Ancient Roman Sacrifice

Sacrifices are widespread in Ancient Rome. Ordinarily, sacrificial rituals were performed by the Old Romans to effectively communicate with their gods and goddesses as well as their heroes and other deities.

In most cases, Roman sacrifices were made to ask these supernatural beings for help, protection, and favors.

In order for these offerings and sacrifices to be effective, a religious leader was required to lead the activity.

It is also important to mention the correct name of the Gods so that the people can tap to the desired powers of the deity.

Public rituals normally took place outdoors with some ceremonies even starting with a procession.

Among the most common religious sacrifices in Ancient Rome were animals, gladiators, slaves, and murderers.

It was believed that public sacrifices began in Italy at around 5,000 B.C. wherein people sacrificed animals to appease their Gods.

For the most part of the Roman Republic, killing animals for Gods were required in any sort of ceremony which includes weddings, funerals, and religious festivals as well.

However, animal sacrifices began to lose its popularity during the reign of Emperor Augustus. Other reasons that contributed to the sudden downfall of animal sacrifices were the existence of Jesus and the start of Christianity.

It was widely believed that Jesus asked his people to not perform animal sacrifices and that his Crucifixion was enough as long as they had faith in him. Consequently, the destruction of the Second Temple also put a momentary end to animal sacrifices.

During the reign of Emperor Constantine, there was little to no animal sacrifices at all.

Nonetheless, Emperor Julian tried to revive animal sacrifices but his efforts went to naught as most Romans found it to be gross and lewd. By 395 A.D., Emperor Theodosius officially made animal sacrifices illegal in the entire city of Rome.

Facts about the End of the Roman Sacrifice

  • Human sacrifices in Ancient Rome were rare. The first known human sacrifice in Rome took place during the first Punic War wherein it killed a gladiator as an offering to the manes of a Roman military.
  • It was believed that Romans still celebrated and performed sacrifices during the Lupercalia festival after the empire prohibited all the non-Christian ceremonies in 391 A.D. The Lupercalia festival is held in February of each year to honor the she-wolf known as Lupercal who cared and nurtured Romulus and Remus, who were known as the twin founders of Rome.
  • Animal sacrifices started to go downhill after Emperor Constantine started to accept Christianity during his reign. As a matter fact, Constantine was also responsible for the protection of Christians from persecution after he issued an edict that protected them.
  • In 382 A.D. Theodosius issued an edict that specifically required every Roman to worship only one God. This eventually led to the end of the Roman Sacrifice.
  • Emperor Julian was the last Emperor who wasn’t Christian. He rejected Christian doctrines and tried to rejuvenate the old tradition of sacrificing animals but did not succeed.
  • A Roman law passed in 81 B.C. banned human sacrifices and characterized it as murder committed for magical purposes.
  • Animal and human sacrifices were believed to have started as early as 5,000 B.C. in Rome.
  • Human sacrifices were considered barbaric by the Roman government. Ordinarily, human sacrifices were a common practice by their enemies such as the Gauls and the Carthaginians.

What did you learn?

  • Why did Roman Sacrifices end?
    The rise of Christianity was among the biggest reasons that help put an end to Roman Sacrifices.
  • Why did Roman officials offer human sacrifices?
    Roman officials in Carthage were forced to persecute Christians to sacrifice them for their Emperors. Roman officials who didn’t persecute Christians were either accused of treason or get killed in the process.
  • What was involved in forced sacrifices?
    All of the forced sacrifices primarily involved burning incense and not killing animals.
  • Who banned animal sacrifices?
    Animal sacrifices were prohibited by Emperor Theodosius.