Sacerdotal colleges in early Rome and reception practice

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The interaction of ancient Rome with the surrounding world actively manifested in different aspects - from urban planning traditions to clothing. At the same time, sacral sphere did not stay on the sidelines and the above interaction found quite distinct and clear expression in sacral sphere.

The religious sphere of ancient Rome in the kings and early Republican era has passed a very long way in its development - from quite primitive beliefs of the rural community to a fully developed and extensive system of worship with anthropomorphic deities, temples, specially established sacerdotal colleges and thoroughly worded ceremonies. One of the main directions in such «improvement» of the Roman religion was a permanent process of borrowing of deities and sacred practices of other tribes and peoples. At first it was expressed in merging and streamlining of cults formed the Rome community, and then - in the active «import foreign gods», based on dynamic views of the Romans and their permanent military expansion.

Most brightly such receptio (retraction) of foreign (primarily Etruscan and Greek) gods in Roman sacral sphere manifested in the practice of «evocatio» - set of techniques «poaching» foreign gods on Roman side, used to apply to the procedure for drawing a foreign tutelary god to Rome. In Saturnalia, Macrobius calls it a vetustissima Romanorum mos (most ancient custom of the Romans), designed to lure the foreign god, from his post defending the foreign city, by the promise of games and temples. It is in this way Furius Camillus addressed Veiians Juno in 396 BC, and Scipio Aemilianus - to the gods of Carthage in 149 BC. At the same time, of course, the above process had very significant social consequences. First of all, they are manifested in the emergence of new priests and their organization in the special colleges, gradual expansion of their functions, and so on. This aspect of the sacred life of early Rome will be considered in this article. To do this, it is necessary to select and as possible completely to characterize the main phases and varieties of receptio (inclusion) of sacerdotis (priests) associated with the «foreign» cults, in the sacred sphere of Rome - since its foundation until the end of III century BC.

Formation of Roman sacral sphere in the given aspect took place in two main stages. On the first stage, covering almost the entire Kings period, it has been basically formed a certain set of so-called dii indigentes («sourdough») and sacerdotis (priests) to serve them. This formation held in two different ways. Firstly, simultaneously with the process of association of a number of Latin and the Italic settlements in Roman civitas proceeded the merge of their disparate cults, as well as the gradual formation of syncretic all-Roman religion by giving city (state) status to deities of individual communities and tribes. Similarly formed cults of Mars, Quirinus, Janus, Vesta, ie deities, symbolizing the environment, borders and sacred center of the community.

Cults of Mars and Quirinus, the guardian deities of the Latin community of the Palatine and Sabine community of the Quirinal, originally served by priesthood collectives based on consanguinity and first of all carried out the function of protecting territory of the communities from the a hostile external forces. These ancient priesthood collectives are fratres Arvales («Arval Brethren»), according to tradition, occurred when Romulus, and salii Palatini (Palatine salii or Mars salii), officially established by Numa Pompilius (Plut. Numa. 13), and salii Collini («salii of hills» or Quirinus salii) received state status during the reign of Tullus Hostilius (Dion. Hal. III. 32. 4). Perhaps, to the same group of priesthood collectives could be considered Luperci, certain rituals of which (such as running around the Palatine, sacrifice of a dog, and so on (Serv. Aen. VIII.; Ovid. Fast. II), also suggest a link with Mars or similar deity. In addition, when Numa Pompilius, emerged individual sacerdotis (priests) – flamenis of Mars and Quirinus (Liv. I. 20; Plut. Numa. 7). Sacerdotal function in the cult of Janus, apparently, executed by the king (in the Republic period - rex sacrorum), and in the cult of Vesta - collegium of the Vestal Virgins, closely related to rex, and, according to some researchers, even initially consisted of the king's daughters.

Of course, all the above deities, cults and priests are very broad parallels in the plurality of the peoples (nations) of antiquity - from the Greeks to the Scythians. However, on this basis it can not be concluded that they were borrowed. Apparently, the similarity may be due to a similar level of development of the Early Roman and other archaic societies, primarily Indo-European.

Secondly, when the first kings of Rome came into close contact with its immediate neighbors - the Italics, Etruscans and Latins, which were originally not part of the Roman urban community. One of the most significant results of this interaction was the replenishment of the Roman pantheon by deities of the Italian, Latin and Etruscan cities. In particular, the assumption of W. Fowler («The religious experience of the Roman people»), the cult of Jupiter (which was gradually moved into first place in the sacred sphere of Rome), was borrowed from Alba Longa, which had long been connected with the city of Rome and conquered by Tullus Hostilius using «deditio» formula. According to this formula, defeated passed to the Roman king «all divine and human», including their deities and their sanctuaries. Apparently, initially, the function of the sacerdos (priest) of Jupiter performed rex (king) himself, and then, as a result of the so-called «Numa reform» this sacred obligation transferred to a special flamen of Jupiter - flamen Dialis (Cic. De rep. II. 26).

To all appearances, contacts with the Italic peoples had also led to borrowing (receptio) from them ius fetiale: according to the Roman tradition, Ancus Marcius borrowed it from Aequicolae (Liv. I. 32). With this same process was directly related to the establishment of the collegium (college) of fetials in charge of the sacred side of international relations. Even more important consequences for the Roman sacred sphere was the interaction with the Etruscans - the people, certainly more civilized than the first Romans, including the field of religious practice. Apparently, it was borrowed from the Etruscan system of specialized colleges of sacerdotis (priests) and divination techniques, and strict regulation of the cult. Borrowed techniques guessing will of the gods (divinatio) were divided into two basic groups - by heavenly signs (including a flight of birds) and by the entrails of sacrificial animals. The first of these divination systems became the property of the representatives of one of the ancient sacerdotal institutions – augurs, they originally performed rituals associated with fertility (augurium), and, when Numa, were organized in special collegium (Cic. De rep. II. 26). The second method of divination, until its prohibition in the IV century AD, was in the hands of haruspices, always occurs from Etruria, specially invited to Rome for the perpetration of a particularly important divinations and organized in a special collegium only at the end of the Republic, or even at the beginning of the Empire (Gell. IV. 5; Cic. Har. 25).

All the deities included in the Roman pantheon on considered stage, called by the Romans dii indigentes. The sacerdotis (priests) who serve their cults (flamens and vestals), first were subordinate to the rex (king), and then to the Collegium Pontificum (College of Pontiffs). For example, the functions of the pontifex maximus (supreme pontiff) included punishment of vestals if they violate their sacred purity (Liv. XXVIII. 11. 6; Dion. Hal. II. 67), participated in the dedication of flamens (Cic. Phil. II. 43) as well as their purpose (Liv. XXVII. 8). In general, the pontiffs had acted as the main guardians of the pax deorum, and demonstrated a significant similarity with the Etruscan sacerdotis (priests): the range of considered college duties included not only the overall management of religious activities at all levels (Liv. I. 20), but also to preserve a certain amount of positive knowledge, including the rudiments of law and historiography (Mommsen. The History of Rome). It is also curious that the cults of dii indigentes and the mentioned divination system (including purely Etruscan haruspicies) up to the spread of Christianity considered by the Roman authors as the basis of «mores ancestors» - the primordial beginnings of Roman life, opposing «alien superstition» (Liv. XXXI. 16; De nat. deor. II).

The second phase of the process began with the fact that the last Roman king Tarquinius Superbus bought the Sibylline books of the Temple of Apollo at Cumae (Dion. Hal. IV. 62). In this was manifested the openness of the Roman sacred sphere for religious practices of other nations, this time - the Greeks. Since the end of the VI century BC Greek oracles gradually becoming more and more prestige among the Roman people. Thus, the number of appeals to the libri fatales, mentioned in the sources, is not inferior mentions of consultations with the pontiffs, augurs or haruspices. Established for the interpretation of the Sibylline special college - decemviri (quindecimviri) sacris faciundis simultaneously strengthened its religious and socio-political significance.

It is known that initially this sacred organization comprised of only two priests (duumviri sacris faciundis), involved only the interpretation of oracles, and was subject to the king (Dion. Hal. IV. 62). However, in the era of the Republic, it had been broadened (up to 10 and 15 priests) twice (in 367 and 81 BC), had acquired sufficient autonomy and greatly increased its functions: simple priests of sacris faciundis become guides of foreign cults for Roman society. It is their efforts were set feasts, games, services in honor of Apollo, Hercules, Diana, Mercury, Neptune etc., and constructed their temples and statues (Liv. V. 13; XXV. 12). Thus, not by formula of «evocatio» or «deditio», in the Roman pantheon by order of the Sibylline books gradually were included a significant number of Greek gods. Similarly, in Rome emerged cults of Etruscan Juno Regina (Liv. XXVII. 37) and the Great Mother of Asia Minor (Liv. XXIX. 11). Furthermore, according to consultations with this «sacred college» in the religious practice of Rome, new forms of worship to the gods had been introduced - supplicatio (solemn procession in Greek robes) and lectisternia (feasts in honor of the gods), which quickly became very popular. Often, these ceremonies were led by priests of sacris faciundis (Liv. XXV. 12).

So was formed second important group of Roman deities - dii novensides, is run by a special «sacred college» rather than the traditional pontiffs, but it plays a very significant role in the religious life of Rome. In addition, since 217 BC lectisternia have been held for the Roman gods, which gradually began to identify and assimilate to the Greek gods, this led to further strengthened the authority of the priests of sacris faciundis.

Since III-II centuries BC it became clear that the Roman religious sphere (at least officially) still not so open to the foreign influences. Pouring into City orgiastic and mystery cults and their attendant priests such as eunuchs who served the Great Mother, met enough fierce resistance from the priesthood collectives, which had already becаme traditional and quite consistent with the Roman practicality (these included not only the pontiffs, but also Etruscan haruspices and priests of sacris faciundis). This resistance was manifested in the prohibition for Roman citizens to become priests of the Great Mother (203 ВС), in the case of bacchanalia (183 ВС), and generally in the mandatory «registration» for all religions. Thus, for some time orientalization of Roman religion was suspended, however, in the era of the Empire it turned with renewed vigor.

Thus, the conversion of «foreign» cults and priests (including priesthood collectives) in «own» cults and priests at different stages of the history of Rome proceeded in various forms. Initially, it was the adoption of the Italic-Etruscan deities and religious practices as a result of close contact, include, among other things, rites (formulas) «evocatio» and «deditio». Later it came to the fore borrowing Greek cults, held, first of all, by a college of interpreters of Sibylline books. Despite the difference in terms of borrowed gods and rites, Italic-Etruscan and Greek deities gradually made a single syncretic pantheon, and their priests (including priesthood collectives) started functioning in the framework of the official religious system. This system came to be regarded as the basis of «mos maiorum», opposes to the foreign Eastern cults.

Thus, even in the religious sphere of ancient Rome from the very beginning of its existence clearly shown one of the most significant features of the culture of this state - reception and assimilation of the spiritual and the practical experience of other nations. After some time borrowed elements began to be considered, even as a «native» and served as a cornerstone in the foundation of the Roman civilization.


T. Fl. Severus