Divinatio et Signa
The relationship with the gods was fundamental for ancient civilizations. Ancient Romans consulted the gods before any public or private activity. The signa, or signs, through which the gods manifested their will were many. Divinatio, or divination, was precisely the art of interpreting these signs. Luckily, many different artefacts have been recovered from antiquity, allowing us to have a better idea of how religious ceremonies and practices were celebrated in Ancient Rome and in the Roman Empire.
The Augures and The Auspicia
One of the most antique and widespread methods of divination was the observation of the flight of birds, practiced by the augures. The signs they interpreted were called auspicia. Decorative motives featuring birds became extremely popular on ceremonial and everyday artefacts.
Another important form of divination was the aruspicina, which was originally imported in Roman culture and religious practice from the Etruscan world. The aruspicina consisted in the examination of the innards of sacrificed animals, known as exta, in particular of the liver.
Sacrifices were a fundamental aspect of Ancient Roman culture and religion; they were considered by the Romans as signs of gratitude, a way to propitiating the gods and a way to induce the deity to bestow some favour upon the sacrificer. The victim of the sacrifice was called the hostia or victima. The sacrifices of animals were the most common among the Greeks and Romans, and the most favoured sacrificial animal in Roman religion was the ram.
Libations and Good Fortune
Paterae finials and handles in the shape of rams’ heads have been recovered across all the Roman Empire. A patera was a broad and shallow dish or bowl, mostly produced in bronze, and often used as a sacred libation vessel. The ram’s head finial would have alluded to the ritual function of the object, and the popularity of the ram as a sacrificial victim at Roman festivals.