previous next


Σαλίοι, “dancers,” from salio). An old Italian collegium of priests of Mars, said to have been introduced at Rome by Numa and doubled by Tullus Hostilius. The earlier college was called the Salii Palatīni and the later the Salii Agonāles or Collīni. The former derived their name from their curia on the Palatine Hill; the latter, from the Colline Gate, near which stood their sanctuary on the Quirinal. Both colleges consisted of twelve life-members of patrician family, and recruited their numbers from young men, whose parents were required to be still living; at their head was a magister, a praesul (leader in the dance), and a vates (leader in the song). The cult of the Palatine Salii had to do with Mars, that of the Colline with Quirinus; but the chief connection of both was with the sacred shields, ancilia. (See illustration.) The chief ceremonial of the Salii was in March, the beginning of the campaigning season. On March 1st, they began a procession through the city, each of them dressed in an embroidered tunic, a bronze breastplate, and a peaked helmet, girt about with a sword, with one of the holy shields on the left arm, and in the right hand a staff, while trumpeters walked in front of them.

Salii with Ancilia. (Gruter.)

At all the altars and temples they made a halt, and, under the conduct of the two leaders, danced the war-dance in three measures, from which they take their name of Salii or “dancers,” accompanying it by singing certain lays, beating their shields meanwhile with the staves. Every day the procession came to an end at certain appointed stations, where the shields were kept over the night in special houses, and the Salii themselves partook of a meal proverbial for its magnificence (Hor. Carm. i. 37, 2). Until March 24th the ancilia were in motion; within this time some special festivities were also held, in which the Salii took part. On March 11th there was a chariot-race in honour of Mars (Equiria) and a sacrificial feast in honour of the supposed fabricator of the shields, Mamurius Veturius; on the 19th was the ceremony of the cleansing of the shields, and on the 23d the cleansing of the holy trumpets (tubae) of the priests, called the tubilustrium. The days on which the ancilia were in motion were accounted solemn (religiosi), and on these days men avoided marching out to war, offering battle, and concluding a marriage. In October, the close of the campaigning season, the ancilia were once more brought out, in order to be cleansed in the Campus Martius. The lays of the Salii, called axamenta (from axare, “to repeat,” a word found in Festus), were referred to Numa Pompilius, and were written in the archaic Saturnian verse, and in such primitive language, that they were scarcely intelligible even to the priests themselves, and as early as the beginning of the first century B.C. were the object of learned interpretation (Quint.i. 6, 40). Two or three connected bits of these lays have come down to us. The most intelligible is the following, reconstructed by Bergk, in a rude Saturnian measure:
| Cumé tonás, Leucésie, | práe tét tremónti, ||
Quom tibeí cúneí | déxtumúm tonáront; ||

i. e. Cum tonas, Lucetie (thou god of light), prae te tremunt, cum tibi cunei (bolts of lightning) a dextra tonuerunt. (See Wordsworth, Fragments and Specimens of Early Latin, 564-566; Allen, Early Latin, p. 74). Besides Mars, other deities, such as Ianus, Iupiter, and Minerva, were invoked in them; the invocation of Mamurius Veturius formed the close (Ovid, Fasti, iii. 260 foll.). After the time of Augustus the names of individual emperors were also inserted in the lays.

hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: