Social complexity and religion at Rome in the second and first centuries BCE
This thesis studies the religious system of the city of Rome and its immediate hinterland from the end of the Second Punic War to the emergence of autocratic rule shortly before the turn of the millennium. The Romans lacked a separate word for 'religion'. Scholars therefore hold that modern notions of religion, due to their Christianizing assumptions, cannot be applied to Roman religion, which consisted in public and social religious observance rather than in individual spirituality. The first chapter argues that Roman religion can be conceptualized as a system of social religious behaviour and individual motivational processes. A comparative definition of 'religion', which transcends Christianizing assumptions, is proposed to support this argument. In chapter two, modern interpretations of Roman religion, which view Republican religion as a 'closed system' in which religion is undifferentiated from politics and from public life, are criticized. It is argued that these interpretations start from unwarranted preconceptions concerning the interrelation of religion and society. Instead, I suggest that we should apply the model of an 'open system': the religious system at Rome was interrelated with its environment, but at the same time it could be conceptualized as being differentiated from other realms of social activity at Rome. Chapter three refutes the view that the identity of religion at Rome can be described by models of political or cultural identity. Instead, religious communication in Late Republican Rome was characterized by contextual rather than by substantive meanings. The fluidity of religious meaning in Late Republican Rome, a metropolis of nearly 1,000,000 inhabitants, implies that normative definitions of the constituents of Roman religion fail to convince. In relation to coloniae and municipia it is attempted to show that the religious system of Rome, a local religion geared to the physical city and its immediate hinterland, was not capable of becoming a universal religion. In the fourth chapter, the parameters organizing Roman religion are discussed. My thesis is that Roman religion in the Late Republic was decentralized in that religious authority was diffused and religious responsibilities were divided. In the city of Rome, there existed a market of religious alternatives, which was characterized by the compatibility of different deities and cults in a polytheistic context.