Roman Conquest of Italy
 


Developments at Rome


Collegium Fetialium: Fetial Rites


Linked pages:  Collegium Fetialum;     Fetial Rites


Two views of a cippus (1-50 AD) from the Clivus Palatinus in Rome (now in the Antiquarium Palatino),

which carries an inscription (CIL VI 1302) that can be translated as:

Ferter Resius, king of Aequicola, who first devised the fetial rites, later learned by the Roman people

C 2004 Ministero per i Beni e le Attivita Culturali, Soprintendenza per i Beni Archeologici del Lazio 

Collegium Fetialium in the Regal Period

As discussed in the main page on the collegium fetialium, the most useful surviving sources for the traditions that related to the origins of this archaic priestly college are by Livy (ca. 27 BC) and Dionysius of Halicarnassus (ca. 7 BC), each of whom evidently drew on a plethora of written traditions in order to create a detailed account of their role in civic life of this period.  From these and other survivals, it seems that, by the late Republican period, it was accepted that:

  1. the fetial college had existed since at least the time of Numa Pompilius, the second king of Rome  (traditionally 715-672 BC), and that it mirrored similar colleges that already existed in the territories of the Aequii and the Latins (and perhaps elsewhere): and

  2. the fetials had acted as representatives of the Romans in their dealings with other peoples in matters of war and peace, whose rituals were used for:

  3. solemnising peace treaties;

  4. demanding restitution from parties accused of violating treaties or more generally of injuring Roman interests; and

  5. formally declaring war when just cause was established and then initiating hostilities through a spear-rite.

Since the fetial college still survived when Livy and Dionysius were writing, they would have been able to observe their activities in their then-current form and also to access their records: as John Rich (referenced below, 2011, at 192) observed:

  1. “Like other priestly colleges, the fetials [kept written] records (commentarii), known to us from Festus ...”

He referred here to an entry in Festus’ epitome of the lexicon of the Augustan grammarian M. Verrius Flaccus, supplemented by the epitome of Festus by Paul the Deacon related to the use of the word ‘nuntius’ (literally, messenger or envoy):

  1. Nuntius et in re ipsa et in persona dicitur… [ut nuntius] allatus est: qu… [in Com]mentaris feti[alium]”, (‘De verborum significatu’, at p. 178 (Festus) and p. 179(Paul)  in the edition of Wallace Lindsay (referenced below)

  2. “[The word] nuntius is used for both the thing itself [a message] and the person [who conveys it; i.e. the messenger].  For example, [there is an example of this usage ???] in the commentarii (commentaries) of the fetials” (my translation).

John Rich (as above) observed that:

  1. “These commentarii will have documented ritual procedures and provided a record of ceremonies performed, and some of what we are told about the fetials’ rituals, including Livy’s formulae, may derive ultimately from this source. However, derivation from the commentarii would not necessarily guarantee authenticity: the archive may not have gone back before the later Republic, and may have included some antiquarian reconstructions, as with the commentarii of the Augustan XVviri sacris faciundis, whose account of past Secular Games rewrote history in accordance with the 110-year interval between games required to justify the celebration in 17 BC.” 

In the sections below,  I examine what we learn from our surviving sources about their understanding of  the rites used by the fetials in the archaic period/

Preparatory Rites

Livy described the ritual by which Tullus Hostilius, the third king of Rome (traditionally 672-642 BC)  mandated the fetials to represent the Roman people in relation to the striking of the foedus between Rome and Alba as follows:

  1. “The fetial priest asked King Tullus:

  2. ‘Do you, King, command me to make a treaty with the pater patratus of the Alban people?’

  3. Being so commanded by the king, he said:

  4. ‘I require of you the sagmina (sacred herbs).’

  5. The king replied:

  6. ‘Take them, untainted.’

  7. The fetial then brought an untainted tuft from the arx (citadel) and asked the king:

  8. ‘Do you, King, grant me, with my emblems and my companions, royal sanction to serve as nuntius (messenger) for the Roman People of the Quirites?’

  9. The king replied:

  10. ’So far as it may be done without prejudice to myself and the Roman People of the Quirites, I grant it.’

  11. The fetial was Marcus Valerius; and he made Spurius Fusius pater patratus, touching his head and hair with the verbena.  The pater patratus is appointed to pronounce the oath: that is, sanciendum fit foedus (to solemnise the treaty)”, (‘History of Rome’, 1: 24: 4-6).

John Rich (referenced below, 2011, at pp. 189) considered the names Marcus Valerius and Spurius Fusius to be evident inventions.

Sagmina and Verbenae

Festus’ original entry for the word ‘sagmina’ is now fragmentary, and is best discussed on the basis of Paul’s epitome of it:

  1. Sagmina dicebant herbas verbenas, quia ex loco sancto arcebantur legatis proficiscentibus ad foedus faciendum bellumque indicendum; vel a sanciendo, id est confirmando.  Naevius (Bell. Pun. 33): Scopas atque verbenas sagmina sumpserunt”, (‘De verborum significatu’, p. 425 L)

  2. Sagmina was a term once used for the herbs ‘verbenae,’ because they were brought from a sanctified place when legati set out to make a treaty or to declare war.  [The word is perhaps derived from ‘sanciendo’ (to render inviolable)] ... Naevius: to make the holy tufts, they took twigs and sacred foliage”, ( translation by Eric Warmington, referenced below, at p. 59, except for the words in square brackets, which I have translated).

Two later sources contain interesting perspectives on the significance of these terms:

  1. Pliny the Elder (1st century AD) observed that:

  2. “... the Roman state derived almost boundless benefits from ... :

  3. the ‘sagmen’ that they employed at times of public calamity; and

  4. the ‘verbena’ of our sacred rites and legations.

  5. Undoubtedly, these two names originally signified the same thing: a green turf torn up from the arx with the earth attached to it; and hence, when legati were dispatched to the enemy per clarigationem (or, in other words, with the object of clearly demanding restitution of stolen property), one of these officers was always known as the ‘verbenarius’”, (‘Natural History’, 22: 3).

  6. The jurist Aelius Marcianus (early 3rd century AD) referred to the sagmina in a passage from the 4th book of his ‘Rules’ that is known to us from its inclusion in the ‘Digest of Justinian’:

  7. “‘Sanctum' [sanctified, made sacred and thus inviolable] is derived from the word sagmina, [which refers to] certain herbs that legati of the people of Rome customarily carry to ward off outrages [against their person], just as legati of the Greeks carry things that are called cerycia”, (‘Digest’, 1: 8: 8: 4, translated by Alan Watson, referenced below, at p. 25).

From these scattered references, it seems that:

  1. the terms ‘sagmina’ and ‘verbenae’ were used interchangeably to refer to clumps of grass that were lifted from a sacred area on the arx, and

  2. fetials who were sent abroad to represent the State carried the sagmina/ verbena as a symbol of what we would call their diplomatic immunity. 

However, Livy is our only surviving source for the assertion that the fetial who brought the sagmina from the arx:

  1. “... made [his colleague] pater patratus [by] touching his head and hair with the verbena”, (‘History of Rome’, 1: 24: 4-6).

Sagmina and Verbenae in the First Punic War

Livy referred to the sagmina and verbenae again in his account of the procedures used for ending the Third Punic War in 201 BC:

  1. “When the fetials received orders to proceed to Africa for the purpose of foedus feriundum (striking the treaty) [with the defeated Carthaginians], they asked the Senate to define the procedure.  The Senate accordingly decided upon this formula:

  2. ‘The fetials shall take with them their own lapides silices (flint stones) and their own verbenae; when a Roman praetor orders them foedus ferirent (to strike the treaty), they shall demand the sagmina from him.’

The herbs given to the fetials are usually taken from the arx", (‘History of Rome’, 30: 43: 9-10).

At this point, it is interesting to look again at the testimony of Naevius, as transmitted by Flaccus/ Festus/ Paul:

  1. “... to make the holy tufts, they took twigs and sacred foliage.”

The point here is that Naevius fought in the First Punic War, and this fragment came from his epic poem ‘Song of the Punic War’, which he wrote thereafter.  Scholarly opinion is divided as to its precise historical context.  For example:

  1. Arthur Eckstein (referenced below, at p. 86) argued that its:

  2. “The references is certainly to fetial procedure ... but it may well be fetial procedure [in relation to the declaration of the war in 263 BC]; ... in [its] formal ending  ... in 241 BC; or even in the context of the formal concluding of the Roman treaty with Hiero of Syracuse in 263 BC: we just do not know.”

  3. John Rich (referenced below, 2011, at 194 and note 35) argued that:

  4. “[This] fragment from Naevius’ epic on the First Punic War ... must refer to the peace treaty [that ended it] in 241 BC ..., [according to the authors cited in the note, which I have not been able to consult] there can have been no fetial involvement in the outbreak of the war ...”

It short, it seems reasonably certain that Naevius described the fetials’ involvement in relation to the war in which he himself had fought, and that these fetials had travelled to Sicily under the protection of the sagmina.  

Preparatory Rites: Conclusions

It seems that fetials (and perhaps other officials) who were mandated to represent the Roman people in negotiations with other communities were first ritually ‘consecrated’ or rendered inviolable.  John Rich (referenced below, 2011, at pp. 188-9) observed that:

  1. “Sources link this preparatory rite with both treaties and the preliminaries of war, and it was probably enacted before all the fetials’ ritual dealings with other nations.  However it is to be interpreted, [this ritual] evidently went back to very early times.”

Ritual Solemnisation of Foedera 

Foedus Between Rome and Alba in the Reign of King Tullus

As discussed in the main page on the collegium fetialium, Livy characterised the striking of the foedus between Rome and Alba in the reign of Tullus as the first occasion on which the Romans used fetials in the ritual solemnisation of a treaty.  He explained that the pater patratus, who had been appointed in the ritual described above, solemnised the foedus:

  1. “... with many words, expressed in a long metrical formula, which it is not worth while to quote”, (‘History of Rome’, 1: 24: 6).

The passage that Livy omitted here would have rehearsed the terms that Tullus had agreed with the Alban leader Mettius Fufetius  in relation to the proxy war that would decide the dispute between them.

When this part of the ritual was complete:

  1. “... the pater patratus cries:

  2. ‘Hear, Jupiter; hear, pater patratus of the Alban people: hear people of Alba: the Roman people will not be the first to depart from these terms, as they have been publicly rehearsed ... and clearly understood.  If, by public decision, they should... [do so] with malice aforethought, then, on that day, may you, Jupiter, strike the Roman people as I shall now strike this pig: and may you strike with greater force, since your power and your strength are greater’. 

  3. When he had said this, he struck a pig with saxo silice (a flint stone).  The Albans then pronounced their own forms and their own oath, by the mouth of their own dictator and priests”, (‘History of Rome’, 1: 24: 8).

John Rich (referenced below, 2011, at p. 194) argued that:

  1. “... there is no reason to doubt that [this] fetial treaty ritual, performed with pig and flint stone, was of great antiquity, and was in regular (although perhaps not exclusive) use in the early and middle Republic for the solemnisation of treaties following authorisation by the Senate and people.”

Romans’ Foedus with the Carthaginians in ca. 509 BC

The existence of the foedus with the Albans is obviously a matter of myth rather than history.  However, we can compare Livy’s account of it with surviving evidence relating to Rome’s first treaty with Carthage.  As James Richardson (referenced below, at p. 25) observed, this treaty is :

  1. “One of the few documents from early Rome the authenticity of which no one now seriously doubts ...  Polybius says that this treaty, and two others that were struck subsequently with the Carthaginians, were recorded on bronze tablets and were preserved in the treasury of the aediles.”

Polybius (2nd century BC) dated this first treaty to:

  1. “... the consulship of Lucius Junius Brutus and Marcus Horatius, the first consuls after the expulsion of the kings [i.e., traditionally 509 BC] ...”, (‘Histories’, 3: 22: 1).

Stephen Oakley (referenced below, 1998, at p. 256) observed that, although the historicity of Brutus is doubtful, the terms of the treaty, as Polybius transmitted them, accord well with our understanding of the political situation in the late 6th century BC. 

Polybius explained that:

  1. “I give below as accurate a rendering as I can of [the inscribed text of this treaty], but ancient Latin differs so much from the modern that it can only be partially understood, even after much application by the most intelligent men”, (‘Histories’, 3: 22: 3).

Importantly, for our purposes, he recorded that:

  1. “... the Carthaginians swore by their ancestral gods, [while] the Romans, following an old custom, swore by Jupiter Lapis ... The oath by Jupiter Lapis is as follows: the man who is swearing to the treaty takes a stone in his hand and, when he has sworn in the name of the State, says:

  2. ‘If I abide by this my oath may all good be mine, but if I do otherwise in thought or act, let all other men dwell safe in their own countries under their own laws and in possession of their own substance, temples, and tombs and let me alone be cast forth, even as this stone.’

  3. So saying, he throws the stone from his hand”, (‘Histories’, 3: 25: 6-9).

John Rich (referenced below, 2011, at p. 194) observed that:

  1. “... in respect of the ‘Jupiter stone’ oath, [Polybius] appears to be in error: [an oath sworn by Jupiter Lapis] is well attested elsewhere as an especially solemn oath, but it was always as taken by individual Romans, and it seems inappropriate for a treaty, since it binds only the swearer, not the Roman people.”

It is certainly true that the formula put forward by Livy (above) in the context of the Romans’ treaty with Alba would make much more sense:

  1. “If, by public decision, [the Romans] should... [violate the treaty] with malice aforethought, then, on that day, may you, Jupiter, strike the Roman people as I shall now strike this pig: and may you strike with greater force, since your power and your strength are greater.”

If so, then the stone that had been recorded in the difficult archaic text on which Polybius relied might well have been the fetials’ lapis silex, and his reference to Jupiter Lapis rather than simply to Jupiter might well have been a mistake on the part of ‘the most intelligent men’ who advised him on its meaning.

Ritual Demand for Restitution

As discussed in the main page on the collegium fetialium, Dionysius recorded that King Numa instituted the fetial college:

  1. “... when he was on the point of making war on the people of Fidenae, who had raided and ravaged his territories, in order to see whether they would come to an accommodation with him without war; and that is what they actually did, being constrained by necessity”, (‘Roman Antiquities’, 2: 72: 2-3).

He did not spell out the rituals that the fetials actually followed on this occasion, but he did explain more generally that:

  1. “... if others violate their treaties with the Romans, it is [the fetials’ duty] first to go as ambassadors and make a formal demand for justice and then, if the others refuse to comply with their demands, to sanction war”, (‘Roman Antiquities’, 2: 72: 4).

A surviving fragment for the work by Diodorus Siculus (ca. 60 BC) recorded that, in the reign of King Tullus, the Romans and the Albans each accused the other of raiding its territory and sent envoys to demand justice, on pain of war.  In the case of the Romans, Tullus:

  1. “...  did this in accordance with an ancient custom, since [the Romans of those] times were extremely concerned that the wars that they waged should be just ones ... [The Albans had taken similar measures but], by good fortune, Tullus’ envoys to Alba were the first to be refused justice, and they therefore declared war for the 30th day following”, (‘’Library of History’, presumed fragments of 8: 25).

Livy recorded a parallel account in which Tullus then sent the Alban envoys back home, ordering them to:

  1. “Tell your king that the Roman king calls the gods to witness [that the Albans] first spurned the Roman demand for res repetentes (restitution) and dismissed its envoys, so that they [i.e. the gods] may call down upon the guilty nation [i.e. the Albans] all the disasters of this war”, (‘History of Rome’, 1: 22: 7).

Livy was quite specific here about what the demand for ‘justice’ in the records of Dionysisu and Diodorus meant in this context: as John Rich (referenced below, 2011, at p. 209) observed, Livy’s concept of ‘res repetere’ literally meant  ‘to seek back [stolen] property’.  However, as we shall see, this term and its cognates came to be used more generally to signify a claim for any kind of restitution from an offending city, on pain of war.  Neither Diodorus nor Livy recorded any involvement of the fetials in the making of these demands: however Dionysius recorded that Tullus:

  1. “... sent to Alba some Romans of distinction, duly instructed as to the course they should pursue, together with the fetials, to demand satisfaction from the Albans for the injuries the Romans had received”, (‘Roman Antiquities’, 3: 3: 3).

Dionysius and Livy both described the fetial ritual for demanding restitution on pain of war:

  1. Dionysius recorded that:

  2. “ I have received the following account of functions [the fetials] performed as envoys when they went to any city thought to have injured the Romans ... One of these fetials, chosen by his colleagues, wearing his sacred robes and insignia to distinguish him from all others, proceeded towards the offending city. 

  3. Stopping at the border, he called upon Jupiter and the rest of the gods to witness that he had come to demand justice on behalf of the Roman State.  Thereupon, he swore that he was going to a city that had done an injury; and having uttered the most dreadful imprecations against himself and Rome, if what he averred was false, he then crossed their borders.

  4. Afterwards, he called to witness the first person he met, ... and, having repeated the same imprecations, he advanced towards the city. 

  5. Before he entered the city, he called to witness in the same manner the gate-keeper or the first person he met at the gates ...

  6. [He then] proceeded to the forum, where he discussed with the magistrates the reasons for his coming, adding everywhere the same oaths and imprecations. 

  7. If [these magistrates] were disposed to offer satisfaction by delivering up the guilty, he departed as a friend taking leave of friends, carrying the prisoners with him.  Or, if they desired time to deliberate, he allowed them 10 days, after which he returned, and waited until they had made this request three times”, (‘Roman Antiquities’, 2: 72: 6-8).  

  8. Livy described this ritual as having been copied by King Ancus from the Aequicoli at the time of his war with the Prisci Latini (ancient Latins), at which point it became:

  9. “... the rule (ius) that the fetials now have, by which restitution is sought (quo res repetuntur)”, (‘History of Rome’, 1: 32: 5).

  10. However, he then described the ritual itself in general terms, without any further reference to either the Latins or the fetials:

  11. “When the legatus has arrived at the frontiers of the people from whom restitution is sought, he covers his head with a woollen bonnet and says:

  12. ‘Hear, Jupiter; hear, ye boundaries of (naming whatever nation to which they belong); let righteousness hear! I am the public nuntius of the Roman people.  I come [to you] lawfully and piously commissioned, so let there be trust in my words.’

  13. Then he recites his demands, after which, he takes Jupiter to witness:

  14. ‘If I have demanded unduly and against religion that these men and these things should be surrendered to me, then let me never again enjoy my native land.’

  15. He rehearses these words when he crosses the territorial boundary, again to the first person he encounters, again when proceeding through the gate of the town, and again when he enters the forum, changing only a few words of the invocation and the oath”, (‘History of Rome’, 1: 32: 6-8).

Interestingly:

  1. Dionysius defined the ‘justice’ that was demanded in terms of the surrender of ‘the guilty’; while

  2. Livy defined it as the surrender of ‘these [guilty] men and these things [presumably stolen property]’.

Dionysius and Livy gave very similar generalised accounts of the procedure adopted if the Romans’ demand for restitution was denied:

  1. Dionysius:

  2. “But, if the city still persisted in refusing to grant ... justice after the expiration of these 30 days, [the designated fetial] called both the celestial and infernal gods to witness [this fact] and [returned to Rome], after saying ... that the Roman State would deliberate at its leisure concerning these people”, (‘Roman Antiquities’, 2: 72: 8).

  3. Livy:

  4. “If those whom [the legatus] demands are not surrendered, at the end of 33 days (for such is the conventional number) he declares war thus:

  5. ‘Hear, Jupiter, and thou, Janus Quirinus, and hear all heavenly gods, and ye, gods of earth, and ye of the lower world: I call on you to witness that this people (naming whatever people it is) are unjust, and refuse to make just restitution.  We will take counsel of the elders in our country on these matters, [and] on how we may obtain what is due to us.’

  6. Then he returns to Rome for the consultation”, (‘History of Rome’, 1: 32: 9-10).

Finally, both Dionysius and Livy described what happened in Rome if the envoys had to report that the demand for restitution had been denied:

  1. According to Dionysius, the fetial who had been sent to the offending city and his colleagues:

  2. “...appeared before the Senate and declared that they had done everything that was ordained by the holy laws, and that, if the senators wished to vote for war, there would be no obstacle on the part of the gods.  But if any of these things was omitted, neither the Senate nor the people had the power to vote for war”, (‘Roman Antiquities’, 2: 72: 9). 

  3. Livy ended with a passage that related once more to the Prisci Latini and also introduced a fetial who had been designated as pater patratus (who hadobviously acted as the legatus to the Latins:

  4. “Immediately on the return of [the legatus/ pater patratus], the king would consult the fathers, in some such words as these:

  5. ‘Having regard to rerum litium causarum (those goods, disputes and causes) of which the pater patratus of the Roman People of the Quirites has made demands on the pater patratus of the Prisci Latini, and upon the men of the Prisci Latini, which they have not delivered, nor fulfilled, nor satisfied, being things which ought to have been delivered, fulfilled, and satisfied, say ... what [each of] you think.’

  6. ... if the majority of those present were of the same opinion, war had been agreed upon”, (‘History of Rome’, 1: 32: 11-12).




Ritual Announcement and Declaration of Hostilities





Ritual Declaration of War

Livy now turned to the ritual for the declaration of a just war:

  1. “The customary practice was for a fetial to carry a bloody spear, tipped with iron or hardened in fire, to [the borders of enemy territory] and, with not fewer than three adults present, to say:

  2. ‘... the peoples of [for example] the Prisci Latini and the men of the Prisci Latini have acted and offended against the Roman People of the Quirites, and isince:

  3. the Roman People of the Quirites has ordered there to be war against the Prisci Latini; and

  4. the Senate of the Roman People of the Quirites have voted, agreed and decreed that war should be made against the Prisci Latini;

  5. I and the Roman people declare and make war against the peoples of the Prisci Latini and the men of the Prisci Latini’. 

  6. When he had said this, he would hurl the spear across their borders. In this way restitution was sought from the Latins and war declared, and later generations have accepted that custom”, (‘History of Rome’, 1: 32: 12-4).




Ritual Declaration of War

As we have seen, Livy recorded that:

  1. “The customary practice [for the declaration of a just war] was for a fetial to carry a bloody spear, tipped with iron or hardened in fire, to [the borders of enemy territory] and, with not fewer than three adults present, to say:

  2. ‘... the peoples of [for example] the Prisci Latini and the men of the Prisci Latini have acted and offended against the Roman People of the Quirites, and since:

  3. the Roman People of the Quirites has ordered there to be war against the Prisci Latini; and

  4. the Senate of the Roman People of the Quirites have voted, agreed and decreed that war should be made against the Prisci Latini;

  5. I and the Roman People declare and make war against the peoples of the Prisci Latini and the men of the Prisci Latini’. 

  6. When he had said this, he would hurl the spear across their borders.  In this way restitution was sought from the Latins and war declared, and later generations have accepted that custom”, (‘History of Rome’, 1: 32: 12-4).

Robert Ogilvie (referenced below, at p/. 129) pointed out that:

  1. “The Prisci Latini who are mentioned [in Livy’s passage] are chosen purely as an example: there is no reference to an actual war.”

As André Heller (referenced below, at pp. 361-2) pointed out:

  1. “... there is not a single testimony for the [actual] performance of this act in Republican times. ...[Furthermore], there are only two [later] examples for this ritual, both from Cassius Dio.” 

These two testimonies related to events  that were separated by some 200 years:

  1. in 31 BC, Octavian (who became the Emperor Augustus 5 years later) used the ritual to declare war on Cleopatra (discussed below); and

  2. in 178 AD, Marcus Aurelius used it to declare war on the Iazyges (‘Roman History’, 72; 33: 3).

Octavian/ Augustus and the Declaration of War against Cleopatra (31 BC)

According to Cassius Dio, in 31 BC, after the assembled senators had:

  1. “... declared war on Cleopatra, [they] put on their military cloaks ...  and went to the temple of Bellona, where they performed all the rites preliminary to war in the customary fashion, through [Octavian] as [a member of the collegium fetialium].  These proceedings, which were nominally directed against Cleopatra, were really directed against Mark Antony”, (‘Roman History’, 50; 4: 4).

Augustus recorded in his autobiography (‘Res Gestae’, 7: 3) that he had belonged to all the Roman priestly colleges, including that of the fetials.  Thus, it seems that, by this time,  the ‘customary’ ritual did not require that a spear should be hurled into the territory of Cleopatra: Festus (in his epitome of the lexicon of the grammarian M. Verrius Flaccus, who would have been about 25 at the time of the declaration of war against Cleopatra) explained that:

  1. “The goddess of battle is called Bellona.  A short column called the columna bellica stands in front of her temple, and it is customary to throw a spear over this column whenever the Romans declare war”, (‘De verborum significatu’, p. 30 L, translated by Peter Aicher, referenced below, at p. 206).




According to Livy (‘History of Rome’, 10: 19: 16), Appius Claudius Caecus:

  1. vowed this temple in 296 BC, in a battle against the Etruscans during the Third Samnite War; and

  2. consecrated it in 293 BC. 

Ovid recorded that:

  1. “On [3rd June, the temple of] Bellona is said to have been consecrated (sic) in the Etruscan war, and [this goddess] always behaves graciously towards Latium.  Her founder was Appius, who, when peace was refused to Pyrrhus, saw clearly in his mind, although he was blind].  A small open space commands from the temple a view of the top of the Circus [Flaminius].  There stands a little pillar of no little importance: from here it is the custom to hurl a spear, war’s harbinger, when it has been resolved to take arms against a king and peoples”, (‘Fasti,’ 6: 199)

Ovid’s reference to Pyrrhus is illuminated by Cicero:

  1. “In old age, Appius Claudius [Caecus] had the additional disadvantage of being blind; yet it was he who, when the Senate was inclining towards a peace with Pyrrhus and was for making a treaty with him, did not hesitate to say what Ennius has preserved in the following verses:

  2. ‘Whither have swerved the souls, so firm of yore?  Is sense grown senseless? Can feet stand no more?’

  3. And so on in a tone of the most passionate vehemence.  You know the poem, and the speech of Appius himself is extant.  He delivered it 17 years after his second consulship [i.e. in 279 BC, before the famous Pyrrhic victory at Asculum in that year], there having been an interval of ten years between the two consulships, and he having been censor before his previous consulship.  This will show you that at the time of the war with Pyrrhus he was a very old man.  Yet this is the story handed down to us”, (‘On Old Age’, 6: 16)

Virgil (who was a client of Octavian’s colleague, Maecenas by 31 BC) ) referred to an incident in which Turnus, the King of the Rutuli and enemy of the Trojans, approached their camp in Aeneas’ absence and encouraged his men to attack it, shouting:

  1. “Men, is there anyone who, with me, will be first against the foe?  See!” he cries and, whirling a javelin, sends it skyward to start the battle ... ”, (‘Aeneid’, 9: 52).

Virgil would have envisaged Turnus’ hurling of the javelin as a precursor of the Roman practice of declaring war.  Servius/ Servius Danielis, in their commentaries on this passage, described the Roman ritual in two parts:

  1. Initially:

  2. “When [the Romans] wanted to declare war, the pater patratus … would set out for the enemy’s borders and, after reciting certain customary words, would say in a clear voice that he was declaring war for certain reasons, either because they had harmed allies or because they had not returned plundered animals or offenders.  This was called clarigatio from clarity of utterance.  After this clarigatio a spear thrown across their borders would indicate the beginning of battle. However, the fetials would throw the spear on the 33rd day after restitution had been sought from the enemy”, (‘ad Aen’, 9: 52, translated by John Rich, referenced below, 2011, p. 202, note 69).

  3. However:

  4. “... in the time of Pyrrhus [ca. 280 BC], when the Romans intended to wage war against an overseas enemy ... , they devised a scheme whereby one of Pyrrhus' soldiers was captured and made to buy a plot of land in the Circus Flaminius, so that they could declare war legitimately, as though in a place belonging to the enemy.  Later a column was dedicated in that place, in front of the Temple of Bellona”, (‘ad Aen’, 9: 52, translated by Thomas Wiedemann, referenced below, at p. 480).

Thomas Wiedemann (referenced below, at pp. 482-4) argued that, in fact, the fetial rite of throwing the spear might well have been:

  1. “... largely, if not entirely, an invention of [31 BC]”, (quotation from p. 484).

Harriet Flower (referenced below, at p. 49, citing Wiedemann) ) suggested that Octavian:

  1. “... was instrumental in some kind of ‘revival’ of rites in his declaration of war on Cleopatra.”

The testimony of Varro [above] cannot be used to support either  hypotheses: he might well have omitted the spear-throwing because he considered it to be of no relevance to the etymology of ‘fetiales’.  Furthermore, Emilia Salerno (referenced below, at p. 153) reasonably argued that:

  1. “... [since] some continuity in the fetial priesthood can be detected in both literary and epigraphic sources, ... it might be misleading to consider Octavian’s celebration of [the fetial rite for declaring war] as an attempt to invent a ritual and to present it as traditional: the ritual, [which] was most likely already suggested in the fetial law, ... had already been performed, although it is hard to say how often [or how recently].”

Having said that, Octavian’s motivation for employing this ritual on this occasion was clearly not the traditional one: as Alison Cooley (referenced below, 2009, at p. 134) pointed out, his status as a fetial allowed him to participate in what was probably the revival of a ritual that had not been performed for some time:

  1. “... precisely in order to present [the war that had just been declared] as a foreign, not a civil, conflict.”

And, perhaps not coincidentally, Octavian was just about to begin the restoration of the temple of Jupiter Feretrius, in which, as we have seen, other cult objects of the fetials were housed.


Thomas Wiedemann (referenced below, at pp. 480-22) argued that this late evidence for the change in the ritual at the time of the Pyrrhic War is unconvincing, and suggested (at p. 482) that:

  1. “Perhaps the spear-throwing rite was not modified; perhaps there never had been any such archaic rite.”







Fetials’ Sceptre 

Festus is our only surviving source for the existence of the fetials’ sceptre.  However, the last book of Virgil’s ‘Aeneid’ (ca. 19 BC) describes a foedus made between Aeneas and his enemy, Turnus, prior to the duel that would decide which of them would succeed King Latinus: Bill Gladhill, referenced below, at p. 146) argued that:

  1. “The ritual activity [used for this foedus] mirrors the [traditionally much later] fetial ritual as a kind of etiological backdrop.”

Importantly for this discussion, Latinus swore that he would honour the terms of the foedus, whichever man emerged victorious:

  1. “May [Jupiter] Genitor, who sanctions treaties with his lightening, hear my words ! ... however things turn out, [nothing] shall break this peace and truce for Italy: nor shall any force change my mind, ... just as this sceptre (which, by chance, he held  in his hand) shall never sprout, ... now that the craftsman’s hand has encased it in fine bronze and given it to the elders of Latium to bear”, (‘Aeneid’, 12: 206).

In his commentary on this passage, Servius explained that:

  1. “The reason why the sceptre is [now] used when a treaty is made is as follows.  The ancients always used simulacrum Iovis (a statue of Jupiter) [on such occasions], but this was difficult, especially when the treaty was made with a distant peoples.  They discovered that they could effectively replace the image of Jupiter by holding the sceptre, which is [Jupiter’s], and his alone.  Thus, when Latinus held the sceptre, it was not as king but [anachronistically] as pater patratus", (‘ad Aen’, 12: 206, my translation).

Servius clearly thought that Virgil had based his account of Latinus’ oath on the ritual that the pater patratus used when swearing  on the part of the Roman people to honour a treaty, and, more specifically, that Virgil presented the sceptre of the Latin kings to his readers as a precursor of the sceptre that the fetials’ kept in the temple of Jupiter Feretrius.


Festus’ epitome does not explicitly indicate when this practice of housing the sceptre and the stone in the temple had begun.  Nevertheless, his account at least suggests that the fetials had chosen the temple as a home for the stone that they used to the solemnisation of peace treaties because Jupiter Feretrius was the bringer of peace (and it is possible that this was more explicitly stated in Flaccus’ original).  We therefore cannot rule out the existence of a Roman tradition that the fetials had housed the sceptre and stone in the temple since the first time that they had used them to solemnise a treaty.


It is possible that Flaccus also derived Feretrius from either ferre or ferire, although now in the context of bringing peace and the striking treaties, and that this putative second etymological strand became less explicit in Festus’ summary. 

However. Flaccus did not say that ‘Feretrius’ was derived from ferire: the sense of this passage (at least as I read it) is more probably that the fetiales kept the cult objects used in the ritual solemnisation of peace treaties in the temple of Jupiter Feretrius because he was the bringer of peace.

Some scholars give particular weight to the putative second strand of Flaccus’ etymology: for example, Harriet Flower (referenced below, at p. 42) asserted that:

  1. “[The] main purpose of the archaic temple of Jupiter Feretrius] is clear.  It was closely associated with the rites of the fetiales, and was used as a repository for their sacred objects. The cult title Feretrius seems to refer directly to the fetiales and to their function of ratifying and regulating treaties.”



“In ratifying the treaty which was made once upon a time with Samnites, a youth of noble birth held the sacrificial pig as ordered by his general.  The treaty, however, was disavowed by the Senate and the commander was surrendered to the Samnites, whereupon some one in the Senate said that the youth also, who held the pig, ought to be surrendered. The charge is: “He ought to be surrendered.” The answer is: “He ought not.” The question is: “Ought he to be surrendered?”a The defendant’s reason is: It was not my duty nor was it in my power, since I was so young and a private soldier, and there was a commander with supreme power and authority to see that an honourable treaty was made.” The prosecutor’s reply is: “But since you had a part in a most infamous treaty sanctioned by solemn religious rites, you ought to be surrendered.”





Ritual Demand for Restitution

According to Livy:

  1. “When the legatus (ambassador) has arrived at the frontiers of the people from whom restitution is sought, he covers his head with a woollen bonnet and says:

  2. ‘Hear, Jupiter; hear, ye boundaries of (naming whatever nation to which they belong); let righteousness hear! I am the public nuntius (messenger) of the Roman People.  I come [to you] lawfully and piously commissioned, so let there be trust in my words.’

  3. Then he recites his demands, after which, he takes Jupiter to witness:

  4. ‘If I have demanded unduly and against religion that these men and these things should be surrendered to me, then let me never again enjoy my native land.’

  5. He rehearses these words when he crosses the territorial boundary, again to the first person he encounters, again when proceeding through the gate of the town, and again when he enters the forum, changing only a few words of the invocation and the oath”, (‘History of Rome’, 1: 32: 6-8).

As we saw above, Dionysius believed that Numa had founded the college so that the fetials could perform this ritual in order to secure restitution following raids on Roman territory by the people of Fidenae.  He did not spell out the rituals that the fetials actually followed on this occasion, but he did explain more generally that:

  1. “... if others violate their treaties with the Romans, it is [the fetials’ duty] first to go as ambassadors and make a formal demand for justice ...”, (‘Roman Antiquities’, 2: 72: 4).

He also described the ritual involved:

  1. “As to the functions they performed in the quality of heralds when they went to any city thought to have injured the Romans,  ... one of these fetials, chosen by his colleagues, wearing his sacred robes and insignia to distinguish him from all others, proceeded towards the city whose inhabitants had done the injury; and, stopping at the border, he called upon Jupiter and the rest of the gods to witness that he was come to demand justice on behalf of the Roman State.  Thereupon he took an oath that he was going to a city that had done an injury; and having uttered the most dreadful imprecations against himself and Rome, if what he averred was not true, he then entered their borders. Afterwards, he called to witness the first person he met, whether it was one of the countrymen or one of the townspeople, and having repeated the same imprecations, he advanced towards the city. And, before he entered it, he called to witness in the same manner the gate-keeper or the first person he met at the gates, after which he proceeded to the forum; and, taking his stand there, he discussed with the magistrates the reasons for his coming, adding everywhere the same oaths and imprecations.  If, then, they were disposed to offer satisfaction by delivering up the guilty, he departed as a friend taking leave of friends, carrying the prisoners with him. Or, if they desired time to deliberate, he allowed them ten days, after which he returned and waited till they had made this request three times”, (‘Roman Antiquities’, 2: 72: 6-8). 

This is essentially the same ritual described by Livy, with further details added.

Plutarch, who also followed the tradition in which Numa had established the collegium fetialium, recorded that:

  1. “... the Φιτιαλεῖς (fetiales) ... were, so to speak, εἰρηνοφύλακές (guardians of peace) and, in my opinion, took their name from their [primary function], which was to resolve disputes by negotiation: they would not allow hostile expeditions to be made before every hope of receiving justice [by other means] had failed.  For, the Greeks call it peace when two parties settle their quarrels by negotiation rather than by violence”, (‘Life of Numa’, 12: 3).

Philip A. Stadter (referenced below, at p. 254, note 37) observed that Plutarch’s eirenophulakes (guardians of peace):

  1. “... seems to connect the name with φημί (phemi, speak), with the notion that disputes were resolved by word, not violence.”

Ritual Just War

Plutarch in his ‘Life of Numa’, had designated the fetials as guardians of peace through negotiation.  He subsequently expanded on this, explaining that that the collegium fetialium had been:

  1. “... instituted by Numa Pompilius, the most gentle and just of kings, to be the guardians of peace, as well as judges and determiners of the grounds on which war could justly be made”, (‘Life of Camillus’, 18:1).

Virgil, in the ‘Aeneid’ imagined a speech that Jupiter made at a council of the gods, in which he expressed his exasperation that the ‘unjust’ war that had broken out between Aeneas and the Latin peoples.  He warned that:

  1. “There shall come a  time (do not hasten it) for battle, when fierce Carthage shall one day let loose mighty destruction upon the heights of Rome and open upon her the Alps.  Then, it will be lawful to vie in hate, then to ravage; now let be and cheerfully assent to the covenant I ordain.”, (‘ad Aen’, 10: 14).

Servius/ Servius Danielis cited Livy in their commentary on this passage:

  1. “Ancus Marcius … received from the Aequicoli fetial rules by which war used to be declared in the following way, as Livy recounted about the Albani (sic): whenever people or animals had been seized by some nation from the Roman people, with the fetials … the pater patratus too would set out and, standing before the borders [of enemy territory], would state the reason for the war in a clear voice, and if they were unwilling to return the stolen goods or handover those responsible for injury, would throw the spear, which was the beginning of battle. ... Clarigatio ... was so called from the clear voice which the pater patratus used, or from the Greek kleros, that is ‘lot’: for it was by the lot of war that they invaded the enemy’s land ….”, (‘ad Aen’, 10: 14, translated by John Rich, referenced below, 2011, p. 202, note 69).



Robert Ogilvie (referenced below, at p. 111):

patre patrato: within the family the paterfamilias alone was able to contract. Universalising this principle beyond the domain of the family, the Romans created an artificial 'pater’  who was to act for and in the name of the state as a whole. The pater patratus should mean 'one who is made a father'.  Other explanations, e.g. 'father of the fatherhood' (patratus, gen. like senatus) or 'the father accomplisher’  (patratus, a nom. agentis in -tus, a variant of patrator) do not account for the declension of patratus, -ti. Equally mistaken is L.'s own derivation given in 24. 6: [The pater patratus is appointed to pronounce the oath, that is, to solemnise the foedera.  The title is proof of the high antiquity of the office.”

“cf. Dig. 1. 8. 8. 1 'sunt autem sagmina quaedam herbae quas legati populi Romani ferre solent ne quis eos violaret sicut legati Graecorum ferunt ea quae vocantur cerycia'. The explanation, a dangerous assimilation of Roman to Greek ritual, is false because the grasses had to be torn out of the ground with their earth (Pliny, N.H. 22. 5; cf. Festus 424-6 L.; Servius, ad Aen. 12. 120), and were employed in the ritual act of creating the pater patratus. These acts can only be accounted for on quasi-magical grounds. The earth from the arx of Rome protected the fetial from foreign influences when he

was outside his native land.


 


Marcus Terentius Varro

Two surviving fragment of Varro’s now-lost ‘De vita populi Romana’ that are preserved in a work by Nonius Marcellus, described the fetials acting as both negotiators and judges in matters of war and peace.  According to these fragments (from Nonius’ ‘Doctrina’, at p 850 Lindsay edition, translated in the blog of Roger Pearse):

  1. “... wars were undertaken slowly and with great deliberation, because [the Romans] thought it wrong to wage any war unless it was justified.  Before they declared war, they sent four fetiales as legati to make a claim against the man responsible for the injuries, and they called these men ‘oratores’”, (Book 2); and

  2. “If [any Romans had] outraged foreign legati (ambassadors), those responsible, even if they were nobles, were arrested so that they might be handed over to the [foreign] community.  And 20 fetiales who are learned in these matters judged, decided and legislated [as necessary]”, (Book 3).

As John Rich (referenced below, 2011, at p. 191) observed, in this work, Varro:

  1. “... discussed Roman institutions and customs in successive chronological periods.  He dealt with:

  2. [the fetiales’] activities in respect of treaties and the preliminaries of war in the second book, which dealt with the early Republic; but

  3. mentioned their responsibility for [seeking redress from] offenders against ambassadors in the third book, which dealt with the Punic War period.


Temple of Jupiter Feretrius

For Verrius Flaccus, the significance of the small temple of Jupiter Feretrius was that it had housed the fetials’ sceptre and lapis silex since the time of its dedication to ‘Jupiter Bringer of Peace and Guarantor of Peace Treaties’. 

The odd thing about this is that, as we shall see, all the other surviving etymologies from this period link ‘Feretrius’ to the ‘fact’ that Romulus had built the temple of Jupiter Feretrius to receive the spolia opima.  We shall also see below that Livy, Propertius and Dionysius of Halicarnassus were all writing in a period in which the tradition of the spolia opima were of particular political importance to Augustus:

  1. If Flaccus’ dictionary had pre-dated the publication of Livy’s books 1-5 in ca. 27 BC, then it is likely that it also pre-dated the declaration of War on Cleopatra in 31 BC, since, thereafter, a reference to the fetials’ red-stained spear would presumably have been de rigueur

  2. Alternatively, it might have been a product of the last two decades of Flaccus’ life, when the spolia opima had probably lost their political importance. 

Fetials and the Striking of Foedera




Fetials and the Temple of Jupiter Feretrius 

So far, I have discussed the narrative sources for the fetials in the regal period.  However, additional (albeit  indirect) evidence can be found in the work of the grammarian M. Verrius Flaccus, the author of ‘De verborum significatu’, a 40 volume lexicon of Latin words.  We do not know the precise date of this work, but we do know that Flaccus acted as tutor to Augustus’ grandchildren in the late 1st century BC and died at an advanced age in ca. 20 AD (so his work was broadly contemporary with that of Livy and Dionysius).  His lexicon is lost but:

  1. Sextus Pompeius Festus wrote an epitome of it (also entitled ‘De verborum significatu’) in the 2nd century AD, the latter part of which survives; and

  2. an abridgement of the Sextus’ epitome that was written in the 8th century AD by the Lombard scholar known as ‘Paul the Deacon‘ survives in its entirety. 

A manuscript of these surviving works edited by Wallace M. Lindsay is referenced below, and entries from it are referred to here by their page numbers. 

Three entries by Festus/ Paullus are relevant to the present discussion:

  1. Fetiales: are so called from ‘faciendo’ (making), because the right of making war and peace lies with them”, (‘De verborum significatu’, p. 81L translation from Wilson Shearin, referenced below, at p. 84).

  2. Feretrius: Jupiter is so-called from ‘ferendo’ (bringing), because he is thought to bring peace.  From his temple, they take:

  3. the sceptre, by which they swear [an oath]; and

  4. the lapis silex [flint stone], by which foedus ferirent (they strike a treaty)”, (‘De verborum significatu’, p. 81L translation from Wilson Shearin, referenced below, at p. 84).

  5. Foedus [is] named, either:

  6. from the fact that, in making peace, the victim is killed foede (shamefully, foully, hideously) ... ; or

  7. because fides (good faith) is pledged in a foedus”, (‘De verborum significatu’, p. 74 L, translation from Bill Gladhill, referenced below, at p. 53).

The first two of these entries, which are adjacent to each other in the manuscript, should be considered together, since the unspecified ‘they’ in the second entry were clearly the fetiales discussed in the first. 

Temple of Jupiter Feretrius

The earliest written (as opposed to numismatic) evidence for the physical existence of the temple of Jupiter Feretrius is in a surviving fragment of Cornelius Nepos’ biography of the antiquarian Titus Pomponius Atticus, which Nepos wrote shortly after Atticus’ death in 32 BC.  In it, Nepos recorded that the triumvir Octavian (who became the Emperor Augustus in 27 BC) had been on excellent terms with Atticus, to the extent that, when Octavian was in Rome:

  1. “... scarcely a  day passed in which he did not write to Atticus, sometimes asking him something relating to antiquity ... Thus it was that, when the temple of Jupiter Feretrius, which Romulus had built on the Capitol, was unroofed and falling down through age and neglect, Octavian, on the suggestion of Atticus, took care that it should be repaired”, (‘Lives of Eminent Commanders: Titus Pomponius Atticus’, 20).

Dionysius, who might well have visited the temple during its restoration, commented that:

  1. “... the ancient traces of [the earlier structure ?] still remain, of which the longest sides are less than fifteen [Roman] feet”, (‘Roman Antiquities’, 2: 34: 1-3);

The epitome of Festus/ Paullus is the only surviving evidence that the fetials were ever associated with the temple, but their testimony it must represent a version of Flaccus’ original entries, and he would have been able to verify the fact that the fetials’ sceptre and flint stone were kept in the temple at the time of its restoration.  Furthermore, it would be natural for Flaccus to link his entries for fetiales and Feretrius together if he believed that the fetials kept their ritual objects there because Jupiter Feretrius was a ‘bringer of peace’. We cannot tell from the testimony of Festus/ Paullus whether Flaccus believed that this association had been long-established at his time of writing, but we cannot rule out the existence of a Roman tradition that the fetials had housed their cult objects in the Romulean temple since their foundation at the time of Numa.  However, the problem here is that, while  both Livy and Dionysius had written about Romulus’ foundation of the temple and alluded to it recent restoration, neither of them ever associated it with the fetials. It is therefore important to investigate the extent to which Flaccus’ etymologies were rooted in an established tradition.

Etymology of ‘Fetiales’

Flaccus would certainly have been familiar with the work of M. Terentius Varro, who recorded in 45-3 BC that ‘fetiales’:

  1. “... were so-called because they were in charge of public fides (faith) between people.  It was through them:

  2. that iustum bellum (just war) was declared; and, when it was over,

  3. that trust (fides) in the peace was established.

  4. Before war was declared, some of them were sent to seek restitution [as an alternative to war]:  even now, it is through them that a foedus (peace treaty) is made ... ”, (‘On the Latin Language’, 5: 86, from the translation by Wilson Shearin, referenced below, at p. 83).

Although Varro suggested the derivation of ‘fetiales’ from ‘fides’ and ‘foedus’, while Flaccus apparently  suggested its derivation from ‘faciendo’, both authors agreed more generally that all three words (‘‘fetiales’, ‘fides’ and ‘foedus’) were etymologically inked in the context of peace-making. 

We should also consider the view of Dionysius, who:

  1. arrived in Rome only shortly after Varro’s death and made a direct reference to Varro’s ‘Antiquities’ (at ‘Roman Antiquities’, 1: 14: 1); and

  2. would also surely have been  familiar with the work of the Roman grammarians who were still active in the city, including that of Flaccus.

His view was that the fetiales:

  1. “... may be called in Greek εἰρηνοδίκαι (arbiters or judges of peace)”, (‘Roman Antiquities’, 2: 72: 1).

This is, if anything,  slightly closer to Flaccus’ etymology:

  1. ‘Fetiales are so called from ‘faciendo’ (making), because the right of making war and peace lies with them’;

than to that of Varro:

  1. ‘Fetiales were so-called because they were in charge of public fides (faith) between people’.

In short, it would certainly be difficult to argue that Flaccus’ etymology of ‘fetiales’ was outside the mainstream of scholarly opinion at this time.

Etymology of ‘Feretrius’

Unfortunately, we do not have any direct evidence for Varro’s view of the significance of the epithet ‘Feretrius’.  However, we do have the etymology proposed by Propertius in a poem in which he elegised the temple of Jupiter Feretrius. This is the penultimate poem (4:10) of his Book 4 of his ;‘Elegies’ and it is followed by a poem that lamented the death in 16 BC of Cornelia, the wife of Aemilius Paullus: since Propertius himself died soon after, Book 4 book was probably published at about this time.  Propertius gave two possible etymologies, both of which revolved around the association between the temple and the spolia opima:

  1. “Now [three sets of spolia opima] are housed in the temple: hence Feretrius:

  2. perhaps because ... dux ferit ense ducem (leader struck leader with a sword): or

  3. perhaps because [three Roman duces] ferebant (brought, bore or carried) the armour of [the enemy duces that] they had vanquished on their shoulders”, (Elegies’, 4: 10: 46-7) .

Thus, Propertius derived Feretrius from:

  1. ferire (to strike), so that the temple was dedicated to Jupiter ‘for whom Roman generals of exceptional virtus struck and killed enemy commanders’; or

  2. ferre (to bring, bear or carry), so that it was dedicated to Jupiter ‘to whom Roman generals of exceptional virtus brought the armour of the enemy commanders that they had killed with their own hands’.


In what follows, I have extracted the key points from 4:10 to tease out the underlying information (which obviously does no justice to its poetic value). I have adapted the translation by Vincent Katz (referenced below, at pp. 407-9), although there is a convenient on-line version in the website Poetry in Translation.



It is possible that Flaccus also derived Feretrius from either ferre or ferire, although now in the context of bringing peace and the striking treaties, and that this putative second etymological strand became less explicit in Festus’ summary. 

However. Flaccus did not say that ‘Feretrius’ was derived from ferire: the sense of this passage (at least as I read it) is more probably that the fetiales kept the cult objects used in the ritual solemnisation of peace treaties in the temple of Jupiter Feretrius because he was the bringer of peace.

However, having said that, it is odd that neither Dionysius nor Livy recorded this information.



Dionysius of Halicarnassus,:

  1. arrived in Rome only shortly after Varro’s death, and he made a direct reference to Varro’s ‘Antiquities’ (at ‘Roman Antiquities’, 1: 14: 1); and

  2. would also surely have been  familiar with the work of the Roman grammarians who were still active there, including that of Flaccus.

It is interesting to note that his etymology of ‘fetiales’ more closely reflected that of Flaccus:

  1. “The 7th division of the sacred institutions of Numa, [the second king of Rome (traditionally 715-672 BC)], was devoted to the collegium fetialium.  These [priests] may be called in Greek εἰρηνοδίκαι (arbiters or judges of peace)”, (‘Roman Antiquities’, 2: 72: 1). 

Dionysius then observed that the fetials:

  1. “...are chosen men, from the best families, and exercise their holy office for life.  King Numa was also the first who instituted this holy magistracy among the Romans, but whether he took his example from:

  2. those called the Aequicol, according to the opinion of some; or

  3. from the city of Ardea, as Gellius writes;

  4. I cannot say.  It is sufficient for me to state that, before Numa's reign, the collegium fetialium did not exist among the Romans.  It was instituted by Numa ...”, (‘Roman Antiquities’, 2: 72: 1-2).

Plutarch, who also knew the tradition in which Numa had established the collegium fetialium, recorded that:

  1. “... the Φιτιαλεῖς (fetiales), ... who were, so to speak, εἰρηνοφύλακές (guardians of peace) and, in my opinion, took their name from their [primary function], which was to resolve disputes by negotiation: and they would not allow hostile expeditions to be made before every hope of receiving justice [by other means] had been cut off.  For, the Greeks call it peace when two parties settle their quarrels by negotiation rather than by violence”, (‘Life of Numa’, 12: 3).







It is possible that Flaccus also followed Varro in suggesting a derivation of ‘fetiales’ from ‘foedus’, and that this originally linked the information in the  adjacent entries in Festus’ epitome for fetials and Feretrius.


According to M. Terentius Varro, in a work that he wrote in 45-3 BC (some two decades before Livy wrote the above passage), ‘fetiales’:

  1. “... were so-called because they were in charge of public fides (faith) between people.  It was through them:

  2. that iustum bellum (just war) was declared; and, when it was over,

  3. that trust (fides) in the peace was established.

  4. Before war was declared, some of them were sent to seek restitution [as an alternative to war]:  even now, it is through them that a foedus (peace treaty) is made, which Ennius writes [in the 2nd century BC] was pronounced fidus”, (‘On the Latin Language’, 5: 86, from the translation by Wilson Shearin, referenced below, at p. 83).

Thus, Varro suggested that the words ‘fetiales’,  ‘fides’ and ‘foedus‘ were etymologically related, and he asserts that, at his time of writing, the fetials‘ primary role was the solemnisation of foedera


In another work of in ca. 36 BC, Varro recorded that:

  1. “The Greek name for the pig ... was [originally] θῦς from the verb θύειν (to sacrifice); for it seems that, at the beginning of making sacrifices, [the Romans] first took the victim from the swine family.  There are traces of this in  ... [the fact] that, at the [Roman] rites that initiate peace, when a treaty is made, a pig is killed”, (‘On Agriculture’, 2: 4: 9, translated by William Hooper and Harrison Boyd, referenced below, at pp. 356-7).



In his commentary on Virgil’s ‘Aeneid’, Servius explained the meaning of ‘foedus’ on two of the occasions on which it appeared in the poem (reproduced and translated by Bill Gladhill, referenced below, at pp. 51-2):

  1. “... foedus is named for the fetiales:

  2. that is, from the priests through whom foedera are struck; or

  3. from a sow slaughtered foede (foully) ... with a stone ...”, (‘ad Aen’, 1: 62).

  4. “... [Romulus and the Sabine king Tatius] iungebant foedera (were [cementing] treaties) with a sow.  Foedera, as we said earlier, are so-called because they derived:

  5. from a sow slaughtered foede (foully) and cruelly, since:

  6. -although previously, [the sacrificial pigs] were transfixes with swords;

  7. -the fetials discovered that [the pigs] should be silice feriretur (struck with a flint stone), because they thought that the lapis silex was a sign of Jove.

  8. [However], Cicero thought that ‘foedera’ derived from ‘fides’”,  (‘ad Aen’, 8: 641).

Although Servius’ commentary dates to the 4th century AD, he clearly used Cicero as one of his sources.  We might therefore reasonably assume  that he had access to other late Republican sources (perhaps including Flaccus, either directly of via Festus).  Wilson Shearin (referenced below, at p. 82) observed that:

  1. “What is so striking about this evidence [from ancient commentators and lexicographers for the etymology of foedus] is that it points, almost without fail, to consideration of fetial ritual.”

There is indeed little doubt that, from an early date, the lapis silex was associated with the sacrifice of a pig as a pledge of good faith during their solemnisation of foedera.

Cicero

Cicero twice claimed that the consuls agreed a foedus with Pontius: Cicero did so twice in his surviving works:

  1. In a satirical account of a hypothetical legal debate, the young Cicero referenced:

  2. "... the foedus that was ... made with the Samnites [in 321 BC], [when] the consul ordered a certain young man of noble birth to hold the pig that was to be sacrificed.  When the foedus was disavowed by the Senate and the consul [who had agreed it] surrendered to the Samnites, one of the senators asserted that the man who had held the pig ought also to be handed over to them”, (‘de Inventiones’, 2: 30 [91]).

  3. Later in his career (in ca. 44 BC), Cicero returned to these events in his defence of a decision that had been taken in 255 BC by Marcus Atilius Regulus: the Carthaginians had captured Regulus during the First Punic War and released him on parole so that he could present a treaty to the Senate, but he successfully argued that the Senate should not accept its terms and then returned to the Carthaginians under the terms of his parole.  Cicero argued that he had been morally right to do so:

  4. “Regulus had no right to confound by perjury the terms and covenants  ... [relating to a war that] was being fought with a legitimate, declared enemy.  We have our whole fetial code to regulate our dealings with such an enemy, as well as many other laws that are binding between nations.  Were this not the case, the Senate would never have delivered up illustrious Romans in chains to the enemy, ... [as it did, for example, in 321 BC, when] Titus Veturius and Spurius Postumius ... lost the battle at the Caudine Forks, and our legions were sent under the yoke.  These consuls were delivered up to the Samnites because they had made peace with them without the approval of the people and Senate. ... This was done in order that the peace with the Samnites might be [legitimately] repudiated”, (‘De Officiis’, 3:108-9).

Thus, according to Cicero, the consuls of 321 BC had agreed a foedus with the Samnites in a ritual that involved the sacrifice of a pig, and this foedus would have been legitimate if it had been formally sanctioned by the Senate.  Unlike Livy, Cicero did not claim that a serving consul was unable to strike to a foedus on behalf of the Roman people without the involvement of the fetials.

In his speech in defence of Aulus Caecina, Cicero (ca. 70 BC) addressed the claim that Caecina had lost his rights as a citizen following measures that Sulla had taken against his native city, Volaterrae, and that he was therefore disqualified from inheriting the property that was the subject of this legal action.  As part of his case that citizenship (like freedom) was inalienable, Cicero pointed out that:

  1. “... when anyone is surrendered [to an enemy] by the pater patratus [of the fetial college] ... , what justification is there for the loss of his citizenship?  A Roman citizen is surrendered to save the honour of the state: if those to whom he is surrendered accept him, he becomes theirs; if they refuse to accept him, as the Numantines did Mancinus, he retains his original status and his rights as a citizen” (‘Pro Caecina’, translated by Humfrey Grose-Hodge, referenced below, at p. 197).

Cicero (in 55 BC):

  1. “... Caius Mancinus, a man of the highest rank and character and a past consul, who under a decree of the Senate had been delivered up to the Numantines by the pater patratus [of the fetial college]  for concluding an unpopular treaty with their nation, and whose surrender they had refused to accept, whereupon he returned home and unhesitatingly came into the Senate-house: Publius Rutilius, son of Marcus and tribune of the plebs, ordered him to be removed, affirming that he was no citizen, in view of the traditional rule that a man  ,,, delivered up by the pater patratus, had no right of restoration”, (‘De Oratore’, 1: 181).

In his speech against Caius Verres, Cicero (70 BC) observed sarcastically:

  1. “Oh! but you did not command the Mamertines to furnish a ship, because they are one of the confederate cities.  Thank God, we have a man trained by the fetials; a man above all others pious and careful in all that belongs to public religion”, (‘Verrine Orations, 2: 5: 49)

As John Rich (referenced below, 2011, at p. 195, note 39) observed, this implies that the fetials were still responsible for for the religious aspect of treaties at this time.

Cicero (44 BC) :

  1. “In old age, Appius Claudius [Caecus] had the additional disadvantage of being blind; yet it was he who, when the Senate was inclining towards a peace with Pyrrhus and was for making a treaty with him, did not hesitate to say what Ennius has preserved in the following verses:

  2. ‘Whither have swerved the souls, so firm of yore?  Is sense grown senseless? Can feet stand no more?’

  3. And so on in a tone of the most passionate vehemence.  You know the poem, and the speech of Appius himself is extant.  He delivered it 17 years after his second consulship [i.e. in 279 BC, before the famous Pyrrhic victory at Asculum in that year], there having been an interval of ten years between the two consulships, and he having been censor before his previous consulship.  This will show you that he was a very old man at the time of the war with Pyrrhus.  Yet this is the story handed down to us”, (‘On Old Age, 6: 16)


In his commentary on Virgil’s ‘Aeneid’, Servius explained the meaning of ‘foedus’ on two of the occasions on which it appeared in the poem (reproduced and translated by Bill Gladhill, referenced below, at pp. 51-2):

  1. “... foedus is named for the fetiales:

  2. that is, from the priests through whom foedera are struck; or

  3. from a sow slaughtered foede (foully) ... with a stone ...”, (‘ad Aen’, 1: 62).

  4. “... [Romulus and the Sabine king Tatius] iungebant foedera (were [cementing] treaties) with a sow.  Foedera, as we said earlier, are so-called because they derived:

  5. from a sow slaughtered foede (foully) and cruelly, since:

  6. -although previously, [the sacrificial pigs] were transfixes with swords;

  7. -the fetials discovered that [the pigs] should be silice feriretur (struck with a flint stone), because they thought that the lapis silex was a sign of Jove.

  8. [However], Cicero thought that ‘foedera’ derived from ‘fides’”,  (‘ad Aen’, 8: 641).

Although Servius’ commentary dates to the 4th century AD, he clearly used Cicero as one of his sources.  We might therefore reasonably assume  that he had access to other late Republican sources (perhaps including Flaccus, either directly of via Festus).  Wilson Shearin (referenced below, at p. 82) observed that:

  1. “What is so striking about this evidence [from ancient commentators and lexicographers for the etymology of foedus] is that it points, almost without fail, to consideration of fetial ritual.”

There is indeed little doubt that, from an early date, the lapis silex was associated with the sacrifice of a pig as a pledge of good faith during their solemnisation of foedera.





Read more:

J. Rich, “The Fetiales and Roman International Relations”, in:

  1. J. H. Richardson, and F. Santangelo (Eds), “Priests and State in the Roman World”, (2011 ) Stuttgart, at pp. 187-242

S. Barney et al., (translators), “The Etymologies of Isidore of Seville”, (2010) Cambridge

J. Richardson,  'The Oath per Iovem Lapidem and the Community in Archaic Rome”, Rheinisches Museum für Philologie, 153 (2010) 25-42.

S. Oakley, “A Commentary on Livy, Books VI-X:Volume II: Books VII and VIII”, (1998) Oxford

A. Eckstein, “Senate and General: Individual Decision-making and Roman Foreign Relations (264-194 BC)”, (1987) Berkeley, Los Angeles and London

E. H. Warmington (translator), “Remains of Old Latin, Volume II: Livius Andronicus. Naevius. Pacuvius. Accius”, (1936) Harvard MA

W. M. Lindsey, “Sexti Pompei Festi De Verborum Significatu quae Supersunt cum Pauli Epitome” (1913)



E. Salerno, “Rituals of War. The Fetiales and Augustus’ Legitimisation of the Civil Conflict’, in

  1. D. van Diemen el. al. (Eds.), “Conflicts in Antiquity: Textual and Material Perspectives”, (2018) Amsterdam , at 143-60

D. Macrae, “The Laws of the Rites and of the Priests: Varro and late Republican Roman Sacral Jurisprudence”, Bulletin of the Institute of Classical Studies, 60.2 (2017) 34-48

B. Gladhill, “Rethinking Roman Alliance”, (2016) Cambridge

H. Cornwell, “The Role of the Peace-Makers (Caduceatores) in Roman Attitudes to War and Peace”, in

  1. G. Lee et al. (Eds), “Ancient Warfare: Introducing Current Research, Volume I”, (2015), Newcastle upon Tyne, at pp. 331-48

W. Shearin, “The Language of Atoms: Performativity and Politics in Lucretius' ‘De Rerum Natura’”, (2015) Oxford

P. Stadter, “Plutarch and His Roman Readers”, (2014) Oxford

T. J. Cornell (Ed.), “The Fragments of the Roman Historians”, (2013) Oxford.

L. Zollschan ‘The Longevity of the Fetial College”, in 

  1. O. Tellegen-Couperus, “Law and Religion in the Roman Republic”, (2012) Leiden-Boston, at pp. 119-44

A. Cooley, “Res Gestae Divi Augusti: Text, Translation and Commentary”, (2009) Cambridge

C. Ando, “Aliens, Ambassadors, and the Integrity of the Empire”, History Review, 26:3 (2008) 491-519

B. Frier, “Law and Legalism in the Roman Republic’ (2005) , Inaugural Lecture, University of Michigan

S. Oakley, “A Commentary on Livy, Books IX:Volume III: Books IX”, (2005) Oxford

A. Cooley, “Politics and Religion in the Ager Laurens, in:

  1. A. Cooley (Ed.), “The Epigraphic Landscape of Roman Italy”, Bulletin of the Institute of Classical Studies, Supplement 73 (2000) 173-91

H. Flower, “The Tradition of the Spolia Opima: M. Claudius Marcellus and Augustus”, Classical Antiquity, 19:1 (2000) 34-64

T. Wiedemann, “The Fetiales: A Reconsideration”, Classical Quarterly, 36: 2 (1986) 478-90

A. Watson (translator), “The Digest of Justinian: Volume I”, (1985) Philadelphia

E. Rawson, “Scipio, Laelius, Furius and the Ancestral Religion”, Journal of Roman Studies, Vol. 63 (1973), pp. 161-74

R. Ogilvie, “A Commentary on Livy: Books 1-5”, (1965) Oxford

W. D. Hooper and H. Boyd (translators), “Cato: Varro: On Agriculture”, (1934) Harvard MA

H. Grose Hodge (translator), “Cicero: Pro Lege Manilia; Pro Caecina; Pro Cluentio; Pro Rabirio Perduellionis Reo”, (1927) Harvard MA


Linked pages:  Collegium FetialumSpolia OpimaTemple of Jupiter Feretrius


Return to Developments at Rome


Return to homepage of Roman Conquest of Italy