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Continuing the copy/paste of Wiki’s glossary.




Zeus (Etruscan Tinia, Roman Jupiter) holding a three-pronged lightning bolt, between Apollo and Hera/Juno (red-figure calyx-krater from Etruria, 420-400 BC)

Manubia is a technical term of the Etruscan discipline, and refers to the power of a deity to wield lightning, represented in divine icons by a lightning bolt in the hand. It may be either a Latinized word from Etruscan or less likely a formation from manus, “hand,” and habere, “to have, hold.”[312] It is not apparently related to the more common Latin word manubiae meaning “booty (taken by a general in war).”[313] Seneca uses the term in an extended discussion of lightning.[314] Jupiter, as identified with Etruscan Tinia,[315] held three types of manubiae[316] sent from three different celestial regions.[317] Stefan Weinstock describes these as:

  1. mild, or “perforating” lightning;
  2. harmful or “crushing” lightning, which is sent on the advice of the twelve Di Consentes and occasionally does some good;
  3. destructive or “burning” lightning, which is sent on the advice of the di superiores et involuti (hidden gods of the “higher” sphere) and changes the state of public and private affairs.[318]

Jupiter makes use of the first type of beneficial lightning to persuade or dissuade.[319] Books on how to read lightning were one of the three main forms of Etruscan learning on the subject of divination.[320]


One of several words for portent or sign, miraculum is a non-technical term that places emphasis on the observer’s response (mirum, “a wonder, marvel”).[321] Livy uses the word miraculum, for instance, to describe the sign visited upon Servius Tullius as a child, when divine flames burst forth from his head and the royal household witnessed the event.[322] Compare monstrum, ostentum, portentum, and prodigium.

Miraculum is the origin of the English word “miracle.” Christian writers later developed a distinction between miracula, the true forms of which were evidence of divine power in the world, and mere mirabilia, things to be marveled at but not resulting from God‘s intervention. “Pagan” marvels were relegated to the category of mirabilia and attributed to the work of demons.[323]

Emmer wheat, used for mola salsa

mola salsa

Flour mixed with salt was sprinkled on the forehead and between the horns of sacrificial victims, as well as on the altar and in the sacred fire. This mola salsa (salted flour) was prepared ritually from toasted wheat or emmer, spelt, or barley by the Vestals, who thus contributed to every official sacrifice in Rome.[324] Servius uses the words pius and castus to describe the product.[325] The mola was so fundamental to sacrifice that “to put on the mola” (Latin immolare) came to mean “to sacrifice.” Its use was one of the numerous religious traditions ascribed to Numa, the Sabine second king of Rome.[326]


A monstrum is a sign or portent that disrupts the natural order as evidence of divine displeasure.[327] The word monstrum is usually assumed to derive, as Cicero says, from the verb monstro, “show” (compare English “demonstrate”), but according to Varro it comes from moneo, “warn.”[328] Because a sign must be startling or deviant to have an impact, monstrum came to mean “unnatural event”[329] or “a malfunctioning of nature.”[330] Suetonius said that “a monstrum is contrary to nature <or exceeds the nature> we are familiar with, like a snake with feet or a bird with four wings.”[331] The Greek equivalent was teras.[332] The English word “monster” derived from the negative sense of the word. Compare miraculum, ostentum, portentum, and prodigium.

In one of the most famous uses of the word in Latin literature, the Augustan poet Horace calls Cleopatra a fatale monstrum, something deadly and outside normal human bounds.[333] Cicero calls Catiline monstrum atque prodigium[334] and uses the phrase several times to insult various objects of his attacks as depraved and beyond the human pale. For Seneca, the monstrum is, like tragedy, “a visual and horrific revelation of the truth.”[335]


Literally “the world”, also a pit supposedly dug and sealed by Romulus as part of Rome’s foundation rites. Its interpretation is problematic; it was normally sealed, and was ritually opened only on three occasions during the year. Still, in the most ancient Fasti, these days were marked C(omitiales)[336] (days when the Comitia met) suggesting the idea that the whole ritual was a later Greek import.[337] However Cato[disambiguation needed] and Varro as quoted by Macrobius considered them religiosi.[338] When opened, the pit served as a cache for offerings to underworld deities, particularly Ceres, goddess of the fruitful earth. It offered a portal between the upper and lower worlds; its shape was said to be an inversion of the dome of the upper heavens.[339]



An adjective derived from nefas (following). The gerund of verb fari, to speak, is commonly used to form derivate or inflected forms of fas. See Vergil’s fandi as genitive of fas. This use has been invoked to support the derivation of fas from IE root *bha, Latin fari.


Any thing or action contrary to divine law and will is nefas (in archaic legalese, ne (not) … fas).[340] Nefas forbids a thing as religiously and morally offensive, or indicates a failure to fulfill a religious duty.[341] It might be nuanced as “a religious duty not to”, as in Festus‘ statement that “a man condemned by the people for a heinous action is sacer” — that is, given over to the gods for judgment and disposal — “it is not a religious duty to execute him, but whoever kills him will not be prosecuted”.[342]

Livy records that the patricians opposed legislation that would allow a plebeian to hold the office of consul on the grounds that it was nefas: a plebeian, they claimed, would lack the arcane knowledge of religious matters that by tradition was a patrician prerogative. The plebeian tribune Gaius Canuleius, whose lex it was, retorted that it was arcane because the patricians kept it secret.[343]


Usually found with dies (singular or plural), as dies nefasti, days on which official transactions were forbidden on religious grounds. See also nefas, fasti and fas.


Nemus, plural nemora, was one of four Latin words that meant “forest, woodland, woods.” Lucus is more strictly a sacred grove,[344] as defined by Servius as “a large number of trees with a religious significance“,[345] and distinguished from the silva, a natural forest; saltus, territory that is wilderness; and a nemus, an arboretum that is not consecrated (but compare Celtic nemeton).[346] In Latin poetry, a nemus is often a place conducive to poetic inspiration, and particularly in the Augustan period takes on a sacral aura.[347]

Named nemora include:


The chief responsibility of an augur was to observe signs (observatio) and to report the results (nuntiatio).[350] The announcement was made before an assembly. A passage in Cicero states that the augur was entitled to report on the signs observed before or during an assembly and that the magistrates had the right to watch for signs (spectio) as well as make the announcement (nuntiatio) prior to the conducting of public business, but the exact significance of Cicero’s distinction is a matter of scholarly debate.[351]



Obnuntiatio was a declaration of unfavourable signs by an augur in order to suspend, cancel or postpone a proposed course of action. The procedure could be carried out only by an official who had the right to observe omens (spectio).[352] The only source for the term is Cicero, a conservative politician and himself an augur, who refers to it in several speeches as a religious bulwark against popularist politicians and tribunes. Its details and workings are unknown; it may have derived from a radical intervention into traditional augural law of a civil Lex Aelia Fufia,[clarification needed] proposed by dominant traditionalists in an attempt to block the passing of popular laws and used from around the 130s BC. Legislation by Clodius as Tribune of the plebs in 58 BC was aimed at ending the practice,[353] or at least curtailing its potential for abuse; obnuntiatio had been exploited the previous year as an obstructionist tactic by Julius Caesar‘s consular colleague Bibulus. That the Clodian law had not deprived all augurs or magistrates of the privilege is indicated by Mark Antony‘s use of obnuntatio in early 44 BC to halt the consular election.[354]


Observatio was the interpretation of signs according to the tradition of the “Etruscan discipline“, or as preserved in books such as the libri augurales. A haruspex interpreted fulgura (thunder and lightning) and exta (entrails) by observatio. The word has three closely related meanings in augury: the observing of signs by an augur or other diviner; the process of observing, recording, and establishing the meaning of signs over time; and the codified body of knowledge accumulated by systematic observation, that is, “unbending rules” regarded as objective, or external to an individual’s observation on a given occasion. Impetrative signs, or those sought by standard augural procedure, were interpreted according to observatio; the observer had little or no latitude in how they might be interpreted. Observatio might also be applicable to many oblative or unexpected signs. Observatio was considered a kind of scientia, or “scientific” knowledge, in contrast to coniectura, a more speculative “art” or “method” (ars) as required by novel signs.[355]


An omen, plural omina, was a sign intimating the future, considered less important to the community than a prodigium but of great importance to the person who heard or saw it.[356]

Omens could be good or bad. Unlike prodigies, bad omens were never expiated by public rites but could be reinterpreted, redirected or otherwise averted. Some time around 282 BC, a diplomatic insult formally “accepted as omen” was turned against Tarentum and helped justify its conquest. After a thunderclap cost Marcellus his very brief consulship (215 BC) he took care to avoid sight of possible bad omens that might affect his plans.[357] Bad omens could be more actively dealt with, by countersigns or spoken formulae. Before his campaign against Perseus of Macedon, the consul L Aemilius Paullus was said to have heard of the death of Perseus, his daughter’s puppy. He accepted the omen and defeated King Perseus at the Battle of Pydna (168 BC).[358]

In 217 BC the consul Flaminius “disregarded his horse’s collapse, the chickens, and yet other omens, before his disaster at Lake Trasimene”.[359] Licinius Crassus took ship for Syria despite an ominous call of “Cauneas!” (“Caunean figs!”), which might be heard as “Cave ne eas!” (“Beware, don’t go!”)’. He was killed on campaign. Cicero saw these events as merely coincidental; only the credulous could think them ominous.[360] though by his time, politicians, military magnates and their supporters actively circulated tales of excellent omens that attended their births and careers.

See also abominari and signum.


One form of arcane literature was the ostentarium, a written collection describing and interpreting signs (ostenta).[361] Tarquitius Priscus wrote an Ostentarium arborarium, a book on signs pertaining to trees, and an Ostentarium Tuscum, presumably translations of Etruscan works.[362] Pliny cites his contemporary Umbricius Melior for an ostentarium aviarium, concerning birds.[363] They were consulted until late antiquity; in the 4th century, for instance, the haruspices consulted the books of Tarquitius before the battle that proved fatal to the emperor Julian — according to Ammianus Marcellinus, because he failed to heed them.[364] Fragments of ostentaria survive as quotations in other literary works.[365]


According to Varro, an ostentum is a sign so called because it shows (ostendit) something to a person.[366] Suetonius specified that “an ostentum shows itself to us without possessing a solid body and affects both our eyes and ears, like darkness or a light at night.”[367] In his classic work on Roman divination, Auguste Bouché-Leclercq thus tried to distinguish theoretical usage of ostenta and portenta as applying to inanimate objects, monstra to biological signs, and prodigia for human acts or movements, but in non-technical writing the words tend to be used more loosely as synonyms.[368]

The theory of ostenta, portenta and monstra constituted one of the three branches of interpretation within the disciplina Etrusca, the other two being the more specific fulgura (thunder and lightning) and exta (entrails). Ostenta and portenta are not the signs that augurs are trained to solicit and interpret, but rather “new signs”, the meaning of which had to be figured out through ratio (the application of analytical principles) and coniectura (more speculative reasoning, in contrast to augural observatio).[369]

ordo sacerdotum

A religious hierarchy implied by the seating arrangements of priests (sacerdotes) at sacrificial banquets. As “the most powerful”, the rex sacrorum was positioned next to the gods, followed by the Flamen Dialis, then the Flamen Martialis, then the Flamen Quirinalis and lastly, the Pontifex Maximus.[370] The ordo sacerdotum observed and preserved ritual distinctions between divine and human power. In the human world, the Pontifex Maximus was the most influential and powerful of all sacerdotes.



Mars wearing the paludamentum

Paludatus (masculine singular, plural paludati) is an adjective meaning “wearing the paludamentum,”[371] the distinctive attire of the Roman military commander. Varro[372] and Festus say that any military ornament could be called a paludamentum, but other sources indicate that the cloak was primarily meant. According to Festus, paludati in the augural books meant “armed and adorned” (armati, ornati).[373] As the commander crossed from the sacred boundary of Rome (pomerium), he was paludatus, adorned with the attire he would wear to lead a battle and for official business.[374] This adornment was thus part of the commander’s ritual investiture with imperium.[375] It followed upon the sacrifices and vows the commander offered up on the Capitol, and was concomitant with his possession of the auspices for war.[376]

Festus notes elsewhere that the “Salian virgins“, whose relation to the Salian priests is unclear, performed their rituals paludatae,[377] dressed in military garb.[378]

pax deorum

Pax, though usually translated into English as “peace,” was a compact, bargain or agreement.[379] In religious usage, the harmony or accord between the divine and human was the pax deorum or pax divom (“the peace of the gods” or “divine peace”).[380] Pax deorum was only given in return for correct religious practice. Religious error (vitium) and negligence led to divine disharmony and ira deorum (the anger of the gods).


A piaculum is an expiatory sacrifice, or the victim used in the sacrifice; also, an act requiring expiation.[381]

Because Roman religion was contractual (do ut des), a piaculum might be offered as a sort of advance payment; the Arval Brethren, for instance, offered a piaculum before entering their sacred grove with an iron implement, which was forbidden, as well as after.[382] The pig was a common victim for a piaculum.[383] The Augustan historian Livy says P. Decius Mus is “like” a piaculum when he makes his vow to sacrifice himself in battle (see devotio).[384]


The origin of the English word “pious”, pius is found in Volscian as pihom estu, Umbrian as pihaz (a past participle equivalent to Latin piatum) and Oscan as pehed, from the Proto-Indo-European root *q(u)ei-.[385] In Latin and other Italic languages, the word seems to have meant “that which is in accord with divine law.” Later it was used to designate actions respectful of divine law and even people who acted with respect towards gods and godly rules. The pius person “strictly conforms his life to the ius divinum.[386] “Dutiful” is often a better translation of the adjective than “pious.”[387] Pius is a regular epithet of the Roman founding hero Aeneas in Vergil‘s Aeneid.[388] See also pietas, the related abstract noun.


Pietas, from which English “piety” derives, was the devotion that bound a person to the gods, to the Roman state, and to his family. It was the outstanding quality of the Roman hero Aeneas, to whom the epithet pius is applied regularly throughout the Aeneid.


A verb of unknown etymology meaning “to consecrate.”[389]


The pontifex was a priest of the highest-ranking college. The chief among the pontifices was the Pontifex Maximus. The word has been considered as related to pons, bridge, either because of the religious meaning of the pons Sublicius and its ritual use[390] (which has a parallel in Thebae and in its gephiarioi) or in the original IE meaning of way.[391] Pontifex in this case would be the opener of the way corresponding to the Vedic adharvayu, the only active and moving sacerdos in the sacrificial group who takes his title from the figurative designation of lithurgy as a way.

Another hypothesis[392] considers the word as a loan from Sabine, language in which it would mean member of a college of five people, from Osco-Umbrian ponte, five. This explanation takes into account the fact that the college was established by Sabine king Numa Pompilius and the institution is Italic: the expressions pontis and pomperias found in the Iguvine Tablets may denote a group or division of five or by five. The pontifex would thence be a member of a sacrificial college known as pomperia (Latin quinio).[393]

Attendant at a sacrifice with ax


The popa was one of the lesser-rank officiants at a sacrifice. In depictions of sacrificial processions, he carries a mallet or axe with which to strike the animal victim. Literary sources in late antiquity say that the popa was a public slave.[394] See also victimarius.


The verb porricere had the specialized religious meaning “to offer as a sacrifice,” especially to offer the sacrificial entrails (exta) to the gods.[395] Both exta porricere and exta dare referred to the process by which the entrails were cooked, cut into pieces, and burnt on the altar. The Arval Brethren used the term exta reddere, “to return the entrails,” that is, to render unto the deity what has already been given as due.[396]


A portentum is a kind of sign interpreted by a haruspex, not an augur, and by means of coniectura rather than observatio. Portentum is a close but not always exact synonym of ostentum, prodigium, and monstrum.[397] Cicero uses portentum frequently in his treatise De divinatione, where it seems to be a generic word for prodigies.[398] The word could also refer in non-technical usage to an unnatural occurrence without specific religious significance; for instance, Pliny calls an Egyptian with a pair of non-functional eyes on the back of his head a portentum.[399] Varro derives portentum from the verb portendit because it portends something that is going to happen.[400]

In the schema of A. Bouché-Leclercq, portenta and ostenta are the two types of signs that appear in inanimate nature, as distinguished from the monstrum (a biological singularity), prodigia (the unique acts or movements of living beings), and a miraculum, a non-technical term that emphasizes the viewer’s reaction.[401] The sense of portentum has also been distinguished from that of ostentum by relative duration of time, with the ostentum of briefer manifestation.[402]

Although the English word “portent” derives from portentum and may be used to translate it, other Latin terms such as ostentum and prodigium will also be found translated as “portent.”[403] Portentum offers an example of an ancient Roman religious term modified for Christian usage; in the Christian theology of miracles, a portentum occurring by the will of the Christian God could not be regarded as contrary to nature (contra naturam), thus Augustine specified that if such a sign appeared to be unnatural, it was only because it was contrary to nature as known (nota) by human beings.[404]


The precatio was the formal addressing of the deity or deities in a ritual. The word is related by etymology to prex, “prayer” (plural preces), and usually translated as if synonymous. Pliny says that the slaughter of a sacrificial victim is ineffectual without precatio, the recitation of the prayer formula.[405] Priestly texts that were collections of prayers were sometimes called precationes.[406]

Two late examples of the precatio are the Precatio Terrae Matris (“The Prayer of Mother Earth”) and the Precatio omnium herbarum (“Prayer of All the Herbs”), which are charms or carmina written metrically,[407] the latter attached to the medical writings attributed to Antonius Musa.[408] Dirae precationes were “dire” prayers, that is, imprecations or curses.[409]

In augural procedure, precatio is not a prayer proper, but a form of invocation (invocatio) recited at the beginning of a ceremony or after accepting an oblative sign. The precatio maxima was recited for the augurium salutis, the ritual conducted by the augurs to obtain divine permission to pray for Rome’s security (salus).[410]

In legal and rhetorical usage, precatio was a plea or request.[411]


Prex, “prayer”, usually appears in the plural, preces. Within the tripartite structure that was often characteristic of formal ancient prayer, preces would be the final expression of what is sought from the deity, following the invocation and a narrative middle.[412] A legitimate request is an example of bonae preces, “good prayer.”[413] Tacitae preces are silent or sotto voce prayers as might be used in private ritual or magic; preces with a negative intent are described with adjectives such as Thyesteae (“Thyestean“), funestae (“deadly”), infelices (aimed at causing unhappiness), nefariae,[414] or dirae.[415]

In general usage, preces could refer to any request or entreaty. The verbal form is precor, precari, “pray, entreat.” The Umbrian cognate is persklu, “supplication.” The meaning may be “I try and obtain by uttering appropriate words what is my right to obtain.” It is used often in association with quaeso in expressions such as te precor quaesoque, “I pray and beseech you”, or prece quaesit, “he seeks by means of prayer.”[416] In Roman law of the Imperial era, preces referred to a petition addressed to the emperor by a private person.[417]


Prodigia (plural) were unnatural deviations from the predictable order of the cosmos. A prodigium signaled divine displeasure at a religious offense and must be expiated to avert more destructive expressions of divine wrath. Compare ostentum and portentum, signs denoting an extraordinary inanimate phenomenon, and monstrum and miraculum, an unnatural feature in humans.

Prodigies were a type of auspicia oblativa; that is, they were “thrust upon” observers, not deliberately sought.[418] Suspected prodigies were reported as a civic duty. A system of official referrals filtered out those that seemed patently insignificant or false before the rest were reported to the senate, who held further inquiry; this procedure was the procuratio prodigiorum. Prodigies confirmed as genuine were referred to the pontiffs and augurs for ritual expiation.[419] For particularly serious or difficult cases, the decemviri sacris faciundis could seek guidance and suggestions from the Sibylline Books.[420]

The number of confirmed prodigies rose in troubled times. In 207 BC, during one of the worst crises of the Punic Wars, the senate dealt with an unprecedented number, the expiation of which would have involved “at least twenty days” of dedicated rites.[421] Major prodigies that year included the spontaneous combustion of weapons, the apparent shrinking of the sun’s disc, two moons in a daylit sky, a cosmic battle between sun and moon, a rain of red-hot stones, a bloody sweat on statues, and blood in fountains and on ears of corn. These were expiated by the sacrifice of “greater victims”. The minor prodigies were less warlike but equally unnatural; sheep became goats; a hen become a cock, and vice-versa. The minor prodigies were duly expiated with “lesser victims”. The discovery of a hermaphroditic four-year-old child was expiated by its drowning[422] and a holy procession of 27 virgins to the temple of Juno Regina, singing a hymn to avert disaster; a lightning strike during the hymn rehearsals required further expiation.[423] Religious restitution was proved only by Rome’s victory.[424]

The expiatory burial of living human victims in the Forum Boarium followed Rome’s defeat at Cannae in the same wars. In Livy’s account, Rome’s victory follows its discharge of religious duties to the gods.[425] Livy remarked the scarcity of prodigies in his own day as a loss of communication between gods and men. In the later Republic and thereafter, the reporting of public prodigies was increasingly displaced by a “new interest in signs and omens associated with the charismatic individual.”[426]


Literally, “in front of the shrine”, therefore not within a sacred precinct; not belonging to the gods but to humankind.

propitius; praepetes (aves)

An adjective of augural terminology meaning favourable. From pro- before and petere seek, but originally fly. It implies a kind of favourable pattern in the flight of birds, i.e. flying before the person who is taking the auspices. Synonym secundus.[427]


The pulvinar (plural pulvinaria) was a special couch used for displaying images of the gods, that they might receive offerings at ceremonies such as the lectisternium or supplicatio.[428] In the famous lectisternium of 217 BC, on orders of the Sibylline books, six pulvinaria were arranged, each for a divine male-female pair.[429] By extension, pulvinar can also mean the shrine or platform housing several of these couches and their images. At the Circus Maximus, the couches and images of the gods were placed on an elevated pulvinar to “watch” the games.