What kind of gods did Romans worship?
At first, Romans believed in many different gods and goddesses. These gods were like people, but with magical powers. The Roman gods were part of a family. People told stories or myths about them. Each god or goddess looked after different people or things.
These are a few of the old Roman gods:
Saturn: once king of the gods, his place was taken by his son (Jupiter). Saturn was the god of seed-sowing. A merry Roman holiday or festival, the Saturnalia, was named after him.
Jupiter: god of the sky, he was the most important god.
Juno: Jupiter's wife, she looked after women.
Neptune: Jupiter's brother, he was the god of the sea.
Minerva: goddess of wisdom and women's work, such as weaving cloth.
Mars: god of war, though originally god of farming.
Venus: goddess of love, she was the lover of Mars.
Why did the Romans borrow new gods?
The Romans often borrowed new gods from people they conquered. They hoped these new gods would make them stronger. They borrowed gods from Egypt, for example, such as the goddess Isis. Roman soldiers worshipped Mithras, a god from Iran. A soldier going on a journey might ask Mercury (god of travel) for help, as well as Mithras the soldiers' god and he might also make a sacrifice to Neptune (the sea god) if he had to travel by ship!
What went on a Roman temple?
People worshipped the gods in special buildings called temples. Inside the temple was a statue of a god. Priests looked after the temple. People went there to make sacrifices or offerings of food, flowers or money. Sometimes the priest killed an animal, such as a bull, as part of the sacrifice ceremony. Some Emperors said they were gods too, so everyone had to make a sacrifice to the Emperor.
Romans also had gods at home. They believed in household spirits that protected the family. They had miniature temples, or shrines, in their homes. The family would make offerings of food and drink to the household gods, and pray for good luck and protection.
Did Romans believe in life after death?
The Romans believed that a person's spirit went to the underworld after the person died. To get there, the dead needed to cross the River Styx. The dead person's family would leave a coin on the dead body, to pay the ferryman, whose name was Charon.
Some of these old beliefs changed when Christianity was made the official religion of the Roman Empire by the Emperor Constantine in the 4th century AD. Before then, Christians got into trouble because they refused to worship the emperor as a god. Some Christians were arrested and put to death.