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LUSTRUM The term lustrum primarily meant a purification by sacrifice. Varro (L. L. 6.2) explains it thus: “lustrum nominatur tempus quinquennale a luendo, id est solvendo, quod quinto quoque anno vectigalia et ultrotributa per censores persolvebantur.” The derivation is probably right, but the explanation is wrong. Paul. D. 120 says, “Cum ejusdem vocabuli prima syllaba producitur, significat nunc tempus quinquennale, nunc populi lustrationem.” In the regal period this sacrifice without doubt had been one of the duties performed by the king in his capacity of priest. Thus Livy (4.44) represents king Servius Tullius as celebrating the first lustrum in 566 B.C. when he had completed the census. ( “Censu perfecto edixit, ut omnes cives Romani in campo prima luce adessent. Ibi omnem exercitum suovetaurilibus lustravit: idque conditum lustrum appellatum, quia is censendo finis factus est.” ) Under the early Republic it was naturally performed by the consuls, who represented the king of the previous epoch. When with the growth of the state the duties of the consuls had largely increased, and it was found necessary to establish the censorship in 443 B.C. (or 435 B.C., according to Mommsen), the duty of performing this rite devolved on the censors. The latter held office not from lustrum to lustrum, but were appointed at intervals of five years [CENSOR]. They entered on their office in April, and by May of the following year they had completed the census and their other duties. They then celebrated the lustrum, without which, according to some, their official acts were devoid of authority (Mommsen, Staatsr. 2.322). The lustration [LUSTRATIO] took place in the Campus Martius. All the men of military age were assembled there; thrice round them were borne on spears a boar, a ram, and a bull (suovetaurilia), which were sacrificed by the censors to Mars for the fulfilment of the vows made by the preceding censors. One censor at the same time offered fresh vows for the coming years. They then led the whole host to the city gate, and as a mark of the completion of the lustrum drove a nail into the wall of a temple (that of Mars Ultor since the 2nd century B.C.), and then deposited the new register of the citizens in the treasury. After this the censors immediately laid down office. From the fact that the lustrum took place (as a rule) every fifth year, the term was likewise applied to the period of five years preceding. The solemn rite was thus regarded as completing this quinquennium, and hence the term condere lustrum was used to describe it. But though it was usual to hold it every five years, its celebration was by no means invariable. Sometimes the rite was omitted on religious grounds, as we learn from Livy, 3.22: “Census actus eo anno, lustrum propter Capitolium captum, consulem occisum, condi religiosum fuit” (cf. Livy, 24.43), and probably from other causes likewise; for the Fasti Capitolini, in which are entered the censors, and the letters L F attached to the names of those who completed this rite, show that, although the customary interval was five years, not unfrequently six and seven years elapse, or sometimes only [p. 2.104]four between each celebration. According to Livy (10.47), in the period between the first appointment of censors (443 or 435 B.C.) and 294 B.C., there had only been twenty-six pairs of censors, and only twenty-one lustra. In later times the ceremony was probably simplified. Cicero (de Or. 2.66, 268) says, “lustrum condidit et taurum immolavit.” The last celebration of a lustrum took place under Vespasian, 74 A.D.

From the interval between the lustra being usually five years, the term lustrum came gradually to be used as a general expression for a period of five years. But, according to the Roman method of computation, the phrase quinto quoque anno might mean every four years. Thus Cicero (de Or. 3.32, 127) calls the Olympic festival “maxima illa quinquennalis celebritas ludorum.” Thus likewise the Roman priests interpreted the quarto quoque anno of the Julian Calendar as meaning every three years (Macrob. 1.14, 1). Hence from the earliest times there would be a vagueness in the use of the term. In the writers of the Augustan age, who commonly use lustrum in its general sense, we find its use fluctuating. Ovid, for instance, uses it for a period of five years (Amor. 3.6, 27: “nondum Troia fuit lustris obsessa duobus” ). In Fasti, 3.119, he uses it in the same sense when describing the year of Romulus ( “mensibus egerunt lustra minora decem” ), but in the same poem (1. 165) where he is explaining the Julian year and the intercalation of the dies bissextus ( “hic anni modus est: in lustrum accedere debet quae consummatur partibus una dies” ), lustrum must mean a period of four years. Again, from Trist. 4.10, 96, and Epp. ex Pont. 4.6, 5, we find that he identifies the Roman lustrum with the Greek Olympiad ( “in Scythia nobis quinquennis Olympias acta est: jam tempus lustri transit in alterius” ), just as Polybius (6.13) uses πενταετηπὶς to translate the Latin lustrum. The later writers seem to use it only as a period of four years. Pliny (Plin. Nat. 2.47) twice uses it of the four-year Julian cycle. We also find on inscriptions the intervals of four years between the Capitoline games instituted by Domitian described as lustra; and Censorinus (18), when defining the lustrum or annus magnus, seems unaware that it ever differed from the Olympiad, or denoted any other period than four years.


hide References (6 total)
  • Cross-references from this page (6):
    • Polybius, Histories, 6.13
    • Pliny the Elder, Naturalis Historia, 2.47
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 24, 43
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 10, 47
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 3, 22
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 4, 44
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