History of Samnium and Samnites - Their religion end gods.

Bronze key

Bronze key with devotion inscription from Tufillo

Worshiping the same gods was for the Samnites the element of tribal unity. Religion was quite important to assist them in the aspect of daily life. They did not share an Olympus, yet most of the gods were worshipped by all of the Samnites. During war times, all soldiers were united by an holy oath, never violated, so much was the faith they believed in. People from the italian center-south shared the same anthropomorphic deities (with human like attributes, HdG) such as Jupiter, Mars (Mamerte), Mercury, Diane, Apollo, the Dioscurs (Castor and Pollux), Dyonisious, Ceres and the Nymphs. Hercules was very much revered
  Dioscuri - Castor and Pollux - Campochiaro
Dioscuri - Castor and Pollux
from temple of Campochiaro.
and symbolized by small statuettes or sculped over the soldiers' shields. Obviously the religious greek influence on the Samnites was very evident especially at the end of the IV century b.C. after the annexation of the Campani's territories. Another indication of this strict religious behaviour was the respect for customs and beliefs of the people the did business with. They tolerated the worship of their gods and at time partecipated in their rites just to justify the acceptance of their beliefs (1).
Atena from
People living in the center of Italy professed many cults among them the Ver Sacrum or Holy Springtime being of major importance. Another one was the Lex Sacrata or Sacred Law being the ritual bonding of men and their actions together with their families and possessions. The only ones among the italics, the Samnites strictly adhered to such values at times for political reasons. Properly, the Samniti's divineties were not communely worshipped as in Greece in one temple, rather separately revered.
The samnites' gods were worshipped each one for its own merit and everyone in its own place. Typical example is found in the Agnone's tablet, inscribed in oscan language, where 17 gods were venerated in one single temple. The Samnites revered their gods, semigods and lesser gods without priority or importance. Foremost in their own world, was the concept of misterious beings that needed respect and veneration in order to enjoy their good graces.
Atena from
These gods not always were represented in human-like form, even their sex was not known. And among the anthropomorphic deities, they were more goddess than male gods. They would live in special places. To solicit their favors, special prayers and offerings were made.
The gods were invoked for special protection and to safeguard the fireplace, the entrance door, the pantry in the house, the harvest in the fields and fresh water springs and burial sites within their territories. The Samnites feared contagious diseases, for they practised exorcism for purificaton. If invaded, for example, their territory became contaminated. For this reason they enacted the famous yoke ritual as in the case of the Romans being submitted to the Caudine Forks.
Because of this roman invasion, the land needed to be purified and the people in contact with the defeated invaders, had to be cleansed. For good luck the Samnites used amulets. Horatius, of Sabellic lineage, often cites the Sabella Carmina, or magical wordings favourably invoking gods and spirits in special occasions as in the case of a wedding or harvest.

Bronze Juppiter Liber
Histonium - Bronze Juppiter Liber

These practises more magical and less religious were much used by the Samnites. They also used to interpret the flights of birds or the animals' bowels used for the offerings. It seems that a flight of birds interpreter to whom the Samnites would go before a battle had actually lived around the town of Agnone.

The Religion - Second Part - The tablet of Agnone



(1) Social relation with the Gauls was very important.
Many religious practises as reported by ancient historians refer to Druids' rites. And many references, like the inscription in oscan language seemed to be celtic inspired. Same it can be told of circular walls used for prayers away from inhabited centers. Same it can be said about the Sacrati's rites to the Legio Linteata circa 293 b.C., where druids' priests worshipped together with the Samnites. As in the descriptions of the roman writer, Livius, a definite Druid's ritual was the sacrifice of men and animals together. Moreover, a priest's prayer book, most likely imagined and described by Titus Livius, written over a linen's cloth and attributed to a fictional name Ovio Paccio, like a John Doe, of those times was actually found among the bandages of a mummy of Zagreb, thus coinciding with the religious customs used by the Druids.


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History of Samnites and Samnium, the ancient people of Italy - Davide Monaco