In the Granary of the Lunt Fort we have a wonderful colourised frieze 100 feet long, showing images taken from Trajan’s Column inRome. Here is another scene.

THE  EMPEROR  TRAJAN,  FLANKED  BY  HIS  GENERALS,  PREPARES  TO  MAKE  A  SACRIFICE  TO  THE  GODS.

HE  HAS  LIT  A  FIRE  ON THE  ALTAR  BEFORE  HIM.  A  PROCESSION  OF  FLUTE  PLAYERS  LEAD  IN  THE  THREE  ANIMALS  FOR  SACRIFICE  –  AN  OX,  A SHEEP  AND  A  PIG.

THEN  COME  THE  PRIESTS  WITH  THEIR  AXES  TO  SLAUGHTER  THE  VICTIMS.

FOUR  STANDARD  –  BEARERS  WATCH  THE  RITUAL.

Here we see one of the most important ritual sacrifices of the Roman state religion. The triple slaughter of an ox, a sheep and a pig was known as the Suevotaurilia, and its purpose here is to bless and purify the Army before a campaign is launched. The ceremony takes place within a walled camp. A tent can be seen in the background. The emperor Trajan prepares by lighting a fire on the altar, performing the rite in his office as “Pontifex Maximus” – the High Priest of the state. As the officiating priest he is “velate”, with his cloak pulled up to cover his head.

Like the British, the Romans were good at ceremonial. We witness here a great procession, complete with band, garlanded attendants and decorated victims. The standard- bearers are resplendent in their bearskins – though not worn in quite the same style as the Grenadier Guards……..

The Roman state religion centred on the “Capitoline Triad” – the gods Jupiter, Juno and Minerva. By the time of the Dacian Wars (c.100 AD) there were few true believers left. The religion had become, in many ways, merely a symbolic acquiescence to the authority of the status quo. A bit like the Church of England really.

Because their official religion was accepted as a polite fiction, the Romans were otherwise free to believe what they wanted. Many turned to the more satisfying mystery religions of the East. The cult of the Egyptian Isis was popular, as was that that of Cybele, Serapis and Dionysius. Later in the Empire – and particularly in the Army – the cult of Mithras flourished. This was a religion strong on personal morality – and a movement born of the Western empire (it has no connection with Persian beliefs) as opposed to its main competitor, Christianity – which was, of course, yet another Eastern sect.

The arrival of Christianity marks the real beginning of religious intolerance in theRoman Empire, a phenomenon largely unknown previously. We may well reflect here on the mixed impact that confessional religions like Christianity and Islam had on the ancient world and in subsequent ages.

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