Most Romans worshipped the pantheon of gods that they
adapted from the Greeks, including Jupiter (Gr. Zeus) above.
He was in charge of law and the social code. The Temple of
Jupiter was one of the early temples in the Forum. The Roman
Festival of the Ides of September, held in his honor, was
celebrated with sports, drama and food.
Private worship in Rome centered on the
lararium or shrine to the guardian spirits of
the household. Family members (left) prayed
and performed rituals to the lares, two
dancing young men with drinking horns and
the genius, who represented the father of the
When the Roman legions expanded the
Republic into the East, they brought
eastern mystery religions like the
worship of Mithras back to Rome with
them. Mithras was popular among the
military and is depicted being born
from a rock or sacrificing a bull (right).
After his death, Augustus Caesar
(right), the first Roman emporer, was
worshipped as a god, beginning the
cult of the emperor in the Roman
He was the Caesar Augustus who
decreed that all the world be
registered. That was why Mary and
Joseph were in Bethlehem when Jesus
was born (inset).
Jesus would found a new religion that
grew much larger and more influential
and has lasted far longer than Rome or
any other human empire.
The Vestal Virgins were priestesses of
Vesta, goddess of the hearth. They
were responsible for tending the eternal
flame in the Temple of Vesta, the
distinctive circular temple surrounded
by columns in the Roman Forum.