On the Roman Religion Part 3-Notes

1 The root also appears in the word lictor, those attendants of the magistrates who carried the fasces before them, bound bundles of rods and an axe, the rods symbolizing the power of the magistrates to whip any who opposed them, and the axe the power to slay. Back to Text.

2 The following division between legend and history in the discussion of the evolution of Roman Religion is artifically and arbitrarily made: the Romans would have known no such distinction. The Romans had a different concept of history than that entertained by Modernity. The difference between verifiable facts and legend was one of imperceptible gradations of probabilty in Roman accounts of their antiquity, and the modern reader must understand that the story of Æneas' founding of Lavinium was as authentically historical to the Roman as the story of Lenin's founding of the Soviet Union is to us. Whether, then, there was ever a man named Æneas or another named Romulus is irrelevant in this discussion, for the Romans knew that those men had lived, and the evidence was Rome itself. Back to Text.

3 The Claudians, descended from Appius Clausus, who revolted from the Sabines and was made a Roman citizen and Senator, had dependents in Sparta. The family name derives either from the clubbed foot or the stammer that afflicted members of the clan throughout the generations, the Emperor Claudius being the prime exemplar of both. Back to Text.

4 When it became necessary to rebuild the Temple of Jupiter, the Roman Capitol, they turned to the Etruscans for advice on the replacement, whether it should be of the same dimensions and location. The Etruscans were not always trustworthy advsers, however, and on at least two occasions tried to mislead the Romans in order to wreak some measure of vengeance upon them for the many defeats that Rome had inflicted upon Etruria. In the above instance, the excavations for the base of the new Capitol had uncovered a man's head, perfectly preserved, and the Romans had applied to Olenus the seer of Cales, the most esteemed authority among the Etruscans, to find out what was the meaning of the portent. Olenus sketched the templum on the ground with his staff and pointing with the tip, asked: "You say that the head was found here?" Now, had the Roman emissaries replied in the affirmative, it was believed that the portent's effect would have been transferred from the site in Rome to the site on the templum in Cales, but the Romans, having been warned by the son of Olenus of his father's enmity against Rome, were guarded in their reply, saying, "No, not here exactly, but in Rome." The meaning of the portent was that Rome should be the head of the world.

On another occasion, when the statue of Horace Cocles in the Comitium had been struck by lightning, the seers advised that the statue be moved to a place less exposed and surrounded by tall buildings, where the sun never shone. When this advice was discovered to be the opposite of the truth, the seers were tried, convicted, and executed for their perfidy, The statue was moved to the area of Vulcan. Back to Text.

5 Flamen is said by Plutarch to be a corruption of Pilamines, from the word pileus, the Greek name of the cap worn by the priests. Like the Pope, who eventually succeeded the Flamen, the vestments of the high priest of God in Rome were white. Back to Text.

6 The Kingship of Rome appears to have been of a different character than that of Alba, which was hereditary in direct line from Æneas. Romulus, leaving no offspring, seems to have preferred the people of his new city over his blood relations, of whom there must have been some number extant, (probably from his uncle Amulius) since the line continued down to the time of the Empire. Back to Text.

7 Numa often said that he was beloved of the goddess Egeria and that he was advised by another goddess whom he called Tacita, the Silent One, who appears to have been the original of Angerona, the goddess of Rome, the lips of whose statue, according Pliny, were sealed with a bandage. See the later discussion of Maia, Lara, and the Lares Compitales below, in the section dealing with the Roman Calendar and Festivals of May. See also the section above dealing with the Secret Name of Rome. Back to Text.

8 A second tradition told that the sacred hearth fire was transported from Troy to Lavinium by Æneas. Yet a third said that Romulus consecrated the Eternal Flame and established the Vestals. This would be a natural development, as Mars was said to have impregnated Rhea Silvia in the form or a flame. The chronology is further complicated by the statement that she was herself a Vestal at the time of her pregnancy. One might suppose that she was a priestesses or attendant of the sacred hearth of the Albans and not an actual Vestal in name, though fulfilling the same office. It would, therefore, be altogether proper for Romulus, after his accession, to transfer the sacred fire from Alba Longa to Rome and to provide an order of virginal watchers to attend it on the model of his mother. Whatever their origination, it seems undisputed that Numa established the rule of the order enforcing virginity on pain of death by inhumation and setting down the thirty year course of their term. The first decade was expended in learning their duties, the second ten years in performing them, and the third ten in teaching the novitiates. At the expiration of this span they could elect to leave the order and to assume the same life as that of any Roman matron, although few did so. Besides the care of the Eternal Flame, they daily performed lustrations of the inner sanctuary of the Temple of Vesta (the penetralia) with water gathered from a nearby spring. It seems that Numa was also responsible for expanding their religious duties to the safe-keeping of religious articles. The Temple of Vesta, also built by Numa and adjoining the Regia, became the repository of wills. The Vestals had also other functions, we are told by Ovid, such as the burning of the fetal calves from which the ashes for the fumigations of the Parilia were obtained.

Each of the traditions regarding the origin of the eternal flame could be correct, as the transference from Troy to Lavinium, from Alba to Rome, and from the original wattle hut of Romulus to the Temple of Vesta built by Numa were separate events, each requiring its own dedication. Also, it is said by Plutarch that there were times when the flame had been extinguished, which required a new flame to be kindled and for which special rites were celebrated. It was held that only the heat of the sun was pure enough to be the source of the eternal flame of Vesta. This was brought to earth by means of a concave or parabolic mirror, which would focus the sun's rays and start the new fire, even as the Olympic flame is kindled today. Back to Text.

9 Romulus was said to have been caught up in a whirlwind during an eclipse or thunderstorm and to have vanished completely from the Earth on the Nones of July, during the feast of Caprotine Juno. It was suspected by the commons that the Senate had murdered him because of his increasingly haughty disdain of them, but the corpus delecti being absent, no charge was ever lodged. Proculus claimed that he had encountered an huge apparition of a man, the transfigured Romulus, who had charged him to tell the Quirites of the change that he had undergone. Back to Text.

10 The actual household and tutelary gods of Æneas were kept in the city of Lavinium, the first built by Æneas in Italy. Back to Text.

11 Perhaps the most laudable and lasting civic policy that Numa enacted was the erasure of the former national divisions within the citizenry, replacing the factions of Romulans and Sabines with the three tribes. This wise reorganization removed the source of public disorder which had nearly caused the degeneration of the populace into civil war over the ascendancy of one or other national party. Numa also tried to ameliorate the imbalance of wealth between the patricians and plebeians by distributing the lands conquered in previous wars to the people, but this program proved ultimately ineffective in redressing this divisive matter, which became a source of recurring disaster to the state. Back to Text.

12 Numa had inculcated the priests with his tenets, but he ordered in his will that his books of religious writings (12 of religious ordinances and 12 of philosophy) should be buried with him, which was done, although in a separate grave vault. When subsequent floods, which were a frequent occurrence in Rome, opened the graves some 400 years later, the body of Numa was found to have left no trace, but the books were recovered intact. Upon reading them, the praetor Petilius declared that they were unfit for exposure to the public and were ceremoniously burned in the Comitium. Following so closely upon the loss of every public record and most sacred texts during the conflagration of the Gallic invasion, this judgment seems extremely ill-considered. However, given Numa's devotion to peace, which was inimical to the state expansion, this declaration by the praetor is not amazing.

Pliny (Natural History, XIII.27.84f) gives the same story, citing numerous sources, but putting the date some hundred years later.

namque Cassius Hemina, vetustissimus auctor annalium, quarto eorum libro prodidit Cn. Terentium scribam agrum suum in Janiculo repastinantem effodisse arcam in qua Numa qui Romae regnavit situs fuisset; in eadem libros eius repertos P. Cornelio L. filio Cethego, M. Baebio Q. filio Tamphilo cos. ad quos a regno Numae colliguntur anni DXXXV; hos fuisse e charta, maiore etiamnum miraculo, quod infossi duraverint - quapropter in re tanta ipsius Heminae verba ponam: "Mirabantur alii quomodo illi libri durare possent; ille ita rationem reddebat: lapidem fuisse quadratum circiter in media arca vinctum candelis quoquoversus; in eo lapide insuper libros III sitos fuisse: se propterea arbitrarier non computruisse; et libros citratos fuisse: propterea arbitrarier tineas non tetigisse. in iis libris scriptae erant philosophiae Pythagoricae - eosque combustos a Q. Petilio praetore" {quia philosophiae scripta essent.} hoc idem tradit Piso censorius primo commentariorum, sed libros septem juris pontificii, totidem Pythagoricos fuisse; Tuditanus tertio decumo Numae decretorum libros XII fuisse; ipse Varro humanarum antiquitatum VII, Antias secundo libros fuisse XII pontificales Latinos, totidem Graecos praecepta philosophiae continentes; idem tertio et SC. ponit quo comburi eos placuerit.

Many of Numa's precepts had entered into the established religion as maxims or liturgical features. It was, for instance, the prescription of Numa that the people should be called to worship by the words Hoc Age! (Attend to this.) It was also his direction, that, when a prayer to the gods had been completed, the suppliant was to turn to the right.

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13 Tullius had the further distinction of being killed by a lightning bolt, which might be thought to have been in rebuke for his recension of the laws of Numa. He was said to have attempted to call down lightning in the manner that Numa had learned from Jove, but to have erred in the ceremony. Back to Text.

14 The taking of auspices was the most important religious duty of the consuls. It was also the duty of the consuls or of those appointed in their place by the Senate, to consult the Sibylline Books or the oracles in times of special emergency. Deputations to the Oracle at Delphi were usually composed of persons of consular rank (consuls or proconsuls). Dictatorship, the authority of which superseded that of all other magistracies, also placed the full religious obligations of the state upon the head of the dictator. Military tribunes, who were sometimes appointed or elected instead of dictators and consuls, and who had consular authority, presumably had equivalent and concomitant religious duties. Back to Text.

15 The Romans were generally tolerant of the religions of the conquered nations, insofar as they did not become a rallying point for resistance to or rebellion from Roman rule. The exceptions to this tolerance were deliberately exemplary in their ferocity. The Diaspora of the Jews and the extermination of the Druids were the most signal examples in which the political resistance of a people was either aided or fomented by an inflexible religious devotion that was incompatible with the Roman government. Back to Text.

16 The Sabines who were united to the Romulans were from the town of Cures, and cures in Sabine meant "spear". In origin, then, the Curio was probably the leader of the basic military unit drawn from the ward over which he presided. Since the three tribes were divided into ten curia each, and the legions were likewise made up of multiples of ten, this seems well suited to a political division based upon military service. The raising of armies by drafting of citizens from small groups headed by local officials was continued into the recent past, when professional armies replaced those composed of the "summer soldier". Back to Text.

17 Either the vote of the Pontiffs among themselves or later by open election by the people. Back to Text.

18 It is unlikely that all of the rules were kept, except in the strictest household, since they could involve some very nice distinctions that only a priest could make. Back to Text.

19 No debate on legislation nor any legislative vote was legal unless the assembly had been properly convoked under the auspices of the augurs. The Assembly could be convened anywhere, not only in the Comitium or in Rome. A major magistrate could annul the acts or edicts of his colleague by announcing that he had observed unfavorable auspices or that he was merely looking for unfavorable auspices. When convening an assembly, therefore, the consuls would forbid any minor magistrate from looking for auspices.

Among the powers of the consul was that to declare the justitium and feriæ, the suspension of public business and, the more drastic, general holiday, respectively. These declarations were made usually in times of turmoil or public danger, in order that the whole attention of the state might be focused upon the peril at hand. These holidays had more than civil meaning, however, for the feriæ, we learn from Livy (3.6), were a kind of prayer vigil. In later usage these terms assumed the more benign meaning of simple holiday, without the implication of imminent danger or the duty to pray.Back to Text.

20 Strictly speaking, the taking of avian auspices was done by the auspex, who was skilled in the interpretation of the flight of birds. Back to Text.

21 The liver was the main organ of interest, and the size and shape of its lobes were the indices of the portents. Missing or reduced lobes such as the "head" were considered ill omens. The heart was not inspected under received doctrine. The manual of divination was amended to include it in 275 B.C. Back to Text.

22 The crook of the shepherd is no doubt the model for the lituus, for Romulus and Remus were reared by the herdsman Faustulus and were themselves husbandmen. It is likely that they learned the craft from their foster father during the idle hours of watching the herds. The crook eventually passed into the Christian Church, along with the other vestments of the Roman priesthood. Back to Text.

23 The consuls Flaminius and Furius, before whose official creation great prodigies had been observed which had not been properly sacrificed for, requiring the annulment of their election, refused to open the letters by which they were recalled until they had won a great victory against the Insubrians. The senate and people summarily deposed the consuls from their office and withheld the triumph, choosing new consuls in their place. Back to Text.

24 It is a natural tendency to look for some loophole by which one's desires might be obtained despite the evident opposition of the gods. Sometimes, the initial offering having produced an ill favored result, subsequent application could be made until more favorable results were returned. A particularly dangerous omen, however, when followed by others of opposite aspect, might only be amplified in its meaning by the contrast. The issue, it will be seen, was not always clear, and the rules for interpretation could be bent to fit one's expectations. Back to Text.

25 Plutarch, life of Æmilius Paulus, The Lives of the Noble Grecians and Romans. He let loose an unbridled horse between the armies and sent some men to chase it, whom, coming under attack from the Macedonians, Æmilius defended, satisfying the augury. Back to Text.

26 Plutarch, Camillus, Lives. He stumbled and fell after making the prayer, and then thanked the gods for granting his prayer. Back to Text.

27 A cereal species (triticum) related to wheat. Millet is another grass, of which the seeds are extremely small. The Romans used many types of grasses for flour, the general name of which was frumentum, corn. Corn is to be understood not in the modern American sense of Maize, but of any of the wheat family or of similar grasses. Far is another Roman word for corn. Incense was a late addition to the Roman sacrifice. Salt was a basic item of trade and used as a currency, thus salary. Laurel was burnt for the fragrance, and for its hallucinatory properties was used in oracles. Back to Text.

28 Succeedaneum was a following or successive sacrifice offered in place of the original, which had been refused or deemed ineffectual. Back to Text.

29 There is a story told by both Pliny (8.34.82) and Pausanias (VIII.2), that there was an Arcadian rite to Lykaian Zeus which persisted into Classical times in which infant boys were sacrificed and eaten. There was a legend attached to the story that Pliny found ridiculous, to wit, the person partaking of the communion was turned into a wolf, and that after nine years he would resume his previous shape, and even his old clothes, if he had not in the intervening years again partaken of human flesh. It is notable that while Pliny finds the story of the werewolf unbelievable, he does not dismiss the sacrifice itself.

...Damaenetum Parrhasium in sacrificio quod Arcades Jovi Lycaeo humana etiantum hostia faciebant, immolata pueri exta degustasse et in lupum se convertisse. Back to Text.

30 This word is carefully chosen to indicate that the sacrifice of human victims was allowed or permitted, but was not a requirement of the Roman religion, as in some others, and was deemed acceptable only in the most dire circumstances. Back to Text.

31 In Teutonic Mythology, I.Worship and Sacrifice, we encounter this passage, where Grimm, speaking of the custom among Northern nations of sacrificing children by immurement, goes on to say: "Among the Greeks and Romans likewise the victims fell amid noise and flute-playing, that their cries might be drowned, and the tears of children are stifled by caresses, 'ne flebilis hostia immoletur'." Back to Text.

32 That the punishment of the Vestals who had violated their vows was sacrificial appeasement of the gods whom they had offended is within the definition of human sacrifice, their lives and the manner of their deaths being wholly dictated by religion. But we need not insist upon it. Back to Text.

33 A Vestal was provided with bread, a pail of milk, and a candle, lest she die of starvation, a manner of death which was considered offensive to the gods. A ladder was let down into the tomb, the victim was made to clamber down, the ladder raised ,and the entrance to the tomb sealed with earth. In such a setting, the likely cause of death would be insufficiency of oxygen. The evidence on which a charge could be laid and carried was seemingly very slight. Oppia, says Livy, was executed for unchastity after a series of prodigies had been observed. We do not know if any medical examination was made. Typically, the accused Vestal could prove her innocence by performing the impossible task of carrying water in a sieve, a feat which the Vestal Tuccia was said to have accomplished in 145 B.C. Back to Text.

34 Jared Scudder, American Classicist, so states in his text book. Given the disproportionate and inveterate fear and hatred of the Gauls by the Romans, this is not improbable. Parenthetically, the city in which Vercingetorix had been besieged, Alesia, was said to have been founded by Hercules on his return to Mycenæ with the cattle of Geryon, the same journey during which he was said to have stopped in Pallentium at the court of Evander, a curious coincidence. Back to Text.

35 The Romans, and other nations, routinely executed the males capable of bearing arms after the conquest of any particularly audacious or stubborn enemy. However, the killing of these captives six years after their surrender was certainly not a simple exemplary execution. Back to Text.

36 Ovid, Fasti I.336. hostibus a domitis hostia nomen habet. Back to Text.

37 Later (8.38) we are told that the Samnites, of whom a large portion of the Romans were composed and the religion of whom the Romans had adopted into their own, used a similar vow to compel the conscription of an army and the compliance of its officers. Any who refused service were "devoted" or vowed as offerings to Jupiter. Some were killed summarily on their refusal at the very altar to which they had been led for the swearing. Back to Text.

38 We are tempted to contrast this surety of death with the speech placed in the mouth of General George S. Patton, Jr. and spoken by George C. Scott in the opening scene of the motion picture Patton. Neither is the Roman hero comparable the zealot of the holy war, whose arms serve his religion, as in the case of the soldier of Mohammed or the Crusader. The Romans did not fight to spread their religion, but invoked religion to gain the victory of Roman arms. Back to Text.

39 Cæsar, De Bello Gallico, II.25, III.5, VI.38 Back to Text.

40 Athenaeus, The Deipnosophistae, IV.154.c of the Loeb edition. Back to Text.

41 That there should be a surfeit of applicants is not wonderful, given that suicide was much more commendable among the Romans than among modern nations. We are reminded that there are today individuals who will kill themselves so that their heirs may collect the insurance. The voluntary selection of the victims relieves, to some extent, the barbarity of the whole act. Back to Text.

42 We might compare the Rex Nemorensis to the Rex Sacrificulus in Rome, whose duties, despite his title, appear to have been largely symbolic. Back to Text.

43 We become aware from this passage that the Romans were adding insult to injury when they condemned Christians to death in the Arena, those who were slain having been offered up as sacrificial victims to the pagan gods of Rome.

To those who would prefer that Tertullian should be regarded as biased, we can only say that, if the charges were untrue, it would have been easy enough for the Pagans to have refuted them, which, although there is no evidence that they did, would have made Tertullian the object of ridicule. Surely, if the argument could have been refuted, Tertullian would not have risked making it Back to Text.

44 Most notably the Egyptians. The Chinese and the Sumerians were in the habit of slaying whole households, including some relations, numbering in the hundreds, to provide the dead with their company in the land of the gods. In all cultures this slaughter was later remitted by the substitution of images or simulacra of the living beings, although animals continued to be offered at the grave. Back to Text.

45 Athenaeus, The Deipnosophistae, IV.153 f in the Loeb Edition. Back to Text.

46 Nicolas also records in the above quotation that the Romans sometimes in their private entertainments would hold gladiatorial contests. No religious purpose could be attached these combats. Also, some Romans in their wills had ordered that members of their families were to fight, but that the wills were contested and nullified. Back to Text.

47 It is hardly necessary to belabor the point that all ancient peoples celebrated four days of the year above all others, those of the equinoxes and the solstices, demarcating the seasons. Back to Text.

48 The praetor opened his session with the formula: Do bonorum possessionem, dico ius, addico id de quo ambigitur. Back to Text.

49 The Nones (from the word for nine) was the ninth day before the Ides, counting inclusively, or the eighth day in modern reckoning. Thus, in months of 31 days (March, May, July, October), the Nones fell on the 7th and the Ides upon the 15th day. Back to Text.

50 Lucullus, on being informed that he should desist from battle on a particular day, because it was unlucky on account of some past disaster, replied that he would convert it to a lucky day for the Roman people by his own victory that day. Plutarch, Lucullus, Lives. Back to Text.

51 The 302 Fabians (according Plutarch, or 306, according Livy), who claimed descent from Evander, alone of all the Roman gentes defended the city for two years against the Veiians, until they were all killed in an ambush. A single male child ,too young to bear arms, had remained in the city and carried on the line. Back to Text.

52 The story of her arrival is told elsewhere above. Back to Text.

53 According Aulus Gellius (Attic Nights, XVIII.13), the Roman aristocracy used to entertain one another during the Megalensia and the commons during the Cerealia. quam ob causam patricii Megalensibus mutitare soliti sint, plebes Cerealibus. He does not tell what answer was given by the guests at the dinner during which the question was posed. One would assume that the vulgar Cerealia having been long established and the Megalensia being of recent importation, the people were more supportive of their native custom than of the novel foreign one. Add to that that the disfavor in which the upper classes held the rites of the Magna Mater would have made them distrustful of her influence on the masses, whom they already distrusted, and one would expect that some discouragement was made to prevent the commons from making too much of the holiday. The aristocracy would have believed that they could properly honor the goddess without loss of decorum. Back to Text.