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AMBARVA´LIA a rural festival among the Romans for the purification (lustratio) of the country, and for invoking the blessing of Ceres upon the fruits of the earth. The name is explained by Servius (ad Verg. Ecl. 3.77), Dicitur autem hoc sacrificium Ambarvale, quod arva ambiat victima; and by Macrobius (Macr. 3.5, 7) after Festus: Ambarvalis hostia est, ut ait Pompeius Festus, quae rei divinae causa circum arva ducitur ab his, qui pro frugibus faciunt.

There were two kinds of Ambarvalia, private and public, though some writers, as Hunziker (ap. D. and S.) reckon only the former. The private Ambarvalia are those alluded to in Verg. Ecl. 3.77, 5.75, and described more in detail, and with singular beauty, Georg. 1.338 ff.; Tibull. Eleg. 2.1, passim. The victim (Georg. 1.345) or rather victims (Cato, Cat. Agr. 141, Impera suovetaurilia circumagi [SUOVETAURILIA]) were led three times round the cornfields, before the sickle was put in, accompanied by a crowd of merry-makers (chorus et socii, 5.346), the reapers and servants dancing and singing the praises of Ceres, while they offered her libations of milk, honey, and wine. The public Ambarvalia are certainly to be distinguished from the Amburbium [AMBURBIUM], but have been identified by several writers (Mommsen, Henzen, Jordan) with the sacrifice of the Fratres Arvales to Dea Dia. Marquardt, who on the whole decides (with Marini, Huschke, Preller, and De' Rossi) against the identity of the two festivals, observes that the correspondence of time and place is in favour of it, as well as the fact that the suovetaurilia were offered at both; but, as he also points out, there is no mention of the Fratres Arvales beating the bounds (circumire or lustrare). The time and place of the two solemnities do not, however, correspond with so much exactness as is here implied. For, first, the Ambarvalia at Rome were fixed for May 29; in other parts of Italy the day varied in different districts, but was an immovable feast (feriae stativae) in each district. The feast of Dea Dia, on the other hand, was proclaimed every year; and May 29 might, or might not, coincide with one of the days on which it was held [ARVALES]. Next, as regards the locality, the Roman Ambarvalia were performed, according to Strabo, at a spot called Festi, between five and six miles from the city on the way to Alba (Strab. v. p.230): this spot is identified beyond doubt with the Fossa Cluilia of Livy (1.23), Dionysius, and Plutarch; the Campus Sacer Horatiorum, where the legendary encounter took place; and the ruins now called Roma Vecchia, on the left-hand side of the Appian Way at the fifth milestone (Burn, Rome and the Campagna, p. 416). The Lucus Deae Diae was at about the same distance from Rome, but on a different road, the Via Portuensis, in a southerly not an easterly direction. Both were doubtless on the boundary of the ager Romanus, or original Roman territory; and in this last circumstance we may trace a connexion between the festival of the Arvales and the Ambarvalia without assuming that they were identical. What this connexion was may perhaps be inferred from the statement of Strabo, that the pontiffs, whom he calls ἱερομνήμονες, offered sacrifices at Festi and several other places regarded as frontiers (θυσίαν ἐπιτελοῦσιν ἐνταῦθά τε καὶ ἐν ἄλλοις τόποις ὡς ὁρίοις αὐθημερὸν, ἣν καλοῦσιν Ἀμβαροΰαν). We may suppose that the Lucus Deae Diae was one of several ancient seats of the Ambarvalia, but that, in this particular instance, the greater solemnity of the Fratres Arvales, one of the most dignified priestly colleges, overshadowed the primitive simplicity of the rustic festival.

The Ambarvalia furnish one of several instances--the Saturnalia at Christmas being another--of heathen festivals taken up by the Church and adapted to Christian uses. There is a close resemblance to these rites in the ceremonies of the three Rogation Days which precede Ascension Day, occurring nearly at the same time of year. “They were anciently called ‘Gang-days,’ because processions went out on those days; hymns and canticles being sung, and prayers offered at various halting-spots or stations for a blessing on the fruits of the earth” (Lee, Glossary, s.v. Rogation Days). The English [p. 1.100]custom, still observed in many places, of beating the parish bounds at Whitsuntide, is another survival from the rites we have been describing. (Marini, Atti de' Fratelli Arvali, p. 138; Henzen, Acta Fr. Arv. p. 46 ff.; Jordan, Topogr. 1.1, 289, 2.236; Preller, Röm. Myth. p. 371 f.; Marquardt, vi. p. 194 ff.


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