|Diagram of the main features of a Roman
temple, showing the functions performed in each part. Note: The various
actions shown would not in fact have all taken place simultaneously.
In the early days of Roman history, there were no buildings devoted to the
worship of the gods: a "temple" consisted merely of a quadrangular space
marked out on the ground by priests. Later, however, stone temples were
built specially for religious ceremonies. As time passed, these gradually
became more and more rich and magnificent.
1. A Roman temple usually stood on a high platform (podium),
approached at one end only by a long and steep flight of steps (not visible
in this picture).
2. The colonnade, or row of columns, was characteristic of Roman
temples. Some had columns only along the front, an others at both ends;
others again had a row of columns the whole way round.
3. The deep porchway between the colonnade and the doorway was called
4. This room, called the cella (in Greek naos), was
the temple proper, and was quite small. It contained the statue of the
god (often of enormous size), the shrine, and other altars.
5. and 6. These are worshippers in the act of praying. A Roman stood to
pray, with his arms held out, and his head covered with the edge of his
toga, so that he should not see anything of ill omen.
7. Incense was offered to the gods by being burnt, as here, in a brazier.
8. In a bloodless sacrifice, various foods such as fruit, cakes, and grain
were first consecrated by prayer to the god, then laid upon the altar
9. These are large jugs (amphorae) containing offerings of wine,
milk, and honey.
10. An animal is about to be sacrificed on the altar. The ritual for this
was elaborate, and the slightest mistake meant starting all over again.
First the animal was led to the altar crowned with a garland of flowers
and adorned with a white band. A crier ordered silence, and warned sinners
to depart. While the fires were being lit the priest sprinkled the victim
with wine, and with a special mixture of meal and salt called mola
salsa. Pipers played, to drown any ill-omened sound, and the priest
recited the prayer under his breath. The victimarius (assistant
at the sacrifice) killed the victim with a stroke of the axe aimed at
the head; the flowing blood was collected and sprinkled over the alter.
11. The haruspices (soothsayers) then examined the victim's entrails,
and especially the liver, with great care for clues to the will of the
gods, which they believed could be found in them. If the entrails were
of good omen, and such as would satisfy the god, then they too were put
on the altar, splashed with wine, and burnt. The remaining parts of the
animal's body were usually eaten by the people who had offered it; for
a sacrifice was often considered as a meal at which the god was the guest