The term lustrum
primarily meant a purification by sacrifice. Varro (L. L.
6.2) explains it thus: “lustrum nominatur tempus quinquennale a
luendo, id est solvendo, quod quinto quoque anno vectigalia et
ultrotributa per censores persolvebantur.” The derivation is
probably right, but the explanation is wrong. Paul. D. 120 says, “Cum
ejusdem vocabuli prima syllaba producitur, significat nunc tempus
quinquennale, nunc populi lustrationem.” In the regal period this
sacrifice without doubt had been one of the duties performed by the king in
his capacity of priest. Thus Livy (4.44
represents king Servius Tullius as celebrating the first lustrum
in 566 B.C. when he had completed the census. (
“Censu perfecto edixit, ut omnes cives Romani in campo prima luce
adessent. Ibi omnem exercitum suovetaurilibus lustravit: idque conditum
lustrum appellatum, quia is censendo finis factus est.” ) Under
the early Republic it was naturally performed by the consuls, who
represented the king of the previous epoch. When with the growth of the
state the duties of the consuls had largely increased, and it was found
necessary to establish the censorship in 443 B.C. (or 435 B.C., according to Mommsen), the duty of
performing this rite devolved on the censors. The latter held office not
but were appointed at intervals of five years [CENSOR
]. They entered on their
office in April, and by May of the following year they had completed the
census and their other duties. They then celebrated the lustrum,
without which, according to some, their official
acts were devoid of authority (Mommsen, Staatsr.
place in the Campus Martius. All the men of military age were assembled
there; thrice round them were borne on spears a boar, a ram, and a bull
), which were sacrificed by
the censors to Mars for the fulfilment of the vows made by the preceding
censors. One censor at the same time offered fresh vows for the coming
years. They then led the whole host to the city gate, and as a mark of the
completion of the lustrum
drove a nail into the
wall of a temple (that of Mars Ultor since the 2nd century B.C.), and then
deposited the new register of the citizens in the treasury. After this the
censors immediately laid down office. From the fact that the lustrum
took place (as a rule) every fifth year, the
term was likewise applied to the period of five years preceding. The solemn
rite was thus regarded as completing this quinquennium,
and hence the term condere
was used to describe it. But though it was usual to
hold it every five years, its celebration was by no means invariable.
Sometimes the rite was omitted on religious grounds, as we learn from Livy,
: “Census actus eo anno, lustrum
propter Capitolium captum, consulem occisum, condi religiosum
fuit” (cf. Livy, 24.43
), and probably
from other causes likewise; for the Fasti Capitolini, in which are entered
the censors, and the letters L F attached to the names of those who
completed this rite, show that, although the customary interval was five
years, not unfrequently six and seven years elapse, or sometimes only [p. 2.104]
four between each celebration. According to Livy
), in the period between the first
appointment of censors (443 or 435 B.C.) and 294 B.C., there had only been twenty-six pairs of censors, and only
In later times the ceremony
was probably simplified. Cicero (de Or.
2.66, 268) says,
“lustrum condidit et taurum immolavit.” The last
celebration of a lustrum
took place under
Vespasian, 74 A.D.
From the interval between the lustra
usually five years, the term lustrum
gradually to be used as a general expression for a period of five years.
But, according to the Roman method of computation, the phrase quinto quoque anno
might mean every four years. Thus
Cicero (de Or.
3.32, 127) calls the Olympic festival
“maxima illa quinquennalis celebritas ludorum.” Thus
likewise the Roman priests interpreted the quarto quoque
of the Julian Calendar as meaning every three
years (Macrob. 1.14, 1). Hence from the
earliest times there would be a vagueness in the use of the term. In the
writers of the Augustan age, who commonly use lustrum
in its general sense, we find its use fluctuating. Ovid,
for instance, uses it for a period of five years (Amor.
27: “nondum Troia fuit lustris obsessa duobus” ). In Fasti,
3.119, he uses it in the same sense when
describing the year of Romulus ( “mensibus egerunt lustra minora
decem” ), but in the same poem (1. 165) where he is explaining the
Julian year and the intercalation of the dies
( “hic anni modus est: in lustrum accedere debet
quae consummatur partibus una dies” ), lustrum
must mean a period of four years. Again, from Trist.
4.10, 96, and Epp. ex Pont.
4.6, 5, we find that he identifies the Roman lustrum
with the Greek Olympiad ( “in Scythia nobis
quinquennis Olympias acta est: jam tempus lustri transit in
alterius” ), just as Polybius (6.13
to translate the Latin
The later writers seem to use it
only as a period of four years. Pliny (Plin. Nat.
) twice uses it of the four-year Julian cycle. We also find
on inscriptions the intervals of four years between the Capitoline games
instituted by Domitian described as lustra;
Censorinus (18), when defining the lustrum
seems unaware that it ever
differed from the Olympiad, or denoted any other period than four years.