THE first gods to whom divine honors were offered by the builders of the Palatine city were those who supplied their hearthstones with fire, made their crops prosper and ripen, protected their flocks and their ancestral fields from the rapacity of men and of beasts of prey, helped them to quench their thirst, or get rid of their ailments at the pure healing springs, and to find shelter and shade in the fragrant groves with which their hillsides were clothed. All is simple and pastoral in the tribute of gratefulness that the primitive Romans were wont to offer to the merciful beings, whose protection they enjoyed; and never the lyre of classic poets has found a sweeter rhythm than when the canticle is addressed to the sacred springs and to the sacred groves.
“O Fons Bandusiæ, splendidior vitro, dulci digne mero,” etc.
“Spring of Bandusia, more clear than glass, worthy of pleasant wine and flowers withal, to-morrow shalt thou be presented with… the offspring of the playful herd…Thou to oxen wearied with the ploughshare, and to the wandering herd, dost afford a delicious coolness. Thou also shalt become one of the ennobled fountains, when I sing of the ilex-tree set upon the hollow crags, from whence thy babbling brooks dance down.”1 So Horace addresses the spring flowing by his farmhouse of Digentia, the ruins of which are still shown in the upper valley of the Licenza, above the village of Roccagiovine.
Pliny, speaking of the great love for nature displayed by noble Romans, mentions Passienus Crispus, orator, consul, husband of Agrippina, and Nero's stepfather, who owned a grove on a hill near Tusculum named Corne,2 where lived a tree which he cherished and worshipped above all things. He would embrace it, and lie under its shade, and pour wine on its roots. The same grove contained another venerable ilex-tree, thirty-four feet in circumference, which, at a great height from the ground, divided itself into ten branches, each equalling a large trunk in size. Pliny calls this ilex a forest by itself. There is no doubt that love of nature and appreciation for natural beauty were instinctive among the Greeks, and, in a lesser degree, among the Romans. It is revealed in the graceful shape of their temples, in the harmony of their polychrome ornamentation, in the arrangement of their floral decorations, and above all in the selection of sites for their places of worship. In this last respect they remain unrivalled. The following lines were suggested to Chateaubriand by the sight of the temple of Minerva on the promontory of Sunium. “The Greeks,” he says, “excelled not less in the choice of the sites of their edifices than in the architecture of the temples themselves. Most of the promontories of the Peloponnese, of Attica, Ionia, and the islands of the Archipelago were crowned with temples, trophies, and tombs. These monuments, surrounded by woods and rocks, viewed in all the accidents of light, sometimes enveloped in sable thunderclouds, sometimes reflecting the soft beams of the moon, the golden rays of the setting sun, or the radiant tints of the dawn, must have imparted incomparable beauty to the coasts of Greece. Thus decorated, the land presented itself to the mariner under the features of the ancient Cybele, who, crowned with towers and seated on the shore, commanded her son Neptune to pour forth his waves at her feet.
“Christianity, to which we are indebted for the only species of architecture conformable to our manners, also taught us the proper situations for our structures. Our (mediæval) chapels, our abbeys, our monasteries, were scattered among woods and upon the summits of hills, not that the choice of sites was always a premeditated design of the architect, but because art, when in unison with the customs of a nation, adopts instinctively the best methods that can be pursued.”
And speaking of the present degeneration of feeling on this point, especially in connection with civic edifices, he adds: “Did we ever think, for instance, of adorning the only eminence that overlooks Paris? Religion alone thought of this for us.”3 He could have mentioned likewise Notre Dame de Fourvières at Lyons, Notre Dame de la Garde at Marseilles, Notre Dame of the Haute Ville at Boulogne, and many others, which appear to the pilgrim and to the mariner in the same glorious light as the shrines and temples which once crowned the headlands of the Ægean and the Tyrrhenian seas.
Were we to take a survey of the Campagna, and of the various ranges of mountains by which it is framed, from a lofty point of vantage,—from the dome of St. Peter's, for instance, or from the belfry of S. Maria Maggiore,—we should be surprised at the number of high peaks consecrated to the Deity in ancient or mediæval times, but which the modern generations have deprived of their beautiful ruins and their beautiful clothing of green. From the Mons Albanus, upon which stood the federal temple of Jupiter, to the Mons Afflianus, crowned by the temple of the Bona Dea, and to Soracte, once sacred to Apollo, each summit once bore a white temple visible from every corner of the old land of Saturn, or a mediæval abbey, under the roof of which the weary pilgrim might find rest, help, and protection. Temples and churches have equally disappeared; and woe to the lonely traveller seeking shelter from the fury of the storm, or advice about his lost track. Silence and desolation reign alone on the abandoned peaks!
Early Roman religion can best be studied in two institutions which date from the beginning of the City, the sisterhood of the Vestals and the priesthood of the Arvales. I have spoken at length of the first in chapter vi. of “Ancient Rome,” and I have nothing to add to the account already given. Before entering, however, into the subject of the Arvales, I must mention another branch of rural worship, that of the gods who protected the ancestral field from the encroaching of the neighbor.
The early settlements in the lower valley of the Tiber, Antemnæ, Fidenæ, Collatia, Veii, Gabii, Ardea, and Rome, were all organized on the same system, as far as division of property was concerned. Their walls or palisades or earth-works enclosed an area ten times as large as that required by the number of inhabitants, because they shared it with their flocks, and each hut, made of a framework of boughs and covered by a thatched roof, had its own orchard and sheepfold. This condition of things has been admirably illustrated by the discoveries made at Veii and Antemnæ, under my personal supervision, where traces of huts (hard-trodden, coal-stained floor within a ring of rough stones) have been found at a considerable distance from each other. The city of the Palatine was not different from Veii and Antemnæ; in fact, the characteristics of the “agellus” and the sheepfold must have been even more prominent in Rome, because its population was essentially pastoral. The village had two gates, the names of which have come down to us: one, leading to the Rumon (river), was called “Rumanula;” the other, leading to the pasture lands of the Oppian, was called “Mugonia,” from the lowing of cattle.
The agellus attached to the huts contained also the family tombs. The neighborhood of the River-gate was called “ad Statuam Cinciæ” because there was the “sepulcrum familiæ” and the “casa” of the Cincii.4 In this state of things it was necessary to define and protect the limits of each piece of ground which had become hereditary, because it had been cultivated and settled upon by one single family for a certain lapse of time. The trees growing nearest to the boundary line became, therefore, “arbores finales et terminales,” sacred to Terminus or to Silvanus; and when there were no trees available for the purpose, they would make use of stones, or of wooden posts called “stipites oleagini” or “pali sacrificales.” The setting up of these boundary marks was consecrated by a sacrifice; a trench was dug, a victim was slain, its blood was cast into the trench, together with corn, fruit, incense, honey, and wine; the whole being consumed by blazing pine-brands. On this bed of ashes the stone or post was set up. The “Terminalia” or annual feast of the Terminal gods fell on February 23; and was celebrated among neighbors, as well as by the city in general. The public festival was performed at the sixth milestone of the Via Laurentina, probably because this was originally the extent of the Roman territory in that direction.
To explain the evolution of these shapeless stones and posts into the beautiful “hermæ” of later times, we must refer to the Greek custom on this subject. There were to be seen in many parts of Greece heaps of stones at the crossings or roads, or on the boundaries of land, called ἑρμϵι̑α, ἑρμαι̑α, ἑρμαι̑οι λόϕοι, because Hermes was the presiding god over the common intercourse of life, traffic, journeys, roads, boundaries, and so forth. The heaps of stones were succeeded in progress of time by a single block, the sacred character of which was acknowledged by pouring oil upon it and adorning it with garlands of wild flowers. The first attempt at an artistic development of the rude block was the addition of a head, in the features of which the characteristics of the god were supposed to be expressed. This is the origin of the “hermæ” or “hermuli” statues composed of a head placed on a quadrangular pillar, the height of which corresponds to the stature of the human body. They became very popular objects among the Greeks, who lavished them in front of their houses, temples, gymnasia, palestræ, libraries, porticoes, at the corners of streets, at the crossings of highroads as signposts with distances inscribed upon them, etc. So great was the demand for these hermæ that the word ἑρμογλύϕος became the synonym for a sculptor. They retained their original name even in case the head or bust represented no deity at all, but the portrait of an illustrious man. This last class was in great demand among the wealthy Romans for the decoration of their gardens and villas, in which places, strange to say, they were brought back to their original scope, being used as posts for wooden railings, on the border line between the paths or avenues and the lawns or shubberies or pine groves. In this case they were commonly crowned with the portrait busts of philosophers, historians, poets, tragedians, each being inscribed with the name of its subject. It is easy to understand what benefits the science of iconography has derived from these labelled portrait heads; in fact, one of the first archæological handbooks produced in the sixteenth century is the “Imagines Virorum Illustrium” of Fulvio Orsino, published in 1570 by Antonio Lafreri with more than a hundred exquisite illustrations.
The wealthy and learned Romans of the last century of the Republic or of the Golden Age of Augustus, who covered the hillsides of Tusculum, Tibur, and Præneste and lined the shores of Antium, of Formiæ, and Bajæ with their magnificent country seats, paid this tribute of honor to every one who had obtained fame in the literary and scientific world, none excepted. We remember, for instance, the excitement caused in 1896 by the discovery of the fragments of the poems of Bacchylides, which were so beautifully reproduced in facsimile by F. G. Kenyon. There is no use in denying that the name of the great lyrist, born at Julis, in the island of Ceos, towards the middle of the fifth century B.C., considered by the ancients as a worthy rival of Pindar, was almost ignored or forgotten at the time of the discovery. Not so in ancient times. The Romans offered to Bacchylides the same honors they were wont to pay to Pindar.
The evidence of this fact, not generally known to students, is to be found in the discoveries made in 1775 at the “Pianella di Cassio” among the ruins of the Villa of Brutus, one mile east of Tivoli, or the road called di Carciano or Cassiano. To the substructures of this delightful villa, built partly in opus incertum, partly in the so-called Pelasgic or polygonal masonry, age has given a golden-brownish hue, such as is seen in the late fall in our forests, when the setting sun strikes the half dried leaves of the oak or the chestnut. The gardens are now represented by groves of olives, two or three centuries old, the quiet green of which harmonizes well with the color of the ruins. (See page 99.)
As the sixteenth century can boast of the finds made by Paul III. in the Baths of Caracalla, the seventeenth of those made by Innocent X. and Clement X. in the palace of the Valerii on the Cælian, so the following one will be remembered forever for the discoveries obtained in this Villa of Brutus. Visconti describes the search as “uno dè più insigni scavi dè nostri tempi.” Seventeen statues were brought to light from the ruins of a hall of basilical type, and twenty hermæ from the site of the gardens. There were the portrait busts of Antisthenes, Bias, Periander, Æschines, inscribed with their names, and the headless hermæ of Anacreon, of Chabrias, of Pittacus with the motto “Know the time,” of Solon with the motto “Not too much,” and of Cleobulus with the motto “Keep an even mind.” There were seven plinths or pedestals of hermæ bearing the names of Pisistratus, Lycurgus, Archytas, Hermarchos, Diogenes; and lastly of Bacchylides and Pindar. All these marbles are now exhibited in the Sala delle Muse in the Vatican Museum.
In respect of discoveries and excavations the reign of Pope Braschi will remain quite unrivalled. Instead of fettering or forbidding private enterprise and of grudging to private collectors every fragment, however indifferent, of antique marbles or terracottas, Pius VI. invited landowners and excavators to collaborate with him in the recovery of works of art and of epigraphic documents. I am just now perusing the registers of the Vatican Museum of the last quarter of the eighteenth century, and I simply wonder at the exquisite taste and discernment of the pontiff who would allow no one but himself to decide on the subject of acquisitions for the Museo Pio Clementino, or of exportation of antiques to foreign countries. And whenever exportation was denied, or an embargo put on a statue or on an inscription, he declared himself ready to purchase the object at a just price. No wonder that his call should have been answered by many, and that the greatest activity should have prevailed in the field of discoveries.
Were we to accept in a strict sense Roman religious traditions, the brotherhood of the Arvales and the worship of the Dea Dia ought to be considered even older than the worship of Vesta and the sisterhood of the Vestals. These referred their institution to the time of Numa, the Arvales to the time of the founder of the City. The Arvales formed a college of twelve priests whose duty it was to offer sacrifices for the prosperity of the fields (arva) and to implore the blessings of heaven on the produce of the soil. The legend says that when Acca Larentia lost one of her twelve sons, Romulus allowed himself to be adopted in his place, and called himself and the other eleven “fratres Arvales;” but, as I have remarked in chapter i. of “Ancient Rome,” legends are not necessary to prove the extreme antiquity of the brotherhood. In the commentaries, or minutes of its periodical meetings, of which I shall speak presently, it is said that, whenever iron tools were brought into the sacred grove of the Dea Dia, as for engraving the annual records on the base of the temple, or for the lopping and felling of the trees, expiatory sacrifices were performed “ob ferri inlationem,” or “elationem,” that is, to purify the temple and the grove from the unlawful contact with the metal. This practice shows that the worship was instituted in the age of bronze, before the introduction of iron. The abhorrence of the use of iron, however, is not the only recollection of prehistoric ages to be found in the Arvalian ritual. It was known that at the time of the foundation of the City, the inhabitants used pottery and domestic earthenware made by hand and baked in an open fire, exactly like the one which is found in the necropolis of Alba Longa buried under three strata of volcanic sand, lapilli, and other eruptive materials. In memory of this primitive state of things the use of earthenware was obligatory, or at any rate preferred in sacrifices and libations. Even the sacred fire of Vesta was kept burning in an earthen receptacle. Juvenal describes the “Simpuvium Numæ,” the drinking cup of Numa Pompilius,—a relic preserved down to the fall of the Empire,—with exactly the same words we should use in describing the fossil pottery of Alba Longa. Now in the Acta Arvalium the following record is engraved more than once: “ollas precati sunt” (they have addressed their prayers to earthen jars). In reading this statement we could not help thinking of the worship of Numa's drinking cup; still, no evidence of the fact could be produced. In 1870, I do not remember exactly whether at the foot of the temple of the Dea Dia or on the highest part of the sacred grove, eighteen prehistoric cups were found, which, although in a more or less fragmentary state, could be recognized as absolutely identical with the fossil pottery of Alba Longa.
The sacred grove and place of meeting of the Arvales was at the fifth milestone of the Via Campana, now called Strada della Magliana, on the slope of a hill now occupied by the Vigna Ceccarelli, at a place quaintly called “Affoga l' Asino.” The writer of the otherwise excellent article in Smith's Dictionary, vol. i. p. 199b, speaking of the Arvales meeting “in luco deæ Diæ via Campana apud lapidem V.,” says, “There is no road known as the Via Campana, and the one on which the spot is actually situated leads to the mouth of the Tiber, and not into Campania. The phrase…probably means country road (Feldstrasse) and may contain a trace of the process by which the district round Rome has come to be known as the Campagna.” This statement is incorrect. The via was called Campana, from the remotest antiquity, because it led to the Campus Salinarum Romanarum, even now retaining its twenty-six centuries old name of Camposalino. I have been able to discover this point in a rather unexpected way.
Before the marshes of Maccarese and Camposalino—the ancient salt work of the Vejentes—were drained in 1889, a boatman used to ferry sportsmen from the local railway station to the shooting-grounds, on the opposite shore of the swamp, and fasten his canoe to a rope attached to a heavy piece of marble, in the place of an anchor. In the winter of 1887 the antiquarian Alberici, while duck-shooting in that boat, noticed that there were letters engraved on the face of the marble. On closer examination it proved to be a valuable document, viz., the plinth of a statuette representing the Genius of the guild of salt-carriers (Genius saccariorum salariorum) who carried the salt in sacks from the Campus Salinarum to Porto and to Rome, following the road accordingly named Via Campana. This valuable document is now exhibited in Hall I. of the Museo Municipale al Celio.
The first discovery of the seat of the Arvales at the fifth milestone of this road, in a field then belonging to Fabrizio Galletti, seems to have taken place under the pontificate of Gregory XIII., about 1575. Flaminio Vacca has left the following account of the find: “Outside the Porta Portese, at a place called ‘affoga l' Asino,’ in a cane-field near the Tiber, many statues of eminent personages were dug out, together with the pedestals on which their names were inscribed, and with columns 30 palms long. These were sawn into slabs and made use of in the Cappella Gregoriana at St. Peter's; the statues were dispersed among many collectors in Rome.” Traces of earlier excavations have, however, been detected in a fly-leaf from the pocket-book of Salvestro Peruzzi († 1573), son of Baldassarre († 1536), which is now preserved in the Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence. Salvestro gives the sketch of a graceful little edifice with an apse and a pronaos, and says that it contained nine statues of emperors wearing the badge of the Order, viz., the “corona spicea,” and nine pedestals with dedicatory inscriptions ending with the words FRATRI ARVALI. Salvestro's account is not accurate, unless two pedestals were destroyed or burnt into lime at once; contemporary epigraphists mention only seven dedications inscribed with the names of Hadrian, Antoninus Pins, M. Aurelius, L. Verus, Septimius Severus, Caracalla, and Gordianus.5 The fact that all the predecessors of Hadrian are missing, while the set from Hadrian to Gordian III. is almost complete, shows that the sacred grove, or at least the Cæsareum, must have undergone at the beginning of the second century the same fate by which the House of the Vestals was destroyed at the time of Septimius Severus. The records of the Vestales Maximæ discovered in that house begin with the reconstruction by Julia Domna, and continue almost without a break to the suppression of the Order in 382. The only iconographic relic of earlier days pertaining to the Augusteum of the Arvales is the marble head of Augustus himself, formerly in the Villa Mattei and now in the Sala dei Busti of the Vatican Museum (n. 274), which represents the emperor at a ripe age, with a garland of ears of wheat, the symbol of the fraternity to which he belonged. I shall not follow in detail the history of subsequent discoveries from the time of Salvestro Peruzzi to the present day, because it has already been given by de Rossi and Henzen.6 These discoveries were splendidly brought to a close in 1868–1871 by Dr. Wilhelm Henzen, then director of the German Archæological Institute, when nearly one thousand lines of the Acta, with other inscriptions and architectural remains of the temple and other edifices, were brought to light, in the “Vigna Ceccarelli di Sopra,” near the railway station of La Magliana. The Acta, purchased by the Italian government in 1873, have been admirably rearranged in chronological order by Dr. Dante Vaglieri in two of the old Cistercian “Hermitages” on the west wing of Michelangelo's cloisters in the Baths of Diocletian. (See p. 107.)
From these records we learn the following details. The oldest fragment yet found dates from A.D. 14, the last of Augustus, the first of Tiberius. The calendar of the brotherhood dates also from the same epoch. We infer from these facts that the system of engraving the minutes of the proceedings on marble must have been taken up soon after the reform of the Order accomplished by Augustus after his election to the pontificate in B.C. 2.
The Arvales, the only Roman religious institution in which the name of “brothers” occurs, were twelve, double the number of the Vestals; but absence from town, illness, and other circumstances so thinned their ranks that the average number of members attending one meeting is five. The fullest meeting recorded in the space of two hundred years is that of October 12, 59, when twelve members met to offer a sacrifice for the “imperium” of Nero.
The seats were not hereditary, even in the case of imperial personages. The place of a private nobleman, L. Æmilius Paullus, was given in December, A.D. 13, or January, 14, to Drusus Cæsar, son of Tiberius; and that of his grandson, Drusus the younger, again to a private individual, P. Memmius Regulus, A.D. 38.
The president (magister) of the fraternity was elected on the second day of the feast of the Dea Dia, at the beginning of May, and his tenure of office lasted for a year. It was his duty to entertain his colleagues at dinner in his own house, during the same May celebrations; but if the house was too small or otherwise unfit for the reception of the noble guests and their attendants, the tables were set up elsewhere,—for instance, in the Augusteum (A.D. 218). At all events, when we hear of the brothers banqueting at such and such a house, we need not be afraid that the host had to meet the expense of the proceedings; he simply supervised the arrangements. These banquets were costly enough; one hundred denarii a seat.7 The minutes of the year were engraved on the marble stylobate of the temple, proceeding from left to right at the end of each “magisterium” or presidency, viz., after the 17th of December. The following incident shows that they did not tarry long in transferring the minutes from their books to the marble panels of the stylobate. The Emperor Vitellius ended his presidency on December 17 of the year 69, and was murdered before the end of the month. Now as his name is erased from the minutes in consequence of the “memoriæ damnatio” pronounced by the Senate soon after his death, it is evident that they must have been inscribed between the 17th and the 31st.
Comparing the chronology of the Acta with the precise spot in which they have been found, Professor Henzen has been able to follow the progress of their incision on the various marble surfaces available in the grove. As I have said above, advantage was taken at the beginning of the base of the temple, with little or no concern for space, devoting probably each marble panel to the records of one year; no matter whether they covered the whole space or left a blank. The writing surface on the base of the temple lasted until the time of Antoninus Pius. Later on, the blanks were filled up with no respect to chronology, so that the records of the year 213 were engraved at the foot of the panel of A.D. 155, those of the year 219 at the foot of the panel of A.D. 90, etc. Fortunately the grove contained other marble edifices, like the Cæsareum, where the images of deified emperors were kept and worshipped; the Tetrastylum, where meetings were held and banquets celebrated; and a Circus, where races were run on the second day of the May festival. These edifices, the Cæsareum and the Tetrastylum at least, were resorted to for the engraving of the Acta; those of A.D. 218 were actually written on a table or “mensa,” and those of 220 on a marble chair or “cathedra.”
The dispersion of these valuable documents all over the City and the Campagna is really astonishing. Fragments, nay, whole panels, have been found at S. Prisca and at S. Sabina on the Aventine, in the Villa Negroni-Massimo on the Esquiline, in the foundations of the apse and sacristy of St. Peter's, in the pavement of St. Paul's, in the Villa Wolkonsky, in the catacombs of Hippolytus and Callixtus, in the bed of the Tiber. This scattering of the Arvalian marbles is manifestly connected with the great religious evolution of the fourth century; in fact, we know that when the doctrines of Christ began to gain ground in the outskirts of the metropolis, and in the farm lands of the Campagna, the grove of the Arvales, as the oldest suburban centre of superstition, became one of the main points of attack. The evangelization of the country, however, had to overcome far greater obstacles than that of the City. The Latin peasants were—and are still—an ignorant race, tenacious of old habits and traditions. They clung to the religion of their fathers because it pleased them to know and to feel that their interests were intrusted to the never failing care of local spirits, their own personal friends as it were, and because they saw in the commonest phenomena of nature the manifestation of a superior power. Springs, rivers, caves, trees, forests, hills, and mountains all appeared to those simple minds fraught with life, and visible embodiments of divine agents. They divided these salutary and beneficent beings into two classes: one comprising the higher gods of nature, Apollo, Diana, Silvanus, Pan, etc.; the other restricted to local spirits, nymphs, fauns, and the “genii loci.” The belief in this last category dates from an earlier stage than the conception of deities with wide provinces and multiple functions. The primitive settlers in the woodlands of Latium divinized every hill, or tree, or brook, more distinct personality being attributed to the nymphs, because the abundance or scarcity of water was more important than anything else in nature, to the herdsmen and to the laborers of the soil. The various groups of nymphs had their special haunts and abodes in watery glades, in groves, among the frowning crags, or in the dark recesses of grottoes, where sacrifices were offered to them of goats, lambs, milk, and oil, but never of wine. Some of these “nymphæa” were private, and reserved to the peasants of one single farm; others public, the gathering-place of a wide neighborhood. These were selected on certain days of the year for the celebration of joyful processions and of rural sports, and for thanksgiving after the successful close of harvesting, sheep-shearing, of the vintage, and so on. For this purpose special calendars or almanacs were made up for the use of the peasantry and set up at the crossings of country roads. Such is the so-called “Menologium Rusticum,” formerly in the possession of Mgr. Colocci, and now in the National Museum at Naples. This rustic almanac contains as many columns as there are months in the year, each marked by the corresponding signs of the Zodiac. Then follow the names of the months, the number of their days, the determination of the nones (and indirectly of the ides, which fell eight days after), the length of days and nights, the name of the sign through which the sun passes, and the god under whose care the month was placed. For instance:—
“The month of May. Thirty-one days. The nones fall on the 7th. Length of day fourteen and a half hours, of night nine and a half. The sun enters into the constellation of Taurus. The month is under the protection of Apollo.”
The various agricultural operations of the month of May are subsequently specified, such as the winnowing of the cornfields, the shearing of sheep, the washing of wool, the breaking of oxen, etc. The column ends with the religious duties to be performed in May, viz., the lustration of the crops, and certain sacrifices to Mercury and Flora.
It is easy to conceive what obstacles the preachers of the gospel must have found in these deeply rooted superstitions in consequence of which the Campagna remained essentially pagan long after the gods had been expelled from their temples in the City. The study of local traditions, of folklore, of the origin of many suburban sanctuaries and shrines, would help us greatly to make out how the religious transformation of the Campagna was gently brought about. To facilitate it great care was taken to assimilate practices which were not absolutely objectionable,—for instance, the Ambarvalia, which were transformed into the Rogations,—and to substitute parallel figures with an affinity of names to the gods of rivers, of springs, of mountains, and of forests. Thus the places of Apollo and Silvanus were taken by St. Silvester, on the forest-clad peaks of Soracte, of the Monte Compatri, of the Monte Artemisio, and of the Vulturella; S. Marina or S. Marinella became the protector of mariners at Ardea (see p. 111), at Ostia, and at Punicum; St. George became the driver away of plague-spreading dragons; while the points struck by lightning, whether of church towers or of mountains, were consecrated to Michael the Archangel.
The picturesque shrines which the explorer of the Campagna and of the Sabine and Volscian districts meets at the crossings of roads and lanes have not changed their site or purpose; only the crescent which once shone on the forehead of Diana the huntress is now trodden by the feet of the Virgin Mary, who also appears crushing the head of the snake once sacred to Juno Lanuvina; but the wild flowers still perfume with their delicious scent the “iconetta,” as the shrine is still called in the Byzantine fashion among our peasantry (small εἰκών), and the sweet oil, instead of being poured over the altar, burns before the image of the Mother of God in quaint little lamps. The month of May, once sacred to the Dea Dia, has become the month of Mary.
We are not acquainted with the particulars of the “Christianization” of the sacred grove of the Arvales, the records of the brotherhood ending with the reign of Gordian III. (about 238 A.D.). The portrait statue of the same emperor is the last, chronologically speaking, discovered among the ruins of the Cæsareum. We may assume, therefore, that the institution, ten centuries old at the time of Gordian III., died of sheer decrepitude towards the middle of the third century, when the Christians appear on the spot, or rather under it, honeycombing the hill with the winding galleries of their cemetery of Generosa.
I have already spoken of these small but interesting catacombs in chapter vii. of “Pagan and Christian Rome” (p. 332). The name of Generosa pertaining to them indicates that the ground under which they ramify, or where their entrance was, belonged to a lady of that name. Without assuming that this lady Generosa had purchased part of the old Arvalian property, it may be simply a case of an enclave within the boundaries of the grove. And, moreover, the first Christians, the first illustrious victims of the persecution of Diocletian, were not laid to rest in crypts purposely cut out of the rock, but in common sand-pits, to which entrance was gained from the side of Generosa's farm.
One of the curiosities of this underground cemetery is a painting of Christ in the character of the Good Shepherd, on the edge of whose tunic we see twice the sign 卍, called “crux gammata” because it is formed by the grouping of four Γ (gamma). The sign never appears in the catacombs so long as that of the anchor remains in favor. Its first representation is to be found, if I remember right, in the celebrated painting of Diogenes the fossor of the crypts of Domitilla, whose tunic is embroidered with the mystic device, instead of the usual “calliculæ” and “clavi.” Now as the 卍 is the primitive Asiatic symbol of happiness, the “svastika” of the Brahmins and Buddhists, certain writers have attempted to find in it a link between Buddha and Christ, between the Indian religion and the gospel. Enough to observe that the svastika, as a mere ornamental combination of lines, appears in prehistoric pottery of the æneolithic period, in the coins of Gaza, Corinth, and Syracuse, in the fibula of Cære, in the so-called Samnitic tomb at Capua, in Roman mosaic pavements, etc.
Among the many symbols of the cross adopted by the faithful in the age of persecutions, with which they could mark the grave of the dear ones without betraying the secret of their faith, there was the Phœnician letter tau. From the tau, , to the crux gammata, 卍, the transition is hardly perceptible.
There is no doubt that while these things were going on underground in the cemetery of Generosa, the grove of the Arvales, the temple, the Cæsareum, the Tetrastylum, were kept in good repair by the state, although practically abandoned by the brotherhood. Possibly the action of the state was limited to preventing the neighbors from trespassing over the boundary line of the grove and damaging its buildings and stealing away their marble decorations. Certainly not the smallest fragment of the Acta has been found used by the Christians in the adjoining catacombs. But granted that men did not lend a helping hand to the slow destructive powers of nature, we can easily imagine what the state of the place was after a century and a half of neglect, when it was given up altogether to Pope Damasus as Church property. If a fig-tree could have found time to set root and grow on the pediment of the temple A.D. 183, as described in the minutes of that year, at the time of the greatest prosperity of the Order, we may imagine what masses of arborescent vegetation must have covered the roof at the end of the fourth century. The grove, also, must have shown traces of neglect, exposed as it was to the fury of storms, so violent in this district between Rome and the sea that the minutes mention over and over again trees struck by lightning and felled to the ground. I am afraid that it also gave shelter to outlaws, as shown by the wholesale slaughter of Julius Timotheus, schoolmaster, and seven of his pupils, made by a gang of highwaymen on the very edge of the grove, as described in “Ancient Rome,” p. 212.
It seems as if Pope Damasus had watched with impatience the moment he could take legal possession of the place, and build aboveground and on the highest and most conspicuous point a memorial chapel, sanctis martyribus simplicio FausTINO VIATRICi, whose graves had made the catacombs of Generosa a favorite place of pilgrimage. The oldest dated epitaph found within this chapel of Damasus belongs to A.D. 382, the very year in which the worship of the gods was officially abolished by Gratian, and the property of temples confiscated or transferred to the Church.
The grove of the Arvales was not the only one which brought back to the Romans of the late Empire the memory of the primitive state of their soil and of the veneration which their ancestors professed towards the sylvan gods. Rome had been founded in a well-wooded country, each of the seven hills being distinguished by a special growth of trees from which they were sometimes named. A forest of laurels grew on the Aventine the recollection of which lasted to the end of the Empire in the streets named “Lauretum maius” and “Lauretum minus” respectively. The valley between the Aventine, and the Palatine is said to have derived the name of Murtia from the myrtle grove which surrounded the shrine of Venus Murtea.8 The Cælian, likewise, was called Querquetulanus from its forest of oaks (quercioli); the Oppian, Fagutalis from its forest of beeches; the Viminal from its reeds (vimina); the Campus Codetanus from its Equisetum arvense (codeta); the Corneta from its cornelian trees, etc. With the growth of the City many of these landmarks disappeared, their memory being perpetuated by a cluster of trees which were held in great veneration, and to which sacrifices were offered. There is a large map of these sacred groves, published by Agretti and Visconti in 1838,9 and a good account of them is to be found in Brocchi's “Stato fisico del Suolo di Roma,” p. 24 sq. Agretti and Visconti have marked the site of forty-four groves, but the existence of some of them is not sufficiently authenticated. At the end of the Empire probably there were only twenty or twenty-five left.
Such being the sylvan nature of the Roman soil, no wonder that one of the first gods to be worshipped by the semi-savage inhabitants of the Septimontium should be Faun, whose prophetic warnings and mysterious voice they imagined were heard from the recesses of the forests. The Bona Dea, the supposed bride of Faun, had also a share in the divine honors, and was herself called Fauna. Silvanus, however, was the special protector of woods and trees, especially of pines and cypresses; hence his name of Silvanus dendrophorus, the “bearer of a tree.” Woods sacred to the deity were called “luci” in opposition to “silvæ” or “nemora,” which names designate an ordinary forest.
It is remarkable, indeed, that one of these luci should have survived through the events of centuries, and should still be flourishing, still venerated, still called by its classic name of “Bosco Sacro.” I allude to the cluster of fine ilexes on the west side of the valley della Caffarella, near the so-called grotto of the “ninfa Egeria” and the church of S. Urbano. Inscriptions discovered in that neighborhood10 show that these lands once belonged to Annia Regilla, wife of Herodes Atticus; that after her death in childbirth the lands were consecrated to the gods; that they contained wheat-fields, vineyards, olive groves, pastures, a village named Triopium, a temple dedicated to Faustina under the title of New Ceres, a burial plot placed under the protection of Minerva and Nemesis, and lastly a grove sacred to the memory of Annia Regilla. The remains of the Triopium are to be seen in the Vigna Grandi; the family tomb is represented by the exquisite little building known as the “tempio del Dio Redicolo,” the temple of Ceres and Faustina by the church of S. Urbano. As regards the sacred grove, there is no doubt that the present trees continue the tradition and live on the very spot sacred to the memory of Annia Regilla, “cuius hæc prædia fuerunt.”
Modern Romans, alas, have not inherited from their ancestors the feeling of respect for the sylvan gods. I do not belong to the party which has taken up the habit of condemning whatever has been done in Rome since 1870; far from it. I believe, and I am proud to assert, that the little we have lost is nothing in comparison with what we have gained in health, in cleanliness, in comfort, in purposes of life, in self-respect. The only point of regret is the one concerning the green, the shade and the vegetation, against which rulers and ruled, magistrates and citizens, clergy and laity seemed at one time to have developed an equal share of contempt, if not of hatred. When the beautiful Villa Corsini was purchased by the City in 1876 to be turned into a public park, the splendid old ilexes lining the crest of the hill were cut down under the plea that they obstructed the view. When a considerable part of the Monti Parioli was likewise purchased in 1887 for the laying out of the great Parco Margherita between the Via Flaminia and the Salaria, the oaks and the ilexes of the Villa Bosio were sold to a charcoal-burner. When a government delegate took possession of the administration of the City in 1892, he inaugurated the restoration of the finance department by cutting down the small garden of the Piazza Mastai, the keeping of which involved an expense of nearly three pounds a year! Another picturesque corner of the Parco Margherita, the “Sassi di S. Giuliano,”—weather-stained crags plunging into the Tiber a little above the Ponte Molle,—has just been stripped of its crown of evergreens to allow a private contractor to quarry stone; and the ragged outline of the rocks has been cut and smoothed to an angle of 45°, like a railway embankment. With such examples coming from official quarters, no wonder that owners of private villas should have sold them to the first comer who offered money enough to satisfy their greed. It is true that the sale and the destruction of the historic Roman villas has brought luck to none; sellers as well as purchasers are equally bankrupt; but this well-earned retribution does not give us back what we have lost. Let me say, however, that a decided change for the better has taken place of late in this branch of public administration. Over ten thousand trees are planted every year in Rome and the suburbs, and if the “Arbor day” shall be celebrated for some years to come with equal zeal, the City will be framed again in green as in the palmy days of its history.
I must at the same time remark that the feeling of respect for single trees, like the cornelian of the steps of Cacus, the fig-tree of the Comitium, the chamærops of the Capitol, the Diospyros Lotus of the Vulcanal, the olive-tree and the vine of the Forum, has survived through the middle ages, and is still alive in Rome. In the middle ages whole quarters of the City were named from single trees conspicuous in the wilderness of the ruins. Such is the origin of the name of the ninth ward, the “Rione della Pigna” (pine-tree), and also of the streets and squares called del Fico, della Gensola, dell' Olmo, dell' Arancio, del Lauro, etc. A lemon-tree is shown in the garden of S. Sabina planted by St. Dominic himself when he took possession of the adjoining convent at the time of Pope Honorius III. (1216–1227). In the garden of S. Onofrio, which now forms part of the Passeggiata del Gianicolo, stands Tasso's venerable oak, under the shade of which the poet used to retire for meditation and study. It was partly blown down by the hurricane of October, 1842, but several branches have since sprouted out of the trunk. I have in my collection of prints a spirited etching by Strutt, representing the oak before its fall. The same fate befell in 1886 Michelangelo's cypresses in the garden of la Certosa, two out of four being destroyed, and the others mutilated. (See page 107.)
Perhaps the most touching instance of care and respect towards old trees is to be found in the Alban hills, in the avenue which leads from Albano to Castel Gandolfo, known by the name of “Galleria di Sotto.” Wherever one of the old giants—ilexes, oaks, or elms—planted by Sixtus V. at the end of the sixteenth century shows signs of decrepitude and begins to lean and bend as if asking for help and support, its branches and its trunk are propped by means of columns of masonry. The person who shows such delicate feelings towards the noble trees of Castel Gandolfo is Pope Leo XIII., himself a splendid specimen of vitality at an age which it is seldom given to mankind to reach.
I have spoken up to the present time of sylvan gods and goddesses who were beneficial to mankind. Let us now turn our attention to the evil geniuses, whose pernicious influence those simple dwellers on the Palatine hill sought to avert, and whose wrath they strove to appease, by special propitiations.
The evil genius was symbolized amongst the Eastern nations, especially amongst the Chaldeans, by the serpent; and the Bible represents the first and bitterest enemy of mankind under the same form. Bossuet, in his “Elévations à Dieu,” speaking of the fall of man, remarks: “Pourquoi il [Dieu] détermina cet ange superbe à paraitre sous cette forme, plutôt que sous une autre; quoiqu'il ne soit pas nécessaire de le savoir, l'Ecriture nous l'insinue, en disant que le serpent était le plus fin des animaux; c'est à dire celui qui…représentait mieux le démon dans sa malice, dans ses embûches, et ensuite dans son supplice.”11 Step by step the serpent conquered divine honors. In Egypt it was made to personify the principle of evil conquered by Osiris. In the paintings or in the hieroglyphic papyri of the earliest dynasties the symbol of two serpents springing at each other is often seen, one of which seems to snap at a ball which the other holds in its mouth: an evident allusion to the dualism in Eastern religions. At a later period the theogonic condition of the serpent improved, and it became ultimately a symbol of the Sun and of Life. In the belief of Latin aborigines, long before the foundation of Rome, the serpent symbolized the “genius loci,” and as the oldest Latin gods were worshipped through their respective geniuses12 the serpent became the living symbol of some of them,—of Æsculapius, the god of medicine; of Minerva, the goddess of wisdom; of Mercury, the god of subtleness; and, above all, of the Juno called Lanuvina from Lanuvium, the seat of her worship. The sacred serpents of Lanuvium are still alive, and I am sure it will interest my reader to know some curious details collected on this point by Professor Tommasetti, a great explorer of the Roman Campagna.13
The serpent of Juno of Lanuvium was not an abstract symbol; a live specimen of a particular species was kept in a cave, within the sacred grove adjoining the temple of the goddess; pilgrims and devotees offered it food and votive emblems; and whenever doubts were cast on the honesty of a young girl she was compelled to undergo the judgment of the serpent, by which she was devoured if guilty. The behavior of: the sacred animal was also taken as an omen for the coming harvest. These human sacrifices, the evidence of remote antiquity in the worship of the goddess, lasted at least up to the second century of the Christian era, when Ælianus wrote his well-known account (x. 16). According to Prosper of Aquitania, the institution was still flourishing in the fourth and fifth centuries, but the live serpent of classic times had been superseded by a mechanical contrivance of tremendous power. This artificial serpent was of great size; from its eyes, made of precious stones, darted fiery sparks; it held a sword in its mouth; and when the unsuspecting girl descended the steps of the cavern to lay her offering before the dragon, she unconsciously touched a spring which set the mechanism in motion and made the sword fall on her neck. The fraud was discovered at last by a Christian hermit, a friend of Stilicho, who, having obtained admission somehow into the cave, felt his way at every step with a cane, until he succeeded in touching the spring, and in making the sword fall without injury to himself. On hearing of the monk's discovery the Christians of the neighborhood invaded the cave, destroyed the dragon, and probably levelled the temple of Juno to the ground.
We have the evidence of these extraordinary events not only in the magnificent statue of the goddess herself, now in the Rotunda of the Vatican, but in the actual existence of a special kind of serpents in the territory of Lanuvium.
Cicero, “De Divin.” i. 79, describes how the nurse of Roscius discovered him wound in the coils of a snake in a field called Solonium, “qui est campus agri Lanuvini.” Atia, the mother of Augustus, born according to the tradition alluded to by Suetonius (Aug. 6) in the neighborhood of Velitræ and Lanuvium, bore a serpent's mark on her skin. The Solonium mentioned by Cicero is actually called Dragone and Dragoncello, the Field of the Dragon; and a church built there in the middle ages was dedicated to St. George, the driver-away of dragons. Professor Tommasetti thinks that the peculiar kind of serpents bred within the precincts of the temple must have been dispersed after the abandonment of the sanctuary, but that they did not migrate too far. In the farm of Carrocceto, right under the hill of Civita Lavinia, there is to be found the largest species of (inoffensive) serpents known to live in the Roman Campagna, and these serpents are actually called by the peasantry “Serpenti della Regina,” a manifest allusion to Juno magna Sospita Regina, as the goddess of Lanuvium was officially named. But I have myself something to add to Professor Tommasetti's interesting remarks. I have just found in some long-forgotten records of the state Archives that the section of the Aventine hill upon which stands the church of Santa Sabina was called in the middle ages “Lo Monte de lo Serpente,” a manifest reminder of the great temple of Juno Regina, on the remains of which—shattered by the earthquake of A.D. 422—the church of S. Sabina was built by Peter the Illyrian in 425.
Horace, Od. iii. 13, Lonsdale and Lee's translation, London, Macmillan, 1874, p. 64.
The present Villa Cavalletti, west of Frascati.
Travels in Greece, Palestine, etc., by F. A. de Chateaubriand, translated by Frederic Shoberl, 2d ed., London, Colburn, 1812.
The family tomb and the family hut.
Corpus Inscr. vol. vi. n. 968, 1000, 1012, 1021, 1026, 1053, 1093.
De Rossi, “Vicende degli atti Arvalici,” in Annali Instituto, 1858; Henzen, Acta Fratrum Arvalium, Berlin, Reimer, 1874.
About seventy shillings, or seventeen dollars.
Compare, however, Becker, Topographie, p. 467, n. 971.
Pianta dell' antica città di Roma con i suoi boschi sacri, Roma, 1838.
Ennio Quirino Visconti, Iscrizioni greche Triopee, ora Borghesiane, Rome, 1794. See Bibliography in Pagan and Christian Rome, p. 288.
“Though it is not necessary for us to know why He decreed that that proud angel should appear in this shape, rather than in another, the Scriptures hint at an explanation in saying that the serpent was the most subtle of all animals…and therefore the one that best represented the devil in his malice, in his treacheries, and finally in his punishment.”
The Genius Jovis, the Genius Junonis Sospitæ, the Genius Deæ Diæ, etc.
“Nuove ricerche sulla spiaggia latina,” in Atti Pontif. Accad. di Archeologia, 26 Nov., 1890.