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The Matter of the Gods

The Matter of the Gods: Religion and the Roman Empire

Clifford Ando
Copyright Date: 2008
Edition: 1
Pages: 270
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1525/j.ctt1ppmqb
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  • Book Info
    The Matter of the Gods
    Book Description:

    What did the Romans know about their gods? Why did they perform the rituals of their religion, and what motivated them to change those rituals? To these questions Clifford Ando proposes simple answers: In contrast to ancient Christians, who had faith, Romans had knowledge, and their knowledge was empirical in orientation. In other words, the Romans acquired knowledge of the gods through observation of the world, and their rituals were maintained or modified in light of what they learned. After a preface and opening chapters that lay out this argument about knowledge and place it in context,The Matter of the Godspursues a variety of themes essential to the study of religion in history.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-93365-1
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. PREFACE
    (pp. ix-xviii)
  4. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. xix-xx)
  5. ABBREVIATIONS
    (pp. xxi-xxiv)
  6. 1 RELIGION, LAW, AND KNOWLEDGE IN CLASSICAL ROME
    (pp. 1-18)

    The historian Valerius Maximus, who compiled his nine books ofMemorable Deeds and Sayingsunder the emperor Tiberius (14–37 C.E.), introduced the first section of his first book, “On Religion” (De religione), in the following terms:¹

    Our ancestors desired that fixed and formal annual ceremonies be regulated by the knowledge of thepontifices; that sanction for the good governance of affairs be marshaled by the observations of augurs; that Apollo’s prophecies be revealed by the books of the seers; and that the expiation of portents be accomplished in accordance with the Etruscan discipline.

    Also, by hallowed practice, observances are...

  7. PART ONE. THE LIMITS OF ORTHOPRAXY

    • 2 IDOLS AND THEIR CRITICS
      (pp. 21-42)

      Data in an empiricist episteme must be susceptible to sense perception. Where Roman religion is concerned, one or the other of two things must be true: either the actions of the gods in this world in their effects, or the gods themselves, must be material. Of course, the former in no way requires the latter. But much of Roman ritual, and many strands of Roman religious literature, do, in fact, situate the gods in this world, whether as recipients of cult or as inhabitants of particular spaces. What is more, many but by no means all of those actions and...

    • 3 INTERPRETATIO ROMANA
      (pp. 43-58)

      Among scholars of classical religion, the termsinterpretatio Graecaandinterpretatio Romanacommonly refer to the “broad identification among Greeks and Romans of a foreign godhead with a member of their own pantheons.” These identifications are generally studied at the level of naming—not least because most easily collected evidence for them is linguistic, namely the epigraphically attested use of “theonyms as appellatives.” What is more, many argue that the central interest ofinterpretationeslies more or less exclusively in the act of naming, and not in the act of identification, and thatinterpretatioitself is “therefore a phenomenon in...

    • 4 RELIGION AND IUS PUBLICUM
      (pp. 59-92)

      The two great codifications of law undertaken in Christian late antiquity are often presented as novel interventions in the history of religion. As the first such codification since the Twelve Tables a thousand years before, we are told, the Theodosian Code did more than advertise the maturation of imperial government; it aggressively highlighted that government’s adherence to Christianity. For Theodosius departed from the precedent of the Twelve Tables by including in his Code a book on religion—the sixteenth and last; while Justinian did him one better by placing his book on religion first.¹

      Even crediting their brevity, it is...

  8. PART TWO. GODS OF THE FAR-FLUNG EMPIRE

    • 5 A RELIGION FOR THE EMPIRE
      (pp. 95-119)

      The Flavian municipal law has been called remarkable for what it omits: the extant chapters make no allusion to priests and no reference to the concrete actions of the provincial governor or the emperor.¹ It is also remarkable for what it takes for granted. Consider, for example, the oath stipulated for town magistrates. Each was to swear openly “in an assembly by Jupiter, the divine Augustus, the divine Claudius, the divine Vespasian Augustus, the divine Titus Augustus, thegeniusof Imperator Caesar Domitian Augustus and thedei Penates” that he would act in accordance with the law and in the...

    • 6 RELIGION AND IMPERIALISM AT ROME
      (pp. 120-148)

      Killing is a serious business. The unleashing of fatal violence demands regard for the more-than-human. This is true regardless whether that violence is exercised privately or publicly, and never more so than in war. The religious communities of the ancient Mediterranean produced some of their most remarkable literature in grappling with the horrors of war and the sack of cities. Indeed, we cannot appreciate the resolutions they devised to these crises of meaning unless we recall how easy it was, in a world in which cultures and ethnic groups were imagined to be bounded by what we now call city-states,...

    • 7 THE PALLADIUM AND THE PENTATEUCH
      (pp. 149-198)

      Historians of religion in late antiquity tend to adopt one of two perspectives. Either we seek to understand Christianization, a process ultimately reducible to acts of individual choice whose aggregate effects can be described in purely demographic terms, or we investigate the demise of paganism, a set of discrete rituals and practices, some of which survived in Christian Europe, robbed of their religious significance through cult acts and conciliar decrees.

      Understood in these terms, the Christianization of the Roman empire passed a milestone in the early fifth century, the last age attesting a senator who publicly professed paganism. Similarly, paganism...

  9. BIBLIOGRAPHY
    (pp. 199-220)
  10. GENERAL INDEX
    (pp. 221-224)
  11. INDEX LOCORUM
    (pp. 225-239)
  12. Back Matter
    (pp. 240-240)