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Roman religio as a Framework at Tacitus’ Histories 4.83–84

Benjamin W. Hicks
Published Online: 2013-05-03 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/jah-2013-0005


Tacitus offers an account of the movement of the god Sarapis from the city of Sinope to Alexandria at Histories 4.83–84 as part of an extended discussion of the god’s origins. His account engages with the Roman theology of tutelary deities and their movement, following a pattern seen in other Latin authors. This narrative framework is particularly notable in comparison to Plutarch’s account of the same event (De Is. et Os. 361F). Plutarch consistently downplays the role of the divine in the event and casts the retrieval of Sarapis’ cult statue as a matter of court politics, whereas Tacitus makes the movement of the statue a public affair, involving two bodies politic in the tradition of the Mater Magna’s cippus and the evocatio. This historiographic choice points to a distinctly Latin tradition regarding Roman religio and the movement of tutelary deities.

Keywords: Sarapis,; religio,; evocatio,; Mater Magna,; Latin historiography

Tacitus’ account of how the god Sarapis entered Ptolemaic Egypt (Hist. 4.83–84) has largely escaped close examination in terms of its connection to Roman religious thought.1 In it, however, he articulates an understanding of the relationship between tutelary deities and the cities they protect that reflects a theological mindset distinctly rooted in Roman religio.2 The other extant account, that of Plutarch, does not employ the same assumptions about the divine as does Tacitus. This contrast helps to highlight a particular difference in interpretation linked to theological underpinnings. While Plutarch clearly has his own literary and theological agenda in his depiction of how Sarapis came to be in Alexandria, his account nevertheless helps highlight some of Tacitus’ salient assumptions about the divine. In comparing the two, the ways in which Tacitus shapes his account to fit the religious assumptions of the Roman elite are clearly evident.

Tacitus describes the relocation in his Histories as part of a discussion of Sarapis’ origins and the miraculous acts that Vespasian later performed in the deity’s name during the year 70 CE (Hist. 4.81–84). In this account, a divinity in the form of a young man of exceedingly great beauty comes to King Ptolemy, urges him to seek out his statue, and promises great wealth and power to the city where the statue resides, an attribute that identifies it as some sort of tutelary deity.3 At this point a courtier by the name of Timotheus learns from unnamed travelers that the statue in question is located in Sinope at the temple of Iuppiter Dis—a deity whom the advisors of the Ptolemaic court associate with Sarapis. After the king becomes distracted with other state affairs the visions come again more dreadfully. He sends his agents out to consult Delphi, and after they receive favorable omens, they arrive at Sinope.

Upon their arrival, however, the ambassadors run into significant difficulties that are only resolved through divine intervention:

When they came to Sinope, they delivered the gifts, pleas, and demands of their king to Scydrothemis [the king of Sinope]. He was of two minds. At one moment he feared the deity, at another he was terrified by the threats and opposition of the people; often he was swayed by the gifts and promises of the ambassadors. In the meanwhile, three years passed and Ptolemy did not lessen his zeal or his entreaties: he increased the prominence of the ambassadors, the number of ships, and the weight of gold. Then a menacing vision appeared to Scydrothemis, warning him not to delay the purposes of the god any longer: varied disasters, diseases, and the manifest wrath of the gods tormented him and grew heavier day by day as he was delaying. After a meeting of the people had been called, he explained the orders of the deity, his own and Ptolemy’s visions, and the growing ills. The mob opposed the king, envied Egypt, feared for themselves—and surrounded the temple. Here a still greater tale has been handed down that the god himself boarded the ships drawn up to the shore by his own will: then they were driven miraculously, passing an immense swath of sea to Alexandria by the third day.4

Tacitus takes primary agency for events away from human intrigues and instead chooses to stress the action of the divine. The response to the removal of the statue is also rooted in the city as body politic—both king and people protest the removal of their divinity. Finally, the account clearly associates the removal of the god’s statue with the protection and prosperity of a given city.

By way of comparison, Plutarch also gives an account of how Ptolemy I Soter had the statue of Sarapis brought to Alexandria.5 It is difficult to say if he and Tacitus are working from a common source or in what manner they are responding to one another, as their dates of composition overlap significantly, as Heubner notes.6 The most likely interpretation is that the De Iside et Osiride (= Moralia 351C–384C) is the later composition, written before Plutarch died while he was a priest at Delphi, c. 120 CE, therefore post–dating the Histories by one or two decades.7 Although the primary purpose of the vignette is to discuss the common identification of Sarapis, Plutarch does not deny the authenticity of the tale he relates. The narrative appears below:

Ptolemy Soter saw in a dream the colossal statue of Pluto in Sinope, having never before known of it or seen its form. The statue ordered him to convey it swiftly to Alexandria, but he neither knew nor saw where it was located. When he spoke to his philoi about the vision, there was found a well-traveled man by the name of Sosibios, who said that he had seen just such a colossus in Sinope as the king thought he had seen. Ptolemy therefore sent Soteles and Dionysios, who with considerable time and difficulty (and not without divine providence), stole the statue and took it away. When it had been received and examined, those who gathered around Timotheos the interpreter of oracles and Manetheo of Sebennytos thought it a statue of Pluto based on the Cerberus and the snake with it, and convinced Ptolemy that it was no other god than Sarapis. It certainly did not bear this name when it arrived, but when it had come to Alexandria it gained the name Sarapis—the name among the Egyptians for Pluto.8

In terms of agency, Plutarch places the matter almost entirely within human hands. Although the act occurred “not without divine providence” (οὐκ ἄνευ μέντοι θείας προνοίας), the agents only take the statue through an act of theft (ἤγαγον ἐκκλέψαντες) “with considerable time and difficulty” (χρόνῳ πολλῷ καὶ μόλις). Plutarch therefore places this action largely within the realm of human agency, though at the behest and consent of the divine. It is also an action construed entirely within the realm of court intrigue and theft, not a matter of the body politic of Sinope. Likewise, Plutarch does not include several other tropes that Tacitus chooses to engage, including the consultation of Delphi, and the fear that grips the people.9

The features present in Tacitus—and absent or suppressed in Plutarch—point to several salient features of Roman religio as it relates to the movement of deities. Pinpointing a precise ritual on which to map Tacitus’ account is difficult, given that it does not precisely fit any Roman rite perfectly. It is more useful to look at some of the broad outlines for Roman religious practices involving the movement of gods. The trope of temples being set up for an imported divinity was a common practice of Roman religion: the Temple of Venus Erycina under Q. Fabius Maximus and the Temple of Aesculapius on the Tiber Island, for example.10 Livy’s account of Venus Erycina regrettably lacks details about whether a statue of the goddess was brought to Rome. The latter case, that of Aesculapius, has some resonances with the movement of Sarapis, although the account involves the movement of a snake representing the god, not his cult statue or the complete transfer of the cult from Epidaurus. Two closer parallels are that of the transfer of the Mater Magna’s cippus to Rome and more broadly the evocatio, the Roman rite for summoning out an enemy tutelary deity before the sack of a city.

Although the removal of the Mater Magna’s cippus seems more strongly parallel to the situation at Sinope than the evocatio, it does not follow the situation in several key particulars of Livy’s account. The tradition that the goddess only moved up the Tiber through the prayers of Claudia Quinta (Livy 29.10–11, 14) reflects a similar understanding of how a deity’s statue might reflect his or her will, but it does not parallel the interaction between two cities as bodies politic engaged in a hostile interaction.11 Rather, King Attalus chooses quite appropriately to honor the goddess’ will as expressed by Delphi and conducts the transfer willingly.12 Livy’s literary concerns here also make it difficult to use in terms of exploring Roman religious assumptions. He cares less to demonstrate the theology behind tutelary deities and more to demonstrate the assimilation of the Mater Magna to Roman practice.13

The broader tradition on the Mater Magna is more useful for the present discussion. Ovid in his Fasti recounts an alternate tradition in which Attalus initially refuses the Romans, only to be confronted by the Mater Magna herself:

I will tell the tale: the earth quaked with a long roaring, and thus spoke the goddess from her sanctuary: “I myself wish to be sought, let there be no more delay; send me willingly. Rome is a place worthy for all the gods to come.” And he [Attalus] trembling with fear at the sound, said, “Depart. You will still be ours. Rome traces back to Phrygian grandfathers.”14

This alternate telling has significant parallels to the Tacitean narrative of Sarapis’ origins. It might, indeed, have had currency as a stage play, given the arguments of Wiseman that Ovid’s reference to the mira … scaena testificata (4.326) placed in the mouth of the muse Erato refers to a contemporary drama. There is no basis to argue with certainty that Tacitus heard this conjectured play, nevertheless it does point to a broader societal view on the movement of deities.15

A better example of literary engagement with the Roman tradition of tutelary deities is found in Livy’s narrative of the evocatio of Juno Regina and subsequent sack of Veii (5.21–22). The Roman dictator Camillus acts only after the consultation of Pythian Apollo and then gives a set prayer evoking the tutelary deity of Veii. During the resulting confusion inflicted upon the defenders of Veii, the Romans emerge from a siege tunnel in the Temple of Juno. The Romans then take the goddess from the city, but not without divine omens to affirm her willingness, as Livy recounts when Roman youths entered to take the statue of Juno Regina from the temple:

For young men had been chosen from the whole army, whose bodies had been washed clean and were clothed in white. They had been assigned the task of carrying away Juno Regina to Rome. They entered the temple reverently and at first moved their hands to the statue with religious scruple, because by Etruscan practice only a priest of a particular gens had customarily touched it. When one of them, whether touched by the divine spirit or out of youthful jest had said, “Do you wish to go to Rome, Juno?” the others cried out that the goddess had nodded her assent. A tale is added to this account that her voice was heard saying she was willing. Certainly we understand that she was drawn lightly and easily from her seat with light-weight supports as if following willingly and brought undamaged to her eternal seat on the Aventine, where the prayers of the Roman dictator had called her and where afterwards the same Camillus who had vowed the temple dedicated it to her.16

Livy’s account parallels a tradition more broadly reflected in Latin literature regarding the movement of tutelary deities. Despite the traditional objections that confined the evocatio to Italy proper and only then to urbes constructed along Etruscan or Latin religious lines, the discovery of a ritual that was either an evocatio or a rite closely resembling one at Isaura Vetus dating to 75 BCE has made the existence of some conception of the rite into the late Republic a virtual certainty.17 That the memory of the evocatio or the principles behind it persisted into the imperial period is clear. Vergil has Aeneas describe the Trojans, carrying forward the horse that the Greeks have left behind as “blind” and “heedless” (immemores) while they press on into the city.18 A commentator in Servius argues that the poet self-consciously modeled the forgetfulness of the Trojans on the formula of the evocatio which urged the enemy god to “arouse fear, terror, and forgetfulness in that city and people.”19 All of this points to, at the very least, a theological tradition that had very definite attitudes about the movement of tutelary deities and how it occurred.

A close reading of Tacitus’ account of Sarapis’ removal (Hist. 4.83–84) demonstrates that it follows in this broad tradition. Here Macrobius’ formula for the evocatio of Carthage is useful for providing a rough framework from which to compare.20 It includes an invocation of the tutelary deity, a prayer that the god’s worshippers might be forgetful and struck with terror, and finally a vow of worship in Rome in return. We can see elements of this pattern in Tacitus’ account. Sarapis clearly gives his consent and is entreated by Ptolemy and his men in order for Sarapis to be worshiped in Alexandria. Ptolemy also offers his prayers (preces non omittere) to seek out the god’s statue. Tacitus words this phrase ambiguously enough to make it unclear whether preces are directed to Scydrothemis, Sarapis, or both.21 Indeed, Tacitus seems to play with this double-meaning of the word only a few chapters previous, when a blind man acting on the divine advice of Sarapis entreats Vespasian to moisten his cheeks and eyes with spittle to heal him: “He prayed (precabatur) the emperor to deign to moisten his cheeks and eyes with spittle.”22

The fear that seizes Scydrothemis and his people in 4.84 make them almost unwittingly neglectful of their god’s commands from their fear (sibi metuere), and the god moves to Alexandria of his own accord and with great ease (deum ipsum … sponte conscendisse), with the fleet moving more quickly than anticipated and arriving at Alexandria within three days—a speed that reflects a god’s positive will. The only point that does not map to this paradigm is a siege, though the length of time (triennio exacto) during which Ptolemy sought to gain the statue of Sarapis certainly suggests one as does the multi-valence of exigo, which has multiple definitions suggestive both of violence and of compulsion.23

These narrative events echo the willingness of divinities to leave as in both Livy and Ovid, and also record the element of popular fear found in Livy, Vergil, and Macrobius that the departure of a god invokes. Tacitus also uses similar phrasing during the siege of the Temple in Jerusalem: “Suddenly the doors of the sanctuary were opened and a voice greater than human was heard saying that the gods were departing.”24 Tacitus uses a similar framework in his account of Sarapis to other Latin authors in which the principles behind the movement of tutelary deities have a universal application. The anxiety that Pliny and later Roman antiquarians reported around the secret name of Rome’s tutelary deity only makes sense in such a universalizing light. If Romans could summon out a deity, then so too could their opponents.25 Of course, Tacitus’ account of the movement of Sarapis does not map precisely with the formula or situations inherent in an evocatio. Nevertheless, it captures several of the Roman assumptions about the behavior of tutelary deities in its structure.

Of course, Plutarch certainly knew of Roman religious practice and had considerable familiarity with its elements, possibly even integrating something of its framework into his account of Antony’s death with a similar mention of the god Dionysus departing Alexandria in advance of Octavian’s attack (Ant. 75.4–5).26 So we must ask why he chooses not to employ this framework in explaining Sarapis’ removal from Sinope. In his Roman Questions, he discusses Roman practices regarding tutelary deities explicitly:

Is it that, as some of the Romans have written, there are certain summonings and witchcrafts that affect the gods by which they too believe some gods have been called out from their enemies and come to dwell among them; and they fear suffering the same at the hands of others? Likewise the Tyrians are said to throw chains around the statues of gods, and others are said to demand guarantors when they send them for bathing or some purification. So the Romans thought that not to speak of and not to know a god was the surest and firmest form of safeguarding. Or is that, as Homer says, “the earth is common to all,” such that humankind should worship and honor all the gods, since they hold the land in common? Therefore the ancient Romans hid away the god who had dominion over their safety, since they wished all of the gods to be worshiped by their citizens and not just that god alone.27

Bolougne has argued that the Roman Questions were part of Plutarch’s attempt to walk a careful line between overt submission to Greece’s Roman conquerors and open rejection of the peace and stability that they had brought.28 By portraying the Romans as essentially Hellenized foreigners, he could then make them more palatable to an oligarchic Greek readership that benefited from Roman dominance. This thesis, however, does not account for the level of ambivalence with which Plutarch portrays Roman culture or his overt emphasis on attributing Roman civility to Greek figures.29 Preston argues that this “othering” of Romans in Plutarch’s writing may have influenced how Plutarch responds to matters of Roman and Greek religion.30 As she notes, Plutarch tends to leave the corresponding answers open in the Roman Questions, whereas he tends to answer his Greek Questions more directly and clearly. Such a tendency appears in his other works, as well. He recounts the same narrative about the sack of Veii as does Livy (Cam. 6.3–4) and explicitly acknowledges Livy as his source, but he then goes on to tell his readers that “to believe too readily and to be excessively skeptical are both dangerously misleading” (τὸ πιστεύειν σφόδρα καὶ τὸ λίαν ἀπιστεῖν ἐπισφαλές ἐστι), and he exhorts them against taking any divine claim to extremes.

The Latin authors cited in this paper employ a number of similar tropes in their accounts of gods moving, and indeed, are generally of the same mind regarding the underlying theology with regards to the religio of tutelary deities. As Davies notes in his survey of religion, Tacitus is very much concerned with demarcating appropriate practice and therefore is very much aware of the theological implications of his commentary.31 While arguing for some sort of ancient “schools of thought” about the evocatio or other aspects of religio regarding the movement of gods would be premature, Plutarch does seem to be tapping into a different theological tradition than his Latin counterparts. Indeed, such a choice would have been consistent with a general tendency to assert biography and history from a Hellenocentric point of view.32 From his apparent perspective then, gods may move, some peoples may even have chained their gods’ statues, but he stops short of confirming the Roman theological tradition behind tutelary deities. This results in a much more limited application of its underlying principles in his own religious explanations and makes the differences between Plutarch and Tacitus in their narrative of Sarapis’ origins all the more stark.

If scholars hypothesize a common literary source or an oral tradition relating to the Sinope-Sarapis narrative, either possibility might constitute a source for both Tacitus and Plutarch.33 Such a tradition, in this line of thinking, would have employed a variety of tropes from similar stories: the consultation of Delphi, the refusal of a local ruler to transfer the cult, omens bidding him to do so, and the spontaneous embarkation of the god. That there was a common tradition from which both authors drew their narrative does not mean, however, Tacitus and Plutarch did not impose their own theological understandings on a pre-existing narrative. Indeed, the tropes which each author chooses to suppress or emphasize instead highlight their very different preconceptions about the divine. Any harmonization of the two accounts requires glossing over very real differences in narrative structure, agency, and emphasis.

Drawing on this, we can also speak of a theological mindset in Tacitus, particularly the historian’s understanding of interpretatio Romana and the willingness of the Roman upper-class to apply the names of their own divinities to those of other peoples.34 He clearly chooses to read the actions of Roman religion onto other religious beliefs at least in the case of tutelary deities. Tacitus is therefore deliberately employing tropes drawn from the same historical-theological tradition as Livy, Vergil, Macrobius, and other Roman authors in his own account.35 While it would be incorrect to say that the transport of Sarapis to Alexandria was accomplished through an evocatio along Roman lines in the strictest sense or precisely paralleled the situation of the Mater Magna’s cippus, one can credibly argue that Tacitus shapes his account around religio. Tacitus, by activating the same tropes used in descriptions of moving gods by other Latin authors, renders the narrative through a particularly Roman historiography that has not been previously recognized.36


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  • 1

    The most recent commentary for Histories Book 4 is that of Chilver (1985) which was completed by Townend and is therefore considerably shorter than it might have been, although there have been numerous recent studies of Tacitus as a historian, including the now standard Syme (1958/1979), Martin (1981), and more recently Haynes (2003) and Sailor (2008). Leaving aside the commentary of Heubner (1976) on Book 4 and Chilver’s aforementioned work, the Histories have only seen revised commentaries in the past ten years with the publication of commentaries on Books 1 and 2 by Damon (2003) and Ash (2007), respectively. Heubner, although covering the excursus on Sarapis in great detail, primarily cites scholarship directed towards the question of Egyptian and Greek religion and how the traditions on Sarapis’ removal affected any common sources that Tacitus may have shared with Plutarch for this narrative. Haynes (2003), 129–147 does address Book 4 directly, but only as part of her agenda in examining Vespasian as the victor of 69 CE. 

  • 2

    This neglect has probably occurred in part because the argument first advanced by Wilcken has firmly established the historical origins of Sarapis in the conflation of Osiris and the Apis bull: see Wilcken (1922), Stambaugh (1975), 2, and Takács (1995), 27–28 for this argument. Chilver (1985), 85 also cites this thesis, supported by the work of Fraser (1972) in his commentary on 4.83.1. See too Heubner (1976), 184–185. My choice of the term religio is to emphasize the fact that the Roman theology of tutelary deities was inextricably bound up in the ritus by which one addressed them and the cultus owed to them. The term is not unproblematic, but the difficulties in understanding it are beyond the scope of this article. See Ando (2008), 1–21 for his excellent discussion of the difficulties behind these words. 

  • 3

    Tacitus does not clearly identify which Ptolemy. Given Plutarch’s clearer identification in his narrative of the same event, Ptolemy I Soter is most likely, but Philadelphos is also a possibility. The fluidity of identification inherent to a tutelary deity in Roman thought is perhaps underscored by the Roman confusion of the name of Rome’s tutelary deity and the secret name of the city itself (Serv. ad Aen. 1.277; Plin. HN 3.65; Macrob. Sat. 3.9.3) and the generalizing formula sive deus, sive dea inherent to any Roman address of the divine. On the formula, see Alvar (1985). 

  • 4

    Hist. 4.84: ut Sinopen venere, munera preces mandata regis sui Scydrothemidi adlegant. qui <di>versus animi modo numen pavescere, modo minis adversantis populi terreri; saepe donis promissisque legatorum flectebatur. atque interim triennio exacto Ptolemaeus non studium, non preces omittere: dignitatem legatorum, numerum navium, auri pondus augebat. tum minax facies Scydrothemidi offertur ne destinata deo ultra moraretur: cunctantem varia pernicies morbique et manifesta caelestium ira graviorque in dies fatigabat. advocata contione iussa numinis, suos Ptolemaeique visus, ingruentia mala exponit: vulgus aversari regem, invidere Aegypto, sibi metuere templumque circumsedere. maior hinc fama tradidit deum ipsum adpulsas litori navis sponte conscendisse: mirum inde dictu, tertio die tantum maris emensi Alexandriam adpelluntur. 

  • 5

    Plutarch’s identification of Ptolemy Soter is explicit as compared to Tacitus’ account. 

  • 6

    Heubner (1976), 185–186. 

  • 7

    The dates of both works are quite uncertain. However, Griffiths (1970), 16 places the date of the De Iside et Osiride to one or two years before Plutarch’s death. The Histories, on the other hand, fall no earlier than 106–107 CE. Martin (1981), 30–31 dates them based on the evidence of Pliny’s letter to Tacitus regarding Vesuvius (published in 106) where the former refers to Tacitus’ historical project. 

  • 8

    De Is. et Os. 361F: Πτολεμαῖος δ’ ὁ Σωτὴρ ὄναρ εἶδε τὸν ἐν Σινώπῃ τοῦ Πλούτωνος κολοσσόν, οὐκ ἐπιστάμενος οὐδ’ ἑωρακὼς πρότερον οἷος <ἦν> τὴν μορφήν, κελεύοντα κομίσαι τὴν ταχίστην αὐτὸν εἰς Ἀλεξάνδρειαν. ἀγνοοῦντι δ’ αὐτῷ  καὶ ἀποροῦντι, ποῦ καθίδρυται, καὶ διηγουμένῳ τοῖς φίλοις τὴν ὄψιν εὑρέθη πολυπλανὴς ἄνθρωπος ὄνομα Σωσίβιος, ἐν Σινώπῃ φάμενος ἑωρακέναι τοιοῦτον κολοσσόν, οἷον ὁ βασιλεὺς ἰδεῖν ἔδοξεν. ἔπεμψεν οὖν Σωτέληκαὶ Διονύσιον, οἳ χρόνῳ πολλῷ καὶ μόλις, οὐκ ἄνευ  μέντοι θείας προνοίας, ἤγαγον ἐκκλέψαντες. ἐπεὶ δὲκομισθεὶς ὤφθη, συμβαλόντες οἱ περὶ Τιμόθεον τὸν ἐξηγητὴν καὶ Μανέθωνα τὸν Σεβεννύτην Πλούτωνος ὂν ἄγαλμα τῷ Κερβέρῳ τεκμαιρόμενοι καὶ τῷ δράκοντι πείθουσι τὸν Πτολεμαῖον, ὡς ἑτέρου θεῶν οὐδενὸς ἀλλὰ Σαράπιδός ἐστιν· οὐ γὰρ ἐκεῖθεν οὕτως ὀνομαζόμενος ἧκεν, ἀλλ’ εἰς Ἀλεξάνδρειαν κομισθεὶς τὸ παρ’ Αἰγυπτίοις ὄνομα τοῦ Πλούτωνος ἐκτήσατο τὸν Σάραπιν. 

  • 9

    It is difficult to lay a precise interpretation on Plutarch’s omission of Delphi from the narrative given his own priesthood in Delphi and career under Nerva and Trajan, for which see particularly the biography of Jones (1971), 28–38 and Russell (1972/2001), 1–17. The argument presented later in this paper hinges on Plutarch’s literary agenda in presenting Roman religious practice from a Hellenic context. 

  • 10

    For Venus Erycina, Livy 22.9; for the Temple of Apollo, see Livy 10.47; Livy Epit. 11; Val. Max. 1.8.2; Ovid Met. 15.736–741; Plut. QR 94 = 286D; Plin. HN 29.16. Gruen (1990), 5–33 contextualizes the incident with the Mater Magna as part of this Roman tendency to assimilate other gods, but the ritual implications of moving the stone itself separate it from the new establishment of a cult on Roman soil. 

  • 11

    For other prose references to Claudia Quinta, see too Tac. Ann. 4.64; Val. Max. 1.8.11. 

  • 12

    The king receives the Roman envoys comiter (“obligingly”) in Livy’s account (29.11.7) 

  • 13

    For this line of thought, see Davies (2004), 85. 

  • 14

    Fasti 4.267–272: mira canam: longo tremuit cum murmure tellus,/et sic est adytis diva locuta suis:/“ipsa peti volui: ne sit mora; mitte volentem:/ dignus Roma locus quo deus omnis eat.”/ille soni terrore pavens “proficiscere” dixit;/“nostra eris: in Phrygios Roma refertur avos.” 

  • 15

    See Wiseman (2002). 

  • 16

    5.22.4–7: namque delecti ex omni exercitu iuvenes, pure lautis corporibus, candida veste, quibus deportanda Romam regina Iuno adsignata erat, venerabundi templum iniere, primo religiose admoventes manus, quod id signum more Etrusco nisi certae gentis sacerdos attractare non esset solitus. dein cum quidam, seu spiritu divino tactus seu iuvenali ioco, “visne Romam ire, Iuno?” dixisset, adnuisse ceteri deam conclamaverunt. inde fabulae adiectum est vocem quoque dicentis velle auditam; motam certe sede sua parui molimenti adminiculis, sequentis modo accepimus levem ac facilem tralatu fuisse, integramque in Aventinum aeternam sedem suam quo vota Romani dictatoris vocaverant perlatam, ubi templum ei postea idem qui voverat Camillus dedicavit. 

  • 17

    For the traditional interpretation, see Wissowa (1902) and RE, s.v. “evocatio” (= Wissowa 1909) and the arguments contrary of Basanoff (1947). Publication of the find at Isaura Vetus (Hall 1973 = CIL XII.2954 = AE 1977.816) immediately reframed the rite, even though Hall did not feel it could be securely called an evocatio given that we do not have the complete formula as recounted by Macrobius. Although some more recent commentators such as Rüpke (1990), 164 and Gustafsson (1999), 61 argue that the wording is insufficient to say more than that a vow was fulfilled to a god, the context persuades Beard et al. (1998), 132–134 that a rite similar to or adapted from the evocatio was employed at Isaura Vetus. Alvar (1985) and Le Gall (1976) take a stronger stand still and label it almost unequivocally an evocatio. Regardless, most modern commentators on the rite allow for a broader interpretation than that of Wissowa. See Blomart (1997) for a concise and excellent summary of the traditional argument and his response to it. 

  • 18

    Aen. 2.244–245: instamus tamen immemores caecique furore/et monstrum infelix sacrata sistimus arce. 

  • 19

    Serv. Auct. ad Aen. 2.244. 

  • 20

    Sat. 3.9.7–9: “If there is a god or goddess under whose protection are the people and state of Carthage, I pray to you and beseech you most especially, who possess guardianship of this city and this people. I also seek a boon from you, that you desert the people and Carthaginian state, leave behind their sacred places, temples, and depart from them. May you incite terror, fear, and forgetfulness in that people and state, and when you come forth, come to me and my people. May our sacred places, temples, and city be more acceptable and more approved by you; may you be put before me, the Roman people and my soldiers that we may know and understand. If you so shall do this, I vow to make for you temples and games.” (si deus si dea est cui populus civitasque Carthaginiensis est in tutela, teque maxime, ille qui urbis huius populique tutelam recepisti, precor venerorque veniamque a vobis peto ut vos populum civitatemque Carthaginiensem deseratis, loca templa sacra urbemque eorum reliquatis absque his abeatis, eique populo civitati metum formidinem oblivionem iniciatis, proditique Romam ad me meosque veniatis, nostraque vobis loca templa sacra urbs acceptior probatiorque sit, mihique populoque Romano militibusque meis praepositi sitis ut sciamus intelligamusque. si ita feceritis, voveo vobis templa ludosque facturum.) 

  • 21

    Although Tacitus routinely uses prex or precor to descibe pleas directed towards humans throughout the Histories (i.e., 1.63, 1.65 in the context of pleas to marauding soldiers) it is also used in a clearly divine context as at Hist. 2.3, 2.74, 4.58, and perhaps at 4.81, as noted in text above. 

  • 22

    Hist. 4.81: precabaturque principem ut genas et oculorum orbis dignaretur respergere oris excremento. 

  • 23

    See OLD, s.v. exigo 1, 2, 3, 8, 9. 

  • 24

    Hist. 5.13: apertae repente delubri fores et audita maior humana vox excedere deos … 

  • 25

    The most famous incident is the punishment of Valerius Soranus for the crime of revealing the secret name of Rome’s tutelary deity (or of Rome itself). See Serv. et Auct. ad Aen. 1.277; Plin. HN 3.65. There is some confusion as to which secret name Soranus revealed or even whether the two were in fact different names. Macrob. Sat. 3.9.3 regards them as being distinct nomina. 

  • 26

    Pelling (1988), 303–304 although pointing out that this has distinct parallels to the evocatio, quite rightly couches it as part of a broader ancient understanding about the behavior and movement of gods. 

  • 27

    QR 61 = Mor. 278F-279A: πότερον, ὡς τῶν Ῥωμαϊκῶν τινες ἱστορήκασιν, ἐκκλήσεις εἰσὶ καὶ γοητεῖαι θεῶν, αἷς νομίζοντες καὶ αὐτοὶ θεούς τινας ἐκκεκλῆσθαι παρὰ τῶν πολεμίων καὶ μετῳκηκέναι πρὸς αὑτοὺς ἐφοβοῦντο τὸ αὐτὸ παθεῖν ὑφ’ ἑτέρων; ὥσπερ οὖν Τύριοι δεσμοὺς ἀγάλμασι λέγονται περιβαλεῖν, ἕτεροι δ’ αἰτεῖν ἐγγυητὰς ἐπὶ λουτρὸν ἢ καθαρμόν τινα προπέμποντες, οὕτως ᾤοντο Ῥωμαῖοι τὸ ἄρρητον καὶ τὸ ἄγνωστον ἀσφαλεστάτην εἶναι θεοῦ καὶ  βεβαιοτάτην φρουράν· ἢ καθάπερ Ὁμήρῳ πεποίηται τὸ ‘γαῖα δ’ ἐστὶ ξυνὴ πάντων’, ὅπως οἱ ἄνθρωποιτοὺς θεοὺς πάντας σέβωνται καὶ τιμῶσι τὴν γῆν κοινῶς ἔχοντας, οὕτως ἀπεκρύψαντο τὸν κύριον τῆς σωτηρίαςοἱ παλαιοὶ Ῥωμαῖοι, βουλόμενοι μὴ μόνον τοῦτον ἀλλὰ  πάντας ὑπὸ τῶν πολιτῶν τοὺς θεοὺς τιμᾶσθαι. 

  • 28

    Bolougne (1987); (1994), 35–54. 

  • 29

    For example, asserting that Janus was a Greek as in QR 22 or that Numa attempted to make the Romans less bellicose under the influence of Pythagoras in QR 15, 19, 23. Plutarch makes a similar assertion in his Numa 8. 

  • 30

    Preston (2001), 86–120. 

  • 31

    Davies (2004), 143–144. 

  • 32

    Plutarch wrote as part of the Second Sophistic’s reaction to the Roman domination of Greece, for which see Bowie (1970). 

  • 33

    See Heubner (1976), 185–186 on the question of Tacitus’ sources for this account. 

  • 34

    For example, see Morgan (1966) on the use of omens, and most recently Ando (2005). 

  • 35

    The intertexts between Tacitus and other Latin authors are well established, though entirely too numerous to discuss in this article. For examples, see Fletcher (1964), Baxter (1971) (Vergil in the Histories), and Ash (1998) (Livy in the Histories). See too Syme (1958/1979), 176–190 on Tacitean sources. 

  • 36

    I would like to thank particularly T. Corey Brennan, Serena Connolly, and Neil Bernstein for reading drafts of this project, as well as the anonymous reader and editorial staff of this journal for their useful suggestions. 

About the article

Benjamin W. Hicks

Published Online: 2013-05-03

Published in Print: 2013-05-01

Citation Information: Journal of Ancient History, Volume 1, Issue 1, Pages 70–82, ISSN (Online) 2324-8114, ISSN (Print) 2324-8106, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/jah-2013-0005.

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