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SALII These were an ancient guild of priests, traditionally first instituted by Numa for the service of Mars and the guardianship of the sacred shields (Liv. 1.20; Cic. de Rep. 2.14, 26; Dionys. A. R. 2.70; Plut. Num. 13; Ov. Fast. 3.378; Fest. p. 131); other traditions represented them as derived from Greece (Fest. p. 320; Plut. l.c.; Serv. ad Aen.. 2.325, 8.285); but we should rather regard these rites as a primitive Italian religion, very possibly a relic of superstitions inherited alike by the Greek and Italian stocks, but not borrowed from Greece after the Greeks and Italians were separate nations. It is at least probable that the Salii date from an earlier and ruder state than the age of Numa. They were at any rate widely spread through Italy, for we find them at Alba, Lanuvium, Tibur, Tusculum, Anagnia, Verona (Macrob. 3.12, 7; Serv. l.c.; C. I. L. 1.150, 5.4492, 6.270, 10.5925; see also other inscriptions cited by Marquardt, Staatsverw. 3.428); nor was the name restricted to the priests of a single deity: at Tibur they belonged to the worship of Hercules Victor. In Rome (i. e. in the Palatine city) there were originally twelve, forming a collegium with officials, a magister, praesul, and vates: they assembled at the Curia Saliorum on the Palatine, and were called Salii Palatini to distinguish them from the other similar guild of twelve Salii Collini (called also Agonales or Agonenses), who were supposed to have been instituted by Hostilius, and had their sacrarium in the Quirinal (Liv. 1.27; Dionys. A. R. 2.70, 3.32; Serv. l.c.). We can scarcely doubt that these two guilds existed in their separate localities when the Palatine and Quirinal were distinct communities, and the doubling of the Salii, like the doubling of the Luperci, tells of the amalgamation of the Quirinal with the Palatine city (compare Mommsen, Rom. Hist. 1.56; Staatsrecht, 3.111: LUPERCI).

The Salii were patricians (Cic. de Dom. 14, 38; Lucan 9.477; cf. Lucian, de Salt. 20), chosen (by co-optation of the college) from patrimi et matrimi in early youth, but, as they held the appointment for life, the colleges contained seniores and juniores ( “hic juvenum chorus, ille senum,” Verg. A. 8.285):> if however one of them became a flamen, augur, pontifex or consul, he passed out of the college of Salii by exauguratio (C. I. L. 6.1978); but the assumption of the praetorship and consulship did not necessarily vacate the Salian priesthood, as may be seen from the case of Scipio (Liv. 37.33) and others (V. Max. 1.1, 9; Macrob. 3.14). The distinguishing dress of the Salii was an embroidered tunic, a brazen breast-plate, the trabea and the priestly cap [APEX], a sword girt at the side, on the left arm the ancile or sacred shield, and in the right hand a short staff with which the shield from time to time was struck. It is significant of their function that in dress they were half-priests, half-warriors. The two collegia were distinct not only in name: the Palatini had their sanctuary on the Palatine hill and were consecrated to Mars; the Collini had their sanctuary on the Quirinal and were consecrated to Quirinus (Liv. 5.52; Stat. Silv. 6.29), both deities alike presiding over Roman warfare. Each collegium had charge of twelve ancilia. That both guilds had shields is not only the natural view, but is also distinctly stated by Livy (5.52) in the words “quid loquar de ancilibus vestris, Mars Gradive tuque Quirine pater.”

The great festival season of the Salii began with March, as the beginning alike of the campaigning and the agricultural season, and occupied the greater part of the month (Dionys. ii. [p. 2.590]20; Plb. 21.10, 12;> cf. Huschke, Das alte röm. Jahr, p. 362). On the 1st of March they were said arma movere (τὰ ὅπλα κινεῖν, Lyd. de Mens. 3.15), of which we must conceive the meaning to be that they brought forth the shields from their sacraria: then, equipped as above described, they went through the city in a procession which was continued for several days. They were preceded by trumpeters, and they themselves as they walked beat the shields with their staves, the praesul leading their dance in three-time (tripudium) and being said amptruare, while his followers redamptruabant, and the vates leading the Salian chant (see below). There were various stations (mansiones) for the annual processsion, at each of which successively the ancilia were deposited for one night (C. I. L. 6.2158), and there the Salii feasted (Fest. p. 329); [for these banquets and their luxury see Hor. Od. 1.37, 2; Cic. Att. 10.9; Suet. Cl. 33:] on the next day the procession passed to another mansio. It seems to us possible that in this is to be found the explanation of the fact that “arma moventur” is stated of three days,--March 1st (Lyd. 3.15), March 9th (Cal. Philoc.), and March 23rd (Lyd. 4.42): we may suppose that--the ceremonies which marked the shields being brought forth from the Curia Saliorum on March 1st, were repeated on the other two days when they were moved from two special mansiones, one probably being the sacrarium of the Regia. The exact progress of the procession cannot be traced out: we know that they offered sacrifice in the Regia (Fest. l.c.), where the Pontifex Maximus also and the Saliae virgines officiated (the latter, so far as we know, on that day only); they visited the Comitium (Varro, L. L. 5.85), the Capitol (Dionys. A. R. 2.70), the Pons Sublicius (Serv. ad Aen. 2.165, which explains the allusion in Catull. 17, 5), in each place with the characteristic dance and chant; probably in each there was a mansio. [For the special March festivals, in which the Salii officiated, see EQUIRRIA; AGONIA; QUINQUATRUS.] It is not certain whether we are to understand from the “30 days” mentioned by Polybius (21.10) that not only the whole month of March was religiosus on this account for the Salii, but a whole month in autumn also. The 24th is the last day in March on which their functions are distinctly mentioned; and either immediately after this day, or at the end of the month, the shields were replaced (condita) in their sacrarium. As March opened the campaigning season, so October closed it (theoretically, not in practice), and this was marked on the 19th> by an armilustrium, when the Salii again brought out the ancilia (Varr. 6.22), and then stored them in their sacrarium till the next season. It is clear from a comparison of Tac. Hist. 1.89, Suet. Oth. 8, Liv. 37.33, and Plb. 21.10, that the words arma moventur and arma condita apply equally to the spring and the autumn ceremonies: the first two passages refer to an expedition in March, the last two to the autumn; in each period for all the days (whatever their true number may have been) between the arma mota and the arma condita, no member of a Salian college could rightly travel from the place where he was for any expedition. Thus we find Scipio stopped in the autumn, and Otho regarded as unconventional because he refused to be stopped in the spring, “motis necdum conditis ancilibus.” We have no precise information as to the parts taken in these ceremonies by the two colleges respectively: we should probably be right in assuming that the 24 Salii of both colleges together joined in the processions above mentioned, which signified the beginning and ending of the war season, with which both were equally concerned; on the other hand, we can have no doubt that on certain days specially belonging to one of the two deities or one of the two localities the chief, if not the sole, part fell to one of the colleges. In the Equirria, for instance, we must suppose the Salii Palatini to have taken the lead or officiated alone as the special priests of Mars, and so also in the tubilustrium, which was on the Palatine; but the Agonia on March 17 would naturally belong to the Salii Collini, who thence derived one of their names.

Carmen Saliare.--This chant, led by the vates> of each Salian college, belonged to a very ancient ritual, and was in Quintilian's time scarcely intelligible (Quint. Inst. 1.6, 40: cf. Hor. Ep. 2.1, 86;> Varro, L. L. 7.3; Cic. de Orat. 3.51, 197); the surviving portions may be seen in Wordsworth, Fragments of Early Latin, 564-566. The verses were called axamenta, which is itself a word of disputed origin, probably not, as some have said, akin to axis, like the Greek ἄξονες, inscribed tablets, but rather, as Curtius, Corssen, and Vanicek agree, it came from the root ag, to which belong both ἠμὶ and aio, and therefore signified utterances. In their chant the Salii sang not only of Mars, to whom they seem to appeal as the averter of evil influences (perhaps in agriculture as well as in war), and Mamurius, who is doubtless the same as Mars, but also of Janus (Janus Quirinus), Jupiter (Lucetius), Juno and Minerva (Macrob. 1.9, 14, and 15, 14; Varro, L. L. 7.26; Fest. pp. 3 and 122); and afterwards, as though it were a sort of “state prayer,” they included the names of the reigning emperor and imperial princes (Mon. Ancyr. 2.21; Tac. Ann. 2.83, 4.9; Capitol. M. Anton. Phil. 21). [For the effect of political changes and developments in the priesthoods, see SACERDOS]

Ancilia.--These sacred shields were, according to the legends, at first twelve, viz. the shield which fell from heaven and the eleven copies. It is clear that these twelve were in the charge of the Salii Palatini, and, though some (as Ambrosch and Preller) have said that they were kept in the sacrarium of the Regia, we should rather follow Marquardt and Jordan (Top. 2.271) in holding that they were kept in the Curia Saliorum on the Palatine. It was into this sacrarium Martis that the praetor or consul setting out for war entered, when, touching the shields, he said, “Mars vigila.” With this corresponds the custody of the other twelve shields by the Salii Collini in the sacrarium on the Quirinal (Dionys. A. R. 2.70). The ancile (for ancidile, amcaedo, i.e. cut on both sides) was an oblong shield, which would have been a complete oval but for a curved indentation on each side (ἐκτομὴ γράμμης ἑλικοειδοῦς, Plut. Num. 13; cf. Varro, L. L. 7.43, “ab utraque parte, ut Thracum, incisa.” See PELTA). It is probable that this [p. 2.591]pattern of shield was handed down from a time when the shields were slung at the back, as is seen in vase-paintings as late as 500 B.C. The indentations then in these “figure of eight” shields were to allow for the free movement of the arms, when drawn back, especially in


riding. It is, we think, probable that ancile was originally an adjective, and that the full name was arma ancilia, as in the calendar for March 9. The shape is clearly shown in the coin of the Licinii representing two ancilia and the priestly cap with the apex.

A representation is often relied upon from a gem in the museum of Florence, which shows two figures bearing ancilia (of the correct shape) hung on a staff. This has an Etruscan inscription, and may safely be pronounced not Roman; even its antiquity is now questioned (see Marquardt, p. 431; Baumeister, Denk. p. 1546), but it is likely that it is a correct representation of what did happen--not of the Salii in procession, for they carried each his own shield, in warrior-fashion, on the left arm, but of two attendants (Dionys. A. R. 2.70) bearing on a pole the shields (which probably they were not allowed to touch), to deposit them either in their permanent sacrarium, or in one of the mansiones for the night. A coin has been found which represents a round shield. This may possibly be, as Marquardt suggests, the special form of the shields borne by the Colline Salii: his other suggestion, that it was a later form adopted for all ancilia, seems to be negatived by the fact that the coin is Domitian's, and therefore was struck at the time when Plutarch was writing of the shape as quoted above. The relief at Anagnia which shows perfectly oval ancilia may represent, as Benndorff says (Annal. d. Inst. 1869), a local variation in shape, differing from that of Rome. The common-sense view seems to us to be that the type of shield familiar in the time and place where each guild took its origin, was perpetuated and handed down in that guild. In this relief the staves are about as high as a man's shoulder, and have a knob at each end. We cannot agree with Marquardt that Ovid's words (Fast. 3.377) necessarily imply a round shield: they only exclude an angular one; and it is clearly impossible that Ovid should not know the shape of the shield carried in his own time by the Salii.

It is beyond the scope of this work to discuss at length the mythological meaning of these rites, but it will be useful to notice briefly one or two considerations which affect the date and order of the ceremonies described above, and also to indicate the authorities for several interesting and some very probable theories about their origin which have been recently put forward. There can be no doubt that the reason why the month of March was the great ceremonial period for the Salii was that it was regarded as the birth month of Mars and the time for resuming warfare; but we may notice as perhaps more than probable the view that this Mars was in primitive Italian religion regarded not only as the giver of victory in war, but also as the deity who drove away the darkness of winter and death, and who, by his reappearance with spring, introduced not only the campaigning, but also the agricultural season. Roscher, in dwelling on the connexion of Apollo and Mars, further maintains with considerable force that a parallel is to be found between the singing and dancing of the Salii and the songs and dances in the worship of Apollo, whose birth-time also is in spring: he compares the ceremonies of the THEOPHANIA at Delphi, the Curetes at Ortygia, and their clashing of arms to avert a hostile power (cf. Strab. xiv. p.640), and deduces, not of course that the Italian rites were borrowed from the Greek, but that the idea originally underlying both was the same--a new birth of the year or of light, the alerting of evil influence, and protection in the future. Closely connected with this is the fact that the Flaminica Dialis showed at this period signs of mourning in her attire, just as she did at the ceremonies of the Argei [FLAMEN Vol. I. p. 866 a], and also that it was pronounced an unlucky time for marriages; for it is more probable that this was originally because it was a period of striving against evil powers, than, as Ovid suggests (Fast. 3.373), from associations with war.

We cannot, indeed, accept the view of Usener that the twelve ancilia symbolised twelve newborn suns, nor the less puzzling theory that they represented twelve moons. These theories arise from an idea, which we conceive to be erroneous, that the Salian priests were created for the shields, and were twelve because that was the number of the shields. It is more likely that there were twelve shields for each guild because. each guild had twelve priests. In the Palatine city there were accordingly only twelve, but in historic Rome altogether twenty-four. As to the number twelve, whether of Etruscan origin or derived merely from three tribes and four regions, we need not here inquire.

While, however, we venture to dissent from these interpretations of the ancilia, we think that weight should be given to the interesting suggestion of Usener that “Mamurius Veturius” in the Equirria or Mamuralia [see EQUIRRIA], (when, according to Lydus, 4.36, a man clothed in skins was driven out of the city with peeled rods,) was “old Mars,” and that the rite symbolised the old season driven out by the new. It might rather, perhaps, be said that the man driven out represented in scapegoat fashion the darkness of winter and death, who were expelled, not Mamurius himself, and that the Salian cry to Mamurius is merely for his aid in the expulsion; but in any case there seems good reason for comparing these rites with others which have the above symbolical meaning. (See Grimm, Mythol. vol. ii. p. 764, E. T. For the references on the mythology in the latter part of this article, the present writer is indebted to unpublished notes of Mr. Warde Fowler: a full discussion will be found in Roscher, Mars und Apollon, pp. 25 ff., and Usener, in Rhein. Mus. xxx. pp. 215 ff. For the history of the Salii and their functions, see Marquardt, Staatsverw. 3.427-438; Preller, Röm. Myth. 1.350; Jordan, Topog. 2.271; and for the ancilia, besides the above, Baumeister, Denkm. p. 1546; Benndorff, l.c.

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

hide References (23 total)
  • Cross-references from this page (23):
    • Cicero, Letters to Atticus, 10.9
    • Homer, Odyssey, 1.2
    • Homer, Odyssey, 1.37
    • Polybius, Histories, 21.12
    • Polybius, Histories, 21.10
    • Cicero, On his House, 14
    • Vergil, Aeneid, 8.285
    • Suetonius, Divus Claudius, 33
    • Tacitus, Annales, 2.83
    • Tacitus, Annales, 4.9
    • Tacitus, Historiae, 1.89
    • Cicero, On Oratory, 3.51
    • Lucan, Civil War, 9.477
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 5, 52
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 37, 33
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 1, 20
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 1, 27
    • Cicero, De Republica, 2.14
    • Quintilian, Institutio Oratoria, Book 1, 6
    • Plutarch, Numa, 13
    • Horace, Epistulae, 2.1
    • Ovid, Fasti, 3
    • Valerius Maximus, Facta et Dicta Memorabilia, 1.1
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