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
]. 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.
; Liv. 1.24
; Dig. 1
; 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
herbas sacratas ut est laurus oliva vel myrtus.” The true verbena
is the verbena
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.
4.3, 11; Hor. Od.
; Ovid, Ov. Met. 7.242
). The Greek name seems to be
but the Greek equivalent for lustration or for
decking the altar was rather the myrtle: cf. Eur. Ion
, μνρσίνας ἱερὰν φόβαν ἇ σαίρω
: 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
). 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
which Festus favours. Corssen (Lat. Spr.
2.212) proposes a connexion with seges
), 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