Ancient Roman Cult Practices , Animal Sacrifice and Funeral Practices

You probably already now that pleasing the gods and goddesses of ancient Rome played a significant role in the life of a Roman resident. They ultimately hoped to gain blessings in everything from raising healthy crops to finding the love of their life. In this article, you will learn how animal sacrifice helped achieve some of the religious goals of Romans, as well as some of the funeral practices of ancient Rome.

Animal Sacrifice

The ritual killing of any animal when used as part of a religion is called an animal sacrifice. Used to appease a god or more than one god, many religions have practiced this animal sacrifice with some still doing so to this day. Nearly all cultures have showed signs of the practice, including the Hebrews, Aztecs, and Hindus. The ancient Romans and Greeks also relied on this act. Certain events or times of the year were set aside for specific sacrifices, such as the Equirria.

The Equirria (also known as the Festival of Mars) took place on February 27 (First Equirria) and March 14 (Second Equirria), and represented religious and military holy days that involved New Year celebrations for Mars. By celebrating the god of war, the Romans believed that they would be able to better support their army, as well as increase the morale amongst the public. When it came to purifying the army, priests performed the rites. Those participating in the celebration would hold horse races on the Campius Martius (also known as the field of Mars). They would also drive out a scapegoat out of Rome as a symbol of “expelling the old and bringing in the new.”

During the October 15 festival called Equus October, the right hand horse of the winning pair of a race earned the honor of being sacrificed to Mars. Romans would transfer the tail to the regia , a structure in ancient Rome that served high priests and kings. Blood from the tail would drip on the hearth. Traditionally, inhabitants with opposing views as to how the head should be distributed would fight over this body part.

The Roman Empire also practiced the sacrifice of a bull, which after the middle of the 2nd century became known as a way to worship the Great Mother of the Gods. This practice was called taurobolium and it was commonplace until the 4th century.

Funeral Practices

During ancient Roman days, the most significant people in history were given elaborate funerals, which stemmed from a tradition that dates back to the early Roman Republic. It was the belief that the accomplishments of the deceased should be celebrated right along with his ancestors. Interestingly, mourners were hired to walk in the front of the procession and wear masks of the departed descendants who had served as magistrates. The achievements of the dead were ultimately celebrated, as the body followed behind the mourners.

During the procession, a eulogy was read. After the funeral, the body was either buried or cremated, where the ashes were placed in a container and the container was buried. If a proper funeral was too expensive for a family to pay, corpses were placed in a casket and tossed into a creek , a place that other poor dead people were left.