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How Foreign Were Rome’s Peregrina Sacra?
The religious system in the Roman society was structured in a way that it allowed the introduction of different gods and goddesses into their cultural sphere. Romans did not object to the worship of Apollo or Isis instead they welcomed the cultural integration of other societies into their religious pantheon. Though Romans accepted divinities of foreign cults or peregrina sacra, they know what practices to reject.
The polytheistic nature of the Roman way of life allowed them to integrate different deities of foreign cults into their religious system. They followed the practices of the foreign deities. The Romans performed rituals “according to the custom of the people from whom they were received” (Orlin 9). But the Romans were aware of what they were importing. They made a clear distinction between foreign cults and foreignness. The Romans changed the practices of the imported cults to the degree that they completely differed with the rituals of the original cult. For example, the Romans accepted Juno Sospita of Lanuvium into their religious pantheon but rejected the ritual of “Snake Festival.” The ritual involved a virgin girl offering food to a snake. If food is accepted girl’s life is spared and killed if rejected (Douglas). Another imported cult by the Romans was of Aesculapius, the Greek god of medicine. Romans had no plans of importing Aesculapius, but a plague that was wreaking havoc forced them to accept him as their god
The Roman polytheistic view of the world allowed them to accept deities of different regions. They accepted the rituals that suited their needs and gave a new Roman identity to the foreign cult. The Romans incorporated these qualities and traditions of foreign cults into their art and literature. They created stories around the new gods and assimilated them into their religious system.
Douglas, E. M. “Iuno Sospita of Lanuvium.” The Journal of Roman Studies, vol. 3, 1913, pp.
60–72. JSTOR, JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/296022.
Orlin, E. M. Foreign Cults in Rome: Creating a Roman Empire. Oxford University Press, 2010.