The rituals of the Argei were archaic religious observances in ancient Rome that took place on March 16 and March 17, and again on May 14 or May 15. By the time of Augustus, the meaning of these rituals had become obscure even to those who practiced them. For the May rites, a procession of pontiffs, Vestals, and praetors made its way around a circuit of 27 stations (sacella or sacraria), where at each they retrieved a figure fashioned into human form from rush, reed, and straw, resembling men tied hand and foot.[1] After all the stations were visited, the procession, accompanied by the Flaminica Dialis in mourning guise,[1] moved to the Pons Sublicius, the oldest known bridge in Rome, where the gathered figures were tossed into the Tiber River.

Both the figures (effigies or simulacra) and the stations or shrines were called Argei, the etymology of which remains undetermined.[2]

The continuation of these rites into the later historical period when they were no longer understood demonstrates how strongly traditionalist the Romans were in matters of religion.[3]


Before the ritual commenced, an effigy was placed in each of the 27 (or in some sources 24 or 30[1]) shrines of the Argei (sacra Argeorum) throughout the Servian regions. The effigies were thought to absorb pollution within the area, and their subsequent sacrifice was a ritual purification of the city. The pontiffs and Vestals were the main celebrants. The exact route of the procession among the stations is unclear.

According to Ovid, the ritual had been established as a sacrifice to the god Saturn as the result of a responsum from Jupiter Fatidicus, the oracle of Dodona.[4] But the meaning of the ritual had already become obscure, and Ovid offers an antiquarian range of explanations.[5] The responsum had prescribed human sacrifice, one man for each one of the gentes (families or clans) living near the banks of the Tiber. This early population was believed to have been of Greek origin, and hence Argei derived from Argivi (the Greek ethnonym "Argives"), specifically the companions of Evander and later those of Hercules who had decided to stay on and live there. This responsum predated the founding of Rome. One way to interpret the ritual of the Argei was that early inhabitants of what was to become Rome had practiced human sacrifice as prescribed; Ovid insists, however, that Hercules had put an end to it, and that human sacrifice was never a practice of the Romans themselves.

Ovid puts another interpretation in the mouth of Tiber, the god who personified the river. Since these early inhabitants were of Greek origin, he said, they grew homesick in their old age and asked to be buried in the river as a kind of symbolic return to their homeland in death. While this last interpretation appears irreconcilable with the previous, it may be reminiscent of burial practices in water which are attested in many parts of the world among primitive peoples.[6]

Dionysius of Halicarnassus[7] also explains the ritual in terms of human sacrifice, saying that Tiber was the recipient of these regular offerings. The victims were men over sixty, hence the Roman expression sexagenarios de ponte, "sexagenarians from the bridge."

Alternative modern interpretations include a pre-Imperial rainmaking rite, or an annual re-enactment of the execution by drowning of 27 Greek war captives.

See also


  1. ^ a b c Wikisource Fowler, William Warde (1911). "Argei" . In Chisholm, Hugh. Encyclopædia Britannica. 2 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 457.
  2. ^ Robert E.A. Palmer, The Archaic Community of the Romans (Cambridge University Press, 2009), p. 84.
  3. ^ Ittai Gradel, Emperor Worship and Roman Religion (Oxford University Press, 2002), p. 11.
  4. ^ Ovid, Fasti 5.622-623; see English translation by A. S. Kline (2004).
  5. ^ Ovid, Fasti 5.622-660.
  6. ^ Mircea Eliade, Le chamanisme et les techniques archaiques de l'exctase (Paris 1964).
  7. ^ Dionysius of Halicarnassus, Roman Antiquities, i.19, 38. [1]

External links

Further reading

Argei (disambiguation)

Argei may refer to:

Argei (dolls), ritual figures in ancient Roman religion, and also their shrines

Argei (manufacturer) - olive oil manufacturer

Flamen Dialis

In ancient Roman religion, the Flamen Dialis was the high priest of Jupiter. The term Dialis derives from Diespiter, the Italic equivalent to Jupiter. There were 15 flamines, of which three were flamines maiores, serving the three gods of the Archaic Triad. According to tradition the flamines were forbidden to touch metal, ride a horse, or see a corpse.

The office of Flamen Dialis, and the offices of the other flamines maiores, were traditionally said to have been created by Numa Pompilius, second king of Rome, although Numa himself performed many of the rites of the Flamen Dialis.


The lectisternium was an ancient Roman propitiatory ceremony, consisting of a meal offered to gods and goddesses. The word derives from lectum sternere, "to spread (or "drape") a couch." The deities were represented by their busts or statues, or by portable figures of wood, with heads of bronze, wax or marble, and covered with drapery. It has also been suggested that the divine images were bundles of sacred herbs tied together in the form of a head, covered by a waxen mask so as to resemble a kind of bust, rather like the straw figures called Argei. These figures were laid upon a couch (lectus), the left arm resting on a cushion (pulvinus, whence the couch itself was often called pulvinar) in the attitude of reclining. The couch was set out in the open street, and a meal placed before it on a table.


The Liberalia (March 17) is the festival of Liber Pater and his consort Libera. The Romans celebrated Liberalia with sacrifices, processions, ribald and gauche songs, and masks which were hung on trees.This feast celebrates the maturation of young boys to manhood. Roman boys, usually at age 15 or 16, would remove the bulla praetexta, a hollow charm of gold or leather, which parents placed about the necks of children to ward off evil spirits. At the Liberalia ceremony the young men might place the bulla on an altar (with a lock of hair or the stubble of his first shave placed inside) and dedicate it to the Lares, who were gods of the household and family. Mothers often retrieved the discarded bulla praetexta and kept it out of superstition. If the son ever achieved a public triumph, the mother could display the bulla to ward off any evil that might be wished upon the son by envious people. The young men discarded the toga praetexta, which was probably derived from Etruscan dress and was decorated with a broad purple border and worn with the bulla, by boys and girls. The boys donned the clothing of adulthood, the pure white toga virilis, or "man's gown". The garment identified him as a citizen of Rome, making him an eligible voter.

The celebration on March 17 was meant to honor Liber Pater, an ancient god of fertility and wine (like Bacchus, the Roman version of the Greek god Dionysus). Liber Pater is also a vegetation god, responsible for protecting seed. Liber, again like Dionysus, had female priests although Liber's priests were older women. Wearing wreaths of ivy, the priestesses made special cakes, or libia, of oil and honey which passing devotees would have them sacrifice on their behalf. Over time this feast evolved and included the goddess Libera, Liber Pater's consort, and the feast divided so that Liber governed the male seed and Libera the female. Ovid in his almanac entry for the festival identifies Libera as the celestial manifestation of Ariadne.This ancient Italian ceremony was a "country" or rustic ceremony. The processional featured a large phallus which the devotees carried throughout the countryside to bring the blessing of fertility to the land and the people. The procession and the phallus were meant also to protect the crops from evil. At the end of the procession, a virtuous and respected matron placed a wreath upon the phallus.

Related to the celebration of the Liberalia is the Procession of the Argei, celebrated on March 16 and 17. The Argei were 27 sacred shrines created by the Numina (very powerful ancient gods who are divine beings without form or face) and found throughout the regions of Rome. However, modern scholars have not discovered their meaning or use. In the argei celebration, 30 figures also called Argei were fashioned from rushes into shapes resembling men; later in the year they were tossed into the river(s). The origin of this celebration is not certain, but many scholars feel that it may have been a ritualistic offering meant to appease and praise the Numa and that the 30 argei probably represented the thirty elder Roman curiae, or possibly represented the 30 Latin townships. Other ancient scholars wrote that the use of the bull-rush icons was meant to deter celebrants from human sacrifice, which was done to honor Saturn. Some historical documents indicate that the argei (the sacred places) took their names from the chieftains who came with Hercules, the Argive, to Rome and then occupied the Capitoline (Saturnian) Hill. There is no way at present to verify this information, but it does coincide with the belief that Rome was founded by the Pelasgians and the name Argos is linked to that group.

While Liberalia is a relatively unknown event in modern times, references to Liberalia and the Roman goddess Libera are still found today online and in astrology.


Maius or mensis Maius (May) was the third month of the ancient Roman calendar, following Aprilis (April) and preceding Iunius (June). On the oldest Roman calendar that had begun with March, it was the third of ten months in the year. May had 31 days.

The Romans considered May an infelicitous month. Although it began with one of the most notoriously licentious holidays of the Roman calendar, the Games of Flora (Ludi Florae), the middle of the month was devoted to propitiating the lemures, the restless shades of the dead.

Makedon (mythology)

Makedon, also Macedon (Ancient Greek: Μακεδών) or Makednos (Μακεδνός), was the eponymous mythological ancestor of the ancient Macedonians according to various ancient Greek fragmentary narratives. In most versions, he appears as a native or immigrant leader from Epirus, who gave his name to Macedonia, previously called Emathia according to Strabo, which according to Marsyas of Pella was until then a part of Thrace.


March is the third month of the year in both the Julian and Gregorian calendars. It is the second of seven months to have a length of 31 days. In the Northern Hemisphere, the meteorological beginning of spring occurs on the first day of March. The March equinox on the 20th or 21st marks the astronomical beginning of spring in the Northern Hemisphere and the beginning of autumn in the Southern Hemisphere, where September is the seasonal equivalent of the Northern Hemisphere's March.

Martius (month)

Martius or mensis Martius ("March") was the first month of the ancient Roman year until possibly as late as 153 BC. After that time, it was the third month, following Februarius (February) and preceding Aprilis (April). Martius was one of the few Roman months named for a deity, Mars, who was regarded as an ancestor of the Roman people through his sons Romulus and Remus.

March marked a return to the active life of farming, military campaigning, and sailing. It was densely packed with religious observances dating from the earliest period of Roman history. Because of its original position as the first month, a number of festivals originally associated with the new year occurred in March. In the Imperial period, March was also a time for public celebration of syncretic or international deities whose cultus was spread throughout the empire, including Isis and Cybele.


May is the fifth month of the year in the Julian and Gregorian Calendars and the third of seven months to have a length of 31 days.

May is a month of spring in the Northern Hemisphere and autumn in the Southern Hemisphere. Therefore, May in the Southern Hemisphere is the seasonal equivalent of November in the Northern Hemisphere and vice versa. Late May typically marks the start of the summer vacation season in the United States and Canada and ends on Labor Day, the first Monday of September.

May 15

May 15 is the 135th day of the year (136th in leap years) in the Gregorian calendar. There are 230 days remaining until the end of the year.

Pons Sublicius

The Pons Sublicius is the earliest known bridge of ancient Rome, spanning the Tiber River near the Forum Boarium ("cattle forum") downstream from the Tiber Island, near the foot of the Aventine Hill. According to tradition, its construction was ordered by Ancus Marcius around 642 BC, but this date is approximate because there is no ancient record of its construction. Marcius wished to connect the newly fortified Janiculum Hill on the Etruscan side to the rest of Rome, augmenting the ferry that was there. The bridge was part of public works projects that included building a port at Ostia, at the time the location of worked salt deposits.

Roman festivals

Festivals in ancient Rome were a very important part of Roman religious life during both the Republican and Imperial eras, and one of the primary features of the Roman calendar. Feriae ("holidays" in the sense of "holy days"; singular also feriae or dies ferialis) were either public (publicae) or private (privatae). State holidays were celebrated by the Roman people and received public funding. Games (ludi), such as the Ludi Apollinares, were not technically feriae, but the days on which they were celebrated were dies festi, holidays in the modern sense of days off work. Although feriae were paid for by the state, ludi were often funded by wealthy individuals. Feriae privatae were holidays celebrated in honor of private individuals or by families. This article deals only with public holidays, including rites celebrated by the state priests of Rome at temples, as well as celebrations by neighborhoods, families, and friends held simultaneously throughout Rome

Feriae were of four kinds:

Stativae were annual holidays that held a fixed or stable date on the calendar.

Conceptivae were annual holidays that were moveable feasts (like Easter on the Christian calendar, or Thanksgiving in North America); the date was announced by the magistrates or priests who were responsible for them.

Imperativae were holidays held "on demand" (from the verb impero, imperare, "to order, command") when special celebrations or expiations were called for.One of the most important sources for Roman holidays is Ovid's Fasti, an incomplete poem that describes and provides origins for festivals from January to June at the time of Augustus.


In ancient Roman religion, a sacellum is a small shrine. The word is a diminutive from sacer ("belonging to a god"). The numerous sacella of ancient Rome included both shrines maintained on private properties by families, and public shrines. A sacellum might be square or round.Varro and Verrius Flaccus describe sacella in ways that at first seem contradictory, the former defining a sacellum in its entirety as equivalent to a cella, which is specifically an enclosed space, and the latter insisting that a sacellum had no roof. "Enclosure," however, is the shared characteristic, roofed over or not. "The sacellum," notes Jörg Rüpke, "was both less complex and less elaborately defined than a temple proper."The meaning can overlap with that of sacrarium, a place where sacred objects (sacra) were stored or deposited for safekeeping. The sacella of the Argei, for instance, are also called sacraria. In private houses, the sacrarium was the part of the house where the images of the Penates were kept; the lararium was a form of sacrarium for the Lares. Both sacellum and sacrarium passed into Christian usage.

Other Latin words for temple or shrine are aedes, aedicula, fanum, delubrum and templum, though this last word encompasses the whole religiously sanctioned precinct.

Saturn (mythology)

Saturn (Latin: Saturnus pronounced [saˈtʊr.nʊs]) is a god in ancient Roman religion, and a character in myth as a god of generation, dissolution, plenty, wealth, agriculture, periodic renewal and liberation. In later developments, he also came to be a god of time. His reign was depicted as a Golden Age of plenty and peace. The Temple of Saturn in the Roman Forum housed the state treasury. In December, he was celebrated at what is perhaps the most famous of the Roman festivals, the Saturnalia, a time of feasting, role reversals, free speech, gift-giving and revelry. Saturn the planet and Saturday are both named after the god.

Sigillaria (ancient Rome)

In ancient Roman culture, sigillaria were pottery or wax figurines given as traditional gifts during the Saturnalia. Sigillaria as a proper noun was also the name for the last day of the Saturnalia, December 23, and for a place where sigillaria were sold. A sigillarius was a person who made and sold sigillaria, perhaps as an offshoot of pottery manufacture.


In ancient Roman religion, Strenua or Strenia was a goddess of the new year, purification, and wellbeing. She had a shrine (sacellum) and grove (lucus) at the top of the Via Sacra. Varro said she was a Sabine goddess. W.H. Roscher includes her among the indigitamenta, the lists of Roman deities maintained by priests to assure that the correct divinity was invoked in public rituals. The procession of the Argei began at her shrine.On January 1, twigs from Strenua's grove were carried in a procession to the citadel (arx). The rite is first noted as occurring on New Year's Day in 153 BC, the year when consuls first began assuming their office at the beginning of the year. It is unclear whether it had always been held on that date or had been transferred that year from another place on the calendar, perhaps the original New Year's Day on March 1.The name Strenia was said to be the origin of the word strenae (preserved in French étrennes and Italian strenne), the new-year gifts Romans exchanged as good omens in an extension of the public rite:

From almost the beginning of Mars' city the custom of New Year's gifts (strenae) prevailed on account of the precedent of king Tatius who was the first to reckon the holy branches (verbenae) of a fertile tree (arbor felix) in Strenia's grove as the auspicious signs of the new year."

During the Principate, these strenae often took the form of money.Johannes Lydus says that strenae was a Sabine word for wellbeing or welfare (hygieia, Latin salus). The supposed Sabine etymology may or may not be factual, but expresses the Sabine ethnicity of Tatius. St. Augustine says that Strenia was the goddess who made a person strenuus, "vigorous, strong."According to some scholars the Befana tradition is derived by the Strenua cult. In the book Vestiges of Ancient Manners and Customs, Discoverable in Modern Italy and Sicily by Rev. John J. Blunt (John Murray, 1823), the author says:

"This Befana appears to be heir at law of a certain heathen goddess called Strenia, who presided over the new-year's gifts, 'Strenae,' from which, indeed, she derived her name. Her presents were of the same description as those of the Befana—figs, dates, and honey. Moreover her solemnities were vigorously opposed by the early Christians on account of their noisy, riotous, and licentious character".

Tiberinus (god)

Tiberinus is a figure in Roman mythology. He was the god of the Tiber river. He was added to the 3,000 rivers (sons of Oceanus and Tethys), as the genius of the river Tiber.

Vestal Virgin

In ancient Rome, the Vestals or Vestal Virgins (Latin: Vestālēs, singular Vestālis [wɛsˈtaːlɪs]) were priestesses of Vesta, goddess of the hearth. The College of the Vestals and its well-being were regarded as fundamental to the continuance and security of Rome. They cultivated the sacred fire that was not allowed to go out. The Vestals were freed of the usual social obligations to marry and bear children and took a 30-year vow of chastity in order to devote themselves to the study and correct observance of state rituals that were forbidden to the colleges of male priests.

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