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CADU´CEUS (κηρύκειον) was the staff or mace carried by Greek heralds and ambassadors in time of war. [PRAECO] (Pollux, 8.138; Thuc. 1.53; Hdt. 9.100.) This name is also given to the staff with which Hermes or Mercury is usually represented. The caduceus

Hermes bearing the Caduceus. (
Museo Borbonico,
vol. vi. pi. 2.)

was originally only an olive branch with garlands (στέμμαρα), which were afterwards formed into snakes. (Müller, Archäol. der Kunst, p. 504.) Later mythologists invented tales about these snakes. Hyginus (Astron. 2.7) [p. 1.323]tells us that Mercury once found two snakes fighting, and separated them with his wand; from which circumstance they were used as an emblem of peace. (Macr. 1.19; Plin. Nat. 29.54.)

From caduceus was formed the word caduceator, which signified a person sent to treat for peace (Liv. 32.32; Nep. Hannib. 11; Amm. Marc. 20.7; Gel. 10.27). The persons of the caduceatores were considered sacred (Cato, ap. Fest. s.v. Cic. de Orat. 1.46, 202). The caduceus was not used by the Romans. They used instead verbenae and sagmina, which were carried by the Fetiales (Dig. 1, tit. 8, s. 8). [FETIALES]

[W.S] [W.M.L]

hide References (7 total)
  • Cross-references from this page (7):
    • Herodotus, Histories, 9.100
    • Thucydides, Histories, 1.53
    • Cicero, On Oratory, 1.46
    • Cornelius Nepos, Hannibal, 11
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 32, 32
    • Gellius, Noctes Atticae, 10.27
    • Ammianus Marcellinus, Rerum Gestarum, 20.7
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