Roman Empire | Roman Religious Practices

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In the last lecture we found that the magical element in the Roman ritual is exaggerated by recent writers. But it has also long been the practice to describe that ritual as a system of bargaining with the gods: as partaking of the nature of a legal contract. "The old Roman worship was businesslike and utilitarian. The gods were partners in a contract with their worshippers, and the ritual was characterised by the hard formalism of the legal system of Rome. The worshipper performed his part to the letter with the scrupulous exactness required in pleadings before the praetor."[406] This is an excellent statement of a view very generally held, especially since Mommsen, whose training in Roman law made him apt to dwell on the legal aspects of Roman life, wrote the famous chapter in the first volume of his history. I now wish to examine this view briefly.

No doubt it was suggested by the necessary familiarity of the Roman historian with vota publica, the vows so frequently made on behalf of the State by its magistrates, in terms supplied by the pontifices, and dictated by them to the magistrate undertaking the duty. Some few of these formulae have survived, and it may certainly be said of them that they are analogous to legal formulae, and express the quasi-contractual nature of the process. Such legalised religious contracts seem to be peculiar to Rome; they are curiously characteristic of the Roman genius for formularisation, which in course of time had most important effects in the domain of civil law. But the vow as such is, of course, by no means peculiar to Rome; it is familiar in Greek history, and is found in an elementary form among savages at the present day.[407] But at Rome both in public and private life it is far more frequent and striking than elsewhere. This is a phenomenon that calls for careful study; and we must beware that we are not misled by quasi-legal developments into missing the real significance of it from the point of view of morality and religion.

The vota privata, which include vows and offerings made to deities by private individuals, had never been adequately examined till De Marchi wrote his book on the private religion of the Romans; nor could they have been so examined until the Corpus Inscriptionum was fairly well advanced. There the material is extraordinarily abundant, but it is, of course, almost entirely of comparatively late date, and the great majority of votive inscriptions belong to the period of the Empire. Yet it is quite legitimate to argue from this to an origin of this form of worship in the earliest times, and we have enough early evidence to justify the inference. Among the oldest Latin inscriptions are some found on objects such as cups or vases, showing that the latter were votive offerings to a deity: thus we have Saeturni poculum, Kerri poculum, and other similar ones which will be found at the beginning of the first volume of the Corpus.[408] They give only the name of the deity as a rule, and do not tell us why the object was offered to him; but they must have been thank-offerings for some supposed blessing. In one case, not indeed at Rome, but not far away at Praeneste, we have proof of this; for a mother makes a dedication to Fortuna nationu cratia, which plainly expresses gratitude for good luck in childbirth;[409] and this inscription is one of the oldest we possess. Nor do they tell us whether there was a previous vow or promise of which the offering is the fulfilment. But in the majority of inscriptions of late date the familiar letters V.S.L.M. (votum solvit lubens merito) betray the nature of the transaction, and it is not unreasonable to guess that there was usually a previous undertaking of some kind, to be carried out if the deity were gracious.

But these private vota were not, strictly speaking, legal transactions, supposed to bind both parties in a contract, as we shall see was to some extent the case with the vota publica. They could not have needed the aid of a pontifex, or a solemn voti nuncupatio, i.e. statement of the promise; they were rather, as De Marchi asserts,[410] spontaneous expressions of what we may call religious feeling; and it may be that he is right in maintaining that throughout Roman history they remained as expressions of the religious sense and of the better feeling of the lower classes. The practice implies three conceptions: (1) of the deity as really powerful for good and evil; (2) of the gift, a work of supererogation, as likely to please him; (3) of the grateful act and feeling as good in themselves. Surely there must have been in this practice a germ of moral development; I am surprised that Dr. Westermarck has not mentioned in his chapter on gratitude the extraordinary abundance of Roman votive offerings and inscriptions. Doubtless there lies at the root of it the idea of Do ut des, or rather of Dabo ut des; doubtless also it could be turned to evil purposes in the form of devotio, when promises were made to a deity on condition that he killed or injured an enemy; but in the ordinary and common example it is impossible to deny that the final act, the performance of the vow, must have been accompanied by a feeling of gratitude. The merest recognition of a supposed blessing is of value in moral development.

But it is in the vota publica that we undoubtedly find something in the nature of a bargain--covenant would be a more graceful word--with a deity in the name of the State. Even here, however, the impression is rather produced by the use of legal terms and the formularisation of the process, than by any assumed attitude of contempt towards, or even of equality with, the deity concerned. There is no trace in early Roman religious history of any tendency to abuse or degrade the divine beings if they did not perform their part, such as is well known in China,[411] or even, strange to say, occasionally met with in the southern Italy of to-day; the attitude towards the deity in cult (though not invariably in the later Graeco-Roman literature) was ever respectful, as it was towards the magistrates of the State. The farthest the Romans ever went in condemning their gods was when misfortune persuaded them that they were become indifferent or useless; then they began to neglect them, and to turn to other gods, as we shall see in subsequent lectures.

The public vota were of two kinds: the ordinary, or regularly recurring, and the extraordinary, which were occasioned by some particular event. Of the ordinary, the most familiar is that undertaken by the consul, and no doubt in some form by the Rex in the days of the kingship, for the benefit of the State on the first day of the official year. Accompanied by the Senate and a crowd of people, the consuls went up to the Capitoline temple, and performed the sacrifice which had been vowed by their predecessors of a year before; after which they undertook a new votum, "pro reipublicae salute."[412] We have not the formula of this vow, and cannot tell what resemblance it bore to a bargain; but the ceremony itself must have been most impressive, and calculated to remind all who were present of the greatness and goodwill of the supreme deity who watched over the interests of the State. So too at the lustrum of the censors, which took place in the Campus Martius every five years, it is almost certain that the votum of the predecessors in office was fulfilled by a sacrifice, and a new one undertaken. Here again we are without the formula, but that there was one we know from a very interesting passage of Valerius Maximus. He tells us that Scipio Aemilianus, when as censor he was conducting this sacrifice, and the scriba (on behalf of the pontifex?) was dictating to him the solemne precationis carmen ex publicis tabulis, in which the immortal gods were besought to make the prosperity of the Roman State "better and greater," had the audacity to interrupt him, saying that the condition of the State was sufficiently good and great: "itaque precor ut eas (res) perpetuo incolumes servent." This change, Valerius says, was accepted, and the formula altered accordingly in the tabulae.[413] This story, which is probably genuine and is quite characteristic of Scipio, must convince an impartial mind that in this votive ceremony there was enough truth and dignity to suggest a real advance in religious thought, so far at least as the State was concerned.

The extraordinary vota were innumerable. They were occasioned by dangers or misfortunes of various kinds, the magistrate undertaking to dedicate something to the god concerned if the State should have come safely through the peril. Many temples had their origin in this practice;[414] we meet also with ludi, special sacrifices, or a tithe of the booty taken in war. In two or three cases Livy has copied the formula from the tabulae of the pontifices; thus before the war with Antiochus in 191 B.C., the consul recited the following words after the pontifex maximus: "Si duellum quod cum Antiocho rege sumi populus iussit, id ex sententia senatus populique Romani confectum erit; tum tibi Iuppiter populus Romanus ludos magnos dies decem continuos faciet ... quisquis magistratus eos ludos quando ubique faxit, hi ludi recte facti, donaque data recte sunto."[415] This document dates from the days of the decay of the Roman religion, and is, of course, modernised by Livy; but it may give an idea of what is meant by writers who speak of an element of bargain or covenant in these vota. Still more elaborate, and probably more antique, is the famous formula of the vow of the ver sacrum in the darkest hour of the war with Hannibal.[416] This very curious rite, which proves beyond question the devotion of the Italian stocks to the principle of the votum, consisted of a promise to dedicate to Mars or Jupiter all the valuable products of a single spring, including the male children born at that time; to this the Romans had recourse for the last time in 217 B.C., and Livy has fortunately preserved the words of the vow. These, with the exception of the dedication of the children, which is judiciously omitted, probably stand much as they had come down from a remote antiquity. The votum is put in the form of a rogatio to the people, without whose sanction it could not be put in force; are they willing to dedicate to Jupiter all the young of oxen, sheep, or pigs born in the spring five years after date, if the State shall have been preserved during those years from all its enemies? The curious feature of the document is, not that it binds the deity to any course of action, but that it secures the individual Roman against his anger in case of any chance slip in his part of the process, and the people against any evil consequences arising from such a slip or from misdoing on the part of an individual. "Si quis clepsit, ne populo scelus esto neve cui cleptum erit: si atro die faxit insciens, probe factum esto."[417] Of this formula a recent writer of great learning and ability has written thus: "The well-known liturgical archive containing Rome's address to Jupiter in the critical days of the Hannibalic war is a wary and cleverly drawn legal document, intended to bind the god as well as the State."[418] He is no exception to the rule that those who have not habitually occupied themselves with the Roman religion are liable to misinterpret its details. This is not an address to Jupiter, nor is there any sign in it that the god was considered as bound to perform his part as in a contract; the covenant is a one-sided one, the people undertaking an act of self-renunciation if the god be gracious to them, and thereby going far to assure themselves that he will so be gracious. And the legal cast of the language, which seems so apt to mislead the unwary,[419] is only to be found in the clauses which guarantee the people against the contingency of the whole vow being ruined by the inadvertence or the rascality of an individual; surely a very natural and inevitable caveat, where for once the whole people, and not only their priests or magistrates, were concerned in the transaction.

A curious form of the votum, which, however, I can only mention in passing, is that addressed to the gods of a hostile city, with a view to induce them to desert their temples and take up their abode at Rome; this is the process called evocatio, which was successfully applied at the siege of Veii, when Juno Regina consented to betray her city.[420] Macrobius, commenting on Virgil's lines (Aen. ii. 351),

excessere omnes adytis arisque relictis di quibus imperium hoc steterat,

has preserved the carmen used at the siege of Carthage.[421] It is cast in the language of prayer: "Si deus si dea est cui populus civitasque Carthaginiensis est in tutela ... precor venerorque veniamque a vobis peto ut vos populum civitatemque Carthaginiensem deseratis," etc.; but it ends with a vow to build temples and establish ludi in honour of these deities if they should comply with the petition. It is worth noting here that it was, of course, impossible to make a bargain with strange or hostile gods, or in any way to force their hand; the promise is entirely one-sided; and I am inclined to think that in dealing with his own gods the mental attitude of the Roman was much the same, though his faith in them was undoubtedly greater.

This is the proper place to mention another very curious rite, closely allied to the votum, but differing from it in one or two important points, which is almost peculiar to the Romans and most characteristic of them; I mean the devotio of himself on the field of battle by a magistrate cum imperio.[422] The famous example, familiar to us all, is that of Decius Mus at the battle of Vesuvius in the great Latin war[423] (340 B.C.): the same story is told of his son in a war with Gauls and Samnites, and of his grandson in the war with Pyrrhus.[424] The historical difficulties of these accounts do not concern us now; by common consent of scholars the method and formula of the devotio are authentic, and the rite must have had its origin in remote antiquity.

The story runs[425] that Decius, at whose preliminary sacrifice before the battle with the Latins the liver of the victim had been found imperfect, while that of his colleague was normal, perceived that his wing of the army was giving way. He therefore resolved to sacrifice himself by devotio, and called on the pontifex maximus, who was present, to dictate for him the correct formula. He was directed to put on the toga praetexta, to wear it with the cinctus Gabinus, to veil his head with it, to touch his chin with his hand under the folds of the robe, and to stand upon a spear. He then repeated after the pontifex the following formula: "Iane, Iuppiter, Mars pater, Quirine, Bellona, Lares, divi Novensiles, di Indigetes, divi quorum est potestas nostrorum hostiumque, diique Manes, vos precor, veneror, veniam peto feroque, uti populo Romano Quiritium vim victoriamque prosperetis, hostesque populi Romani Quiritium terrore formidine morteque adficiatis. Sicut verbis nuncupavi, ita pro re publica Quiritium, exercitu legionibus auxiliis populi Romani Quiritium, legiones auxiliaque hostium mecum deis Manibus Tellurique devoveo" (Livy ix. 9). He then mounted his horse and rode into the midst of the enemy to meet his death. The Latins were seized with panic and the Romans were victorious.

Here the vow is made and fulfilled almost at the same moment,--the fulfilment takes place before the gods have done their part. Here too the offering made is the life of a human being which brings the act within the domain of sacrifice. Its sacrificial nature is obvious in all the details.[426] The dress is that of the sacrificing priest or magistrate;[427] Decius was therefore priest and victim at the same time, and the two characters seem to be combined in the symbolic touching of the chin, which has been rightly explained,[428] I think, as analogous to the laying on of hands in the consecratio of the Rex, as we saw it in the case of Numa, and perhaps to the immolatio of a victim by sprinkling the mola salsa on its head; where the object of consecration is made holy by contact with holy things.[429] The standing on the spear is difficult to explain; it may have been a symbolic dedication to Mars, whose spear or spears, as we have seen, were kept in the Regia.[430]

The formula contains certain points of great interest. Firstly, it is not only the Roman gods of all sorts and conditions who are invoked, but those of the enemy also, or, in vague language, those who have power over both Romans and Latins.[431] Secondly, it begins with a prayer combined with a curse upon the enemy: in which respect it resembles the prayer at the lustratio populi at Iguvium[432] (which I shall mention again directly) and to a later type of devotio used at the siege of Carthage and preserved by Macrobius.[433] Thirdly, in spite of this religious aspect of the formula, it ends with what can only be called a magical spell. By the act of self-sacrifice, which is the potent element in the spell, Decius exercises magical power over the legions of the enemy, and devotes them with himself to death,--to the Manes and Mother Earth.[434]

The story suggests to me that the rite had been at one time well known; the pontifex maximus was ready with the instructions and formula. It was a survival from an age of magic, but the priests have given it a religious turn, and the language of the first part is quite as much that of prayer as is the language of the collect to be said in time of war which still disfigures the Anglican prayer-book.[435] What is still more remarkable is that it has not only a religious but an ethical character. The idea of service to the State is here seen at its highest point. The sacrifice is a vicarious one.[436] Livy significantly adds that a private soldier might be chosen by the commander to represent him, and that if this man were not killed by the enemy an image seven feet long must be buried in the earth and a piacular sacrifice offered.[437] Later on it would seem that instead of sacrificing himself, the consul might implore the gods to accept the hostile army or city as his substitutes: "eos vicarios pro me fide magistratuque meo pro populi Romani exercitibus do devoveo, ut me exercitumque nostrum ... bene salvos siritis esse."[438] The idea here, and indeed in the devotio of Decius, bears some analogy to that which lies at the root of the old Roman practice, of making a criminal sacer to the deity chiefly concerned in his crime; when this was done, any man might kill him, and he was practically a victim offered as vicarius for the Roman people, who had been contaminated by his deed.[439]

But I must now pass on the last kind of ritual to be explained in these lectures, and far the most impressive of all, that of lustratio, or the purification, as it is commonly called, of land, city, human beings, or even inanimate objects, by means of a solemn procession accompanied with sacrifice.

So important a part did these processional rites play in the public life of the Roman people,--so characteristic are they too of the old Roman habit of thought and action, that they have given a wonderful word to the Latin language. Lustrare has many meanings; but the one which is immediately derived from the rites I speak of, that of slow processional movement, is the most beautiful and impressive of them all. When Aeneas first sees Dido in all her stately beauty, he says:[440]

in freta dum fluvii current, dum montibus umbrae lustrabunt convexa, polus dum sidera pascet, semper honos nomenque tuum laudesque manebunt, quae me cunque vocant terrae.

"So long as the cloud-shadows move slowly over the hollows of the hills." Here in Scotland you must have all seen this procession of the shadows, as I have watched it when fishing in Wales; let us always associate it with the magic of a poet of nature as well as with the religious processions of his people.

Lustrare, lustratio, are words which, as I think, belong to an age of religion, that is, according to our formula, of effective desire to be in right relation with the Power manifesting itself in the Universe. In other processes which are usually called purificatory, magic seems to survive: the word februum, from which comes the name of our second month, meant an object with magical potency, such as water, fire, sulphur, laurel, wool, or the strips of the victims sacrificed at the Lupercalia, and the verb februare meant to get rid of certain unwholesome or miasmatic influences by means of these objects.[441] What was the really primitive idea attached to these words need not concern us now; but Varro, and Ovid following him, explicitly explain them as meaning purifying agents and processes,[442] from which we may infer that they had a magical power to produce certain desired conditions, or to protect from evil influences, like charms and amulets. But lustrare and lustratio seem to belong to an age when the thing to be driven or kept away is rather spiritual mischief, and when the means used are sacrifices and prayers, with processional movement.

What is the original meaning of the word lustrare? It seems to be a strong form of luere; and luere is explained by Varro as equivalent to solvere.[443] The word lustrum, he says, i.e. the solemn five-yearly ceremony in the Campus Martius, is derived from luere in the sense of solvere, to pay; because every fifth year the contract-moneys for the collection of taxes and for public undertakings were paid into the treasury through the censors. Servius,[444] doubtless following him, explains such expressions as peccata luere, supplicium luere, on the same principle--in the sense of payment, just as we speak of paying the penalty. We might thus be tempted to fancy that the root-idea of lustrare is to perform a duty and so get rid of it, as we do in paying for anything we buy; but this would be to misapprehend the original meaning of the word as completely as Varro did when he explained luere by reference to the payments of contractors. Varro and Servius do, however, suggest the right clue; they see that the idea lurking in the word is that of getting rid of something, but they understand that something in the light, not of primitive man's intelligence, but of the duty of man in a civilised State. What exactly it was that was to be got rid of is a more difficult question; but all that we have so far learnt about the early religious ideas of the Romans strongly suggests that they were in what we may call an advanced animistic stage of religious ideas, and that whatever may have been the notion of their primitive ancestors, they themselves, in these rites as we know them, saw the means of getting rid of and so keeping away hostile spirits. A French sociologist, M. van Gennep, whose book Les Rites de passage I have read with great interest, has kindly written me a long letter in which he insists that this animistic interpretation of lustratio is really superfluous, and that the idea of separation alone, i.e. of separation between sacred and profane, without any reference to spirits or dei, is a fully sufficient explanation. So no doubt it may be among many savage peoples; but he would probably allow that as a people advances from one stage of superstition to another, while it retains in outline the scheme of its rites, it will apply new meanings to them in keeping with the changes in its mental attitude. This is one of the most interesting processes with which modern research has been occupied; we are now familiar with the adoption of pre-Christian ceremonies, with a complete change of meaning, in the ritual of the Christian Church. These very processions of lustratio, which had already been once metamorphosed in an animistic period, were seized upon by the Roman Church with characteristic adroitness, adapted to its ritual, and given a new meaning; and the Catholic priest still leads his flock round the fields with the prayers of the Litania maior in Rogation week, begging a blessing on the flocks and herds, and deprecating the anger of the Almighty.[445]

But let us now pass briefly in review the more important of these rites of lustration and compare them with each other; we shall find the essential features the same in all of them.

The first permanent difficulty of new settlers in Latium was to mark off their cultivated land from the forest or waste land beyond it, and so, as M. van Gennep would phrase it,[446] to make a margin of separation between the sacred and the profane, within which the sacred processes of domestic life and husbandry might go forward, undisturbed by dangers--human, spiritual, or what not--coming from the profane world without. The boundary was marked out in some material way, perhaps by stones (cippi) or posts, placed at intervals;[447] and thus "a fixed piece of ground is appropriated by a particular social group, so that if any stranger penetrated it he would be committing a sacrilege as complete as he would if he trespassed in a sacred grove or a temple." This boundary-line was made sacred itself by the passage round it (lustratio) at some fixed time of the year, usually in May, when crops were ripening and especially liable to be attacked by hostile influences, of a procession occupied with sacrifice and prayer. The two main features of the rite, as formulated by Cato in his treatise on agriculture, are--1, the procession of the victims, ox, sheep, and pig (suovetaurilia), the farmer's most valuable property; 2, the prayer to Mars pater, after libations to Janus and Jupiter, asking for his kindly protection of the whole familia of the farm, together with the crops of all kinds and the cattle within the boundary-line.[448] We are not expressly told that this procession followed the boundary throughout, but the analogy of other lustrations forbids us to doubt it; and thus the rite served the practical purpose of keeping it clear in the memory,--a matter of the utmost importance, especially for the practical Roman. In Cato's formula the farmer's object is to ward off disease, calamity, dearth, and infertility; and it is Mars who is invoked, i.e. a great god who has long ago emerged from the crowd of impersonal spirits; but we may safely believe that the primitive farmer used other language, addressing the spirits of disease and dearth themselves; and we may guess, if we will, that again before that there was no invocation or sacrifice at all, but that the object was only to mark the boundary between land civilised and sacred and land uncivilised and profane.

As we have seen, the farms and homesteads of the early Latins were grouped together in associations called pagi; and we can hardly doubt that these were subjected to the same process of lustratio as the farms themselves. We have no explicit account of a circumambulation in this case, but we have in the later poets several charming allusions to a lustratio pagi, and it is of a rite of this kind that Virgil must have been thinking when he wrote the beautiful passage in the first Georgic beginning "In primis venerare deos";[449] and the lines

terque novas circum felix eat hostia fruges, omnis quam chorus et socii comitentur ovantes, etc.,

clearly imply a procession with the object of keeping away harmful influences from the crops at a critical time. And when the city-state came into being we may be equally sure that its ager, so long at least as it was small enough to admit of such a processional ritual, was lustrated in the same way. In historical times this ager had become too extensive, and there is no procession to be found among the duties of the Fratres Arvales as we know them when they were revived by Augustus; but we have not, of course, the whole of the "acta" of the Brethren, and even if we had, it would not be likely that we should find any trace of a practice which must have been dropped in course of time as the Roman territory increased. Let us go on to the beginnings of the city, where we shall find the same principle and practice applied in striking fashion.

As it was necessary to protect the homestead and its land by a sacred boundary, so the city had to be clearly marked off from all that was outside of it. Its walls were sacred, or, strictly speaking, a certain imaginary line outside of them called the pomoerium was sacred. This is well shown in the traditional method of founding a city even in historical times, e.g. a colonia, as described by Varro, Servius, and Plutarch.[450] A white ox and a white cow were harnessed to a plough, of which the share must be made of bronze--a rule which shows at once the antiquity and the religious character of the rite, for iron, as we saw, was taboo in most religious ceremonies. A rectangular furrow was drawn where the walls of the city were to be; the earth was turned inwards to mark the future line of the wall, and the furrow represented the future pomoerium. When the plough came to the place where there was to be a gate, it was lifted over it, and the ploughing resumed beyond it. This probably meant, as Plutarch expressed it, that the walls (or rather the pomoerium), were sacred while the gates were profane; had the gates been holy, scruple would necessarily have been felt about the passage in and out of them of things profane. Thus the pomoerium was a boundary line between the sacred and the profane, like that of the farm; but in historical times it acquired a more definite religious meaning, for within it there could only dwell those deities who belonged to the city and its inhabitants, i.e. the di indigetes, and who were recognised as its divine inhabitants.[451] And only within its limits could the auspicia of the city be taken.

We should naturally expect that this sacred boundary would have its holiness secured or revived by an annual lustratio like that of the farm and pagus; and so no doubt it was. But the memory of this survives only in the word amburbium, which, on the analogy of ambarvalia, must mean a rite of this processional kind. Luckily we have definite knowledge of the real lustratio of a city in those ritualistic inscriptions of Iguvium which I have more than once referred to.[452] It is the lustratio of the arx, the citadel of Iguvium, which we may guess to have been the original oppidum or germ of the historical city. The details are complex, and show clear traces of priestly organisation; but the main features stand out unmistakably. A procession goes round the arx (ocris Fisia), with the suovetaurilia--ox, sheep, and pig--as in the Latin lustratio; at each gate it stops, while sacrifice and prayer are offered on behalf of the citadel, the city, and the whole people of Iguvium. There were three gates, and each of them is the scene of sacrifice and prayer, because they are the weak points in the wall, and they need to be strengthened by annual religious operations; such at least is the most obvious explanation. Whether the Fratres Attiedii would have been able to explain it thus we may doubt; neither in the sacrificial ritual nor in the prayers, as recorded in the inscription, do we find any clear trace of a distinction between the sacred and the profane, or of the idea of a hostile spiritual world outside the sacred boundary. So far as we can judge from the prayers, the object is really a religious one, to implore the deities of the city to preserve it and all within it. The language of these prayers hardly differs from that in which a Christian Church of to-day asks for a blessing on a community.[453]

So far I have been speaking of the permanent separation of land or city by a sacred boundary line from the profane world without. But human beings en masse might be subjected to the same process--an army, for example, at the opening of the season of war; and so, too, might its appurtenances--horses, arms, and trumpets. In the account of the census and lustrum in the Campus Martius given by Dionysius of Halicarnassus, who passed some years in Rome in the time of Augustus, we find the suovetaurilia driven three times round the assembled host and sacrificed to Mars. This was doubtless the early form of the political census, which had a military meaning and origin. But we have a more exact and reliable account of a similar rite in the Iguvian documents, which contain instructions for the lustratio of the people apparently before a campaign.[454] So far as we can gather from the Umbrian text, the male population was assembled in a particular spot in its military divisions, and round this host a procession went three times; at the end of each circuit there was sacrifice and prayer to Mars and two female associates of his power, the object of which, as we can read in the words of the prayer, was to bless the people of Iguvium and to curse its enemies, who were to be confounded and frightened and paralysed.

Here religion of a rude sort has been superimposed on the originally magical ceremonial. For the idea must have been that by drawing a "magic circle" around the host, which might have to march against enemies living far beyond the pale of the ager Romanus (or Iguvinus), where hostile magical influences might be brought to bear against them, they were in some mysterious way marked off, rendered "holy," and so protected against the wiles of the enemy. A later and animistic age would think of them as needing protection against hostile spirits, of whose ways and freaks they were of course entirely ignorant. Of these primitive ideas about the danger of entering hostile territory and of leaving your own, Dr. Frazer has collected some examples in his Golden Bough (i. 304 foll.), both from savage tribes and from Greek usage. A single parallel from the pen of a Roman historian, which Dr. Frazer has not mentioned, may suffice us here. Livy tells us that the method in Macedonia was to march the whole host in spring between the severed limbs of a dog:[455] the principle is here the same as in Italy, but the method differs slightly. In each case some mysterious influence is brought to bear on the whole army without exception; but in the one case a line is drawn round it, in the other it passes through the parts of an object which must have been supposed to be endowed with magical power.

And once more, in spring before the season of arms, all the belongings of the host were subjected to some process of the same kind. I have alluded to this in my lecture on the calendar, and need not now reproduce the evidence of the Equirria at the end of February and on March 14, or of the Quinquatrus on March 19, when the lustratio took place of the shields (ancilia) of the Salii, the war-priests of Mars, and the Tubilustrium on March 23, which tells its own tale.[456] But I may recall the fact that the calendar supplies us also with evidence that on the return of the host to their own territory all these lustrations had to be repeated in order to rid men, horses, arms, and trumpets of such evil contagion as they might have contracted during their absence. It may be that one special object of lustration after the return of an army was to rid it, with all belonging to it, of the taint of bloodshed, just as the Jewish warriors and their captives were purified before re-entering the camp.[457] But in the Roman pontifical law this idea is hardly discernible, and the only trace I can find of it is a statement of Festus that the soldiers who followed the general's car in a triumph wore laurel wreaths "ut quasi purgati a caede humana intrarent urbem."[458] I may add here that the passage of a triumphing army through the Porta triumphalis, which was probably an isolated arch in the Campus Martius just outside the city wall,[459] most likely had as its original meaning the separation of the host from the profane world in which it had been moving; and the triumphal arches of later times, which were within the city, were thus developed architecturally from an origin which belongs to the region of magic.[460] To the same class of ideas, if I am not much mistaken, belongs the familiar Italian practice of compelling a surrendered army to pass under the yoke. As Livy explains this when he first mentions it, it was symbolical of subjection: "ut exprimatur confessio subactam domitamque esse gentem";[461] and this was no doubt the idea in the minds of the historical Romans. But it may well have been that it had its root in a process which was supposed to deprive the conquered enemy of all dangerous contagion--to separate them from their own land and people before they came into peaceful contact with their conquerors.

A last word before I leave this part of my subject. Though it is interesting to try to get at the root-idea of these processes of lustratio, we must remember that in the Rome of history they had lost not only such magical meaning as they ever had, but also much of the religious meaning which in course of time was superimposed upon it. The sacrifices and the prayers remained, but the latter were muttered and unheard by the people. And except in the country districts these ceremonies were more and more absorbed, as time went on, into the social, military, and political life of the community, as e.g. the lustration of the host became a political census; or they tended to disappear altogether, like the ambarvalia and perhaps the amburbium. They grew up in the religious experience of the Romans, beginning with its very earliest and quasi-magical forms; but they came at last to represent that experience no longer, and when we meet with them in historical times it is impossible to ascribe to them any real influence on life and conduct. Lustratio never in pagan Italy developed an ethical meaning as catharsis did in Greece.[462] But meaningless as they were, the stately processions remained, and could be watched with pride by the patriotic Roman all through the period of the Empire, until the Roman Church adapted them to its own ritual and gave them, as we saw, a new meaning. As the cloud-shadows still move slowly over the hollows of the Apennines, so does the procession of the patron saint pass still through the streets of many an Italian city.[463]

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