Lares (sing. Lar) – or archaically, Lases – were guardian deities in ancient Roman religion. Their origin is uncertain; they may have been guardians of the hearth, fields, boundaries or fruitfulness, hero-ancestors, or an amalgam of these. Lares were believed to observe, protect and influence all that happened within the boundaries of their location or function. The statues of domestic Lares were placed at table during family meals; their presence, cult and blessing seem to have been required at all important family events. Roman writers sometimes identify or conflate them with ancestor-deities, domestic Penates and the hearth. Because of these associations, Lares are sometimes categorised as household gods but some had much broader domains. Roadways, seaways, agriculture, livestock, towns, cities, the state and its military were all under the protection of their particular Lar or Lares. Those who protected local neighbourhoods (vici) were housed in the crossroad shrines (Compitales) which served as a focus for the religious, social and political life of their local, overwhelmingly plebeian communities. Their cult officials included freedmen and slaves, otherwise excluded by status or property qualification from most administrative and religious offices. Compared to Rome’s major deities, the scope and potency of Lares were limited but they were important, peculiarly Roman objects of cult. Archaeological and literary evidence attests to their central role in Roman identity and religious life throughout the Republic and empire. By analogy, a homeward-bound Roman could be described as returning ad Larem (to the Lar). Despite official bans on non-Christian cults from the late 4th century AD onwards, unofficial cults to Lares persisted until at least the early 5th century AD.