Category Archives: Religion / Mythology

From Centurion to Saint: The Path of Longinus

Welcome to Rome Across Europe!

For our readers of the Christian faith, our Lenten journey is coming to an end. Hopefully  all of the prayer, doing penancerepentance of sins, almsgivingatonement, and self-denial was not too taxing.

Since it is Good Friday today, that means Easter Sunday is right around the corner. The stories of Easter and the Nativity of Jesus (aka Christmas) are easily the most recognizable, even for those not following the faith.

Keeping that in mind, today we take a look into the life of a man who played a part of the Easter story as we explore the life of Longinus!

Saint Longinus in Bom Jesus do Monte (Tenões, Portugal).

Longinus is a legendary name of Christian history given in medieval and some modern Christian traditions to the Roman soldier who pierced Jesus in his side with a lance, the Holy Lance (Lancea) during the Crucifixion. This act created the last of the Five Holy Wounds of Christ.

This individual, unnamed in the Gospels, is further identified in legend as the Centurion present at the Crucifixion, who testified “This man certainly was the Son of God.” But who was this Roman who left us with a single, very cool quote?

View of Cappadocian landscape

In tradition, he is called Cassius before his conversion to Christianity, and was said to be born in Cappadocia. However, an old tradition links the birthplace of Longinus with the village of Anxanum (Lanciano), Samnite territory, in today’s Abruzzo region of Central-Southern Italy.

Longinus did not start out as a saint, especially since no name for him was actually given in the Gospels. The name Longinus is instead found in the pseudepigraphal Gospel of Nicodemus that was appended to the apocryphal Acts of Pilate.

An early tradition, found in the 4th Century pseudepigraphal “Letter of Herod to Pilate“, claims that Longinus suffered for having pierced Jesus. He was supposedly condemned to a cave, where every night a lion came and mauled him until dawn. Every morning his body healed back to normal, in a pattern that would repeat till the end of time.

Later traditions turned him into a Christian convert, but as Sabine Baring-Gould observed:

The name of Longinus was not known to the Greeks previous to the patriarch Germanus, in AD 715. There is no reliable authority for the Acts and martyrdom of this saint.

Jesus’ side is pierced with a spear, Fra Angelico (circa 1440), Dominican monastery of San Marco, Florence.

The name is probably Latinized from the Greek lonche, the word used for the lance mentioned in John 19:34. It first appears lettered on an illumination of the Crucifixion beside the figure of the soldier holding a spear.

Written, perhaps contemporaneously, the name is in horizontal Greek letters, LOGINOS (ΛΟΓΙΝΟC). This was mentioned in the Syriac gospel manuscript illuminated by a certain Rabulas in the year 586 AD, housed in the Laurentian Library, Florence.

The spear used is now known as the Holy Lance, and even more recently as the Spear of Destiny, which was revered at Jerusalem by the 6th Century, although neither the Centurion nor the name Longinus were invoked in any surviving report. As the Lance of Longinus, the spear figures in the legends of the Holy Grail.

In some medieval folklore, such as the Golden Legend, the touch of Jesus’s blood cures his blindness:

Christian legend has it that Longinus was a blind Roman centurion who thrust the spear into Christ’s side at the crucifixion. Some of Jesus’s blood fell upon his eyes and he was healed. Upon this miracle Longinus believed in Jesus.

Veneration of Longinus

Longinus is said to have subsequently converted to Christianity after the Crucifixion, and returned to his home in Cappadocia where he made many conversions. He was sentenced to torture and death by beheading under the orders of Pontius Pilate, the Governor of the Roman Judaea who presided over the trial of Jesus and ordered his crucifixion.

The body of Longinus is said to have been lost twice. Its latter recovery was at Mantua in 1304, together with the Holy Sponge stained with Christ’s blood, wherewith it was told that Longinus had assisted in cleansing Christ’s body when it was taken down from the cross.

It was at this time that Longinus’ role was extended into an almost mythical state. The relic, corpuscles of alleged blood taken from the Holy Lance, enjoyed a revived cult in late 13th Century Bologna under the combined drive of the Grail romances, the local tradition of Eucharistic miracles, the chapel consecrated to Longinus, the Holy Blood in the Benedictine monastery church of Sant’Andrea, and the patronage of the Bonacolsi.

Frescoe of Longinus in Basilica of St Peter and St Paul (Vyšehrad, Prague).

The relics are said to have been divided and then distributed to Prague and elsewhere, with the body taken to the Basilica of Sant’Agostino in Rome. However, official guides of the Basilica do not mention the presence of any tomb associated with Saint Longinus.

It is also said that the body of Longinus was found in Sardinia. Greek sources assert that he suffered martyrdom in Gabala, Cappadocia.

Longinus’ legend grew over the. He is traditionally venerated as a saint in the Roman Catholic ChurchEastern Orthodox Church, and several other Christian communions.

There are two categories of saints: martyr and confessors. A Christian martyr is regarded as one who is put to death for his Christian faith or convictions, while confessors are people who died natural deaths.

Longinus is venerated, generally as a martyr, in the Roman Catholic Church, the Eastern Orthodox Church, and the Armenian Apostolic Church. His feast day is kept on 15 March in the Roman Martyrology, which mentions him, without any indication of martyrdom, in the following terms:

At Jerusalem, commemoration of Saint Longinus, who is venerated as the soldier opening the side of the crucified Lord with a lance.

St. Longinus is the patron of Mantua which is where his relics are preserved. There is a patron for virtually every cause, profession or special interest, so prayers are considered more likely to be answered by asking a patron directly for intercession on their behalf.

Bernini’s statue of Saint Longinus (Saint Peter’s Basilica, Vatican City).

The statue of Saint Longinus, sculpted by Gian Lorenzo Bernini, is 1 of 4 in the niches beneath the dome of Saint Peter’s BasilicaVatican City. A spear point fragment from the Holy Lance is also conserved in the Basilica.

It is helpful to be able to recognize Saint Longinus in paintings, stained glass windows, illuminated manuscripts, architecture and other forms of Christian art. Since artistic representations reflect the life or death of saints, or an aspect of life with which the person is most closely associated, Saint Longinus is represented in Christian Art wearing the uniform of a Roman soldier, and has a lance or spear in his hand.

In Irving Pichel‘s 1939 film, The Great CommandmentAlbert Dekker portrays Longinus as the commanding officer of a Roman Army company escorting a tax collector about Judea. Subsequently, he is converted to Christianity through the kindness of Joel bar Lamech and by his own experiences at Golgotha.

John Wayne as Longinus in The Greatest Story Ever Told.

In the George Stevens‘s 1965 film The Greatest Story Ever Told, Longinus is identified with the Centurion who professed, “Truly this man was the Son of God” on Golgotha. This moment of conversion was portrayed by John Wayne in a cameo role.

Longinus is a leading character in the 2005 4-issue comic The Light Brigade by DC comics. The comic takes place in 1944 during World War II and features an immortal Longinus doomed to walk the Earth to atone for his deed by fighting fallen angels and their allies.

Casca Rufio Longinus, in a popular series entitled Casca by Barry Sadler, accidentally ingests some of Christ’s blood after lancing him. He is condemned by Christ to walk the earth as a soldier until they meet again at the Second Coming.

Moriones Festival in Marinduque

Longinus and his legend are the subject of the annual Moriones Festival held during Holy Week on the island of Marinduque, the Philippines.

The “Moriones” are men and women in costumes and masks replicating the garb of biblical Roman soldiers as interpreted by local folks. The Moriones tradition has inspired the creation of other festivals in the Philippines where cultural practices or folk history is turned into street festivals.

The mask was named after the 16th and 17th Century Morion helmet. The masked and costumed penitents march around the town for 7 days searching for Longinus, scaring the kids, or engaging in antics or surprises to draw attention.

More from the Moriones Festival

The festival is characterized by colorful Roman costumes, painted masks and helmets, and brightly colored tunics. The towns of Boac, Gasan, Santa Cruz, Buenavista and Mogpog in the island of Marinduque become a gigantic stage.

We hope you enjoyed today’s journey from Soldier to Saint. Stop back again soon to see where we’ll be or what we’ll being doing.

Till next time, Don’t Stop Rome-ing!

 

References:

Bunson, M. Encyclopedia of the Roman Empire. Facts on File, 1994. ISBN 0-8160-2135-X.

Clarke, Howard W. The Gospel of Matthew and Its Readers: A Historical Introduction to the First GospelIndiana University Press, 2003. ISBN 0-253-34235-X.

Godwin, Malcolm. The Holy Grail: Its Origins, Secrets & Meaning Revealed. Viking Penguin, 1994. ISBN 0-670-85128-0.

Sniadach, Keith. Relics of God: A Supernatural Guide to Religious Artifacts, Sacred Locations & Holy Souls. Keith Sniadach, 2010.

Torretto, Richard. A Divine Mercy Resource: How to Understand the Devotion to Divine Mercy. iUniverse, 2010.

John 19:34

Mark 15:39

Matthew 27:54

Cinco, Maricar. “Last of Moriones mask makers looking for heirs”. Philippine Daily Inquirer. 13 April 2014.

One of the Philippines most Colorful Festivals

The Reliquary of Saint Longinus

Catholic Forum: St. Longinus

St. Longinus

Catholic-Saints St. Longinus

Revisiting Calvary: Where the Crucifixion of Jesus Took Place

Welcome to Rome Across Europe!

As we get closer to the end of the season of Lent, we here at RAE are going back to the past to bring something new today. This article about will have 3 different videos to watch, and will also be supplemented with some data to read.

So kick up your feet as we journey to Calvary!

The Way to Calvary
The Way to Calvary

Most people are at least familiar with the story of the Crucifixion of Jesus Christ. After he was found guilty by the Jews and condemned under Governor Pontius Pilate, Jesus was made to haul the cross on which he was to be crucified on through the streets of Jerusalem to a mount just outside the city walls.

 

Calvary, also called Golgotha, was a site immediately outside Jerusalem’s walls and just north of Mount Zion according to the Gospels. Calvary as an English name for the place is derived from the Latin word for skull (calvaria or Calvariæ Locus), which is used in the Vulgate translation of “place of a skull”.

This explanation is given in all 4 Gospels of the Aramaic word Gûlgaltâ which was the name of the place where Jesus was crucified.

Calvary
Panoramic view of Calvary as seen today.

The text does not indicate why it was named Calvary or Golgotha, but there are 3 prominent theories. First is that as a place of public execution, Calvary may have been strewn with the skulls of abandoned victims.

This would be contrary to Jewish burial traditions, but not the Romans.

Second is that Calvary is named after a nearby cemetery which matches modern sites. Third is that the name was derived from the physical contour of its location meaning the mount appears to look like a skull.

https://youtu.be/PL-hSwWjSZw

(Crucifixion begins at 30:54)

The Gospels describe it as a place near enough to the city that those coming in and out could read the inscription Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews. The location itself is mentioned in all 4 Gospels:

Matthew: And when they came to a place called Gol’gotha (which means the place of a skull).

Mark: And they brought him to the place called Gol’gotha (which means the place of a skull).

Luke: And when they came to the place which is called The Skull, there they crucified him, and the criminals, one on the right and one on the left.

John: So they took Jesus, and he went out, bearing his own cross, to the place called the place of a skull, which is called in Hebrew Gol’gotha.

https://youtu.be/uiZLQHyWWNo

The traditional location of Golgotha derives from its identification by Helena, the mother of Emperor Constantine the Great, in 325 AD. A few yards nearby, Helena also identified the location of the Tomb of Jesus and claimed to have discovered the True Cross.

Constantine then built the Church of the Holy Sepulchre around the whole site. In 333 AD, the Pilgrim of Bordeaux wrote in the Itinerarium Burdigalense, entering from the east described the result:

On the left hand is the little hill of Golgotha where the Lord was crucified. About a stone’s throw from thence is a vault [crypta] wherein his body was laid, and rose again on the third day. There, at present, by the command of the Emperor Constantine, has been built a basilica; that is to say, a church of wondrous beauty.

Jerusalem is not in Europe so this may be passed our limits. There is a connection with the Roman Empire though, and Easter is almost upon us.

We hope you will join us again here at Rome Across Europe for more fun and exploration.

Till next time, Don’t Stop Rome-ing!Calvary Hill

References:

Ball, Warwick. Rome in the East: The Transformation of an Empire.

Chisholm, Hugh, ed. “Calvary”. Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press, 1911.

Clermont-Ganneau, Charles. Archaeological researches in Palestine during the years 1873-1874.

Hunt, Emily Jane. Christianity in the second century: the case of Tatian. Psychology Press, 2003.

Lande, George M. Building Your Biblical Hebrew Vocabulary Learning Words by Frequency and Cognate. Resources for Biblical Study 41. Society of Biblical Literature, 2001. ISBN 1-58983-003-2.

Lehmann, Clayton Miles. “Palestine: History”. The On-line Encyclopedia of the Roman Provinces. The University of South Dakota, 22 February 2007.

Wilson, Charles W. Golgotha and The Holy Sepulchre, The Committee of the Palestine Exploration Fund, 1906.

 

Liberalia: Celebrating Maturity

Welcome to Rome Across Europe!

A couple of weeks ago we explored the deities that are the Aventine Triad, specifically Liber. You can check out the articles: The Aventine Triad: Watchers of the Plebs and Liber: The Free One.

On this special day, we take advantage of the festivities to celebrate Liberalia!

Liberalia Feast
Liberalia Feast

The Liberalia was the festival of Liber Pater (The Free Father) and his consort Libera. Held after the Ides of March, on 17 March, the Romans celebrated Liberalia with sacrifices, processions, ribaldry, ungraceful songs, and masks which were hung on trees.

The celebration on 17 March was meant to honor Liber Pater, an ancient god of fertility and wine (like Bacchus, the Roman version of the Greek god Dionysus). Liber Pater was also a vegetation god, responsible for protecting seed.

bacchaeteam
Celebrating Liberalia

Priests and aged priestesses, adorned with garlands of ivy, carried through the city wine, honey, cakes (libia), and sweet-meats, together with an altar with a handle (ansata ara). In the middle of the ansata ara there was a small fire-pan (foculus), in which from time to time sacrifices were burnt.

Over time this feast evolved and included the goddess Libera, and the feast divided so that Liber governed the male seed and Libera the female. Ovid in his almanac entry for the festival identifies Libera as the celestial manifestation of Ariadne.

bulla praetexta
Bulla Praetexta

This feast celebrates the maturation of young boys to manhood. Roman boys, from age 14 to 16, would remove the bulla praetexta (a hollow charm of gold or leather) which parents placed about the necks of children to ward off evil spirits.

At the Liberalia ceremony the young men might place the bulla on an altar (with a lock of hair or the stubble of his first shave placed inside) and dedicate it to the Lares, who were gods of the household and family. Mothers often retrieved the discarded bulla praetexta and kept it out of superstition.

toga virilis
The Toga Virilis

If the son ever achieved a Triumphus (Public Triumph), the mother could display the bulla to ward off any evil that might be wished upon the son by envious people. The young men discarded the toga praetexta, which was probably derived from Etruscan dress and was decorated with a broad purple border and worn with the bulla, by boys and girls.

The boys donned the clothing of adulthood, the pure white toga virilis (man’s gown). The garment identified him as a citizen of Rome, making him an eligible voter.

To the Forum
Presentation of Roman Citizenship in the Forum.

The fathers of the young men took them to the city’s Forum and presented them as adults and Citizens. This was in the days when male rites of passage were encouraged.

An infans (infant) was incapable of doing any legal act. An impubes (under-age), who had passed the limits of infantia (childhood), could do any legal act with the Auctoritas (Authority) of his tutor.

Without such Auctoritas the boy could only do those acts which were for his benefit. With the attainment of pubertas, a person obtained the full power of his property, and the Tutela ceased. The now Roman Citizen could also dispose of his property by will, and he could contract marriage.

Liberalia
Liber

This ancient ceremony was a country or rustic ceremony. The processional featured a large phallus which the devotees carried throughout the countryside to bring the blessing of fertility to the land and the people.

The procession and the phallus were meant also to protect the crops from evil. At the end of the procession, a virtuous and respected matron placed a wreath upon the phallus.

While Liberalia is a relatively unknown event in the modern time, references to Liberalia and the Roman goddess Libera are still found today online and in astrology.

It seems that Liberalia would be similar to the Jewish tradition of Bar and Bat Mitzvah, or the Latin American Quinceañera.

dionysuspillar_hires
Pottery depicting Liberalia celebration.

All across the world rites of passage, for young men or women, are quite important. It’s not really how it is celebrated simply that it is indeed celebrated.

Back in 2015 we shared a video about being a youth in Ancient Rome entitled A Glimpse of Teenage Life in Ancient Rome. This will help showcase a bit of the festivities.

Liberalia may not have been the biggest of Roman parties, but it was definitely one that was to be enjoyed by Rome’s newest Citizens.

We hope you enjoyed this little party and look forward to having you back again soon. Make sure to stop by again for we never know what we might be celebrating or where we may be journeying off to.

Till next time, Don’t Stop Rome-ing!

 

References:

T.P. WisemanRemus: a Roman myth, Cambridge University Press, 1995.

Fasti 3.459-516.

http://www.novaroma.org/nr/Liberalia

Junonalia: Festival for the Protector & Special Counselor of the Roman State

Welcome to Rome Across Europe!

With this being the month of Martius (March), we sadly don’t have as many festivals as we did in Februarius (February). But don’t let that fool you, the Romans had celebrations in every month.

That brings us to today’s celebration, so please join us as we revel in Junonalia!

Procession in honor of Juno.

Before we get into the party, let us understand why we party. Today is a celebration of the ancient Roman goddess Juno, the Protector and Special Counselor of the Roman State.

Juno Sospita, a plaster cast based on an original in the Vatican Museums.

As the patron goddess of Rome and the Roman Empire, Juno was called Regina (Queen) and, together with Jupiter and Minerva, was worshipped as a the Juno Capitolina (Capitoline Triad) in Rome. Juno was a daughter of Saturn and sister (but also the wife) of the chief god Jupiter, as well as being the mother of Mars and Vulcan.

Juno’s theology is one of the most complex and disputed issues in Roman religion. Even more than other major Roman deities, Juno held a large number of significant and diverse epithets, names and titles representing various aspects and roles of the goddess. In accordance with her central role as a goddess of marriage, these included Pronuba and Cinxia (she who loses the bride’s girdle).

Juno looked after the women of Rome, with her Greek equivalent as Hera and her Etruscan counterpart was Uni. Hera was the Greek goddess for love and marriage, so Juno was Rome’s goddess of love and marriage.

Juno’s own warlike aspect among the Romans was apparent in her attire, as she often appeared sitting with a peacock armed and wearing a goatskin cloak. The traditional depiction of this warlike aspect was assimilated from the Greek goddess Athena, whose goatskin was called the aegis.

Ancient etymologies associated Juno’s name with iuvare (to aid, benefit) and iuvenescendo (rejuvenate), sometimes connecting it to the renewal of the new and waxing moon. This perhaps implied the idea of a moon goddess.

While her connection with the idea of vital force, fullness of vital energy, eternal youthfulness is now generally acknowledged, the multiplicity and complexity of her personality have given rise to various and sometimes irreconcilable interpretations among modern scholars.

2nd Century AD statue of Juno known as La Providence (Louvre Museum, Paris).

Juno was certainly the divine protectress of the community, who showed both a sovereign and a fertility character, often associated with a military one. She was present in many towns of ancient Italy, which leads us to her celebration.

The Iunonalia or Junonalia was a Roman festival in honor of Juno, held on 7 March (the Nonae). Among extant Roman calendars, it appears only in the Calendar of Filocalus (354 AD), and was added to the festival calendar after the mid-1st Century AD.

On this day, Ancient Romans observed the Junonalia to honor their Queen of Heaven. This festival was celebrated by the matrons of Rome in which a procession of 27 girls accompanied a statue of Juno carved out of a cypress tree.

Temple of Juno Moneta

There were processions in which statues of Juno were carried through the streets and ending at the Temple of Juno. Prayers and generous offerings of flowers and flowering plants were brought to Juno.

There was dancing, merriment, and wonderful feasting (for the Romans were known for their feasts). From how it sounded, it would be very similar to a modern “girls night out”.

The Junonalia was also attested in a fragmentary poem De Iunonalibus, attributed to Claudian. In it, Juno is addressed as mistress of the celestial pole, and the spouse and sister of the king of heaven.

Santa Maria in Aracoeli (Rome, Italy), some topographers’ possible location for the temple of Juno Moneta.

Her function as a goddess of marital bonds is also noted. Although the text is conjectural at this point, she may be asked to grant a return.

The Junonalia may have concluded a 3-day festival begun 5 March with the Isidis Navigium (Sailing of Isis). In the Metamorphoses of the Metamorphoses of Apuleius, Isis is addressed as Queen of Heaven, and by the 2nd Century a number of goddesses, including Juno, shared the epithet Caelestis.

Modern reenactors as Roman matrons in the parade for Junonalia.

We hope you enjoyed today’s celebration, and if you are a woman (with or without children) here’s to your strength. Check us out again soon to see what we’ll be celebrating or to where we’ll travel.

Till next time, Don’t Stop Rome-ing!

 

References:

Benko, Stephen. The Virgin Goddess: Studies in the Pagan and Christian Roots of Mariology. Brill, 2004.

Corbishley, Mike. Ancient Rome. Warwick Press, 1986.

Palmer, Robert E. A. Roman Religion and Roman Empire. Five Essays Philadelphia, 1974.

Patrich, Joseph. Studies in the Archaeology and History of Caesarea Maritima. Brill, 2011.

Riese, Alexander. Anthologia Latina. Teubner, 1906.

Rodgers, Nigel. Life In Ancient Rome. Anness Publishing Ltd, 2007.

Salzman, Michele Renee. On Roman Time: The Codex Calendar of 354 and the Rhythms of Urban Life in Late Antiquity. University of California Press, 1990.

Junonalia”. ladyisisrose. 7 March 2011.

March 6th: A Day to Celebrate

Welcome to Rome Across Europe!

It is officially March, or Martius as the Romans knew it. This meant a return to the active life of farming, military campaigning, and sailing for the Romans.

Statue of Mars from the Forum of Nerva (2nd Century AD), Capitoline Museums.

The month was named for Mars, the Roman god of war who was also regarded as a guardian of agriculture and an ancestor of the Roman people through his sons Romulus and Remus. His month of Martius was the beginning of the season for both farming and warfare, and the festivals held in his honor during the month were mirrored by others in October, when the season for these activities came to a close.

Martius was densely packed with religious observances dating from the earliest period of Roman history. Because of its original position as the 1st month of the earliest Roman calendar, a number of festivals originally associated with the New Year occurred in March.

Martius remained the start of the Roman calendar year perhaps as late as 153 BC, when it became the 3rd month, following Februarius (February) and preceding Aprilis (April). Even in late antiquity, Roman mosaics picturing the months sometimes still placed March first.

In the Imperial period, March was also a time for public celebration of syncretic or international deities whose cultus was spread throughout the empire, including Isis and Cybele.

Keeping that in mind, today we celebrate a pair of events that the Romans held on VI Martius!

Roman Calendar

The earliest of the 2 events celebrated today was a Supplicatio for Vesta and the Di Penates. In Ancient Roman religion, a Supplicatio was a day of public prayer when all the people of Rome traveled in procession to religious sites around the city praying for divine aid in times of crisis.

Wreaths and laurel twigs

During this process the population as a whole wore wreaths, carried laurel twigs, and attended sacrifices at temple precincts throughout the city. Supplications might also be ordered in response to prodigies (prodigia).

Supplicatio was decreed for 2 different reasons: 1) as a thanksgiving when a great victory had been gained or 2) as a solemn supplication and humiliation decreed in times of public danger and distress and on account of prodigies to avert the anger of the gods.

The number of days during which the Supplicatio was to last would be proportionate to the importance of the victory.

The Triumph of Julius Caesar by Andrea Mantegna.

A Supplication of 10 days was first decreed in honor of Pompey at the conclusion of the war with Mithridates, while Caesar was a Supplicatio of 20 days after his conquest of Vercingetorix.

No great victory had been recorded on 6 March by the Romans, so today’s Supplicatio was to avert the anger of the gods. It may have well even been considered a thanksgiving of sorts since Vesta was the virgin goddess of hearth, home, and family.

The Virgo Vestalis Maxima depicted in a Roman statue.

Vesta was among the Dii Consentes, 12 of the most honored gods in the Roman pantheon. She was the daughter of Saturn and Ops, and sister of Jupiter, NeptunePlutoJuno, and Ceres.

The myths depicting Vesta and her priestesses were few. Most were limited to tales of miraculous impregnation by a phallus appearing in the flames of the hearth – the manifestation of the goddess.

Remains of the Temple of Vesta located in the Roman Forum near the Regia and the House of the Vestal Virgins.

Rarely depicted in human form, Vesta was often personified by the fire of her temple in the Forum Romanum. Entry to her temple was permitted only to her priestesses, the Vestals, who tended the sacred fire at the hearth in her temple.

As she was considered a guardian of the Roman people, her festival, the Vestalia (7-15 June), was regarded as one of the most important Roman holidays. Such was Vesta’s importance to Roman religion that hers was one of the last republican pagan cults still active following the rise of Christianity until it was forcibly disbanded by the Christian Emperor Theodosius I in AD 391.

The Di Penates, or simply Penates, were among the dii familiares (household deities) invoked most often in domestic rituals. When the family had a meal, they threw a bit into the fire on the hearth for the Penates.

Di Penates with Lares

They were thus associated with Vesta, the Lares, and the Genius of the paterfamilias in the little universe of the domus. Like other domestic deities, the Penates had a public counterpart.

An etymological interpretation of the Penates would make them in origin tutelary deities of the storeroom or innermost part of the house, where they guarded the household’s food, wine, oil, and other supplies. As they were originally associated with the source of food, they eventually became a symbol of the continuing life of the family.

The Penates of Rome (Penates Publici Populi Romani) had a temple on the Velia (Velian Hill) near the Mons Palatinus (Palatine Hill). Dionysius of Halicarnassus says it housed statues of 2 youths in the archaic style.

Aeneas and the Penates, from a 4th-Century manuscript.

The public cult of the ancestral gods of the Roman people originated in Lavinium, where they were also closely linked with Vesta. One tradition identified the public Penates as the sacred objects rescued by Aeneas from Troy and carried by him to Italy thus becoming portable deities.

Busts of the co-Emperors Marcus Aurelius (left) and Lucius Verus (right), British Museum.

Up next on the celebrations for today came the dies imperii for the joint reign of Emperors Marcus Aurelius and Lucius Verus. A Roman Emperor’s dies imperii was the date on which he assumed Imperium aka the anniversary of his accession as Emperor.

The date was observed annually with renewed oaths of loyalty and Vota Pro Salute Imperatoris, vows and offerings for the wellbeing (salus) of the Emperor. Observances resembled those on 3 January, which had replaced the traditional vows made for the salus of the Roman Republic after the transition to one-man rule under Augustus.

The dies imperii was a recognition that succession during the Empire might take place irregularly through the death or overthrow of an Emperor. This contrasted the annual terms of office for the Republic’s Magistrates when the year was designated by the names of Consuls serving their 1-year term.

Portrait head of Lucius Verus, found in Athens (National Archaeological Museum of Athens).

Marcus Aurelius and Lucius Verus came to office in 161 AD. Verus would reign until he succumbed to symptoms attributed to food poisoning in 169, while Marcus Aurelius would reign until his death in March 180 AD.

During their reign, the Roman Empire defeated a revitalized Parthia in the east. In Central Europe, Aurelius fought the MarcomanniQuadi, and Sarmatians with success during the Marcomannic Wars.

Despite the minor differences between them, Marcus Aurelius grieved the loss of his adoptive brother Verus. He accompanied the body to Rome, where he offered games to honor his memory.

Bust of Marcus Aurelius in the Musée Saint-Raymond (Toulouse, France).

After the funeral, the Roman Senate declared Verus deified and to be worshipped as Divine Verus (Divus Verus). Marcus Aurelius acquired the reputation of a philosopher king within his lifetime, and the title would remain his after death when he too was immediately deified.

We hope you enjoyed today’s celebrations, since you had more than 1 choice. Please join us again soon as we explore some other time and place in Roman History.

Till next time, Don’t Stop Rome-ing!

 

References:

Beard, Mary; North, John; Price, Simon. Religions of Rome: Volume 1, A History. Cambridge University Press, 1998. ISBN 0 521 30401 6.

Chance, Jane. Medieval Mythography: From Roman North Africa to the School of Chartres, A.D. 433–1177. University Press of Florida, 1994.

Dench, EmmaRomulus’ Asylum: Roman Identities from the Age of Alexander to the Age of Hadrian. Oxford University Press, 2005.

Hahn, Frances Hickson. “Performing the Sacred: Prayers and Hymns”. A Companion to Roman Religion. Blackwell, 2007.

Lefkowitz, Mary R.; Fant, Maureen B. Women’s Life in Greece and Rome: A Source Book in Translation. Johns Hopkins University Press, 2005. ISBN 978-0-8018-8310-1.

Morford, Mark P.O.; Lenardon, Robert J.; Sham, Michael. Classical Mythology (9th ed.). Oxford University Press, 2011. ISBN 9780195397703.

Nixon, C.E.V. In Praise of Later Roman Emperors: The Panegyrici Latini. University of California Press, 1994.

Noehden, G. H. “On the Worship of Vesta, and the Holy Fire, in Ancient Rome: with an Account of the Vestal Virgins”. The Classical Journal, 1817.

Noreña, Carlos F. Imperial Ideals in the Roman West: Representation, Circulation, Power. Cambridge University Press, 2011.

Rosenberger, Veit. “Religious Actors in Daily Life: Practices and Related Beliefs”. A Companion to Roman Religion. Blackwell, 2007.

Rüpke, JörgThe Roman Calendar from Numa to Constantine: Time, History, and the Fasti. Wiley-Blackwell, 2011.

Salzman, Michele Renee. On Roman Time: The Codex Calendar of 354 and the Rhythms of Urban Life in Late Antiquity. University of California Press, 1990.

Scheid, John. “Sacrifices for Gods and Ancestors”. A Companion to Roman Religion. Blackwell, 2007.

Schutz, Celia E. Women’s Religious Activity in the Roman Republic. University of North Carolina Press, 2006.

Scullard, H.H. Festivals and Ceremonies of the Roman Republic. Cornell University Press, 1981.

Quirinalia: Celebrating Quirinus and Rome’s Civil Society

Welcome to Rome Across Europe!

As we carry on in this month of Februarius (February), we shall continue to celebrate. As Saint Ambrose said, “Cum Romae esse, uti non Romanis” (When in Rome, do as the Romans do)!

Since Februarius was all about partying for the Romans, today we are going to be like the Romans and celebrate Quirinalia!

The ancient pagan festival of Quirinalia.

Held on 17 February, Quirinalia was the festival of Quirinus. In Roman mythology and religion, Quirinus was an early god of the Roman state.

In Augustan Rome, Quirinus was also an epithet of Janus, as Janus Quirinus. His name may be derived from the Sabine word quiris (spear).

Janus Quirinus

Some scholars connect the Quirinalia festival with the anniversary date of the murder of Romulus by his subjects on the basis of the calendar of Polemius Silvius and of Ovid. The story of Romulus’s apotheosis seems to be related, and accordingly the festival has been interpreted as a funerary parentatio.

Another interpretation has been mentioned based on the fact that the only religious ritual recorded for that day are the Stultorum Feriae (the last day of the Fornacalia). This festival used to be celebrated separately by each of the 30 Curiae.

This would mean that the Fornacalia had no fixed date, and thus not mentioned on calendars. Every year the Curio Maximus established the days for each Curia, and those who had missed their day (stulti, fool ones) were allowed an extra off day to make amends collectively.

Festus and Plutarch state that the Stultorum Feriae were in fact the Quirinalia. Their assertion seems acceptable for if it were not so then no Roman writer gave any indication of their content, and the Stultorum Feriae bring to an end the organized operation of the Curiae in the Fornacalia.

Flamines from the south frieze of Augustus’ Ara Pacis.

This connection between the Flamen Quirinalis and an activity regulated through the Curiae is important as it supports the interpretation of Quirinus as a god of the Roman civil society. The Curiae were in fact the original smallest grouping of Roman society.

Quirinus is probably an adjective meaning Wielder of the Spear. Other suggested origins are from the Sabine town Cures; from curia; or as the oak-god (quercus), and Quirites as the Men of the Oaken Spear.

Quirinal Hill

Quirinus was most likely a Sabine god of war. The Sabines had a settlement near the eventual site of Rome, and erected an altar to Quirinus on the Collis Quirinalis (Quirinal Hill), one of the Seven Hills of Rome.

When the Romans settled in the area, the cult of Quirinus became part of their early belief system. This occurred before the later influences from the classical Greek culture.

Romolus Quirinus

In Plutarch’s Lives of the Noble Greeks and Romans, he writes that shortly after Rome’s founder had disappeared under what some considered suspicious circumstances, a Roman noble named Proculus Julius reported that Romulus had come to him in a vision. He claimed that the king had instructed him to tell his countrymen that he, Romulus was Quirinus.

By the end of the 1st Century BC, Quirinus would be considered to be the deified legendary king.

Historian Angelo Brelich has argued that Quirinus and Romulus were originally the same divine entity which was split into a founder hero and a god when Roman religion became de-mythicized. To support this, he points to the association of both Romulus and Quirinus with the grain spelt, through the Fornacalia or Stultorum Feriae, according to Ovid’s Fasti.

The Vintage Festival by Lawrence Alma-Tadema.

The combination of a festival involving a staple crop, a god, and a tale of a slain founding hero whose body parts are buried in the soil is a recognized archetype that arises when such a split takes place in a culture’s mythology. The possible presence of the Flamen Quirinalis at the festival of Acca Larentia would corroborate this thesis, given the fact that Romulus is a stepson of hers, and one the original 12th arval brethren (Fratres Arvales).

The association of Quirinus and Romulus is further supported by a connection with Vofionos, the 3rd god in the Grabovian triad of Iguvium. Vofionos would be the equivalent of Liber or Teutates, in Latium and among the Celts respectively.

His early importance led to his inclusion in the original Capitoline Triad, along with Mars (then an agriculture god) and Jupiter. Overtime, however, he became less significant, and he was absent from the later, more widely known triad.

Templum Quirinus

Varro mentions the Capitolium Vetus, an earlier cult site on the Quirinal, devoted to Jupiter, Juno and Minerva. Eventually, Romans began to favor personal and mystical cults over the official state belief system.

These included those of BacchusCybele, and Isis, leaving only his Flamen to worship him. The Flamen Quirinalis who remained, however, were the patrician Flamines Maiores (Greater Flamens) who had oversight over the Pontifex Maximus.

In earlier Roman art, Quirinus was portrayed as a bearded man with religious and military clothing but was almost never depicted in later Roman belief systems. He was also often associated with the myrtle.

Even centuries after the fall of the Roman Empire, the Quirinal Hill in Rome was still associated with power. It was chosen as the seat of the royal house after the taking of Rome by the Savoia and later it became the residence of the Presidents of the Italian Republic.

Piazza del Quirinale panorama.

In Rome, Quirinus and his Quirinalia still live on today. We thank you very much for joining our celebration and look forward to having you back for further adventures.

Till next time, Don’t Stop Rome-ing!

 

References:

Brelich, Angelo. “Quirinus: una divinita’ romana alla luce della comparazione storica.” Studi e Materiali di Storia delle religioni, 1960.

Evans, Jane DeRose. The Art of Persuasion. University of Michigan Press, 1992. ISBN 0-472-10282-6.

Fishwich, Duncan. The Imperial Cult in the Latin West Brill, 2nd edition (1993). ISBN 978-90-04-07179-7.

Orlin, Eric. Foreign Cults in Rome: Creating a Roman Empire. Oxford University Press, 2010.

PlutarchLives, Romulus.

Ryberg, Inez Scott. “Was the Capitoline Triad Etruscan or Italic?”. The American Journal of Philology 52.2 (1931).

Varro. De lingua latina V.158.

Wagenvoort, H. Studies in Roman literature, culture and religion (1956).

“Quirinus”. Collins Dictionary.

“Quirinus”. Encyclopædia Britannica 1911.

Lupercalia: Purifying Ancient Rome

Welcome to Rome Across Europe!

As some may think we are going to be talking about a certain romantic celebration, we’ll stop that right now. The celebration is correct, but it’s not about romantic love.

Today we are celebrating Lupercalia!

Lupercalia by Domenico Beccafumi

In Ancient RomeLupercalia, observed 13–15 February, was an archaic rite connected to fertility. Lupercalia was a festival local to the city of Rome. The more general Festival of Juno Februa (Juno the purifier or the chaste Juno) was celebrated on 13–14 February.

Drawing of the month of February (Mensis Februarius) based on the Calendar of Philocalus (354 AD), with a caption explaining that because the wandering Manes or souls of the dead can permeate the earth in this month, “the shades” (ghosts) are placated by commemorative honors.

On the ancient Roman calendarmensis Februarius or Februarius (February) was the 2nd and shortest month, from which the English name of the month derives. It was preceded by Ianuarius (January) and followed by Martius (Mars‘ month, March).

Februarius was the only month in the pre-Julian calendar to have an even number of days (28). Ancient sources derived Februarius from februum, a thing used for ritual purification.

Most of the observances in this month concerned the dead or closure, reflecting the month’s original position at the end of the year. The Parentalia was a 9-day festival honoring the ancestors and propitiating the dead, while the Terminalia was a set of rituals pertaining to boundary stones that was probably also felt to reinforce the boundary of the year.

Bronze wolf head from 1st Century AD used to celebrate Lupercalia (Cleveland Museum of Art).

Lupercalia pastoral festival was used to avert evil spirits and purify the city, releasing health and fertility. The name Lupercalia was believed in antiquity to evince some connection with the Ancient Greek festival of the Arcadian Lykaia (from Ancient Greek: lukos, “wolf”, Latin lupus) and the worship of Lycaean Pan, assumed to be a Greek equivalent to the god Faunus, as instituted by Evander.

In Roman mythology, Lupercus is the god of shepherds with his priests wearing goatskins. His festival, celebrated on the anniversary of the founding of his temple was called the Lupercalia.

The Lupercal cave beneath the Domus Livia on the Palatine Hill (photo taken by probe).

The historian Justin mentions an image of “the Lycaean god, whom the Greeks call Pan and the Romans Lupercus,” nude save for the girdle of goatskin, which stood in the Lupercal, the cave where Romulus and Remus were suckled by a she-wolf. There, on the Ides of February (in February the Ides is the 13th), a goat and a dog were sacrificed, and salt mealcakes prepared by the Vestal Virgins were burnt.

The ancient cult of the Hirpi Sorani (Wolves of Soranus, from Sabine hirpus “wolf”) practiced at Mt. Soracte, 28 mi north of Rome. They too had common elements with the Roman Lupercalia.

Plutarch, a Greek biographer and essayist, described Lupercalia:

Lupercalia, of which many write that it was anciently celebrated by shepherds, and has also some connection with the Arcadian Lycaea. At this time many of the noble youths and of the magistrates run up and down through the city naked, for sport and laughter striking those they meet with shaggy thongs. And many women of rank also purposely get in their way, and like children at school present their hands to be struck, believing that the pregnant will thus be helped in delivery, and the barren to pregnancy.

The Lupercalia festival was partly in honor of Lupa, the she-wolf who suckled the infant orphans, Romulus and Remus, the founders of Rome, explaining the name of the festival, Lupercalia (Wolf Festival). The festival was celebrated near the cave of Lupercal on the Palatine Hill (the central hill where Rome was traditionally founded), to expiate and purify new life in the Spring.

Lupa Capitolina (The Capitoline She-Wolf) suckling the orphaned Romulus and Remus, future founders of Rome.

A known Lupercalia festival of 44 BC attests to the continuity of the festival but the Lupercal cave may have fallen into disrepair, and was later rebuilt by Augustus. It has been tentatively identified with a cavern discovered in 2007, some 50 feet below the remains of Domus Augusti (House of Augustus).

The rites were directed by the Luperci (Brothers of the Wolf), a corporation of sacerdotes (priests) of Faunus, dressed only in a goatskin. The Luperci were divided into 2 collegia, called Quinctiliani (or Quinctiales) and Fabiani, from the gens Quinctilia (or Quinctia) and gens Fabia.

The Luperci (Brothers of the Wolf) performing the rituals at the altar.

At the head of each of these colleges was a Magister. Then in 44 BC, a 3rd college, the Julii, was instituted in honor of Julius Caesar, the 1st Magister of which was Mark Antony.

Caesar Refuses the Diadem (1894), when it was offered by Mark Antony during the Lupercalia.

Antony offered Caesar a crown during the festival, an act that was widely interpreted as a sign that Caesar aspired to make himself king and was gauging the reaction of the crowd. In imperial times the members were usually of Equites.

The festival began with the sacrifice by the Luperci (or the Flamen Dialis) of 2 male goats and a dog. Next 2 young Patricii Luperci were led to the altar, to be anointed on their foreheads with the sacrificial blood, which was wiped off the bloody knife with wool soaked in milk, after which they were expected to smile and laugh.

The Lupercalian Festival in Rome (ca. 1578–1610), drawing by the circle of Adam Elsheimer, showing the Luperci dressed as dogs and goats, with Cupid and personifications of fertility.

The sacrificial feast followed, after which the Luperci cut thongs from the skins of the animals (februa), dressed themselves in the skins of the sacrificed goats (in imitation of Lupercus), and ran round the walls of the old Palatine city which was marked with stones. With thongs in each hand in 2 bands, the Luperci struck the people who crowded near.

Provoking fertility and a good pregnancy with throngs.

Girls and young women would line up on their route to receive lashes from these whips. This was supposed to ensure fertility, prevent sterility in women and ease the pains of childbirth.

By the 5th Century, when the public performance of pagan rites had been outlawed, a nominally Christian Roman populace still clung to the Lupercalia in the time of Pope Gelasius I (494–96). It had been literally degraded since the 1st Century, when in 44 BC as Consul, Mark Antony did not scruple to run with the Luperci.

Pope Gelasius I

Now the upper classes left the festivities to the rabble. Whatever the fortunes of the rites in the meantime, they prompted Pope Gelasius I’s taunt to the Senatus Romanus who was intent on preserving them:

If you assert that this rite has salutary force, celebrate it yourselves in the ancestral fashion; run nude yourselves that you may properly carry out the mockery.

The remark was addressed to the Senator Andromachus by Gelasius in an extended literary epistle that was virtually a diatribe against the Lupercalia. Gelasius finally abolished the Lupercalia after a long dispute.

St Valentine baptizing St Lucilla, Jacopo Bassano.

Some authors claim that Gelasius replaced Lupercalia with the “Feast of the Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary” (14 February) but researchers have stated that there is no written record of Gelasius ever intending a replacement of Lupercalia. Other researchers have made a separate claim that the modern customs of Saint Valentine’s Day originate from Lupercalia customs.

Still other researchers have rejected this claim, saying there is no proof that the modern customs of Saint Valentine’s Day originate from Lupercalia customs. The claim seems to originate from misconceptions about festivities.

The celebration of Saint Valentine did not have any romantic connotations until Chaucer‘s poetry about “Valentines” in the 14th Century. Popular modern sources claim links to unspecified Greco-Roman February holidays alleged to be devoted to fertility and love to St. Valentine’s Day, but prior to Chaucer in the 14th Century, there were no links between the Saints named Valentinus and romantic love.

Jupiter and Juno (aka Rome’s version of Zeus and Hera) embrace.

Earlier links as described above were focused on sacrifice rather than romantic love. In the ancient Athenian calendar the period between mid-January and mid-February was the month of Gamelion, dedicated to the sacred marriage of Zeus and Hera.

Alban Butler in his Lifes of the Principal Saints (1756–1759) claimed without proof that men and women in Lupercalia drew names from a jar to make couples, and that modern Valentine’s letters originated from this custom. In reality, this practice originated in the Middle Ages, with no link to Lupercalia, with men drawing the names of girls at random to couple with them.

Lupercalia has been written about by contemporary authors. In Horace‘s Ode III, Line 18 describes Lupercalia.

William Shakespeare‘s play Julius Caesar begins during the Lupercalia, with the tradition described above. Mark Antony is instructed by Caesar to strike his wife Calpurnia, in the hope that she will be able to conceive:

CAESAR (to Calpurnia)

Stand you directly in Antonius’ way,
When he doth run his course. Antonius!

ANTONY

Caesar, my lord?

CAESAR

Forget not, in your speed, Antonius,
To touch Calpurnia; for our elders say,
The barren touched in this holy chase,
Shake off their sterile curse.

Later, after Caesar’s assassination, Mark Antony delivers his funeral speech (Act III, Scene II, line 74) in which he refers to how, at the Lupercal, he had offered Caesar the crown three times.

ANTONY

You all did see that on the Lupercal
I thrice presented him a kingly crown,
Which he did thrice refuse: was this ambition?

Whether or not you have gotten into the romantic mindset, or just feel like running around in a goatskin, this is your day to make it happen. Remember, Lupercalia only comes once a year.

Thanks for stopping by today. We hope you enjoyed yourself and look forward to having you for furthers celebrations and adventures.

Till next time, Don’t Stop Rome-ing!

 

References:

Forsythe. Time in Roman Religion.

Scullard, H.H. Festivals and Ceremonies of the Roman Republic. Cornell University Press, 1981.

VarroDe re rustica.

Calendarium Romanum ex Decreto Sacrosancti

The Aventine Triad: Watchers of the Plebs

Welcome to Rome Across Europe!

In what little free time there is lately, we have been trying to come up with new content (or at least bring a previous article back to life with some additional content). Two days ago we brought you Liber: The Free One which made mention of his status among 3 other dieties.

So having some bit of a background on the subject, today we explore the world of the Aventine Triad!

The Aventine Triad: (from L to R) Ceres, Liber and Libera.

The Aventine Triad, also referred to as the Plebeian Triad or the Agricultural Triad, is a modern term for the joint cult of the Roman deities CeresLiber and Libera. Established around 493 BC, the cult was located within a sacred district (templum) on or near the Aventine Hill, traditionally associated with the Roman Plebs.

Later accounts describe the temple building and rites as Greek in style. Some modern historians describe the Aventine Triad as a Plebeian parallel and self-conscious converse to the antiquated Capitoline Triad of JupiterMars and Quirinus and the later Capitoline Triad of Jupiter, Minerva and Juno.

Model of what and where the Aventine Temple would be in Ancient Rome.

No trace remains of the temple building today. The historical and epigraphical record offer only sparse details to suggest its exact location.

The Aventine Triad, temple and associated ludi (games and theatrical performances) served as a focus of plebeian identity. Sometimes in said ludi were in direct opposition to Rome’s original ruling elite, the Patricians.

The Aventine relationship between Ceres, Liber and Libera was probably based first on their functions as agricultural and fertility deities of the Plebs as a distinct social group. Liber had been companion to both Ceres and to Libera in separate and disparate fertility cults that were widespread throughout the Hellenized Apennine Peninsula, long before their official adoption by Rome.

1st Century AD seated Ceres from Emerita Augusta (National Museum of Roman Art – Mérida, Spain).

As Ceres’ own cult appears to have been considered more tractable and obedient than Liber’s, her own cult was adopted in Rome far earlier. Their Aventine cults, reported in later Roman sources as distinctively Greek in character, may have been further reinforced and influenced by their Interpretatio Graeca (perceived similarities to particular Greek deities): Ceres to Demeter, Liber to Dionysus (Roman Bacchus) and Libera to Persephone (Roman Proserpina).

In keeping with Roman theology, the internal and external equivalence of the Aventine Triad remained speculative, broad and flexible. Long after its establishment, Cicero rejects the equivalence of Liber and Dionysus and asserts that Ceres is mother to Liber and Libera.

The Aventine Triad was established soon after the overthrow of the Roman Kingdom and establishment of the Republic. Rome’s majority of common citizens (Plebs) were ruled by the Patricians, a small number of powerful, landed aristocrats who asserted a traditional, exclusive right to Rome’s highest religious, political and military offices.

The Plebs not only served in Rome’s Legions, they were the backbone of its economy. Plebs were smallholders, laborers, skilled specialists, managers of landed estates, vintners, and importers and exporters of grain and wine.

Liber – the god of wine, ecstasy, winemaking, festivity, theatre and madness.

Against a background of famine in Rome, an imminent war against the Latins and a threatened Conflict of the Orders, the dictator Aulus Postumius vowed a temple to the patron deities of the Plebs (aka Ceres, Liber and Libera) on or near the Aventine Hill. The famine ended and Rome’s plebeian citizen-soldiery cooperated in the conquest of the Latins.

In 493 BC, a new built temple on or near the Aventine hill was dedicated to the Triad and Rome’s 1st recorded ludi scaenici (religious dramas) were held in honor of Liber, for the benefit of the Roman people. The Liberalia, Liber’s festival, may date from this time.

The Capitoline Triad: (from L to R) Minerva, Jupiter, and Juno.

Patrician dominance was manifest in the Capitoline Triad of Jupiter, Mars and Quirinus on the Capitoline Hill, at the heart of the city. The Capitoline temple lay within Rome’s sacred boundary (pomerium), while the Aventine lay outside it.

A bronze assarion of Septimius Severus showing Liber with a thyrsos and a bunch of grapes.

In most versions of the Roman founding myth, this was the hill on which the unfortunate Remus lost to his brother Romulus in a contest of augury to decide Rome’s foundation, name and leadership. Among other religious innovations based on his antiquarian interests, the Emperor Claudius redrew the pomerium to encompass the Aventine.

Postumius’ vow has been interpreted as a pragmatic, timely recognition of the plebeian citizenry as a distinct social and political grouping with its own values, interests and traditions. The vow may have intended confirmation of the Plebs and their deities as fully Roman, but its fulfillment focused plebeian culture and identity on a Triad of deities only part-assimilated into official Roman religion.

Libera – Fertility goddess

Some aspects of their cults were still considered morally “un-Roman” by Rome’s authorities. Thus the Aventine Triad gave the Plebs what has been variously described by modern historians as a parallel to the official Capitoline Triad, and its “copy and antithesis”.

Evidence is lacking for the earliest priesthoods of the Aventine Triad, whether in joint or individual cult to its deities. The plebeian aediles, named after their service of aedes (shrine or temple) may have acted as cult priests for their community and may have served Liber and Libera in this capacity.

Ceres was served by a Flamen Cerealis, usually a Pleb. His duties included the invocation of her assistant deities and cult service to the earth-goddess Tellus.

Libera

From as early as 205 BC, a joint mystery cult to Ceres and Proserpina was held at the Aventine Triad’s temple, in addition to its older rites. This ritus graecus cereris recognised Libera as equivalent to Proserpina, with Liber’s involvement (if any) unknown.

Initiation was reserved to women, and the cult was served by priestesses of high social caste. According to Cicero, men were to use a separate cult image or the use of the same images just in different, gender-segregated rites.

The Aventine Triad’s temple was known by the name of its leading deity, thus Roman sources describe it as the Temple of Ceres. Within the temple, though, each deity had a separate internal sanctuary (cella).

Late 18th Century porcelain model of Ceres with cereals by Dominik Auliczek of the Nymphenburg Porcelain Manufactory.

The temple served as a cult center for the patron deities of the Plebs, a sacred depository for plebeian records and the headquarters for the plebeian aediles. The minutes of decrees from the Senatus Romanus (Roman Senate) were also placed there, under the protection of Ceres as the guardian of laws on behalf of the Roman people.

While the original temple fabric and furnishings may have been funded in whole or part by its Patrician sponsors, its cult images and its maintenance were supported partly through voluntary offerings and partly through the fines collected by the plebeian aediles from those who infringed plebeian civil and religious laws. By the late Republic, it may have fallen into disrepair.

Augustus undertook its restoration, which was completed by his successor TiberiusPliny the Elder later describes its style and designers as Greek, which is further evidence of continued plebeian cultural connections with Magna Graecia.

Liber with a panther

The Plebs continued to establish and administer their own laws (plebiscita). They even went so far as to hold a formal Concilium Plebis (Plebeian Council) from which Patricians were excluded.

The Plebs elected their own magistrates and sought religious confirmation of their decisions through their own augury, which in plebeian religious tradition had been introduced by Marsyas. Meanwhile, the Plebeian Tribunes, an emergent Plebeian nobility and a small but growing number of popularist politicians of Patrician ancestry gained increasing influence over Rome’s religious life and government.

Any person who offended against the sacred rights and person of a Plebeian Tribune was liable to declaration as homo sacer, who could be killed with impunity and whose property was forfeit to Ceres. Even so, official Ludi Cereales were not established until as late as 202 BC.

Liber-Bacchus

Liber’s festival and the Bacchic or Dionysian aspects of his cult were suppressed om 186 BC under the ferocious Senatus consultum de Bacchanalibus. The Liberalia rites were transferred to Cerealia, but after a few years they were restored to Liber.

Varro‘s complex, investigative Late Republican theology groups Ceres with Tellus and Venus, therefore (in Varronian reasoning) with Victoria. Ceres was grouped with Libera, when the latter is understood as the female aspect of Liber.

We hope you enjoyed today’s journey to a far gone religious trinity. We look forward to having you join us again soon for whatever our next adventure may be.

Till next time, Don’t Stop Rome-ing!

 

References:

Ando, CliffordThe Matter of the Gods: Religion and the Roman Empire. University of California Press, 2008.

Beard, M.; Price, S.; and North, J. Religions of Rome: Volume 1, a History. Cambridge University Press, 1998.

Cornell, T. The Beginnings of Rome: Italy and Rome from the Bronze Age to the Punic Wars (c.1000–264 BC). Routledge, 1995.

Green, C.M.C. “Varro’s Three Theologies and their influence on the Fasti”, in Geraldine Herbert-Brown, (ed) Ovid’s Fasti: historical readings at its bimillennium. Oxford University Press, 2002.

LivyAb Urbe Condita.

Scheid, John. “Graeco Ritu: A Typically Roman Way of Honoring the Gods”. Harvard Studies in Classical Philology, Vol. 97. Integration, 1995.

Spaeth, Barbette Stanley. The Roman goddess Ceres. University of Texas Press, 1996.

Spaeth, Barbette Stanley. “The Goddess Ceres and the Death of Tiberius Gracchus”. Historia: Zeitschrift für Alte Geschichte, Vol. 39, No. 2 (1990).

Wiseman, T.P. Remus: A Roman Myth. Cambridge University Press, 1995.

Liber: The Free One

Hello and Welcome to Rome Across Europe!

Ancient Rome was built on 2 foundations when it came to religion, paganism and then Christianity. The common link for the pair was that both had origins in the Latin language.

We do our best to share information about both, plus it adds to the content level. Our focus for now will be on the mythology of Rome.

Today we are going to experience a freedom like no other as we explore Liber!

In ancient Roman religion Liber (The Free One) was a god of freedom. Included in this freedom was viticulture, wine, and fertility.

Also known as Liber Pater (The Free Father), he was a patron deity of Rome’s Plebeians and was part of their Aventine Triad. His festival of Liberalia (17 March) became associated with free speech and the rights attached to coming of age.

One was an agricultural and fertility goddess, Ceres, of Rome’s Hellenized neighbors. The other was Libera, who was Liber’s female equivalent.

In ancient Lavinium, Liber was a phallic deity. In Latin liber means “free” or the “free one”.

Liber Pater by Troxatu.

When coupled with pater, it means The Free Father. He was supposed to personify freedom and champion its attendant rights, as opposed to dependent servitude.

The word liber is also understood in regard of the concept libation, ritual offering of drink, which in Greek relates to spondé, literally related to English ‘to spend’. Roman writers of the late Republic and early Empire offer various etymological and poetic speculations based on this trope, to explain certain features of Liber’s cult.

Liber entered Rome’s historical tradition soon after the overthrow of the Rēgnum Rōmānum (Roman Kingdom), the establishment of the Republic and the first of many threatened or actual Secessio Plebis (Secession of the Plebs) from Rome’s Patrician authority. According to Livy, the dictator A. Postumius vowed games (ludi) and a joint public temple to a Triad of Ceres, Liber and Libera on Rome’s Aventine Hill, c.496 BC.

In 493 the vow was fulfilled. The new Aventine temple was dedicated and ludi scaenici (religious dramas) were held in honor of Liber, for the benefit of the Roman people.

These early ludi scaenici have been suggested as the earliest of their kind in Rome, and may represent the earliest official festival to Liber, or an early form of his Liberalia festival. The formal, official development of the Aventine Triad may have encouraged the assimilation of its individual deities to Greek equivalents: Ceres to Demeter, Liber to Dionysus and Libera to Persephone or Kore.

Statue of the Capitoline Triad

Liber’s patronage of Rome’s largest, least powerful class of citizens (the Plebs) associates him with particular forms of Plebeian disobedience to the civil and religious authority claimed by Rome’s Republican Patrician elite. The Aventine Triad has been described as parallel to the Capitoline Triad of JupiterMars and Quirinus on the Capitoline Hill.

The Aventine Triad was apparently installed at the behest of the Sibylline Books but Liber’s position within it seems equivocal from the outset. He was a god of the grape and of wine.

His early ludi scaenici virtually defined their genre thereafter as satirical, subversive theatre in a lawful religious context. Some aspects of his cults remained potentially un-Roman and offered a focus for civil disobedience.

Liber Pater

Liber asserted Plebeian rights to ecstatic release, self-expression and free speech. After all, he was Liber Pater, the Free Father who was a divine personification of liberty, father of Plebeian wisdoms and Plebeian augury.

Liber’s cult and functions were increasingly associated with Romanized forms of the Greek Dionysus/Bacchus, whose mythology he came to share. Before his official adoption as a Roman deity, Liber was companion to 2 different goddesses in 2 separate, archaic Italian fertility cults.

Liber was closely, often interchangeably identified with Bacchus, Dionysius and their mythology but was not entirely incorporated by them. In the late Republican era, Cicero could insist on the “non-identity of Liber and Dionysus” and describe Liber and Libera as children of Ceres.

Triumph of Bacchus and Ariadne by Annibale Carracci.

Liber, like his Aventine companions, carried various aspects of his older cults into official Roman religion. He protected various aspects of agriculture and fertility, including the vine and the “soft seed” of its grapes, wine and wine vessels, and male fertility and virility.

As his divine power was incarnate in the vine, grape and wine, he was offered the first, sacred pressing of the grape-harvest, known as sacrima. The wine produced under Liber’s patronage was his gift to humankind, and therefore fit for profane (non-religious) use.

It could be mixed with old wine for the purposes of fermentation, and otherwise adulterated and diluted according to taste and circumstance. For religious purposes, it was ritually impure (vinum spurcum).

Seated with a wine cup

Roman religious law required that the libations offered to the gods in their official cults should be vinum inferum, a strong wine of pure vintage, also known as temetum. It was made from the best of the crop, selected and pressed under the patronage of Rome’s sovereign deity Jupiter and ritually purified by his Flamen (senior priest).

Liber’s role in viniculture and wine-making was thus both matching and subservient to Jupiter’s. Liber also personified male procreative power, which was ejaculated as the “soft seed” of human and animal semen.

His temples held the image of a phallus. In Lavinium, this was the principal focus for his month-long festival, when according to St. Augustine, the “dishonorable member” was placed “on a little trolley” and taken in procession around the local crossroad shrines, then to the local forum for its crowning by an honorable matron.

The rites ensured the growth of seeds and repelled any malicious enchantment (fascinatus) from fields. Liber’s festivals are timed to the springtime awakening and renewal of fertility in the agricultural cycle.

In Rome, his annual Liberalia public festival was held on 17 March. A portable shrine was also carried through Rome’s neighborhoods (vici).

Parade for Liber

Liber’s aged, ivy-crowned priestesses offered honey cakes for sale, and offered sacrifice on behalf of those who bought them. The discovery of honey was credited to Liber-Bacchus.

Embedded within Liberalia, more or less at a ritualistic level, were the various freedoms and rights attached to Roman ideas of virility as a divine and natural force. Young men celebrated their coming of age as they cut off, and dedicated, their 1st beards to their household Lares.

If the men were citizens they wore their 1st toga virilis (manly toga). The poet Ovid, perhaps by way of poetic etymology, instead called the toga virilistoga libera (Liber’s toga or Toga of Freedom).

To the Forum for Liberalia

These new citizens registered their citizenship at the forum and were then free to vote, to leave their father’s domus (household), choose a marriage partner and, thanks to Liber’s endowment of virility, father their own children. Ovid also emphasizes the less formal freedoms and rights of Liberalia, such as an opportunity for uninhibited talking.

Very little is known of Liber’s official and unofficial cults during the early to middle Republican era. Their Dionysiac or Bacchic elements seem to have been regarded as tolerably ancient, home-grown and manageable by Roman authorities until 186 BC, shortly after the end of the Second Punic War.

Livy, writing 200 years after the event, gives a highly theatrical account of the Bacchanalia‘s introduction by a foreign soothsayer, a “Greek of mean condition… a low operator of sacrifices”. The cult then spread in secret, “like a plague”.

The lower classes – Plebeians, women, the young, morally weak and effeminate males (“men most like women”) – were all particularly susceptible for all such persons have leuitas animi (fickle or uneducated minds). But even Rome’s elite were not immune.

Celebrating Liberalia

The Bacchanalia‘s priestesses urge their deluded flock to break all social and sexual boundaries, even to visit ritual murder on those who oppose them or betray their secrets. Livy’s dramatis personae, stylistic flourishes and tropes probably draw on Roman satyr-plays rather than the Bacchanalia themselves.

Pliny the Elder describes the Aventine Triad’s temple as designed by Greek architects, and typically Greek in style. Although no trace remains of it, and the historical and epigraphical record offers only sparse details to suggest its exact location, so Pliny’s description may be further evidence of time-honored and persistent Plebeian cultural connections with Magna Graecia, well into the Imperial era.

Vitruvius recommends that Liber’s temples follow an Ionic Greek model, as a “just measure between the severe manner of the Doric and the tenderness of the Corinthian,” respectful of the deity’s part-feminine characteristics.

The Via Labicana Augustus—Augustus as Pontifex Maximus.

During the start of the Empire, Augustus successfully courted the Plebs supported their patron deities and began the restoration of the Aventine Triad’s temple. It was re-dedicated by his successor, Tiberius.

Septimius Severus inaugurated his reign and dynasty with games to honor Liber/Shadrapa and Hercules/Melqart, the Romanized founding hero-deities of his native town, Lepcis Magna (North Africa).  Severus then built them a massive temple and arch in Rome.

The reverse of a coin of Septimius Severus showing Liber Pater with a panther.

Even later during the Empire, Liber Pater was of 1 of many deities served by the scholarly, deeply religious Senator Vettius Agorius Praetextatus (c. AD 315 – 384). A Bacchic community shrine dedicated to Liber Pater was established in Cosa (in modern Tuscany), probably during the 4th Century AD.

Said shrine remained in use for decades after the edicts of Theodosius in 391 and 392 AD outlawing paganism. Its abandonment, or perhaps its destruction by zealous Christians, was so abrupt that much of its cult paraphernalia survived virtually intact beneath the building’s later collapse.

Around the end of the 5th Century, in Orosius‘s Seven Books of History Against the Pagans, Liber Pater‘s mythic conquest of India is taken as an historical event. It was said to have left a harmless, naturally peaceful nation “dripping with blood, full of corpses, and polluted with [Liber’s] lusts.”

Household Gods

Gods named Liber and Libera play a major role in the science fiction/time-travel novel Household Gods by Harry Turtledove and Judith Tarr.

We hope you enjoyed today’s journey into the religion of old, and look forward to having you join us again soon. Who knows what we’ll be exploring?

Till next time, Don’t Stop Rome-ing!

 

References:

Beard, Mary. The Roman Triumph. The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2007.

Beard, M.; Price, S.; North, J. Religions of Rome: Volume 1, a History, illustrated, Cambridge University Press, 1998.

Bowman, A.; Cameron, A.; Garnsey, P. (Eds). “The Crisis of Empire, AD 193-337”. The Cambridge Ancient History, 2nd edition, Volume 12 (2005).

Cicero. De Natura Deorum.

Collins-Clinton, Jaquelyn. “A late antique shrine of Liber Pater at Cosa”. Etudes Preliminaires aux Religions Orientales dans l’Empire Romain, Volume 64. BRILL, 1977.

Green, C.M.C. “Varro’s Three Theologies and their influence on the Fasti”, in Geraldine Herbert-Brown, (ed)., Ovid’s Fasti: historical readings at its bimillennium. Oxford University Press, 2002.

Grimal, Pierre. The Dictionary of Classical Mythology. Wiley-Blackwell, 1996. ISBN 978-0-631-20102-1.

Matthews, J. F. “Symmachus and the Oriental Cults”. The Journal of Roman Studies, Vol. 63 (1973).

Orosius, Paulus. Seven Books of History Against the Pagans (trans. and ed. A T Fear). Liverpool University Press, 2010.

Pliny. Historia Naturalis. Tufts.edu

Rouselle, Robert. “Liber-Dionysus in Early Roman Drama”. The Classical Journal, 82, 3 (1987).

Rykwert, Joseph. The Dancing Column: On Order in Architecture. Massachusetts Institute of Technology Press, 1996.

Spaeth, Barbette StanleyThe Roman goddess Ceres. University of Texas Press, 1996

Tacitus. Annals.

Takács, Sarolta A. Vestal Virgins, Sibyls, and Matrons: Women in Roman Religion. University of Texas Press, 2008.

Takács, Sarolta A. “Politics and Religion in the Bacchanalian Affair of 186 BCE”. Harvard Studies in Classical Philology, Vol. 100, (2000).

Wiseman, T.P. Remus: a Roman myth. Cambridge University Press, 1995.

College of Pontiffs: An Old World Tradition in the Modern Era

Welcome to Rome Across Europe!

Last week we explored a primarily religious role in Ancient Rome that ended up bleeding over into the government when we uncovered the Pontifex Maximus. For further information on this role please check out both Pontifex Maximus: The Greatest Bridge-Builder and Pontifex Maximus: From the Republic’s End to the Present.

Exploring that supreme position leads us into today’s journey as we discover the College of Pontiffs!

College of Pontiffs

The College of Pontiffs (LatinCollegium Pontificum) was a body of the ancient Roman state whose members were the highest-ranking priests of the state religion. The college consisted of the Pontifex Maximus and the other Pontifices, the Rex Sacrorum, the 15 Flamines, and the Vestales.

Goddess (Vesta or Concordia), extending a patera, emblem of the Epulones.

The College of Pontiffs was 1 of the 4 major priestly colleges of Rome. The others were the Augurs (who read omens), the Quindecimviri Sacris Faciundis (15 men who carry out the rites), and the Epulones (who set up feasts at festivals).

The title Pontifex comes from the Latin for Bridge Builder, a possible allusion to a very early role in placating the gods and spirits associated with the Tiber River. Ancient Roman scholar and writer Varro cites this position as meaning “able to do”.

The Pontifex Maximus was the most important member of the college. Until 104 BC, the Pontifex Maximus held the sole power in appointing members to the other priesthoods in the college.

The Flamens were priests in charge of 15 official cults of Roman religion, each assigned to a particular god. The 3 Major Flamens (Flamines Maiores) were the Flamen Dialis (High Priest of Jupiter), the Flamen Martialis (High Priest of Mars), and the Flamen Quirinalis (High Priest of Quirinus).

Flamines, distinguished by their pointed headdress, as part of a procession on the Augustan Altar of Peace.

The deities cultivated by the 12 Flamines Minores were Carmenta, CeresFalacer, FloraFurrina, Palatua, Pomona, Portunes, Volcanus (Vulcan), Volturnus, and 2 whose names are lost.

One of their most important duties was their guardianship of the Libri Pontificales (Pontifical Books). Among these were the ActaAnnales (yearly records of magistrates and important events), Fasti,  Indigitamenta, Ritualia (rituals) and Commentarii. These items were under the sole possession of the College of Pontiffs and only they were allowed to consult these items when necessary.

The Lex Acilia de Intercalando bestowed power on the college to manage the calendar. Thus, they determined the days which religious and political meetings could be held, when sacrifices could be offered, votes cast, and senatorial decisions brought forth.

The most prominent feature of the ruins that were once the Temple of Vesta is the hearth (seen here in the foreground).

The Vestal Virgins were the only female members of the college. They were in charge of guarding Rome’s sacred hearth, keeping the flame burning inside the Temple of Vesta.

Young girls were chosen for this position between ages 6 to 10 years old. These girls were obligated to perform the rites and obligations, including remaining chaste, for 30 years.

Membership in the various colleges of priests, including the College of Pontiffs, was usually an honor offered to members of politically powerful or wealthy families. Membership for the male priests was for life, while the female Vestal Virgins had a time limit.

During the Rēgnum Rōmānum of Roman history, the Pontiffs were primarily Concilia (Advisers) of the kings. However, after the expulsion of the last Roman King in 510 BC, the College of Pontiffs became religious advisers to the Roman Senate.

Chief Pontiff Lepidus (seated), Antony and Octavian in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar (c. 42 BC).

As the most important of the 4 priestly colleges, the College of Pontiffs’ duties involved advising the Senate on issues pertaining to the gods, the supervision of the calendar and thus the supervision of ceremonies with their specific rituals, and the appeasement of the gods upon the appearance of omens.

In the early Res Publica Romana, only Pātriciī (Patricians) could become priests. However, that changed in 300 BC when the Lex Ogulnia opened up college to Plebeians.

Until the 3rd Century BC, the Collegium elected the Pontifex Maximus from their own number. The right of the Collegium to elect their own Pontifex Maximus was returned, but the circumstances surrounding this are unclear.

This changed again after Sulla, when in response to his reforms, the election of the Pontifex Maximus was once again placed in the hands of an assembly of 17 of the 25 tribes. However, the College still controlled which candidates the assembly voted on.

The Regia

The College of Pontiffs occupied the Regia during the early Republican Period, replacing the religious authority that was once held by the king. A position, the Rex Sacrorum, was even created to replace the king for purposes of religious ceremonies.

Prior to the start of the Imperium Rōmānum, the office was publicly elected from the candidates of existing Pontiffs. This changed when Julius Caesar automatically assumed the title of Pontifex Maximus upon taking control of Rome, and the Emperors from Augustus on simply followed suit.

The Pontifex Maximus was also a powerful political position to hold, and the candidates for office were often very active political members of the College. Many, such as Julius Caesar, went on to hold Consulships during their time as Pontifex Maximus.

Augury

The Pontiffs were assisted by Pontifical Clerks or Scribes (Scribae). This position was known in the earlier Republican period as a Scriba Pontificius, but by the Augustan period as a Pontifex Minorum.

Pontifex Minorum assisted at the rite (Res Divina) for Juno performed each Kalends, the first day of the month. He took up a position in the Curia Calabra, a sacred precinct (templum) on the Capitoline Hill, to observe the new moon.

Around AD 440, when Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire, Pope Leo I began using the title Pontifex Maximus to emphasize the authority of the Pope. The term Chief Priests in the New Testament (e.g. Mark 15:11) is translated as Pontifices in the Latin Vulgate and High Priest as Pontifex in Hebrews 2:17.

A hip logo

We hope you enjoyed concluding our journey of the Pontifex Maximus and the College of Pontiffs. Thanks for stopping by and we look forward to having you back again soon.

Till next time, Don’t Stop Rome-ing!

 

References:

Beard, Mary. “Roman Priesthoods” in Civilization of the Ancient Mediterranean: Greece and Rome. 3 vols. Scribner’s, 1988.

Cameron, Alan. “The Imperial Pontifex”. Harvard Studies in Classical Philology, 2007.

Dionysius of Halicarnassus. Roman Antiquities II. Loeb Classical Library, Harvard University Press.

Forsythe, Gary. A Critical History of Early Rome: From Prehistory to the First Punic War. University of California Press, 1 January 2006. ISBN 978-0-520-24991-2.

Lanciani, Rodolfo. New Tales of Ancient Rome. Kessinger Publishing, 2005. ISBN 978-1-41790821-9.

North, John A. “The Constitution of the Roman Republic” in A Companion to Roman Religion. Blackwell, 2010.

Plutarch. “Numa: The Institutions of Roman Religion, 7th Cent. BCE”.

Richardson, Lawrence. A New Topographical Dictionary of Ancient Rome. Johns Hopkins University Press, 1992.

Rüpke, Jörg. “Communicating with the Gods” in A Companion to Roman Religion. Blackwell, 2010.

Rüpke, Jörg. The Roman Calendar from Numa to Constantine: Time, History, and the Fasti. Wiley-Blackwell, 2011.

Szemler, G.J. The Priests of the Republic: A Study of the Interactions between Priesthoods and Magistracies. Collection Latomus, 1972.

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