Apart from state religious ceremonies, Roman women took part in private religious observances. While texts for some of these practices do not survive (e.g. prayers women uttered to Lucina, goddess of childbirth), we have evidence for the role of women in the important family worship of the LAR FAMILIARIS (see excerpts below from Cato, De Agricultura; Plautus, Aulularia; Horace, Carmina; Columella, De Re Rustica; Pseudo-Acro, Ad Horati Saturam; Varro, Apud Nonium; Nonius, De Compendiosa Doctrina; Macrobius, Saturnalia). Women also participated in the rites associated with the LAR COMPITALIS (see excerpts below from Cicero, Epistulae Ad Atticum; Paulus, Excerpta Festi), and in FUNERARY RITES (see excerpts below from Paulus, Excerpta Festi; Paulus, Sententiae; Seneca, Epistulae Morales; Ovid, Fasti) and in religious ceremonies relating to the dead, such as the PARENTALIA (Ovid, Fasti) and the KARISTIA (Ovid, Fasti). In the TERMINALIA (Ovid, Fasti), a festival honoring the god who protected the borders of the family's property, women brought the hearth fire to the altar, much as the woman on the left is doing.
In Women's Religious Activity in the Roman Republic, Celia Schultz points out that since the vilica took over the duties of the absent materfamilias, Cato's discussion of the religious duties of the vilica gives us insight into the religious duties of the materfamilias (see The Worlds of Roman Women, p. 130-131, for Cato's full text of the duties of the vilica).
Daily worship of the Lares involved not only the dominus and his family, but also the slaves of the familia. While in small households there might be only one altar to the Lares, used by both free and slave residents, larger households generally had two or more shrines. Shrines used by the dominus and his family could be located in the center of the house, while less elaborate shrines used by the slaves were most often located in the kitchen or in peripheral rooms associated with slaves [note]. Normally the paterfamilias led the daily worship of the household Lares, but should he neglect to do so (or be unable to do so), then another family member would perform the rites. In the prologue of Plautus' play, the Lar announces that because Euclio, the master of the household, has neglected to perform the daily worship to the Lar, his daughter has taken the responsibility for this office.
dat mihi coronas.
Horace instructs Phidyle, a farmwife, on the performance of rituals that will honor her household gods to their satisfaction (the meter is Alcaic).
Caelo supinas si tuleris manus
Since taking out food stored in the house involved contact with the guardians of the family larder, the Di Penates, and offering such food to the Lares was a religious rite, it was important for those involved in these actions to be ritually pure. Religious purity particularly required that one had been chaste or purified from sexual activity, as Columella explains in this excerpt.
This commentary (a compilation of earlier works by scholars of the 5th-8th century CE attributed to the scholiast Helenius Acron of the 2nd century CE) refers to the rites marking entrance into adulthood for Roman children: the boy assumed the toga pura, putting aside his protective toga praetexta and dedicating his amulet (the bulla) to the Lares familiares; girls at the time of their marriage put away their childhood clothes and dedicated their playthings (see Varro below).
Although Varro's work is completely lost, fragments survive in Nonius Marcellus' 4th century CE work De Compendiosa Doctrina; here he lists various items (e.g., chest, doll, ball, hairnet) that girls might dedicate to the Lar upon marriage, their rite of entry into adulthood.
The Lar familiaris and Lares compitales needed to be notified of changes to the family and its household. For example, upon arriving at her new home a bride traditionally offered a copper coin (an as) to her husband's Lar familiaris and Lares compitales (described below), thus informing these deities that she was joining this household.
The letters of the famous statesman and orator Cicero provide some insight into the daily life of elite women of the late Republic. In this letter he extends an invitation to join his family's celebration of the Compitalia to his best friend T. Pomponius Atticus and Atticus' sister, Pomponia, who was married to Cicero's brother.
This passage is preserved by Paulus from the work of a late 2nd century CE scholar, Sextus Pompeius Festus; De verborum significatu was itself a summary of an etymological work by a scholar of the Augustan period, Verreius Flaccus. It explains that the Lares compitales were in some way connected with the dead. The family hoped that the Compitalia would propitiate the Lares and protect its members in the ensuing year. As women were the wool-workers (lanificae) in the Roman family, spinning and weaving clothing and goods for the household, it is likely that they were responsible for making the woolen balls and effigies to be hung for the Lares.
This passage is preserved by Paulus from the work of a late 2nd century CE scholar, Sextus Pompeius Festus, which was itself a summary of an etymological work by the Augustan scholar Verreius Flaccus. Paulus explains the process and rationale for the ritual of purification which featured the elements fire and water.
Roman women undertook a period of formal mourning after the funeral of a family member. The duration of this period was determined by the age and relationship of the deceased to the grieving women and the custom changed over time. Paulus describes the length of mourning appropriate to different relationships that was socially acceptable during the middle and late Republic.
By the late first century BCE, according to Seneca, only women were expected to engage in formal mourning for any time at all.
In the introduction to the month of March in his poem Fasti, Ovid explains why the old Roman year lasted originally only ten months; one explanation relates to the length of time a widow (vidua) was expected to mourn her husband. The meter is elegiac couplet.
Ovid describes here the rites to be conducted at the tombs on February 21, the Feralia, the last day for appeasing the dead with gifts from the larder; Ovid warns that it is a day to be avoided by brides for their wedding (557-561). The meter is elegiac couplet.
parva petunt manes.
Ovid describes the intent and rites of this festival which took place on February 22. The meter is elegiac couplet.
Ovid explains that the farmer's wife was responsible for bringing the flame from the hearth to start the sacrificial fire and her young daughter was expected to make some of the offerings. The meter is elegiac couplet.
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