19

Today, there are many polytheists and neopagans who worship the ancient Roman gods. They are, however, a very new development, and not the descendants of an unbroken line stretching back to the Roman Republic. There was a long period (unless I'm wildly mistaken) when the gods of ancient Rome were fully dead.

As Christianity was rising, though, there was a significant amount of time, both before and after Christianity became the official religion on the Roman Empire, when Christians and pagans lived side-by-side. Some of this was peaceful, some of it was less so. But at a certain point, there were simply none of the latter group left, and Christianity had (aside from other religious minorities like the Jews) completed the conversion of the Empire, and of Europe.

When did that happen? What is the last reference we have to people worshiping Jupiter, Mars, Venus, etc? Preferably, what is the last reference that is generally accepted as valid, and not simply an accusation of scandalous pagan practices as a way to slander a Christian's name?

  • 2
    Worship of the Gods in the Greek form was weak even in ancient times. Often Romans talked of aspects of Gods, like Jupiter Stator "Stayer of Armies", and more vague spirits like the Lares and Penates. Also, once Christianity got going there was hardly a need to tar someone with Paganism to slander them. Heretical Christian practice was easier to 'prove' and probably carried higher punishment. – Oldcat Oct 31 '14 at 17:24
  • Don't forget that there is no a fixed set of Roman gods. Romans absorbed most deities they met on occupied territories into their religion. The only connection is the Empire. So in that sense worshiping Roman gods even include Christianity, as Christianity was the last official religion of the Roman empire. – Greg Nov 23 '14 at 19:18
13

Greco-Roman polytheism in Rome survived the 455 CE sacking but it is unclear at what point traditional roman paganism transformed into hybrid Christian heresies versus any retention of religious purity. Secret cults by virtue of being secret are both hard to track and likely to mutate in isolation over time.

In so far as Roman beliefs fed back into the Hellenistic religion prior to the rise of Christianity, apparently there were open holdouts on the Greek islands until at least 804 CE.

Claims of continuity to the present day seem unsubstantiated and derive from neopagan websites. The Greco-Roman revival has even been interpreted as form of resurgent nationalism rather than a full blown religious revival.

6

Some Roman gods remained an integral part of Medieval mythology and arts. For instance, consider the German legend of Tannhäuser (first attested at 1430), a knight who allegedly met Venus and fell in love with her. There are multiple appearances of other classical gods in medieval epos.

enter image description here

  • Interesting. It seems that this is a case of the European Middle Ages acknowledging other gods; a distinctly old testament characteristic. But was it simply the titillating hint of apostasy and rebellion against the established order as reflected through poetry, or actual worship? – LateralFractal Oct 31 '14 at 1:38
  • @LateralFractal definitely not a rebellion. There are also other legends where classical gods appear along Christian characters, in various roles. It seems such kind of mixing was not expressly persecuted by Rome, but conversely, even popes made orders for statues and pictures of ancient gods for their private collections and public places. It is unclear though to what extent this can be seen a "worship" as all of them kept is separate from their Christian service. – Anixx Oct 31 '14 at 1:48
  • 1
    @LateralFractal also note that aroud the end of fisrt millenium (the time around Charlemegne) a legend was widespread that Germanic peoples (Franks) originated from Troy, which served as a national onigin myth serving to prove the relation between the Franks and Romans and the right of the Franks to rule Rome. – Anixx Oct 31 '14 at 1:52
-4

We still do worship one last Roman god:

modern cupid cupid from Pompeii

Modern Cupid from today... and Cupid from Pompeii 2000 years ago

The sole survivor of the Greco-Roman pantheon.

  • 8
    Not a helpful answer and also factually incorrect. – fredsbend Oct 29 '14 at 22:26
  • 2
    It's not a good answer, but two down votes? Come on, that's too harsh. – Matthaeus Oct 30 '14 at 0:01
  • 1
    From what I can tell, Cupid was swapped out for Saint Valentine. Nobody actually worshipped Cupid during the Middle Ages. If the mythology survived the Christian hegemonic era, then this was an allegory of divine agency rather than as an independent god. – LateralFractal Oct 30 '14 at 8:03
  • 3
    -1 because it is "a very new development, and not the descendants of an unbroken line stretching back to the Roman Republic", i.e. exactly what this question was not asking. – o0'. Oct 30 '14 at 8:24
  • 1
    Cupid and Cherubs being a new development seems to be an unproven assertion. I seem to recall them in art for hundreds of years back. – Oldcat Oct 30 '14 at 21:24

protected by Pieter Geerkens Oct 1 '18 at 15:31

Thank you for your interest in this question. Because it has attracted low-quality or spam answers that had to be removed, posting an answer now requires 10 reputation on this site (the association bonus does not count).

Would you like to answer one of these unanswered questions instead?

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.