Talk:Glossary of ancient Roman religion/Archive 4

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Fas: Fas is one of the most important concepts in Roman religion. According to Georges Dumezil and Huguette Fugier it would refer to "the invisible or mystical setting that allows man to live in peace on this world. This setting is the foundation on which all human behaviour and visible relationships rely upon, as defined by the concept of ius".[1][2] According to this interpretation the word fas should be rooted in IE stem *dhe- which has given in Latin verb "facio", here in fas in its original meaning of to set. The word is considered an uninflected neuter noun by the majority of scholars and ancient sources. There is though another view that holds it to be an adverb, which is represented both among modern scholars (William Warde Fowler, Riccardo Orestano) and ancient ones (Vergilus Maro the grammarian). In classical times the usage as a substative noun was common.[3][4] On the etymology of the word too there are two different opinions. The first one, which is in accord with Roman tradition[5] connects fas to Greek qshmij, I set, from which themis[6][7]; fas would be rooted in IE stem *dha and would mean to set, found, establish. The second connects the word to the root *bha meaning to appear (Greek fnm and Latin fari): on the grounds of such etymology the word would mean saying, appearance, manifestation i.e. manifestation of the divine will. The connexion fas fari is supported by a considerable part of Roman scholars such as Varro in De lingua Latina and Verrius Flaccus in his Fasti. As far as the usage of the word is concerned in more ancient texts it is used as a determinant in impersonal expressions: fas est..., to denote the quality of a behaviour as allowed by supernatual power. The antiquity of this use is testified by the letters 'F' and 'N' in the calendar that shall be understood as fas or nefas, meaning that on that day certain activities were allowed or not. Among other the discharge by magistrates of their duties both concerning their right to perform functions that involved the presence of the people (agere cum populo) and for the praetor of pronouncing the three words do, dico, addico without the need of a piaculum.[8] In the I century B. C. there are more and more instances that testify an objective use of the word. In Cicero, Livy and Vergil the word is used to denote the abstract concept of licit.[9] These instances would show that "thence for a natural process of abstraction it comes to mean the rule itself that expresses what is licit and what is not".[10] Sini however[11] argues that this process was already attested in the use of the word in two much earlier documents such as Accius Trag. 593: "ibi fas, ibi cunctam anticam castitudinem"[12] here the fas, here all the ancient castitas... and most importantly in the solemn carmen of the rerum repetitio in commatic prose recited by the fetial pater patratus as quoted in Livy I 32, 6: "Legatus ubi ad fines eorum venit unde res repetuntur, capite velato filo - lanae velamen est - Audi, Jupiter, inquit; audite, fines - cuiuscumque gentis sunt, nominat -; audiat fas: ego sum publicus nuntius populi Romani; iuste pieque legatus venio, verbisque meis fides sit". Although the autencity of the formula has been questioned it is acknowledged by many scholars.[13] A confirmation of the antiquity of such a use comes from the legal tradition too: Pomponius Libr. sing. enchiridion ap. Digesta 1, 2, 2, 24: "captumque amore virginis omne fas ac nefas miscuisse". 'that being taken by passion for a virgin mixed up all fas and nefas'. Marcianus Libr. II Instit. ap. Digesta 48, 18, 5: "duplex crimen est, et incestum, quia cognatam violavit contra fas, et adulterium vel stuprum adiungit". 'It is a double crime and incest because he violated his sister in law against the fas, so adding adultery to rape'.

Thus in both religious and legal meaning fas does not indicate a law of the gods, but more appropriately the principle that rules the relationship between man and the realm of the invisible or the gods. In such a perspective it is the corresponding term of ius as far as human interpersonal relationships are concerned.[14] Servius comments Georg. I, 269 "fas et iura sinunt" (the fas and the iura allow it) with the words: "divina humanaque iura permittunt: nam ad religionem fas, ad hominem iura pertinunt" ("both the divine and the human law allow (this): the fas belongs to religion and the iura to man"). Here some authoritative scholars of the past have seen an opposition between a supposed divine law and human law on the grounds of the interpretation of this passage offered by Isidorus (Origines 5, 2). However fas would not denote a complex of rules, but the idea of the religiously licit. Moreover both semantically and materially ius too was in the archaic age connected to the sphere of the sacer.[15] Sini notes that in Vergil's words there is not an opposition between fas and ius in the sense of lex divina and lex humana.[16] on the contrary, as it has been pointed out by J. Paoli, "Vergil marks the accord of divina humanaque iura, and one should understand the fas as the sphere of the activities allowed by gods to men, and the ius as the rules set up by men within this domain".[17] It should be noted that fas not only does apply to the approval by gods of human behaviour: it applies to the actions of gods themselves too. In Vergil it is at the basis of the of the relationships among gods. E.g. Aen. VI 63-65: Vos quoque Pergamae iam fas est parcere genti, dique deaeque omnes, quibus obstitit Ilium et ingens, gloria Dardaniae. It is fas to you too you, every god and goddess, show mercy to the people of Pergamon,... It is a notion concerning what is common to both man and gods. According to glottologist Emil Benveniste Latin is the only IE language that has preserved a distinction between fas and ius. Glottologist Moreno Morani[18] argues that the root *dhe- has given in Latin the word fetialis (fetial), name of a magistrate who has the duty (among other) of making treaties and declaring war by calling the fas as a witness: Livy Ab Urbe condita I, 32, 6 "Audi, Juppiter, audite, fines, audiat, fas': ego sum publicus nuntius populi Romani, iuste pieque legatus venio verbisque meis fides sit", 'Hear Jupiter, hear borders, hear fas: I am the public ambassador of the Roman people, I come in a justly and piously as an appointee (envoy) and be faithfulness in my words'. The enlarging in sibilant of the root though is peculiar to Italic languages and Latin: compare Pelignian fesnu, Oscan fiisnu, Umbrian fesnaf-e "in fano" (a sacred space or temple). In Latin it is part of a large group of derived words as fanum, festus, feriae, fasti.[19] It is noteworthy that to express such a notion a root has been used in Latin which in many IE languages expresses concepts of a juridical nature: see Gr. themi, Skt. dhaman-, 'institution' and most importantly Avest. dat(e)m, 'religious rule, law'. It seems that the relatioship between fas and ius can be compared to that existing in Vedic scriptures between two concepts of the order of the universe, that of the dhaman and that of the rta. While there can be a dhaman of the rta' the opposite relationship is unconceivable.[20] The concept of fas thence cannot be analysed further and made the object of case study as it is possible for ius, which can be discussed in details. It is fas or not fas (fas est, fas non est).[21] A point in time or place are fas or nefas on the grounds that they offer or do not offer to human action (other than religious) the invisible setting that makes it safe and bestows on it likeliness of success. Fas was interpreted by the ancient as connected to the verb fari (to speak) also because many words derived by it passed on to the religious sphere, as e.g. fatum, fandum . The use of fas for fatum is attested in Virgil (Aen. II, 779: Serv. "fas pro fato"). Fanum too has been connected to fari (Varr. LL VI, 54: "quod pontifices in sacrando fati sunt finem", "what the pontiffs in the consacration said to be the boundary"). The same interpretation is given for dies fasti (Varr. LL VI, 29: "dies fasti, per quos praetorem omnia verba sine piaculo licet fari", "the days in which the praetor can say all words without needing an act of expiation", here meaning the three ritual words of his office: "do, dico, addico"). As already remembered above there have been modern attempts at reconsidering this interpretation as valid, e.g. by Riccardo Orestano[22] and Emil Benveniste.[23] However Morani thinks there is not sufficient glottological evidence supporting this interpretation. Even the long 'a' in fas does not create a problem as it is common in monosyllabic words (compare daas, datis).[24] The concept of fas was widely applied in religious practices and also normal public and private life. The most remarkable instances are the Roman Calendar that was characterized by marking days as F(as) or N(efas) in the first place.[25] Time was in fact regulated in accord to the knowledge of its quality in respect to the fas. The word fastus referring to the fas quality of a day passed on to acquire the meaning of calendar in its plural form Fasti. The choice of the place on which to perform a certain religious practice, found a city, or encamp the army should therefore be chosen according to specific rules that enabled to determine its nature in relation to the fas. The word fanum (temple, fane) evolved from *fas-nom, locative case, literally a place situated in (under) the fas.[26] See above parallels in other Italic languages.

Nefas This expression is believed to denote "Everything that cannot be done without incurring either into the reaction of nature itself or the wrath of gods"[27]Thence the concept is connected to the kind of values considered as imperative in contemporary juridical thought.[28] The nefas belongs to the spheres of forbidden and of duty.[29]As far as the origin of the word is concerned linguists agree that it "has come out from the compound expression ne fas, where ne- must be understood as a phrasal negation and not as a prefix"[30]The use of nefas in the ancient form of ne...fas est is still to be found among the antiquarians of the late republican and imperial era, mostly in texts which make reference to very ancient religious and legal facts. Festus p. 424 L: "At homo sacer is est, quem populus iudicavit ob maleficium; neque fas est eum immolari, sed qui occidit, parricidi non damnatur".'It is sacer a man who was condemned by the people for a heinious action; it is not fas to execute him, however if somebody kills him, he shall not be prosecuted'.Gellius, Noctes Atticae X 15, 14: "Pedes lecti, in quo cubat, luto tenui circumlitos esse oportet et de eo lecto trinoctium continuum non decubat neque in eo lecto cubare alium fas est".The fragment from Fabius Pictor containing the religious prescriptions ruling the life of the flamen Dialis has a parallel in the prohibitions rendered by the word nefas, some expressed by the word religio. E.g.:Gellius Noctes Atticae X 15, 3: "Equo Dialem flaminem vehi religio est".'It is religio to carry the Dialis by horse'. The same taboo applied to the magister populi, later known as dictator, and possibly to the pontifex maximus. Scholars agree this prohibition has certainly a religious origin and significance, however its interpretation is disputed. It is though agreed it has to do with the divine nature attributed to the function of regality. Pliny in his Naturalis Historia 28, 146 ascribes it to the fact that the horse was in Rome one of the public sacrificial victims. The above passage makes clear the strict semantic relationship between nefas and religio-religiosus, in the connotation of the meaning of these words as defined by Festus, at p. 350 L:"Idem religiosus quoque esse, + qui non iam + sit aliquid, quod ibi homini facere non liceat; quod si faciat, adversus deorum voluntatem videatur facere".[31]'It is in the same way religiosus, ...whatever here is not lecit for a man to do; if ones does that, it is apparent that it has been done against the will of gods'. Another confirmation is offered by two passages from Macrobius:Saturnalia I 16, 16: "Nam, cum Latiar, hoc est Latinarum sollemne, concipitur, item diebus Saturnaliorum, sed et cum mundus patet, nefas est proelium sumere".'When the Latiar, i.e. the solemnity of the Latin (Feriae), is held, and thus in the days of the Saturnalia, but also when the mundus is open, it is nefas to engage a battle'.Saturnalia I 16, 18: "Unde et Varro ita scribit: "Mundus cum patet, deorum tristium atque inferum quasi ianua patet". Propterea non modo proelium committi, verum etiam dilectum rei militaris causa habere ac militem proficisci, navem solvere, uxorem liberum quaerendorum causa ducere religiosum est".'Therefore Varro too writes this: "When the mundus is open it is as if the door of evil and nether world gods is open. Therefore not only to engage a battle but also play military games, to leave as a soldiar, to sail away on a journey, to take wife for the purpose of having children is religiosum'.In the two above passages the same prohibition (of engaging a battle) is expressed in the first with nefas and in the last with religiosus.

libri pontificales The libri pontificales (pontifical books) se books are considered to be the fundamental documents of Roman religion. Their core nucleus would consist in the libri Numae, i.e. the books king Numa transmitted to the first pontiff.Among the sacerdotal documents, libri and commentarii are the most often mentioned in the sources, from the analysis of which it appears they made up the most conspicuous part of the archives: their content was not limited to the rules concerning rites, sacerdotal functions and a great part of the ius divinum, but also the most archaic procedures of civil law (ius civile). Thus according to the sources they not only did contain the indigitamenta, the solemn formulae, the ritual rules, the decreta and responsa of the sacerdotes, but also information on the provocatio in the regal period or on the definition and hierarchy of the power of magistrates.[32] Frequent quotations of libri and commentarii notwithstanding they do not appear to be easily definable on the basis of precise differences of content. This is due primarily to two reasons: first the fragmentary condition of our sources, second the apparent confusion and casualty with which ancient authors on the same topic quote here libri and there commentarii.[33] The debate among scholars about this partition dates back to the XIX century. Since the second half of that century has prevailed the opinion that it is not possible to distinguish among libri and commentarii. However recently many scholars have considered the question with new interest and some support the thesis of an internal organisation of the pontifical archives, variously defined. Among other R. Besnier,[34] L. Bickel,[35] and G. J. Szemler.[36] Among Italian scholars N. Turchi[37], G. B. Pighi, F. Sini and E. Peruzzi support the distinction among documents of various types, albeit giving different structures and contents for the sacerdotal documents. Romanist Francesco Sini has carried out a recension of the sources in Latin literature: libri pontificii: Cicero De re publ. II 54; De nat. deorum I 84; Varro De ling. Lat. V 98; Festus p. 488 L; libri pontificales: Seneca Epist. CVIII 31; Servius Aen. VII 190; XII 603; Eclogae V 66; Georg. I 344; Servius Danielinus Georg. I 12. 270; CIL VI 2195b; libri pontificum Cicero De domo 33; De oratore I 193; Horace Epist. II 1, 26; Festus p. 204L; Macrobius Sat. I 12, 21; Arnobius Aversdus nationes IV 18; Marius Victorinus Gramm. Lat. (ed. Keil) VI 12 20; commentarii pontificum: Cicero Brutus 55; De domo 136; Livy IV 3, 9; VI 1,2; Quintilianus Instit. orat. VIII 2, 12; Pliny Nat. Hist. XVIII 14. Cicero's authority and competence in matters of religion and his relibility as a source are unquestioned: as an augur he had certainly access at least to the archives of his collegium. In De rep. II, 54 he mentions the fact that the provocatio dated back to the times of the kings. In De nat. deor. I 84 he states that the name of gods vary in different languages, thus it is limited in the pontifical books while the number of gods is unnumerable. In De domo 33 he in addressing the pontiffs says the doctrine on religiones, res divinae, ceremonies, sacra is secret (reserved to pontiffs and consuls) as so wanted the ancestors of the Romans and so he cannot talk about he may find in it in the debate. In De orat. I 193 he says that if somebody enjoys the study of the writings of Aelius, he will find many very old expressions and customs showing the way of life of the ancient in the ius civile in the pontifical books and in the XII Tables. In De domo 136 he quotes some past responsa of the collegium about faulty dedications as that performed by C.Cassius Censor and vestal Licinia Licinia as they had not been in advance sanctoned by the Roman people. In Brut. 55 he states that the commentarii pontificum recorded many instances of the genious of Tiberius Coruncanius. In all cases in which Cicero uses the word libri he refers to documents of great antiquity and for the pontificales he underlines their plurima effigies antiquitatis 'strong look of antiquity'. The use of the term libriis understood by Cicero to denote those documents which contained the lists of the nomina deorum used in the ritual invocations named indigitamenta. Lastly in the libri were to be found documents concerning ancient practices of juridical-religious charachter, eg the provocatio. Varro in L. L. V 98 gives an instance of a sacrificial victim aries goat, named ariuga because according to his interpreation it had horns. Festus p. 204 L relates and explains a meaning of the expression spolia opima by which it may refer to those obtained by a common soldiar; he states their ritual varied according to three cases and this fact is testified by the libri pontificum. Livy makes reference twice to the commentarii pontificum: at IV 3 9 he relates the nefas situation created by the plebeian consul who has no access to these commentarii and is thence ignorant of divine matters. In VI 1, 2 he states that only few recorded facts of the ancient times were to be found in these commentarii owing to the long time elapsed and the rare use of writing. Seneca Epist. CVIII 31 refers to Cicero's remarks on the provocatio from the regal period which are to be found in the pontificales libri besides the augurales. Quintilianus remarks that the old treaties and works contained in the commentarii pontificum might be unintelligible to the interested reader for the obscurity of the disused words. Servius in Aen. XII 603 describes what is called the knot of the death without form. In the pontificales libri there was a cautum concerning he who died of starvation that mandated that he would not receive inhumation, informis leti thence as if the lowest of deaths. Servius Danielinus in Georg. I 21 writes of generalis invocatio that followed in every rite that of the specific concerned gods. Then he makes reference to the indigitamenta to comment Vergil's words studium quibus arva tueri: he says that they contained the names of the gods and the reason ratio of them for each action of the peasant, as Varro too says. Servius Eclogae V 66 remarks that it is a well posed question that on why Apollo wanted two altars when it is known that the superi gods enjoy uneven numbers and theinferi the even ones, this doctrine being told also in the pontificales libri. Servius Georg. I 344 remarks that it superfluous what some say on the fact that Vergil spoke against religion in writing that it is permitted to sacrifice to Ceres with wine since in fact the pontificales libri do not forbid it. Servius Danielinus in Georg. I 270 writes that the rules about the feriae, the persons who should observe them, their date, and the activities permitted on those days are to be found in the pontificales libri. Servius Aen. VII 190 relates that Romulus died because of the setting of the sun and recounts the legend of Picus transformed into a woodpecker picum Martium by Circe because of his love for Pomona and his despising of Circe. It is also imagined that this is due to the fact that he was an augur and kept a woodpecker at home, by which he could know the future, all this being written in the pontificales libri. It is noteworthy that this pasage has been used by French late XIX century scholar Boucher-Leclercq as a proof of the undifferentiated use by ancient authors of the word libri as such content does not belong to the sphere of core sacral and ritual lore which would define them. In the libri one could thus find disposition of sacred law, indigitamenta, rules on rites and sacrifices. It is noteworthy that the Libri pontificales meant the calendar of the religious festivals and the behaviour required on those occasion of the people. Macrobius Saturnalia I 12, 21-22 gives Cornelius Labeo's explanation of the dedication of an aedes to the Earth under the name of Bona Dea on the kalends of May. This nominal identification would be taught in more esoteric (occultiores) sacra: in fact she is invoked, indigitari, as Bona Fauna, Ops and Fatua because of her benefits in nurturing, sustaining and helping the living creaures, and giving voice to infants. Sini comments that this is clearly a concrete instance of indigitamentum from the libri to be used in the prayers to the Bona Dea. The passage gives the theological explanation of the ritual epithets, which might however be the issue of Labeo's reflexion.[38]

  1. ^ G. Dumezil La religion romaine archaique Paris, 1974, Remarques preliminaires XV
  2. ^ H. Fugier Recherches sur l'expression du sacre' dans la langue latine Paris, 1963, pp. 127-151
  3. ^ Eg. Vergil Georg. I 269, 505: Aen. II 55; VI, 438; IX 96
  4. ^ F. Sini Bellum nefandum. Virgilio e il problema del diritto internazionale antico Sassari 1991, p. 86
  5. ^ Ausonius Techn. VIII De diis 1: "Prima deum fas quae Themin est Graiis".
  6. ^ L. Rocci Dizionario Greco Italiano s.v.: "Originally neuter uninflectable, later fem. [Skt. dhaman, Lat. fas] law, justice, right, institution, rule, use, custom thence just, fair, lecit".
  7. ^ U. Coli Regnum in Studia et documenta historiae et iuris 17, 1951: "Fas corresponds to qshmij. The correspondence is more in the word than in the concept, since in my view, the Latin word is the same Greek word as deformed by Etruscan pronunciation"
  8. ^ F. Sini Bellum nefandum Sassari, 1991, p. 89
  9. ^ eg Cicero De haruspicum responso 34; In Verrem 6, 34; Livy Ab Urbe Condita I 19, 13; XXXIII 33, 7; Vergil Georg. I 269. 505; Horace Carmina I 18, 10; Ovid Metam. VI 585
  10. ^ R. OrestanoDal ius al fas cit. p. 239
  11. ^ F. Sini Bellum nefandum Sassari, 1991, p. 90
  12. ^ E. Vetter Thesaurus Linguae Latinae sv fas col. 288: Vetter supposes that the verse should be governed by a verb violare or delere
  13. ^ G. B. Pighi La poesia religiosa romana Bologna, 1959, p. 28: all the carmina Fetialium "come from the books of the fetials through the antiquarians and jurists of the II and I century B.C."; H. Borneque Tite-Live Paris, 1933, p.76 who thinks that here Livy, contrary to the habit of Roman historians, had consulted the documents containing all the formulae of the fetials ie that the formula comes from the books or archives of the fetials; P. catalano Linee del sistema sovrannazionale romano Torino, 1965, p. 30 n.; G. Dumezil La religion romaine archaique Paris, 1974, p. 105; K. H. Ziegler "Das Volkrecht der roemischen Republik" in Aufstieg und niedergang der roemischen Welt I, 2, Berlin-New York, 1972, p.102 f.; contrary K. Latte Romische Religiongeschichte Munchen, 1960, pp.5 n. 1, 122, n. 2 1960 and M. Ogilvie A commentary on Livy books 1-5 Oxford, 1965 p. 130 who think of a late Greek influence
  14. ^ G. Dumezil ibidem p. 125
  15. ^ R. Orestano Dal ius al fas 1939 cit.
  16. ^ F. Sini Bellum nefandum Sassari, 1991, p. 114
  17. ^ J. Paoli Les definitons varroniennes des jours fastes et nefastes p.314 n.1
  18. ^ M. Morani "Latino sacer e rapporto uomo dio..." in Aevum LV 1981 pp. 30-46
  19. ^ M. Morani "Lat. "sacer" e il rapporto uomo dio nel lessico religioso latino" Aevum LV, 1981, pp.30-46
  20. ^ A. Bergaigne La religion Vedique III, Paris, 1883, p.220 as quoted by G. Dumezil ibidem p.128
  21. ^ M. Morani ibidem p.
  22. ^ R. Orestano "Dal ius al fas. Rapporto tra diritto divino e umano in Roma dall'eta' primitiva all'eta' classica" BIDR, NS, V, 1939, pp.194-273
  23. ^ Le Vocabulaire des Institutions Indoeuropeennes 1953 pp. 386 sqq.
  24. ^ M. Morani ibidem p.45
  25. ^ There is disagreement if in this acception fas is used as a noun or adverb: P. Cipriano thinks it is a noun
  26. ^ W.W. Skeat Etymolgical Dictionary of the English Language New York, 1963, sv Fane
  27. ^ A. Guarino L'ordinamento giuridico romano Napoli, 1980, p. 93
  28. ^ J. Paoli "Le monde juridique du paganisme romain. Introduction a' l'etude du domain de l'interdit des dieux dans le temps (nefas)" in Revue historique de droit francais et etranger 23, 1945, pp. 1 ff.; H. Fugier Recherches sur l'expression du sacre' dans la langue latine Paris, 1963, pp. 127 ff.
  29. ^ P. Catalano Contributi allo studio del diritto augurale Torino, 1960, p. 326 and n. 10
  30. ^ E. Benveniste Le vocabulaire des institutions indo-europeenes 2, p. 136; also A. Walde - J. B. Hofmann Lateinisches etymologisches Woerterbuch p. 458
  31. ^ F. Fabbrini Res divini iuris in Novissimo Digesto Italiano XV, Torino, 1968, p. 523: "Given the fear engendered by the godly presence, religio has often taken on the significance of defense, obstacle,: religosum est would then be the synonym of nefas est: that which man cannot do or touch, lest he get contaminated".
  32. ^ F. Sini Documenti sacerdotali di Roma antica I. Libri e commentari Sassari 1983 p. 22
  33. ^ eg the incident of the death of king Tullus Hostilius mentions its use of commentarii Numae in Livy I 31, 8 and of libri in L. Piso ap. Pliny Nat. Hist.XXVIII 4 ,14,as noted by S. Tondo Leges regiae e paricidas Firenze, 1973, p.20-21
  34. ^ R. Besnier "Le archives privees publiques et religieuses a' Rome au temps des rois" in Studi Albertario II Milano 1953 pp.1 ff.
  35. ^ L. Bickel "Lehrbuch der Geschichte der roemischen Literatur" p. 303
  36. ^ G. J. Szemler The priests of the Roman Republic Bruxelles 1972
  37. ^ N. Turchi La religione romana Bologna, 1939
  38. ^ F. Sini cit. p. 111


Ius properly designs the whole area or measure of action allowed or due to somebody in connexion with his politcal, religious or social role or position, eg ius consulis, patris....

The word is cognate to Vedic yosh, Avestic yaosh meaning integrity, mystic perfection.[1] Glottologist Moreno Morani interprets Vedic yosh as prosperity, plenty as in Rig Veda I 114, 2 "samca yoshca" 'prosperity and good luck' and Avestic yaosh as 'ritual perfection' the two concepts being strictly connected, ie the first being intended as a consequence of the second.[2]

According to Morani Latin has here as in many other instances shifted the originally religious meaning of the word to the social and juridical area, although intertwined and tainted with religious thought.

In Latin the word has thus come to design 'ritual perfection' or 'rule' but in the sphere of human relationships only. The correspondence between the Latin word ius and the related concept of iudex with the Oscan meddix would be a proof of this common shift in meaning.

However the originally religious roots of Roman juridical concepts is a theme that has dominated recent romanist studies, in opposition to previous theories of state doctrine and of isolation originated by Mommsen and Ihering. Recently R. Orestano, P. Catalano, S. Tondo, F. Sini, G. Nocera in Italy, J. Noailles, E. Benveniste, A. Magdelain, G. Dumezil, J. Paoli in France, M. Kaser in Germany have stressed the religious origin and significance of the idea of ius and of law in general.

Notably R. Orestano and P. Catalano have rejected the idea of the existence of a concept of state as separate from that of society, populus Romanus Quirites with its customs and beliefs founded in religion, ie a juridical-religious system.

F. Sini [3]argues that this fact is testified by the high antiquity of the sacerdotal use of juridical concepts: eg Festus sv ordo sacerdotum writes of the pontiff: iudex atque arbiter habetur rerum divinarum humanarumque 'he is considered to be the judge and arbiter of things divine and human'. And his authority stems from his regal (king Numa's) investiture.

The peculiarity of the relationship men-gods in the Roman juridical-religious system is in the distinction between the divine and the human that is "the most ancient Roman idea of the world".[4] This idea of the world shows the sacerdotal definitory cautiousness and the universalistic tendency of the pontifical science is the foundation itself of the concept of jurisprudence as defined by Ulpian Libr. I regularum ap. Digesta 1, 1, 10, 2: Iuris prudentia est divinarum atque humanrum rerum notitia, iusti atque iniusti scientia, 'jurisprudence is knowledge of things divine and human, of what is just, right and of what is unjust, wrong'. Romanist G. Nocera has written about the similarities between Festus and Ulpian: "The comparing of jurisprudence as divinarum humanrumque rerum notitia and the supreme sacerdotal position, as iudex atque arbiter rerum divinarum humanarumque proves by itself, through the eloquence of the language, the extension of the sacerdotal influence on the world of the most ancient right, and thence by reflexion on the later one".[5]The same idea is expressed in the summa divisio rerum of Roman law stated by Gaius Inst. 2, 2 ap. Dig. 1, 8, 1: Summa itaque rerum divisio in duos articulos diducitur: nam aliae sunt divini iuris, aliae humani, 'thus the highest division of things is reduced into two articles:some belong to divine law, some to human law'. Perhaps Varro too in his division of his lost Antiquitates rerum divinarum into divinae and humanae makes reference to this Roman most ancient idea of the world.[6]

  1. ^ G. Dumezil La religion romaine archaique Paris 1974 Remarques preliminaires p. 144 ff.
  2. ^ M. Morani "Lat. sacer ..." In Aevum LV 1981 P. 36-45
  3. ^ F. Sini Bellum nefandum Sassari 1991 p. 108 ff.
  4. ^ R. Orestano Dal ius al fas p.201
  5. ^ G. Nocera Iurisprudentia. Per una storia del pensiero giuridico romano Roma , 1973
  6. ^ F.Sini cit. p. 110


The word lex had a primitive religious meaning, from which it quite early developed the meaning of law, i.e. a concept belonging to the purely juridical semantic area. Latin lex corresponds to Vedic word rajani (locative) 'under the law of ' and Avestic razan-, terms that both concern religious law.[1]

According to W. W. Skeat the word is rooted in IE *leg from which derive Latin verbs ligo, lego (inf. legere) to gather, choose, select , lego (inf. legare) to appoint, bequeath, bind and nouns legio a military grouping, band, lectio collection, gathering, reading. Compound forms include diligo, diligens; negligo, negligens; religio, religiosus.[2]

The original meaning of the word should have thus been selected and binding words.

Compare also Gr. lego to collect, to gather, to enumerate, to expose minutely whence to speak, tell, order.[3]

Here are some instances of the use of the word in different contexts:

Liv. 1, 24, 7 "Audi Juppiter, audi pater patrate populi Albani, audi tu, populus Albanus. Ut illa palam prima postrema ex illis tabulis cerave recitatae sunt sine dolo malo, utique ea his hodie rectissime intellecta sunt, illis legibus populus Romanus prior non deficiet".

'Hear Jupiter, hear pater patratus of the Alban people, hear you, Alban people. As all these which were at a time from the beginning to the end recited from these tables or wax without evil or fraudolent intention, and as they were today very correctly understood, to those leges the people of Rome will not fail first.' Here the word denotes the contents of the treaty as a binding formula put under the sanction of divine law.

The request of the augures to the gods about the auspices they wanted to see as a token of divine approval in an augural rite (augurium), or in the ritual inauguration of magistrates and some sacerdotes is named legum dictio.[4] Here the word means the enumeration of a set of fixed, binding conditions that make up the essential part of the rite.

The expression quaqua lege volet 'by whatever lex he may like best', by which the offerer is allowed the freedom of performing the ceremonial sacred action as he likes is another relic of the primitive religious use of the word.[5]

We can see the evolution from the religious semantic area to the legal one by comparing the instance in Livy above, which is still heavily tainted with a religious connotation in the ritual formula pronounced by the fetial pater patratus with the formula of the will here below from Gaius Instit. 2, 104:

"Haec ita, ut in his tabulis cerisque scripta sunt, ita do, ita lego, ita testor, itaque vos, Quirites, testimonium mihi perhibetote".

'Thus these as they are written on these tables and wax, thus I give, thus I bind (lego), thus I bequest, and thus you, Quirites, shall be my witnesses'.

In the formula the verb legare has almost completely lost the religious implications of the word lex shifting to the sheerly juridical sense of making a legatum bequeath, legacy. However the parallelism of this formula with that of the pater patratus allows an insight into the meaning of the word lex as related to the notion of legare to bind, bequest.

The leges actionis which belong to the jurical domain are very primitive instances of the development of civil law from the sacral: they were sets of fixed gestures and words considered to be effective in themselves, that were to be performed and pronounced ritually by the actor in order to achieve a definite legal result. They were regulated by the mos maiorum and besides the legal effect they possessed a religious one too as they were supposed to guard the actor from evil occult influences.[6][7][8]

There is another case of the use of the word lex which is at the border between the legal and the religious, the leges templi: these were sets of regulations emanated by the pontiffs that ruled and sanctioned religious actions to be performed at a temple. In such an instance the word while concerning religious behaviour has a predominantly legal connotation. Here is an instance from the temple of Jupiter Liber at Furfo (Sabellic territory) dated 58 B.C.: "sei quei ad huc templum rem deivi(a)m fecerit Jovi Libero aut Jovi Genio, pelleis coria fanei sunto"[9][10]

  1. ^ M. Morani "Lat. 'sacer'..." Aevum LV 1981 p. 33
  2. ^ W.W. Skeat Etymological dictionary of the English Language s.v. legal, legion, diligent, negligent, religion
  3. ^ L. Rocci Dizionario Greco Italiano Firenze, 1941
  4. ^ Serv. in Aen. III, 89
  5. ^ M. Morani "Lat. 'sacer'..." Aevum LV 1981 p. 38
  6. ^ P. Noailles RH 19/20 (1940/41) 1, 27 ff.
  7. ^ A. Magdelain De la royaute' et du Droit des Romaines Rome, 1995 chap. II, III
  8. ^ A. Magdelain De la royaute' et du droit de Romulus a' Sabinus Rome 1995, chap. II
  9. ^ CIL IX 3513
  10. ^ G. Dumezil la religion romaine archaic Paris, 1974,


The notion of mundus in Roman religion has been long debated among scholars.[1] The word was perhaps originally an adjective meaning clean, adorned; hence it acquired the abstract significance of order and thence of the world, the universe.[2]

G. Dumezil has proposed an interpretation by which the word would mean two different things and concepts.

The first one would denote the pit that was excavated and then closed once and forever at the time of the foundation of Rome by Romolus. He would have followed the Etruscan rite for the foundation of towns, tracing with a plough a circle or a square and then digging a pit in centre of it, at the crossing point of diagonals, in which he and all his followers threw some firstfruits, crops and bits of earth from their place of origin.[3] It was located on the site of what would later become the Comitium.

Here is Ovid's Passage:

"Fossa fit ad solidum, fruges acciuntur in ima

et de vicino terra petita solo;

fossa repletur humo, plenaeque imponitur ara,

et novus accenso fungitur igne focus".

"When the pit reached the rock, crops are placed in the bottom and earth taken from nigh land; the pit is then replenished with soil, when it is filled up an altar is built thereupon, and a new hearth is burning with a kindled fire".

The other would be the pit or pits which give access to the underground or nether world. Not all underground shrines were mundi, as for instance that of Consus, god of harvested and stored grains, who is related to the world of living man.

According to Dumezil the main or perhps only pits connected to the nether world were those of goddess Ceres, named and recorded as Cereris mundus by lexicographer Festus.[4] At Capua an inscription gives the name of a "sacerdos Cerialis mundalis".[5] The connexion between gods of agriculture and vegetable growth with chtonian, netherworld deities is a well known religious phenomenon attested in many cultures.[6]

This mundus was thus located within the premises of the temples of Ceres. It was as a rule closed but thrice a year. Cato in his commentaries on civil law, here preserved by Festus,[7] gives us a description (Cato's quotation are the words within brackets only).

Here is Festus's passage:

Mundus ut ait Capito Ateius in lib. VI Pontificali, ter in anno patere solet, diebus bis: postridie Volkanalia et ante diem <III Non. Oct. et ante diem> VI Id. Nov.: qui quid ita dicatur sic refert Cato in commentariis iuris civilis: "Mundo nomen impositum est ab eo mundo, qui supra nos est: forma enim eius est, ut ex is qui intravere cognescere potui, adsimilis illae"; eius inferiorem partem veluti consecratam Dis manibus clausam omni tempore, nisi bis diebusqui supra scripti sunt, maiores c...m; quos dies etiam religiosos iudicaverunt ea causa, quod quo tempore ea, quae occultati et abditae religionis Deorum Manium essent, veluti in lucemquandam adducerentur et patefierent, nihil in eo tempore in repuiblica geri voluerunt. Itaque per eos dies non cum hoste manus conserebat: non exercitus scribebatur: non comitia habeba<ntur: non> aliud quicquam in republica, nisi quod ultima necessitas admonebat, administrabatur.

'Mundus as A. Capito says in the VI pontifical book, is open thrice a year, for two days: the other day after the Volkanalia, the third day before the Nonae of Oct. and the sixth day before the Idi of Nov.: what is ment by this word is so reported by Cato in his commentaries on civil law: "The name is given to the mundus from this mundus which is above us (ie its shape is similar to the vault of the sky): its shape in fact is similar to that, as I could gather from those who entered it". Its lower part being as it were consacrated to the Manes gods it is shut at any time, except for two days mentioned above, for decision of our ancestors; those days were considered religiosi for the following reason, that at a time when things that belong to the secret and obscure religio of the Manes gods are as it were brought to light and revealed, no official act should be undertaken. In those days therefore they did not go to battle, did not mobilize the army, did not hold comitia, did not discharge any kind of official activity, unless under the constriction of extreme necessity'.

Whether such restrictions were observed or not in real political life has been questioned by many scholars, e.g. Luisa Banti and Kurt Latte. In fact they are marked as C(omitiales) on calendars.

The situation to which Festus or Ateius hint to however is in itself interesting exactly because it is not elaborated upon: it is an exposition in the open air of hidden, dark secrets the writer does not want to talk about.

The same idea is expressed in Varro 's sentence quoted by Macrobius in Saturnalia I 16-18:

"Mundus cum patet, deorum tristium et inferum quasi ianua patet".

'When the mundus is open it is as if the gate of evil and nether gods is open'.

No word is said on what becomes apparent behind that gate.[8]

W. Warde Fowler was perhaps the first to notice the connexion between the Roman notion of mundus and the ritualistic beliefs and actions concerning the storing of selected grains for sowing. His argument is based on the observation of the coincidence of the dates of the three days in which the mundus is open and those of the Consulalia Aestiva and of the apparent setting of the Pleiades, which were used as date for the sowing of far and corn by Italian peasants. He thoguh does not discuss the function of the mundus of the city of Rome in this respect or of its relation to other types.[9]

  1. ^ C. O. Thulin Die Etruskische Disciplin III Goeteborg 1909, pp. 17 ff.; G. Wissowa Religion und Kultus der Roemer pp. 234 ff.; S. Weistock "Mundus patet" in Mitteilungen des deutschen archaelogischen Instituts (Rom. Abteilung) 45, 1930, pp.111 ff.; L. Deubner "Mundus" in Hermes 68, 1933, pp. 276 ff.; H. Le Bonniec Le culte de Ceres a' Rome Paris, 1958, pp. 175 ff.; K. Latte Roemische Religionsgeschichte Munchen, 1960, pp. 141 ff.; G. Dumezil La religion romaine archaique Paris, 1974, pp. 356 ff.; A. Magdelain "Le 'pomerium' archaique et le 'mundus'" in Revue des etudes latins 54, 1976, pp.71 ff.; J. Puhvel "The origins of Greek 'Kosmos' and Latin 'Mundus'" in America Journal of Philology 97, 1976, p. 154 ff.; J. Rykwert The idea of a town Princeton, 1976; P. Catalano Aspetti spaziali del sistema-giuridico religioso romano cit. pp. 452 ff.
  2. ^ W. W. Skeat Etymological Dictionary of the English Language s.v. mundane
  3. ^ Plutarch Romulus 11, 1-4; Ovid Fasti IV 821-824
  4. ^ Festus p. 261 L2
  5. ^ CIL X 3926
  6. ^ W. W. Fowler "Mundus Patet" in JORS 2, 1912, pp.25-33; J.G. Frazer The golden bough 1912
  7. ^ Fest. p. 273 L2
  8. ^ G. Dumezil La religion romaine archaique Paris, 1974, pp. 356 ff.
  9. ^ W. W. Fowler "Mundus patet" JoRS 1912

ordo sacerdotum

In Roman religion there was a sort of hierarchical order among sacerdotes. This oder does preserve the original religious position of each figure or body even thogh it does not reflect their real influence on the discharge of religious functions. It is well known that the pontifex maximus and the collegium pontificum were the most influential figures.

Here is Festus's passage[1]: "Ordo sacerdotum aestimatur deorum <ordine ut deus> maximus quisque. Maximus videtur Rex, dein Dialis, post hunc Martialis, quarto loco Quirinalis, quinto pontifex maximus. Itaque in soliis Rex supra omnes accumbat licet; Dialis supra Martialem, et Quirinalem; Martialis supra proximum; omnes item supra pontificem. Rex, quia potentissimus; Dialis, qui universi mundi sacerdos, qui appellatur Dium; Martialis, quod Mars conditoris urbis parens; Quirinalis, socio imperii Romani Curibus ascito Quirino; pontifex maximus, qoud iudex atque arbiter rerum divinarum humanarumque".

'The order of the sacerdotes is estimated (to reflect) the order of gods, as god is the greatest entity. It appears the greatest to be the Rex, then the Dialis, after this the Martialis, at the fourth place the Quirinalis, at the fifth the pontifex maximus. And thus in banquets the Rex can recline above all other; the Dialis above the Martialis and the Qurinalis; the Martialis above the next; and all above the pontifex. The Rex because he is the most powerful; the Dialis because he is the sacerdos of the entire universe, which is named Dium; the Martialis because Mars is the parent of the founder of the city; the Quirinalis , because Quirinus was called from Cures as a colleague in the sharing of the Roman sovereignty; the pontifex maximus, because he is considered the judge and arbiter of things both divine and human'.

This order reflects the peculiar character of the Roman juridical-religious system: in it is the distinction between what is divine and what is human that represents the most ancient Roman concept of the world.[2] On this conception is grounded the same definiton of iurisprudentia given in the Digesta and the summa divisio rerum of Roman jurisprudence. Even Varro in the structure of his Antiquitates, which he divided into divinae and humanae refers to this most ancient Roman concept of the world.[3]

In religious practice the pontiffs were the most influential figures since they enjoyed the privileged position at the joining point between man and gods. Other figures, representing gods, were confined to their purely ritual, representative actions.

  1. ^ Fest. p. 198-200 L
  2. ^ R. Orestano Dal ius al fas cit. p. 201
  3. ^ F. Sini Bellum nefandum.... Sassari, 1991, p.108


A prodigium is an event which manifests the disruption of the normal, ordinary course of nature and has the value of a sign that manifests a rupture in the pax divom. It is the word most commonly employed to express concepts of this sort. As a rule prodigium has a negative connotation in Roman thought, as all other words related to the same semantic area, i.e. portentum, ostentum, miraculum. Being a sign that the pax divom has been broken, it manifests man is under the threat of divine wrath.

The etymology of the second part of pro-digium is uncertain. It is considered possible that it be related to verb aio I say, as in the composite ad-agium a saying, proverb.[1]

For the Roman mind "the prodigium is as a rule an unforeseen, awesome and contrary to nature phenomenon expressing the wrath of gods on Earth. Contrary to what was the case in Greece and Etruria, originally among Latins the idea of a beneficient prodigium did not exist."[2]

In Roman political life the procuatio prodigiorum was of extreme importance. In the view of ancient Latins phenomena deemed to be contrary to natural order were seen as prodigia, terrific signs of the wrath of deities. Their appearance was ascribed to supposed ritual unproprieties or negligences on the part of man in the discharge of his duties toward the gods, causing the breaking of the ancient pact. The dangers may only disappear after the correct relationship with gods has been restored through the adequate expiation.

Raymond Bloch remarks that in discussing the problem of prodigia it must be born in mind that their notion and attitude to them varied greatly in the course of Roman history. The considerations formulated here reflect the situation of the origins of rome tilthe end of the second Punic war. Afterward the attitude to prodigia of the Romans started to change for a complex of cultural and political changes.

The vocabulary connected to this area includes different words the meaning of which may vary slightly: prodigium, ostentum, portentum, monstrum, miraculum. The use of such words though is similar or identical. Prodigium is the most widely used; ostentum, portentum usually but not always denote an extraordinary phenomenon in inanimate nature. Mostrum, miraculum often denote an awesome feature in humans. All these words according to Cicero, Varro, Festus express an announcement of the future: "Quia enim ostendunt, portendunt, monstrant, praedicunt, ostenta, portenta, monstra, prodigia dicuntur".[3] Strictly speaking portentum, ostentumm both are passive forms of the corresponding verbs and mean the presentation, exposition of something, thence mean sign, signal: it is clear that the sense of intimation of a disaster was not the original meaning. Monstrum is related to verb moneo and thus means admonition. Miraculum is related to mirus thence it means marvellous, astonishing, which evokes the surprise of the observer in front of a rare phenomenon sent by the deity. It is noteworthy that none of these words etymologically means anything connected with the prediction of the future, whereas they show the attitude of horror and fear engendered in man (given that the etymology of prodigium is debated: it is not at all certain that it means prediction as Cicero writes; it looks also possible that it stems from pro and agere as in English to prodigate, prodigal).[4][5]

The original definiton of Roman religious construction is traditionally attributed to Numa Pompilius, a Sabin from Cures. Here is what Livy writes about the question of prodiges. The first pontifex maximus (Numa Marcius, Marci filius) since the time of the creation of the office had supreme powers in Roman religious life. He had to indicate, among many other duties, which of the prodiges requested an examination and expiation: "...Quae prodigia fulminibus aliove quo missu visa susciperentur atque curarentur" Livy Ab Urbe Condita I, 20,7. It is noteworthy that this is the inception and the foundation of all the system of procedures and rites involved in the cura, procuration and expiation of prodiges. To this aim the first duty was to ascertain whether a particular prodige was real or fabricated and concerned the state or only privates.

Livy's narration of the state prodiges at the end of the first decade and at the beginning of the third provides a long list of phenomena that Romans considered extraordinary, i.e. not in accord with the laws of nature, followed by the record of the terror they caused and the mention of the expiatory ceremonies performed to fend off the announced threat. They include speaking animals (e.g. cows), speaking and dancing small children, rains of blood, milk, stones or flesh, sweat or blood appearing on gods's statues, cows or oxen walking up to the upper floors in builidings, spontaneous movement of sacred objects as spears or shields on the statues of deities, birth of monstrous animal or human children.[6]

The job of gathering information and evaluating the prodiges was named procuratio prodigiorum. It was carried out through a complex but efficient process discharged both by local and central magistrates, in which the pontiffs and lastly the senate made the ultimate decisions as whether to accept the prodigium as valid. This acception was indicated by the verb suscipere. The appearance of a prodigium was a sign of a state of impurity of the community and it asked for adequate measures to atone the wrath of the involved deities. As a rule the senate and the pontiffs decided the necessary expiations: these would include sacrifices to the offended gods and ritual acts of purifications, such as prayers and lustrationes at their temples or sometimes around the town or an area of it.

For particularly serious cases the decemviri sacris faciundis were asked to consult the collection of the libri Sibyllini to gather more exact information on the nature of the problem and the most adapt, effective way of expiation.[7]

It should be remarked that while Romans were extremely sensitive to everything which they deemed might have hinted to a disruption of the natural, regular course of events, being a nation particularly inclined to action they were able to take a pragmatic attitude towards prodigia, thus they devised a whole exhaustive set of measures that enabled them to avoid being paralysed in their everyday political life by signs: Cicero in his De Divinatione I, 29 has such a phrase: "Nuntiant eventura nisi provideris". 'They announce the future events, unless you take adequate measures'.

As a rule the attitude of Romans to signs was to consider them imminent threats and not to hint to a far away future.

  1. ^ W. W. Skeat Etymological Dictionary of the English Language New York 1964 sv prodige
  2. ^ R. Bloch Prodiges dans l'antiquite classique Part 3 It. transl. Rome, 1981, p.79
  3. ^ Cic. De div. I, 93
  4. ^ A. Ernout, A. Meillet Dictionnaire etymologique de la langue latine sv
  5. ^ C. O. Thulin "Synonima quaedam latina" in Commemorationes philologicae in honorem Johannes Paulson Goeteborg, 1905
  6. ^ R. Bloch Les prodiges dans l'antiquite'-Les prodiges a Rome It. transl. 1981, chap. 1, 2
  7. ^ R. Bloch ibidem p. 96

religio, religiones

The word religio, more often used in the plural religiones, indicates the actions undertaken as a service to gods or godly things aimed at achieving or restoring the pax divom. It denotes an obligation on the part of man toward the sphere of the fas or sacer and the due diligence in performing the ritual acts requested by it. The word itself hints to the attitude of hesitation, fear, and scruple in trying and understanding the signa of the divine will and in enacting effective behaviours in order to adapting to it.[1] It can be considered close to pietas, meaning fear of the gods. It must be born in mind that Latin religio does not correspond or translate the notion of religion in modern European languages.

The word is rooted in verb lego (inf. legere) to gather, choose, select from IE stem *leg. It is allied to adjective religens fearing the gods, pious, diligens sedolous and opposite to adjective negligens negligent, all present participles of corresponding verbs diligo, negligo, religo.[2][3]

The etymological meaning of the word reflects quite adequately the attitude of the Roman people to the area of the sacred. It was the first duty of a good citizen and of all magistrates to ensure that the correct relationship with the invisible would guarantee a safe and propitious environment for public and private activities.

Here are some instances of its use: "Mos maiorum est institutum patrium, id est memoria veterum pertinens ad religiones caerimoniasque antiquorum" Fest. p. 146 L. 'mos maiorum, customs of the ancestors, are an institution of our forefathers, i.e. the memory of the elder ones concerning religiones and ceremonies of the ancient'. This use is quite vague, implying a similarity to ceremonies and thence the idea of rites.

The word could designate both public and private cultual practices as we can understand from the following passage in Festus's dictionary: Gallus Aelius ait sacrum esse quod quocumque modo instituto civitatis consecratum est, sive aedis...quod dis dedicatum atque consecratum sit; quod autem privati suae religionis causa aliquid earum rerum deo dedicent, id pontifices Romanos non existimare sacrum.[4]

The common expression denoting the passage of something from the sacred back to the profane is known as solvere religionem: it makes clear that religio means a kind of bond that obliges man.

An instance of the use is provided by the episode of consul Marcellus who during the second Punic war vowed a temple to gods Honos and Virtus but was refused the permit to 'solve' the vow by the pontiffs on the grounds that a temple could not be dedicated to two gods together when they were not dii certi, i.e. whose sphere of competence was provenly clearcut. Livy relates this episode and Marcellus's embarrassment at being caught in the dilemma between "aliae atque aliae religiones"[5] Here too the word means a bond, an obligation. An instance of the same sort is provided by the tradition that the gens Claudia had a special kind of victim named propedalis porcus which served as piamentum and exsolutio omnis contractae religionis[6]. Here again the word religio means bond, obligation and is used in parallel with piamentum, an expiatory act.

Roman attitude to religious matters is marked by a strong streak of formalim and a collective approach. The basic attitude is an attention at not offending or perturbing the susceptibility of gods. Thus the formula in a prayer must be unambiguous and must be recited in a loud voice so that the god can hear it,[7] it must not forget other gods: for this reason the name of the god is often left unspecified[8] or the generalis invocatio is used, which allows not to forget any deity.

Many aspects of this mentality are ancient: it has a correspondence in an analogous formalism in the Indian and Iranic world. The Romans however have accentuated this tendency in the religious procedure under the influence of their strong inclination for the ius right, law.

It is noteworthy that the first acts of the supreme magistrates at the moment of their inauguration was the ritual ascension to the temple of Jupiter on the Capitolium (processus consularis), where the new consuls held a public session with the senate and as a rule discussed religious matter consulere de religione, meaning the discussion of the auspicia and the procuratio of prodigia. It was the first duty of a pious magistrate to pay homage to the supreme gods of Rome and to fend off the threats to the community announced by the supernatural.

It is understandable that such an attitude led to a negative connotation of the word religio and especially its derivate adjective religiosus. Religiosus in fact came to mean that which is appropriated by gods, as death and (thence) graveyards, places hit by lightning, both loci religiosi, days marked by bad past experiences dies religiosi, e.g. July 18, anniversary of the two battles of Cremera and Allia.[9] Also the word religio defined what is considered nefas: ie carrying the flamen Dialis by horse is said to be religio, taboo by Gellius[10].

Thus religion often designed the ceremonies, sacrifices and vows undertaken to appease the signs of the wrath of gods. The collective character of religion in Rome is well made clear in Livy's passage on the plague of 461 B.C.: being left without any other possible means of averting the disaster the state obliges the citizen to resort to prayer: inopsque senatus auxilii humani ad deos populum ac vota vertit: iussi cum coniugibus ac liberis supplicatum ire pacemque exposcere divum Liv. III 7.

'The senate left with no human help reverted the people to gods and vows: ordered that with their wives and sons they go and supplicate and ask for the peace of gods'.

A positive connotation of the word is on the contrary testified in the authors of the classical period by whom it is used with the meaning of cult of gods,cultus deorum as it has been highlighted by romanist Francesco Sini.[11] Here are some instances.

Cicero always used the word as meaning cult of gods.

De nat. deor. 1,117: "...religionem, quae deorum cultu pio continetur"; "religio, which contains the pious cult of gods'".

De Leg. 1, 160: "...cum suis, omnesque natura coniunctos suos duxerit, cultumque deorum et pura religione susciperit"; "with his men he took with himself all those who were related to him, and the cult of the gods too he took on with pure religio".

2, 30: "...non solum ad religionem pertinet, sed etiam ad civitatis statum, ut sine iis, qui sacris publice praesint, religioni privatae satis facere non possint; ...Discriptioque sacerdotum nullum iustae religionis genus praetermittit. Nam sunt ad placandos deos allii constituti, qui sacris praesint sollemnibus, ad interpretanda alii praedicta vatium ...neque ut ea ipsa quae suscepta publice essent, quisquam extra collegium nosset."

" belongs not only to religio but also to the condition of the city, as without them who preside on the public sacra, it cannot be fulfilled the private religio;...And the discretion of the sacerdotes does not overlook any kind of just religio. For some are established to placate the wrath of gods, those who preside to the solemn sacra, other to interpret the predictions of the vates...and never those which are publicly acknowledeged, were ever so without the knowledge of the collegium".

De har. resp. 18: "Ego primum habeo auctores ac magistros religionum colendarum maiores nostros quorum mihi tanta fuisse sapientia videtur ut satis superque prudentes sint qui illorum prudentiam non dicam adsequi, sed quanta fuerit perspicere possint: qui statas sollemnisque caerimonias pontificatu, rerum bene gerendarum auctoritates augurio, fatorum veteres praedictionis Apollinis vatum libris, portentorum expiationes Etrusca disciplina contineri putaverunt".

'Really me I have for my authors and teachers in matters of religious cult our ancestors, whose wisdom looks to have been so uch great to me that they are enough or even extremely prudent those whose prudence, Ido not say can be foolwed in action, but can even perceive how great it was theirs: who considered to be contained in the pontificate the established solemn ceremonies, in augury the authorities for well discharging public affairs, in the (Sibylline) books the virdicts of Apollo's vates 's ancient predictions, in Etruscan discipline the expiation of the portenta.

In Cicero's view religio is the theologic and juridical justification of Roman political hegemony, attributed traditionally to the favour of the gods, but not without merit on the part of the Romans, since for their sensitivity and cautiousness towards religio they greatly surpassed all other people.

Here are two relevant passages of the his De natura deorum: 2,8 "C. Flaminium Coelius religione neglecta cecidisse apud Trasimenum scribit cum magno reipublicae vulnere. Quorum exitio intelligi potest eorum imperiis rem publicam amplificatam qui religionibus paruissent. Et si conferre volumus nostra cum externis, ceteris rebus aut pares aut etiam inferiores reperiemur; religione, id est cultu deorum, multo superiores".

'Coelius writes that Flaminium died near the Trasimene with great damage to the state for his neglecting of religio. From their issue it can be understood that it were those who observed the religiones who increased the state by their rulings. And if we want to compare our customs with other people, in other things we may find that we are equal to them or even their inferior; in religion, i.e. the cult of gods, we are much their superior.'

Here it is stated that negligere religionem has always caused heavy damages to the Roman people as the defeat of the Trasimene; whereas its observance cannot but bring about, in the dynamics of history, the constant amplification of the res publica as long as the Romans shall continue to be in matters of religion, i.e. the cult of the gods, much superior to others.

In 3,5 Cicero has pontifex maximus C. Aurelius Cotta outline the main fields of religio theorising that it should be divided into sacra and auspicia:

"Cumque omnis populi Romani religio in sacra et in auspicia divisa sit, si quid praedictionis causa ex portentis et monstris Sibyllae interpretes haruspicesve monuerunt, harum ego religionum nullam umquam contemnendam putavi mihique ita persuasi Romulum auspiciis, Numan sacris constitutis fundamenta iecisse nostrae civitatis, quae numquam profecto sine summa placatione deorum immortalium tanta esse potuisse".

'And then all the religio of the Roman people can be divided into sacraand auspicia with the addition of a third being what the interprets of the Sibylle or the haruspices foretold from the portenta and monstra for the sake of prediction, and of these religiones I never thought any of them can be despised and thus I persuaded myself that Romulus with the auspices and Numa with the institution of the sacra laid the foundations of our community, which could never absolutely become so great without the highest placation of the immortal gods'.

This is a clear statement of the deep beliefs of the sacerdotal tradition on the theological and juridical foundations of the Roman state. Sacra and auspicia not only are the main fields of religio, but should more appropriately be considered the original foundations, as dating back to Romulus and Numa, of the res publica. Both the high degree of political power reached by Romans and the boundless extension of their imperium would be utterly unexplicable without the highest placation of the immortal gods. This providential view of the civitas Romana is to be found also elsewhere, e.g. in the De haruspicum responso 19 and Pro Milone 83.

Sallust too underlines the religiosity and piety of the ancestorsby comparing the religiosussimi viri of old to the present corruption and depravity of Romans in Cat. 1, 2, 1-5.

As for Livy he has characterized Rome as a place extremely devoted to religion.

E.g. V, 52, 2: "Urbem auspicato inauguratoque conditam habemus; nullus locus in ea non religionum deorumque est plenus; sacrificiis solemnibus non dies magis stati quam loca sunt in quibus fiant".

'We have a city founded with an auspice and inauguration; no place in it is not filled with religiones and gods; no more days are established for solem sacrifices than places in which they are held'.

In his work he states over again that the history of Rome is the most unrefutable proof that omnia prospera evenisse sequentibus deos:

V, 51, 4-5 " nobis cum urbe simul positae traditaeque per manus religiones nullae essent, tamen tam evidens numen hac tempestate rebus adfuit Romanis, ut omnem negligentiam divini cultus exemptam hominibus putem. Intuemini enim horum deinceps annorum vel secundas res vel adversas; invenietis omnia prospera evenisse sequentibus deos, adversa spernentibus". He considered pietas and fides as essential for the divine legitimacy of the Roman imperium: "favere enim pietati fideique deos, per quae populus Romanus ad tantum fastigii venerit".

'...if we had not received a body of religiones created and transmitted together with the city, though it is so apparent that a godly will at that time assisted the Romans, that I would consider excused to men every negligence in the cult of the gods. Have an insight into their things since then, now favourable and now adverse; you shall discover that everything propitious happened to those who obeyed the will of gods, everything adverse happened to those who despised them'.

'The gods are favourable to the piety and good faith, by which the Roman people reached such a high position'.

Another testimony is provided by Valerius Maximus who underlined as the founding and characterising feature of Rome the principle that omnia post religionem ponenda semper nostra civitas duxit:

I, 1 9 "Qui praetor a patre suo collegit Saliorum magistro iussus sex lictoribus praecedentibus arma ancilia tulit, quamvis vacationem huius officii honoris beneficio haberet. Omnia namque post religionem ponenda semper nostra civitas duxit, etiam in quibus summae maiestatis conspici decus voluit. Quapropter non dubitaverunt sacris imperia servire, ita se humanarum rerum futura regimen existimantia, si divinae potentiae bene atque constanter fuissent formulata". The holders of the summa maiestas never hesitated to put themselves at the disposition of the civitas for the discharge of the sacred rites because they deemed they would obtain the rule on the world if they had served well and constantly the power of the gods.

'He who was praetor was ordered by his father magister of the Salii to gather the ancilia preceded by six lictors, as if from the vacation of the honour of his office he received a benefit. In fact our city always considered everything to be put behind religion, even in things which were regarded as adorned with the highest dignity of majesty. The powers were not doubtful of serving to the sacra because they extimated they would receive the dominium in the future human things if the divine powers had been well and constantly formulated'.

However Sini acknowledges that a different view on the value of religio, in accord with the negative connotation outlined above at the beginning is expressed in Servius Aen. 8, 349: "religio id est metus, ab eo quod mentem religet dicta religio". Ie it is awe, it is called religio from what shall bind (religet) the mind of man. This attitude is in line with the negative interpretation of the original value of the term.

Varro in his Antiquitates is likely to have drawn on pontifical doctrine and on its systematic. However it appears his exposition does not adhere to the systematic of a particular collegium, but to the whole of the res divinae. His field of inquiry was the entire system of Roman religion and thence the whole juridical and religious complex elaborated by the Roman sacerdotes. And as Cicero put it Roman religion was exhaustively divided into two parts, i.e. sacra and auspicia. In relation to man this dualism is reflected in the fundamental binomium of the ius publicum: sacerdos / magistratus. This division into sacra and auspicia is similar to that of the systematic of the ius publicum: sacra, sacerdotia, magistratus to be found in Cicero De Legibus 2, 19 ff. and made explicit in a passage of Ulpian's Intitutiones: Publicum ius in sacris, in sacerdotibus, in magistratibus consistit. In both works there is an identical hierarchy, in which the sacerdotes come before the magistrates. The theological foundation of the ius publicum is thereby made apparent.[12]

The original ambiguity of the value of the word in its ancient usage is reflected in modern scholars's division about the original connotation of the word. While Georges Dumezil supports a negative original meaning, Huguette Fugier[13](as well as many other e.g. Robert Turcan[14]) take the opposite view, arguing that the origin of Roman religious attitude is to be traced in the auspiciousness of the foundation of Rome which provided the grounding of its future. Ie it was exactly this special quality of setting that allowed the preservation of the pax divom providing the necessary, fit frame for the religiones, the rites and sacrifices on which it relied. This attitude can be detected in Ennius's phrase Augusto augurio postquam inclita condita Roma est.[15]

Formalism in religion is reflected in the prerequisite that the person who asks for the help of the gods be formally pure: only he who neither did ever betray the given word nor did ever offend the gods can ask for their favour. It is the statement of a strict correlation between the human and the divine spheres, by which men and gods act within the space of meticulously fixed rules and their mutual relationships are for ever scrupulously determined thereby.[16][17]

Proper religio is thus a measured, rational activity, a virtue and cornerstone of mos maiorum. Excessive commitment to deities and over-enthusiasm for their cults may be counterproductive or destructive, and are classed as superstitio.[18]

  1. ^ G. Dumezil La religion romaine archaique Paris, 1974, Considerations preliminaires IV
  2. ^ C. Koch Religio 1960 p.100 and note 1
  3. ^ W.W.Skeat Etymological Dictionary of the English Language s.v. Religion
  4. ^ Fest. p. 253 L
  5. ^ Liv. 27, 5, 7
  6. ^ Fest. p. 345 L2
  7. ^ Liv. X 36, 11
  8. ^ si deus si dea es Cat. Agr. 139; si si divus si diva esset Liv. VII 26,4; Juppiter OM, sive qua alio nomine te appellare volueris Serv. in Aen. II 251
  9. ^ M. Morani "Lat. sacer..." Aevum LV 1981 P. 39
  10. ^ A. Gellius Noct. Att. X 15, 3
  11. ^ F. Sini "Religione e sistema giuridico in Roma repubblicana" Colloquio internazionale: Organizzare l' ordinamento. Federalismo e statalismo. Sassari, 1997
  12. ^ F. Sini Documenti sacerdotali di Roma antica Sassari , 1983, p. 213
  13. ^ H. Fugier Recherches sur les expressions du sacre'... Paris, 1963, p. 207 on Livy V, 57, 2
  14. ^ R. Turcan Religion romaine. 2. Le culte. Leiden-New York 1988, pp.5 ff.
  15. ^ apud Svet. August.7
  16. ^ Catullus "Carm. 76
  17. ^ M. Morani loc. cit.
  18. ^ Beard, North, Price, Religions of Rome: a History, Vol. 1, Cambridge University Press, 1998, 217.


Sacer is one of the main concepts in Roman religion. It designates specifically throughout its history as a religious term that which belongs to gods for human definition or decision. It has an exact opposite in the word profanum. The sphere of that which belongs to gods for gods's own sanction or action is denoted by the adjective religiosus.[1]

The word is rooted in IE Sak- which is attested mostly in Italy. See Oscan sakoro 'sacred' (nom. sing. fem.), sacrid abl., sakrim 'sacrificial victim', sakaraklum 'sacellum, small shrine', sakarater 'sacratur, consacrate' (indicative pres. tense).

In Latin this root has given two forms, one in -ro-, sakros present in the first attested document of the Latin language, the stone of the Forum or Lapis Niger and a form in -ri- survived only in the expression porci sakres.

Among the composite forms the most noteworthy are perhaps sacerdos, word created with the addition to sacer of a word rooted in IE dhe- (as for Gr. tithemi, I pose) properly he who enacts sacral actions and sacrificium sacral rite, or more precisely the action by which something is rendered sacred. Other noteworthy composites are sacrarium, sacramentum, sacellum.

The derivate verbs sacrare is more recent as well as its composite forms consecro, resecro, obsecro I supplicate, however obsecro is to be found in ancient texts. It has substituted the more ancient pollucere of unknown origin.

Outside Italy the use of this IE root is attested with certainty only in Hittite saklai 'usage, rite, law'[2] However glottologist Giacomo Devoto has indicated a relationship with Tocarian sakaer, lofty, eminent.[3]

The discussion of the connotations of the word sacer takes us to the heart of the history of Roman religious thought.

It has been argued that Italic as well as Celtic religious cultures preserved ancient common IE heritage, this fact being testified by the existence of a body of sacral lore handed down traditionally by a sacerdotal class. This lore conferred sacrality to the position of the ruler or king (Lat. rex (regs), Celt. rig, corresponding to Vedic rajahn). These facts would be homologous to what happened in India with the Vedic tradition and in Iran with the Avestan. This theory was expounded first by Joseph Vendryes in 1918.[4] Such correspondences concerned the semantic sphere of religion and from it spread over the ethical-religious, political-religious and juridical-religious areas, as religion was the foundation of every sphere of human culture in those early stages of human civilization.

The theory has been further developed by Georges Dumezil in various works.[5] Dumezil sees an etymological correspondence between the words designating the sacerdotal function in Latin and Vedic (flamen and brahman) and in many words connected to religion, such as ius, credo, ritus, purus, castus, voveo . However Dumezil had already noted that: "many words of the religious lexic had at a very early time shifted in Latin to the juridical field, this too being coloured with religion, preserving down to slight details the nuances and acceptions of Indoiranic: ius, right, properly speaking denotes all the area or measure of action which is permitted or due, and corresponds to Ved. yos' 'prosperity', Avest. yaosh 'integrity, mystic perfection'". However in Latin ius has a purely legal sense.[6]

Even though such correspondences are undeniable the situation in ancient Latium had undergone deep changes as the boundaries between the functions of the rex and those of the sacerdotes had become blurred. Certainly the rex, contrary to what was the case in Vedic India, had assumed directly sacerdotal functions. At the same time common citizens could become sacerdotes as long they were patricians: this situation was markedly different from that of India and also of Celtic tribes which both had a sacerdotal class or caste.

The fact that in ancient Latium the king was primarily a warrior marks a blurring between the warring and the sacral functions. In Rome the rex was on the other hand invested of his authority by the will of the people and not directly by the gods, hence being a primus inter pares from a legal standpoint. But most importantly the king in ancient Rome was also the highest sacerdos, celebrated religious rites himself, differently from what happened both in Vedic India with the purohita and among Celt tribes with the druids. The hierarchy of the sacerdotal positons is stated by Festus.[7] as follows: rex, flamen dialis, flamen martialis, flamen quirinalis, pontifex maximus. The first terms preserve remarkable elements of antiquity and the tripartiton of the flamines hints to the ancient tripartition of functions of Indoeuropean society. However in Rome the relics of this tripartition are very limited as it has been shewn above. Later during the Republic the rex sacrorum is just a figurehead and real religious power is in the hands of the pontifex maximus.

Such a blurring of functions affected (and then reflected) the essence itself of religion in Roman culture. The idea of sacer was affected too as it became a concept connected essentially to the sphere of political life, the publicum. According to Festus's definition nothing is sacer without a public legal sanction:[8]"Gallus Aelius says that it is sacer what is in any way or by any institution of the community rendered sacred (consecratum), be it either a building or an altar or a sign, a place or money, or anything that else can be dedicated to the gods; any of these things that privates for their own practices of cult may dedicate to a god, that the Roman pontiffs do not consider it sacer". The passage from the condition of profanum to that of sacer requires fixed ritual actions including formulae, solemnia verba: the rite is performed by the state through the competent magistrate but the formula is uttered by the pontiff; even the duplicity of the terminology dedicatum-consecratum hints to the duplicity of the authorities that perform the rite: the sacerdos consecrat (consacrates), the state dedicat (dedicates). The reverse passage from the condition of sacer to that of profanum, is named resecratio. It too needs precise ritual formulae and is defined by Festus as solvere religione.[9]

The notion of sacer always implies a unilateral initiative: it is sacer only that which has been declared to be such by man. Fist of all gods: see sacer Janus in Ovid's Fasti.[10] The consecratio implies a renounciation on the part of man to something that becomes property of the god.

Whenever it is the god that actively takes possess of something belonging to man, the term religiosus is always used instead of sacer. Death is such a case and thus the graveyard is named locus religiosus.[11] Another instance is a place or object hit by lightning, the access to or contact with which were strictly forbidden.[12] Festus states explicitly: "A place was once considered to become religiosus which looked to have been dedicated to himself by a god".[13]

The word sacer does only design the existence or creation of a positive relationship with gods on the part of man. The content of such a relationship is then specified by a complex of norms or rules that make up the fas. Fowler has speculated that "sacer may have meant simply taboo, ie removed from the profanum without any special reference to a deity, but holy or accursed according to circumstances".[14]

The meaning of sacer as belonging to gods is usual. Even in the expression porci sacres it stands for animals reserved to the gods. The idea of perfecton attributed to it by Varro[15] is not correct, though it shows the way by which the idea of perfection and purity overlapped onto the original meaning because of the perfection required of animals chosen for sacrifice. It is noteworthy that animals not yet consecrati but reserved to this aim were considered sacres. The semantic evolution toward the idea of perfection of which Varro's text is testimony shows the reason why in time sacer will take on a connotation of moral or inner value: sacer perfect, thence sacred, untouchable, unviolable.

Often sacer has a negative meaning: instead of meaning 'in the possession of the god' it means 'not belonging to man', 'foreign to normal human interaction modality'. The dies sacri are nefasti or quieti, while the dies profani are fasti or negotiosi. This negative connotation of sacer explains why the word has no negative form such *insecer: Latin shows its peculiar attitude and difference from Greek that does have negative forms for words related to the sacred. The oppositon sacer profanus too provides a confirmation of this quality: profanus is what is outside the sacer, pro- fano before the fane, but it does imply a radical negation of the sacred. It can be invested of this quality at any time the community might feel the need for its declaration of sacrality. Nothing is sacred in itself and nothing is profane in itself: but everything can become sacred or profane according to circumstances, provided that the community declare it such by the relevant rites.[16]

This fact bears a trace of the IE origin of the word as the Hittite saklai means rite. The restitution of the profane character to an object previously declared sacred is well documented: in the band of the ver sacrum of 217 BC we read: si id moritur...profanum esto "if the animal dies shall be profane"[17]

The first document of Latin literature, the stone of the Forum, bears the expression sakros esed, showing that the rite which is recorded thereon implies a provision for the possible accident that would make it invalid[18]

Benveniste states that Latin has best shewn the distinction between sacred and profane.

In general it can be said that it is sacer everything that does not fall within the sphere of the ius. Instances in Hor. Serm. II 3 , 181: 'is intestabilis et sacer esto' for a person who cannot be witness in court; Prop. III 16 , 11: 'nec tamen sacros qui laedat amantis': i.e. lovers are set aside from the sphere of the ius in their relationship by the peculiar psychologic experience of love.

Even in the cases in which sacer takes up a meaning close to that of taboo when referred to people the same idea of separation is present. This is Festus's definiton: "It is considered sacer the man who has been judged by the people for a henious action: it is not fas to execute him, but he who shall kill him cannot be condemned of parricide".'homo sacer is est quem populus iudicavit ob maleficium; neque fas est eum imolari, sed qui occidit, parricidii non damnatur'[19]

Human law cannot judge the man who has been declared sacred. The fas, i.e. the superior invisible setting on which the ius lies and is founded, forbids the revenge on the sacer person by the courts. Nothing else can better prove the foreigness to the ius of the sacer.

According to a lex regia[20]: si parentem puer verberit, ast olle plorassit parens, puer divis parentum sacer esto. "if a child hits his parent to the point that the parent should cry, the child shall be sacred to the gods of the parents". The condition that the parent must be made cry is a necessary condition for the declaration of sacrality. The order that has been breached belongs to a higher sphere than that with which the rules proper to the ius are concerned. The culprit has offended besides his parent his parent's gods. It is up to them to take the just revenge.[21]

Any action that can put at risk the foundations of the structure of communal organisation makes the perpetrator sacer, such the patronus that does not observes his obligations to his clientes,[22] the man who moves the signs marking the boundaries fines of fields along with all his cattle, by Numa's disposition,[23] fact that reveals once more the character of absolute objectivity of the declaration.

Similar is the situation of the person who has voted himself to the gods but has not died. The devotion puts him for ever outside to the sphere of the profane world. He cannot sacrifice and the community must offer an expiatory victim in his stead.[24]

It is thence clear how the notion of sacer may have taken up the sense of 'accursed', as in Virgil's auri sacra fames, "the accursed hunger of gold" or in Plautus's sacerrumum domicilium for the brothel.[25]

In use other than religious and legal the semantic limits of sacer are sometimes blurred. In Vergil it may take up the value of eeroj (e.g. Ideae sacer vertex Aen. 10, 230) and the lack of a clear distinction between prayer and incantation may give to sacer the value of 'magic', as in Horace Ep. 17, 6: Canidia parce voci tandem sacri.

According to Fugier sacer may also mean 'numinous'. This semantic value is attested only among authors of augustan times and there too it is doubtful that it may be regarded as autonomous from the justification of religious practices. In the same instances made by Fugier: e.g. Ov. Fas. III, 264 ff. est lacus, antica religione sacer.

It is a common feature of IE languages to distinguish the sphere of the sacred into two areas marked by a different terminology: on the one hand that of which is sacred for its inherent, intimate nature or mystical force and on the other hand that which is so for separation, i.e. which is so for being forbidden to human contact. Emil Benveniste has analysed these two series thoroughly:

Avestic: sp(e)nta-/yaoz-data-; Gr.: eeroj/-gioj; Goth.: hails/weihs.

The first term implies an idea of an exuberance of force, sign of the divine presence or of its effect.

In Latin this topic has given rise to debate among scholars as the correspondence of terms is unclear.

While it can be assumed that the use of the word sacer seems to hint clearly to an idea of separation (that which belongs to god(s) by official, public definition) it is difficult to identify a Latin word that designs that which is divine for its inherent nature. There are two other words attested as connected to the sphere of the sacred: sanctus and religiosus. Another, augustus has been proposed by Dumezil, but its use is not significantly attested in documents. We have though Ovid 's testimony of such a use in Fas. I, 608-9:

"Sancta vocant augusta patres, augusta vocantur

templa sacerdotum rite dicata manu..."

'The ancient name sancta the augusta, augusta are named the temples dedicated ritually by the hand of the sacerdotes.

Huguette Fugier has given to the root *sak of sacer, sacratio the meaning of existent, reel (Dumezil disagrees on this interpretation), and to the verb sancire the meaning rendre reel, whence rendre effectif, garanti: sanctus would thus mean garanti par une sanctio by means of a sacer act. Benveniste gives to the verb sancire the meaning of surrounded and protected by a defense, interpretation based on Gaius and Marcianus's definitions of sanctus as something which is defended militarily, as the city wall. On these grounds the two authors consider Latin sanctus to denote the sacred by separation and sacer the sacred for internal force.

The preceding analysis of the usage of the word sacer shows that this view is arbitrary and untenable. While the two words might share the same etymology (being perhaps both rooted in *sak), it would be more appropriate[citation needed] to reverse this interpretation and see in sanctus the equivalent of the sacred for internal force or inherent nature (see sanctus). The connexion between sanctus and augustus is supported by Ovid's passage quoted above and by Dumezil's observation about the expressions sancti viri, sanctissimi viri as close to this notion.

In conclusion, the use of sacer is tainted with an ancient inherent ambiguity that seems to be one of the most remarkable features of the notion itself. On the contrary sanctus has always a positive connotation.

  1. ^ M. Morani ibidem p. 40
  2. ^ J. Friedrich Heithitisches Woerterbuch Heidelberg, 1952, 1954; E. H. Sturtevant A Comparative grammar of the Hittite language Philadelphia, 1951 (2nd), p.159; IEW p. 878
  3. ^ G. Devoto Origini Indoeuropee Firenze, 1962,p. 468
  4. ^ J. Vendryes "Les correspondences de vocabulaire entre l'indo-iranien et l'italo-celtique" MSL, XX, 1918, pp. 265-285
  5. ^ Flamen brahman;Works collected in Idees romaines
  6. ^ G. Dunezil La religion romaine archaique 1974, pp83 sqq.
  7. ^ Fest. p. 198 L
  8. ^ Fest. p. 414 L2: "Gallus Aelius ait sacrum esse quodcumque modo atque instituto civitatis consecratum est, sive aedis sive ara sive signum, locum sive pecunia, sive aliud quod dis dedicatum atque consecratum sit; quod autem privati suae religionis causa aliquid earum rerum deo dedicent, id pontifices Romanos non existimare sacrum".
  9. ^ Fest. p.253 L
  10. ^ Fas. I, 95
  11. ^ F. De Visscher "Locus religiosus" Atti del Congresoo internazionale di Diritto Romano, 3, 1951
  12. ^ Var. LL V, 150
  13. ^ Fest.253 L: "locus statim fieri putabatur religiosus, quod eum deus dicasse videbatur".
  14. ^ W. W. Fowler "The Original Meaning of the Word Sacer" Journal of Roman Studies, I, 1911, p.57-63
  15. ^ Varro De re rustica II, 1: porci puri ad sacrificium
  16. ^ M. Morani "Lat. sacer...cit. p. 41
  17. ^ Liv.XXII, 10
  18. ^ G. Dumezil La religion romaine archaique Paris, 1974, Considerations preliminaires
  19. ^ Fest. p.424L
  20. ^ PF p. 260L
  21. ^ H. Bennet Sacer esto.. thinks that the person declared sacred was originally sacrificed to the gods. This hypothesis seems to be supported by Plut. Rom. 22, 3 and Macr. Sat.III, 7, 5, who compares the homo sacer to the victim in a sacrifice. The prerogative of declaring somebody sacer was first of the rex, afterwards it became of the pontiff on the grounds of a court ruling.
  22. ^ Serv. Aen.VI, 609; Dion. Hal. II 10, 3
  23. ^ PF 505 L; Dion. Hal. II 10, 3
  24. ^ Liv. VIII 9, 4 sqq.
  25. ^ Verg. Aen. III 57; Plaut. Non.397, 20


Sacramentum originally meant an oath or vow.[1] In military and civil service: the soldiers's oath of allegiance to standards. Magistrates and later imperial officials (militia civilis) too took a similar oath to observe the law.[2] The use of the word was mainly connected to the military or legal scope. In military use is known as sacramentum militiae, which originally consisted of two oaths, one of allegiance to the commander and the other of mutual assistence among comrades, this last being however not a sacramentum but a iusiurandum. Later the two oaths were given to the authority only.[3] Festus's glossary has two entries on this topic, sacramentum and sacramento, both referring to the legal use of the word. It was the most ancient Roman legal procedure agere sacramento.[4] This procedure was named legis actio sacramentum and could be in rem or in personam.[5] The subject has been one of the most debated of Roman law. The legis actiones were archaic forms of process based on the ius quiritum and the mos maiorum of which we know four types, the sacramentum being the most archaic among them. One theory has it that originally it was a kind of ritualised ordeal and involved a fight between the two parties put under the judgement of gods, another that it was not an ordeal but an oath made to call the gods as witnesses and its effecacy was based on the precision of the reciting of the prescribed formulae.[6][7] However this last point in its interpretation has not been generally accepted.

Festus under the entry sacramento gives this explanation: "by sacramentum is said to be what has been done interposed for the sacratio, sacred force of an oath; whence one is said to have been queried by sacramentum because an oath is interposed".

  1. ^ Skeat Etymolgical Dictionary of the English Language New York 1963 sv sacrament "from Lat. sacrmentum"
  2. ^ A. Berger Encyclopedic Dictionary of Roman Law sv
  3. ^ S. Tondo "Il sacramentum militiae nell'ambiente culturale romano-italico" Roma, 1963
  4. ^ A. A. Schiller Roman law: mechanisms of development p. 130
  5. ^ Gaius Istitut. comm. IV 13-17
  6. ^ Levy-Bruhl "La simulation du combat dans le sacramentum in rem"In Studi Bonfante III p. 1-90
  7. ^ Noailles RH 19/20 (1940-1941) 1, p. 10f., 27 ff.


Sanctus is an adjective derived from the past participle of the verb sancio. In Christianity, it becomes the word for "saint." Sancio is supposed to share the same root *sak with sacer. It was formed by the insertion of the nasal 'n' and adding the ending in -yo instead of -o. According to linguists these are both marks of a more recent origin[1]. The root *sak is perhaps to be found also in the theonim Sancus, an Umbrian or Sabin deity known also as Semo or Fidius Sancus, Fisius Sansius (Iguvine Tables Fisie Sansie, dative case).

It is noteworthy that Sancus was one of the three names of Dius Fidius along with Semo according to Ovid Fas. VI, 213-216:

Quaerebam Nonas Sanco Fidione referram,

an tibi, Semo pater; tum mihi Sancus ait:

"Cuicumque ex istis dederis, ego munus habeo:

nomina terna fero: sic voluere Cures".

Hunc igitur veteres donarunt aede Sabini,

inque Quirinali constituere iugo.

'I was asking whether I should connect the Nonae to Sancus or Fidius or to you father Semo; then Sancus said: "Never mind to whom of those you shall make your offer, I will get the gift: I have a triple name: thus wanted the people of Cures". The ancient Sabins presented him with a shrine on the summit of the Quirinal'.

The Sabins, who dedicated the shrine on the Quirinal, considered Semo (Sancus, Dius Fidius) as their primogenitor or first forefather.[2]

The original past paticiple sanctus at a very early date became autonomous toward the verb sancio as is testified by the appearance since classical times of a new past participle of this verb, sancitus, to convey meanings related to the legal semantic area.

According to Fugier who gives to root *sak the original meaning of existent, reel, sancire would mean rendre reel, effectif, garanti. Sanctus would thus stand for 'garanti par une sanctio generally 'a l'aide d'une act sacer'[3]. Benveniste gives the verb the meaning of 'surrounded by a defense' (on the grounds of Gaius 2, 3-8 and Marcianus's definition in the Digesta 1, 8, 8), while noun sanctio would denote the punishment 'applied by the gods themselves who intervened as vangers'.[4]

According to Morani[5] the belonging of sancio to the root of sacer and its position in the sphere of the notion of fas is made clear by many instances. In Aen. XII 200 the praying character says the following words to Jupiter: "audiat haec genitor qui foedera fulmine sancit". The god renders sacred the pacts between the contenders, underlining the adherence of ius to the fas with lightning. The instances show that to make something pass from the profane to the sacred a precise rite, gesture or formula is needed. The verb sancio is thus used governing the ablative of means.

Sancio though lost its religious meaning of rendering sacer very early, owing to the competition of words more directly connected to the root one, such as consecro. As many other Latin words originally concerning the religious sphere its meaning shifted toward the juridical field, and is said mostly of laws, pacts and treaties, sancire iura, pacta, foedera. However originally it must have pointed out the action which gave a religious guarantee to the legal act as explained above, underlining that the violation of the norm not only did imply an outrage to the ius but was an offense to gods.

The sanctio is integral part of the law[6] however the process by which both lex and sanctio progressively left the religious sphere since historic times has changed their sense. This change is proved by a historical fact of the V century BC, when a group of laws were defined leges sacratae and not sanctae to indicate their insertion into the religious sphere of the fas.

Sanctus is defined by grammarians and jurists as distinguished both from sacer and from profanus. Ulpian writes: dicimus sancta, quae neque sacra neque profana sunt, 'we call sancta things that are neither sacred nor profane'.[7] It is debated whether Gaius's definition, who quotes and comments Aelius Gallus, might be appropriate and relevant: inter sacrum autem et sanctum et religiosum differentias bellissime refert [Gallus]: sacrum aedificium, consecrato deo; sanctum murum, qui sit circa oppidum; religiosum sepulcrum, ubi mortuus sepultus aut humatus sit, 'the difference between sacer, sanctus and religiosus are very well explained by Gallus: sacer is a building consacated to a god; sanctus is a wall that surrounds a town; religiosus is grave where a deceased is buried'. Gaius comments: res sacrae quae diis superis consecratae sunt; res religiosae quae diis manibus relictae sunt; sancta quoque res, velut muri et portae, quommodo divini iuris sunt, 'sacrae are things consacrated to the heavenly gods; religiosae are things left to the gods Manes; sanctae too are things, like walls and gates, that in some way belong to the divine law'. Marcianus supports this last interpretation: sanctum est quod ab iniuria hominum defensum atque munitum est, 'sanctum is something that is defended and protected from the attack of men'.[8] Ovid calls Terminus, the god presiding and guarding the limit of land properties, sanctus: "...cantant laudes, Termine sancte, tuas".[9]

Sanctus has a wider use than verb sancio even though it too extends its value to the juridical semantic area: it allows for the clear indication of the time, person, reason or act which makes something pass from the profane to the sacred and thus get to belong to the fas.

Sanctus can be said of things (walls, laws), of people (sancti are universally called the rex, the senate and magistrates). The amsancti valles of Vergil Aen. VII, 565 are glossed by Servius as undique sancti 'wherever holy' places.

Benveniste thinks that sanctus should mean the sacred for separation while sacer the sacred for internal force, drawing on Digest. 1, 8, 8 quoted here above. However such an interpretation is proved untenable by the analysis of the meaning of sacer and by the further connotations of sanctus below.

According to Morani sanctus can take on an active value: vir ...foederum sanctus et diligens.[10] It can indicate that which belongs to the god, both for renounciation of man and for its own nature (e.g. ter quatuor corpora sancta avium Ennius fr. 43 Valm.), that which is ritual and numinous.

However it can take on a great number of nuances which are precluded to the other term. In Livius Andronicus (Od.IV, 513) it is applied to deities themselves sancta puer Saturni regina translating potnia. In Ennius sancta dearum renders the homeric dia theaoon. The epithet sanctus is given to many gods, especially those of fertility: Apollo Pithius by Nevius, Venus and Tiberinus pater tuo cum flumine sancto by Ennius and Livy I (in the words of Horatius Cocles). Sancta are said to be called the augusta by the ancient, i.e. religious rites or temples, by Ovid Fas. I, 608-9 (see under sacer). Dumezil notes that the use of sanctus as referred to people is of the best Latin usage and close to the sense of augustus. Fugier cites the instances of Quinta Claudia femina sanctissima who underwent a chastity ordeal in the incident of the arrival of the ship bringing the statue of Cybeles to Rome and of Cato Uticensis named by Romans sanctus civis for his refusal to live on within an impious community. Morani thinks that it is perhaps under the influence of the Greek -gioj that sanctus invades the semantic area of castus: (Quint. V, 12, 20) iudicium masculi et incorrupti, ne dicam gravis et sancti, viri, 'the judgment of a manly and uncorrupt, let alone serious and sanctus, man'; (Iuv. XIII, 64) sanctum egregiumque virum si cerno, 'if I see a sanctus and extraordinary man'; (Plaut. Rudr. 1234) isto tu pauper es, quom nimis sancte pius, 'for this you are poor, because you are too sancte pious'. In this last instance the adverb goes beyond both sacer and castus.

Remarkable in this same line of semantic development is Cicero's passage (Nat. deor. I, 116) in which sanctitas is defined as scientia colendorum deorum, 'science of worshipping gods', as opposite to pietas which is iustitia adveros deos, 'justice toward gods'.

Whatever its semantic extension it must be remarked that, contrary to the ambiguity of the term sacer, sanctus has always only a positive connotation.

  1. ^ M. Morani "Lat. "sacer" ...nel lessico religioso latino" Aevum LV, 1981, p. 43
  2. ^ F. Bernini Ovidio Fasti Bologna, 1983 Traduz. ital. e note
  3. ^ H. Fugier Recherches... cit., pp. 125 ff.
  4. ^ E. Benveniste Le vocabulaire... cit., pp. 427 ff.
  5. ^ M. Morani Lat. "sacer"... cit., p. 41
  6. ^ Ulpian 1, 1 sqq.
  7. ^ Ulpian Digest. 1, 8, 9
  8. ^ Digest. 1, 8, 8
  9. ^ Fas. II, 658
  10. ^ Cic. Verr. VII, 19, 49


The word sacerdos refers to somebody who has been endowed, by the relevant authority through appropriate ritual means, of a certain power in the domain of the sacer.

The etymology of the word offers a rather precise account of its meaning: from sacer and dos, the latter being a substantival form related to verb do I give, in its original meaning of I endow with, and to noun dot-s a dowry. Hence sacerdos would literally mean he who is endowed with the sacer.[1]

According to the sources the sacerdotes of ancient Rome were created by the second king Numa Pompilius with the exception of the augurs, of the curiones and of the fratres arvales, who were created by Romulus, he himself the first Roman augur.

They were divided into collegia and sodalitates.

Since inception however the depositaries of sacral lore were the pontiffs. This fact stems from the original institution of Roman religion, founded in an act of authority of Numa. Varro in his De lingua Latina V 83-86 and Livy in Ab Urbe Condita I 20 1-8 give a similar description of the sacerdotia.

Here is Varro's passage:

"Sacerdotes universi a sacris dicti. Pontufices, ut Scaevola Quintus pontufex maximus dicebat, a posse et facere, ut potentifices. Ego a ponte arbitror: nam ab his Sublicius est factus primum ut restitutus saepe, cum ideo sacra et uls et cis Tiberim non mediocri ritu fiant. Curiones dicti a curiis, qui fiunt ut in his sacra faciant. Flamines, quod in Latio capite velato erant semper ac caput cinctum habebant filo, filamines dicti. Horum singuli cognomina habent ab eo deo quo sacra faciunt; sed partim sunt aperta, partim sunt obscura: aperta ut Martialis, Volcanalis; obscura ut Dialis et Furinalis, cum Dialis ab Iove sit (Diovis enim), Furinalis a Furrina, cuius etiam in fastis feriae Furinales sunt. Sic flamen Falacer a divo patre Falacre. Salii ab salitando, quod facere in comitiis in sacris quotannis et solent et debent. Luperci, quod Lupercalibus in Lupercali sacra faciunt. Fratres Arvales dicti qui sacra publica faciunt propterea ut fruges ferant arva: a ferendo et arvis Fratres arvales dicti. Sunt qui a fratria dixerunt: fratria est Graecum vocabulum partis hominum, ut Neapoli etiam nunc. Sodales Titii, ab avibus titiantibus dicti, quas in auguriis certis observare solent. Fetiales, quod fidei publicae inter populos praeerant: nam per hos fiebat ut iustum concipere bellum, et inde desitum, ut foedere fides pacis constitueretur. Ex his mittebantur, ante quam conciperetur, qui res repeterent, et per hos etiam nunc fit foedus, quod fidus Ennius scribit dictum".

'All the sacerdotes receive their name from the sacra (they must perform). Pontiffs as Scaevola Quintus pontufex maximus used to say stems from posse can, and facere do, as it were potentifices. I deem it stems from pons bridge. Indeed the Sublicius was first built by them and then often restored, since the sacra are held with not minor rite both within and without theTiber. The curiones are so named from the curiae, who are created in order that they may in them hold the sacra. The flamines, because in Latium they always wore their heads veiled and dressed with a thread (filum) around it were named filamines. The name of each of them is from the god to whom they perform the sacra. But part of them are clear and part obsure: clear such as Martialis, Volcanalis; obscure as Dialis and Furinalis, where Dialis is from Iovis (Diovis), Furinalis from Furrina, (deity) of whom in the Fasti there are the feriae Furinales. So flamen Falacer is from divine father Falacer. Salii from their dancing, what they do and must do every year in the Comitia during the sacra. Luperci because they perform the sacra during the Lupercalia in the Lupercal. The Fratres Arvales are so named as those who perform the public sacra in order that the fields grow crops: from ferendo (bring, bear) and arva fields. Someone said they name comes from fratria: this is a Greek word for a group of people, as it is used also now in Naples. Sodales Titii are so called from the birds titiantes, which are as a rule observed in the auguria certa. Fetials, because they presided over the public good faith among different nations: in fact it was through them that a just war could be started and called off, as the good faith of peace was established by means of a treaty. From the fact they were sent to ask for the handing back of things (plundered) before the war were started, and through them also now a treaty is agreed, that which Ennius calls fidus.

And Livy's:

"Tum sacerdotibus creandis animum adiecit, quamquam ipse plurima sacra obibat, ea maxime quae nunc ad Dialem flaminem pertinent. Sed quia in civitate bellicosa plures Romuli quam Numae similes reges putabat fore iturosque ipsos ad bella, ne sacra regiae vicis desererentur flaminem Iovi adsiduum sacerdotem creavit insignique eum veste et curuli regia sella adornavit. Huic duos flamines adiecit, Marti unum, alterum Quirino, virginesque Vestae legit, Alba oriundum sacerdotium et genti conditoris haud alienum. His ut adsiduae templi antistites essent stipendium de publico statuit; virginitate aliisque caerimoniis venerabiles ac sanctas fecit. Salios item duodecim Marti Gradivo legit, tunicaeque pictae insigne dedit et super tunicam aeneum pectori tegumen; caelestiaque arma, quae ancilia appellantur, ferre ac per urbem ire canentes carmina cum tripudiis sollemnique saltatu iussit. Pontificem deinde Numam Marcium Marci fili ex patribus legit eique sacra omnia exscripta exsignataque attribuit, quibus hostiis, quibus diebus, ad quae templa sacra fierent, atque unde in eos sumptus pecunia erogaretur. Cetera quoque omnia publica privataque sacra pontificia scitis subiecit, ut esset quo consultum plebes veniret, ne quid divini iuris negligendo patrios ritus peregrinosque adsciscendo turbaretur; nec caelestes modo caerimonias, sed iusta quoque funebria placandosque manes ut idem pontifex edoceret, quaeque prodigia fulminibus aliove, quo visu missa susciperentur atque curarentur".

'Then he truned his mind to the creation of sacerdotes, although he discharged many sacra himself, especially those belonging to the flamen Dialis. But since he thought that in a warlike community there would more kings like Romulus than like Numa who will go to war themselves, in order that the sacra would not be left abandoned he created in the king's stead a sacerdos flamen continuously devoted to the cult of Iupiter and gave him the adornment of a solemn dress and of the royal sella curulis (chair of the king). To this he added two flamines, one for Mars and the other for Quirinus and he chose the Vestal virgins, a sacerdotium from Alba and not foregn to the kindred of the founder. He established that they received a public salary in order to be able to be assiduously guardian present at the temple. He made them venerable and sanctae because of their verginity and by other ceremonies. Likewise he chose twelve Salii for Mars Gradivus, gave them a solemn painted tunica and a bronze pectoral; he ordered that they carry the heavenly weapons named ancilia and that they go dancing through the town with a solemn dance of three steps singing a carmen. Then he chose Numa Marcius, son Marcus, from the patres and endowed him with all the recorded writings (exscripta) and signs (exsignata), namely what sacrificial victims, which days, at which temples should the sacra be held, and whence should the money be taken for these (cultual acts). He also submitted every other public and private sacra to the jurisdiction of the pontiff, so that when the plebs should come for consultation, nothing of the divine law were perturbed by the negligence of the home rites and the acception of foreign. And not only the heavenly ceremonies did he teach the pontiff but also the funereal ones and the placaton of the manes, and how to identify and appease whatever prodiges of lightning or other nature".

On the meaning of Livy's words there cannot be any doubt: the organising or reorganising of Roman religion was the work of king Numa. Moreover the material compilation itself of the documents he transmitted to the first pontiff Numa Marcius must be considered his own work. It is understandable that the need for written documents was a compelling one since the reform imposed by Numa required them out of the complexity of the matter, namely of the sacra, of the caerimoniae, of the minute regulations concerning the sacrifices. That these Libri of Numa were the first nucleus of the Libri pontificum is supported by the antiquarian tradition, e.g. Festus's entry on the spolia opima .[2] On the reliability of Livy's testimony there is now broad agreement among scholars.[3]

  1. ^ W. W. Skeat Etymological Dictionary of the English Language New york, 1963, s.v. sacerdotal
  2. ^ F. Sini Documenti sacerdotalio di Roma antica. I. Libri e commentari Sassari 1983 p. 161
  3. ^ R. M. Ogilvie Early Rome and theEtruscans Hassocks, 1976, pp.15 ff.; T. Cornell "alcune riflessioni sulla formazione della tradizione storiografica su Roma arcaica" in roma e le recenti scoperte archeologiche. Giornate di studio in onore di U. Coli Milano, 1980, pp.19 ff.


Signum, "sign," was any occurrence that indicated good or bad future developments: only prodigia were believed to foretell disgraces, as they manifested a disruption in the normal course of nature, which as a rule was the reflection of the wrath of gods.[1] Signs could be divided into auspicia, which were mainly associated with the art of augury, omina, portenta, ostenta and prodigia. Auspicia could be of great influence in Roman political life as magistrates had to be inaugurated and the days for the holding of the comitia could be changed according to them.

One instance is the resignation of consul Marcellus in 215 B.C. because of a clap of thunder that was considered a vitium (fault, irregularity) in his election by the augurs.[2] It was the first time two plebeian consuls were elected together. Likewise it was the fear of unfavourable auspicia that prompted plebeian consul C. Flaminius to leave Rome without having taken the auspices and ascending to the Capitol to pay homage to Jupiter.[3][4]

Auspices from quadrupedibus (animals with four legs that showed a sudden abnormal attitutde to man, as if driven by an external occult force) and diris (extraordinary, ominous events) were considered as signs of the will of gods.

Favourable omina (intimations given by fortuitously uttered words) were not unfrequent too: one famous instance is that of Paulus Aemilius who was told by his daughter that her she dog Persa had died before leaving for his successful expedition against the king of Macedonia Perseus, who would be killed at the battle of Pidna.

Portenta were signs consisting in extraordinary facts. Such intimations were considered a sign given by gods: from verb portendo, por meaning before, past participle, hence having a passive sense, meaning something which is shown before somebody.

Among portenta Roman history numbers many instances of favourable ones: the mysterious appearance of godly figures before or in batles as at Regillus lake (Castor), a figure identified as Mars at the battle of Sentinum, or animals as wolfs or vulturs. The most remarkable instance concerns Julius Caesar: the episode is related by Svetonius Caesar 32. The day on which he passed the Rubicon an extraordinarily handsome man appaered by the river fishing; soldiars approached him and as among them there were trupeters this character took a trumpet from one of them and blowing with full force crossed the river. Caesar interpreted this sign as an exhortation of the gods to defy the senate and march on Rome.[5]

Ostenta are essentially the same thing as portenta. The word is formed in the same way from verb o(b)stendo, I show in front of, across of somebody. However ostentum bears a connexion to the Etruscan discipline, as this was a technical word denoting a category of signs within that domain.

Cicero's De Divinatione has two relevant passages:

"...Quod Etruscorum declarant et haruspicini et fulgurales et rituales libri..." I 72

"...sed quoniam de extis et de fulgoribus satis est disputatum, ostenta restant ut tota haruspicina sit pertractata..." II 49

The ostenta were thus a separate category within the Etruscan science of divination and was discussed in the books named rituales. These group was presumably the largest as it included several precepts concerning the conduct of both men and states, the libri acheruntici (on the dead) and the ostentaria books on the ostenta.

These were collections of in terpretations on the meaning of the appearance of certain extraordinary facts. It seems they were divided into subcategories according to the main relationship the fact had. Bloch thinks they were referred to man, plants and animals.

We have Livy's records of two prodiges concerning the Etruscan period of Rome interpreted according to the theory of the ostenta connected to man. Their interpretation is given by Tanaquil in both instances: the first is the episode of the eagle that comes down onto Tarquinius, takes away his hat and after flying round and round their potantine, puts it again on Tarquinius's head. (I 34, 8-10). The second concerns the fire that surrounded sleeping Servius Tullius's head when he was a child. Bees were a negative ostentum for the state or the monarch as meant a forthcoming change of regime or dynasty as the arrival of Eneas for Turnus [6]

The discussion of the ostenta given by plants has been preserved to us in more detail because king Tarquinius Priscus wrote a Latin translation of the treatise thereon. Some passages of this ostentarium arborarium have been quoted by Macrobius.[7] Trees and thorns were divided into two categories, felices and infelices, on the grounds of the colour of their berries or fruits and of their lymph. Those who grew black or dark berries and/or had a reddish or purplish lymph were considered as a means of expression of the nether gods and thence were deeemed to give evil intimations. On the contrary those who grew edible fruits and had a white lymph were deemed good. Any anomaly in the arbores infelices is considered as the sign of a perturbance in the life of the community. The felices can only mean a ruly growth as their life rhythm is regular too. The underlying idea is that of the harmonic unity of the cosmos.[8] On the animals we have no written documents apart a glossa by Servius Danielinus[9] that says the horse was of good omen among Etruscans. Macrobius has however preserved some Latin beliefs on ostenta concerning sheep and goats.[10] They deemed a good sign the appearance of yellow or purple blots or strains in their hair, as a rule meaning bliss, glory, power, happiness for the king or princeps and his descendents.[11]

  1. ^ R. Bloch ibidem
  2. ^ Livy ABC XXIII 31, 12-14
  3. ^ Livy XXI 6
  4. ^ G. Dumezil La religion romaine archaique Paris 1974, part IV
  5. ^ G. Dumezil La religion romaine archaique
  6. ^ Vergil Aen. VIi 64 ff.
  7. ^ Macr. Saturnalia III 7, 2; III 20, 3
  8. ^ R.Bloch Prodiges et divination dans l'antiquite Ital. transl. Roma 1981,p. 61
  9. ^ Serv.dan Ad aen. III 537
  10. ^ Macr. Sat. III 7,2
  11. ^ R. Bloch ibidem p. 62


The templum was the sacred space created by an augur, that is, a precinct.

Templum can be defined as a piece of ground cut off, a sacred enclosure created for ritual and cultual purposes. Cf. Greek temenos, from temnein to cut.[1]

Roman temples are as a rule square or rectangular in shape because they must be inaugurated. The space must be circumscribed and separated by the augur from the rest of the land by certain words (conceptis verbis). This operation is named effari, liberare.[2] Inauguration requires a spacial orientation defined by the four directions of heaven, i.e. the four cardinal points: the first gestures of the augur consist in delimiting the regions of the sky regiones caeli: antica (before), postica (behind), dextra (right), sinistra or laeva (left).[3]

Templa beside being quadrangular, either with or without a visible framework, must have only one entry and the terrain must be exorcized and freed in advance by all evil, impure or hostile forces with appropriate formulae (effari, liberare).[4]

"The site of the temple is delimited by the augurs and fixed with a solemn declaration (quibusdam conceptis verbis from Varro Lingua Latina VII 8). It is then called locus effatus and shall determine the shape of the building that might be erected on this site. The four sides of the temple must correspond to the four cardinal points. In Roman custom the front shall face West so that the sacrificer standing at the altar before the temple shall face East."[5]

On the altar, either isolated or set before a sacred building, the offering is burnt and thereby conveyed to the god. Beside the altar or ara there must be another small fire foculus ("nec licere vel privata vel publica sacra sine foco fieri" 'neither private nor public religious rites can take place without a fire' Serv. Aen.3, 134). This small fire represents the hearth of a home, i.e. the so called fire of the landlord in Vedic sacrificial ritual. The hearth is put to use only before sacrifice to receive the incense an wine in the praefatio, acts proper to and reminiscent of private cult. Since the places of cult in Rome have become fixed the hearth is only symbolic, a foculus. This is situated nearby the fixed point represented by the main fire, i.e. that of the ara. In Hittite hassha too means altar, the place where victims are burnt.[6]

The question whether the inauguration of Numa Pompilius and after him of other kings and later major magistrates auspicati (i.e. endowed with the power of auspicium) took place in a templum is generally answered affirmatively by scholars as it is documented by many passages in Livy.[7] The episode of Numa's inauguration is narrated in Livy I 18, 5-10.

Dumezil writes that the elicitation and observation of the signs (auspicia impetrativa) could only take place on a clearly delimited terrain, i.e. a templum.[8]

For its inherent interest to the topic Varro's passage is worth quoting and discussing: "In terris dictum templum locus augurii aut auspicii causa quibusdam conceptis verbis finitus. Concipitur verbis non isdem usque quaque; in arce sic: "[I]tem<pla> tescaque + me ita sunto quoad ego + eas te linguam nuncupavero. Ullaber arbos quirquir est, quam me sentio dixisse, templum tescumquem + festo in sinistrum. Ollaner arbos quirquir est, quod me sentio dixisse templum tescumquem +festo dextrum. Inter ea conregione conspicione cortumione utique ea rectissime sensi". In hoc templo faciundo arbores constitui fines apparet et intra eas regiones qua oculis conspiciant".

The text is corrupted, however it clearly refers to the spacial determination of the temple, i.e. the determining of its limits (fines): Varro in his introductory words says that the formula varies according to the nature of the place and here he shall quote that concerning the arx (he refers to the Capitolium), temple being a space devoted to auguria and auspicia and defined (finitum) through some special words conceptis verbis, i.e. a formula. The formula he quotes states that temple shall be the space the officiant is indicating through his words linguam nuncupavero: on one side the space from whatever tree he will say he perceives on his left hand side shall be the temple. On the other side space from whatever tree he will say he perceives on his right hand side shall be the temple. In the space between the two limits he clearly perceived with his eyes standing in front of himself. Varro comments that it is apparent that trees set the bounds of this templum which is going to be instituted within the space the eyes can see.

While this formula seems authentic to scholars[9] it does not mention any word concerning the purification of the space from evil forces, effari, liberare. Such effect might though be implicitly achieved by the defining act.[10]

Sini notes that it emphasizes the values of borders, fines in the augural discipline.[11] This aspect is highlighted even in other passages of his Lingua Latina as at V, 143 and VI, 53.

In the last one he states: "Hinc effata dicuntur, qui augures finem auspiciorum caelestum extra urbem agri sunt effati ut essent; hinc templa dicuntur: ab auguribus effantur qui in his fines sunt".

'Hence are said effata what the augurs of the heavenly auspices named the finem (border, limit) to make them exist outside the ager urbis (territory of the city, i.e. the pomoerium); hence they are said effari templa (make temples exist by their words): they are named (effantur) by the augurs who are within these limits'.

Livy Ab urbe condita I 18, 9 is similar: "Uti tu signo nobis adclarassis inter eos fines quos feci".

'In order that you make clear (this) to us through a sign inside the fines (limits) that I created' (he is talking of the auspiciousness of Numa's accession to the throne).

From Festus's dictionary (which is believed to be based on Verrius Flaccus's De verborum signioficatu) under the entry Tesca (an ancient word of unknown origin, possibly Etruscan, synoym of templum), unfortunately mutile, it is possible to draw a similar notion:

"........t loca augurio desig<nata>......ino finis in terra auguri. Op[p]........lius loca consecrata ad.........sit. Sed sancta loca undique........nt pontifici[s] libri, in quibus...........que sedemque tescumque.............dedicaverit, ubi eos ac ..........propitiosque".

This place thus set aside by the augur would always serve religious purposes, chiefly for taking the auspicia. When Varro says outside the city we must understand that he means outside the pomerium, because the space within it was itself a templum, a place where auspices could be taken. The space in the sky within which the observations were to be made was called a templum too.[12]

When the augur had defined the templum he fixed his tent in it (tabernaculum capere). This tent was named templum too, or templum minus. It is this minus templum that should be square and have only one entry. It was enclosed by planks or curtains fixed to posts.[13]

Templum had also the common meaning of temple, however it must be born in mind that temples too had to be a locus effatus by augurs, i.e. an augural templum.[14] The consecration of a temple had to be carried out by the pontiffs, and not until inauguration and consecration had both been completed could sacra be performed or meetings of the senate be held in it.[15]

All this process implies that both the sanction of gods and the will of man were required for the dedication of a temple. When the sanction of gods had not been obtained and only a man had consacrated a place it was named sacrum, sacellum. However the ceremony carried out by the augurs was essential to the institution of a temple, as the consecration by the pontiffs took place in sanctuaries which were not temples, but mere sacra or aedes, the most notable instance being the Aedes Vestae.[16]

The Curia too had to be made a templum by the augurs before the senate could make deliberations in it.[17]

  1. ^ W. W. Skeat Etymological Dictionary of the English Language New York 1963 sv temple
  2. ^ Servius Ad Aen. I 446
  3. ^ G. Dumezil La religion romaine archaique Paris, 1974 p.510
  4. ^ Cic. Leg.2, 2; Serv.Aen. IV 200
  5. ^ J. Marquardt "Le cult chez les romaines" Manuel des antiquites romaines XII 1 French Tranl. 1889 pp. 187-188
  6. ^ G. Dumezil La religion romaine archiaque Paris, 1974, part V, ch. 5
  7. ^ U. coli "Regnum" Studia et documenta historiae et juris 17, 1951 p.1 ff.;P. De Franciscis Primordia civitatis; P. Catalano Contributi allo studio del diritto augurale Torino, 1960, p. 422 ff.; contrary R. Magdelain Recherches sur l'imperium, la loi curiate et les auspices d'investiture Paris, 1968, who thinks the inauguration regarded only sacerdotes
  8. ^ Var. LL 7, 8-9
  9. ^ E. Norden Aus altroemischen Priesterbuchen Lund-Leipzig 1939 p. 6; E. Peruzzi "la formula augurale di Varrone l. l. VII 8," in Atti del Congresso internazionale di studi varroniani II, Rieti, p. 456
  10. ^ On this formula discussion in U. NordenAus Altroemischer priesterbuchen Lund-Leipzig, 1939, p. 3 ff.; G. B. Pighi La poesia religiosa romana Bologna, 1958, p. 86; E. Peruzzi "La formula augurale di Varrone L. L. VI, 8" in Atti del congresso internazionale di studi varroniani Rieti 1976, II, p. 449 ff.
  11. ^ F. Sini Bellum nefandum. Virgilio e il problema del diritto internazionale antico Sassari, 1991, chap. 1, p. 52
  12. ^ L. Schmitz ap. A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities London, 1875 s.v. templum
  13. ^ Serv. Ad Aen. IV 200; Fest. s.v. minora tempa
  14. ^ Liv. X 37; Varro De Ling. Lat. VI 8
  15. ^ Serv. Aen. I 446
  16. ^ Varro ap. Gell. XIV 7, 7
  17. ^ L. Schmitz loc. cit.