About to die? “I’d rather not know”

I have attended no death-beds, nor am I familiar with mortal illness, so this post might seem a little impertinent.  But I get the impression that the dying are frequently deceived as to the seriousness of their condition; that the nurses and the doctors and the relatives all shy away from telling a dying man that he has little time left.  Many go into the night unawares, perhaps.

By contrast I believe that it was the custom longer ago for a dying man’s relatives to summon the priest or minister, so that the man might prepare himself for death.

Why do modern people hide from the dying that they must soon perish?

I wonder whether, quite simply, it is that these modern people have no belief in any life after death?  That both the patient and the staff share a certainty that there is nothing beyond your last breath? 

For if so, if the dying are without hope, the conduct described makes sense.  The knowledge that you are dying is, I believe, distressing.  The last moments on earth may be eased by empty words and promises of recovery.  And so this is what happens.  In this way the medical staff perform what we might call a ritual, predicated on their religious belief that there is no resurrection, no judgement, no hope of eternal life in bliss, no fear of damnation.  We may legitimately use the terminology “religious belief”, for what else are these but the very centre of most religion?

If, on the other hand, we believe that the dying may well have a future, that they need to prepare to meet their maker, to face judgement, and so forth, then it likewise makes sense to advise the doomed one that he must prepare for that journey.  He must repent of his sins and prepare his soul for a journey known but never experienced.  Here again the relatives and doctors perform a religious service, in prompting the patient and sending for those whose advice may make much difference in what is to follow very shortly.

In short the customs of our own day reflect the religion of our age.  If we do not share that religion, we would be well advised to ensure that we are better served when our time comes.

It is common for us to talk as if people do not act upon the beliefs by which they live.  But in fact people really do act upon their beliefs.  They may not always be conscious of their presuppositions, but an unconscious choice is a choice all the same.


From my diary

I spent some time this evening writing a page on the Mithraeum discovered at Lugo (ancient “Lucus Augusti” in Spain) in 2003.  Found a few images online, mostly of the dig, but also of a rather splendid granite altar, about 3 feet tall.

It was slightly frustrated to discover that the publication of the find is in the “Journal of Roman Archaeology”, which is not in JSTOR and kindly offers to sell you access at $1 per page for a PDF.  It’s a bit depressing to see that sort of greediness still lingering — as if the taxpayer had not already funded every bit of content in the journal, and funded every single subscription ever bought. 

A corrrespondent has encouraged me to go and see some of the Mithraea.  When the weather improves, perhaps I will.  It might be a nice focus for some little day-trips.


Manuscript images at the British Library are “public domain”?

There is an interesting post at the British Library manuscripts blog, Images in the public domain.

Just a reminder that images from our Catalogue of Illuminated Manuscripts are now available under a Public Domain mark. This means that they are available for download and reuse, on condition that certain basic principles are observed: (1) please respect the creators; (2) please credit the source of the material; (3) please share knowledge where possible; (4) please consider the efforts of the British Library in preserving and making such works available, should they be used for commercial or other for-profit purposes.

Now that is extremely interesting.  It is also very laudable — well done!  That is precisely what should be the case.

This seems to apply only to the Catalogue of Illuminated Manuscripts material, tho.  That stuff is, really, not of much interest to me, as I am interested in texts.  But it is the sort of material that might have possible commercial value, and this makes the generous gesture all the more laudable.  On the link to the “public domain mark” are the following requests for those so using the material:

  • Please respect the creators – ensure traditional cultural expressions and all ethical concerns in the use of the material are considered, and any information relating to the creator is clear and accurate. Please note, any adaptations made to an item should not be attributed to the original creator and should not be derogatory to the originating cultures or communities.
  • Please credit the source of the material – providing a link back to the image on the British Library’s website will encourage others to explore and use the collections.
  • Please share knowledge where possible – please annotate, tag and share derivative works with others as well as the Library wherever possible.
  • Support the Public Domain – users of public domain works are asked to support the efforts of the Library to care for, preserve, digitise and make public domain works available. This support could include monetary contributions or work in kind, particularly when the work is being used for commercial or other for-profit purposes.
  • Please preserve all public domain marks and notices attached to the works – this will notify other users that the images are free from copyright restrictions and encourage greater use of the collection.

I think that is more than fair.  In particular supporting the public domain is precisely what this blog exists to do.  Again … well done!

This is the sort of thing that every national collection should be doing.  By making images available in a way that promotes reuse and the creation of derivative works, they enrich the culture of today.


From my diary

Last night I spent hunched over a hot scanner, transforming a text book from paper into a PDF.  My first reason for doing so is that it is simply more accessible in that format.  The library charges $8 to borrow it, and lends it to me for a fortnight.  That isn’t long enough to do more than look briefly at it.  The other reason, simply, is that in PDF form it is searchable and far more useful.  It also doesn’t occupy floor-space in these ridiculously small modern houses.  It was 400 pages, so it took a while.

While so doing, I continued to read about the fetiales priests, and their spokesman, the pater patratus.  It’s really very clear that the priests existed to ensure that, when Rome went to war, the gods were onside, or at least not on the side of the other guy.  So these chaps did the rituals that were necessary, delivered warnings and threats, and generally acted as backup-men for the senate.  Divine retribution was something that, in the Roman mind, should always happen to the other guy.  They took the possibility seriously, and acted to prevent it.  The priests were, in other words, a state responsibility.  Each of the early Latin cities did the same and had the same kinds of people, under the same names even.  Even in the time of Claudius, a representative of Lanuvium, concluding a treaty with Rome, held the same title when he performed the role and is recorded under it.  Nothing suggests that it was a permanent post; nor, really, that it was not.  But there were 20 fetiales, a delegation consisted of 4; and presumably, therefore, they chose one of their number to do the role for that trip.  It would be pretty unlikely that one poor chap had to go on every embassy, which is the other alternative.

So where does this leave us, when we find a follower of Mithras with that title?  Does it relate to the cult in any way?  Or is it merely a role that he held for other reasons, and so is mentioned on his inscription?

We shall consider it.

Meanwhile another project of mine is going forward.  Eusebius’ Commentary on Luke is being translated for the first time.  The first two columns from the Patrologia Graeca edition hit my inbox today.  The work may or may not be Eusebian, but it is certainly interesting!


The fetiales in Nonius Marcellus

The Pater Patratus was the title of one of the priests known as fetiales, whose duties concerned treaties with other cities.[1]  Nonius Marcellus quotes a passage from Varro, De vita populi Romana, book 3, concerning the fetiales.[2]

FAETIALES apud veteres Romanos erant, qui sancto legatorum officio ab his, qui adversum populum Romanum vi aut rapinis aut injuriis hostili mente conmoverant, pignera facto foedere iure repetebant; nec bella indicebantur, quae tamen pia vocabant, priusquam quid fuisset faetialibus denuntiatum.  Varro de Vita Populi Romani lib. II.: ‘itaque bella et tarde et magna diligentia suscipiebant, quod bellum nullum nisi pium putabant geri oportere: priusquam indicerent bellum is, a quibus injurias factas sciebant, faetiales legatos res repetitum mittebant quattuor, quos oratores vocabant.’ — idem lib. III: ‘si cuius legati violati essent, qui id fecissent, quamvis nobiles essent, uti dederentur civitati statuerunt; fetialesque viginti, qui de his rebus cognoscerent, iudicarent et statuerent et constituerent.’


The FETIALS were those among the ancient Romans who, being in the holy office of envoys, demanded, from those who had started a war against the Roman people by force or robbery or the insults of a hostile mind, once an agreement had been made, a treaty by law; nor were wars declared, which were called justified[3], before a declaration had been made by the fetials.  Varro, On the life of the Roman People, book 2: “And so wars were undertaken slowly and with great deliberation, because they thought it wrong to wage any war unless it was justified.  Before they declared war, they sent four fetiales as ambassadors to make a claim to him, by whom they knew that the injuries had been committed, and they called these ‘orators’.” — likewise book 3: “If someone else’s envoys had been outraged, those who did it, even if they were noblemen, were held (?) so that they might be handed over to the [foreign] community.  And twenty fetiales, who are learned in these matters, judged, decided and legislated.”

The Pater Patratus was selected from these four, I have read somewhere.

Again, this gives us a little more background information.

  1. [1]There is a discussion in Robert E. A. Palmer, The archaic community of the Romans, p.186.
  2. [2]Nonius, p.529 M = 850 L.  The numerals are the page or column numbers of an ancient edition, reprinted for reference in the margins of the more modern editions.  The passage may be found in vol.3 of the W. M. Lindsay Teubner edition, on p.850.
  3. [3]Lit. “pious”.

Inscriptions containing the title “Pater Patratus”

At the moment I am looking at a mysterious Roman title, the Pater Patratus, of uncertain meaning.  Yesterday I looked at the passage in Livy which gives us most information about it.  Today I decided to look at inscriptional evidence.

A search of the Clauss-Slaby database reveals only three inscriptions which use the title of “Pater Patratus”, whatever it may mean.  Here they are:

Reference: CIL 02, 02705 = CIL 02, 05728 = ERAsturias 00007 = D 04209 = CIMRM-01, 00803 = CIMRM-02, p 35 = HEp-07, 00018
Province: Hispania citerior         Place:Isla

Ponit Inv/icto deo / Au(gu)sto po/nit l<i=E>b{i}en/s Fronto / aram Invi/cto deo Au(gu)/sto Pleveiu/s ponit pr(a)e/sedente pa/trem patra/tum leone / M(ithrae)

Reference: CIL 05, 05795 = D 04224 = CIMRM-01, 00706
Province: Transpadana / Regio XI         Place:Milano / Mediolanum

D(eo) S(oli) I(nvicto) M(ithrae) / P(ublius) Acil(ius) Piso/nianus pater / patratus qui / hoc spel(a)eum / vii ignis ab/sumtum com/parata area a re / publ(ica) Mediol(anio) / pecunia sua / restituit

Reference: CIL 10, 00797 (p 967) = D 05004 (p 184) = AE 2000, +00243
Province: Latium et Campania / Regio I         Place:Pompei

Sp(urius) Turranius L(uci) f(ilius) Sp(uri) n(epos) L(uci) pron(epos) Fab(ia) / Proculus Gellianus praef(ectus) fabr(um) II praif(ectus!) curatorum alvei / Tiberis praif(ectus!) pro pr(aetore) i(ure) d(icundo) in urbe Lavinio / pater patratus populi Laurentis foederis / ex libris Sibullinis(!) percutiendi cum p(opulo) R(omano) / sacrorum principiorum p(opuli) R(omani) Quirit(ium) nominis/que Latini quai(!) apud Laurentis coluntur flam(en) / Dialis flam(en) Martial(is) salius praisul(!) augur pont(ifex) / praif(ectus!) cohort(is) Gaitul(orum!) tr(ibunus) mil(itum) leg(ionis) X / loc(us) d(atus) d(ecreto) d(ecurionum)

The first and second of these relate to Mithras, which is the reason why we are interested in the title “Pater Patratus”.  But the long inscription from Pompeii is really rather interesting also, because it shows that the title was being used in the imperial period also in something resembling its original function.

I regret that I could not find an image of the monument, or I would have placed one here.  The best I can do is this[1]:

I also learn from an online search that it — CIL X 797 — is a black statue-base, excavated in the 19th century from the Capitol at Pompeii and now in the museum in Naples.  More interesting still, it certainly dates to the reign of Claudius, as it makes use of one of the letters introduced by that eccentric emperor to represent the ‘U’ in “Lanuvium”, as we can see above; the “digamma inversum”.

Fortunately for normal mortals, a translation may be found online.  This is as follows:[2]

E11 CIL X 797 = ILS 5004, AD 47-54.

Spurius Turranius Proculus Gellianus, son of Lucius, grandson of Spurius, great-grandson of Lucius, of the Fabian tribe; staff officer twice; prefect of the curators of the Tiber channel; prefect with the powers of a praetor in charge of jurisdiction in the city of Lavinium; ‘father’ of the deputation of the Laurentine people in charge of concluding the treaty with the Roman people in accordance with the Sibylline books, which relates to the rites concerned with the origins of the Roman people, the Quirites, and of the people of the Latin name, which are observed among the Laurentines; priest of Jupiter; priest of Mars;  leading member of the Salii priesthood; augur and pontiff; prefect of the Gaetulian cohort; military tribune of the tenth  legion (dedicated this).  Space granted by decree of the town councillors.

We’re making slight progress here, I think.  This official was Pater Patratus of a delegation from Lanuvium to Rome.  He was a priest.  He was there in order to perform a religious ritual, in order to solemnize the agreement.

This is much the same role that Livy described in I, 24, which we looked at yesterday.  The pater patratus, in this period, is someone who represents a city, and performs a ritual to conclude a treaty, binding both sides by an appeal to Jupiter to punish the treaty-breaker.

Nothing in all this implies that pater patratus is a permanent office, nor that it is a position of authority.  It’s rather as if the delegation select one of their number to perform the priestly side of the job.  In this context we would see “patratus” as “completed”, the priest responsible for completing the ceremony.

I think we need to look at Nonius Marcellus, who quotes something from Varro about this role.  But these details may help us to understand the first two inscriptions, where someone involved in the mysteries of Mithras is given this title.

  1. [1]Sir John Sandys,  in A Companion to Latin Studies, Cambridge University Press, No date visible, p.738.
  2. [2]M.G.L. Cooley, Alison E. Cooley, “Pompeii and Herculaneum: A Sourcebook”, p.88.

The office of “Pater patratus” in Roman religion

Yesterday I noted that the title pater patratus appears in some inscriptions connected with the cult of Mithras.  All these inscriptions fall between 100-400 A.D.  But the title is an ancient one, and we read of it as the title of the spokesman of a group of priests who acted rather like medieval heralds, but could also perform a ritual solemnizing an agreement with foreigners.

Our first witness is no less than Livy, who in book 1, chapter 24, records the appointment of such an official to superintend a treaty between Alba Longa and Rome in the semi-mythical days of Tullus Hostilius.  I have modernised the translation from Perseus, which may be found here.

The fetial asked King Tullus, “Do you command me, O King, to make a treaty with the pater patratus of the Alban People?” Being so commanded by the king, he said, “I demand of you, O King, the sacred herb.” The king replied, “You shall take it untainted.” The fetial brought from the citadel an untainted plant. After this he asked the king, “Do thou grant me, O King, with my emblems and my companions, the royal sanction, to speak for the Roman People of the Quirites?” The king made answer, “So far as may be without prejudice to myself and the Roman People of the Quirites, I grant it.”

The fetial was Marcus Valerius; he made Spurius Fusius pater patratus, touching his head and hair with the sacred sprig.

The pater patratus is appointed to pronounce the oath, that is, to solemnize the pact; and this he accomplishes with many words, expressed in a long metrical formula which it is not worth while to quote.

The conditions being then recited, he cries, “Hear, Jupiter; hear, pater patratus of the Alban People: hear ye, People of Alba: From these terms, as they have been publicly rehearsed from beginning to end, without fraud, from these tablets, or this wax, and as they have been this day clearly understood, the Roman People will not be the first to depart. If it shall first depart from them, by general consent, with malice aforethought, then on that day do you, great Diespiter, so smite the Roman People as I shall here to-day smite this pig: and so much the harder smite them as your power and thy strength are greater.”

When Spurius had said these words, he struck the pig with a flint. In like manner the Albans pronounced their own forms and their own oath, by the mouth of their own dictator and priests.

The Latin of the portion in bold is as follows:

Pater patratus ad ius iurandum patrandum; id est, sanciendum fit foedus; multisque id verbis, quae longo effata carmine non operae est referre, peragit.

“ius iurandum” is an oath; “patrandum” is “requiring to complete, accomplish”; “sanciendum” solemnize, “foedus” a treaty.  This seems to me, as a man with limited Latin, to say that “A pater patratus is made to complete an oath; i.e. to solemnize a treaty;”.  “Pater Patratus”, then, means only the “Completion Priest”, and his role was as the spokesman or executive officer of the priests sent on behalf of the Roman people.  It is clear, from the mention of a similar official among the Albans, that the concept was a Latin one, rather than a purely Roman idea.

A passage from Varro preserved in Nonius Marcellus gives us a little more about this college of priests, known as fetiales, to whom the Pater Patratus belonged.  Sadly I cannot find a text or translation of this anywhere.[1]

Servius, in his Commentary on the Aeneid IX, 53, and XII, 120, discusses the role.[2]  In the first he calls the Pater Patratus “princeps Fecialium”, the leader of the fetiales.[3]  In the second, however, he makes no real distinction between the Pater Patratus and the other herald-priests.[4]

More details on the office may be found in William Smith’s Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities (1890), online here: “It appears that when an injury had been sustained, four fetiales (Varr. ap. Non.) were deputed to seek redress, who again elected one of their number to act as their representative. This individual was styled the pater patratus populi Romani.”  The article adds:  “It is an error to suppose that the pater patratus was the permanent head of the college: Mommsen, “Römisches Staatsrecht“, 1877, 2 2. 670.”  But this last article I have been unable to locate online.

Clearly a collection of all the sources would be a useful thing to do.  Here, of course, I have only scratched the surface. Likewise the philological question of the meaning of “patratus” is one that a specialist could address.  Unfortunately all the material available immediately online is very elderly.[5]

  1. [1]Some selected extracts may be found in this 1694 volume by Graevius, here:
  2. [2]I find this material here, in Hugo Grotius, The rights of war and peace, book III, where the Pater Patratus is rendered “King at Arms”, as the chief herald.  Perhaps the roles of heralds and fetiales had something in common.
  3. [3]Quum enim volebant bellum indicere, Paterpatratus, hocest, princeps Fecialium, proficiscebatur ad hostium fines, & praefatus quaedam solennia, clara voce dicebat, se bellum indicere propter certas causas: Aut quia Socios laeserant, aut quia nec abrepta animalia, nec obnoxios, redderent. Et haec Clarigatio dicebatur a claritate vocis.
  4. [4]Atqui Feciales & Pater patratus, per quos bella vel Foedera confirmabantur, numquam utebantur vestibus lineis—Qua [verbena] coronabantur Feciales & Paterpatratus foedera facturi, vel bella indicturi.
  5. [5]There is some material in T. Hewett Key, “On the derivation and meaning of certain Latin words”, in: Proceedings of the Philological Society, vol. 5, 1854, p.89-96: “The verb patrare, if we have sufficient faith in etymology to deduce its meaning from its form, ought to signify ‘ to create a father,’ just as albare is ‘ to make white.’ But as this translation implies an inversion of the laws of nature, in its strict sense it is inadmissible. … When the state had occasion to declare war, or to make a peace abroad, the rule, as is well known, was to commission four members of the Fetial college to act in the name of the state, and one of these was placed at the head of the commission under the title of pater patratus. This phrase, by its very construction, tells us that patrare was a transitive verb, and primarily signified, as we said above, to appoint a person as father. Thus Lunemann is wrong in giving to patrare as its first meaning, “Vater seyn, den Vater spielen.” The latter of these two phrases, ‘to play the father,’ i. e. ‘act as father,’ should strictly have been denoted by a reflective verb patrari, in agreement with medicari, ancillari, graecari, bacchari; but we are ready to admit that verbs of this class often in a subsequent stage dropped the reflective form. Thus eventually patrare came to signify to act as a pater patratus, and this even with the construction of an accusative. Hence patrare jusjurandum, in Liv. i. 24, is to take an oath, as pater patratus to abide by a treaty. From this, by an easy metaphor, the verb came into use in the sense of performing the final part in any grave act, where the agent was no longer the pater patratus; for example, p. pacem, Liv. xliv. 25, “to conclude a peace ;” p. bellum, Sal. Jug. 78, Vell. ii. 79 and 123; Tac. Ann. ii. 26, “to put the finishing stroke to a war.” So far we have the verb in connection with the very notions for which it was at first employed; but its final use was much wider, and extended to any deeds, whether good or bad, if of a serious nature. It is perfectly in accordance with this view that we find patrante ocello, ‘with a solemn eye,’ applied to an affected reciter of a grande aliquid quod pulmo animaepraelargus anhelet. Why the German editor Plum should attribute to this verb patranti, as here used by Persius, ‘sensus venereus,’ we do not see; nor indeed what authority Lunemann had for translating the verb in this passage by ‘throwing a fatherly or affectionate look upon a person’ (vaterliche oder liebevolle Blicke auf jemand werfen). But in truth Lunemann seems, throughout his article on patro, to have gone astray. His second head is: ‘by such (fatherly) look to obtain anything from a person; hence to carry through, fulfil, bring to pass’ (durch solche Blicke etwas von jemand erlangen; daher durchsetzen, vollbringen, zuStande bringen), ‘promissa Cic.,  pacem Liv. &c.’; and only at the end of the article does he arrive at the word as applied to the office of the pater patratus. Surely from such an inversion of the meanings he might have been diverted by the mere consideration that there is anything but a connection between a father’s coaxing eye as telling upon a child, and the solemn duties of a state ambassador; and after all, his sole authority for the ‘vaterliche Blicke’ is his mistranslation of Persius’s patranti ocello. It should be observed too, that he quietly carries over the notion of this ocello into the other passages where there is no trace of such an idea.”

A Mithraic Pope? The “Pater Patrum” or “Father of Fathers”

Among the nonsense that circulates on the web is an interesting claim, which may be found in the old online Catholic Encyclopedia,[1] and spread into atheist literature via the medium of Joseph Wheless’ Forgery in Christianity.[2].  It is perhaps most accessible today by means of the Christ Conspiracy by a certain Acharya S., a poor woman who has seemingly managed to read uncritically incredible amounts of unreliable books, without acquiring any critical sense in the process.[3].  The various corrupt versions of the Catholic Encyclopedia material will doubtless be professionally interesting to the textual critic, who may see therein the process of transmission by careless scribes beautifully exampled.

The CE states:

The fathers conducted the worship. The chief of the fathers, a sort of pope, who always lived at Rome, was called “Pater Patrum” or “Pater Patratus.”

We may reasonably ask what the source for this claim is.  Inevitably we find that it is Franz Cumont’s Textes et Monuments, vol. 1.  On p.317-8 this states:

Finally, at the top of the hierarchy were the Fathers, who appear to have presided over the sacred ceremonies (pater sacrorum). The chief of them bore the title of Pater Patrum [1], sometimes transformed into Pater patratus [2] in order to introduce an official sacerdotal title into a sect which was Roman by naturalisation.  These Grand Masters of the adepts retained until their death the general control of the cult.[3]

1. Pater patrum, cf. t. II, 535, col. 2.  One became pater patrum after being an ordinary pater, cf. inscr. 14, 15 and note, and also 13 and note. — the Marcellinus leo of inscription 45 is perhaps the same person as the Domitius Marcellinus of inscr. 31. — the title of pater nomimus (inscr. 166 and note) seems to be an ordinary Father, as opposed to the Pater Patrum.

2. Pater patratus, inscr. 190; cf. however 514: Pater patratum leonem, which I cannot explain.  Patratus cannot be considered as a collective, despite the expression ob honorem sacri matratus  of inscription 574 b.

3. Inscr. 13 and note, 15 and note.

This material is what lies behind the statements in the C.E., which thus merely serve to popularise.  (The title pater patratus is an ancient one which appears in Livy[4] for a fetial priest with powers to make a religious oath on behalf of the Roman people to conclude treaties, so perhaps might be translated as executive father).[5] 

The material given is unsatisfactory as evidence for the large claims made.  Page 535 is merely the index to all mentions of the term, 14 of them.  Inscription 13 relates to CIL VI 754, set up between 357-362 A.D. by Nonius Victor Olympius, which does not seem to refer to him as a simple pater. Inscr. 14 and 15 are the monuments of Vettius Agorius Praetextatus from 387 A.D.  The latter monuments certainly do not support Cumont’s claim that a Pater Patrum was first a Pater (however probable this would otherwise seem to be).  Neither state, as Cumont does, that the role consisted of a general direction of the cult as a whole.  Inscr. 190 is CIMRM 706, in Milan, where P. Acilius Pisonianus is labelled pater patratus, dedicates a Mithraeum with funds from the municipality of Milan after a fire.  But there is no indication that this title is the same as pater patrum.  Inscr. 514 is a 3rd century inscription in Spain (CIMRM 803), where presidente patrem patratum leonem, is the perfect Father of the Lions presiding.

As so often with Cumont, the evidence simply does not support the claims made in the text.  Wild imagination extrapolates what might be true from the rather less exciting raw data.  None of this material takes us further forward. 

We can speculate ourselves.  The Pater Leonem is, quite possibly, simply a pater with supervisory responsibility for the initiates of the grade of leo or Lion.  By analogy, a Pater Patrum would simply be the senior pater in a Mithraeum.  Given the military links of the cult, that a single individual would lead each grade, and perhaps the Mithraeum as a whole, seems inevitable, just as the centurions were led by a primus pilus in the legion.  This all fits the data admirably, and gives rise to none of the exciting claims of a “Mithraic Pope”.  Do we need to suppose the existence of such a figure?  Even if we refer to a “High Priest of Mithras”, which might have existed … do we need to suppose that there was one?  What evidence requires it?  Or should we, perhaps, see in the pater patrum the equivalent of the Christian bishop, responsible for the temples in a city?  We could; but what evidence requires this?

When we know nothing, it is really, really important not to speculate.  The data we have indicates very little.

A useful 1982 article by Peter Herz in ZPE [6] lists all the monuments that refer to a Pater Patrum.  There are fifteen of these in all.  Eleven of these are from Rome.  The majority are late Roman noblemen. 

It is, in truth, a thin collection of data.  I hope to review it all at some subsequent point.

  1. [1]Here.
  2. [2]The passage in Wheless may be found here, apparently on p.37, who states that the CE material is on p.403-4.  It reads: “The fathers conducted the worship. The chief of the fathers, a sort of pope,who always lived at Rome, was called ‘Pater Patratus’ … The members below the grade of pater called one another ‘brother,’ and social distinctions were forgotten in Mithraic unity…”
  3. [3]Achrya S, The Christ Conspiracy, p.120: ‘Of Mithraism the Catholic Encyclopedia states, as related by Wheless, “The fathers conducted the worship. The chief of the fathers, a sort of pope, who always lived at Rome, was called ‘Pater Patratus.’” The Mithraic pope was also known as Papa and Pontimus Maximus.’
  4. [4]Book 1, chapter 24. Here.
  5. [5]More details on the ancient “Pater patratus”, a member of the college of priests known as fetiales, may be found in William Smith’s Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities (1890), online here: “It appears that when an injury had been sustained, four fetiales (Varr. ap. Non.) were deputed to seek redress, who again elected one of their number to act as their representative. This individual was styled the pater patratus populi Romani. (It is an error to suppose that the pater patratus was the permanent head of the college: Mommsen, Staatsr.2 2.670. “
  6. [6]Peter Herz, Agrestius v(ir) c(larissimus), Zeitschrift für Papyrologie und Epigraphik, Bd. 49 (1982), pp. 221-224. JSTOR.

The monument of Vettius Agorius Praetextatus

CIL VI, 1779 is a statue base.  Blessedly, a photograph is online at BBAW here, which I borrow (right), together with a transcription and a German translation.  I believe the monument may now be in the Capitoline museum in Rome.[1]

The statue which stood atop it has, alas, long since vanished, but on the base is a long inscription set up by the widow of the man in question, one Vettius Agorius Praetextatus, the leader of the “pagan reaction” in the late 4th century, which went down before S. Ambrose and the emperor Theodosius I.  He died in 384 A.D.

The inscription is as follows:

D(is) M(anibus) / Vettius Agorius Praetextatus / augur p[o]ntifex Vestae / pontifex Sol[is] quindecemvir / curialis Herc[u]lis sacratus / Libero et Eleusiniis hierophanta / neocorus tauroboliatus / pater patrum in [r]e publica vero / quaestor candidatus / pr(a)etor urbanus / corrector Tusciae et Umbriae / consularis Lusitaniae / proconsule Achaiae / praefectus urbi / legatus a senatu missus V / praefectus praetorio II Italiae / et Illyrici / consul ordinarius / designatus / et Aconia Fabia Paulina c(larissima) f(emina) / sacrata Cereri et Eleusiniis / sacrata apud (A)eginam Hecatae / tauroboliata hierophantria / hi coniuncti simul vixerunt ann(os) XL // Vettius Agorius Praetextatus / Paulinae coniugi / Paulina veri et castitatis conscia / dicata templis atq(ue) amica numinum / sibi maritum praeferens Romam viro / pudens fidelis pura mente et corpore / benigna cunctis utilis penatibus / cae[le]s[tium iam sede semper mec]u[m e]ri[s // Vettius Agorius Praetextatus / Paulinae coniugi / Paulina nostri pectoris consortio / fomes pudoris castitatis vinculum / amorque purus et fides caelo sata / arcana mentis cui reclusa credidi / munus deorum qui maritalem torum / nectunt amicis et pudicis nexibus / pietate matris coniugali gratia / nexu sororis filiae modestia / et quanta amicis iungimur fiducia / aetatis usu consecrandi foedere / iugi fideli simplici concordia / iuvans maritum diligens ornans / colens // [Sple]ndor parentum nil mihi maius dedit / [quam] quod marito digna iam tum visa sum / [se]d lumen omne vel decus nomen viri / Agori superbo qui creatus germine / patriam senatum coniugemq(ue) inluminas / probitate mentis moribus studiis simul / virtutis apicem quis supremum nanctus es / tu namque quidquid lingua utraq(ue) est proditum / cura soforum porta quis caeli patet / vel quae periti condidere carmina / vel quae solutis vocibus sunt edita / meliora reddis quam legendo sumpseras / sed ista parva tu pius m<y=OVE>stes sacris / teletis reperta mentis arcano premis / divumque numen multiplex doctus colis / sociam benigne coniuge nectens sacris / hominum deumque consciam ac fidam tibi / quid nunc honores aut potestates loquar / hominumque votis adpetita gaudia / quae tu caduca ac parva semper autumans / divum sacerdos infulis celsus clues / tu me marite disciplinarum bono / puram ac pudicam sorte mortis eximens / in templa ducis ac famulam divis dicas / te teste cunctis imbuor mysteriis / tu Dindymenes Atteosqu<e=I> antistitem / teletis honoras taureis consors pius / Hecates ministram trina secreta edoces / Cererisque Graiae tu sacris dignam paras / te propter omnis me beatam me piam / celebrant quod ipse bonam disseminas / totum per orbem ignota noscor omnibus / nam te marito cur placere non queam / exemplum de me Romulae matres petunt / subolemque pulchram si tuae similis putant / optant probantque nunc viri nunc feminae / quae tu magister indidisti insignia / his nunc ademptis maesta coniunx maceror / felix maritum si superstitem mihi / divi dedissent sed tamen felix tua / quia sum fuique postque mortem mox ero

Much of this is an epitaph by the wife, Paulina, and an English translation of it may be found here.  But the list of offices held is also very interesting:

To the shades of Vettius Agorius Praetextatus, augur, priest of Vesta, priest of Sol, member of the Board of Fifteen, initiate of the senate of Hercules, hierophant of Liber and the Elusinian mysteries, neocorus (?), tauroboliate (i.e. had undergone the taurobolium in the cult of Cybele), pater patrum; and in the state: candidate for Quaestor, Urban Praetor, Corrector of Tuscany and Umbria,  a consular of Lusitania, proconsul of Achaia, Urban Prefect, senatorial legate 5 times, Praetorian Prefect of Italy and Illyria twice, consul-ordinary-designate; and Aconia Fabia Paulina, noble woman, initiate of Ceres and the Eleusinian mysteries, initiate of Hecate at Aegina, tauroboliate hierophant …

The mention of “pater patrum” reminds us of the cult of Mithras, where 15 inscriptions attest to a person of high rank, usually in Rome, with that title. 

But when I first read this, I wondered whether it should be connected instead to the list of secular offices.  Unlike any other priesthood, the name of the god is not mentioned.  Could we simply read as “truly the Father of the Fathers in the state”, with the old meaning of patres as the Fathers, the senators, in much the way that Lord Macaulay gives it:

For Romans in Rome’s quarrel spared neither land nor gold,
Nor son nor wife, nor limb nor life, in the brave days of old.
Then none was for a party; then all were for the state;
Then the great man helped the poor, and the poor man loved the great.
Then lands were fairly portioned; then spoils were fairly sold:
The Romans were like brothers in the brave days of old.
Now Roman is to Roman more hateful than a foe,
And the Tribunes beard the high, and the Fathers grind the low.
As we wax hot in faction, in battle we wax cold:
Wherefore men fight not as they fought in the brave days of old.

But it seems to be generally read as a reference to the Mithraic office.

Praetextatus was a great man in his day, a Roman aristocrat at the end of the 4th century, watching the world change in unthinkable ways and trying, in his own way, to resist.  Within a handful of years of his death, the barbarians would ride in triumph through Rome itself.  How curious that his monument should survive, 16 centuries later, as a window into a Rome that was vanishing as it was carved.

  1. [1]See the website here.  This gives an inventory no, inv. MC0208, and tells us the item is 125 cm high.

John the Lydian, On the Roman Months — “February” now online

I am delighted to say that another section of John the Lydian, De Mensibus, book 4, has now made it into English!  This is the portion that deals with Roman calendar events in February.  As always, I make this public domain.  Do whatever you like with it, personal, educational or commercial.

It’s really rather an interesting section this.  Who would have thought that it contained medical details?!

The translator has also agreed to have a go at the section on April, so we have more goodies to look forward to!