Earlier this year, Princeton released a new work on religion in Ancient Rome that looks quite interesting. The book is Pantheon: A New History of Roman Religion, by German religious studies scholar Jörg Rüpke (University of Erfurt). Ancient Rome did not separate religion from government, as we do today. The emperor held the title of Pontifex Maximus, the greatest bridge-builder between the gods and men; visitors to the Capitoline Museum today can see, in one of the museum’s staircases, a wonderful bas-relief of the Emperor Marcus Aurelius performing a sacrifice in that role. Indeed, it is only the liberal societies of the West (and their imitators in other parts of the world) that have attempted to separate religion from the state, typically in an attempt to squelch the power of Christianity. The liberal project is feeling some strain just now; one wonders whether, if liberalism really does fade away, Western societies will return to the older model, with religion at the center of public life. But what religion would that be? Anyway, here is the description of the book from the publisher’s website:
From one of the world’s leading authorities on the subject, an innovative and comprehensive account of religion in the ancient Roman and Mediterranean world
In this ambitious and authoritative book, Jörg Rüpke provides a comprehensive and strikingly original narrative history of ancient Roman and Mediterranean religion over more than a millennium—from the late Bronze Age through the Roman imperial period and up to late antiquity. While focused primarily on the city of Rome, Pantheon fully integrates the many religious traditions found in the Mediterranean world, including Judaism and Christianity. This generously illustrated book is also distinguished by its unique emphasis on lived religion, a perspective that stresses how individuals’ experiences and practices transform religion into something different from its official form. The result is a radically new picture of both Roman religion and a crucial period in Western religion—one that influenced Judaism, Christianity, Islam, and even the modern idea of religion itself.
Drawing on a vast range of literary and archaeological evidence, Pantheon shows how Roman religion shaped and was shaped by its changing historical contexts from the ninth century BCE to the fourth century CE. Because religion was not a distinct sphere in the Roman world, the book treats religion as inseparable from political, social, economic, and cultural developments. The narrative emphasizes the diversity of Roman religion; offers a new view of central concepts such as “temple,” “altar,” and “votive”; reassesses the gendering of religious practices; and much more. Throughout, Pantheon draws on the insights of modern religious studies, but without “modernizing” ancient religion.
With its unprecedented scope and innovative approach, Pantheon is an unparalleled account of ancient Roman and Mediterranean religion.