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.”