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Professor Ferguson makes a general survey of the very different religions current in the Roman Empire during the first and second centuries A.D. He deals first with the official state religion and ...the programme begins with a look at the Roman Forum and such well known buildings as the Pantheon and the Maison Carree at Nimes. On the whole these great temples were the symbol that the state, rather than the individual, was under the protection of the gods. In the provinces they were a symbol of the political dominance of Rome. In contrast, the second part of the programme is about the ordinary man's religion. To the Roman all nature was numinous and wherever he went in the countryside he was surrounded by spirits and sacred objects. At home, too, there were the gods of the hearth and the store cupboard, the ancestral spirits and the power of fertility as objects of worship. The third part of the programme is concerned with the mystery religions, most of which had permeated into the Graeco-Roman world from the East. They included the Eleusinian Mysteries, and the cults of Dionysus, Mithras, Isis and Christ. Christianity is dealt with in the context of the mystery religions one of many. Professor Ferguson draws some interesting parallels between the practice and symbolism of Christianity and the other mystery religions.
Metadata describing this Open University video programme
Module code and title: A291, The early Roman empire and the rise of Christianity
Item code: A291; 07
First transmission date: 04-09-1974
Published: 1974
Rights Statement:
Restrictions on use:
Duration: 00:25:00
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Producer: Mary Hoskins
Contributor: John Ferguson
Publisher: BBC Open University
Keyword(s): Gods; Temples
Footage description: A studio programme with commentary by John Ferguson, illustrated with stills and some film clips. First part considers the official religion of the Empire, as exemplified in the temples. Shots of the Forum and surrounding areas in Rome: the Via Sacra, temple of Saturn, the Capitol, Senate House, the temples of Vesta and Caster and Pollux, and the Vestal Virgins. Shots of the Pantheon and the Maison Carree at Nimes. Using a plan of a typical temple, Ferguson explains that they were not places for congregational worship. The ordinary man's religion was expressed outdoors in sacred trees, groves, holy stones, shrines and statuettes. Ferguson illustrates these with a fresco from Boscolecase, near Pompeii. Indoors, worshipful objects were the statue of Vesta, the Penates and Lares, and the Genius. Illustration by a wall painting from the House of Vetii. The third part of the programme deals with the mystery religions. First, the Elesinian mysteries; second the cult of Dionysus. Shots of paintings in Dionysiac Cult Room in the Villa of Mysteries, outside Pompeii. Ferguson gives an interpretation of the pictures. He considers the cult of Mittras. Shots of the sanctuary of San Clemente, and reconstruction of a typical Mithraeum. Next the worship of Isis. Film clip of temple of Isis in Pompeii, and a wall painting in Herculaneum. Finally, he considers the visual evidence of Christianity. Explanation of the 'fish and anchor' and Chi-rho symbols, and the word square found at Cirencester and elsewhere. He also points out the similarity between much Christian and pre-Christian symbolism.
Master spool number: 6HT/71478
Production number: 00525_3107
Videofinder number: 597
Available to public: no