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date: 24 March 2019

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter provides cultural background for early Christian ritual through an overview of Roman sacra familiae (domestic rites). It offers representative examples from three main areas of domestic religious practice: (1) regular worship of the gods at household shrines; (2) rites de passage or lifecycle rituals, as illustrated by a freeborn boy’s coming of age ceremony; and (3) annual festivals concerned with interactions between freeborn and slave members of the household, and relations between the living and the dead as demonstrated by the commemorative Parentalia festival. These rituals reveal the importance of prayer and sacrifice as key means of communicating with the gods and securing their favour, and the principle of reciprocity which was a cornerstone of Roman religion. Sacra familiae helped to cultivate core social values and unite the household’s diverse membership in a community of worshippers who shared a sense of common identity predicated upon long-standing traditions and beliefs.

Keywords: domestic rites, festival, household, household shrine, lifecycle ritual, rites de passage, sacra familiae, sacrifice

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