, , , , ,

The final installment of the copy/paste Wiki’s glossary: Again, probably not complete, but it should help people.



regina sacrorum

The wife of the rex sacrorum, who served as a high priestess with her own specific religious duties.


The word religio originally meant an obligation to the gods, something expected by them from human beings or a matter of particular care or concern as related to the gods.[430] In this sense, religio might be translated better as “religious scruple” than with the English word “religion”.[431] One definition of religio offered by Cicero is cultus deorum, “the proper performance of rites in veneration of the gods.”[432]

Religio among the Romans was not based on “faith“, but on knowledge, including and especially correct practice.[433] Religio (plural religiones) was the pious practice of Rome’s traditional cults, and was a cornerstone of the mos maiorum,[434] the traditional social norms that regulated public, private, and military life. To the Romans, their success was self-evidently due to their practice of proper, respectful religio, which gave the gods what was owed them and which was rewarded with social harmony, peace and prosperity.

Dedication from Roman Britain announcing that a local official has restored a locus religiosus[435]

Religious law maintained the proprieties of divine honours, sacrifice and ritual. Impure sacrifice and incorrect ritual were vitia (faults, hence “vice,” the English derivative); excessive devotion, fearful grovelling to deities, and the improper use or seeking of divine knowledge were superstitio; neglecting the religiones owed to the traditional gods was atheism, a charge leveled during the Empire at Jews,[436] Christians, and Epicureans.[437] Any of these moral deviations could cause divine anger (ira deorum) and therefore harm the State.[438] See Religion in ancient Rome.


Religiosus was something pertaining to the gods or marked out by them as theirs, as distinct from sacer, which was something or someone given to them by humans. Hence, a graveyard was not primarily defined as sacer but a locus religiosus, because those who lay within its boundaries were considered belonging to the di Manes.[439] Places struck by lightning were taboo[440] because they had been marked as religiosus by Jupiter himself.[441] See also sacer and sanctus.

res divinae

Res divinae were “divine affairs,” that is, the matters that pertained to the gods and the sphere of the divine in contrast to res humanae, “human affairs.”[442] Rem divinam facere, “to do a divine thing,” simply meant to do something that pertained to the divine sphere, such as perform a ceremony or rite. The equivalent Etruscan term is ais(u)na.[443]

The distinction between human and divine res was explored in the multivolume Antiquitates rerum humanarum et divinarum, one of the chief works of Varro (1st century BC). It survives only in fragments but was a major source of traditional Roman theology for the Church Fathers. Varro devoted 25 books of the Antiquitates to res humanae and 16 to res divinae. His proportional emphasis is deliberate, as he treats cult and ritual as human constructs.[444] Varro divides res divinae into three kinds:

  • the mythic theology of the poets, or narrative elaboration;
  • the natural theology of the philosophers, or theorizing on divinity among the intellectual elite;
  • the civil theology concerned with the relation of the state to the divine.

The schema is Stoic in origin, though Varro has adapted it for his own purposes.[445]

Res divinae is an example of ancient Roman religious terminology that was appropriated for Christian usage; for St. Augustine, res divina is a “divine reality” as represented by a sacrum signum (“sacred sign”) such as a sacrament.[446]


Responsa (plural) were the “responses,” that is, the opinions and arguments, of the official priests on questions of religious practice and interpretation. These were preserved in written form and archived.[447] Compare decretum.

rex sacrorum

The rex sacrorum was a senatorial priesthood[448] reserved for patricians. Although in the historical era the Pontifex Maximus was the head of Roman state religion, Festus says[449] that in the ranking of priests, the rex sacrorum was of highest prestige, followed by the flamines maiores.[450]


Although ritus is the origin of the English word “rite” via ecclesiastical Latin, in classical usage ritus meant the traditional and correct manner (of performance), that is, “way, custom”. Festus defines it as a specific form of mos: “Ritus is the proven way (mos) in the performance of sacrifices.” The adverb rite means “in good form, correctly.”[451] This original meaning of ritus may be compared to the concept of ṛtá (“visible order”, in contrast to dhāman, dhārman) in Vedic religion, a conceptual pairing analogous to Latin fas and ius.[452]

For Latin words meaning “ritual” or “rite”, see sacra, caerimoniae, and religiones.[453]

ritus graecus

A small number of Roman religious practices and cult innovations were carried out according to “Greek rite” (ritus graecus), which the Romans characterized as Greek in origin or manner. A priest who conducted ritu graeco wore a Greek-style fringed tunic, with his head bare (capite aperto) or laurel-wreathed. By contrast, in most rites of Roman public religion, an officiant wore the distinctively Roman toga, specially folded to cover his head (see capite velato). Otherwise, “Greek rite” seems to have been a somewhat indefinite category, used for prayers uttered in Greek, and Greek methods of sacrifice within otherwise conventionally Roman cult.

Roman writers record elements of ritus graecus in the cult to Hercules at Rome’s Ara Maxima, which according to tradition was established by the Greek king Evander even before the city of Rome was founded at the site. It thus represented one of the most ancient Roman cults. “Greek” elements were also found in the Saturnalia held in honor of the Golden Age deity Saturn, and in certain ceremonies of the Ludi saeculares. A Greek rite to Ceres (ritus graecus cereris) was imported from Magna Graecia and added to her existing Aventine cult in accordance with the Sibylline books, ancient oracles written in Greek. Official rites to Apollo are perhaps “the best illustration of the Graecus ritus in Rome.”

The Romans regarded ritus graecus as part of their own mos maiorum (ancestral tradition), and not as novus aut externus ritus, novel or foreign rite. The thorough integration and reception of rite labeled “Greek” attests to the complex, multi-ethnic origins of Rome’s people and religious life.[454]



Sacellum, a diminutive from sacer (“belonging to a god”),[455] is a shrine. Varro and Verrius Flaccus give explanations that seem contradictory, the former defining a sacellum in its entirety as equivalent to a cella,[456] which is specifically an enclosed space, and the latter insisting that a sacellum had no roof.[457] “The sacellum,” notes Jörg Rüpke, “was both less complex and less elaborately defined than a temple proper.”[458] Each curia had its own sacellum.[459]


See also: homo sacer

Sacer describes a thing or person given to the gods, thus “sacred” to them. Human beings had no legal or moral claims on anything sacer. Sacer could be highly nuanced; Varro associates it with “perfection”.[460] Through association with ritual purity, sacer could also mean “sacred, untouchable, inviolable”.

Anything not sacer was profanum: literally, “in front of (or outside) the shrine”, therefore not belonging to it or the gods. A thing or person could be made sacer (consecrated), or could revert from sacer to profanum (deconsecrated), only through lawful rites (resecratio) performed by a pontiff on behalf of the state.[461] Part of the ver sacrum sacrificial vow of 217 BC stipulated that animals dedicated as sacer would revert to the condition of profanum if they died through natural cause or were stolen before the due sacrificial date. Similar conditions attached to sacrifices in archaic Rome.[462] A thing already owned by the gods or actively marked out by them as divine property was distinguished as religiosus, and hence could not be given to them or made sacer.[463][464]

Persons judged sacer under Roman law were placed beyond further civil judgment, sentence and protection; their lives, families and properties were forfeit to the gods. A person could be declared sacer who harmed a plebeian tribune, failed to bear legal witness,[465] failed to meet his obligations to clients, or illicitly moved the boundary markers of fields.[466] It was not a religious duty (fas) to execute a homo sacer, but he could be killed with impunity.[467][468]

Dies sacri (“sacred days”) were nefasti, meaning that the ordinary human affairs permitted on dies profani (or fasti) were forbidden.

Sacer was a fundamental principle in Roman and Italic religions. In Oscan, related forms are sakoro, “sacred,” and sakrim, “sacrificial victim”. Oscan sakaraklum is cognate with Latin sacellum, a small shrine, as Oscan sakarater is with Latin sacratur, consecrare, “consecrated”. The sacerdos is “one who performs a sacred action” or “renders a thing sacred”, that is, a priest.[469]

Marcus Aurelius capite velato carries out a sacrifice. By his left side is a flamen wearing an apex. The victima is the bull, who will be struck by the popa to the right. The music of the aulos was to drive off inauspicious noise. The setting is the Temple of Capitoline Jupiter.


A sacerdos (plural sacerdotes, a word of either masculine or feminine gender) was any priest or priestess, from *sakro-dho-ts, “the one who does the sacred act.”[470] There was no priestly caste in ancient Rome, and in some sense every citizen was a priest in that he presided over the domestic cult of his household. Senators, magistrates, and the decurions of towns performed ritual acts, though they were not sacerdotes per se.[471] The sacerdos was one who held the title usually in relation to a specific deity or temple.[472] See also collegium and flamen.


Sacra (neuter plural of sacer) are the traditional cults, either publica or privata, both of which were overseen by the College of Pontiffs.

The sacra publica were those performed on behalf of the whole Roman people or its major subdivisions, the tribes and curiae. They included the sacra pro populo, “rites on behalf of the Roman people,” i.e., all the feriae publicae of the Roman calendar year and the other feasts that were regarded of public interest, including those pertaining to the hills of Rome,[473] to the pagi and curiae, and to the sacella, “shrines”.[474] The establishment of the sacra publica is ascribed to king Numa Pompilius, but many are thought to be of earlier origin, even predating the founding of Rome. Thus Numa may be seen as carrying out a reform and a reorganisation of the sacra in accord with his own views and his education.[475] Sacra publica were performed at the expense of the state, according to the dispositions left by Numa, and were attended by all the senators and magistrates.[476]

Sacra privata were particular to a gens, to a family, or to an individual, and were carried out at the expense of those concerned. Individuals had sacra on dates peculiar to them, such as birthdays, the dies lustricus, and at other times of their life such as funerals and expiations, for instance of fulgurations.[477] Families had their own sacra in the home or at the tombs of their ancestors, such as those pertaining to the Lares, Manes and Penates of the family, and the Parentalia. These were regarded as necessary and imperishable, and the desire to perpetuate the family’s sacra was among the reasons for adoption in adulthood.[478] In some cases, the state assumed the expenses even of sacra privata, if they were regarded as important to the maintenance of the Roman religious system as a whole; see sacra gentilicia following.

sacra gentilicia

Sacra gentilicia were the private rites (see sacra above) that were particular to a gens (“clan”). These rites are related to a belief in the shared ancestry of the members of a gens, since the Romans placed a high value on both family identity and commemorating the dead.[479] During the Gallic siege of Rome, a member of the gens Fabia risked his life to carry out the sacra of his clan on the Quirinal Hill; the Gauls were so impressed by his courageous piety that they allowed him to pass through their lines.[480] The Fabian sacra were performed in Gabine dress by a member of the gens who was possibly named a flamen.[481] There were sacra of Minerva in the care of the Nautii, and rites of Apollo that the Iulii oversaw.[482] The Claudii had recourse to a distinctive “propudial pig” sacrifice (propudialis porcus, “pig of shame”) by way of expiation when they neglected any of their religious obligations.[483]

Roman practices of adoption, including so-called “testamentary adoption” when an adult heir was declared in a will, were aimed at perpetuating the sacra gentilicia as well as preserving the family name and property.[484] A person adopted into another family usually renounced the sacra of his birth (see detestatio sacrorum) in order to devote himself to those of his new family.[485]

Sacra gentilicia sometimes acquired public importance, and if the gens were in danger of dying out, the state might take over their maintenance. One of the myths attached to Hercules‘ time in Italy explained why his cult at the Ara Maxima was in the care of the patrician gens Potitia and the gens Pinaria; the diminution of these families by 312 BC caused the sacra to be transferred to the keeping of public slaves and supported with public funding.[486]

sacra municipalia

The sacra of an Italian town or community (municipium) might be perpetuated under the supervision of the Roman pontiffs when the locality was brought under Roman rule. Festus defined municipalia sacra as “those owned originally, before the granting of Roman citizenship; the pontiffs desired that the people continue to observe them and to practice them in the way (mos) they had been accustomed to from ancient times.”[487] These sacra were regarded as preserving the core religious identity of a particular people.[488]


Main article: Sacramentum (oath)

Sacramentum is an oath or vow that rendered the swearer sacer, “given to the gods,” in the negative sense if he violated it.[489] Sacramentum also referred to a thing that was pledged as a sacred bond, and consequently forfeit if the oath were violated.[490] Both instances imply an underlying sacratio, act of consecration.

In Roman law, a thing given as a pledge or bond was a sacramentum. The sacramentum legis actio was a sum of money deposited in a legal procedure[491] to affirm that both parties to the litigation were acting in good faith.[492] If correct law and procedures had been followed, it could be assumed that the outcome was iustum, right or valid. The losing side had thus in effect committed perjury, and forfeited his sacramentum as a form of piaculum; the winner got his deposit back. The forfeited sacramentum was normally allotted by the state to the funding of sacra publica.[493]

The sacramentum militare (also as militum or militiae) was the oath taken by soldiers in pledging their loyalty to the consul or emperor. The sacramentum that renders the soldier sacer helps explain why he was subjected to harsher penalties, such as execution and corporal punishment, that were considered inappropriate for civilian citizens, at least under the Republic.[494] In effect, he had put his life on deposit, a condition also of the fearsome sacramentum sworn by gladiators.[495] In the later empire, the oath of loyalty created conflict for Christians serving in the military, and produced a number of soldier-martyrs.[496] Sacramentum is the origin of the English word “sacrament“, a transition in meaning pointed to by Apuleius‘s use of the word to refer to religious initiation.[497]

The sacramentum as pertaining to both the military and the law indicates the religious basis for these institutions. The term differs from iusiurandum, which is more common in legal application, as for instance swearing an oath in court. A sacramentum establishes a direct relation between the person swearing (or the thing pledged in the swearing of the oath) and the gods; the iusiurandum is an oath of good faith within the human community that is in accordance with ius as witnessed by the gods.[498]


A sacrarium was a place where sacred objects (sacra) were stored or deposited for safekeeping.[499] The word can overlap in meaning with sacellum, a small enclosed shrine; the sacella of the Argei are also called sacraria.[500] In Greek writers, the word is ἱεροφυλάκιον hierophylakion (hiero-, “sacred” and phylakion, something that safeguards).[501] See sacellum for a list of sacraria.

The sacrarium of a private home lent itself to Christian transformation, as a 4th-century poem by Ausonius demonstrates;[502] in contemporary Christian usage, the sacrarium is a “special sink used for the reverent disposal of sacred substances” (see piscina).[503]


An event or thing dedicated to the gods for their disposal. The offer of sacrifice is fundamental to religio. See also Sacer and Religion in ancient Rome: Sacrifice.


An adjective first introduced to define the inviolability of the function (potestas) of the tribunes of the plebs and of other magistrates sanctioned by law leges Valeriae Horatiae in 449 BC, mentioned by Livy III 55, 1. It seems the sacrality of the function the tribune had already been established in earlier times through a religio and a sacramentum,[504] however it obliged only the contracting parties. In order to become a rule that obliged everybody it had to be sanctioned through a sanctio that was not only civil but religious as well: the trespasser was to be declared sacer, his family and property sold.[505] Sacer would thus design the religious compact, sanctus the law. According to other passages in Livy, the law was not approved by some jurists of the time who maintained that only those who infringed the commonly recognised divine laws (id (or Iovi corr. Mueller) sacrum sanciti) could fall into the category of those to be declared sacri. In fact in other places Livy states that only the potestas and not the person of the tribune was defined as sacrosancta.[506] The word is used in Livy III 19, 10 by the critics of the law in this way: “These people postulate they themselves should be sacrosancti, they who do not hold even gods for sacred and saint?”[507]

The meaning of the word is given as guaranteed by an oath by H. Fugier, however Morani thinks it would be more appropriate to understand the first part of the compound as a consequence of the second: sanxit tribunum sacrum the tribune is sanctioned by the law as sacer. This kind of word composition based on an etymological figure has parallels in other IE languages in archaic constructions.


The Salii were the “leaping” priests of Mars, so called because of the ritual dance they performed with sacred shields (ancilia).


A verb meaning to ratify a compact and put it under the protection of a sanctio, penalty, sanction. The formation and original meaning of the verb are debated. Some scholars think it is derived by the IE stem root *sak (the same of sacer) through a more recent way of word formation, i.e. by the insertion of a nasal n infix and the suffix -yo, such as Lithuanian iung-iu from IE stem *yug. Thence sancio would mean to render something sacer, i.e. belonging to the gods in the sense of having their guarantee and protection.[508] Some think it is a derivation from the theonym Sancus, the god of the ratification of foedera and protection of good faith, from the root sancu- plus suffix -io as inquio>incio.[509] In such case the verb would mean an act that reflects or conforms to the function of this god, i.e. the ratifying and guaranteeing compacts.


Sanctus, an adjective formed on the past participle of verb sancio, describes that which is “established as inviolable” or “sacred”, most times in a sense different from that of sacer and religiosus. In fact its original meaning would be that which is protected by a sanction (sanctio). It is connected to the name of the Umbrian or Sabine founder-deity Sancus (in Umbrian Sancius) whose most noted function was the ratifying and protecting of compacts (foedera).[510] The Roman jurist Ulpian distinguishes sanctus as “neither sacred (sacer) nor profane (profanum) … nor religiosus.”[511] Gaius writes that a building dedicated to a god is sacrum, a town’s wall and gate are res sanctae because they belong “in some way” to divine law, and a graveyard is religiosus because it is relinquished to the di Manes. Thus some scholars think that it should originally be a concept related to space i.e. concerning inaugurated places, because they enjoyed the armed protection (sanctio) of the gods.[512][513] Various deities, objects, places and people – especially senators and magistrates – can be sanctus. Claudia Quinta is described as a sanctissima femina (most virtuous woman) and Cato the Younger as a sanctus civis (a morally upright citizen).[514][515] See also sanctuary.

Later the epithet sanctus is given to many gods including Apollo Pythius by Naevius, Venus and Tiberinus by Ennius and Livy: Ennius renders the Homeric dia theaoon as sancta dearum; in the early Imperial era, Ovid describes Terminus, the god who sanctifies land boundaries, as sanctus[516] and equates sancta with augusta (august).[517] The original spacial connotation of the word is still reflected in its use as an epithet of the river Tiber and of god Terminus that was certainly ancient: borders are sancti by definition and rivers used to mark borders. Sanctus as referred to people thus over time came to share some of the sense of Latin castus (morally pure or guiltless), pius (pious), and none of the ambiguous usages attached to sacer and religiosus.

In ecclesiastical Latin, sanctus is the word for saint, but even in the Christian era it continues to appear in epitaphs for people who had not converted to Christianity.[518]

servare de caelo

Literally, “to watch (for something) from the sky”; that is, to observe the templum of the sky for signs that might be interpreted as auspices. Bad omens resulted in a report of obnuntiatio.[519]


A signum is a “sign, token or indication”.[520] In religious use, signum provides a collective term for events or things (including signs and symbols) that designate divine identity, activity or communication, including prodigia, auspicia, omina, portenta and ostenta.


Silence was generally required in the performance of every religious ritual.[521] The ritual injunction favete linguis, “be favourable with your tongues,” meant “keep silent.” In particular, silence assured the ritual correctness and the absence of vitia, “faults,” in the taking of the auspices.[522] It was also required in the nomination (dictio) of the dictator.[523]


A sodalitas was a form of voluntary association or society. Its meaning is not necessarily distinct from collegium in ancient sources, and is found also in sodalicium, “fraternity.”[524] The sodalis is a member of a sodalitas, which describes the relationship among sodales rather than an institution. Examples of priestly sodalitates are the Luperci, fetiales, Arval brothers and Titii; these are also called collegia, but that they were a kind of confraternity is suggested by the distinctive convivial song associated with some.[525] An association of sodales might also form a burial society, or make religious dedications as a group; inscriptions record donations made by women for the benefit of sodales.[526] Roman Pythagoreans such as Nigidius Figulus formed sodalicia,[527] with which Ammianus Marcellinus compared the fellowship (sodalicia consortia) of the druids in Gallo-Roman culture.[528] When the cult of Cybele was imported to Rome, the eunuchism of her priests the galli discouraged Roman men from forming an official priesthood; instead, they joined sodalitates to hold banquets and other forms of traditional Roman cultus in her honor.[529]

The sodalitates are thought to originate as aristocratic brotherhoods with cultic duties, and their existence is attested as early as the late 6th or early 5th century BC. The Twelve Tables regulated their potential influence by forbidding them to come in conflict with public law (ius publicum).[530] During the 60s BC, certain forms of associations were disbanded by law as politically disruptive, and in Ciceronian usage sodalitates may refer either to these subversive organizations or in a religious context to the priestly fraternities.[531] See also Sodales Augustales. For the Catholic concept, see sodality.


Spectio (“watching, sighting, observation”) was the seeking of omens through observing the sky, the flight of birds, or the feeding of birds. Originally only patrician magistrates and augurs were entitled to practice spectio, which carried with it the power to regulate assemblies and other aspects of public life, depending on whether the omens were good or bad.[532] See also obnuntiatio.


Sponsio is a formal, religiously guaranteed obligation. It can mean both betrothal as pledged by a woman’s family, and a magistrate‘s solemn promise in international treaties on behalf of the Roman people.[533]

The Latin word derives from a Proto-Indo-European root meaning a libation of wine offered to the gods, as does the Greek verb spendoo and the noun spondai, spondas, and Hittite spant-.[534] In Greek it also acquired the meaning “compact, convention, treaty” (compare Latin foedus), as these were sanctioned with a libation to the gods on an altar. In Latin, sponsio becomes a legal contract between two parties, or sometimes a foedus between two nations.

In legal Latin the sponsio implied the existence of a person who acted as a sponsor, a guarantor for the obligation undertaken by somebody else. The verb is spondeo, sponsus. Related words are sponsalia, the ceremony of betrothal; sponsa, fiancée; and sponsus, both the second-declension noun meaning a husband-to-be and the fourth declension abstract meaning suretyship.[535] The ceremonial character of sponsio suggests[536] that Latin archaic forms of marriage were, like the confarreatio of Roman patricians, religiously sanctioned. Dumézil proposed that the oldest extant Latin document, the Duenos inscription, could be interpreted in light of sponsio.[537]


Superstitio was excessive devotion and enthusiasm in religious observance, in the sense of “doing or believing more than was necessary”,[538] or “irregular” religious practice that conflicted with Roman custom. “Religiosity” in its pejorative sense may be a better translation than “superstition“, the English word derived from the Latin.[539] Cicero defined superstitio as the “empty fear of the gods” (timor inanis deorum) in contrast to the properly pious cultivation of the gods that constituted lawful religio,[540] a view that Seneca expressed as “religio honours the gods, superstitio wrongs them.”[541] Seneca wrote an entire treatise on superstitio, known to St. Augustine but no longer extant.[542] Lucretius‘s famous condemnation of what is often translated as “Superstition” in his Epicurean didactic epic De rerum natura is actually directed at Religio.[543]

Before the Christian era, superstitio was seen as a vice of individuals. Practices characterized as “magic” could be a form of superstitio as an excessive and dangerous quest for personal knowledge.[544] By the early 2nd century AD, religions of other peoples that were perceived as resistant to religious assimilation began to be labeled by some Latin authors as superstitio, including druidism, Judaism, and Christianity.[545] Under Christian hegemony, religio and superstitio were redefined as a dichotomy between Christianity, viewed as true religio, and the superstitiones or false religions of those who declined to convert.[546]


Supplicationes are days of public prayer when the men, women, and children of Rome traveled in procession to religious sites around the city praying for divine aid in times of crisis. A suplicatio can also be a thanksgiving after the receipt of aid.[547] Supplications might also be ordered in response to prodigies; again, the population as a whole wore wreaths, carried laurel twigs, and attended sacrifices at temple precincts throughout the city.[548]



See auguraculum. The origin of the English word “tabernacle.”


See also: Roman temple

A templum was the sacred space defined by an augur for ritual purposes, most importantly the taking of the auspices, a place “cut off” as sacred: compare Greek temenos, from temnein to cut.[549] It could be created as temporary or permanent, depending on the lawful purpose of the inauguration. Auspices and senate meetings were unlawful unless held in a templum; if the senate house (Curia) was unavailable, an augur could apply the appropriate religious formulae to provide a lawful alternative.[550]

To create a templum, the augur aligned his zone of observation (auguraculum, a square, portable surround) with the cardinal points of heaven and earth. The altar and entrance were sited on the east-west axis: the sacrificer faced east. The precinct was thus “defined and freed” (effatum et liberatum).[551] In most cases, signs to the augur’s left (north) showed divine approval and signs to his right (south), disapproval.[552] Temple buildings of stone followed this ground-plan and were sacred in perpetuity.[553]

Rome itself was a kind of templum, with the pomerium as sacred boundary and the arx (citadel), and Quirinal and Palatine hills as reference points whenever a specially dedicated templum was created within. Augurs had authority to establish multiple templa beyond the pomerium, using the same augural principles.


verba certa

Verba certa (also found nearly as often with the word order certa verba) are the “exact words” of a legal or religious formula, that is, the words as “set once and for ever, immutable and unchangeable.” Compare certae precationes, fixed prayers of invocation, and verba concepta, which in both Roman civil law and augural law described a verbal formula that could be “conceived” flexibly to suit the circumstances.[554] With their emphasis on exact adherence, the archaic verba certa[555] are a magico-religious form of prayer.[556] In a ritual context, prayer (prex) was not a form of personal spontaneous expression, but a demonstration that the speaker knew the correct thing to say. Words were regarded as having power; in order to be efficacious, the formula had to be recited accurately, in full, and with the correct pronunciation. To reduce the risk of error (vitium), the magistrate or priest who spoke was prompted from the text by an assistant.[557]

verba concepta

In both religious and legal usage, verba concepta (“preconceived words”) were verbal formulas that could be adapted for particular circumstances. Compare verba certa, “fixed words.” Collections of verba concepta would have been part of the augural archives. Varro preserves an example, albeit textually vexed, of a formula for founding a templum.[558]

In the legal sense, concepta verba (the phrase is found with either word order) were the statements crafted by a presiding praetor for the particulars of a case.[559] Earlier in the Roman legal system, the plaintiff had to state his claim within a narrowly defined set of fixed phrases (certa verba); in the Mid Republic, more flexible formulas allowed a more accurate description of the particulars of the issue under consideration. But the practice may have originated as a kind of “dodge,” since a praetor was liable to religious penalites if he used certa verba for legal actions on days marked nefastus on the calendar.[560]

St. Augustine removed the phrase verba concepta from its religious and legal context to describe the cognitive process of memory: “When a true narrative of the past is related, the memory produces not the actual events which have passed away but words conceived (verba concepta) from images of them, which they fixed in the mind like imprints as they passed through the senses.”[561] Augustine’s conceptualizing of memory as verbal has been used to elucidate the Western tradition of poetry and its shared origins with sacred song and magical incantation (see also carmen), and is less a departure from Roman usage than a recognition of the original relation between formula and memory in a pre-literate world.[562] Some scholars see the tradition of stylized, formulaic language as the verbal tradition from which Latin literature develops, with concepta verba appearing in poems such as Carmen 34 of Catullus.[563]

ver sacrum

The “sacred spring” was a ritual migration.


Victims for the suovetaurilia led to the altar by victimarii, one of whom carries an implement for striking

The victima was the animal offering in a sacrifice, or very rarely a human. The victim was subject to an examination (probatio victimae) by a lower-rank priest (pontifex minor) to determine whether it met the criteria for a particular offering.[564] With some exceptions, male deities received castrated animals. Goddesses were usually offered female victims, though from around the 160s AD the goddess Cybele was given a bull, along with its blood and testicles, in the Taurobolium. Color was also a criterion: white for the upper deities, dark for chthonic, red for Vulcan and at the Robigalia. A sacred fiction of sacrifice was that the victim had to consent, usually by a nod of the head perhaps induced by the victimarius holding the halter. Fear, panic, and agitation in the animal were bad omens.[565][566]

The word victima is used interchangeably with hostia by Ovid and others, but some ancient authors attempt to distinguish between the two.[567] Servius says[568] that the hostia is sacrificed before battle, the victima afterward, which accords with Ovid’s etymology of “victim” as that which has been killed by the right hand of the “victor” (with hostia related to hostis, “enemy”).[569]

The difference between the victima and hostia is elsewhere said to be a matter of size, with the victima larger (maior).[257] See also piaculum and votum.


The victimarius was an attendant or assistant at a sacrifice who handled the animal.[570] Using a rope, he led the pig, sheep, or bovine that was to serve as the victim to the altar. In depictions of sacrifice, a victimarius called the popa carries a mallet or axe with which to strike the victima. Multiple victimarii are sometimes in attendance; one may hold down the victim’s head while the other lands the blow.[571] The victimarius severed the animal’s carotid with a ritual knife (culter), and according to depictions was offered a hand towel afterwards by another attendant. He is sometimes shown dressed in an apron (limus). Inscriptions show that most victimarii were freedmen, but literary sources in late antiquity say that the popa was a public slave.[572]


A mistake made while performing a ritual, or a disruption of augural procedure, including disregarding the auspices, was a vitium (“defect, imperfection, impediment”). Vitia, plural, could taint the outcome of elections, the validity of laws, and the conducting of military operations. The augurs issued an opinion on a given vitium, but these were not necessarily binding. In 215 BC the newly elected plebeian consul M. Claudius Marcellus resigned when the augurs and the senate decided that a thunderclap expressed divine disapproval of his election.[573] The original meaning of the semantic root in vitium may have been “hindrance”, related to the verb vito, vitare, “to go out of the way”; the adjective form vitiosus can mean “hindering”, that is, “vitiating, faulty.”[574]


A verb meaning chanting or reciting a formula with a joyful intonation and rhythm.[575] The related noun Vitulatio was an annual thanksgiving offering carried out by the pontiffs on 8 July, the day after the Nonae Caprotinae. These were commemorations of Roman victory in the wake of the Gallic invasion. Macrobius says vitulari is the equivalent of Greek paianizein (παιανίζειν), “to sing a paean“, a song expressing triumph or thanksgiving.[576]


In a religious context, votum, plural vota, is a vow or promise made to a deity. The word comes from the past participle of voveo, vovere; as the result of the verbal action “vow, promise”, it may refer also to the fulfillment of this vow, that is, the thing promised. The votum is thus an aspect of the contractual nature of Roman religion, a bargaining expressed by do ut des, “I give that you might give.”[577]