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New Gods for the Romans

After Rome became the dominant power in the Mediterranean region, its extended contacts were accompanied by an increase in religious diffusion. Romans imported more gods, new cults and new rituals. Among the imported religions was the Orphic mysteries from Greece, which claimed that the human soul was of divine origin, that human nature was divided between good and evil, and that one's soul could rise above humanity's inherited evil.

Those who had migrated from the countryside to the city of Rome found gods they had worshiped no longer significant – gods that had guarded their woods and had made their grasses green. In Rome they came into contact with imported religions that had less to do with nature and more to do with bliss, excitement and salvation.

Some Romans worshiped Bacchus, the Roman god of wine. Rites of this religion included frenzied, ecstatic trances and self-abandon similar to the worship of Dionysus, the god of wine among the Greeks. Some from Rome's elite families became involved in these gatherings, which were conducted in secrecy. Tolerance by those with political power had its limits. The Senate feared secret meetings and conspiracies might foster subversion, and when Rome's Senate finally became aware of the spread of Bacchus worship it became alarmed. It outlawed the movement and put to death seven thousand Bacchus devotees.

The Senate also outlawed astrology, seeing this import from the east as subversive. State officials saw the worship of most other imported gods as benign while they continued to foster patriotism by promoting Rome's official gods.



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