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STRENAE (whence the French étrennes) were presents given on the 1st of January, as Festus says, “ominis boni causa” (cf. Plaut. Stich. 5.2, 24, and the precisely similar French proverb “à bon jour bonne étrenne” ). The custom was supposed to be connected with the goddess Strenia, who brought good luck to the household “ab exortu fere urbis strenarum usus adolevit auctoritate Tatii regis, qui verbenas felicis arboris ex luco Streniae anni novi auspices primus accepit” (Symmach. Ep. 10.35): these verbenae are defined as laurel leaves (Lyd. de Mens. 4.4). The custom is described in Ovid (Ov. Fast. 1.185 ff.). Some of the actual presents still exist: a cup with the inscription, “Anno novo faustum felix tibi” (Orelli, 4306); a lamp with the same (Id. 4307). Coins also were given, and a gold coin was the best of omens in Ovid's time (Fast. 1.221): the poorer client brought a copper coin, and, to represent the gold, a gilded date (Mart. 8.33, 13.27).

New year's gifts were presented to Augustus in the Capitol, even when he was absent (Suet. Aug. 57; cf. D. C. 54.35). [VOTORUM NUNCUPATIO.] The person who received such presents was accustomed to make others in return (strenarum commercium); but Tiberius, who did not like the custom on account of the trouble it gave him, and also of the expense in making larger presents in return, frequently left Rome at the beginning of January, that he might be out of the way (D. C. 57.8), and also forbade any such presents to be offered him after the 1st of January, as he used to be annoyed by them during the whole of the month (Suet. Tib. 34; D. C. 57.17). The custom, so far as the emperor was concerned, thus seems to have fallen almost entirely into disuse during the reign of Tiberius. It was revived again by Caligula (Suet. Cal. 42; D. C. 59.24), but abolished by Claudius (D. C. 60.6); it must, however, have been restored afterwards, as we find it mentioned as late as the reigns of Theodosius and Arcadius (Auson. Ep. 18.4; Cod. Just. 12, 48; Gothofred. ad Cod. Theod. 7, 24, 1).

The festival is inveighed against as pagan by Christian writers (Augustin. Serm. 198, 2; Tertull. de Idol. 10. Other passages will be found in Graevius, Thesaur. xii. p. 409 ff., strenarum historia); but it lasted long, and still existed to be condemned by the Quinisextan Council at Constantinople ( “Concilium in Trullo” ), A.D. 692, if indeed we should not say that the French étrennes preserve the custom as well as the name.

On the strenae, see also Marquardt, Staatsverwalt. 3.266; Privatl. 251.

[W.S] [G.E.M]

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