Religion and the Roman Empire Essay

This essay has a total of 1041 words and 5 pages.

Religion and the Roman Empire

The Roman Empire is credited with many things due partially to their ability to share,
spread, and adapt culture. Rome was successful because it both conquered and shared the
fruits of conquest with the conquered. Religion was one part of the culture that
demonstrated the tolerance of Romans. For example, at the time of Jesus' birth, paganism
could be divided into three spheres: the official state religion, the traditional cults of
the hearth and countryside, and the new mystery religions from the East. Even though the
official religion in the Roman Empire began as Pagan, it ended as Christianity when
Emperor Theodosius declared it as the official religion in A.D. 380. The following
examines two works of fiction that deal with religion during the Roman Empire.


The Golden Ass, by Apuleius, is a story of Lucius who talks his lover, the servant of a
witch, into stealing him a potion that will temporarily turn him into an owl.
Unfortunately it is the wrong potion and he is turned into a jack ass. The antidote for
this dilemma is to simply eat roses, but he is dragged off by robbers before he can eat
any. After a full year, and many trials and tribulations, he is finally saved by the
Egyptian goddess Isis and immediately starts down the path to become initiated into the
deepest mysteries of her religion. The interesting part of this story is the description
of the initiation ceremony:


"Then the High Priest ordered all uninitiated persons to depart, invested me in a new
linen garment and let me by the hand into the inner recesses of the sanctuary itself, I
have no doubt, curious reader, that you are eager to know what happened when I entered. If
I were allowed to tell you, and you were allowed to be told, you would soon hear
everything; but, as it is, my tongue would suffer for its indiscretion and your ears for
their inquisitiveness."


Not being allowed to tell others what the initiation ceremony entailed is just one of the
reasons these are called mystery religions. As Buckler, Hill, and McKay put it, "Once
[those who joined] had successfully undergone initiation, they were forbidden to reveal
the secrets of the cult. Consequently, modern scholars know comparatively little about
their tenets". The story of Lucius underscores this point. He describes briefly some of
the tasks he must accomplish during the ‘period of preparation', but does not go into
detail as to the initiation ceremony or the tenets of the religion. Without sharing this
information, the understanding of this and the majority of these mystery religions died
with the last practitioner.


The movie King Arthur also deals somewhat with Roman religion. The movie begins with this
direct quote, "Historians agree that the classical 15th century tale of King Arthur and
his Knights rose from a real hero who lived a thousand years earlier in the period often
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