). An altar. With reference to these terms,
properly signifies any elevation; ἐσχάρα
) means an altar for
are often used
without any distinction, but properly ara
was a structure of less height
than altare (altus)
, the latter being erected in honour of the superior
gods, and the former to the inferior gods, demigods, and heroes. (Cf. Verg.
Ecl. v. 65.
) Sacrifices to the infernal gods were not offered on
altars, but in cavities dug in the ground and known as scrobes,
, βόθροι, λάκκοι
(Festus, s. v. altaria
In early times, and always in sudden emergencies, altars were made of earth, turf, or stones
collected on the spot. Otherwise they were built of masonry or brickwork, as shown in the
Altar (Column of Trajan); Etruscan Altar.
Subsequently a base was added (βάσις
), and a corresponding
projection at the top (ἐσχάρις
) to hold the fire. A movable
pan or brazier (ἐπίπυρον
) sometimes served this purpose.
Altars were either square or round.
Altar (Herculaneum); Altar (Antium).
Vitruvius directs that altars, though differing in elevation according to the rank of the
divinities to whom they were erected, should always be lower than the statues (simulacra
) before which they were placed. Of the application of this rule we have an
example in a medallion on the Arch of Constantine at Rome, shown in the annexed
Altar with Statue of Apollo (Arch of Constantine).
All altars were places of refuge. The supplicants were considered as placing themselves
under the protection of the deities to whom the altars were consecrated; and violence to the
unfortunate, even to slaves and criminals, in such circumstances, was regarded as violence
towards the deities themselves. It was also the practice among the Greeks to take solemn oaths
at altars, either taking hold of the altar or of the statue of the god. Cicero (pro
5.12) expressly mentions this as a Greek practice. See K. F. Hermann,
. 17 and 22.