previous next


SA´GMINA were the same as verbenae, sacred herbs, especially those which were torn up by their roots from the enclosure of the Capitol, and given by the consul or praetor to the Fetiales when they went to demand reparation or to make a treaty [FETIALES]. They were carried by one of the body called Verbenarius, and served to mark the sacred character of the ambassadors: Varro (ap. Non. 528) compares them to the caduceus or κηρύκειον (cf. Plin. Nat. 22.5; Liv. 1.24, 30.43; Dig. 1, 8.8; Festus, s. v.). There can be no doubt that any herb so gathered would answer the purpose if the true verbena could not be procured: indeed Servius (Serv. ad Aen. 12.120) says, “abusive verbenas vocamus omnes herbas sacratas ut est laurus oliva vel myrtus.” The true verbena or vercain is the verbena officinalis, which suits Pliny's description of the plant and his comparison of the leaf to an oak-leaf (25.105). It was used for lustrations, for sweeping the tables of the gods at the Epulum Jovis or at the lectisternia (Id. ib.); it was used also for decking the altar (Ter. And. 4.3, 11; Hor. Od. 1.19, 14, 4.11, 7; Ovid, Ov. Met. 7.242). The Greek name seems to be ἱερὰ βοτάνη, or περιστερεών, but the Greek equivalent for lustration or for decking the altar was rather the myrtle: cf. Eur. Ion 120, μνρσίνας ἱερὰν φόβαν σαίρω δάπεδον θεοῦ: and Servius, l.c., notes that Terence in using the word verbena translates a line (quoted in a corrupt state by Donatus) where it is a myrtle bough (see Wagner ad Ter. l.c.). Lastly we find a curiously widespread use of the plant in divination and magic: for this purpose it is burnt in Verg. Ecl. 8.65, and Pliny (l.c.) speaks of the same use among Eastern nations (cf. Suet. Vesp. 7) and among the Celts, where the superstition lingers to this day (e. g. in Brittany).

Whatever the etymology of sagmen may be, we must reject the connexion with sanctus or sacer, which Festus favours. Corssen (Lat. Spr. 2.212) proposes a connexion with seges by the root sag (σεσαγμένος), but, as it certainly was not used for food, this is not satisfactory. Looking to its use for divination and magic, which we may judge from its being common to so many nations to have been its oldest use, we might suggest rather a connexion with saga and sagire.

[W.S] [G.E.M]

hide References (9 total)
  • Cross-references from this page (9):
    • Euripides, Ion, 120
    • Homer, Odyssey, 1.14
    • Homer, Odyssey, 1.19
    • Homer, Odyssey, 4.11
    • Homer, Odyssey, 4.7
    • Ovid, Metamorphoses, 7.242
    • Pliny the Elder, Naturalis Historia, 22.5
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 1, 24
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 30, 43
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: