The Latin Religious Vocabulary – Abstracts

The Latin Religious Vocabulary

Journée d’études

Institute of History, University of Zielona Góra

25th April 2023

The Symposium is organized by Andrzej Gillmeister (University of Zielona Góra) and Claudia Santi (Università degli Studi della Campania Luigi Vanvitelli) as a part of the project “The Priests of Jupiter. The septemviri epulones college in Roman Religion” funded by The National Science Centre (UMO-2019/35/B/HS3/00809).

Yan Berthelet (Université de Liège)

Auspicia: a divinatory concept and practice between spectio and seruatio de caelo

Did the magistrates of the plebs possess the right of auspices? A study of the evolution of the term auspicium, inseparable from the evolution of both auspicial practices and the right of obnuntiatio, makes it possible to resolve the apparently contradictory answers of the sources to this question.

Alain Blomart (Universitat Ramon Llull)

Desacralising space and moving gods: exaugurare and evocare in their different Roman (and Christian) contexts

After several articles on the link between the Roman prayers of evocatio and devotio, and on their juridical context, I will focus here on the link between evocatio and another concept which is exauguratio, because both words are associated in several texts and this relationship is little studied.

So we will mention and analyse the principal texts on evocare and exaugurare in all the Roman tradition (including Christian authors). Moreover, we will classify their different contexts: first, in time of war and secondly, in time of peace (on the one hand, public religious desacralisation and on the other hand, private magic in the case of evocare).

Finally, we will explore the relationship between evocare and exaugurare, their similarities and their contexts, and we will ask the question whether exauguratio, evocatio and devotio were not three complementary rituals aiming respectively at desacralizing space, moving the gods or “sacra”, and if necessary, destroying (materially or symbolically) the enemy’s territory.

José Joaquin Caerols (Universidad Complutense)

Placare deos

The identification of the term placato in a text (ICN 11) of uncertain reading and interpretation, from the parietal corpus of the so-called Cueva Negra (Fortuna, Murcia, Spain), invites to reconsider the semantic value that this verb and the lexical field associated with it acquires when used in a religious context, particularly in its relation to piacular practices and, therefore, with the lexicon that designates and describes them. A review such as the one proposed here can contribute new data and elements of reflection to the debate that in recent years has been developing around central concepts of the traditional religious experience of Rome, such as pax deorum or expiatio.

Lindsay G. Driediger-Murphy (University of Calgary)

The language of divinatory sacrifice

In Roman state religion, animal sacrifices were thought to provide indications of the attitude, support, or opposition of the gods. Successful sacrifice was understood as obtaining divine acceptance of one’s offering. This was denoted by the verb litare and the noun litatio. In some cases, litatio might be obtained with the first animals offered (primae hostiae). In others, ascertaining the gods’ satisfaction might require repetition of sacrifice with additional animals (succidaneae). It was also possible for a sacrifice to fail (signified by the expressions non litare or non perlitare).

This presentation aims to deepen our understanding of Roman divinatory sacrifice by investigating the complex processes through which the Roman sacrificant sought litatio. How easy was it to litare? How was the presence or absence of litatio ascertained? How often were succidaneae brought into play? More broadly, what can Roman uses of the language of divinatory sacrifice tell us about Roman religion? I argue that litatio could be an elusive goal. The gods’ encouragement could be as slippery as it was valuable.

Andrzej Gillmeister & Krzysztof Mogielnicki (University of Zielona Góra)

Lexicon Latinitatis Sacrificae – presentation of the concept

The authors will present the concept of a dictionary of Latin sacrificial terms that they prepare as part of the 'Priests of Jupiter’ project. In its intention, the Lexicon Latnitiatis Sacrificae tries to cover all the terminology related to sacrificial offerings in the Roman religion.

Charles Guittard (Université Paris X)

Is there a specific vocabulary for the prayer in the Roman religion?

We have very few authentic, that is to say ritual, prayers (Cato, de agricultura, Macrobius, SaturnaliaActa Arvalium…) and of course many prayers in Latin literature and poetry (Vergilius, Horatius, Ovidius). In the ritual prayers, we can find a few verbs meaning „to pray” or praying (precor, quaeso, ueneror, obtestor). The verb(s) is (are) the central element of the formula, after the invocation and the request to the god(s). The definition of the prayer itself is a problem because we can find several words and for example in the archaic ritual of the Salii, where several words define the prayer to the gods (carmina, versusaxamenta). 

Attilio Mastrocinque (Università di Verona)

Sacratio capitis

Herbert Rose reached the conclusion that the Roman religion was a sort of magic. In the Forties of the past century, magic was supposed to be clearly different from religion and mostly based on ritual manipulation. Contemporary scholarship does not share such an approach anymore. Instead of reducing the Roman religion to magic, we can demonstrate that a clear distinction between these two forms of religiosity is impossible.

The case of the sacratio capitis is an evident example of aggressive magic used by the Roman plebs as a political factor. The caput was part of the human body associated with the political value of a person, as in the cases of the deminutio capitis and the exhibition of puppets or symbolic heads during the festival of the Compitalia. The first lex sacrata included the sacratio capitis as a punishment of violent enemies of the plebs.  It was roughly contemporary to the early Greek defixiones discovered in Sicily and also resorted to Iuppiter to whom the heads of condemned people were consecrated. This Iuppiter was similar to Zeus Meilichios, Lord of the dead. The mechanics of the sacratio of a person or of his head was a sort of evocation of avenger gods. Some episodes of Roman history show that blood and tears attracted avenger spirits from the hell. These latter were similar to Furies and acted in accordance with leges that condemned crimes, especially those against tribunes of the people and parents.

Nicolas Meunier (Université catholique de Louvain)

Rome and the Feriae Latinae„: discussion on the ambiguity of an ethnic term

The Feriae Latinae are one of the most important and at the same time most misunderstood religious festivals of the Romans. Their very name is a matter of dispute. If their origin in the context of the ancient federation of the Latins is widely accepted, their remarkable durability among the most fundamental feasts of the religious and political calendar of the Romans, until their abolition by Theodosius, raises questions. In particular, what was the relationship between the „Latin” identity of these feasts and the legitimation of the consuls newly in charge? Why were these „Latin” feasts chosen (at a time when the Latin federation still existed) to commemorate, according to Dionysius of Halicarnassus (AR 6.95), the return of the plebeian ἀπόσταντες („those who defected”) after the first secession? Was it a coincidence that their celebration was the only opportunity the tribunes of the plebs had to go outside the walls of Rome while retaining the prerogatives of their office? So many questions that leave modern scholars perplexed and hesitant as to the meaning to be given to the term Latinae and what the latter implies. Between a simple reminiscence of a bygone past, maintained by Romans whose conservative attitude is no longer to be demonstrated, and a revealing indication of an effective role played by the Latin federation at the origin of the consulship, the plebeian tribunate and the first secession of the plebs, the range of possible interpretations is wide. The present paper aims to take stock of this issue, which is more complex than it appears at first sight, mixing religious, institutional, political, social and identity dimensions, and the better understanding of which would undoubtedly contribute to nuancing the Romano-centrism shown by our sources.

Daniela Urbanová (Masaryk University)

Virga deum inferum…tu domas, caedis, uris …Similia similibus formulae in defixiones

In this contribution, made in collaboration with Juraj Franek, we present a corpus of the similia similibus formulae attested in ancient Greek and Latin curse tablets or defixiones. Despite the inherent randomness of our epigraphical documentation, the data available to us show clearly that since the 5th cent. BCE, the nations inhabiting the Mediterranean area practiced a sort of a magical koiné – a shared repertory of magical prescriptions, rituals, and formulae. These are attested not only in Greek and Latin, but also in Hebrew, Oscan, Etruscan, Demotic, and even Celtic language, spanning the area of the entire Roman Empire in the time of its greatest geographical extent, from Syria and Northern Africa to Britannia and the shores of the Black Sea. Simile formula is introduced in the context of sympathetic magic and in contradistinction to literary similes as a performative utterance that is based on a persuasive analogy. This analogy operates in the general form of “just as X possesses property P, let also Y possess property P”, in which Y’s are unequivocally targets or victims of the curses while X and P change in accordance with the intended results. We provide provisional taxonomy of the simile formulae, offer new readings and interpretations of some defixiones and mutually compare Greek and Latin documents. For the purposes of this study, we have collected 85 formulae (34 Greek and 51 Latin) attested on 57 tablets (27 Greek and 30 Latin, one tablet occasionally contains more than one simile formula).  Most of the Greek tablets are dated to the centuries before the Common Era (16, of these 11 were written as early as 5th – 3rd cent. BCE), while the clear majority of Latin tablets (26) belong to the first three centuries of the Common Era.   

Claudia Santi (Università degli Studi della Campania “Luigi Vanvitelli”)

The two-fold designation of sacredness in Latin

In his influential book Das Heilige im Germanishen (Tübingen 1942), Walter Baetke argued that Germanic languages had two complementary terms concerning sacredness: heilig and weihen; the first one means the positive sacredness, “what is charged with divine presence”; the second one means the sacredness of separation, “what is forbidden for men to contact.” É. Benveniste (Le vocabulaire des institutions indo-européennes, Paris 1969) focused on the two-fold designation of sacredness in Iranian, Latin, and Greek; in his opinion, a couple of Latin terms denoting the sacredness are sanctus/sacer. G. Dumézil in La religion romaine archaïque (Paris 19742) suggested the Latin words augustus/sacer as complementary terms concerning sacredness. In our presentation, on one hand, we aim to demonstrate that nor sanctus neither sacer actually mean positive/negative sacredness; on the other hand, we suggest that at Rome, the designations of these two aspects were augustum and religiosum.