Visitors from far corners of the Roman Empire might gaze
curiously at a small temple in one corner of the
atrium. This was the lararium, or household
shrine, home to the all-important lares, possibly
descendants of farmland gods and penates, spirits of
the pantry, who ensured that all household members had enough
The lares and penates watched over the
home, its occupants and the surrounding lands, and small
images of the gods were housed in the lararium.
Statues and paintings of family lares resemble two young men
dancing holding drinking horns aloft.
The husband, or paterfamilias, was the the high
priest at his home, and he took the lead in officiating over
the daily prayers, assisted by his wife, soon after both arose
in the mornings. Offerings of myrtle wreaths, honeycakes and
cups of wine were placed before the small images,and the
household gods were again remembered at mealtimes, when bits
of unfinished food were placed in the lararium. The
paterfamilias' birthday was also the feast day of the
lar familiaris or genius of the household,
the fertility spirit that ensured the continuance of the
family line or gens.
Special family events in the family, such as the wedding of
a daughter, would be celebrated before the lararium.
Special occasions, principally the festivals of the
Feralia, Parentalia and Lemuria,
were also celebrated at the lararium, where, at times, images
of di manes, the divine dead of the family appeared
by the well-loved family gods, who were worshipped well into
References: The Romans: their Life and
Customs, E. Guhl and W. Korner (Senate Press, 1994); Handbook
to Life in Ancient Rome, Lesley Adkins and Roy A. Adkins
(Oxford University Press, 1998)