general there can be said to have been two forms of sacrifice previously
practiced in the religio romana,
bloodless offerings and blood sacrifice.
While recognizing that blood sacrifices were made in the past and may
be regarded as part of the tradition, there is more precedence in the
tradition that rejects the use of blood sacrifice.
At different places in the Fasti,
Ovid mentions that “Formerly what served to conciliate gods and men was
spelt and pure salt’s glistening grain,” Sabine juniper and laurel, and
garlands of flowers alone (1.338-445; 4.409-411), and that blood sacrifices
were a later introduction. Later
offerings of incense from distant lands were begun by Liber, these being
myrrh, frankincense, and Indian nard, and also that He introduced libations of
milk and honey, and special liba
cakes (3.727-736). Still later,
after the introduction of the vine, libations of wine were made to some of the
gods, while milk was retained as the appropriate libation for the gods and
goddesses of an older tradition. Pliny mentions that rites established by
Romulus continued the custom of using milk libations, and that Numa had
forbidden wine libations on funeral pyres (Natural
History 14.88). Tradition held that Pompilius Numa was the second king of
Rome, succeeding Romulus. That
same tradition credited Numa with having founded most of the institutions of
the religio romana, including its calendar and priesthoods.
The rites instituted for the state religio
by Numa did not include the use of blood sacrifices, and explicitly disallowed
their use. Plutarch too mentions
that blood sacrifices were uncommon in the time of Numa, and that grain was
the most frequently used offering (Numa
8.8). We should understand this to mean then that blood sacrifices continued
in private practices, although not in the tradition of the public rites.
This tradition forsaking blood sacrifices goes back further, to
Pythagoras, and this was recognized in Roman traditions by making Numa a
student of Pythagoras. This story
may trace back to Aristoxenus who is said to have written that Romans were
among Pythagoras’ followers. The
story continued at least until 186 BCE, and although officially abandoned
later, it is still found with Ovid into the early empire (Cicero, Republica
2.28, Tusculum 4.3; Livy 1.18, 40.29.9-14; Dionysius of Halicarnassus
2.59; Plutarch, Numa 18; Ovid, Metamorphoses
15.4.481, Fasti 3.153; Pliny, Natural
History XIII.87). From
Pythagoras and Numa, through Seneca and in a broader sense Apollonius of Tyana
as well, there was within the religio
romana another, older tradition which not only rejected the use of blood
sacrifices, but which also made vegetarianism a pious choice in private
first blood sacrifice, that of a sow, is said to have been ordered for Ceres
(Ovid, Fasti 1.349, Metamorphoses
15.111-13). In Rome the Aventine Temple of Ceres had a strong association with
Greek influences arriving from southern Italy.
Cicero considered the worship of Ceres at Rome to have derived from the
Greeks (pro Balbo 55; In C. Verrem 72.187). He
states that the rituals were Greek in origin and in name, and that even the
priestesses who conducted the rituals in his time were Greek and performed
their rites in Greek. But we
should understand these Greek rites to have been the later introduction
brought to Rome when priestesses from Capua were invited in 196 BCE to perform
the ritus Graecus. The earlier Temple of Ceres, dedicated in 494 BCE, was also
associated with Sabellian Capua and may have had some Greek influences, but
was distinctly an Italic cult. The
Temple of Ceres was also dedicated to Liber and Libera in 494 BCE.
The assimilation of Dionyssus with Liber did not occur until 186 BCE,
however, and so the cultus deorum of Ceres, Liber, and Libera was Italic at the time of
its initial introduction. It
cannot therefore be said that Ceres was introduced to Rome by Greeks in the
same manner that the Magna Mater arrived from Asia; only that certain aspects
of Her worship was derived from Greek influences. These traditions on the cultus
Cereri suggest that the adoption of blood sacrifice was a foreign
introduction to the religio romana originally
established by Pompilius Numa, but not that blood sacrifices were necessarily
of Greek origin.
should recall, also, that human sacrifices were made in an earlier period.
The Senate outlawed the practice in 454 BCE (Pliny N.
H. XXX.12; the Twelve Tablets), although we know of some later instances. The Senate again outlawed human sacrifices in 97 BCE when
Licinius Crassus was consul. In
certain Roman rites puppets were substituted for human victims.
There is the well-known example of the Argei.
These straw puppets were tossed by the Vestal Virgins into the River
Tiber on 14 (15) May, who Ovid and Cicero mention as substitutes for old men
that were sacrificed in an earlier age (Ovid, Fasti
5.621-662; Cicero, pro Roscio
Amerino, 35.100 mentions the sexagenarios
de ponte). Similarly at the Feriae Sementiva and Paganalia in January, and at the Feriae
Latinae in April, puppets (oscillae)
were hung in trees in substitution of an earlier practice of sacrificing boys
(Probus and Servius commenting on Georgic
II.389, where Virgil wrote, “invoke Thee with glad hymns, O Bacchus, and to
thee hang puppet-faces on tall pines to swing.” Macrobius 1.7.34).
One legend held that Remus had been sacrificed to purify the pomerium
wall, and recently (summer 2000) there was discovered a pomerium wall around
the Palatine under which the remains of four sacrificial victims had been
placed. These are believed to
have been sacrificed at the time when Servius Tullius built the walls of Rome,
expanding the pomerium. When
Augustus rededicated the city, four pillars were buried, one inscribed in
memory of Remus, either commemorating or in substitution of the Servian
sacrifices. Recalling ancient
practices, yet substituting puppets of straw, wax, or bread in the religio
romana may be compared to the practices of other religions.
The main celebration of Christian churches is that of a human sacrifice
and a cannibalistic meal, where bread is substituted for the flesh of their
founder. Among the Chinese
objects made of paper are burned in sacrifice as substitutes for what they
a similar fashion the attitude towards the use of animals for blood sacrifices
changed over time. In the Republican era pontifical regulations permitted wax
figures or animal forms made of dough to be substituted for animal victims.
In the time of Nero, the philosopher and miracle-worker Apollonius of
Tyana spoke out against not only human sacrifices, but also against any of the
traditional blood sacrifices. “I
am not,” he said, “the sort of person who prays with his eye on a knife or
offers these kind of sacrifices…and if I had…I would become guilty of
murder and operate with entrails that are an abomination to me and wholly
unacceptable to the gods (Philstratus, Life of Apollonius of Tyana 8.7.9-10).” Blood sacrifices of all kinds were then banned by an imperial
decree on 24 February, 391 CE. Modern
practitioners of the religio romana,
rejecting the use of blood sacrifices, have thus returned to honoring the
practices first instituted by Pompilius Numa.
The rites of the religio romana employ the use of sacrifices in conjunction with
prayers offered up to the gods and goddesses.
The reasons for including sacrifices are given by the fourth century
Neoplatonist Cynic Sallustius.
First is the matter of giving thanks to the gods and goddesses for all
they have provided. One gives
back a portion of what they have received.
As such, what is appropriate to sacrifice to any deity depends upon
what specific providence is under the deity.
An appropriate sacrifice to Ceres, the goddess of grain, would
therefore be grain or bread; for Pomona, the goddess of fruiting plants, the
appropriate sacrifice would be the fruits She has provided.
“Prayers offered without sacrifices are only words, with sacrifices
they are live words; the wording gives meaning to the life while the life
animates the words.” The religio
romana promotes the growth and development of the whole person, in body,
mind and soul. Thus in every rite
we perform, these three components of ourselves must be involved.
It is with our physical actions that we involve the use of the body,
our mind in the thoughts and words we use, and our soul is in the sincere
intent and devotion of the performance of our rites.
The words of a prayer voices the meaning and intent, the sacrifice
gives it substance, but there must also be the third portion to conjoin our
soulful essence with our actions. The
essence of our actions is then carried along with the essence of the sacrifice
back to its divine source.
“The happiness of every object is its own perfection, and perfection
for each is communion with its own cause.”
Every thing proceeds from the gods and shall return to the gods in its
own time. Or as Proclus stated,
“Every effect remains in its cause, proceeds from it, and reverts upon it (Elements of Theology, Prop. 35). Having lived its life, performed
its purpose in life, each constituent part of an object shall return to its
source, its being perfected in the completion of its entire cycle of life.
That is true for humans, animals, and plants, and even, it may be said,
for inanimate objects as well. In the first reason given above, the
perspective was from that of the deities, returning what is already under
their providence. Here Sallustius
looked at sacrifice from the perspective of what is being offered, that is,
its returning to its divine source alone, to achieve its perfection of being.
Reverting back to its origin, returning through each stage of its procession
from the source, and thus returning towards the divine, a sacrifice reverts
upon its own perfection in the Divine (Proclus Elements
of Theology Prop. 37).
are six types of sacrifices that may be made in the religio romana. 1) First is to honor the gods and to commemorate
certain events such as the dedication of a temple. 2) To propitiate the gods
when some disaster has occurred or other event whereby the gods demand a
sacrifice. 3) Similarly, if divination, dreams or visions reveal a requirement
that a sacrifice needs to be made. 4) By far though, most sacrifices made by
individuals are performed in thanks, after a contract was met by the gods. A
vow (nuncupatio) is first made that
a sacrifice will be offered, or that an altar will be erected, or a temple
built or renovated, or some other action that will be taken to fulfill the
vow, on condition that the god perform some request.
If the request is fulfilled, the deity having accepted the vow, then
one is obliged to fulfill the vow (ex
voto); failure to do so would make that person sacer.
Sometimes, 5) in expectation that prayers will be answered, a sacrifice
is made, but there is no obligation on the part of the deity. Most often these
types of sacrifices would be dedicated pro
salute in hopes of being healed of some illness.
6) Lastly there are those sacrifices made, not to honor the gods or to
fulfill a vow, but made instead as part of a purification rite.
ancient times ludi were established
to honor the gods and goddesses. The
Ludi plebii of November, established
in 220 BCE, and the Ludi Taurei
Quinquennales conducted every five years in June, first established in 186
BCE, consisted of chariot races and horse races. The Ludi Apollinares
of July, established in 212 BCE, and the Ludi
Florales of April, established in 173 BCE, consisted of theatrical
performances and chariot races. While
the Ludi Saeculares of May and June
consisted of three days and three nights of continuous theatrical
performances. At other times
poetry contests were held in honor of gods and goddesses. Composing poetry for the gods and goddesses, especially odes
to the deities, is still an accepted form of offering made today.
ancient practice was to hold a feast in honor of the gods, a lectisternitum.
Couches (lecti) were set
outside in front of temples, upon which were placed their images, representing
that the gods and goddesses join with the celebrants at the feast.
Offerings of food were placed on tables before them.
In private homes this practice was also made for the Lares,
not unlike at the Seder of Judaism, or the Sicilian practice for St.
Joseph’s Day. Today bringing
the images of the gods from the lararium
to a dinner table to share in the family meal continues this practice, or
otherwise food is set before the lararium.
Such offerings of food are left for only as long a time as the meal
takes place, and then are properly disposed.
far the most common form of sacrifice made in ancient times was the erection
of altars to the gods and goddesses of Roma antiqua. These were small column-like altars with a hallow (focus)
in the upper surface for a flame in which to make offerings of incense.
Such arae are inscribed with
the name of the deity (in ablative case) to whom it is offered, the name of
the practitioner (in nominative) who erected the ara, followed by a statement of the reason.
The reasons usually given were: pro
salute for health, ex visu
following a vision, ex voto
following a vow or VSLM (Votum Solvit Libenter Merito, “kept his vow freely to the god who
deserved it”), or simply to say dono
dedit (“He gave this gift”). Such
arae were erected at roadside
shrines or in front of temples. Today
grottoes and arae are set up either
in a family garden or inside the home.
the erection of arae then, the most
common offerings used on them, ancient or modern, is that of incense or the
burning of aromatic herbs. Herbs
used for all gods and goddesses are myrtle, bay laurel and juniper, while
frankincense, myrrh, nard, gum Arabic and orris root are common incenses.
Cut flowers and floral wreaths are another common offering.
Certain herbs and flowers are more closely associated with certain
goddesses and gods than others. An
incomplete list of these associations is given below:
fennel, barley, roses.
bay laurel, hyacinth.
butterfly weed, milkweed, mustard, thin-leaf parsnip.
Castor and Pollux:
dittany of Crete, hyacinth, pennyroyal, poppies, spelt, storax.
chiron vine, greater centaury, St. John’s wort, wormwood, yarrow.
jasmine, lavender, mandrake, rosemary, wormwood.
garlic, hemlock, mandrake, rue.
henbane, herb Robert, opopanax, oregano, monkshood.
lily, orris root, saffron.
benzoin, cassia, cinnamon, marjoram, saffron, sage, vervain.
Liber and Libera:
honey, ivy, mint, pennyroyal, cinnamon, frankincense.
dill, hellebore niger, marjoram, mercurialis, myrtle.
cinnamon, red clover, peony.
or chiron vine, olive, rosemary.
hyacinth, mandrake, mint, myrtle, parsley, rosemary, rue, violet.
costus, storax, violets.
ambergris, fennel, lily, marjoram, myrtle, rose.
laurel, juniper, violets.
of unmixed wine may be offered to any of the goddesses and gods, with the
exception of Ceres, Tellus, and Pales, to whom only milk, or honey mixed in
water or in milk is offered. Wine
offered in a libation to Fauna, the Bona Dea, may be made, provided it is
referred to only as milk and to its container as a honey pot, while no myrtle
may be offered to Her. One may
also note a passage from Virgil, (Eclogue
7.33-34): Sinum lactis et haec te liba, Priape, quotannis exspectare sat est:
custos es pauperis horti. (A bowl of milk, Priapus, and these cakes,
yearly, it is enough for you to claim; you are the guardian of a poor man's
plot.) Following in the tradition of Numa, milk is a more acceptable general
mentioned as an offering to the gods is libum,
a special cake made for religious rituals.
From Cato’s De Agricultura
75 a recipe is given:
In a mortar, break up well two
pounds of cheese. Add a pound of
wheat flour, or for a more delicate cake add only half a pound of very fine
flour. Mix together the cheese
and flour. Add one egg and knead
the mixture together. Form the
dough into a loaf of bread, and place it on a stone baking plate, atop oiled
fresh bay leaves. Set an earthen
bowl over the bread to bake it.
libum is cut into small squares,
then piled into a neat stack. Honey
may be dripped over the liba, which
is then served into a fire with a knife, as a burnt offering. Any offering or sacrifice, once dedicated to a god or
goddess, should not be touched or profaned in any manner. Other special breads used for sacrifices are known.
Cato also offers a recipe for placenta
at De Agricultura 76, and mentions fertum
at other places, although the recipe is not given. Special moulds were used to make a sacrificial bread for
Quirinus that had a wheel impressed into the top.
Some had deep indentations to facilitate breaking the bread.
Another specially prepared offering is moretum,
described in a poem by that name and attributed to Virgil.
Ovid mentions moretum as an
offering to Magna Mater (Fasti 4.367-72).
This is an herb salad, made with garlic, celery, rue, and coriander combined
with cheese to form a pate (some oil and vinegar can be added to help smooth
it into a paste). It may be molded into a round form and covered with a flour
and water paste, then baked and used like libum.
In modern practice any home baked bread may be substituted, with
perhaps a faccaccia being the best
to use. These may be drizzled
with honey or oil before offering.
was duty of the Vestal Virgins to make the mola
salsa used in sacrifices. Spelt
was dry roasted in ovens, then crushed into course flour and combined with
pure salt. The mola salsa was then drizzled over the backs of sacrificial animals.
Today mola salsa may be drizzled directly into a fire as an offering, or
used to season other offerings. If
a wax or dough figure is being used in substitution of an animal sacrifice
then it would be treated in the manner employed in the past.
Some hairs would be made into the figure’s forehead, which would be
cut and fed to a flame first. Its
head would then be anointed with wine and mola
salsa drizzled over its back. The figure would then be sliced into and the
whole figure fed into a flame. For the use of vegetable substitutes for animal
sacrifices, see the contest between Jupiter and Numa given by Ovid (Fasti
3.337-348). Similar to the mola
salsa was the februa or pium far
made for the purification rituals of the house and curiae
that took place in February. This
too was made of spelt roasted in an antique fashion, but salt is not mentioned
in its preparation. The spelt was
then pounded into rude cakes and offered to Juno on crude tables (mensae). Roman lictores
carried februa for use in purifying houses, believed to have been used by
strewing it on a doorsill of a house where someone had died and also as an
incense (Ovid Fasti 2.24-5). There
was also the salsamina “made by
mixing four kinds of fruit” (Arnobius Adversus
Gentes 7.24), i.e. four kinds of grains.
type of offering is the use of votives. These
may be made of wood, terracotta, silver, copper or bronze.
They can be coins or figurines of the gods and goddesses.
They may be miniature tools or weapons, or models of feathers or
leaves. Often miniature parts of the body, such as hands and feet or
specific organs, were used as votives in sacrifices made for assistance in
healing. Plaques with triangular
handles were also used, either made with a relief depicting the gods or
inscribed with a special request. Votives
were then broken and buried in special deposits beneath arae
or near or under templa.
sacrificial terms for offerings of various kinds are known to us only from
Arnobius (Adversus Gentes 7.24).
These include a number of consecrated cakes formed into different
shapes: africia, gratilla, catumeum,
cumspolium, and cubula.
Prior to bread making Romans ate grain in pottages, and two these,
differing only in quality, were retained in sacrifices – fitilla
and frumen. There are
several other specialized terms referring to blood sacrifices, such as the taedae
that is animal fat cut into very small pieces like dainties.
These specialized terms for different offerings, and instruction on how
to prepare them, were kept in the Libri
strictures gave the specific animals that were to be offered to various
deities, along with their markings, such as the use of a goat for Liber, a
virgin calf for Minerva, or a special breed of oxen for Jupiter. There were
also specialized terms for the instruments used in sacrifices, and the archaic
utterances to be recited, all the details to be followed to the letter.
But all of these strictures were meant for the formalized rituals of
the state religio. In private
practice there was greater variance and the same pontifical books provided for
substitutions by using images made of wax or flour dough.
Cato’s lustratio is an
example of a private rite, that mentions that a piglet, lamb, and calf may be
substituted in a suovitaurilia which
required matured animals be sacrificed, provided that they were not referred
to as such (De Agricultura 141).
A modern practitioner of the religio
romana who researches ancient rites for their own rites should bear this
in mind. While attention to detail and exactness is emphasized in the religio
romana, more attention should be given to pious devotion than to outward
prayers and offerings are made before the lararium
(see Lararium Rites). At the main
meal of the day a portion of wine is offered to Jupiter by pouring it onto the
ground, or otherwise in a small bowl which can later be poured on soil, with a
simple prayer, Jupiter Pater macte vino
in ferio esto. Other simple
rites may be performed in a similar fashion.
sacrifice however is a more formal rite and requires some preparation.
First the practitioner should prepare himself or herself through
fasting, purification, and prayer. Usually
this will involve a period of days, five to nine days being common.
One should fast, abstaining from meats, grain products, sweets and any
heavy foods, and instead eat fruits and light foods.
Alcohol, caffeine, drugs and preservatives should also be avoided.
Herbal teas and tonics are taken as drink.
Bathing, fumigations with sulphur or vervain, and anointings with oil
are made in this period; the hair and beard should not be cut, nor should the
nails be trimmed in this period. Daily rites of prayer and offerings should be
maintained. On the day the sacrifice will be made, the celebrant should eat no
food and drink only a small amount of vervain tea; bathe, anoint with oil, and
dress in white. Other precautions
may be warranted when approaching certain deities, or when sacrificing to a
deity whose identity is unknown.
area is then prepared in which to perform the sacrifice.
The area should be swept, then aspersed with vervain water and incensed
with frankincense. The altar is
scrubbed with fresh vervain or mints, and wound with woolen filaments three
times. A fire is then lit upon the altar and incense of vervain or
frankincense is offered. (Pliny, Natural
History 25.59; Virgil, Eclogue
VIII. 64-66.) Facing south,
auguries should then be taken for any sign of an ill omen before proceeding
(see On Auguries).
no signs appear which prohibit the sacrifice from being made at that time,
then the sacrifice must be ordered. This
is an important step as it signifies what action is about to be made.
In De Agricultura 141 Cato
states this ordering of the sacrifice as “Impera
suovitaurilia circumagi, and then gives an example of the instructions one
gives in ordering a sacrifice to be made.
Another example is found in Plautus (Pseudolus
326-7), Ei accerse hostias, victumas,
lanios, ut ego sacrificem summo Jovi (“Go, fetch offerings, victims, and
those who slay them, that I may sacrifice to Jove most high”). Usually a sacrifice is promised to the deity on some previous
occasion. One must fulfill such a
promise, but a specific time when it is to be performed is not generally
given. Now however, having then ordered the sacrifice, one is committed to
begin performing the sacrifice. Failure
to perform the sacrifice beyond this step would place a person in sacer.
The sacrifice that is to be made will depend upon the occasion and the
deity to whom it is offered. Every
precaution should be taken to follow exactly what a formula requires in a
particular ritual. Here we will
consider the various steps required in making sacrifices, speaking only in
One should always begin with an invocation in the manner of “Jane, Jupiter, Mars Pater, Quirine.” Other deities may be called upon in addition to, or
substituted for these deities, however Janus should always be included, and
should always be named first to begin a formal sacrifice. In general, a priest
would face east when invoking Janus and the other deities. Gods of the sea are invoked by facing in the direction of the
largest nearby body of water. Certain
other deities may be traditionally thought of as living in other directions.
The Dii Inferi and chthonic goddesses and gods like Tellus and Ceres are
generally invoked with the palm of the right hand placed on the earth or
otherwise facing downward (Sallustius: pecora
quae natura prona finxit; Varro: puerum
imponere equo pronum in ventrem, postea sedentem).
Most of the Dii Consentes are invoked with the palm of the right hand raised to
the sky, the fingers bent slightly backward (supinas manus ad caelum tendere).
The gods invoked in this first step are called to witness the
sacrifice. In addition to the
invocation, they are also given offerings individually, beginning with Janus.
The manner of making these offerings is the same as in a daily ritual.
Cato offers an example (De
Agricultura 134): Iano pater, te hac
strueo ommovendo bonas preces precoruti sies volens propitius mihi
(“Father Janus, in offering you this heap of cakes, I pray with virtuous
prayers, in order that you may be favorable and gracious to me.”) And again,
Iano pater, uti te strue ommovenda bonas
preces bene precatus sum, eiusdem rei ergo macte vino inferio esto (“Father
Janus, as in offering you the heap of cakes prayers were well spoken, for the
sake of the same things, be honored by this humble wine.”)
After offerings have been made in turn to each deity who has been
invoked aloud, the formal sacrifice may proceed.
At the conclusion of the sacrifice itself, a prayer and offering should
be made to Vesta in the same manner to conclude the ceremony.
The invocation that will be made to the deity to whom the sacrifice is
offered is performed a little differently.
This invocation is made in two parts, the manner of which is described
on the Iguvium Tavolo, in Umbrium, as Sevum
kutef pesnimu arepes arves, or in Latin, Formulam clare precator tostis granis. The instruction given here is that the prayer is to be spoken
over each offering (in the example given, over each pile of grain), and that
it is to be made according to ritual formula.
This indicates that the invocation is first to be made aloud, and it is
to be intoned, not simply spoken. Further,
the particular phrasing used here, formulam clare, means that the invocation is to be murmured.
The reason why both forms of invocation are inferred here is simple.
At a public sacrifice such as is described on the Iguvium Tavolo the
names of gods who are invoked aloud are for the benefit of those witnessing
the ceremony. But the names of
the gods who are invoked to sanctify the sacrifice, and thus are spoken by
formula over the sacrifices themselves, are murmured because the names which
will be used are known only to the attending priests. The deity is first
addressed aloud in a formula that is more elaborate than used above.
An example from Plautus for Jupiter is, Iovi
opulento, inculto, Ope gnato, supreme, valido, viripotenti, Opes, spes bonas,
copias commodenti, lubens disque omnibus ago gratias virtulorque merito…(O
Jove, opulent, glorious son of Ops, supreme God, powerful and mighty, bestower
of wealth, good hopes and bounty, gladly I give thanks and rightly praise you
and all the gods…) (Persa 251-4).
Or again in Plautus, Iuppiter,
qui genus colis alisque hominem, per quem vivimus aevom, quem penes spes vitae
sunt hominum omnium, … (O Jupiter, you who cherish and nurture the human
race, through who we live and draw the breath of being, in who rests the hopes
and lives of all mankind…) (Poenulus
1187-88). This initial address of
the deity may call upon Him with several references to myths about Him, His
titles and His attributes, in a manner that is found among the Orphic Hymns.
Offerings of incense and libations are made along with the invocation.
The sacrifice is first led to the altar.
The altar is approached with the right hand raised to waist level, palm
up, either by the individual carrying the sacrifice, or the one who leads the
procession. Taking position at or
near the altar along with the celebrant will be the priest (popa) who will perform the ceremony, certain assistants (gemelli,
flamines, and victimi) and
the flute players (tibiae) or other
musicians who are to play throughout the ceremony.
The ceremony begins with the celebrant invoking the deity aloud, as
Then is followed a ceremony in the manner described by Livy (A.U.C. 1.24). The popa
requires of the chief celebrant, “Do you order me to make this sacrifice
to (the name of the deity)?” Upon
an affirmative answer, the popa then
says, “I demand of thee, (name or title), some tufts of grass.”
The celebrant then replies, “Take those that are pure.” (For the
meaning of the ‘grass’ see Ovid, Fasti
3.27-28.) A small portion of the
sacrifice is then cut away and offered into the fire on the altar.
In ancient times tufts of hair would be cut from the forehead of a
sacrificial animal. One rite
described by Cato involves a sacrifice of leeks to Jupiter, in which he
specifies that the tops are first cut from the heads, and that both are
offered. The popa next asks, `Do you constitute me as the representative of
(those on whose behalf the sacrifice is made), sanctioning also my vessels and
assistants?' To which the
celebrant replies, `So far as may be without hurt to myself and (those named
above), I do.'
The popa takes the portion of
the sacrifice that was removed and touches it to the forehead of the
celebrant. Whatever else is being sacrificed, this first portion represents
the whole, and is connected to the person authorizing the sacrifice. This portion is then offered to the flames before it is
sanctified. Observance is made to
see that the selected sacrifice is acceptable to the invoked deity.
Were the sacrifice made to Jupiter or any of the celestial gods and
goddesses, then the smoke should rise; if to a chthonic deity, then the smoke
should seep to the ground. Other omens such as the calls of birds or the sound
of lightning are also taken into consideration.
Next the sacrifice is to be sanctified to the deity. Over the sacrifice
some mola salsa should be sprinkled.
In ancient times the mola salsa was
specifically used in sanctifying a blood sacrifice. Yet its components, salt and spelt, go back to an earlier
period, before blood sacrifices were used (Fasti
1.37-38). A sacrifice of bread,
or grain, fruit or herbs, or even some inanimate objects may be sanctified
with a sprinkling of pure salt, or mola
salsa which has been specially prepared for ritual use. The sacrifice should also be sprinkled with either wine or
milk (salted water may be substituted) depending upon the deity invoked. Over
the sacrifice is then murmured a formula invoking the deity by His or Her
secret names. Here an ancient
formula of invocation is made, making use of alliteration and assonance in an
enumeration of attributes, made with parallels of paired terms, the second
term expanded from the first, and the parallels linked together in a chiasmus
relation. Also to be enumerated
are the reasons the sacrifice is being made.
A slit is then made into the sacrifice.
Sacrificial knives were usually made of chipped flint or bronze, iron
and steel should not be used anywhere in the area of a sacrifice.
The sacrifice is now sanctified and may no longer be touched by human
hands. Instruments are used to
cut the sacrifice into small pieces, stack them into a pile, and feed them
into a flame. In the case where
votives are being offered, they are held with one instrument and struck by a
hammer to bend or break them, before being deposited into the ground.
Prayers said while making an offering are usually made with the right
hand extended over the fire, palm down, and striking the chest over the heart
whenever the name of the deity is said. The
chest is also struck at the name of the deity while bending over the sacrifice
in sanctifying it.
If the sacrifice is to involve a shared meal (daps),
a portion offered to the deity and the rest to be eaten by the celebrants,
then the latter must be profaned. The
entire sacrifice was first sanctified to the deity and is thus sacred. That
which is offered to the deity is therefore not to be touched by human hands.
In contrast, what is then to be served to the celebrants is touched by
the priest, profaning it so that humans may eat of it.
In De Agricultura 132, Cato
refers to the sanctified sacrifice itself as being Jove, which is “piously
profaned,” Jove caste profanato sua
contagione. If the sacrifice
were several loaves of bread, one loaf might be offered into the fire, the
rest would each have to be touched by the popa before distributing them to the celebrants. These must all be
consumed immediately, within the sacred place that was made for the sacrifice
(Cato’s Ubi res divina facta erit,
statim ibidem consumito ~De Agricultura 83.)
Sacrifices made to the Dii
Inferni may not be shared in this manner, but must be completely consumed
by fire, or otherwise buried in a manner that will not be disturbed.
A sacrifice offered to the Dii
Inferni becomes one with them as with all sanctified sacrifices, and as
they are deities of putrefaction, among other things, the sanctified sacrifice
is no longer suitable for human consumption.
A final consideration is that a sacrifice offered to the deity may be
found unacceptable. In that case
an additional sacrifice is made. Here
again reference is made to Cato, as in De
Agricultura 141. “If less
than all of the sacrifice is successfully made,” then make an additional
sacrifice with the formula “if something of this sacrifice was not pleasing
to you, this sacrifice (I make) to you in atonement.”
Finally the ceremony is concluded with additional offerings of wine (or
milk) and incense. These may include offerings to the deities invited in the
first part of the ceremony to witness it, and to the deity invoked in the
sacrifice, and properly should conclude with an offering to Vesta.
The above description of
sacrificial rites is to serve as a general guide for modern practitioners of
the religio romana. Any ceremony
developed for your own rites should be carefully researched. Ancient texts will provide guidance on different aspects of a
ceremony, but rarely provide guidance on a complete ceremony.
deaeque semper vos bene ament.
Porcius Cato, De Agricultura.
Tullius Cicero, De re publica; Tusculan
Disputations; pro Roscio Amerino
Livius, Ab Urbe Condita libri
Ovidius Naso, Fasti; Metamorphoses.
Plinius Secundus, Natural History.
Paralel Lives: Numa.
On the Gods.
Vergilius Maro, Georgica; Eclogues.
W. W., The Roman Festivals of the Period
of the Republic, London, 1899.
H. H., Festivals and Ceremonies of the
Roman Republic, London, 1981.
M. and North, J., Religions of Rome;