previous next


FETIA´LES a college (Liv. 36.3) 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 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, Madvig); BELLA 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 was the 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) [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. 10.45), 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 (Plin. l.c.; Serv. ad Verg. A. 9.53, 10.14: cf. Liv. 8.14, 5). 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 Livy (1.24, 32) and Aulus Gellius (16.4), forming a portion of the Jus Fetiale 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. (Liv. 30.43.)

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 is uncertain. Varro (L. L. 5.86) would connect it with fidus and foedus; Festus with ferio or facio: but it is more probably connected with fateri and the Oscan fatium, so that fetiales 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, φιτιάλεις: 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 is satisfactory :--“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, 10.14, 12.206) 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 children.

[W.R] [A.S.W]

hide References (12 total)
  • Cross-references from this page (12):
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 9, 5
    • Vergil, Aeneid, 9.53
    • Vergil, Aeneid, 10.14
    • Pliny the Elder, Naturalis Historia, 22.5
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 36, 3
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 1, 24
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 8, 5
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 10, 45
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 30, 43
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 8, 14
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 1, 32
    • Gellius, Noctes Atticae, 16.4
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: