The Lares were gods who were family ancestors or eponyms who gave their name to the family. The Penates were the little gods who protected a family’s goods and stores. Rome had public Lares and Penates too. The worship of the public Lares and Penates was overseen by the Vestal Virgins under the supervision of the Chief Priest, the Pontifex Maximus. Most priests in Rome were not full time. Instead, they were members of the elite who governed, made war or ascertained the will of the gods, all as part of a day’s work. For example, Julius Caesar was appointed as Pontifex Maximus when just a young man.
The ancient world was crammed full of these little gods. Every action or place had a Numen or Daemon, all needing propitiation. For example, Janus and five little gods watched over every household entrance.
Next time, we will deal with the big gods. These were the twelve or so anthropomorphic gods who lived on Mt Olympus in northern Greece.