Suppose I wish to talk about the various aspects of Roman religion: prayers, festivals, sacrifices, and everything else. In English, "observances" is a fairly general term for all of these aspects together.

Is there an equivalent term in Latin? I'm mostly interested in the official religion of the (pre-Constantine) state, so whether or not the term includes things like mystery cults and Christian practices doesn't matter to me.


2 Answers 2


In De Civitate Dei, Augustine quotes Varro, who was the author of Antiquitates rerum divinarum. The latter was making distinctions between the various conceptions of the Roman gods. Concerning the third genus of these conceptions, he says:

Tertium genus est [...] quod in urbibus cives, maxime sacerdotes, nosse atque administrare debent. In quo est, quos deos publice sacra ac sacrificia colere et facere quemque par sit. (Varro, cf. De Civitate Dei vi, ch. 5)

Of particular interest is his use of the word sacra. Among the definitions for sacrum given by Lewis is the following:

A sacred act, religious rite, act of worship, sacrifice, religious service


Like English, Latin has words for particular ceremonies, but unlike English, it does actually have a general word, caerimonia, which is used for sacred ceremonies (but not for profane usages). Another word, ritus, is more general and may be used for both sacred and profane.

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