(whence the French étrennes
were presents given on the 1st of January, as Festus says, “ominis
boni causa” (cf. Plaut. Stich.
5.2, 24, and the
precisely similar French proverb “à bon jour bonne
étrenne” ). The custom was supposed to be connected
with the goddess Strenia, who brought good luck to the household “ab
exortu fere urbis strenarum usus adolevit auctoritate Tatii regis, qui
verbenas felicis arboris ex luco Streniae anni novi auspices primus
accepit” (Symmach. Ep.
10.35): these verbenae
are defined as laurel leaves (Lyd. de Mens.
4.4). The custom is described in Ovid
(Ov. Fast. 1.185
ff.). Some of the
actual presents still exist: a cup with the inscription, “Anno novo
faustum felix tibi” (Orelli, 4306); a lamp with the same (Id.
4307). Coins also were given, and a gold coin was the best of omens in
Ovid's time (Fast.
1.221): the poorer client
brought a copper coin, and, to represent the gold, a gilded date (Mart. 8.33
New year's gifts were presented to Augustus in the Capitol, even when he was
absent (Suet. Aug. 57
; cf. D. C. 54.35
NUNCUPATIO.] The person who received such presents was accustomed
to make others in return (strenarum
); but Tiberius, who did not like the custom on account
of the trouble it gave him, and also of the expense in making larger
presents in return, frequently left Rome at the beginning of January, that
he might be out of the way (D. C. 57.8
also forbade any such presents to be offered him after the 1st of January,
as he used to be annoyed by them during the whole of the month (Suet. Tib. 34
; D. C.
). The custom, so far as the emperor was concerned, thus
seems to have fallen almost entirely into disuse during the reign of
Tiberius. It was revived again by Caligula (Suet.
; D. C. 59.24
), but abolished
by Claudius (D. C. 60.6
); it must, however, have
been restored afterwards, as we find it mentioned as late as the reigns of
Theodosius and Arcadius (Auson. Ep.
18.4; Cod. Just. 12
ad Cod. Theod.
7, 24, 1).
The festival is inveighed against as pagan by Christian writers (Augustin.
198, 2; Tertull. de Idol.
passages will be found in Graevius, Thesaur.
xii. p. 409 ff.,
); but it lasted long,
and still existed to be condemned by the Quinisextan Council at
Constantinople ( “Concilium in Trullo” ), A.D. 692, if indeed
we should not say that the French étrennes
preserve the custom as well as the name.
On the strenae, see also Marquardt, Staatsverwalt.