Pietas

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One of the most important qualities among the ancient Romans was pietas, which may be translated as “obligation,” “religious conduct,” loyalty,”devotion,” or “filial piety.”

It was the defining quality of the founding figure Aeneas, who is frequently referred to as pius (literally, “religious”) throughout Virgil’s epic Aeneid. The celestial personification Pietas, a goddess frequently depicted on Roman coins, represented the holy character of pietas. The Greek equivalent is Eusebeia.

One of the key components of displaying virtue was pietas erga parentes (“pietas toward one’s parents”). Announcing one’s personal pietas through official nomenclature appears to have been a novelty of the late Republic when Quintus Caecilius Metellus Pius claimed it for his efforts to have his father, Numidicus, recalled from exile. Pius as a cognomen originated as a way to mark a person as especially “pious” in this sense. One of the fundamental tenets of Roman tradition, as shown by the caring for the deceased, was pietas, which extended to “parents” in the sense of “ancestors.”

In contrast to virtues or gifts like Victoria, which were bestowed by the gods, Pietas was a virtue that lived inside an individual. However, pietas gave one the ability to identify the divine origin of the advantages received. Pietas were significant in international relations and diplomacy because they required a commander’s commitment to the cause and abandonment of all selfish ambitions in order to be taken seriously.

Featured image: Antoninus Pius. As Caesar, AD 138. Æ Sestertius. Bare head right / Pietas standing facing, head left, holding incense box in left hand and dropping incense with right hand over lighted altar.

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