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Election of

priests by

maintain the supremacy of the state was the circumstance that there was in Rome no peculiar order of priests. Priests were not distinguished from laymen either by descent or by special training and education. They had no peculiarities in life or habits; they did not practise celibacy or castration. There was no superior sanctity attributed to the priests and recognised by the people which might have given rise to spiritual pride or love of command. The same men held magisterial and priestly offices. At first, it is true, priests remained exempt from onerous public services and the magistrates were restricted to their own political functions. But the law required only of one priest, the king of sacrifices (rex sacrorum), that he should not be elected to any public office.

In course of time it became common for consuls and the people, prætors to be elected among the pontifices and augurs, and even the priestly dignities of the three flamines, or chief priests of Jupiter, Mars, and Quirinus, were conferred upon men whom we might call laymen; nor did such a double character give the slightest offence. As a natural result of this secularisation of the priestly offices, the election of priests was transferred to the people," and though this popular election differed in form from the election of the civil magistrates, it was nevertheless to all intents and purposes a popular election in the place of the former mode of co-optation.



The subordination of the priesthood to the state was position of the more complete because they had no sufficient revenues the priests. of their own and were accordingly dependent on state help. Although some of the temples were endowed with.

1 Castration was practised by the priests of the great Asiatic Mother of the Gods.

2 Liv. epit. 19; xxxi. 50, 6; xxxvii. 47, 8; 51, 1; xxxix. 39, 2, 4, 5, 2; epit. 59.

3 Mommsen, Röm. Staatsr. II. i. p. 24. Becker, Röm. Alt. II. iii. p. 84. • Instead of the total number of thirty-five tribes, seventeen tribes, drawn by lot, were entrusted with the election, first of the Pontifex Maximus, afterwards (103 B.C.) of the other pontifices, the augurs, the keepers of the Sibylline books and the epulones.


portions of land, yet the annual state budget was charged CHAP. with the cost of the erection and repair of temples as well as with the expenses of public worship, especially of the games. The Roman priests never succeeded in imposing the payment of tithes upon the annual produce of land; they could not establish themselves as the most extensive landed proprietors; they never obtained judicial authority in family matters,' and the female mind, so easily subject to the influence of crafty priests, was protected from them by the stern authority of the head of the family. The priests were not even able to make good a claim to exemption from the general duties of common citizens, such as that of paying taxes.2

tions of

Under such circumstances the Roman priests were Moral not in a condition to exercise, as a body, any intellectual qualificaor moral influence among their countrymen. Nor was a priests. high degree of moral dignity required of them any more than of the magistrates. The priestly office, moreover, does not appear to have imposed upon its occupants any special restraint or the practice of a special morality. Q. Fulvius Flaccus, although pontifex and censor, committed a daring robbery in depriving the temple of Juno Lacinia of its marble tiles, and bringing them to Rome to adorn a temple which he had himself built.3 During the Hannibalic war a man known throughout the town for his disorderly habits was chosen to be a priest of Jupiter.' Nowhere can it be proved that the priests, as such, made pretence to a peculiar sanctity of life, or that the people of their own account attributed it to them. The only exception were the Vestal virgins. special distinctions, honours, and return for this they had a peculiarly heavy responsibility,

They were allowed privileges. But in

The jurisdiction of the Pontifex Maximus was confined to punishing priests for neglecting their official duties. This included the punishment of the Vestal virgins for the crime of unchastity, and of their accomplices, even though the latter were not priests.

2 Liv. xxxiii. 42, 2.

3 Above, p. 248.

Vol. ii. p. 477.


The Pon


Ignorance and sluggishness of the priests.

and in case of neglect they had to dread a horrible punish


The character of a legal system so peculiar to the Roman religion is particularly apparent in the office of the pontifices. This college of priests under the presidency of the Pontifex Maximus, though at the head of the entire religious system, had far more a judicial than a priestly character. In the older time, when divine law had yet the preponderance over civil law, the pontifices were probably the most important personages both in making and in administering the law. Even in historical times they were the guardians and interpreters of the law long after it had begun to cast off the fetters of religion. But the pontifices were more and more obliged to confine themselves to decisions about the due observance of religious ceremonies, and to exchange their original office of judges for that of interpreters of law in the literal sense of the word—that is, legal advisers in doubtful questions to the senate and the magistrates.

The college of pontifices as a body entrusted with public authority for the conduct of the religious affairs of the nation was more firmly and systematically organized than any similar body in any Greek state. Had the Roman people been such abject slaves to the priestly order as the Oriental and Celtic nations, had they had the slightest inclination to allow themselves to be guided in worldly matters by a priestly caste or to be tortured by religious fears, the college of pontifices would have been an instrument of which superstition might have made great use. But the pontifices were far from wishing, like the Papal Church, to encroach upon the domain of the state. They did not expand the religious system over which they presided into one of universal control over all the relations. of life, and when in course of time the foundation of their system began to give way, when scepticism and foreign

1 Jhering, Geist des röm. Rechts, i. p. 291, § 18a; ii. p. 374 ff. § 42. Liv. ix. 46, 5: Cn. Flavius civile ius, repositum in penetralibus pontificum, evulgavit.

influences began to undermine it, they neglected to prop it up by new supports. With their purely formal rules and ceremonial laws they could neither exalt nor lower the traditional spirit of their religion; they could not even keep it alive. They also neglected the means which an intellectual superiority would have given them in the domain of science and art. Although they should have fanned the spark of intellectual life that was so feeble in Rome, they were not ashamed to rest satisfied with their scanty knowledge of nature and mathematics, and to apply it in a merely mechanical way. Their position in the state should have urged them to the promotion of literature and to the cultivation especially of those branches of learning which are practically useful in everyday life; but they left it to others to take the first steps in matters like these. They continued year after year to fill the national annals (the famous annales maximi) with dry lists of names, to note eclipses of the sun or moon, floods, droughts, pestilence, famine, and the like, without making an approach to genuine historical narrative. Even the collection of laws that one or several pontifices compiled, and which bears the name of Laws of the Kings (leges regia), seems to have been a worthless compilation, unfit to serve as the foundation upon which succeeding generations of jurists might have built up a national system of jurisprudence. Everywhere we can observe that the opportunity was not seized for creating in the college of pontifices a power which might stir up the intellectual and religious energy of the people, and impel them to independent action.



The augurs, who stood next to the pontifices in The dignity and importance as the official interpreters of the augurs. will of the gods, sank still more into habits of empty formality. Whilst the pontifices had at least occasion to cultivate a kind of science in systematising their doctrines and rules, and basing their system upon the laws of nature and society and upon speculations on human and divine right, the augurs occupied themselves with a discipline which from beginning to end rested on a delusion,


where everything was arbitrary and unreasonable-a dis-
cipline which had sprung up in the infancy of society, and
had outlived the years of this infancy only because a large
portion of mankind never arrive at years of discretion and
desire always to be treated as children. The doctrine of
the augurs had even at the time of the Punic wars come
to be the derision of the educated; but it did not for a long
time lose its hold on the minds of the ignorant classes.
The result was that the auspicia more and more changed
their original character, and became an instrument of
political intrigue. At last, when an augur proclaimed
that the consent of the gods was withheld from any pro-
posed measure, this divine intercession differed in no way
from the intercession of a tribune or any other magistrate.
Every election, every act of legislation or government,
could be delayed or declared to be null by the announce-
ment that unfavourable signs had appeared in the heavens.
As the veracity of these announcements could be proved
only by the voice of the priest who had observed the
heavens, nothing was easier than to make use of a pre-
tended divine intercession for the purpose of annulling
any objectionable resolution of the people; nay, to render
this process more easy it was decided by a law in the course
of the second century B.C.' that no popular assembly
should be held if a magistrate declared that he intended
during the same time to take the auspicia. This law, on
which Cicero bestows unqualified laudation as a support of
civil order against the revolutionary designs of the tribunes,
was probably necessary from a political point of view. It
supplied the want of a constitutional veto against the
legislative omnipotence of the tribunes and the comitia
tributa. But it was a mockery of the old piety which had
originally inspired awe and fear of the divine will and of
the auspicia as its signs. It is only a matter of surprise
that when the old religious belief had long disappeared it
was still thought possible to make use of the auspicia for
the purpose of resisting democratic innovations.

Below, chap. xvi.

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