A collegium (Livy, xxxvi. 3
) of Roman priests who acted as the
guardians of the public faith. It was their province, when any dispute arose with a foreign
State, to demand satisfaction, to determine the circumstances under which hostilities might be
commenced, to perform the various rites attendant on the solemn declaration of war, and to
preside at the formal ratification of peace. These functions are briefly but comprehensively
defined by Varro (L. L.
v. 86, ed. Müller), to which may be added the
old law quoted by Cicero (De Leg.
ii. 9, 21): Foedervm,
pacis, belli, indvtiarvm oratores fetiales ivdicesqve svnto （ivs
); bella disceptanto. Dionysius (ii. 72) and
Livy (i. 32) detail at considerable length the ceremonies observed by the Romans in the
earlier ages, when they felt themselves aggrieved by a neighbouring people. It appears that
when an injury had been sustained, four fetiales (Varr. ap.
Non. ) were
deputed to seek redress, who again elected one of their number to act as their representative.
This individual was styled the pater patratus populi Romani.
They were dressed
in the garb of priests, and a wreath of sacred herbs gathered within the enclosure of the Capitoline Hill (verbenae, sagmina
), was borne befor them
by one of their number, who was hence called Verbenarius (Pliny , Pliny H. N. xxii. 5
equipped, at least two of their number proceeded to the confines of the offending
tribe, where they halted and the Pater Patratus addressed a prayer to Iupiter, calling the god
to witness, with heavy imprecations, that his complaints were well founded and his demands
reasonable. He then crossed the border, and the same form was repeated in nearly the same
words to the first native of the soil whom he might chance to meet; again a third time to the
sentinel or any citizen whom he encountered at the gate of the chief town; and a fourth time
to the magistrates in the Forum in presence of the people. If a satisfactory answer was not
returned within thirty days, after publicly delivering a solemn renunciation—in
which the gods celestial, terrestrial, and infernal were invoked—of what might be
expected to follow, he returned to Rome, and, accompanied by the rest of the fetiales, made a
report of his mission to the Senate. If the people (Livy, x. 45
as well as the Senate, decided for war, the Pater Patratus again set forth to the border of
the hostile territory, and launched a spear tipped with iron, or charred at the extremity and
smeared with blood (emblematic doubtless of fire and slaughter) across the boundary,
pronouncing at the same time a solemn declaration of war. The demand for redress and the
proclamation of hostilities were alike termed clarigatio
, which word the
Romans in later times explained by clare repetere
(Pliny , l. c.; Serv. ad
Verg. Aen. ix. 53Verg.
Aen., x. 14
; cf. Livy, viii. 14,
). When the Romans had to carry on wars beyond the sea, this proceeding was
inconvenient. Hence a characteristic device was adopted. They transferred a piece of land in
the Circus Flaminius to a prisoner taken from the enemy, and set up on this before the Temple
of Bellona a column, which was accounted as standing on hostile territory ( Serv. l. c.).
Several of the formulae employed on these occasions have been preserved by Livy (i. 24Livy, 32
) and Aulus Gellius (xvi. 4), forming a portion of the Ius Fetiale
by which the college was regulated. The services of the fetiales were considered absolutely
essential in concluding a treaty (Livy, ix. 5
); and we read that at
the termination of the Second Punic War fetiales were sent over to Africa, who carried with
them their own verbenae
and their own flint stones for smiting the
victim. Here also the chief was termed Pater Patratus (Livy, xxx.
The institution of these priests was ascribed by tradition, in common with other matters
connected with religion, to Numa (Dionys.ii. 71
); and although Livy
(i. 32) speaks as if he attributed their introduction to Ancus Martius, yet in an earlier
chapter (i. 24) he supposes them to have existed in the reign of Hostilius. Little mention is
made of the fetiales after the time of the Second Punic War, though the collegium
is known to have existed as late as the second century A.D.
The number of the fetiales cannot be ascertained with certainty, but Varro quoted by Nonius
(xii. 43) states that it amounted to twenty; of whom Niebuhr supposes ten were elected
from the Ramnes and ten from the Titienses. They were originally selected from the most noble
families; their office lasted for life (Dionys.ii. 72
); and it
seems probable that vacancies were filled up by the college (coöptatione
) until the passing of the Lex Domitia, when in common with most
other priests they would be nominated in the Comitia Tributa. This, however, is nowhere
The etymology of fetialis
is uncertain. Varro (L. L.
86) would connect it with fidus
but it is more probably
connected with fateri
and the Oscan fatium
“speakers.” The spelling feciales
The explanation given by Livy (i. 24) of the origin of the title Pater Patratus is
satisfactory: Pater Patratus ad jusjurandum patrandum, id est, sanciendum fit