a college (Liv.
) 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 religious 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.
5.86, ed. Müller):
“Fetiales . . . fidei publicae inter populos [p. 1.840]
praeerant: nam per hos fiebat ut justum conciperetur bellum
et inde desitum, ut foedere fides pacis constitueretur. Ex his
mittebantur, antequam conciperetur, qui res repeterent, et per hos etiam
nunc fit foedus,” to which we may add the old law quoted by
Cicero (de Leg.
2.9, 21), “FOEDERUM, PACIS, BELLI, INDUTIARUM ORATORES FETIALES IUDICESQUE
SUNTO (IVS NOSCVNTO,
DISCEPTANTO.” Dionysius (2.72
) and Livy (1.32
) 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.
(It is an error to
suppose that the pater patratus
permanent head of the college: Mommsen, Staatsr.
2 2.670.) 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 before them
by one of their number, who was hence called Verbenarius.
(Plin. Nat. 22.5
Thus 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 Jupiter, 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 denunciation--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 (Liv.
), 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
Verg. A. 9.53
: cf. Liv. 8.14
). 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. (Servius, l.c.
Several of the formulae employed on these occasions have been preserved by
Aulus Gellius (16.4
), forming a portion of the
by which the college was
regulated. The services of the fetiales were considered absolutely essential
in concluding a treaty (Liv. 9.5
); 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.
The institution of these priests was ascribed by tradition, in common with
other matters connected with religion, to Numa (Dionys. A. R. 2.71
); and although Livy (1.32
) speaks as if he attributed their introduction to Ancus
Martius, yet in an earlier chapter (1.24) he supposes them to have existed
in the reign of Hostilius. The whole system is said to have been borrowed
from the Aequicolae or the Ardeates (Liv. and Dionys, l.c.
), but this is extremely improbable, and is due only to an
etymological explanation: similar usages undoubtedly prevailed among the
Latin states ; for it is clear that the formula preserved by Livy (1.32
) must have been employed when the pater
patratus of the Romans was put in communication with the pater patratus of
the Prisci Latini.
The number of the fetiales cannot be ascertained with certainty, but Varro
quoted by Nonius (12.43) 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. A. R. 2.72
); and it
seems probable that vacancies were filled up by the college (cooptatione
) 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 expressly stated. (Mommsen, l.c.
The etymology of fĕtiais
Varro (L. L.
5.86) would connect it with fidus
but it is more probably connected with fateri
and the Oscan fatium,
would be oratores, speakers.
In early inscriptions we always find fetialis;
in Greek MSS. the word always appears
under some one of the forms (φητιάλεις, φετιάλεις,
: hence there is no doubt as to the orthography.
(Cf. Corssen, i.2 422.)
The explanation given by Livy (1.24
) of the origin
of the term Pater Patratus
:--“Pater Patratus ad jusjurandum patrandum, id est, sanciendum
fit foedus;” and we may at once reject the speculations of
Servius (Serv. ad Aen. 9.53
) and Plutarch (Quaest. Rom.
p. 279 B); the former of whom supposes that he was so called because it was
necessary that his father should be alive, the latter that the name
indicated that his father was living, and that he himself was the father of