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Fratres Arvāles

The Arval Brethren; a Roman collegium or company of priests, twelve in number, and so called, according to Varro (L. L. v. 85), from offering public sacrifices for the fertility of the fields (arva). Their extreme antiquity is proved by the legend which refers their institution to Romulus, of whom it is said that when his nurse Acca Larentia lost one of her twelve sons, he allowed himself to be adopted by her in his place, and called himself and the remaining eleven “Fratres Arvales” (Gell. vi. 7).

The office of the Fratres Arvales was for life, and was not taken away even from an exile or captive. They wore, as a badge of office, a chaplet of ears of corn (spicea corona) fastened on their heads with a white band (infula) (Plin. H. N. xviii. 6). These passages, with a single reference in Minucius Felix (Oct. 25), comprise all the extant notices of the Fratres Arvales in the ancient writers. But the discovery of a large number of inscriptions has placed the locality of their sanctuary beyond a doubt, and has thrown a flood of light on their constitution and ceremonial as well as on that of other Roman priesthoods. In the Vigna Ceccarelli, at a place called Affoga l'Asino, on the Via Portuensis, inscriptions upon stone tablets have been found at intervals from 1570 to the present time, which sufficiently identify that spot as the grove of the Dea Dia where the chief festival of the Arvales was held. By the end of the last century, sixty-seven documents had been recovered, and these were published with a valuable commentary by Marini (Rome, 1795). In 1867 more systematic excavations were undertaken with the aid of funds supplied by the King and Queen of Prussia, and the results were given to the world by Henzen in the works mentioned at the end of this article. We have now the acta of ninety-six annual meetings of the college, ranging in date from A.D. 14, the last year of Augustus, to 241, in the reign of Gordian; besides a number of fragments found at various times in Rome itself. From these we are able to form a clear idea of the officers of the college, the ceremonies they performed, and the mode of filling up vacancies in their body. Some of these minutes of proceedings, as they may be called, are much fuller than others, the most important being that of 218, the first year of Elagabalus, which includes the celebrated Hymn. The passage in Varro being the only mention of the Arvales that dates from republican times, it is a highly probable conjecture that this may have been one of the obsolete or half-forgotten cults, several of which, we know, were revived by Augustus. The sacrificium Deae Diae in luco is named in the law of Constantius and Constans, about 346, which, in the interest of the public amusement, provided for the maintenance of such temples as had games connected with them. In 382, by a decree of Gratian, the disestablishment of all pagan worships was completed, and their remaining endowments confiscated.

The regular number of brethren was twelve; the attendance at the annual meetings, as shown by the inscriptions, varied between three and nine. An exception occurs early in the reign of Nero; in the year 57 twelve Fratres met, exclusive of the emperor, who was also a member according to the invariable practice, and in this instance, it would appear, a supernumerary. From the time of Augustus it had become usual to appoint princes of the imperial family as extra members of the most dignified priestly colleges (Dio Cass. li. 20). Vacancies as they occurred were filled up by co-optation, originally free, but under the empire usually controlled by an imperial rescript indicating the person to be elected, like the congé d'elire of modern times. For the purpose of an election the brethren met on the summons of the magister in the Regia, the temple of Iupiter Stator, that of Divus Iulius, or latterly in the temple of Concord; and the votes were given in writing (per tabellas). The newly elected member was solemnly admitted by the magister, for which the phrase used is ad sacra vocat.

Like most Roman collegia, the Arvales had their presiding officer, called magister, elected annually in the grove of the Dea Dia on the second or great day of the May festival, but not coming into office until the 17th of December following: a Saturnalibus primis ad Saturnalia secunda is the oft-recurring formula. The promagister, who acted in the absence of the magister, appears to have been nominated by him for an indefinite period, and was not a regularly elected officer of the college. Next in importance to the magister was the flamen, elected annually upon the same occasion to assist in the sacrifices; he could also be represented by a proflamen, or by a member without that title qui vice flaminis fungebatur. Either of these dignities was often conferred by way of compliment on the emperor, who usually discharged its duties by deputy, and either might be re-elected in consecutive years or after an interval. There were, besides, four pueri ingenui patrimi et matrimi, senatorum filii (called also Camilli), who waited on the brethren during the sacrificial feast, and shared it themselves sitting on cathedrae, while their elders reclined. The college had also its staff of servants; some servi publici, assigned to its use by the emperor and reckoned as belonging to his familia, an aedituus in charge of the sacred precinct, and lastly the calatores.

The principal duty of the Arvales was to celebrate a three days' festival in honour of the Dea Dia, supposed by Marini to be Ceres, but now identified with Ops. This festival was sometimes held on the XVI., XIV., and XIII., sometimes on the VI., IV., and III. Kal. Iun.—i. e. on the 17th, 19th, and 20th, or the 27th, 29th, and 30th of May; in either instance, it will be seen, with a bye-day between the first and second feast days, while the third immediately followed the second. The precise time was fixed in the January of each year, and solemnly proclaimed by the magister or his deputy from the temple of Concord on the Clivus Capitolinus. The festival undoubtedly belonged to the order of feriae conceptivae, or those fixed by proclamation. On the first and last of the three days the college met in Rome, usually at the house of the magister, but sometimes also in Palatio in templo Divorum; offered fruits, incense, and wine at sunrise to the Dea Dia; anointed her statue; bathed, and changed the praetexta in which they had sacrificed for a white dinner-dress (album cenatorium; cf. Synthesis). Between dinner and dessert (mensa prima and mensa secunda bellariorum) they rose from table, reclined on more magnificent couches than those of the triclinium (toralibus segmentatis), repeated the offerings of wine, incense, and firstfruits (fruges libatae); then divided the bellaria, and received each man a sportula or perquisite for attendance. This, in the period from Trajan to the Antonines amounted to 100 denarii, the boys receiving 25; in the impoverished times of the third century it was reduced to 25 denarii for members of the college.

On the second day of the feast, which was the most important of the three, the Arvales assembled in the grove of Dea Dia already described. The grove included a circus for games and several temples, among which the Caesareum or aedicula of deified emperors and the Tetrastylum are mentioned. The sacrifices were begun early in the day by the magister or his deputy, acting alone; he first offered two young pigs in order to expiate the unavoidable desecration of the sacred grove by the use of the axe in pruning and felling it, then a white heifer (vacca honoraria) as a victim to the Dea Dia herself. In the forenoon he was joined by his colleagues, who breakfasted on the offerings already made, and then proceeded to fresh ceremonies. They sacrificed a fat lamb; made an offering, not further described, with earthenware pots placed on a table; sent out two of their number to collect grains of corn, probably from the crowd collected at the temple doors, passed them on to one another, receiving them in the left hand and giving with the right, and finally handing them to the attendants; placed the ollae on the altar, and then threw them away that they might not be used again (this is the probable explanation of the obscure phrase ollas precati sunt et ostiis apertis per clivum iactaverunt); and shared panes laureati, followed by turnips and another vegetable mysteriously described (lumemulia cum rapinis). The images were now anointed (the plural deas is used here only, and seems to refer to Acca Larentia and the Dea Dia as separate divinities); the temple was cleared of all but the priests, and the doors shut. Then with their tunics girded up for the dance, taking written copies of the formula from their attendants, and dividing right and left into two bodies, they proceeded to recite the hymn which had made the name of Fratres Arvales so interesting (ibi sacerdotes clusi succincti, libellis acceptis, carmen descindentes tripodaverunt in verba haec).

The text here given is that of Mommsen ( Hist. i. 231, Eng. trans.), with which those of Preller (Röm. Myth. p. 428) and Marquardt, after Bücheler (Index Schol. Bonnens. Aest. 1876), agree in the main. A rude Saturnian metre is discernible in the hymn:
Enos, Lases, iuvate,
Neve lue rue, Marmar, sins incurrere in pleores.
Satur fu, fere Mars! limen sali! sta! berber!
Semunis alternei advocapit conctos.
Enos Marmar iuvato.

In Mommsen's rendering:

To the gods—
Nos, Lares, iuvate,
Aid us, ye Lares),
Neve luem ruem (=ruinam) sinas incurrere in plures.
Nor suffer pestilence and destruction to come upon the people).
Satur esto, fere Mars.
Be thou satiate, fierce Mars).

To the individual brethren—
In limen insili! sta! verbera!
Leap o'er the threshold! Halt! Beat [the ground]).

To all the brethren—
Semones alterni advocate cunctos.
Call alternately the heroes all).

To the god—
Nos, Mamers, iuvato!
Aid us, Mars).

To the individual brethren—

Each of the first five lines was repeated thrice, triumpe five times in the inscription, but probably six were intended. There are other indications of mistakes on the part of the stonecutter. Comments on the text, etc., will be found in Marini, Atti e Monumenti dei Fratelli Arvali (Rome, 1795); Henzen, Scavi vel Bosco Sacro dei Fratelli Arvali (Rome, 1868); id. Acta Fratrum Arvalium (Berlin, 1874); the Corp. Inscript. Lat. vi. 2021-2119; Wordsworth, Fragments and Specimens of Early Latin (London, 1874); Mommsen, Hist. of Rome, i. pp. 175 foll.; Marquardt, vi. 428-443; Allen, Remnants of Early Latin (Boston, 1880).

After the recitation the doors were thrown open and the service-books handed back to the attendants; and the brethren now proceeded to the election of a Magister and a Flamen for the ensuing year, followed by the distribution of the sportula and of roses. Next came races in the circus of the grove, in which bigae, quadrigae, and desultores are mentioned: the Magister or his deputy presided at the games, habited in the ricinium (see Ricinium), and gave away the prizes. The brethren then returned to Rome and dined together, usually in the house of the Magister.

Of the other functions of the Fratres Arvales a short account will be sufficient. Whenever iron was brought into the grove, as for cutting the inscriptions for the acta, or the lopping and felling of the trees (already mentioned), there were sacrifices ob ferrum illatum, and, when the work was done, ob ferrum elatum. When the trees fell from decay or, worse still, were struck by lightning, and when replanting was undertaken, still more solemn sacrifices (suovetaurilia maiora) were offered on the spot. The Arvales also met for the nuncupatio or solemn pronouncing of vows for important events in the imperial family—the birthday, marriage, illness or recovery of the emperor, his setting out for or returning from serious undertakings, the confinement of an empress, etc. The Ambarvalia (q.v.), according to the most probable opinion, were entirely separate from the functions of the Fratres Arvales.

hide References (2 total)
  • Cross-references from this page (2):
    • Pliny the Elder, Naturalis Historia, 18.6
    • Gellius, Noctes Atticae, 6.7
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