Lares

The Lares were guardian deities in Roman religion.

Parents: Mercury and Larunda
Festivals: Compitalia

Bronze statue of a Lar, 1st c. AD, from Axatiana. National Archaeological Museum of Spain. (c) Luis Garcia

Lares were believed to observe, protect and influence all that happened within the boundaries of their domain. The statues of domestic Lares were placed at the table during family meals; their presence, cult and blessing seem to have been required at all important family events. Roadways, seaways, agriculture, livestock, towns, cities, the state and its military were all under the protection of their particular Lar or Lares.

Domains

  • Lares Augusti: the Lares of Augustus, given public cult on the first of August, thereby identified with the inaugural day of Imperial Roman magistracies and with Augustus himself.
  • Lares Compitales: the Lares of local communities or neighbourhoods (vici), celebrated at the Compitalia festival. Their shrines were usually positioned at main central crossroads of their vici, and provided a focus for the religious and social life of their communities, particularly for the plebeian and servile masses.
  • Lares Domestici: Lares of the House, they were probably identical with Lares Familiares.
  • Lares Familiares: Lares of the Family, probably identical with the Lares Domestici.
  • Lares Grundules: the 30 “grunting Lares”, supposedly were given an altar and cult by Romulus or Aeneas when a sow produced a prodigious farrow of 30 piglets.
  • Lar Militaris: Military Lar.
  • Lares Patrii: Lares of the Fathers possibly are equivalent to the dii patrii, who received cult at Parentalia.
  • Lares Permarini: These Lares protected seafarers.
  • Lares Praestites: Lares of the city of Rome, later of the Roman state or community. They seem to have protected Rome from malicious or destructive fire. They may have also functioned as the neighbourhood Lares of Augustus.
  • Lares Privati.
  • Lares Rurales: Lares of the fields.
  • Lares Viales: Lares of roads and those who travel them.
Bronze Lar holding a rhyton and patera,1st c. AD. Capitoline Museum. (c) Marie-Lan Nguyen

Lararium

By the early Imperial period, household shrines of any kind were known generically as lararia because they typically contained atleast one Lar. Painted lararia from Pompeii show two Lares flanking a Genius, who wears his toga in the priestly manner prescribed for sacrificers. Underneath this trio, a serpent, representing the fertility of fields or the principle of generative power, winds towards an altar. The essentials of sacrifice are depicted around and about; bowl and knife, incense box, libation vessels and parts of sacrificial animals.

In households of modest means, small Lar statuettes were set in wall-niches, sometimes merely a tile-support projecting from a painted background.

Lararium of the House of the Vettii, Pompeii. (c) Patricio Lorente
Lararium from Pompeii. (c) Claus Ableiter
Roman fresco of Lares from Pompeii. Naples National Archaeology Museum. (c) Carole Raddato
Gallo-Roman Lar. Historical Museum of Bern.

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