registered religions

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registered religions

Postby Quintus Aurelius Orcus on Mon Nov 22, 2004 11:44 pm


I was rereading my book on ancient mysteries by Walter Burkert when I came to a page stating that in Rome, in order to practice openly ones religion, they must register their religion with their local pontif or religious/ government official.
Now is there any record of how many registered religions existed within the bounderies of the Roman empire?
We assume that people worshipped the Gods of different cultures, but have we on record how many religions, cults were actually registered and practiced openly by the people?

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Postby Horatius Piscinus on Wed Nov 24, 2004 1:30 pm

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Religions were not centrally organized in such a way that they could be registered on an empire wide basis. Burkert is probably referring to the regestering of sodalitates. There were many varieties of these. Some were funeral clubs, others would be for craftmen, and some could be for maintaining a local shrine. If you go back to the Senate's decree against the Bacchae in 186, they did not expel the Bacchae entirely. They regulated how large a group of Bacchae could be and how often it met. Later under the empire the Augustus issued a decree that such groups could meet no more than once a month. Mary Beard et alii, "Religions of Rome," Vol. 2; 2.12 gives an example from the funeral sodalitas of Diana and Antinous. The regulations of this society restates the decree:

"The following are permitted [to assemble], convene, and maintain a society: those who wish to make monthly contributions [for funerals] may assemble in such a society, but they may not [assemble] in the name of such a society except once a month for the sake of making contributions to provide burial for the dead."

The bylaws that follow concern entry fees, monthly dues, and benefits of membership; a calendar for when the society would meet for festive dinners, and by-laws concerning officers of the societas. In the immediate vicinity of Rome there have been discovered something like 52 (?) Mithraic shrines alone, IIRC, and everyone of them would have had such a regulation and have been registered with the authorities. The same would have been the case of every group of Isis worshippers in town, every group devoted to Jupiter Dolichenus, and so on. It was registration by societates, each of which had a religious nature even when it was intended for some other purpose, and not a registration of official religions per se.

To meet regularly as a defined group and not register had political overtones of a conspiratorial connotation. That apparently was the issue with some Isiac groups and some Christian groups, but by no means all. The catacombs were used by many groups as a place of burial, only certain sections were for Christians, and they met in the catacombs just as other burial societies did. So they were probably registered. The Valentinians had a school at Rome and we do not hear of any Roman persecution of Valentinian Christians, so those groups probably were registered as well. Some groups apparently tried to go around the law by meeting outside of cities. That was the complaint of Pliny the Younger about groups of Bacchae, meeting in the countryside, apparently not registered in his province, where he also said he was not havng a problem with Christian groups in his province. Registration was done at the local level, so in Rome itself there must have been hundreds if not thousands of such societates, and throughout the empire there could have been millions of such groups.

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