This claim seems to be widely made online. But is it true? Does anyone know, and how do we know?
One of the authors mentioned in yesterday’s post about evidence for the winter festival of the Brumalia was Choricius of Gaza. Apparently he records the magnificent celebration of this festival in the first consulship of the emperor Justinian. If you’re like me, this is an author about whom you know very little. He seems to be an author of the 6th century, whose declamations have come down to us, at least in part.
Unfortunately the 1929 edition by Richard Förster and Eberhard Richtsteig, Choricii Gazaei opera, does not seem to be online. The Wikipedia article lists an English translation by Robert J. Penella, made in this very year, but of course none of us plebs have access to that.
I would like to pin down the portion that deals with the brumalia, and quote it. There is an 1846 edition online here. Unfortunately the only reference to the brumalia is in a footnote on p.305.
The introduction to the Penella volume appears here on this site, discussing the “twelve declamations” and gives the following reference:
…on the occasion of Justinian’s Brumalia, the sophist [Choricius] compares the emperor to Zeus, but makes no reference to his Christianity (Dialex. 7 [XIII]).
The excerpt on the site gives a very clear idea that Penella’s volume is a good solid piece of work, which I wish I had access to.
Moving on, the 10th century lexicon the Suda is online. The entry (beta, 556) for “Brumalia” reads:
This was devised by Romus, since he and his brother Remus, having been born as a result of fornication, were exposed and reared by a woman. It was [considered] disgraceful among the Romans to eat someone else’s food. At drinking parties each guest would bring his own food and drink in order not to gain the reputation of being feeders-off-others. On account of this Romus invented the Brumalia, having declared that it was necessary for the king to feed his senate in the winter, when they enjoyed respite from war, starting with the alpha up to the omega, and he ordered the senate likewise to invite the soldiers. And when the soldiers were ready to leave, they used to play pipes starting in the evening so they would know where they would find their meal. And Romus devised this in atonement for his own outrage, giving the meal the name “Brumalium”, which is ‘to feed off another’s goods’ in the Roman language.
This gives no indication of when the brumalia was held beyond “winter”.
- Roberta Mazza, “Choricius of Gaza Oration XIII: Religion and State in the Age of Justinian”, in: E. Digeser, R.M. Frakes, J. Stephens (eds.), The Rhetoric of Power in Late Antiquity: Religion and Politics in Byzantium, Europe and the early Islamic World, Tauris Academic Studies: London-New York 2010, 172-93.↩