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Religious Change through Law in Roman Antiquity

Panel Chair: Giorgio Ferri | Tuesday, August 25, 3:30-5:30 p.m.

Religion and Law were closely connected in Rome in the key-concept of mos maiorum, the tradition of the ancestors. Every new cult was carefully examined and in some cases approved and adapted to Roman religious concepts by the state (senatu in primis) and religious authorities (particularly the pontiffs). From their origins to the case of the Bacchanalia (186 B.C.) and the long phase of the conquests, up to the Codex Theodosianus (438 B. C.) and the Corpus Iuris Civilis (528-534 B. C.), the Romans, “jurists by vocation” (G. Dumézil), face an unending confrontation with other religious systems, hence a constant meditation on their own, in the context of a mutual exchange of influences and adjustments and of an unresolved polarity between religious innovation and extraordinary conservatism (religio from religere, "to choose again"). What part did Law play in Rome (e.g. senatus-consultus, rescript, edict, general law, etc.) from the point of view of religious change?

Claudia Beltrão da Rosa

Religious Change, Law, and the ludi scaenici (3rd century BCE)

What part did Law play in the ritual changes occurred in the Republican space of the ludi in the 3rd century BCE? Throughout the Republic Roman theatre is the theatre of game and ritual, a performance created by and for a religious ritual. The Republican ludi scaenici are ludicrum, but they are also commissiones Graecorum. Following the thesis of J. Rüpke, especially with regard to the control and production of theatrical performances as an instrument of aristocratic competition, I propose to analyse the development and consolidation of the ludi as a central space of public communication, questioning the intense legislative activity in the 3rd century aimed at conforming and controlling this form of public religious activity.

Richard Gordon

The Legal Construction of an Anti-Religion: Magic and Roman Law

It is now accepted that there was no law against 'magic' in the early Empire, beyond the language of 'poisoning' in the Lex Cornelia. Nevertheless there are clear signs of attempts to extend the scope of the law to include other types of practice, which by the third century produced an explicit recognition of a crime of magia. Here is a case in which socio-political factors brought about the creation of a crime which had not previously existed.

Gian Franco Chiai

How Religion Protects the Landscape: leges sacrae against Environmental Pollution

The sacred laws contain not only norms concerning for example how the believers should make a sacrifice, be dressed or what they should have eaten before they go to the temple. These documents contain often norms concerning the defense of the natural environment around the sanctuary (rivers, woods e.g.) against human pollutions. These prohibitions, often connected to the religious practices of the sacred institution, can also be understood as the presence of a sensibility for a clean environment, important not only for the god, but also for the believers, who visit the temple, and for the priests, who live in the sanctuary. Through the analysis of a selected number of epigraphic documents, this paper aims on the one hand at reconstructing how these prohibitions are connected to an ancient sensibility for a clean environment and on the other hand at showing how these norms are used to create and defend a sacred landscape.

Franco Vallocchia

People, Law and Priests in the Roman Public Law

The priests organized in colleges are chosen by the members of the college in which they will be included with the system of cooptation; the other priests are chosen by the pontifex maximus. The pontifex maximus is selected from the members of the pontifical college. The terms of the choice of priests changed from 212 BC, when it emerges from the sources of the existence of the comitia pontificis maximi, which provide for the election of the great pontiff (Liv. 25.5.2-4). Furthermore, in 103 BC the tribune of the plebs Domitius Ahenobarbus had approved a plebiscite under which competence on the choice of priests organized in colleges is attributed to the comitia sacerdotiorum. With the introduction of the electoral principle in terms of the choice of priests, the distinction between priests and magistrates seem less clear. But an examination of sources clearly shows that this distinction remains.


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