The vocabulary of ancient Roman religion was highly specialized. Its study affords important information about the religion, traditions and beliefs of the ancient Romans. This legacy is conspicuous in European cultural history in its influence on later juridical and religious vocabulary in Europe, particularly of the Western Church. This glossary provides explanations of concepts as they were expressed in Latin pertaining to religious practices and beliefs, with links to articles on major topics such as priesthoods, forms of divination, and rituals. For theonyms, or the names and epithets of gods, see List of Roman deities. For public religious holidays, see Roman festivals. For temples see the List of Ancient Roman temples. Individual landmarks of religious topography in ancient Rome are not included in this list; see Roman temple. __NOTOC__




The verb ''abominari'' ("to avert an omen", from ''ab-'', "away, off," and ''ominari'', "to pronounce on an omen") was a term of augury for an action that rejects or averts an unfavourable omen indicated by a ''signum'', "sign". The noun is ''abominatio'', from which English "abomination" derives. At the taking of formally solicited auspices (''auspicia impetrativa''), the observer was required to acknowledge any potentially bad sign occurring within the ''templum'' he was observing, regardless of the interpretation. He might, however, take certain actions in order to ignore the ''signa'', including avoiding the sight of them, and interpreting them as favourable. The latter tactic required promptness, wit and skill based on discipline and learning. Thus the omen had no validity apart from the observation of it.


The ''aedes'' was the dwelling place of a god. It was thus a structure that housed the deity's image, distinguished from the ''templum'' or sacred district. ''Aedes'' is one of several Latin words that can be translated as "shrine" or "temple"; see also ''delubrum'' and ''fanum''. For instance, the Temple of Vesta, as it is called in English, was in Latin an ''aedes''. See also the diminutive ''aedicula'', a small shrine. In his work ''On Architecture'', Vitruvius always uses the word ''templum'' in the technical sense of a space defined through augury, with ''aedes'' the usual word for the building itself. The design of a deity's ''aedes'', he writes, should be appropriate to the characteristics of the deity. For a celestial deity such as Jupiter, Coelus, Sol or Luna, the building should be open to the sky; an ''aedes'' for a god embodying ''virtus'' (valour), such as Minerva, Mars, or Hercules, should be Doric and without frills; the Corinthian order is suited for goddesses such as Venus, Flora, Proserpina and the Lymphae; and the Ionic is a middle ground between the two for Juno, Diana, and Father Liber. Thus in theory, though not always in practice, architectural aesthetics had a theological dimension. The word ''aedilis'' (aedile), a public official, is related by etymology; among the duties of the aediles was the overseeing of public works, including the building and maintenance of temples. The temple ''(aedes)'' of Flora, for instance, was built in 241 BC by two aediles acting on Sibylline oracles. The plebeian aediles had their headquarters at the ''aedes'' of Ceres.


In religious usage, ''ager'' (territory, country, land, region) was terrestrial space defined for the purposes of augury in relation to ''auspicia''. There were five kinds of ''ager'': ''Romanus, Gabinus, peregrinus, hosticus'' and ''incertus''. The ''ager Romanus'' originally included the urban space outside the pomerium and the surrounding countryside. According to Varro, the ''ager Gabinus'' pertained to the special circumstances of the ''oppidum'' of Gabii, which was the first to sign a sacred treaty ''(pax)'' with Rome. The ''ager peregrinus'' was other territory that had been brought under treaty ''(pacatus)''. ''Ager hosticus'' meant foreign territory; ''incertus'', "uncertain" or "undetermined," that is, not falling into one of the four defined categories. The powers and actions of magistrates were based on and constrained by the nature of the ''ager'' on which they stood, and ''ager'' in more general usage meant a territory as defined legally or politically. The ''ager Romanus'' could not be extended outside Italy ''(terra Italia)''.


The focal point of sacrifice was the altar (''ara'', plural ''arae''). Most altars throughout the city of Rome and in the countryside would have been simple, open-air structures; they may have been located within a sacred precinct (''templum''), but often without an ''aedes'' housing a cult image. An altar that received food offerings might also be called a ''mensa'', "table." Perhaps the best-known Roman altar is the elaborate and Greek-influenced Ara Pacis, which has been called "the most representative work of Augustan art." Other major public altars included the Ara Maxima.

arbor felix

A tree ''(arbor)'' was categorized as ''felix'' if it was under the protection of the heavenly gods ''(di superi)''. The adjective ''felix'' here means not only literally "fruitful" but more broadly "auspicious". Macrobius lists ''arbores felices'' (plural) as the oak (four species thereof), the birch, the hazelnut, the sorbus, the white fig, the pear, the apple, the grape, the plum, the cornus and the lotus. The oak was sacred to Jupiter, and twigs of oak were used by the Vestals to ignite the sacred fire in March every year. Also among the ''felices'' were the olive tree, a twig of which was affixed to the hat of the Flamen Dialis, and the laurel and the poplar, which crowned the Salian priests. ''Arbores infelices'' were those under the protection of chthonic gods or those gods who had the power of turning away misfortune (''avertentium''). As listed by Tarquitius Priscus in his lost ''ostentarium'' on trees, these were buckthorn, red cornel, fern, black fig, "those that bear a black berry and black fruit," holly, woodland pear, butcher's broom, briar, and brambles."


The verb ''attrectare'' ("to touch, handle, lay hands on") referred in specialized religious usage to touching sacred objects while performing cultic actions. ''Attrectare'' had a positive meaning only in reference to the actions of the ''sacerdotes populi Romani'' ("priests of the Roman people"). It had the negative meaning of "contaminate" (= ''contaminare)'' or pollute when referring to the handling of sacred objects by those not authorized, ordained, or ritually purified.


An augur (Latin plural ''augures'') was an official and priest who solicited and interpreted the will of the gods regarding a proposed action. The augur ritually defined a ''templum'', or sacred space, declared the purpose of his consultation, offered sacrifice, and observed the signs that were sent in return, particularly the actions and flight of birds. If the augur received unfavourable signs, he could suspend, postpone or cancel the undertaking (''obnuntiatio''). "Taking the auspices" was an important part of all major official business, including inaugurations, senatorial debates, legislation, elections and war, and was held to be an ancient prerogative of Regal and patrician magistrates. Under the Republic, this right was extended to other magistrates. After 300 BC, plebeians could become augurs.


The solicitation of formal auspices required the marking out of ritual space (''auguraculum'') from within which the augurs observed the ''templum'', including the construction of an augural tent or hut (''tabernaculum''). There were three such sites in Rome: on the citadel (''arx''), on the Quirinal Hill, and on the Palatine Hill. Festus said that originally the ''auguraculum'' was in fact the ''arx''. It faced east, situating the north on the augur's left or lucky side. A magistrate who was serving as a military commander also took daily auspices, and thus a part of camp-building while on campaign was the creation of a ''tabernaculum augurale''. This augural tent was the center of religious and legal proceedings within the camp.


''Augurium'' (plural ''auguria'') is an abstract noun that pertains to the augur. It seems to mean variously: the "sacral investiture" of the augur; the ritual acts and actions of the augurs; augural law ''(ius augurale)''; and recorded signs whose meaning had already been established. The word is rooted in the IE stem ''*aug-'', "to increase," and possibly an archaic Latin neuter noun ''*augus'', meaning "that which is full of mystic force." As the sign that manifests the divine will,Schilling, "Augurs and Augury," ''Roman and European Mythologies'', p. 115. the ''augurium'' for a magistrate was valid for a year; a priest's, for his lifetime; for a temple, it was perpetual. The distinction between ''augurium'' and ''auspicium'' is often unclear. ''Auspicia'' is the observation of birds as signs of divine will, a practice held to have been established by Romulus, first king of Rome, while the institution of augury was attributed to his successor Numa. For Servius, an ''augurium'' is the same thing as ''auspicia impetrativa'', a body of signs sought through prescribed ritual means. Some scholars think ''auspicia'' would belong more broadly to the magistracies and the ''patres'' while the ''augurium'' would be limited to the ''rex sacrorum'' and the major priesthoods. Ancient sources record three ''auguria'': the ''augurium salutis'' in which every year the gods were asked whether it was ''fas'' (permissible, right) to ask for the safety of the Roman people (August 5); the ''augurium canarium'', a dog sacrifice to promote the maturation of grain crops, held in the presence of the pontiffs as well as the augurs; and the ''vernisera auguria'' mentioned by Festus, which should have been a springtime propitiary rite held at the time of the harvest (''auguria messalia'').


The ''auspex'', plural ''auspices'', is a diviner who reads omens from the observed flight of birds (''avi-'', from ''avis'', "bird", with ''-spex'', "observer", from ''spicere''). See ''auspicia'' following and auspice.


The ''auspicia'' (''au-'' = ''avis'', "bird"; ''-spic-'', "watch") were originally signs derived from observing the flight of birds within the ''templum'' of the sky. Auspices are taken by an augur. Originally they were the prerogative of the patricians, but the college of augurs was opened to plebeians in 300 BC. Only magistrates were in possession of the ''auspicia publica'', with the right and duty to take the auspices pertaining to the Roman state. Favorable auspices marked a time or location as auspicious, and were required for important ceremonies or events, including elections, military campaigns and pitched battles. According to Festus, there were five kinds of ''auspicia'' to which augurs paid heed: ''ex caelo'', celestial signs such as thunder and lightning; ''ex avibus'', signs offered by birds; ''ex tripudiis'', signs produced by the actions of certain sacred chickens; ''ex quadrupedibus'', signs from the behavior of four-legged animals; and ''ex diris'', threatening portents. In official state augury at Rome, only the auspicia ''ex caelo'' and ''ex avibus'' were employed. The taking of the auspices required ritual silence ''(silentium)''. Watching for auspices was called ''spectio'' or ''servare de caelo''. The appearance of expected signs resulted in ''nuntiatio'', or if they were unfavourable ''obnuntiatio''. If unfavourable auspices were observed, the business at hand was stopped by the official observer, who declared ''alio die'' ("on another day"). The practice of observing bird omens was common to many ancient peoples predating and contemporaneous with Rome, including the Greeks, Celts, and Germans.

auspicia impetrativa

''Auspicia impetrativa'' were signs that were solicited under highly regulated ritual conditions (see ''spectio'' and ''servare de caelo'') within the ''templum''.Robert Schilling, "Augurs and Augury", ''Roman and European Mythologies'' (University of Chicago Press, 1992, from the French edition of 1981), p. 116. The type of auspices required for convening public assemblies were ''impetrativa'',W. Jeffrey Tatum, ''The Patrician Tribune: Publius Clodius Pulcher'' (University of North Carolina Press, 1999), p. 127. and magistrates had the "right and duty" to seek these omens actively. These auspices could only be sought from an ''auguraculum'', a ritually constructed augural tent or "tabernacle" (''tabernaculum''). Contrast ''auspicia oblativa''.

auspicia maiora

The right of observing the "greater auspices" was conferred on a Roman magistrate holding ''imperium'', perhaps by a ''Lex curiata de imperio'', although scholars are not agreed on the finer points of law. A censor had ''auspicia maxima''. It is also thought that the ''flamines maiores'' were distinguished from the ''minores'' by their right to take the ''auspicia maiora''; see Flamen.

auspicia oblativa

Signs that occurred without deliberately being sought through formal augural procedure were ''auspicia oblativa''. These unsolicited signs were regarded as sent by a deity or deities to express either approval or disapproval for a particular undertaking. The prodigy (''prodigium'') was one form of unfavourable ''oblativa''. Contrast ''auspicia impetrativa''.

auspicia privata

Private and domestic religion was linked to divine signs as state religion was. It was customary in patrician families to take the auspices for any matter of consequence such as marriages, travel, and important business. The scant information about ''auspicia privata'' in ancient authors suggests that the taking of private auspices was not different in essence from that of public auspices: absolute silence was required, and the person taking the auspices could ignore unfavourable or disruptive events by feigning not to have perceived them. In matters pertaining to the family or individual, both lightning and ''exta'' (entrails) might yield signs for ''privati'', private citizens not authorized to take official auspices. Among his other duties, the Pontifex Maximus advised ''privati'' as well as the official priests about prodigies and their forestalling.


In pontifical usage, the verb ''averruncare'', "to avert," denotes a ritual action aimed at averting a misfortune intimated by an omen. Bad omens ''(portentaque prodigiaque mala)'' are to be burnt, using trees that are in the tutelage of underworld or "averting" gods (see ''arbores infelices'' above). Varro says that the god who presides over the action of averting is Averruncus.


bellum iustum

A "just war" was a war considered justifiable by the principles of fetial law ''(ius fetiale)''. Because war could bring about religious pollution, it was in itself ''nefas'', "wrong," and could incur the wrath of gods unless ''iustum'', "just". The requirements for a just war were both formal and substantive. As a formal matter, the war had to be declared according to the procedures of the ''ius fetiale''. On substantive grounds, a war required a "just cause," which might include ''rerum repetitio'', retaliation against another people for pillaging, or a breach of or unilateral recession from a treaty; or necessity, as in the case of repelling an invasion. See also ''Jus ad bellum''.



The English word "ceremony" derives from the Latin ''caerimonia'' or ''caeremonia'', a word of obscure etymology first found in literature and inscriptions from the time of Cicero (mid-1st century BC), but thought to be of much greater antiquity. Its meaning varied over time. Cicero used ''caerimonia'' at least 40 times, in three or four different senses: "inviolability" or "sanctity", a usage also of Tacitus; "punctilious veneration", in company with ''cura'' (carefulness, concern); more commonly in the plural ''caerimoniae'', to mean "ritual prescriptions" or "ritual acts." The plural form is endorsed by Roman grammarians. Hendrik Wagenvoort maintained that ''caerimoniae'' were originally the secret ritual instructions laid down by Numa, which are described as ''statae et sollemnes'', "established and solemn." These were interpreted and supervised by the College of Pontiffs, flamens, ''rex sacrorum'' and the Vestals. Later, ''caerimoniae'' might refer also to other rituals, including foreign cults. These prescribed rites "unite the inner subject with the external religious object", binding human and divine realms. The historian Valerius Maximus makes clear that the ''caerimoniae'' require those performing them to attain a particular mental-spiritual state (''animus'', "intention"), and emphasizes the importance of ''caerimoniae'' in the dedication and first sentence of his work. In Valerius's version of the Gallic siege of Rome, the Vestals and the Flamen Quirinalis rescue Rome's sacred objects (''sacra'') by taking them to Caere; thus preserved, the rites take their name from the place. Although this etymology makes a meaningful narrative connection for Valerius, it is unlikely to be correct in terms of modern scientific linguistics. An Etruscan origin has sometimes been proposed. Wagenvoort thought that ''caerimonia'' derived from ''caerus'', "dark" in the sense of "hidden", hence meaning "darknesses, secrets." In his ''Etymologiae'', Isidore of Seville says that the Greek equivalent is ''orgia'', but derives the word from ''carendo'', "lacking", and says that some think ''caerimoniae'' should be used of Jewish observances, specifically the dietary law that requires abstaining from or "lacking" certain foods.


The ''calatores'' were assistants who carried out day-to-day business on behalf of the senior priests of the state such as the ''flamines maiores''. A ''calator'' was a public slave. Festus derives the word from the Greek verb ''kalein'', "to call."

capite velato

At the traditional public rituals of ancient Rome, officiants prayed, sacrificed, offered libations, and practiced augury ''capite velato'', "with the head covered" by a fold of the toga drawn up from the back. This covering of the head is a distinctive feature of Roman rite in contrast with Etruscan practice or ''ritus graecus'', "Greek rite." In Roman art, the covered head is a symbol of ''pietas'' and the individual's status as a pontifex, augur or other priest. It has been argued that the Roman expression of piety ''capite velato'' influenced Paul's prohibition against Christians praying with covered heads: "Any man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonors his head."


In classical Latin, ''carmen'' usually means "song, poem, ode." In magico-religious usage, a ''carmen'' (plural ''carmina'') is a chant, hymn, spell, or charm. In essence "a verbal utterance sung for ritualistic purposes", the ''carmen'' is characterized by formulaic expression, redundancy, and rhythm. Fragments from two archaic priestly hymns are preserved, the ''Carmen Arvale'' of the Arval Brethren and the ''Carmina Saliaria'' of the Salii. The ''Carmen Saeculare'' of Horace, though self-consciously literary in technique, was also a hymn, performed by a chorus at the Saecular Games of 17 BC and expressing the Apollonian ideology of Augustus. A ''carmen malum'' or ''maleficum'' is a potentially harmful magic spell. A fragment of the Twelve Tables reading ''si malum carmen incantassit'' ("if anyone should chant an evil spell") shows that it was a concern of the law to suppress malevolent magic. A ''carmen sepulchrale'' is a spell that evokes the dead from their tombs; a ''carmen veneficum'', a "poisonous" charm. In magic, the word ''carmen'' comes to mean also the object on which a spell is inscribed, hence a charm in the physical sense.

castus, castitas

''Castus'' is an adjective meaning morally pure or guiltless (English "chaste"), hence pious or ritually pure in a religious sense. ''Castitas'' is the abstract noun. Various etymologies have been proposed, among them two IE stems: *''k'(e)stos'' meaning "he who conforms to the prescriptions of rite"; or *''kas-'', from which derives the verb ''careo,'' "I defice, am deprived of, have none..." i.e. ''vitia''. In Roman religion, the purity of ritual and those who perform it is paramount: one who is correctly cleansed and ''castus'' in religious preparation and performance is likely to please the gods. Ritual error is a pollutant; it vitiates the performance and risks the gods' anger. ''Castus'' and ''castitas'' are attributes of the ''sacerdos'' (priest), but substances and objects can also be ritually ''castus''.

cinctus gabinus

The ''cinctus Gabinus'' ("belting from Gabii") was a way of wearing the toga thought to have originated in the nearby town of Gabii. A priest or officiant wearing it wore his toga bound around the waist in a way that left both hands free to perform ritual tasks, as the wearing of the toga usually did not.H.H. Scullard, ''A History of the Roman World: 753 to 146 BC'' (Routledge, 1935, 2013), p. 409. The cincture accompanied the veiling or covering of the head ''(capite velato)'' with a cowl-like fold of the toga. Like the conical, helmet-like headgear worn by priests such as the Salii, the Gabinian cincture was originally associated with warriors, and was worn for a solemn declaration of war. It was also part of Etruscan priestly dress.

clavum figere

''Clavum figere'' ("to nail in, to fasten or fix the nail") was an expression that referred to the fixing or "sealing" of fate. A nail was one of the attributes of the goddess Necessitas and of the Etruscan goddess Athrpa (Greek Atropos). According to Livy, every year in the temple of Nortia, the Etruscan counterpart of Fortuna, a nail was driven in to mark the time. In Rome, the senior magistrate on the Ides of September drove a nail called the ''clavus annalis'' ("year-nail") into the wall of the Temple of Jupiter Optimus Maximus. The ceremony occurred on the ''dies natalis'' ("birthday" or anniversary of dedication) of the temple, when a banquet for Jupiter ''(Epulum Jovis)'' was also held. The nail-driving ceremony, however, took place in a ''templum'' devoted to Minerva, on the right side of the ''aedes'' of Jupiter, because the concept of "number" was invented by Minerva and the ritual predated the common use of written letters. The importance of this ritual is lost in obscurity, but in the early Republic it is associated with the appointment of a ''dictator clavi figendi causa'', "dictator for the purpose of driving the nail," one of whom was appointed for the years 363, 331, 313, and 263 BC. Livy attributes this practice to ''religio'', religious scruple or obligation. It may be that in addition to an annual ritual, there was a "fixing" during times of pestilence or civil discord that served as a ''piaculum''. Livy says that in 363, a plague had been ravaging Rome for two years. It was recalled that a plague had once been broken when a dictator drove a ritual nail, and the senate appointed one for that purpose. The ritual of "driving the nail" was among those revived and reformed by Augustus, who in 1 AD transferred it to the new Temple of Mars Ultor. Henceforth a censor fixed the nail at the end of his term.


A ''collegium'' ("joined by law"), plural ''collegia'', was any association with a legal personality. The priestly colleges oversaw religious traditions, and until 300 BC only patricians were eligible for membership. When plebeians began to be admitted, the size of the colleges was expanded. By the Late Republic, three ''collegia'' wielded greater authority than the others, with a fourth coming to prominence during the reign of Augustus. The four great religious corporations (''quattuor amplissima collegia'') were: *''Pontifices'', the College of Pontiffs headed by the Pontifex Maximus; *''Augures''; *''Quindecimviri sacris faciundis'', the fifteen priests in charge of the Sibylline Books; *''Septemviri epulonum'', the board of seven priests who organized public banquets for religious holidays. Augustus was a member of all four ''collegia'', but limited membership for any other senator to one. In Roman society, a ''collegium'' might also be a trade guild or neighborhood association; see Collegium (ancient Rome).

comitia calata

The ''comitia calata'' ("calate assemblies") were non-voting assemblies ''(comitia)'' called for religious purposes. The verb ''calare'', originally meaning "to call," was a technical term of pontifical usage, found also in ''calendae'' (Calends) and ''calator''. According to Aulus Gellius, these ''comitia'' were held in the presence of the college of pontiffs in order to inaugurate the ''rex'' (the king in the Regal Period or the ''rex sacrorum'' in the Republic) or the ''flamines''. The pontifex maximus auspiciated and presided; assemblies over which annually elected magistrates presided are never ''calata'', nor are meetings for secular purposes or other elections even with a pontiff presiding. The ''comitia calata'' were organized by ''curiae'' or ''centuriae''. The people were summoned to ''comitia calata'' to witness the reading of wills, or the oath by which ''sacra'' were renounced (''detestatio sacrorum''). They took no active role and were only present to observe as witnesses. Mommsen thought the calendar abbreviation ''QRCF'', given once as ''Q. Rex C. F.'' and taken as ''Quando Rex Comitiavit Fas'', designated a day when it was religiously permissible for the ''rex'' to "call" for a ''comitium'', hence the ''comitia calata''.

commentarii augurales

The ''Commentaries of the Augurs'' were written collections probably of the ''decreta'' and ''responsa'' of the college of augurs. Some scholarship, however, maintains that the ''commentarii'' were precisely ''not'' the ''decreta'' and ''responsa''. The commentaries are to be distinguished from the augurs' ''libri reconditi'', texts not for public use. The books are mentioned by Cicero, Festus, and Servius Danielis. Livy includes several examples of the augurs' ''decreta'' and ''responsa'' in his history, presumably taken from the ''commentarii''.

commentarii pontificum

The ''Commentaries of the Pontiffs'' contained a record of decrees and official proceedings of the College of Pontiffs. Priestly literature was one of the earliest written forms of Latin prose, and included rosters, acts (''acta''), and chronicles kept by the various ''collegia'', as well as religious procedure. It was often ''occultum genus litterarum'', an arcane form of literature to which by definition only priests had access. The ''commentarii'', however, may have been available for public consultation, at least by senators, because the rulings on points of law might be cited as precedent. The public nature of the ''commentarii'' is asserted by Jerzy Linderski in contrast to ''libri reconditi'', the secret priestly books. The ''commentarii'' survive only through quotation or references in ancient authors. These records are not readily distinguishable from the ''libri pontificales''; some scholars maintain that the terms ''commentarii'' and ''libri'' for the pontifical writings are interchangeable. Those who make a distinction hold that the ''libri'' were the secret archive containing rules and precepts of the ''ius sacrum'' (holy law), texts of spoken formulae, and instructions on how to perform ritual acts, while the ''commentarii'' were the ''responsa'' (opinions and arguments) and ''decreta'' (binding explications of doctrine) that were available for consultation. Whether or not the terms can be used to distinguish two types of material, the priestly documents would have been divided into those reserved for internal use by the priests themselves, and those that served as reference works on matters external to the college. Collectively, these titles would have comprised all matters of pontifical law, ritual, and cult maintenance, along with prayer formularies and temple statutes. See also ''libri pontificales'' and ''libri augurales''.


''Coniectura'' is the reasoned but speculative interpretation of signs presented unexpectedly, that is, of ''novae res'', "novel information." These "new signs" are omens or portents not previously observed, or not observed under the particular set of circumstances at hand. ''Coniectura'' is thus the kind of interpretation used for ''ostenta'' and ''portenta'' as constituting one branch of the "Etruscan discipline"; contrast ''observatio'' as applied to the interpretation of ''fulgura'' (thunder and lightning) and ''exta'' (entrails). It was considered an ''ars'', a "method" or "art" as distinguished from ''disciplina'', a formal body of teachings which required study or training. The origin of the Latin word ''coniectura'' suggests the process of making connections, from the verb ''conicio'', participle ''coniectum'' (''con-'', "with, together", and ''iacio'', "throw, put"). ''Coniectura'' was also a rhetorical term applied to forms of argumentation, including court cases. The English word "conjecture" derives from ''coniectura''.


''Consecratio'' was the ritual act that resulted in the creation of an ''aedes'', a shrine that housed a cult image, or an ''ara'', an altar. Jerzy Linderski insists that the ''consecratio'' should be distinguished from the ''inauguratio'', that is, the ritual by which the augurs established a sacred place (''locus'') or ''templum'' (sacred precinct). The consecration was performed by a pontiff reciting a formula from the ''libri pontificales'', the pontifical books. One component of consecration was the ''dedicatio'', or dedication, a form of ''ius publicum'' (public law) carried out by a magistrate representing the will of the Roman people. The pontiff was responsible for the consecration proper.


Cicero defined ''religio'' as ''cultus deorum'', "the cultivation of the gods." The "cultivation" necessary to maintain a specific deity was that god's ''cultus,'' "cult," and required "the knowledge of giving the gods their due" ''(scientia colendorum deorum)''. The noun ''cultus'' originates from the past participle of the verb ''colo, colere, colui, cultus'', "to tend, take care of, cultivate," originally meaning "to dwell in, inhabit" and thus "to tend, cultivate land ''(ager)''; to practice agriculture," an activity fundamental to Roman identity even when Rome as a political center had become fully urbanized. ''Cultus'' is often translated as "cult", without the negative connotations the word may have in English, or with the Anglo-Saxon word "worship", but it implies the necessity of active maintenance beyond passive adoration. ''Cultus'' was expected to matter to the gods as a demonstration of respect, honor, and reverence; it was an aspect of the contractual nature of Roman religion (see ''do ut des''). St. Augustine echoes Cicero's formulation when he declares that "''religio'' is nothing other than the ''cultus'' of God."



''Decreta'' (plural) were the binding explications of doctrine issued by the official priests on questions of religious practice and interpretation. They were preserved in written form and archived.Jerzy Linderski, "The ''libri reconditi''" ''Harvard Studies in Classical Philology'' 89 (1985), pp. 218–219. Compare ''responsum''.


A ''delubrum'' was a shrine. Varro says it was a building that housed the image of a ''deus'', "god", and emphasizes the human role in dedicating the statue. According to Varro, the ''delubrum'' was the oldest form of an ''aedes'', a structure that housed a god. It is an ambiguous term for both the building and the surrounding area ''ubi aqua currit'' ("where water runs"), according to the etymology of the antiquarian Cincius. Festus gives the etymology of ''delubrum'' as ''fustem delibratum'', "stripped stake," that is, a tree deprived of its bark ''(liber)'' by a lightning bolt, as such trees in archaic times were venerated as gods. The meaning of the term later extended to denote the shrine built to house the stake. Compare ''aedes'', ''fanum'', and ''templum''. Isidore connected the ''delubrum'' with the verb ''diluere'', "to wash", describing it as a "spring-shrine", sometimes with annexed pool, where people would wash before entering, thus comparable to a Christian baptismal font.

detestatio sacrorum

When a person passed from one ''gens'' to another, as for instance by adoption, he renounced the religious duties ''(sacra)'' he had previously held in order to assume those of the family he was entering. The ritual procedure of ''detestatio sacrorum'' was enacted before a calate assembly.

deus, dea, di, dii

''Deus'', "god"; ''dea'', "goddess", plural ''deae''; ''di'' or ''dii'', "gods", plural, or "deities", of mixed gender. The Greek equivalent is ''theos'', which the Romans translated with ''deus''. Servius says that ''deus'' or ''dea'' is a "generic term" ''(generale nomen)'' for all gods. In his lost work ''Antiquitates rerum divinarum'', assumed to have been based on pontifical doctrine, Varro classified ''dii'' as ''certi, incerti, praecipui'' or ''selecti'', i.e. "deities whose function could be ascertained", those whose function was unknown or indeterminate, main or selected gods. Compare ''divus''. For etymological discussion, see Deus and Dyeus. See also List of Roman deities.


The ''devotio'' was an extreme form of ''votum'' in which a Roman general vowed to sacrifice his own life in battle along with the enemy to chthonic deities in exchange for a victory. The most extended description of the ritual is given by Livy, regarding the self-sacrifice of Decius Mus. The English word "devotion" derives from the Latin. For another ''votum'' that might be made in the field by a general, see ''evocatio''.

dies imperii

A Roman emperor's ''dies imperii'' was the date on which he assumed ''imperium'', that is, 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 January 3, which had replaced the traditional vows made for the ''salus'' of the 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, in contrast to the annual magistracies of the Republic when the year was designated by the names of consuls serving their one-year term. The ''dies Augusti'' or ''dies Augustus'' was more generally any anniversary pertaining to the imperial family, such as birthdays or weddings, appearing on official calendars as part of Imperial cult. References to a ''dies Caesaris'' are also found, but it is unclear whether or how it differed from the ''dies Augusti''. Nero observed his dies imperii/''decennalia'' - the 10-year anniversary of being emperor on October 13, 64 AD.

dies lustricus

The ''dies lustricus'' ("day of purification") was a rite carried out for the newborn on the eighth day of life for girls and the ninth day for boys. Little is known of the ritual procedure, but the child must have received its name on that day; funerary inscriptions for infants who died before their ''dies lustricus'' are nameless. The youngest person found commemorated on a Roman tombstone by name was a male infant nine days old (or 10 days in Roman inclusive counting). Because of the rate of infant mortality, perhaps as high as 40 percent, the newborn in its first few days of life was held as in a liminal phase, vulnerable to malignant forces (see List of Roman birth and childhood deities). Socially, the child did not exist. The ''dies lustricus'' may have been when the child received the ''bulla'', the protective amulet that was put aside when a boy passed into adulthood.

dies natalis

A ''dies natalis'' was a birthday ("natal day"; see also ''dies lustricus'' above) or more generally the anniversary of a founding event. The Romans celebrated an individual's birthday annually, in contrast to the Greek practice of marking the date each month with a simple libation. The Roman ''dies natalis'' was connected with the cult owed to the Genius. A public figure might schedule a major event on his birthday: Pompeius Magnus ("Pompey the Great") waited seven months after he returned from his military campaigns in the East before he staged his triumph, so he could celebrate it on his birthday. The coincidence of birthdays and anniversaries could have a positive or negative significance: news of Decimus Brutus's victory at Mutina was announced at Rome on his birthday, while Caesar's assassin Cassius suffered defeat at Philippi on his birthday and committed suicide.Feeney, ''Caesar's Calendar,'' p. 149. Birthdays were one of the dates on which the dead were commemorated. The date when a temple was founded, or when it was rededicated after a major renovation or rebuilding, was also a ''dies natalis'', and might be felt as the "birthday" of the deity it housed as well. The date of such ceremonies was therefore chosen by the pontiffs with regard to its position on the religious calendar. The "birthday" or foundation date of Rome was celebrated April 21, the day of the Parilia, an archaic pastoral festival. As part of a flurry of religious reforms and restorations in the period from 38 BC to 17 AD, no fewer than fourteen temples had their ''dies natalis'' moved to another date, sometimes with the clear purpose of aligning them with new Imperial theology after the collapse of the Republic. The birthdays of emperors were observed with public ceremonies as an aspect of Imperial cult. The ''Feriale Duranum'', a military calendar of religious observances, features a large number of imperial birthdays. Augustus shared his birthday (September 23) with the anniversary of the Temple of Apollo in the Campus Martius, and elaborated on his connection with Apollo in developing his special religious status. A birthday commemoration was also called a ''natalicium,'' which could take the form of a poem. Early Christian poets such as Paulinus of Nola adopted the ''natalicium'' poem for commemorating saints. The day on which Christian martyrs died is regarded as their ''dies natalis''; see Calendar of saints.

dies religiosus

According to Festus, it was wrong ''(nefas)'' to undertake any action beyond attending to basic necessities on a day that was ''religiosus'' on the calendar. On these days, there were to be no marriages, political assemblies, or battles. Soldiers were not to be enlisted, nor journeys started. Nothing new was to be started, and no religious acts ''(res divinae)'' performed. Aulus Gellius said that ''dies religiosi'' were to be distinguished from those that were ''nefasti''.

dies vitiosus

The phrase ''diem vitiare'' ("to vitiate a day") in augural practice meant that the normal activities of public business were prohibited on a given day, presumably by ''obnuntiatio'', because of observed signs that indicated defect ''(morbus''; see ''vitium''). Unlike a ''dies religiosus'' or a ''dies ater'' ("black day," typically the anniversary of a calamity), a particular date did not become permanently ''vitiosus,'' with one exception. Some Roman calendars ''(fasti)'' produced under Augustus and up to the time of Claudius mark January 14 as a ''dies vitiosus'', a day that was inherently "vitiated". January 14 is the only day to be marked annually and officially by decree of the Roman senate ''(senatus consultum)'' as ''vitiosus''. LInderski calls this "a very remarkable innovation." One calendar, the ''Fasti Verulani'' (c. 17–37 AD), explains the designation by noting it was the ''dies natalis'' of Mark Antony, which the Greek historian and Roman senator Cassius Dio says had been declared ἡμέρα μιαρά ''(hēmera miara)'' (= ''dies vitiosus'') by Augustus. The emperor Claudius, who was the grandson of Antony, rehabilitated the day.


The adjective ''dirus'' as applied to an omen meant "dire, awful." It often appears in the feminine plural as a substantive meaning "evil omens." ''Dirae'' were the worst of the five kinds of signs recognized by the augurs, and were a type of oblative or unsought sign that foretold disastrous consequences. The ill-fated departure of Marcus Crassus for the invasion of Parthia was notably attended by ''dirae'' (see Ateius Capito). In the interpretive etymology of ancient writers, ''dirae'' was thought to derive from ''dei irae'', the grudges or anger of a god, that is, divine wrath. ''Dirae'' is an epithet for the Furies, and can also mean curses or imprecations, particularly in the context of magic and related to ''defixiones'' (curse tablets). In explaining why Claudius felt compelled to ban the religion of the druids, Suetonius speaks of it as ''dirus'', alluding to the practice of human sacrifice.

disciplina Etrusca

The collective body of knowledge pertaining to the doctrine, ritual practices, laws, and science of Etruscan religion and cosmology was known as the ''disciplina Etrusca''. Divination was a particular feature of the ''disciplina''. The Etruscan texts on the ''disciplina'' that were known to the Romans are of three kinds: the ''libri haruspicini'' (on haruspicy), the ''libri fulgurales'' (lightning), and the ''libri rituales'' (ritual). Nigidius Figulus, the Late Republican scholar and praetor of 58 BC, was noted for his expertise in the ''disciplina''. Extant ancient sources on the ''Etrusca disciplina'' include Pliny the Elder, Seneca, Cicero, Johannes Lydus, Macrobius and Festus.


The adjective ''divus'', feminine ''diva'', is usually translated as "divine." As a substantive, ''divus'' refers to a "deified" or divinized mortal. Both ''deus'' and ''divus'' derive from Indo-European ''*deywos'', Old Latin ''deivos''. Servius confirms that ''deus'' is used for "perpetual deities" ''(deos perpetuos)'', but ''divus'' for people who become divine ''(divos ex hominibus factos = gods who once were men)''. While this distinction is useful in considering the theological foundations of Imperial cult, it sometimes vanishes in practice, particularly in Latin poetry; Vergil, for instance, mostly uses ''deus'' and ''divus'' interchangeably. Varro and Ateius, however, maintained that the definitions should be reversed. See also Imperial cult: ''Divus, deus'' and the ''numen''.

do ut des

The formula ''do ut des'' ("I give that you might give") expresses the reciprocity of exchange between human being and deity, reflecting the importance of gift-giving as a mutual obligation in ancient society and the contractual nature of Roman religion. The gifts offered by the human being take the form of sacrifice, with the expectation that the god will return something of value, prompting gratitude and further sacrifices in a perpetuating cycle. The ''do ut des'' principle is particularly active in magic and private ritual. ''Do ut des'' was also a judicial concept of contract law. In Pauline theology, ''do ut des'' was viewed as a reductive form of piety, merely a "business transaction", in contrast to God's unilateral grace (χάρις, ''charis''). Max Weber, in ''The Sociology of Religion'', saw it as "a purely formalistic ethic." In ''The Elementary Forms of Religious Life'', however, Émile Durkheim regarded the concept as not merely utilitarian, but an expression of "the mechanism of the sacrificial system itself" as "an exchange of mutually invigorating good deeds between the divinity and his faithful."



The verb ''effari'', past participle ''effatus'', means "to create boundaries ''(fines)'' by means of fixed verbal formulas." ''Effatio'' is the abstract noun. It was one of the three parts of the ceremony inaugurating a ''templum'' (sacred space), preceded by the consulting of signs and the ''liberatio'' which "freed" the space from malign or competing spiritual influences and human effects. A site ''liberatus et effatus'' was thus "exorcized and available." The result was a ''locus inauguratus'' ("inaugurated site"), the most common form of which was the ''templum''. The boundaries had permanent markers (''cippi'' or ''termini''), and when these were damaged or removed, their ''effatio'' had to be renewed.


The "calling forth" or "summoning away" of a deity was an ''evocatio'', from ''evoco, evocare'', "summon." The ritual was conducted in a military setting either as a threat during a siege or as a result of surrender, and aimed at diverting the favor of a tutelary deity from the opposing city to the Roman side, customarily with a promise of a better-endowed cult or a more lavish temple. As a tactic of psychological warfare, ''evocatio'' undermined the enemy's sense of security by threatening the sanctity of its city walls (see pomerium) and other forms of divine protection. In practice, ''evocatio'' was a way to mitigate otherwise sacrilegious looting of religious images from shrines. Recorded examples of evocations include the transferral of Juno Regina ("Juno the Queen", originally Etruscan ''Uni'') from Veii in 396 BC; the ritual performed by Scipio Aemilianus in 146 BC at the defeat of Carthage, involving Tanit (Juno Caelestis); and the dedication of a temple to an unnamed, gender-indeterminate deity at Isaura Vetus in Asia Minor in 75 BC. Some scholars think that Vortumnus (Etruscan ''Voltumna'') was brought by evocation to Rome in 264 BC as a result of M. Fulvius Flaccus's defeat of the Volsinii. In Roman myth, a similar concept motivates the transferral of the Palladium from Troy to Rome, where it served as one of the ''pignora imperii'', sacred tokens of Roman sovereignty. Compare ''invocatio'', the "calling on" of a deity. Formal evocations are known only during the Republic. Other forms of religious assimilation appear from the time of Augustus, often in connection with the establishment of the Imperial cult in the provinces. ''Evocatio'', "summons", was also a term of Roman law without evident reference to its magico-religious sense.


A site that had been inaugurated ''(locus inauguratus)'', that is, marked out through augural procedure, could not have its purpose changed without a ceremony of reversal. Removing a god from the premises required the correct ceremonial invocations. When Tarquin rebuilt the temple district on the Capitoline, a number of deities were dislodged by ''exauguratio'', though Terminus and Juventas "refused" and were incorporated into the new structure. A distinction between the ''exauguratio'' of a deity and an ''evocatio'' can be unclear. The procedure was in either case rare, and was required only when a deity had to yield place to another, or when the site was secularized. It was not required when a site was upgraded, for instance, if an open-air altar were to be replaced with a temple building to the same god. The term could also be used for removing someone from a priestly office ''(sacerdotium)''. Compare ''inauguratio''.


An adjective, "choice, select," used to denote the high quality required of sacrificial victims: "Victims ''(hostiae)'' are called 'select' ''(eximiae)'' because they are selected ''(eximantur)'' from the herd and designated for sacrifice, or because they are chosen on account of their choice ''(eximia)'' appearance as offerings to divine entities ''(numinibus)''." The adjective here is synonymous with ''egregius'', "chosen from the herd ''(grex, gregis)''." Macrobius says it is specifically a sacerdotal term and not a "poetic epithet" ''(poeticum ἐπίθετον)''.


The ''exta'' were the entrails of a sacrificed animal, comprising in Cicero's enumeration the gall bladder (''fel''), liver (''iecur''), heart (''cor''), and lungs (''pulmones''). The ''exta'' were exposed for litation (divine approval) as part of Roman liturgy, but were "read" in the context of the ''disciplina Etrusca''. As a product of Roman sacrifice, the ''exta'' and blood are reserved for the gods, while the meat ''(viscera)'' is shared among human beings in a communal meal. The ''exta'' of bovine victims were usually stewed in a pot (''olla'' or ''aula''), while those of sheep or pigs were grilled on skewers. When the deity's portion was cooked, it was sprinkled with ''mola salsa'' (ritually prepared salted flour) and wine, then placed in the fire on the altar for the offering; the technical verb for this action was ''porricere''.



''Fanaticus'' means "belonging to a ''fanum''," a shrine or sacred precinct. ''Fanatici'' as applied to people refers to temple attendants or devotees of a cult, usually one of the ecstatic or orgiastic religions such as that of Cybele (in reference to the Galli), Bellona-Ma, or perhaps Silvanus. Inscriptions indicate that a person making a dedication might label himself ''fanaticus'', in the neutral sense of "devotee". Tacitus uses ''fanaticus'' to describe the troop of druids who attended on the Icenian queen Boudica. The word was often used disparagingly by ancient Romans in contrasting these more emotive rites to the highly scripted procedures of public religion, and later by early Christians to deprecate religions other than their own; hence the negative connotation of "fanatic" in English. Festus says that a tree struck by lightning is called ''fanaticus'', a reference to the Romano-Etruscan belief in lightning as a form of divine sign. The Gallic bishop Caesarius of Arles, writing in the 5th century, indicates that such trees retained their sanctity even up to his own time, and urged the Christian faithful to burn down the ''arbores fanatici''. These trees either were located in and marked a ''fanum'' or were themselves considered a ''fanum''. Caesarius is somewhat unclear as to whether the devotees regarded the tree itself as divine or whether they thought its destruction would kill the ''numen'' housed within it. Either way, even scarcity of firewood would not persuade them to use the sacred wood for fuel, a scruple for which he mocked them.


A ''fanum'' is a plot of consecrated ground, a sanctuary, and from that a temple or shrine built there. A ''fanum'' may be a traditional sacred space such as the grove (''lucus'') of Diana Nemorensis, or a sacred space or structure for non-Roman religions, such as an Iseum (temple of Isis) or Mithraeum. Cognates such as Oscan ''fíísnú'', Umbrian ''fesnaf-e'', and Paelignian ''fesn'' indicate that the concept is shared by Italic peoples. The Greek temenos was the same concept. By the Augustan period, ''fanum'', ''aedes'', ''templum'', and ''delubrum'' are scarcely distinguishable in usage, but ''fanum'' was a more inclusive and general term. The ''fanum'', Romano-Celtic temple, or ambulatory temple of Roman Gaul was often built over an originally Celtic religious site, and its plan was influenced by the ritual architecture of earlier Celtic sanctuaries. The masonry temple building of the Gallo-Roman period had a central space (''cella'') and a peripheral gallery structure, both square. Romano-Celtic ''fana'' of this type are found also in Roman Britain. The English word "profane" ultimately derives from Latin ''pro fano'', "before, i.e. outside, the temple", "In front of the sanctuary," hence not within sacred ground.

fata deorum

''Fata deorum'' or the contracted form ''fata deum'' are the utterances of the gods; that is, prophecies. These were recorded in written form, and conserved by the state priests of Rome for consultation. The ''fata'' are both "fate" as known and determined by the gods, or the expression of the divine will in the form of verbal oracles. ''Fata deum'' is a theme of the ''Aeneid,'' Virgil's national epic of Rome. The Sibylline Books ''(Fata Sibyllina'' or ''Libri Fatales)'', composed in Greek hexameters, are an example of written ''fata''. These were not Roman in origin but were believed to have been acquired in only partial form by Lucius Tarquinius Superbus. They were guarded by the priesthood of the ''decemviri sacris faciundis'' "ten men for carrying out sacred rites", later fifteen in number: ''quindecimviri sacris faciundis''. No one read the books in their entirety; they were consulted only when needed. A passage was selected at random and its relevance to the current situation was a matter of expert interpretation. They were thought to contain ''fata rei publicae aeterna'', "prophecies eternally valid for Rome". They continued to be consulted throughout the Imperial period until the time of Christian hegemony. Augustus installed the Sibylline books in a special golden storage case under the statue of Apollo in the Temple of Apollo Palatinus. The emperor Aurelian chastised the senate for succumbing to Christian influence and not consulting the books. Julian consulted the books regarding his campaign against Persia, but departed before he received the unfavorable response of the college; Julian was killed and the Temple of Apollo Palatinus burned.


''Fas'' is a central concept in Roman religion. Although translated in some contexts as "divine law," ''fas'' is more precisely that which is "religiously legitimate," or an action that is lawful in the eyes of the gods. In public religion, ''fas est'' is declared before announcing an action required or allowed by Roman religious custom and by divine law. ''Fas'' is thus both distinguished from and linked to ''ius'' (plural ''iura''), "law, lawfulness, justice," as indicated by Vergil's often-cited phrase ''fas et iura sinunt'', "''fas'' and ''iura'' allow (it)," which Servius explains as "divine and human laws permit (it), for ''fas'' pertains to religion, ''iura'' to the human being." In Roman calendars, days marked ''F'' are ''dies fasti'', when it is ''fas'' to attend to the concerns of everyday life. In non-specialized usage, ''fas est'' may mean generally "it is permissible, it is right." The etymology of ''fas'' is debated. It is more commonly associated with the semantic field of the verb ''for, fari'', "to speak," an origin pressed by Varro. In other sources, both ancient and modern, ''fas'' is thought to have its origin in an Indo-European root meaning "to establish," along with ''fanum'' and ''feriae''. See also Fasti and nefas.


A record or plan of official and religiously sanctioned events. All state and societal business must be transacted on ''dies fasti'', "allowed days". The ''fasti'' were the records of all details pertaining to these events. The word was used alone in a general sense or qualified by an adjective to mean a specific type of record. Closely associated with the ''fasti'' and used to mark time in them were the divisions of the Roman calendar. The ''Fasti'' is also the title of a six-book poem by Ovid based on the Roman religious calendar. It is a major source for Roman religious practice, and was translated into English by J. G. Frazer.


In its religious sense, ''felix'' means "blessed, under the protection or favour of the gods; happy." That which is ''felix'' has achieved the ''pax divom'', a state of harmony or peace with the divine world. It is rooted in Indo-European ''*dhe(i)l,'' meaning "happy, fruitful, productive, full of nourishment." Related Latin words include ''femina'', "woman" (a person who provides nourishment or suckles); ''felo'', "to suckle"; and ''filius'', "son" (a person suckled). See also ''Felicitas'', both an abstraction that expressed the quality of being ''felix'' and a deity of Roman state religion.


A ''feria'' on the Roman calendar is a "free day", that is, a day in which no work was done. No court sessions were held, nor was any public business conducted. Employees were entitled to a day off, and even slaves were not obliged to work. These days were codified into a system of legal public holidays, the ''feriae publicae'', which could be *''stativae'', "stationary, fixed", holidays which recurred on the same date each year; * ''conceptivae'', recurring holidays for which the date depended on some other factor, usually the agrarian cycle. They included Compitalia, Paganalia, Sementivae and Latinae (compare the moveable Christian holiday of Easter); * ''imperativae'', one-off holidays ordered to mark a special occasion, established with an act of auctority of a magistrate. In the Christian Roman Rite a feria is a weekday on which the faithful are required to attend Mass. The custom throughout Europe of holding markets on the same day gave rise to the word "fair" (Spanish ''Feria'', Italian ''Fiera'', Catalan ''Fira'').


In the Roman calendar, a ''dies festus'' is a festive or holy day, that is, a day dedicated to a deity or deities. On such days it was forbidden to undertake any profane activity, especially official or public business. All ''dies festi'' were thus ''nefasti''. Some days, however, were not ''festi'' and yet might not be permissible as business days ''(fasti)'' for other reasons. The days on which profane activities were permitted are ''profesti''.


The ''fetiales'', or fetial priests.


The ''finis'' (limit, border, boundary), plural ''fines'', was an essential concept in augural practice, which was concerned with the definition of the ''templum''. Establishing ''fines'' was an important part of a magistrate's duties. Most scholars regard the ''finis'' as having been defined physically by ropes, trees, stones, or other markers, as were fields and property boundaries in general. It was connected with the god Terminus and his cult.


The fifteen ''flamines'' formed part of the College of Pontiffs. Each flamen served as the high priest to one of the official deities of Roman religion, and led the rituals relating to that deity. The ''flamines'' were regarded as the most ancient among the ''sacerdotes'', as many of them were assigned to deities who dated back to the prehistory of Latium and whose significance had already become obscure by classical times. The archaic nature of the flamens is indicated by their presence among Latin tribes. They officiated at ceremonies with their head covered by a ''velum'' and always wore a ''filamen'', thread, in contrast to public rituals conducted by Greek rite ''(ritus graecus)'' which were established later. Ancient authors derive the word ''flamen'' from the custom of covering the head with the ''filamen'', but it may be cognate to Vedic ''brahmin''. The distinctive headgear of the flamen was the ''apex''.

Fratres Arvales

The "Brothers of the Field" were a college of priests whose duties were concerned with agriculture and farming. They were the most ancient religious ''sodalitas'': according to tradition they were created by Romulus, but probably predated the foundation of Rome.



The adjective ''gabinus'' describes an element of religion that the Romans attributed to practices from Gabii, a town of Latium with municipal status about 12 miles from Rome. The incorporation of Gabinian traditions indicates their special status under treaty with Rome. See ''cinctus gabinus'' and ''ager gabinus''.



The ''hostia'' was the offering, usually an animal, in a sacrifice. The word is used interchangeably with ''victima'' by Ovid and others, but some ancient authors attempt to distinguish between the two.Discussion and citation of ancient sources by Steven J. Green, ''Ovid'', Fasti'' 1: A Commentary'' (Brill, 2004), pp. 159–16
/ref> Servius says that the ''hostia'' is sacrificed before battle, the ''victima'' afterward, which accords with Ovid's etymology in relating the "host" to the "hostiles" or enemy (''hostis''), and the "victim" to the "victor." The difference between the ''victima'' and ''hostia'' is elsewhere said to be a matter of size, with the ''hostia'' smaller (''minor''). ''Hostiae'' were also classified by age: ''lactentes'' were young enough to be still taking milk, but had reached the age to be ''purae''; ''bidentes'' had reached two years of age or had the two longer ''(bi-)'' incisor teeth ''(dentes)'' that are an indication of age. ''Hostiae'' could be classified in various ways. A ''hostia consultatoria'' was an offering for the purpose of consulting with a deity, that is, in order to know the will of a deity; the ''hostia animalis'', to increase the force (''mactare'') of the deity. The victim might also be classified by occasion and timing. The ''hostia praecidanea'' was an "anticipatory offering" made the day before a sacrifice. It was an advance atonement "to implore divine indulgence" should an error be committed on the day of the formal sacrifice. A preliminary pig was offered as a ''praecidanea'' the day before the harvest began. The ''hostia praecidanea'' was offered to Ceres a day in advance of a religious festival (''sacrum'', before the beginning of the harvest) in expiation for negligences in the duties of piety towards the deceased. The ''hostia praesentanaea'' was a pig offered to Ceres during a part of the funeral rites conducted within sight of the deceased, whose family was thereby ritually absolved. A ''hostia succidanea'' was offered at any rite after the first sacrifice had failed owing to a ritual impropriety (''vitium''). Compare ''piaculum'', an expiatory offering. ''Hostia'' is the origin of the word "host" for the Eucharistic sacrament of the Western Church; see Sacramental bread: Catholic Church. See also ''votum'', a dedication or a vow of an offering to a deity as well as that which fulfilled the vow.



A rite performed by augurs by which the concerned person received the approval of the gods for his appointment or their investiture. The augur would ask for the appearance of certain signs ''(auspicia impetrativa)'' while standing beside the appointee on the ''auguraculum''. In the Regal period, ''inauguratio'' concerned the king and the major ''sacerdotes''. After the establishment of the Republic, the ''rex sacrorum'', the three ''flamines maiores'', the augurs, and the pontiffs all had to be inaugurated. The term may also refer to the ritual establishing of the augural ''templum'' and the tracing of the wall of a new city.


The ''indigitamenta'' were lists of gods maintained by the College of Pontiffs to assure that the correct divine names were invoked for public prayers. It is sometimes unclear whether these names represent distinct minor entities, or epithets pertaining to an aspect of a major deity's sphere of influence, that is, an indigitation, or name intended to "fix" or focalize the local action of the god so invoked. Varro is assumed to have drawn on direct knowledge of the lists in writing his theological books, as evidenced by the catalogues of minor deities mocked by the Church Fathers who used his work as a reference. Another source is likely to have been the non-extant work ''De indigitamentis'' of Granius Flaccus, Varro's contemporary. Not to be confused with the ''di indigetes.''


The addressing of a deity in a prayer or magic spell is the ''invocatio'', from ''invoco, invocare'', "to call upon" the gods or spirits of the dead. The efficacy of the ''invocatio'' depends on the correct naming of the deity, which may include epithets, descriptive phrases, honorifics or titles, and arcane names. The list of names ''(nomina)'' is often extensive, particularly in magic spells; many prayers and hymns are composed largely of invocations. The name is invoked in either the vocative or the accusative case. In specialized usage pertaining to augural procedure, ''invocatio'' is a synonym for ''precatio'', but specifically aimed at averting ''mala'', evil occurrences. Compare ''evocatio''. The equivalent term in ancient Greek religion is ''epiklesis''. Pausanias distinguished among the categories of theonym proper, poetic epithet, the ''epiclesis'' of local cult, and an ''epiclesis'' that might be used universally among the Greeks. ''Epiclesis'' remains in use by some Christian churches for the invocation of the Holy Spirit during the Eucharistic prayer.


Ius is the Latin word for justice, right, equity, fairness and all which came to be understood as the sphere of ''law''. It is defined in the opening words of the Digesta with the words of Celsus as "the art of that which is good and fair" and similarly by Paulus as "that which is always just and fair". The polymath Varro and the jurist Gaius consider the distinction between divine and human ''ius'' essential but divine order is the source of all laws, whether natural or human, so the pontifex is considered the final judge (iudex) and arbiter. The jurist Ulpian defines jurisprudence as "the knowledge of human and divine affairs, of what is just and unjust".

ius divinum

"Sacred law" or "divine law," particularly in regard to the gods' rights pertaining to their "property," that which is rightfully theirs. Recognition of the ''ius divinum'' was fundamental to maintaining right relations between human beings and their deities. The concern for law and legal procedure that was characteristic of ancient Roman society was also inherent in Roman religion. See also ''pax deorum''.




The word ''lex'' (plural ''leges'') derives from the Indo-European root ''*leg'', as do the Latin verbs ''lego, legare, ligo, ligare'' ("to appoint, bequeath") and ''lego, legere'' (" to gather, choose, select, discern, read": cf. also Greek verb ''legein'' "to collect, tell, speak"), and the abstract noun ''religio''. Parties to legal proceedings and contracts bound themselves to observance by the offer of sacrifice to witnessing deities. Even though the word ''lex'' underwent the frequent semantic shift in Latin towards the legal area, its original meaning of set, formulaic words was preserved in some instances. Some cult formulae are ''leges'': an augur's request for particular signs that would betoken divine approval in an augural rite (augurium), or in the inauguration of magistrates and some ''sacerdotes'' is named ''legum dictio''. The formula ''quaqua lege volet'' ("by whatever lex, i.e. wording he wishes") allowed a cult performer discretion in his choice of ritual words. The ''leges templi'' regulated cult actions at various temples. In civil law, ritualised sets of words and gestures known as ''legis actiones'' were in use as a legal procedure in civil cases; they were regulated by custom and tradition ''(mos maiorum)'' and were thought to involve protection of the performers from malign or occult influences.


Libation (Latin ''libatio'', Greek ''spondai'') was one of the simplest religious acts, regularly performed in daily life. At home, a Roman who was about to drink wine would pour the first few drops onto the household altar. The drink offering might also be poured on the ground or at a public altar. Milk and honey, water, and oil were also used.


The ''liberatio'' (from the verb ''liberare'', "to free") was the "liberating" of a place ''(locus)'' from "all unwanted or hostile spirits and of all human influences," as part of the ceremony inaugurating the ''templum'' (sacred space). It was preceded by the consulting of signs and followed by the ''effatio'', the creation of boundaries ''(fines)''. A site ''liberatus et effatus'' was "exorcized and available" for its sacred purpose.

libri augurales

The augural books (''libri augurales'') represented the collective, core knowledge of the augural college. Some scholars consider them distinct from the ''commentarii augurum'' (commentaries of the augurs) which recorded the collegial acts of the augurs, including the ''decreta'' and ''responsa''. The books were central to the practice of augury. They have not survived, but Cicero, who was an augur himself, offers a summary in ''De Legibus'' that represents "precise dispositions based certainly on an official collection edited in a professional fashion."

libri pontificales

The ''libri pontificales'' (pontifical books) are core texts in Roman religion, which survive as fragmentary transcripts and commentaries. They may have been partly annalistic, part priestly; different Roman authors refer to them as ''libri'' and ''commentarii'' (commentaries), described by Livy as incomplete "owing to the long time elapsed and the rare use of writing" and by Quintillian as unintelligibly archaic and obscure. The earliest were credited to Numa, second king of Rome, who was thought to have codified the core texts and principles of Rome's religious and civil law (''ius divinum'' and ''ius civile''). See also ''commentarii pontificum''.


In animal sacrifice, the ''litatio'' followed on the opening up of the body cavity for the inspection of the entrails (''inspicere exta''). ''Litatio'' was not a part of divinatory practice as derived from the Etruscans (see extispicy and Liver of Piacenza), but a certification according to Roman liturgy of the gods' approval. If the organs were diseased or defective, the procedure had to be restarted with a new victim (''hostia''). The importance of ''litatio'' is illustrated by an incident in 176 BC when the presiding consuls attempted to sacrifice an ox, only to find that its liver had been inexplicably consumed by a wasting disease. After three more oxen failed to pass the test, the senate's instructions were to keep sacrificing bigger victims until ''litatio'' could be obtained. The point was not that those sacrificing had to make sure that the victim was perfect inside and out; rather, the good internal condition of the animal was evidence of divine acceptance of the offering. The need for the deity to approve and accept (''litare'') underscores that the reciprocity of sacrifice (''do ut des'') was not to be taken for granted.


The distinctively curved staff of an augur, or a similarly curved war trumpet. On Roman coins, the ''lituus'' is frequently accompanied by a ritual jug or pitcher to indicate that either the moneyer or person honored on the obverse was an augur.


In religious usage, a ''lucus'' was a grove or small wooded area considered sacred to a divinity. Entrance might be severely restricted: Paulus explains that a ''capitalis lucus'' was protected from human access under penalty of death. ''Leges sacratae'' (laws for the violation of which the offender is outlawed) concerning sacred groves have been found on ''cippi'' at Spoleto in Umbria and Lucera in Apulia. See also ''nemus.''


''Ludi'' were games held as part of religious festivals, and some were originally sacral in nature. These included chariot racing and the ''venatio'', or staged animal-human blood sport that may have had a sacrificial element.


The "wolf priests", organized into two colleges and later three, who participated in the Lupercalia. The most famous person to serve as a ''lupercus'' was Mark Antony.


A ritual of purification which was held every five years under the jurisdiction of censors in Rome. Its original meaning was purifying by washing in water (Lat. ''lustrum'' from verb ''luo'', "I wash in water"). The time elapsing between two subsequent lustrations being of five years the term ''lustrum'' took up the meaning of a period of five year.



''Manubia'' is a technical term of the Etruscan discipline, and refers to the power of a deity to wield lightning, represented in divine icons by a lightning bolt in the hand. It may be either a Latinized word from Etruscan or less likely a formation from ''manus'', "hand," and ''habere'', "to have, hold." It is not apparently related to the more common Latin word ''manubiae'' meaning "booty (taken by a general in war)." Seneca uses the term in an extended discussion of lightning. Jupiter, as identified with Etruscan Tinia, held three types of ''manubiae'' sent from three different celestial regions. Stefan Weinstock describes these as: # mild, or "perforating" lightning; # harmful or "crushing" lightning, which is sent on the advice of the twelve Di Consentes and occasionally does some good; # destructive or "burning" lightning, which is sent on the advice of the ''di superiores et involuti'' (hidden gods of the "higher" sphere) and changes the state of public and private affairs. Jupiter makes use of the first type of beneficial lightning to persuade or dissuade. Books on how to read lightning were one of the three main forms of Etruscan learning on the subject of divination.


One of several words for portent or sign, ''miraculum'' is a non-technical term that places emphasis on the observer's response (''mirum'', "a wonder, marvel"). Livy uses the word ''miraculum'', for instance, to describe the sign visited upon Servius Tullius as a child, when divine flames burst forth from his head and the royal household witnessed the event. Compare ''monstrum'', ''ostentum'', ''portentum'', and ''prodigium''. ''Miraculum'' is the origin of the English word "miracle." Christian writers later developed a distinction between ''miracula'', the true forms of which were evidence of divine power in the world, and mere ''mirabilia'', things to be marveled at but not resulting from God's intervention. "Pagan" marvels were relegated to the category of ''mirabilia'' and attributed to the work of demons.

mola salsa

Flour mixed with salt was sprinkled on the forehead and between the horns of sacrificial victims, as well as on the altar and in the sacred fire. This ''mola salsa'' (salted flour) was prepared ritually from toasted wheat or emmer, spelt, or barley by the Vestals, who thus contributed to every official sacrifice in Rome. Servius uses the words ''pius'' and ''castus'' to describe the product. The ''mola'' was so fundamental to sacrifice that "to put on the ''mola''" (Latin ''immolare'') came to mean "to sacrifice." Its use was one of the numerous religious traditions ascribed to Numa, the Sabine second king of Rome.


A ''monstrum'' is a sign or portent that disrupts the natural order as evidence of divine displeasure. The word ''monstrum'' is usually assumed to derive, as Cicero says, from the verb ''monstro'', "show" (compare English "demonstrate"), but according to Varro it comes from ''moneo'', "warn." Because a sign must be startling or deviant to have an impact, ''monstrum'' came to mean "unnatural event" or "a malfunctioning of nature." Suetonius said that "a ''monstrum'' is contrary to nature we are familiar with, like a snake with feet or a bird with four wings."As cited by Wardle, ''Cicero on Divination'', p. 330. The Greek equivalent was ''teras''. The English word "monster" derived from the negative sense of the word. Compare ''miraculum'', ''ostentum'', ''portentum'', and ''prodigium''. In one of the most famous uses of the word in Latin literature, the Augustan poet Horace calls Cleopatra a ''fatale monstrum'', something deadly and outside normal human bounds. Cicero calls Catiline ''monstrum atque prodigium'' and uses the phrase several times to insult various objects of his attacks as depraved and beyond the human pale. For Seneca, the ''monstrum'' is, like tragedy, "a visual and horrific revelation of the truth."


Literally "the world", also a pit supposedly dug and sealed by Romulus as part of Rome's foundation rites. Its interpretation is problematic; it was normally sealed, and was ritually opened only on three occasions during the year. Still, in the most ancient Fasti, these days were marked C(omitiales) (days when the Comitia met) suggesting the idea that the whole ritual was a later Greek import. However Cato and Varro as quoted by Macrobius considered them ''religiosi''. When opened, the pit served as a cache for offerings to underworld deities, particularly Ceres, goddess of the fruitful earth. It offered a portal between the upper and lower worlds; its shape was said to be an inversion of the dome of the upper heavens.



An adjective derived from ''nefas'' (following). The gerund of verb ''fari'', to speak, is commonly used to form derivate or inflected forms of ''fas''. See Vergil's ''fandi'' as genitive of ''fas''. This use has been invoked to support the derivation of ''fas'' from IE root *bha, Latin fari.


Any thing or action contrary to divine law and will is ''nefas'' (in archaic legalese, ''ne'' (not) ... ''fas''). ''Nefas'' forbids a thing as religiously and morally offensive, or indicates a failure to fulfill a religious duty. It might be nuanced as "a religious duty not to", as in Festus' statement that "a man condemned by the people for a heinous action is ''sacer''" — that is, given over to the gods for judgment and disposal — "it is not a religious duty to execute him, but whoever kills him will not be prosecuted". Livy records that the patricians opposed legislation that would allow a plebeian to hold the office of consul on the grounds that it was ''nefas'': a plebeian, they claimed, would lack the arcane knowledge of religious matters that by tradition was a patrician prerogative. The plebeian tribune Gaius Canuleius, whose ''lex'' it was, retorted that it was arcane because the patricians kept it secret.


Usually found with ''dies'' (singular or plural), as ''dies nefasti'', days on which official transactions were forbidden on religious grounds. See also nefas, fasti and fas.


''Nemus'', plural ''nemora'', was one of four Latin words that meant "forest, woodland, woods." ''Lucus'' is more strictly a sacred grove, as defined by Servius as "a large number of trees with a religious significance", and distinguished from the ''silva'', a natural forest; ''saltus'', territory that is wilderness; and a ''nemus'', an arboretum that is not consecrated (but compare Celtic ''nemeton''). In Latin poetry, a ''nemus'' is often a place conducive to poetic inspiration, and particularly in the Augustan period takes on a sacral aura. Named ''nemora'' include: * The ''nemus'' of Anna Perenna. * ''Nemus Caesarum'', dedicated to the memory of Augustus's grandsons Gaius and Lucius. *The ''nemus Aricinum'' sacred to Diana, Egeria and Virbius.


The chief responsibility of an augur was to observe signs ''(observatio)'' and to report the results ''(nuntiatio)''. The announcement was made before an assembly. A passage in Cicero states that the augur was entitled to report on the signs observed before or during an assembly and that the magistrates had the right to watch for signs ''(spectio)'' as well as make the announcement ''(nuntiatio)'' prior to the conducting of public business, but the exact significance of Cicero's distinction is a matter of scholarly debate.



''Obnuntiatio'' was a declaration of unfavourable signs by an augur in order to suspend, cancel or postpone a proposed course of action. The procedure could be carried out only by an official who had the right to observe omens (''spectio''). The only source for the term is Cicero, a conservative politician and himself an augur, who refers to it in several speeches as a religious bulwark against popularist politicians and tribunes. Its details and workings are unknown; it may have derived from a radical intervention into traditional augural law of a civil Lex Aelia Fufia, proposed by dominant traditionalists in an attempt to block the passing of popular laws and used from around the 130s BC. Legislation by Clodius as Tribune of the plebs in 58 BC was aimed at ending the practice, or at least curtailing its potential for abuse; ''obnuntiatio'' had been exploited the previous year as an obstructionist tactic by Julius Caesar's consular colleague Bibulus. That the Clodian law had not deprived all augurs or magistrates of the privilege is indicated by Mark Antony's use of ''obnuntatio'' in early 44 BC to halt the consular election.


''Observatio'' was the interpretation of signs according to the tradition of the "Etruscan discipline", or as preserved in books such as the ''libri augurales''. A haruspex interpreted ''fulgura'' (thunder and lightning) and ''exta'' (entrails) by ''observatio''. The word has three closely related meanings in augury: the observing of signs by an augur or other diviner; the process of observing, recording, and establishing the meaning of signs over time; and the codified body of knowledge accumulated by systematic observation, that is, "unbending rules" regarded as objective, or external to an individual's observation on a given occasion. Impetrative signs, or those sought by standard augural procedure, were interpreted according to ''observatio''; the observer had little or no latitude in how they might be interpreted. ''Observatio'' might also be applicable to many oblative or unexpected signs. ''Observatio'' was considered a kind of ''scientia'', or "scientific" knowledge, in contrast to ''coniectura'', a more speculative "art" or "method" (''ars'') as required by novel signs.


An omen, plural ''omina'', was a sign intimating the future, considered less important to the community than a ''prodigium'' but of great importance to the person who heard or saw it. Omens could be good or bad. Unlike prodigies, bad omens were never expiated by public rites but could be reinterpreted, redirected or otherwise averted. Some time around 282 BC, a diplomatic insult formally "accepted as omen" was turned against Tarentum and helped justify its conquest. After a thunderclap cost Marcellus his very brief consulship (215 BC) he took care to avoid sight of possible bad omens that might affect his plans. Bad omens could be more actively dealt with, by countersigns or spoken formulae. Before his campaign against Perseus of Macedon, the consul L Aemilius Paullus was said to have heard of the death of Perseus, his daughter's puppy. He accepted the omen and defeated King Perseus at the Battle of Pydna (168 BC). In 217 BC the consul Gaius Flaminius "disregarded his horse's collapse, the chickens, and yet other omens, before his disaster at Lake Trasimene". Licinius Crassus took ship for Syria despite an ominous call of ''"Cauneas!"'' ("Caunean figs!"), which might be heard as ''"Cave ne eas!''" ("Beware, don't go!")'. He was killed on campaign. Cicero saw these events as merely coincidental; only the credulous could think them ominous. By his time, however, politicians, military magnates and their supporters actively circulated tales of excellent omens that attended their births and careers. See also abominari and signum.


One form of arcane literature was the ''ostentarium'', a written collection describing and interpreting signs (''ostenta''). Tarquinius Priscus wrote an ''Ostentarium arborarium'', a book on signs pertaining to trees, and an ''Ostentarium Tuscum'', presumably translations of Etruscan works. Pliny cites his contemporary Umbricius Melior for an ''ostentarium aviarium'', concerning birds. They were consulted until late antiquity; in the 4th century, for instance, the haruspices consulted the books of Tarquinius before the battle that proved fatal to the emperor Julian — according to Ammianus Marcellinus, because he failed to heed them. Fragments of ''ostentaria'' survive as quotations in other literary works.


According to Varro, an ''ostentum'' is a sign so called because it shows (''ostendit'') something to a person. Suetonius specified that "an ''ostentum'' shows itself to us without possessing a solid body and affects both our eyes and ears, like darkness or a light at night." In his classic work on Roman divination, Auguste Bouché-Leclercq thus tried to distinguish theoretical usage of ''ostenta'' and ''portenta'' as applying to inanimate objects, ''monstra'' to biological signs, and ''prodigia'' for human acts or movements, but in non-technical writing the words tend to be used more loosely as synonyms. The theory of ''ostenta'', ''portenta'' and ''monstra'' constituted one of the three branches of interpretation within the ''disciplina Etrusca'', the other two being the more specific ''fulgura'' (thunder and lightning) and ''exta'' (entrails). ''Ostenta'' and ''portenta'' are not the signs that augurs are trained to solicit and interpret, but rather "new signs", the meaning of which had to be figured out through ''ratio'' (the application of analytical principles) and ''coniectura'' (more speculative reasoning, in contrast to augural ''observatio'').

ordo sacerdotum

A religious hierarchy implied by the seating arrangements of priests (sacerdotes) at sacrificial banquets. As "the most powerful", the ''rex sacrorum'' was positioned next to the gods, followed by the Flamen Dialis, then the Flamen Martialis, then the Flamen Quirinalis and lastly, the Pontifex Maximus. The ''ordo sacerdotum'' observed and preserved ritual distinctions between divine and human power. In the human world, the Pontifex Maximus was the most influential and powerful of all ''sacerdotes''.



''Paludatus'' (masculine singular, plural ''paludati'') is an adjective meaning "wearing the ''paludamentum''," the distinctive attire of the Roman military commander. Varro and Festus say that any military ornament could be called a ''paludamentum'', but other sources indicate that the cloak was primarily meant. According to Festus, ''paludati'' in the augural books meant "armed and adorned" ''(armati, ornati)''. As the commander crossed from the sacred boundary of Rome ''(pomerium)'', he was ''paludatus'', adorned with the attire he would wear to lead a battle and for official business. This adornment was thus part of the commander's ritual investiture with ''imperium''. It followed upon the sacrifices and vows the commander offered up on the Capitol, and was concomitant with his possession of the auspices for war. Festus notes elsewhere that the "Salian virgins", whose relation to the Salian priests is unclear, performed their rituals ''paludatae'', dressed in military garb.

pax deorum

''Pax'', though usually translated into English as "peace," was a compact, bargain or agreement. In religious usage, the harmony or accord between the divine and human was the ''pax deorum'' or ''pax divom'' ("the peace of the gods" or "divine peace"). ''Pax deorum'' was only given in return for correct religious practice. Religious error (''vitium'') and impiety led to divine disharmony and ''ira deorum'' (the anger of the gods).


A ''piaculum'' is an expiatory sacrifice, or the victim used in the sacrifice; also, an act requiring expiation. Because Roman religion was contractual (''do ut des''), a ''piaculum'' might be offered as a sort of advance payment; the Arval Brethren, for instance, offered a ''piaculum'' before entering their sacred grove with an iron implement, which was forbidden, as well as after. The pig was a common victim for a ''piaculum''. The Augustan historian Livy says P. Decius Mus is "like" a ''piaculum'' when he makes his vow to sacrifice himself in battle (see ''devotio'').


The origin of the English word "pious", ''pius'' is found in Volscian as ''pihom estu'', Umbrian as ''pihaz'' (a past participle equivalent to Latin ''piatum'') and Oscan as ''pehed'', from the Proto-Indo-European root ''*q(u)ei-''. In Latin and other Italic languages, the word seems to have meant "that which is in accord with divine law." Later it was used to designate actions respectful of divine law and even people who acted with respect towards gods and godly rules. The ''pius'' person "strictly conforms his life to the ''ius divinum''. "Dutiful" is often a better translation of the adjective than "pious." ''Pius'' is a regular epithet of the Roman founding hero Aeneas in Vergil's ''Aeneid''. See also pietas, the related abstract noun.


''Pietas'', from which English "piety" derives, was the devotion that bound a person to the gods, to the Roman state, and to his family. It was the outstanding quality of the Roman hero Aeneas, to whom the epithet ''pius'' is applied regularly throughout the ''Aeneid''.


A verb of unknown etymology meaning "to consecrate."


The ''pontifex'' was a priest of the highest-ranking college. The chief among the ''pontifices'' was the Pontifex Maximus. The word has been considered as related to ''pons'', bridge, either because of the religious meaning of the pons Sublicius and its ritual use (which has a parallel in Thebae and in its ''gephiarioi'') or in the original IE meaning of way. Pontifex in this case would be the "opener of the way" corresponding to the Vedic adharvayu, the only active and moving ''sacerdos'' in the sacrificial group who takes his title from the figurative designation of liturgy as a way. Another hypothesis considers the word as a loan from the Sabine language, in which it would mean a member of a college of five people, from Osco-Umbrian ''ponte'', five. This explanation takes into account that the college was established by Sabine king Numa Pompilius and the institution is Italic: the expressions ''pontis'' and ''pomperias'' found in the Iguvine Tablets may denote a group or division of five or by five. The pontifex would thus be a member of a sacrificial college known as ''pomperia'' (Latin ''quinio'').


The ''popa'' was one of the lesser-rank officiants at a sacrifice. In depictions of sacrificial processions, he carries a mallet or axe with which to strike the animal victim. Literary sources in late antiquity say that the ''popa'' was a public slave.Marietta Horster, "Living on Religion: Professionals and Personnel", in ''A Companion to Roman Religion'', pp. 332–334. See also ''victimarius''.


The verb ''porricere'' had the specialized religious meaning "to offer as a sacrifice," especially to offer the sacrificial entrails ''(exta)'' to the gods. Both ''exta porricere'' and ''exta dare'' referred to the process by which the entrails were cooked, cut into pieces, and burnt on the altar. The Arval Brethren used the term ''exta reddere'', "to return the entrails," that is, to render unto the deity what has already been given as due.Robert Schilling, "Roman Sacrifice," ''Roman and European Mythologies'' (University of Chicago Press, 1992, from the French edition of 1981), p. 7


A ''portentum'' is a kind of sign interpreted by a haruspex, not an augur, and by means of ''coniectura'' rather than ''observatio''. ''Portentum'' is a close but not always exact synonym of ''ostentum, prodigium'', and ''monstrum''. Cicero uses ''portentum'' frequently in his treatise ''De divinatione'', where it seems to be a generic word for prodigies. The word could also refer in non-technical usage to an unnatural occurrence without specific religious significance; for instance, Pliny calls an Egyptian with a pair of non-functional eyes on the back of his head a ''portentum''. Varro derives ''portentum'' from the verb ''portendere'' because it portends something that is going to happen. In the schema of A. Bouché-Leclercq, ''portenta'' and ''ostenta'' are the two types of signs that appear in inanimate nature, as distinguished from the ''monstrum'' (a biological singularity), ''prodigia'' (the unique acts or movements of living beings), and a ''miraculum'', a non-technical term that emphasizes the viewer's reaction. The sense of ''portentum'' has also been distinguished from that of ''ostentum'' by relative duration of time, with the ''ostentum'' of briefer manifestation. Although the English word "portent" derives from ''portentum'' and may be used to translate it, other Latin terms such as ''ostentum'' and ''prodigium'' will also be found translated as "portent". ''Portentum'' offers an example of an ancient Roman religious term modified for Christian usage; in the Christian theology of miracles, a ''portentum'' occurring by the will of the Christian God could not be regarded as contrary to nature (''contra naturam''), thus Augustine specified that if such a sign appeared to be unnatural, it was only because it was contrary to nature as known (''nota'') by human beings.


The ''precatio'' was the formal addressing of the deity or deities in a ritual. The word is related by etymology to ''prex'', "prayer" (plural ''preces''), and usually translated as if synonymous. Pliny says that the slaughter of a sacrificial victim is ineffectual without ''precatio'', the recitation of the prayer formula. Priestly texts that were collections of prayers were sometimes called ''precationes''. Two late examples of the ''precatio'' are the ''Precatio Terrae Matris'' ("The Prayer of Mother Earth") and the ''Precatio omnium herbarum'' ("Prayer of All the Herbs"), which are charms or ''carmina'' written metrically, the latter attached to the medical writings attributed to Antonius Musa. ''Dirae precationes'' were "dire" prayers, that is, imprecations or curses. In augural procedure, ''precatio'' is not a prayer proper, but a form of invocation ''(invocatio)'' recited at the beginning of a ceremony or after accepting an oblative sign. The ''precatio maxima'' was recited for the ''augurium salutis'', the ritual conducted by the augurs to obtain divine permission to pray for Rome's security (''salus''). In legal and rhetorical usage, ''precatio'' was a plea or request.


''Prex'', "prayer", usually appears in the plural, ''preces''. Within the tripartite structure that was often characteristic of formal ancient prayer, ''preces'' would be the final expression of what is sought from the deity, following the invocation and a narrative middle. A legitimate request is an example of ''bonae preces'', "good prayer." ''Tacitae preces'' are silent or ''sotto voce'' prayers as might be used in private ritual or magic; ''preces'' with a negative intent are described with adjectives such as ''Thyesteae'' ("Thyestean"), ''funestae'' ("deadly"), ''infelices'' (aimed at causing unhappiness), ''nefariae'', or ''dirae''. In general usage, ''preces'' could refer to any request or entreaty. The verbal form is ''precor, precari'', "pray, entreat." The Umbrian cognate is ''persklu'', "supplication." The meaning may be "I try and obtain by uttering appropriate words what is my right to obtain." It is used often in association with ''quaeso'' in expressions such as ''te precor quaesoque'', "I pray and beseech you", or ''prece quaesit'', "he seeks by means of prayer." In Roman law of the Imperial era, ''preces'' referred to a petition addressed to the emperor by a private person.


''Prodigia'' (plural) were unnatural deviations from the predictable order of the cosmos. A ''prodigium'' signaled divine displeasure at a religious offense and must be expiated to avert more destructive expressions of divine wrath. Compare ''ostentum'' and ''portentum'', signs denoting an extraordinary inanimate phenomenon, and ''monstrum'' and ''miraculum'', an unnatural feature in humans. Prodigies were a type of ''auspicia oblativa''; that is, they were "thrust upon" observers, not deliberately sought. Suspected prodigies were reported as a civic duty. A system of official referrals filtered out those that seemed patently insignificant or false before the rest were reported to the senate, who held further inquiry; this procedure was the ''procuratio prodigiorum''. Prodigies confirmed as genuine were referred to the pontiffs and augurs for ritual expiation. For particularly serious or difficult cases, the decemviri sacris faciundis could seek guidance and suggestions from the Sibylline Books. The number of confirmed prodigies rose in troubled times. In 207 BC, during one of the worst crises of the Punic Wars, the senate dealt with an unprecedented number, the expiation of which would have involved "at least twenty days" of dedicated rites. Major prodigies that year included the spontaneous combustion of weapons, the apparent shrinking of the sun's disc, two moons in a daylit sky, a cosmic battle between sun and moon, a rain of red-hot stones, a bloody sweat on statues, and blood in fountains and on ears of corn. These were expiated by the sacrifice of "greater victims". The minor prodigies were less warlike but equally unnatural; sheep became goats; a hen become a cock, and vice versa. The minor prodigies were duly expiated with "lesser victims". The discovery of a hermaphroditic four-year-old child was expiated by its drowning and a holy procession of 27 virgins to the temple of Juno Regina, singing a hymn to avert disaster; a lightning strike during the hymn rehearsals required further expiation. Religious restitution was proved only by Rome's victory. The expiatory burial of living human victims in the Forum Boarium followed Rome's defeat at Cannae in the same wars. In Livy's account, Rome's victory follows its discharge of religious duties to the gods. Livy remarked the scarcity of prodigies in his own day as a loss of communication between gods and men. In the later Republic and thereafter, the reporting of public prodigies was increasingly displaced by a "new interest in signs and omens associated with the charismatic individual."


Literally, "in front of the shrine", therefore not within a sacred precinct; not belonging to the gods but to humankind.

propitius; praepetes (aves)

An adjective of augural terminology meaning favourable. From ''pro-'' before and ''petere'' seek, but originally fly. It implies a kind of favourable pattern in the flight of birds, i.e. flying before the person who is taking the auspices. Synonym ''secundus''.


The ''pulvinar'' (plural ''pulvinaria'') was a special couch used for displaying images of the gods, that they might receive offerings at ceremonies such as the ''lectisternium'' or ''supplicatio''. In the famous ''lectisternium'' of 217 BC, on orders of the Sibylline books, six ''pulvinaria'' were arranged, each for a divine male-female pair. By extension, pulvinar can also mean the shrine or platform housing several of these couches and their images. At the Circus Maximus, the couches and images of the gods were placed on an elevated ''pulvinar'' to "watch" the games.



regina sacrorum

The wife of the ''rex sacrorum'', who served as a high priestess with her own specific religious duties.


The word ''religio'' originally meant an obligation to the gods, something expected by them from human beings or a matter of particular care or concern as related to the gods. In this sense, ''religio'' might be translated better as "religious scruple" than with the English word "religion". One definition of ''religio'' offered by Cicero is ''cultus deorum'', "the proper performance of rites in veneration of the gods." ''Religio'' among the Romans was not based on "faith", but on knowledge, including and especially correct practice. ''Religio'' (plural ''religiones'') was the pious practice of Rome's traditional cults, and was a cornerstone of the ''mos maiorum'', the traditional social norms that regulated public, private, and military life. To the Romans, their success was self-evidently due to their practice of proper, respectful ''religio'', which gave the gods what was owed them and which was rewarded with social harmony, peace and prosperity. Religious law maintained the proprieties of divine honours, sacrifice and ritual. Impure sacrifice and incorrect ritual were ''vitia'' (faults, hence "vice," the English derivative); excessive devotion, fearful grovelling to deities, and the improper use or seeking of divine knowledge were ''superstitio''; neglecting the ''religiones'' owed to the traditional gods was atheism, a charge leveled during the Empire at Jews, Christians, and Epicureans. Any of these moral deviations could cause divine anger (''ira deorum'') and therefore harm the State. See Religion in ancient Rome.


''Religiosus'' was something pertaining to the gods or marked out by them as theirs, as distinct from ''sacer'', which was something or someone given to them by humans. Hence, a graveyard was not primarily defined as ''sacer'' but a ''locus religiosus'', because those who lay within its boundaries were considered belonging to the di Manes. Places struck by lightning were taboo because they had been marked as ''religiosus'' by Jupiter himself. See also sacer and sanctus.

res divinae

''Res divinae'' were "divine affairs," that is, the matters that pertained to the gods and the sphere of the divine in contrast to ''res humanae'', "human affairs." ''Rem divinam facere'', "to do a divine thing," simply meant to do something that pertained to the divine sphere, such as perform a ceremony or rite. The equivalent Etruscan term is ''ais(u)na''. The distinction between human and divine ''res'' was explored in the multivolume ''Antiquitates rerum humanarum et divinarum'', one of the chief works of Varro (1st century BC). It survives only in fragments but was a major source of traditional Roman theology for the Church Fathers. Varro devoted 25 books of the ''Antiquitates'' to ''res humanae'' and 16 to ''res divinae''. His proportional emphasis is deliberate, as he treats cult and ritual as human constructs. Varro divides ''res divinae'' into three kinds: * the mythic theology of the poets, or narrative elaboration; * the natural theology of the philosophers, or theorizing on divinity among the intellectual elite; * the civil theology concerned with the relation of the state to the divine. The schema is Stoic in origin, though Varro has adapted it for his own purposes. ''Res divinae'' is an example of ancient Roman religious terminology that was appropriated for Christian usage; for St. Augustine, ''res divina'' is a "divine reality" as represented by a ''sacrum signum'' ("sacred sign") such as a sacrament.


''Responsa'' (plural) were the "responses," that is, the opinions and arguments, of the official priests on questions of religious practice and interpretation. These were preserved in written form and archived. Compare ''decretum''.

rex sacrorum

The ''rex sacrorum'' was a senatorial priesthood reserved for patricians. Although in the historical era the Pontifex Maximus was the head of Roman state religion, Festus says that in the ranking of priests, the ''rex sacrorum'' was of highest prestige, followed by the ''flamines maiores''.


Although ''ritus'' is the origin of the English word "rite" via ecclesiastical Latin, in classical usage ''ritus'' meant the traditional and correct manner (of performance), that is, "way, custom". Festus defines it as a specific form of ''mos'': "''Ritus'' is the proven way ''(mos)'' in the performance of sacrifices." The adverb ''rite'' means "in good form, correctly." This original meaning of ''ritus'' may be compared to the concept of ''ṛtá'' ("visible order", in contrast to ''dhāman, dhārman'') in Vedic religion, a conceptual pairing analogous to Latin ''fas'' and ''ius''. For Latin words meaning "ritual" or "rite", see ''sacra'', ''caerimoniae'', and ''religiones''.

ritus graecus

A small number of Roman religious practices and cult innovations were carried out according to "Greek rite" ''(ritus graecus)'', which the Romans characterized as Greek in origin or manner. A priest who conducted ''ritu graeco'' wore a Greek-style fringed tunic, with his head bare ''(capite aperto)'' or laurel-wreathed. By contrast, in most rites of Roman public religion, an officiant wore the distinctively Roman toga, specially folded to cover his head (see ''capite velato''). Otherwise, "Greek rite" seems to have been a somewhat indefinite category, used for prayers uttered in Greek, and Greek methods of sacrifice within otherwise conventionally Roman cult. Roman writers record elements of ''ritus graecus'' in the cult to Hercules at Rome's Ara Maxima, which according to tradition was established by the Greek king Evander even before the city of Rome was founded at the site. It thus represented one of the most ancient Roman cults. "Greek" elements were also found in the Saturnalia held in honor of the Golden Age deity Saturn, and in certain ceremonies of the Ludi saeculares. A Greek rite to Ceres (''ritus graecus cereris'') was imported from Magna Graecia and added to her existing Aventine cult in accordance with the Sibylline books, ancient oracles written in Greek. Official rites to Apollo are perhaps "the best illustration of the ''Graecus ritus'' in Rome." The Romans regarded ''ritus graecus'' as part of their own ''mos maiorum'' (ancestral tradition), and not as ''novus aut externus ritus'', novel or foreign rite. The thorough integration and reception of rite labeled "Greek" attests to the complex, multi-ethnic origins of Rome's people and religious life.



''Sacellum'', a diminutive from ''sacer'' ("belonging to a god"), is a shrine. Varro and Verrius Flaccus give explanations that seem contradictory, the former defining a ''sacellum'' in its entirety as equivalent to a ''cella'', which is specifically an enclosed space, and the latter insisting that a ''sacellum'' had no roof. "The ''sacellum''," notes Jörg Rüpke, "was both less complex and less elaborately defined than a temple proper." Each curia had its own ''sacellum''.


''Sacer'' describes a thing or person given to the gods, thus "sacred" to them. Human beings had no legal or moral claims on anything ''sacer''. ''Sacer'' could be highly nuanced; Varro associates it with "perfection". Through association with ritual purity, ''sacer'' could also mean "sacred, untouchable, inviolable". Anything not ''sacer'' was ''profanum'': literally, "in front of (or outside) the shrine", therefore not belonging to it or the gods. A thing or person could be made ''sacer'' (consecrated), or could revert from ''sacer'' to ''profanum'' (deconsecrated), only through lawful rites ''(resecratio)'' performed by a pontiff on behalf of the state. Part of the ''ver sacrum'' sacrificial vow of 217 BC stipulated that animals dedicated as ''sacer'' would revert to the condition of ''profanum'' if they died through natural cause or were stolen before the due sacrificial date. Similar conditions attached to sacrifices in archaic Rome. A thing already owned by the gods or actively marked out by them as divine property was distinguished as ''religiosus'', and hence could not be given to them or made ''sacer''. Persons judged ''sacer'' under Roman law were placed beyond further civil judgment, sentence and protection; their lives, families and properties were forfeit to the gods. A person could be declared ''sacer'' who harmed a plebeian tribune, failed to bear legal witness, failed to meet his obligations to clients, or illicitly moved the boundary markers of fields. It was not a religious duty ''(fas)'' to execute a ''homo sacer'', but he could be killed with impunity. ''Dies sacri'' ("sacred days") were ''nefasti'', meaning that the ordinary human affairs permitted on ''dies profani'' (or ''fasti'') were forbidden. ''Sacer'' was a fundamental principle in Roman and Italic religions. In Oscan, related forms are ''sakoro'', "sacred," and ''sakrim'', "sacrificial victim". Oscan ''sakaraklum'' is cognate with Latin ''sacellum'', a small shrine, as Oscan ''sakarater'' is with Latin ''sacratur, consecrare'', "consecrated". The ''sacerdos'' is "one who performs a sacred action" or "renders a thing sacred", that is, a priest.


A ''sacerdos'' (plural ''sacerdotes'', a word of either masculine or feminine gender) was any priest or priestess, from ''*sakro-dho-ts'', "the one who does the sacred act." There was no priestly caste in ancient Rome, and in some sense every citizen was a priest in that he presided over the domestic cult of his household. Senators, magistrates, and the decurions of towns performed ritual acts, though they were not ''sacerdotes'' per se. The ''sacerdos'' was one who held the title usually in relation to a specific deity or temple. See also ''collegium'' and flamen.


''Sacra'' (neuter plural of ''sacer'') are the traditional cults, either ''publica'' or ''privata'', both of which were overseen by the College of Pontiffs. The ''sacra publica'' were those performed on behalf of the whole Roman people or its major subdivisions, the tribes and ''curiae''. They included the ''sacra pro populo'', "rites on behalf of the Roman people," i.e., all the ''feriae publicae'' of the Roman calendar year and the other feasts that were regarded of public interest, including those pertaining to the hills of Rome, to the ''pagi'' and ''curiae'', and to the ''sacella'', "shrines". The establishment of the ''sacra publica'' is ascribed to king Numa Pompilius, but many are thought to be of earlier origin, even predating the founding of Rome. Thus Numa may be seen as carrying out a reform and a reorganisation of the ''sacra'' in accord with his own views and his education. ''Sacra publica'' were performed at the expense of the state, according to the dispositions left by Numa, and were attended by all the senators and magistrates. ''Sacra privata'' were particular to a ''gens'', to a family, or to an individual, and were carried out at the expense of those concerned. Individuals had ''sacra'' on dates peculiar to them, such as birthdays, the ''dies lustricus'', and at other times of their life such as funerals and expiations, for instance of fulgurations. Families had their own ''sacra'' in the home or at the tombs of their ancestors, such as those pertaining to the Lares, Manes and Penates of the family, and the Parentalia. These were regarded as necessary and imperishable, and the desire to perpetuate the family's ''sacra'' was among the reasons for adoption in adulthood. In some cases, the state assumed the expenses even of ''sacra privata,'' if they were regarded as important to the maintenance of the Roman religious system as a whole; see ''sacra gentilicia'' following.

sacra gentilicia

''Sacra gentilicia'' were the private rites (see ''sacra'' above) that were particular to a ''gens'' ("clan"). These rites are related to a belief in the shared ancestry of the members of a ''gens'', since the Romans placed a high value on both family identity and commemorating the dead. During the Gallic siege of Rome, a member of the ''gens Fabia'' risked his life to carry out the ''sacra'' of his clan on the Quirinal Hill; the Gauls were so impressed by his courageous piety that they allowed him to pass through their lines. The Fabian ''sacra'' were performed in Gabine dress by a member of the ''gens'' who was possibly named a flamen. There were ''sacra'' of Minerva in the care of the Nautii, and rites of Apollo that the Iulii oversaw. The Claudii had recourse to a distinctive "propudial pig" sacrifice ''(propudialis porcus'', "pig of shame") by way of expiation when they neglected any of their religious obligations. Roman practices of adoption, including so-called "testamentary adoption" when an adult heir was declared in a will, were aimed at perpetuating the ''sacra gentilicia'' as well as preserving the family name and property. A person adopted into another family usually renounced the ''sacra'' of his birth (see ''detestatio sacrorum'') in order to devote himself to those of his new family. ''Sacra gentilicia'' sometimes acquired public importance, and if the ''gens'' were in danger of dying out, the state might take over their maintenance. One of the myths attached to Hercules' time in Italy explained why his cult at the Ara Maxima was in the care of the patrician ''gens Potitia'' and the ''gens Pinaria''; the diminution of these families by 312 BC caused the ''sacra'' to be transferred to the keeping of public slaves and supported with public funding.

sacra municipalia

The ''sacra'' of an Italian town or community ''(municipium)'' might be perpetuated under the supervision of the Roman pontiffs when the locality was brought under Roman rule. Festus defined ''municipalia sacra'' as "those owned originally, before the granting of Roman citizenship; the pontiffs desired that the people continue to observe them and to practice them in the way ''(mos)'' they had been accustomed to from ancient times." These ''sacra'' were regarded as preserving the core religious identity of a particular people.


''Sacramentum'' is an oath or vow that rendered the swearer ''sacer'', "given to the gods," in the negative sense if he violated it. ''Sacramentum'' also referred to a thing that was pledged as a sacred bond, and consequently forfeit if the oath were violated. Both instances imply an underlying ''sacratio'', act of consecration. In Roman law, a thing given as a pledge or bond was a ''sacramentum''. The ''sacramentum legis actio'' was a sum of money deposited in a legal procedure to affirm that both parties to the litigation were acting in good faith. If correct law and procedures had been followed, it could be assumed that the outcome was ''iustum'', right or valid. The losing side had thus in effect committed perjury, and forfeited his ''sacramentum'' as a form of ''piaculum''; the winner got his deposit back. The forfeited ''sacramentum'' was normally allotted by the state to the funding of ''sacra publica''. The ''sacramentum militare'' (also as ''militum'' or ''militiae'') was the oath taken by soldiers in pledging their loyalty to the consul or emperor. The ''sacramentum'' that renders the soldier ''sacer'' helps explain why he was subjected to harsher penalties, such as execution and corporal punishment, that were considered inappropriate for civilian citizens, at least under the Republic. In effect, he had put his life on deposit, a condition also of the fearsome ''sacramentum'' sworn by gladiators. In the later empire, the oath of loyalty created conflict for Christians serving in the military, and produced a number of soldier-martyrs. ''Sacramentum'' is the origin of the English word "sacrament", a transition in meaning pointed to by Apuleius's use of the word to refer to religious initiation. The ''sacramentum'' as pertaining to both the military and the law indicates the religious basis for these institutions. The term differs from ''iusiurandum'', which is more common in legal application, as for instance swearing an oath in court. A ''sacramentum'' establishes a direct relation between the person swearing (or the thing pledged in the swearing of the oath) and the gods; the ''iusiurandum'' is an oath of good faith within the human community that is in accordance with ''ius'' as witnessed by the gods.


A ''sacrarium'' was a place where sacred objects ''(sacra)'' were stored or deposited for safekeeping. The word can overlap in meaning with ''sacellum'', a small enclosed shrine; the ''sacella'' of the Argei are also called ''sacraria''. In Greek writers, the word is ἱεροφυλάκιον ''hierophylakion'' (''hiero-'', "sacred" and ''phylakion'', something that safeguards). See ''sacellum'' for a list of ''sacraria''. The ''sacrarium'' of a private home lent itself to Christian transformation, as a 4th-century poem by Ausonius demonstrates; in contemporary Christian usage, the sacrarium is a "special sink used for the reverent disposal of sacred substances" (see ''piscina'').


An event or thing dedicated to the gods for their disposal. The offer of sacrifice is fundamental to religio. See also Sacer and Religion in ancient Rome: Sacrifice.


An adjective first introduced to define the inviolability of the function (potestas) of the tribunes of the plebs and of other magistrates sanctioned by law leges Valeriae Horatiae in 449 BC, mentioned by Livy III 55, 1. It seems the sacrality of the function the tribune had already been established in earlier times through a ''religio'' and a ''sacramentum'', however it obliged only the contracting parties. In order to become a rule that obliged everybody it had to be sanctioned through a ''sanctio'' that was not only civil but religious as well: the trespasser was to be declared ''sacer'', his family and property sold. ''Sacer'' would thus design the religious compact, ''sanctus'' the law. According to other passages in Livy, the law was not approved by some jurists of the time who maintained that only those who infringed the commonly recognised divine laws (''id (or Iovi corr. Mueller) sacrum sanciti'') could fall into the category of those to be declared ''sacri''. In fact in other places Livy states that only the ''potestas'' and not the person of the tribune was defined as ''sacrosancta''. The word is used in Livy III 19, 10 by the critics of the law in this way: "These people postulate they themselves should be ''sacrosancti'', they who do not hold even gods for sacred and saint?" The meaning of the word is given as ''guaranteed by an oath'' by H. Fugier, however Morani thinks it would be more appropriate to understand the first part of the compound as a consequence of the second: ''sanxit tribunum sacrum'' the tribune is sanctioned by the law as ''sacer''. This kind of word composition based on an etymological figure has parallels in other IE languages in archaic constructions.


The Salii were the "leaping".


A verb meaning to ratify a compact and put it under the protection of a ''sanctio'', penalty, sanction. The formation and original meaning of the verb are debated. Some scholars think it is derived by the IE stem root *sak (the same of sacer) through a more recent way of word formation, i.e. by the insertion of a nasal ''n'' infix and the suffix -yo, such as Lithuanian iung-iu from IE stem *yug. Thence sancio would mean to render something ''sacer'', i.e. belonging to the gods in the sense of having their guarantee and protection. Some think it is a derivation from the theonym Sancus, the god of the ratification of ''foedera'' and protection of good faith, from the root sancu- plus suffix -io as inquio>incio. In such case the verb would mean an act that reflects or conforms to the function of this god, i.e. the ratifying and guaranteeing compacts.


''Sanctus'', an adjective formed on the past participle of verb sancio, describes that which is "established as inviolable" or "sacred", most times in a sense different from that of ''sacer'' and ''religiosus''. In fact its original meaning would be that which is protected by a sanction (''sanctio''). It is connected to the name of the Umbrian or Sabine founder-deity Sancus (in Umbrian Sancius) whose most noted function was the ratifying and protecting of compacts (''foedera''). The Roman jurist Ulpian distinguishes ''sanctus'' as "neither sacred (''sacer'') nor profane (''profanum'') ... nor ''religiosus''." Gaius writes that a building dedicated to a god is ''sacrum'', a town's wall and gate are ''res sanctae'' because they belong "in some way" to divine law, and a graveyard is ''religiosus'' because it is relinquished to the di Manes. Thus some scholars think that it should originally be a concept related to space i.e. concerning inaugurated places, because they enjoyed the armed protection (''sanctio'') of the gods. Various deities, objects, places and people – especially senators and magistrates – can be ''sanctus''. Claudia Quinta is described as a ''sanctissima femina'' (most virtuous woman) and Cato the Younger as a ''sanctus civis'' (a morally upright citizen). See also sanctuary. Later the epithet ''sanctus'' is given to many gods including Apollo Pythius by Naevius, Venus and Tiberinus by Ennius and Livy: Ennius renders the Homeric ''dia theaoon'' as ''sancta dearum''; in the early Imperial era, Ovid describes Terminus, the god who sanctifies land boundaries, as ''sanctus'' and equates ''sancta'' with ''augusta'' (august). The original spatial connotation of the word is still reflected in its use as an epithet of the river Tiber and of god Terminus that was certainly ancient: borders are ''sancti'' by definition and rivers used to mark borders. ''Sanctus'' as referred to people thus over time came to share some of the sense of Latin ''castus'' (morally pure or guiltless), ''pius'' (pious), and none of the ambiguous usages attached to ''sacer'' and ''religiosus''. In ecclesiastical Latin, ''sanctus'' is the word for saint, but even in the Christian era it continues to appear in epitaphs for people who had not converted to Christianity.

servare de caelo

Literally, "to watch (for something) from the sky"; that is, to observe the ''templum'' of the sky for signs that might be interpreted as auspices. Bad omens resulted in a report of ''obnuntiatio''.


A ''signum'' is a "sign, token or indication". In religious use, ''signum'' provides a collective term for events or things (including signs and symbols) that designate divine identity, activity or communication, including ''prodigia'', ''auspicia'', ''omina'', ''portenta'' and ''ostenta''.


Silence was generally required in the performance of every religious ritual. The ritual injunction ''favete linguis'', "be favourable with your tongues," meant "keep silent." In particular, silence assured the ritual correctness and the absence of ''vitia'', "faults," in the taking of the auspices. It was also required in the nomination (''dictio'') of the ''dictator''.


In ancient times, augurs (augures ex caelo) faced south, so the happy orient, where the sun rose, lay at their left. Consequently, the word ''sinister'' (Latin for left) meant well-fated. When, under Greek influence, it became customary for augurs to face north, sinister came to indicate the ill-fated west, where light turned into darkness. It is this latter and later meaning that is attached to the English word sinister.


A ''sodalitas'' was a form of voluntary association or society. Its meaning is not necessarily distinct from ''collegium'' in ancient sources, and is found also in ''sodalicium'', "fraternity." The ''sodalis'' is a member of a ''sodalitas'', which describes the relationship among ''sodales'' rather than an institution. Examples of priestly ''sodalitates'' are the ''Luperci, fetiales'', Arval brothers and ''Titii''; these are also called ''collegia'', but that they were a kind of confraternity is suggested by the distinctive convivial song associated with some. An association of ''sodales'' might also form a burial society, or make religious dedications as a group; inscriptions record donations made by women for the benefit of ''sodales''. Roman Pythagoreans such as Nigidius Figulus formed ''sodalicia'', with which Ammianus Marcellinus compared the fellowship ''(sodalicia consortia)'' of the druids in Gallo-Roman culture. When the cult of Cybele was imported to Rome, the eunuchism of her priests the ''galli'' discouraged Roman men from forming an official priesthood; instead, they joined ''sodalitates'' to hold banquets and other forms of traditional Roman ''cultus'' in her honor. The ''sodalitates'' are thought to originate as aristocratic brotherhoods with cultic duties, and their existence is attested as early as the late 6th or early 5th century BC. The Twelve Tables regulated their potential influence by forbidding them to come in conflict with public law ''(ius publicum)''. During the 60s BC, certain forms of associations were disbanded by law as politically disruptive, and in Ciceronian usage ''sodalitates'' may refer either to these subversive organizations or in a religious context to the priestly fraternities. See also Sodales Augustales. For the Catholic concept, see sodality.


''Spectio'' ("watching, sighting, observation") was the seeking of omens through observing the sky, the flight of birds, or the feeding of birds. Originally only patrician magistrates and augurs were entitled to practice ''spectio'', which carried with it the power to regulate assemblies and other aspects of public life, depending on whether the omens were good or bad. See also ''obnuntiatio''.


''Sponsio'' is a formal, religiously guaranteed obligation. It can mean both betrothal as pledged by a woman's family, and a magistrate's solemn promise in international treaties on behalf of the Roman people. The Latin word derives from a Proto-Indo-European root meaning a libation of wine offered to the gods, as does the Greek verb ''spendoo'' and the noun ''spondai, spondas'', and Hittite ''spant-''. In Greek it also acquired the meaning "compact, convention, treaty" (compare Latin ''foedus''), as these were sanctioned with a libation to the gods on an altar. In Latin, ''sponsio'' becomes a legal contract between two parties, or sometimes a ''foedus'' between two nations. In legal Latin the ''sponsio'' implied the existence of a person who acted as a ''sponsor'', a guarantor for the obligation undertaken by somebody else. The verb is ''spondeo, sponsus''. Related words are ''sponsalia'', the ceremony of betrothal; ''sponsa'', fiancée; and ''sponsus'', both the second-declension noun meaning a husband-to-be and the fourth declension abstract meaning suretyship. The ceremonial character of ''sponsio'' suggests that Latin archaic forms of marriage were, like the ''confarreatio'' of Roman patricians, religiously sanctioned. Dumézil proposed that the oldest extant Latin document, the Duenos inscription, could be interpreted in light of ''sponsio''.


''Superstitio'' was excessive devotion and enthusiasm in religious observance, in the sense of "doing or believing more than was necessary", or "irregular" religious practice that conflicted with Roman custom. "Religiosity" in its pejorative sense may be a better translation than "superstition", the English word derived from the Latin. Cicero defined ''superstitio'' as the "empty fear of the gods" ''(timor inanis deorum)'' in contrast to the properly pious cultivation of the gods that constituted lawful ''religio'', a view that Seneca expressed as "''religio'' honours the gods, ''superstitio'' wrongs them." Seneca wrote an entire treatise on ''superstitio,'' known to St. Augustine but no longer extant. Lucretius's famous condemnation of what is often translated as "Superstition" in his Epicurean didactic epic ''De rerum natura'' is actually directed at ''Religio''. Before the Christian era, ''superstitio'' was seen as a vice of individuals. Practices characterized as "magic" could be a form of ''superstitio'' as an excessive and dangerous quest for personal knowledge. By the early 2nd century AD, religions of other peoples that were perceived as resistant to religious assimilation began to be labeled by some Latin authors as ''superstitio,'' including druidism, Judaism, and Christianity. Under Christian hegemony, ''religio'' and ''superstitio'' were redefined as a dichotomy between Christianity, viewed as true ''religio,'' and the ''superstitiones'' or false religions of those who declined to convert.


''Supplicationes'' are days of public prayer when the men, women, and children of Rome traveled in procession to religious sites around the city praying for divine aid in times of crisis. A ''suplicatio'' can also be a thanksgiving after the receipt of aid. Supplications might also be ordered in response to prodigies; again, the population as a whole wore wreaths, carried laurel twigs, and attended sacrifices at temple precincts throughout the city.



See ''auguraculum.'' The origin of the English word "tabernacle."


A ''templum'' was the sacred space defined by an augur for ritual purposes, most importantly the taking of the auspices, a place "cut off" as sacred: compare Greek ''temenos'', from ''temnein'' to cut. It could be created as temporary or permanent, depending on the lawful purpose of the inauguration. Auspices and senate meetings were unlawful unless held in a ''templum''; if the senate house (Curia) was unavailable, an augur could apply the appropriate religious formulae to provide a lawful alternative. To create a ''templum'', the augur aligned his zone of observation (''auguraculum'', a square, portable surround) with the cardinal points of heaven and earth. The altar and entrance were sited on the east-west axis: the sacrificer faced east. The precinct was thus "defined and freed" (''effatum et liberatum''). In most cases, signs to the augur's left (north) showed divine approval and signs to his right (south), disapproval. Temple buildings of stone followed this ground-plan and were sacred in perpetuity. Rome itself was a kind of ''templum'', with the ''pomerium'' as sacred boundary and the ''arx'' (citadel), and Quirinal and Palatine hills as reference points whenever a specially dedicated ''templum'' was created within. Augurs had authority to establish multiple ''templa'' beyond the pomerium, using the same augural principles.


verba certa

''Verba certa'' (also found nearly as often with the word order ''certa verba'') are the "exact words" of a legal or religious formula, that is, the words as "set once and for ever, immutable and unchangeable." Compare ''certae precationes'', fixed prayers of invocation, and ''verba concepta'', which in both Roman civil law and augural law described a verbal formula that could be "conceived" flexibly to suit the circumstances. With their emphasis on exact adherence, the archaic ''verba certa'' are a magico-religious form of prayer. In a ritual context, prayer (''prex'') was not a form of personal spontaneous expression, but a demonstration that the speaker knew the correct thing to say. Words were regarded as having power; in order to be efficacious, the formula had to be recited accurately, in full, and with the correct pronunciation. To reduce the risk of error (''vitium''), the magistrate or priest who spoke was prompted from the text by an assistant.

verba concepta

In both religious and legal usage, ''verba concepta'' ("preconceived words") were verbal formulas that could be adapted for particular circumstances. Compare ''verba certa'', "fixed words." Collections of ''verba concepta'' would have been part of the augural archives. Varro preserves an example, albeit textually vexed, of a formula for founding a ''templum''. In the legal sense, ''concepta verba'' (the phrase is found with either word order) were the statements crafted by a presiding praetor for the particulars of a case. Earlier in the Roman legal system, the plaintiff had to state his claim within a narrowly defined set of fixed phrases ''(certa verba)''; in the Mid Republic, more flexible formulas allowed a more accurate description of the particulars of the issue under consideration. But the practice may have originated as a kind of "dodge," since a praetor was liable to religious penalties if he used ''certa verba'' for legal actions on days marked ''nefastus'' on the calendar. St. Augustine removed the phrase ''verba concepta'' from its religious and legal context to describe the cognitive process of memory: "When a true narrative of the past is related, the memory produces not the actual events which have passed away but words conceived ''(verba concepta)'' from images of them, which they fixed in the mind like imprints as they passed through the senses." Augustine's conceptualizing of memory as verbal has been used to elucidate the Western tradition of poetry and its shared origins with sacred song and magical incantation (see also ''carmen''), and is less a departure from Roman usage than a recognition of the original relation between formula and memory in a pre-literate world. Some scholars see the tradition of stylized, formulaic language as the verbal tradition from which Latin literature develops, with ''concepta verba'' appearing in poems such as ''Carmen'' 34 of Catullus.

ver sacrum

The "sacred spring" was a ritual migration.


The ''victima'' was the animal offering in a sacrifice, or very rarely a human. The victim was subject to an examination (''probatio victimae'') by a lower-rank priest (''pontifex minor'') to determine whether it met the criteria for a particular offering. With some exceptions, male deities received castrated animals. Goddesses were usually offered female victims, though from around the 160s AD the goddess Cybele was given a bull, along with its blood and testicles, in the Taurobolium. Color was also a criterion: white for the upper deities, dark for chthonic, red for Vulcan and at the Robigalia. A sacred fiction of sacrifice was that the victim had to consent, usually by a nod of the head perhaps induced by the ''victimarius'' holding the halter. Fear, panic, and agitation in the animal were bad omens. The word ''victima'' is used interchangeably with ''hostia'' by Ovid and others, but some ancient authors attempt to distinguish between the two. Servius says that the ''hostia'' is sacrificed before battle, the ''victima'' afterward, which accords with Ovid's etymology of "victim" as that which has been killed by the right hand of the "victor" (with ''hostia'' related to ''hostis'', "enemy"). The difference between the ''victima'' and ''hostia'' is elsewhere said to be a matter of size, with the ''victima'' larger (''maior'').Char. 403.38. See also piaculum and votum.


The ''victimarius'' was an attendant or assistant at a sacrifice who handled the animal. Using a rope, he led the pig, sheep, or bovine that was to serve as the victim to the altar. In depictions of sacrifice, a ''victimarius'' called the ''popa'' carries a mallet or axe with which to strike the ''victima''. Multiple ''victimarii'' are sometimes in attendance; one may hold down the victim's head while the other lands the blow. The ''victimarius'' severed the animal's carotid with a ritual knife (''culter''), and according to depictions was offered a hand towel afterwards by another attendant. He is sometimes shown dressed in an apron (''limus''). Inscriptions show that most ''victimarii'' were freedmen, but literary sources in late antiquity say that the ''popa'' was a public slave.


A mistake made while performing a ritual, or a disruption of augural procedure, including disregarding the auspices, was a ''vitium'' ("defect, imperfection, impediment"). ''Vitia'', plural, could taint the outcome of elections, the validity of laws, and the conducting of military operations. The augurs issued an opinion on a given ''vitium'', but these were not necessarily binding. In 215 BC the newly elected plebeian consul M. Claudius Marcellus resigned when the augurs and the senate decided that a thunderclap expressed divine disapproval of his election. The original meaning of the semantic root in ''vitium'' may have been "hindrance", related to the verb ''vito, vitare'', "to go out of the way"; the adjective form ''vitiosus'' can mean "hindering", that is, "vitiating, faulty."


A verb meaning chanting or reciting a formula with a joyful intonation and rhythm. The related noun ''Vitulatio'' was an annual thanksgiving offering carried out by the pontiffs on 8 July, the day after the ''Nonae Caprotinae''. These were commemorations of Roman victory in the wake of the Gallic invasion. Macrobius says ''vitulari'' is the equivalent of Greek ''paianizein'' (παιανίζειν), "to sing a paean", a song expressing triumph or thanksgiving.


In a religious context, ''votum'', plural ''vota'', is a vow or promise made to a deity. The word comes from the past participle of ''voveo, vovere''; as the result of the verbal action "vow, promise", it may refer also to the fulfillment of this vow, that is, the thing promised. The ''votum'' is thus an aspect of the contractual nature of Roman religion, a bargaining expressed by ''do ut des'', "I give that you might give."John Scheid, "Sacrifices for Gods and Ancestors", in ''A Companion to Roman Religion'' (Blackwell, 2007), p. 270; William Warde Fowler, ''The Religious Experience of the Roman People'' (London, 1922), pp. 200–202.

See also

* Religion in ancient Rome * Imperial cult (ancient Rome) * Roman festivals, on religious holidays * Roman polytheistic reconstructionism


{{DEFAULTSORT:Glossary Of Ancient Roman Religion Category:Ancient Roman religion Category:Glossaries of religion Category:Ancient Rome-related lists