Roman Empire | Roman Religious Practices

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The religion of the household had two main characteristics. First, it was a perfectly natural and organic growth, the result of the Roman farmer's effective desire to put himself and his in right relations with the spiritual powers at work for good or ill around him. His conception of these powers I shall deal with more fully in the next lecture; but I have said enough to prove that it was not a degrading one. The spirits of his house and his land and his own Genius were friendly powers, all of them of the greatest importance for his life and his work, and their claims were attended to with regularity and devotion. From Vesta and the Penates, the Lar, the Genius, the Manes, and the spirits of the doorway and the spring, there was nothing to fear if they were carefully propitiated; and as his daily life and comfort depended on this propitiation, they were really divine members of the familia, and might become, and perhaps did become, the objects of real affection as well as worship. In this well-regulated practical life of the early agricultural settlers, with its careful attention to the claims of its divine protectors, we may perhaps see the germs of a real religious expression of human life.

Secondly, there was doubtless at the same time constant cause for anxiety. Beyond the house and the land there were unreclaimed spirits of the woodland which might force an entrance into the sacred limits of the house; the ghosts of the dead members were constantly wishing to return; the crops might be attacked by strange diseases, by storms or drought, and man himself was liable to seasonal disease or sudden pestilence. The cattle and sheep might stray into the remote forest and become the prey of evil beasts, if not of evil spirits. How was the farmer to meet all these troubles, caused, as he supposed, by spirits whose ways he did not understand? How were they to be propitiated as they themselves would wish? How were the omens to be interpreted from which their will might be guessed? How were the proper times and seasons for each religious operation to be discovered? If my imagination is not at fault, I seem to see that the Latin farmer must have had to shift for himself in most of his dealings with the supernatural powers about him; religio, the sense of awe and of dependence, must have been constantly with him. But even here we may see, I think, a possible germ of religious development; for without this feeling of awe religious forms tend to become meaningless: lull religio to sleep, and the forms cease to represent effectively man's experience of life. We have to see later on how this paralysis of the religious instinct did actually take place in early Roman history.

For we now have to leave the religion of the household, and to study that of the earliest form of the City-state. We have enjoyed a glint of light reflected from later times on the religion of the early Roman family, and are about to enjoy another glint--nay, a gleam of real light, and not merely a reflected one--which the earliest religious document we possess casts on the religion of the City-state of Rome. Between the two there is a long period of almost complete darkness. We know hardly anything as yet, and it is not likely that we shall ever know anything definite, about the stages of development which must have been passed before Rome became the so-called city of the Four Regions, when her history may be said really to begin. The pagus hardly helps us here; it was not an essential advance on the family, and its religion was comprehensive, not intensive. Each pagus, however, seems to have had within its bounds an oppidum, or stronghold on a hill; and such oppida were the seven montes of early Rome, which, with the pagi belonging to them, survived in name to the end of the Republic, with some kind of a religious festival uniting them together, about which we have hardly any knowledge.[185] This looks like a stage in the process of change from farm to city, and it has generally been believed to mark one. Unfortunately nothing to our purpose can be founded on it. We must be content with the undoubted fact that about the eighth or seventh century B.C. the site of Rome was occupied and strengthened as a bulwark against the Etruscan people who were pressing down from the north upon the valley of the Tiber;[186] we may take it that the old central fortress of Latium, on the Alban hill, was not in the right position for defence, and that it was seen to be absolutely necessary to make a stronghold of the position offered by the hills which abut on the river twenty miles above its mouth--the only real position of defence for the Latin settlements in its rear. Here an urbs was made with murus and pomoerium, i.e. material and spiritual boundaries, taking in a space sufficient to hold the threatened rural population with their flocks and herds, with the river in the front and a common citadel on the Capitoline hill, and including the Palatine, Quirinal, Esquiline, Caelian and Aventine hills, though the last named remained technically outside the pomoerium.[187]

It is to this city that our earliest religious document, the so-called Calendar of Numa, belongs. That calendar includes the cult of Quirinus on the hill which still bears his name, and that hill was an integral part of the city as just described. On the other hand, it tells us nothing of the great cult of the trias on the Capitoline--Jupiter, Juno, Minerva--which by universal tradition was instituted much later by the second Tarquinius, i.e. under an Etruscan dynasty; nor does Diana appear in it, the goddess who was brought from Latium and settled on the Aventine before the end of the kingly period. We have, then, a terminus ex quo for the date of the calendar in the inclusion in the city of the Quirinal hill, and a terminus ad quem in the foundation of the Diana temple on the Aventine.[188] We cannot date these events precisely; but it is sufficient for our purpose if it be taken as proved that the Fasti belong to the fully developed city, and yet were drawn up before that conquest by the Etruscans which we may regard as a certainty, and which is marked by the foundations of Etruscan masonry which served to support the great Capitoline temple. And this is also borne out by the undoubted fact that the calendar itself shows no trace of Etruscan influence. But I must now go on to explain exactly what this calendar is.

The Fasti anni Romani exist chiefly on stone as inscriptions, and date from the Early Empire, between 31 B.C. and A.D. 51. They give us, in fact, the calendar as revised by Caesar; but no one now doubts that Mommsen was right in detecting in these inscriptions the skeleton of the original calendar which the Romans ascribed to Numa.[189] This is distinguished from later additions by the large capital letters in which it is written or inscribed in all the fragments we possess; it gives us the days of the month with their religious characteristics as affecting state business, the names of the religious festivals which concern the whole state, and the Kalends, Nones, and Ides in each month. Excluding these last, we have the names, in a shortened form, of forty-five festivals; and these festivals, thus placed by an absolutely certain record in their right place in each month and in the year, must be the foundation of all scientific study of the religious practice of the Roman state, taken together with certain additions in smaller capitals, and with such information about them as we can obtain from literary sources.[190]

The smaller capitals give us such entries as feriae Iovi, feriae Saturno, i.e. the name of a deity to whom a festival was sacred, the foundation days of temples, generally with the name of the deity in the dative and the position of the temple in the city, and certain ludi and memorial days, which belong to a much later age than the original festivals. But the names of those which are inscribed in large letters bear witness beyond all question to their own antiquity; for among them there is not one which has anything to do, so far as we know, with a non-Roman deity, and we know that foreign deities began to arrive in Rome before the end of the kingly period. Here, then, we have genuine information about the oldest religious doings of the City-state, in what indeed is, as Mommsen said, the most ancient source of our knowledge about Roman antiquity generally.

The first point we notice in studying this calendar (putting aside for the present the question as to the agency by which it was drawn up) is this: it exactly reflects a transition from the life of a rural population engaged in agriculture, to the highly-organised political and military life of a City-state. In other words, the State, whose religious needs and experience it reflects, was one whose economic basis was agriculture, whose life included legal and political business, and whose activity in the season of arms was war.

This last characteristic is discernible chiefly, if not entirely, in the months of March and October; and the former of these bears the name of the great deity, who, whatever may have been his origin or the earliest conception of him, was throughout Roman history the god of war. All through March up to the 23rd the Salii, the warlike priests of Mars, were active, dancing and singing those hymns of which an obscure fragment has come down to us, and clashing and brandishing the sacred spears and shields of the god (ancilia).[191] On the 19th these ancilia were lustrated--a process to which I shall recur in another lecture; and on the 23rd we find in the calendar the festival Tubilustrium, which suggests the lustration of the trumpets of the host before it took the field. On the 14th of March,[192] and also on the 27th of February, we find Equirria in the calendar, which must be understood as lustrations of the horses of the host, accompanied with races. If we may take the ancilia as symbolising the arms of the host, we see in the festivals of this month a complete religious process preparing the material of war for the perils inevitably to be met with beyond the ager Romanus, whether from human or spiritual enemies; and that the warriors themselves were subjected to a process of the same kind we know from the historical evidence of later times.[193] Now in October, when the season of arms was over, we find indications of a parallel process, which Wissowa was the first to point out clearly, but without fully recognising its religious import.[194] It was not so much thanksgiving (Dankfest) after a campaign that was necessary on the return of the army, as purification (or disinfection) from the taint of bloodshed, and from contact with strange beings human and spiritual.[195] On October 15, the Ides, there was a horse-race in the Campus Martius, with a sacrifice of the winning horse to Mars with peculiar primitive ritual; this, however, for some reason which I shall presently try to discover, was not embodied in the calendar under any special name. On the 19th, however, we find the entry ARMILUSTRIUM, which tells its own tale. The Salii, too, were active again in these days of October, and on the day of the Armilustrium, as it would seem, put their shields away (condere) in their sacrarium until the March following. As Wissowa says, the ritual of the Salii is thus a symbolic copy of the procedure of war.[196] From these indications in the calendar, helped out by information drawn from the later entries and from literary evidence, we see quite plainly that we are dealing with the religion of a state which for half the year is liable to be engaged in war. Rome was, in fact, a frontier fortress on the Tiber against Etruscan enemies; she is destined henceforward to be continually in arms, and she has already expressed this great fact in her religious calendar.

The legal and political significance of the calendar consists in the division of the days of the year into two great groups, dies fasti and nefasti: the former are those on which it is fas, i.e. religiously permissible, to transact civil business, the latter those on which it would be nefas to do so, i.e. sacrilege, because they are given over to the gods. We need not, indeed, assume that these marks F and N descend in every case from the very earliest times into the pre-Julian calendar, or that the few days which have other marks stood originally as we find them; but of the primitive character of the main division we can have no doubt. In the calendar as we have it 109 days belong to the divine, 235 to the human inhabitants of the city. All but two of the former are days of odd numbers in the month, and it is reasonable to suppose that these two exceptions were later alterations. The belief that odd numbers are lucky is a very widely-spread superstition, and we do not need to have recourse to Pythagoras to explain it; in this rule, as in others, e.g. their taboo on eating beans, the Pythagoreans were only following a native prejudice of southern Italy. "The idea of luck in odd numbers," says Mr. Crooke,[197] writing of the Hindus, "is universal." Thus the simpler odd numbers, three, five, seven, and nine, all recur constantly in folklore; and the result is visible in this calendar. Where a festival occupies more than one day in a month, there is an interval between the two of one or three days, making the whole number three or five. Thus Carmentalia occur on 11th and 15th January, and the Lemuria in May are on the 9th, 11th, and 13th; the Lucaria in July on 19th and 21st. In some months, too, e.g. August and December, perhaps also July and February, there seem to be traces of an arrangement by which festivals which probably had some connection with each other are thus arranged; e.g. in August six festivals, all concerned in some way with the fruits of the earth and the harvest, occur on the 17th, 19th, 21st, 23rd, 25th, and 27th. It has recently been suggested[198] that these are arranged round one central festival, which gives a kind of colouring to the others, as the Volcanalia in August, the Saturnalia in December. But the reasons von Domaszewski gives for the arrangement, and the further speculation that where it does not occur we may find traces of an older system, as yet unaffected by the so-called Pythagorean prejudice, do not seem to me satisfactory. We may be content with the general principle as I have stated it, and note that while religious duties must be performed on days of odd number, civil duties were not so restricted: the days belonging to the gods, which were, so to speak, taboo days, were more important than those belonging to men. There are, as I have said, but two days marked in the large letters as festivals, which are on days of even number, 24th February and 14th March, the Regifugium and the second Equirria; and about these we know so little that it is almost useless to speculate as to the reason for their exception from the rule. Two others, 24th March and 24th May, were partly the property of the gods and partly of men, and are marked QRCF (quando rex comitiavit fas); but the sense in which they partially belonged to the gods is not the same as in the case of sacrificial festivals.

This calendar thus shows obvious signs of both military and political development; in other words, its witness to the religious experience of the Romans proves that they had successfully adjusted the forms and seasons of their worship to the processes of government at home and of military service in the field. But the most conspicuous feature in it is the testimony it bears to the agricultural habits of the people--to the fact that agriculture and not trade, of which there is hardly a trace, was the economic basis of their life. At the time when it was drawn up, the Romans must have been able to subsist upon the ager Romanus, though, as we shall see later on, it was probably not long before they began commercial relations with other peoples; for their food, which was almost entirely vegetarian, and their clothing, which was entirely of wool and leather,[199] they depended on their crops, flocks, and herds; and the perils to which these were liable remain for the State, as for the farming household, the main subject of the propitiation of the gods, the main object of their endeavours to keep themselves in right relation with the Power manifest in the universe.

We can trace the series of agricultural operations in the calendar without much difficulty all through the year. The Roman year, we must remember, began with March, and March, as we have seen, had under the military necessities of the State become peculiarly appropriated to the religious preparation of the burgher host for warlike activity. But the festivals of April, when crops were growing, cattle bringing forth young or seeking summer pasture, all have direct reference to the work of agriculture.[200] At the Fordicidia, on the 15th, pregnant cows were sacrificed to the Earth-goddess, and their unborn calves burnt, apparently with the object of procuring the fertility of the corn; and the Cerealia on the 19th, to judge by the name, must have had an object of the same kind, though the supersession of Ceres by the Greek Demeter had obscured this in historical times. The Parilia on the 19th, recently illuminated by Dr. Frazer,[201] was a lustration of the cattle and sheep before they left their winter pasture to encounter the dangers of wilder hill or woodland, and may be compared with the lustratio of the host before a campaign. On the 23rd the Vinalia tells its own tale, and shows that the cultivation of the vine was already a part of the agricultural work. On the 25th the spirit of the red mildew, Robigus, was the object of propitiation, at the time when the ear was beginning to be formed in the corn, and was particularly liable to attack from this pest.

The religious precautions thus taken in April were not renewed in May; but at the end of that month of ripening the whole of the ager Romanus was lustrated by the Fratres Arvales. This important rite, for some reason which we cannot be sure of, was a movable feast, left to the discretion of the brethren, and therefore does not appear in the calendar. In June the sacred character of the new crops, now approaching their harvest, becomes apparent; the penus Vestae, the symbolic receptacle of the grain-store of the State, after remaining open from the 7th to the 15th, was closed on that day for the rest of the year, after being carefully cleansed: the refuse was religiously deposited in a particular spot. Thus all was made ready for the reception of the new grain, which, as is now well known, has a sacred character among primitive peoples, and must be stored and eaten with precaution.[202] This was the chief religious work of June; in July, the month when the harvest was actually going on, the festivals are too obscure to delay us; they seem to have some reference to water, rain, storms, but it is not clear to me whether the object was to avert stormy weather during the cutting of the crops, or, on the other hand, to avert a drought in the hottest time of the year. The true harvest festivals begin in August; the Consualia on 21st and Opiconsiva on 25th both seem to suggest the operation of storing up (condere) the grain, and between them we find the Volcanalia, of which the object was perhaps to propitiate the fire-spirit at a time when the heat of the sun might be dangerous to the freshly-gathered crops.

After the crops were once harvested, ploughing and sowing chiefly occupied the farming community until December; and as these operations were not accompanied by the same perils which beset the agriculturist in spring and summer, they have left no trace in the calendar. Special religious action was not necessary on their behalf. It is not till the autumn sowing was over, and the workers could rest from their labours, that we find another set of festivals, of which the centre-point is the Saturnalia on the 17th, Saturnus being the deity, I think, both of the operation of sowing and of the sown seed, now reposing in the bosom of mother earth.[203] A second Consualia on the 15th, and the Opalia on the 19th, like the corresponding August festivals, seem to be concerned with the housed grain harvested in the previous August; I am disposed to think that in all three we should see not only the natural rejoicing after the labours of the autumn, but the opening of the granaries and, perhaps, the first eating of the grain. For on the Saturnalia there was a sacrifice at Saturnus' altar, followed by a feast, which was afterwards Graecised, but doubtless originally represented the primitive feasting of the farm, in which the whole familia took part. This brings us practically to the end of the agricultural year as represented in the calendar; for spring sowing was exceptional, the joyful feasts of pagus and compitum are not to be found in our document, and the month of February is specially occupied with the care and cult of the dead (Manes).

At this point I wish to notice one or two results of the adoption of a religious calendar such as I have been describing, which are more to the purpose of these lectures than some of the details I have had to point out. First, let us remember that agricultural operations necessarily vary in date according to the season, and that most of the rural festivals of ancient Italy were not fixed to a particular day, but were feriae conceptivae, settled perhaps according to the decision of some meeting of heads of families or officers of a pagus. That this was so we may conjecture from the fact that those which survived into historical times, e.g. Compitalia and Paganalia, and were celebrated in the city, though not as sacra pro populo,[204] were of varying date. But all the festivals of the calendar were necessarily fixed, and the days on which they were held were made over to the gods. Now by being thus fixed they would soon begin to get out of relation to agricultural life; just as, if the harvest festivals of our churches were fixed to one day throughout the country, the meaning of the religious service would sooner or later begin to lose something of its force. And how much the more would this be so if the calendar itself, from ignorance or mismanagement, began to get out of relation with the true season, as in course of time was frequently the case? When once under such circumstances the meaning of a religious rite is lost, where is its psychological efficacy? In the life of the old Latin farmer, as we saw, his religion was a reality, an organic growth, coincident at every point with the perils he encountered in his daily toil; here, in the City-state, it must from the beginning have had a tendency to become an unreality, and it ended by becoming one entirely. Some of the old rites may have attached new meanings to themselves; it is possible, for example, that beneath the military rites of March there was an original agricultural significance; the Saturnalia became a merry mid-winter festival for a town population. But a great number wholly lost meaning, and were so forgotten or neglected in course of time that even learned men like Varro do not seem to have been able to explain them. The only practical question about them for the later Romans was whether their days were dies fasti or nefasti or comitiales,--what work might or might not be done on them.

Another point, closely connected with the last, and tending in the same direction, is that such a calendar as this implies rigidity and routine in religious duties. A well-ordered city life under a strong government must, of course, be subject to routine; law, religious or civil, written or unwritten, forces the individual into certain stereotyped ways of life, subjects him to a certain amount of wholesome discipline. The value of such routine to an undisciplined people has been well pointed out by Bishop Stubbs, in writing of the effect of the rule of the Norman and Angevin kings on the English people,[205] where it was also a religious as well as a legal discipline that was at work. In neither case was it the ignorant and superstitious routine of savage life, which of late years we have had to substitute for old fancies about the freedom of the savage; it is the willing obedience of civilised man for his own benefit. But if it means a routine of religious rites which are beginning to lose their meaning; if the relation between them and man's life and work is lost; and lastly, if, as was probably the case, the Fasti were not published, but remained in the hands of a priesthood or an aristocracy,[206]--then there is serious loss as well as gain. You begin sooner or later to cease to feel your dependence on the divine beings around you for your daily bread, to get out of right relation with the Power manifesting itself in the universe.

But, in the third place, we must believe that at first, and indeed perhaps for ages, this very routine had an important psychological result in producing increased comfort, convenience, and confidence in the Roman's relations with the divine inhabitants of his city. A certain number of deities have taken up their abode within the walls of the city, and are as much its inhabitants, its citizens, as the human beings who live there; and all the relations between the divine and human citizens are regulated now by law, by a ius divinum, of which the calendar is a very important part. Religio, the old feeling of doubt and scruple, arising from want of knowledge in the individual, is still there; it is, in fact, the feeling which has given rise to all this organisation and routine, the cura and caerimonia, as Cicero phrases it. But it must be already losing its strength, its life; it was, so to speak, a constitutional weakness, and the ius divinum is already beginning to act on it as a tonic. Doubt has passed into fixed usage, tradition has given place to organisation. Time, place, procedure in all religious matters, are guaranteed by those skilled in the ius divinum; they know what to do as the festival of each deity comes round, and at the right time and place they do it with scrupulous attention to every detail. Thus the organisation of which the calendar is our best example would have as its first result the destruction of fear and doubt in the mind of the ordinary Roman; it would tend to kill, or at least to put to sleep, the religio which was the original motive cause of this very organisation. As the State in our own day has a tendency to relieve families of such duties as the care and education of children, so the State at Rome relieved the family of constant anxiety about matters in which they were ever in danger from the spirit-world. The State and its authorities have taken the whole responsibility of adjusting the relations of the human and divine citizens.[207]

Entirely in keeping with this psychological result of the calendar is the fact, to which I have already alluded, that it supplies us with hardly any evidence of the existence of magic, or of those "beastly devices of the heathen" which may roughly be included under that word; to use the language of Mr. Lang, we find none of those "distressing vestiges of savagery and barbarism which meet us in the society of ancient Greece." It is true enough that we do not know much about what was done at the various festivals of the calendar, but what we do know, with one or two exceptions, suggests an idea of worship as clean and rational as that of the Homeric poems, which stands in such striking contrast to that reflected in later Greek literature.[208] When we do read of any kind of grossness in worship or the accompanying festivities, it is almost always in the case of some rite which is not among those in the Fasti. Such was the old festival of Anna Perenna in March, where the plebs in Ovid's time spent the day in revelry and drinking, and prayed for as many years of life as they could drink cups of wine. Such again was that of the October horse, when after a chariot-race in the Campus the near horse of the winning team was sacrificed, and his tail carried in hot haste to the Regia, where the blood was allowed to drip on the sacred hearth; while the head was the object of a fight between the men of the Via Sacra and those of the Subura.[209] We may perhaps include in the list the ritual of the Argei, if it was indeed, as I believe, of great antiquity;[210] on May 15, as we have seen, twenty-seven puppets of reeds or straw were thrown into the Tiber from the pons sublicius, possibly with the object of procuring rain for the growing crops. Let us also note that dies religiosi were not marked in the Fasti, i.e. days on which some uncomfortable feeling prevailed, such as the three days on which the mundus was open to allow the Manes to come up from their shadowy abode below the earth; with the character of such days as "uncanny" the calendar has simply nothing to do. It is a document of religious law, not of superstitio, a word which in Roman usage almost invariably means what is outside that religious law, outside the ius divinum; and it is a document of religio only so far as it is meant to organise and carry out the cura and caerimonia, the natural results of that feeling which the Romans called religio. It stands on exactly the same footing as the Law of the Israelites, which supplied them in full detail with the cura and caerimonia, and rigidly excluded all foreign and barbarous rites and superstitions.

I do not, of course, mean to say that the State did not recognise or allow the festivals which are not marked in the calendar; the pontifices and Vestals were present at the ceremony of the Argei, and the Regia was the scene of a part of that of the October horse. But those who drew up the calendar as the fundamental charter of the ius divinum must have had their reasons for the selection of forty-five days as made over to the deities who were specially concerned with the State's welfare. And on these days, so far as we know, there was a regular ordered routine of sacrifice and prayer, with but little trace of the barbarous or grotesque. The ritual of the Lupercalia is almost a solitary exception. The Luperci had their foreheads smeared with the blood of the victims, which were goats, and then this was wiped off with wool dipped in milk; after this they were obliged to laugh, probably as a sign that the god (whoever he was) was in them, or that they were identified with him.[211] They then girt themselves with the skins of the victims and ran round the ancient pomoerium, striking at any women they met with strips of the same victims in order to produce fertility. This was perhaps a rite taken over from aboriginal settlers on the Palatine, and so intimately connected with that hill that it could not be omitted from the calendar. The ritual of the three days of Lemuria in May, when ghosts were expelled from the house, as Ovid describes the process, by means of beans,[212] seems also to have been a reminiscence of ideas about the dead more primitive than those which took effect in the more cheerful Parentalia of February: here again we may perhaps see a concession to the popular tradition and prejudice of a primitive population. On the other hand, the revelry of the Saturnalia in December, of which Dr. Frazer has made so much in the second edition of the Golden Bough,[213] is nothing more than the licence of the population of a great cosmopolitan city, an out-growth, under Greek influence, from the rude winter rejoicings of the farmer and his familia; and for his conjecture that a human victim was sacrificed on this occasion in ancient Rome there is simply no evidence whatever. There is, indeed, not a trace of human sacrifice at Rome so long as the ius divinum was the supreme religious law of the State; in the whole Roman literature of the Republic hardly anything of the kind is alluded to;[214] it is only when we come to an age when the taste for bloodshed was encouraged by the shows of the amphitheatre, and when the blood-loving religions of the East were pressing in, that we hear of human sacrifice, and then only from Christian writers, who would naturally seize on anything that came to hand to hold up paganism to derision, without inquiring into the truth or the history of the alleged practice.[215]

Thus we may take it as highly probable that those who drew up the calendar had the deliberate intention of excluding from the State ritual, as far as was possible, everything in the nature of barbarism and magic. For the religious purposes of a people occupied in agriculture and war, and already beginning to develop some idea of law and order, there was no need of any religious rites except such as would serve, in decency and order, to propitiate the deities concerned with the fertilisation of man, beast, and crop, and with the safety and efficacy of the host in its struggle with the enemies of the city. The Roman people grew up, in their city life as in the life of the family, in self-restraint, dignity, and good order, confident in the course of cura and caerimonia, itself decent and stately, if soulless, which the religious authorities had drawn up for them.

We should naturally like to know something about those authorities, who thus placed the religion of the State on a comparatively high level of ritualistic decency, if not of theological subtlety. The Romans themselves attributed the work to a priest-king, Numa Pompilius, and probably their instinct was a right one. Names matter little in such matters; but there is surely something in the universal Roman tradition of a great religious legislator, something too, it may be, in the tradition that he was a Sabine, a representative of the community on the Quirinal which had been embodied in the Roman city before the calendar was drawn up, and of the sturdy, serious stock of central Italy, which retained its virtus longer than any other Italian people.[216] We are quite in the dark as to all this, unless we can put any kind of confidence in the traditional belief of the Romans themselves. But there is one point on which I should like to make a suggestion--a new one so far as I know. Numa was said to have been the first Flamen Dialis; but that is absolutely impossible, for the ancient taboos on that priesthood would have made it impossible for him to become supreme legislator. Evidently this Flamen, who could hardly leave his own house, might never leave the city, and was at every turn hedged in by restrictions on his activity, was a survival of those magician-kings who make rain and do other useful things, but would lose their power if they were exposed to certain contingencies; the number of possible contingencies increases till the unfortunate owner of the powers becomes powerless by virtue of the care so painfully taken of him.[217] The priest of Jupiter and his taboos carry us back, beyond a doubt, into the far-away dim history of primitive Latium. By the time the eternal city was founded on the Tiber, he must have been already practically obsolete. My suggestion is that he is the representative in the Roman religious system of another and more primitive system which existed in Latium, probably at Alba, where Jupiter was worshipped on the mountain from time immemorial. When the strength of Latium was concentrated at the best strategical point on the Tiber, the priest of Jupiter was transferred to the new city, because he was too "precious" to be left behind, though even then a relic of antiquity. There he became what he was throughout Roman history, a practically useless personage, about whom certain sacred traditions had gathered, but placed in complete subjection to the new legal and religious king, and afterwards to the Pontifex maximus.[218]

If there be any truth in this--and I believe it to be a legitimate inference from the legal position of this Flamen, and his permanent state of taboo--then I think we may see a great religious change in the era of the "calendar of Numa." Inspired with new ideas of the duty and destiny of the new city of the four regions, a priest-king, doubtless with the help and advice of a council, according to the true Roman fashion, put an end for ever to the reign of the old magician-kingship, but preserved the magician-king as a being still capable of wonder-working in the eyes of the people. As religious law displaced magic in the State ritual, so the new kings, with their collegia of legal priests, pontifices and augurs, neutralised and gradually destroyed the prestige of the effete survivor of an age of barbarism.

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