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