We learn from Livy (1.21
) that Numa consecrated places for the celebration of religious
services which were called by the pontifices Argei.
Varro calls them the chapels (sacella
) of the Argei, and says they were twenty-seven in number,
distributed in the different districts of the city (L. L.
5.45). The number 27 appears to be a copyist's mistake for 24, the number
implied by Varro himself in another passage (7.44), i. e. six for each of
the four ancient regions of Rome. They seem also to have been the
depositories of topographical records. Thus we read in Varro,--In
sacreis Argeorum scripture est sic: Oppius mons princeps,
&c., which is followed by a description of the neighbourhood. They
were said to be named from the chieftains who came with Hercules, the
Argive, to Rome, and occupied the Capitoline or, as it was anciently called,
Saturnian hill. These Argives, according to the legend, either cast
themselves, or directed that their dead bodies should be cast, into the
Tiber, in the hope of being carried down to Argolis. In this latter part of
the story we may probably recognise an attempt to explain the ceremony of
the Ides (15th) of May, when certain osier figures of men called argei
were thrown into the Tiber from the pons
Sublicius by the Vestals, as a reminiscence (not, as is most likely the
truth, of human sacrifices to indigenous ancient divinities, but) of that
early connexion of the Greek Heracles with the fortunes of Rome which Roman
writers so generally sought to establish. Dionysius of Halicarnassus seems
to mix up both explanations in his statement that the custom, continuing to
his times, was instituted by Hercules to satisfy the scruples of the natives
when he abolished the human sacrifices formerly made to Saturn. He gives the
number of images as 30: Varro speaks of 24, which, if we read xxiiii for
xxvii, as suggested above, in 5.45, makes one victim for each of the Argei.
Whether, finally, the name Argei originally belonged to deities themselves,
and passed from them to their shrines and their victims, must remain
undecided: that the cultus associated with the name was archaic, analogous
to that of the Lares, and involving human sacrifices, seems clearly
deducible from our documents. The subject has been specially treated by
Liebrecht in Philologus,
xxiii. pp. 679 ff.,
and Bouché--Leclercq, Les Pontifes de l'ancienne
pp. 268 ff.: cf. Jordan, Topogr. d. Stadt Rom,
ii. p. 236; Burn, Rome,
p. 39; Dict. of Gr. and Rom.
ii. p. 733 foll. The chief classical sources are Varro,
5.45, 7.44; Ov. Fast.
ff.; Gellius, 10.15
Halic. 1.38; Macrob. 1.2.47.