Over the years Iíve noticed some distinct ways in writing history books of all kinds, each with its benefits. Some folks like to write the tale of the ancients in their own words and with their own perceptions; others seem purely academic with long presentations of resource and data, sometimes without even much interpretation.
Personally I tend to like the happy medium of a mix: of ample quotation of the ancient histories, peppered with archaeological data, but guided by coherent narrative of the practiced historical mind. Valerie M. Warriorís sourcebook Roman Religion follows this latter pattern and is a thoroughly enjoyable read.
The book is as structured as the Roman religion itself, with specific sections covering distinct aspects of the Roman polytheist religion. Each section really is a tapestry, woven with the words of the ancient historians, snippets from plays, even the occasional inscription, depicting in vivid detail the Roman faith you wouldnít expect from a book of its size. As an example of her expansive and thoughtful investigations via the ancients, her subsection on sacrifice includes quotations from Antiquities by Dionysius of Halicarnassus, the play Little Carthaginian by Plautus, the Fasti by Ovid, and even On Agriculture by Cato the Elder. The discriminating eye can find little hints of the whole just about anywhere.
Covered are all the vital aspects: the birth of Roman religion and Etruscan or Greek influences, god worship at the family, governmental and imperial level, forms and methods of worship, and the cult of the Emperor. Also a glad inclusion is discussion on the Roman concepts of mortals becoming gods, festivals, games, occults, magic and astronomy, and even the significant effects of philosophical developments on the Roman religious worldview, or the undeniably important effect of religion on politics.
For the excellent job she does in covering the polytheistic aspect of Roman religion, she covers the Christians and Jews in scant detail. Considering the size of this topic it would probably have been best to leave it to another book, with mentions of suppression of early Christianity and Jewish revolts in the relevant sections of the book, rather than make an attempt at covering them. The extra space would have been better served in making the whole dedicated to Roman polytheism with that much more detail.
Though less than 200 pages, I canít recall how many times I have gone straight for this book to look up an appropriate quotation to support a point in a discussion, look for some detail, or just simply some new idea. Iím sure it is not the absolute authority on Roman religion out there, but for the beginner looking for a solid resource on the various particulars of Roman religion itís a sure bet to please. Even the experienced can find a lot of good quotations to put the whole into a proper perspective, or at least get ideas on where to hunt for what you are looking for in deeper detail.
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