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Reinterpretations of Priestly Roles

The events that form the basis of my considerations[1] [2] can be organized into three groups: first, those that concern ritual mistakes by flamines maiores, members of the larger pontifical college who were individually responsible for the cult of a specific deity. Second, conflicts about the question of whether these Flamines should be allowed to assume an extraurban office. Third, the case of a priest who, by reinterpreting the regulations of his priesthood, justified interrupting his duties in an extraurban office.

In monthly routine rituals at the Ides and in some annual rituals, a priest known as the Flamen Dialis was active at Rome. As the two other flamines maiores, namely the Flamen Martialis and the Flamen Quirinalis, this office was named after a god (in this case Jupiter, in the others, Mars and Quirinus respectively), but his duty was not restricted to the cult of the eponymous god. All the flamines maiores, but in particular the Flamen Dia- lis, were subject to various regulations. Evidence for these regulations in the antiquarian tradition is concentrated or even projected on the Flamen Dialis; the writer Aulus Gellius offers the most detailed list in his Noctes Atticae.4 The penalties for noncompliance were, without exception, harsh: the Flamen Dialis would therefore have been in permanent danger of losing his office. All the more astonishing, then, is the fact that the number of historically documented instances of removal from office is very low. The most comprehensive source for these is offered by a short passage in the Memorabilia of Valerius Maximus:

Consimili ratione P. Cloelius Siculus, M. Cornelius Cethegus, C. Claudius propter exta parum curiose admota |deorum inmortalium aris uariis temporibus bellisque diuersis| flaminio abire iussi sunt coactique etiam. at Q. Sulpicio inter sacrificandum e capite apex prolapsus idem sacerdotium abstulit . . .[3]

By the same logic Publius Cloelius Siculus, Marcus Cornelius Cethegus, and Gaius Claudius were summoned and even forced to resign from the Flami- nate because of a careless presentation of entrails. But an apex that fell down during the sacrifice snatched the same priesthood from Quintus Sulpicius.

Parallel traditions for two of the four persons named by Valerius Maximus suggest that the list is organized chronologically:[4] Plutarch states that Marcus Cornelius Cethegus was forced to resign in the year 223,[5] and according to Livy, Gaius Claudius, one Flamen Dialis, experienced the same fate in the year 211.[6] The explanation offered by Livy (Quod exta perperam dederat “because he had offered the entrails incorrectly”) corresponds to that given by Valerius Maximus, who might have referred to Livy for this information. The passage in Plutarch attests the fact that Quintus Sulpicius must be placed chronologically within this list. His forced resignation due to loss of the apex identifies Sulpicius as Flamen Dialis since it was this Flamen that was forbidden from appearing in public without his headdress.[7] The event belongs to the same period as the withdrawal of Cethegus and must, therefore, be dated to around 223.[8] Since there was only one Flamen Dialis at a time, the contemporary Cethegus must have been Flamen Martialis or Quirinalis;[9] I assume the same for his probable predecessor Publius Cloelius Siculus.[10]

These cases, all appearing within a very short period of time, can be characterized as signs of radicalization due to external pressures; exacting observation of the performance rendered the office precarious. Should we invoke the envy of rivals competing for the extremely limited number of available posts as an explanation? Without doubt, competition was an important factor in both political and religious innovation during the republican era and later.

The second set of cases, however, does not support such an interpretation. Already in 242 BC, we find conflict concerning a Flamen. Aulus Postumius Albinus was both Flamen Martialis and at the same time a magistrate, namely a consul, who wanted to leave Rome in order to attend a theater of war. The Pontifex Maximus opposed this and Albinus was forced to remain in Rome.[11] Comparable cases followed. According to Livy,[12] Quintus Fabius Maximus Verrucosus “Cunctator” interrupted the consular elections of 215 when the votes of the centuria praerogativa went to—along with a fellow applicant—the Flamen Martialis, Marcus Aemilius Regillus. Fabius pointed out the difficulties that a Flamen would have performing his consular duties in warfare. He was not, however, able to have Aemilius excluded unequivocally.[13]

This pattern of conflict continued: Gaius Valerius Flaccus initially had to argue for his right to a senate seat and magisterial offices. However, he finally occupied the offices of aedilis and the urban praetorship.[14] We will return to Flaccus below. In general, the treatment of such problems showed a remarkable flexibility. Rules were easily modified to accommodate specific personal circumstances and political situations. When, in the election to the aedileship, Gaius could not take an oath as Flamen Dialis,[15] this handicap was overcome by having his brother swear the oath in his place.[16] This workaround did not solve the fundamental problem of the incompatibility of this priesthood with the magistracies and their political and military duties. In 189, the newly elected praetor Quintus Fabius Pic- tor was forbidden from leaving the city and had to resign himself to the urban praetorship.[17] The Pontifex Maximus and consular colleague Publius Licinius Crassus Dives Mucianus denied the assignation of a province

Chapter 2


to the Flamen Martialis Lucius Valerius in the year 131 BC.[18] We even find a similar configuration of opposition in the imperial period. In AD 22, as a result of augural and pontifical objections, Servius Cornelius Lentulus Maluginensis, Flamen Dialis and suffect consul of AD 10, was prevented from becoming proconsul of Asia.[19]

These disputes have been interpreted as conflicts between two “systems,” a political and a religious set of rules, and as the political mobilization of antipatrician sentiment.[20] A common denominator cited in these interpretations is the serious political hindrance attendant on the assumption of such a priesthood. Another set of incidents are, correspondingly, also assigned to such political machinations: from the beginning of the second century BC, male members of the elite could be, for the first time, appointed to a priesthood against their will. Gaius Valerius Flaccus was subject to such an appointment in 209, but with unexpected and even long-term success; Flaccus proved himself an excellent Flamen Dialis.[21] This did not always turn out well: in 180, an attempt to appoint Lucius Cornelius Dolabella against his will to the office of Rex Sacrorum (perhaps previously occupied by his father) failed.[22] An attempt to appoint an ailing member of the Cornelii Scipiones, one Publius Cornelius Scipio,[23] to the office of Flamen Dialis in the year 174 seems to have had the same result.[24] Likewise, it is frequently questioned whether Gaius Iulius Caesar actually was interested in the position of the Flamen Dialis, an office for which he was nominated but never occupied, and which was not filled by anybody else during his lifetime either.[25]

The final type of individual action sheds some doubt on the gener- alizability of the political interpretation offered above. In March 191 BC (republican calendar) the Salius Publius Cornelius Scipio Africanus interrupted military operations in Asia Minor for the duration of the urban Roman rites of the Salii and ordered a break in his army’s march for thirty or thirty-one days.[26] He offered as an explanation that, on the days on which ancilia moventur (that is, when the Salians in Rome were dancing and moving the shields), Salii could not march on in the field.[27] Obviously Scipio exercised a quite individual and subjective interpretation of his role, radicalizing religious rules beyond established practice.[28] However, this should not be thought to undermine the following systemic explanations.

  • [1] The following resumes and develops arguments found in Rupke 2012g.
  • [2] Gell. 10.15.
  • [3] Val. Max. 1.1.4—5. Perhaps the Horatian verses hinc apicem rapax I Fortuna cum stridoreacuto I sustulit hic posuisse gaudet (Carm 1.34.14—16) refer to this incident and not (as supposed bymost of the commentaries on Horace) to some unknown contemporary or to mythical accountsof fallen kings (e.g., Wili 1948, Oksala 1973 for the former and Nisbet and Hubbard 1970 for thelatter).
  • [4] Klose 1910, 27-28.
  • [5] According to Plut. Marcellus 5.3-4.
  • [6] Livy 26.23.8; Rtipke 2005d, no. 1159.
  • [7] Gell. 10.15.17.
  • [8] Rtipke 2005d, no. 3176.
  • [9] Ibid., no. 1317.
  • [10] Ibid., no. 1272.
  • [11] See Livy, Per. 19; Val. Max. 1.1.2; Rupke 2005d, no. 2817.
  • [12] Livy 24.7.12.
  • [13] Rupke 2005d, no. 525.
  • [14] Ibid., no. 3393; Livy 27.8-10, 31.50.6-9, 39.45.2-4.
  • [15] Plut. Quaest. Rom. 44; Paul. Fest. 92.25 L.
  • [16] Livy 31.50.6-9.
  • [17] Rupke 2005d, no. 1599; Livy 37.51.1-7.
  • [18] Rupke 2005d, no. 3395 and 2236 (PM); Cic. Phil. 11.18.
  • [19] Rupke 2005d, no. 1349; Tac. Ann. 3.58-59 and 71.
  • [20] See the discussion in Simon 1996, in particular 195-206. For conflicts about the rules ingeneral, see Lundgreen 2011.
  • [21] Rupke 2005d, no. 3393; Livy 27.8.4-10; Val. Max. 6.9.3.
  • [22] Livy 40.42.8-11.
  • [23] Rupke 2005d, no. 1371; ILS 4; Livy 41.28.7 (withpraenomen Cn.).
  • [24] Simon 1996, 199.
  • [25] Ibid., 212: “era demasiado joven para una eleccion autonoma que, admas, le imponiafuertes constricciones en la vida publica y privada.” See my argument to the contrary in Rupke2005d, no. 2003.
  • [26] Polyb. 21.13.7—14 (with regard to Herakleides of Byzantium). According to most editors,the text has a lacuna (Causabonius 1609; Buettner-Wobst 1904; Paton 1926).
  • [27] Livy 37.33.6—7: Stativa deinde ad Hellespontum aliquamdiu habuerunt, quia dies forte,quibus ancilia moventur, religiosi at iter inciderant. idem dies P. Scipionem propiore etiam reli-gione, quia salius erat, diiunxerant ab exercitu; causaque et is ipse morae erat, dum consequeretur.
  • [28] See Rupke 2010d for this argument.
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