophers interested in magic adopted this term to distinguish themselves from the magoi or goetes - lower-class practitioners.
Goetia was a derogatory term, connoting low, specious or fraudulent mageia.
Interestingly, goetia is similar in its ambiguity to charm: it means both magic and power to (sexually) attract.