A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities/Sacrificium

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A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities  (1890) 
by Various Authors, edited by William Smith

SACRIFICIUM (θυσία)—that largest part of ancient worship which usually consists in presenting to a deity some object on which human life is supported, or even human life itself. Both the Greek and Latin words exclude the idea of the presentation of gifts in the shape of inanimate objects, however valuable; the reason for this probably being, as we shall see, that there is in this latter case no notion of communion between the god and the giver, as in the case of the gift of a meal. It will serve, however, to clear the ground, if we briefly indicate the nature of these inanimate votive offerings. Such were, e.g., the treasures of all kinds deposited in Greek temples, and including especially the objects of art so frequently described by Pausanias. These are mentioned in Homer (Hom. Od. 12.347), and are found throughout Greek history, though it should be observed that by a natural process, as temples became treasures of a state, they lost their character as the property of the god, and became rather (except in the temples common to all Hellas, e. g. at Olympia and Delphi) the property of the state under the god's guardianship. So too, at Rome, the word sacrum — “quidquid est quod deorum habetur” (Macr. 3.3, 2), and sacrificium in its widest sense meant the dedication of such objects as altar, statues, land, money, utensils, the bodies of criminals, &c.; but the word generally used for this is consecratio.

In the same category may be reckoned the dedication of human beings to the service of a god, as at Delphi and Delos (Sir: C. Newton, Essays, p. 165), or of models of parts of the human body in which disease has been cured (C. I. G. 497, foll. 2439,. 6332); of coins dropped into wells by convalescent persons, or to procure rain (Paus. 1.34: 3; cf. Tylor, Primitive Culture, 2.195); of children's hair (reff. in Hermann, Griech. Alt. 2.143; cf. Tylor, 2.364, who suggests that this is a form of substitution, like the models of limbs). Here too may perhaps be mentioned the Athenian Eiresione and the ὄσχοι (vine-branches) of the Oschophoria and lastly, though these approach more nearly to the real nature of sacrifice, the offerings of first-fruits and tithes, whether of freewill or under compulsion as a fine (see Hermann, Griech. Alt. 2.142; C. I. A. 191, 482; Newton, 115). At Rome also the first-fruits were probably offered in the oldest cults, e. g. by the Vestals (Marquardt, Staatsverw. 3.169). All these various gifts are made the property of the god under the primitive idea that he, like kings, could be pleased and appeased by attention, and that to ask him for a favour without a gift was hopeless (Il 9.493: στρεπτοὶ δέ τε καὶ θεοὶ αὐτοί). The motive, therefore, underlying them is the same as in the sacrifice proper; but the idea of communion is not present in the case of such gifts, and it is his which best differentiates the true sacrifice from the votive offering. Only in the case of piacular sacrifices, which closely resemble the votive offerings, though accompanied by the idea of purification or atonement, does the idea of communion appear to be absent.

Turning to sacrifices in the restricted sense of the word, we find it difficult to arrange them systematically, so as to give the student a clear view at once of their various objects and details. The old division into bloody and unbloody sacrifices is clearly insufficient, since it leaves the object out of view; and it should be noted that in the last few years much progress has been made towards a right understanding of the inner meaning of sacrificial ritual. The best plan is perhaps to follow in the main the division adopted in the Encyclopaedia Britannica by Professor Robertson Smith, as being itself based on a wide acquaintance with such ritual [p. 2.580]among a great variety of peoples, by which alone the ritual of individual races can be interpreted; and as being easily accessible to English readers. We will therefore treat of sacrificing, both in Greece and Italy, as—

  • A. Honorific, i.e. meant to please and do honour to the gods, either by way of enforcing a petition, or expressing gratitude (the Bitt-and Dankopfer of German writers). This class covers by far the greater part of the field.
  • B. Piacular sacrifices, which contain the idea of expiation and include most cases of human sacrifice known to us in classical antiquity.
  • C. Sacramental or mystical sacrifices, which are, however, rare and obscure both in Greece and Italy.

An account of the ordinary features of the ritual observed, especially in animal sacrifices, will be reserved for the conclusion of the article.

A. Honorific Sacrifices[edit]

These, whether their object were petition or thanksgiving, were originally regarded as a meal for the god in which the worshippers shared, and therefore included edibles only. (For general evidence from a variety of races, see Tylor, op. cit. ch. xviii.) That the older Greeks believed that their gods did enjoy the meal is quite apparent in Homer (Hom. Il. 4.48, 7.201; Od. 3.435, ἦλθε δ᾽Ἀθήνη ἱρῶν ἀντιόωσα), and is illustrated in the vase-paintings by the presence of the deity at the sacrifice. Even then, however, it was rather the sweet savour or the pleasant sight (as when the horns are gilt to please Athene, Od. 3.437) that they enjoyed, and the savage idea that they actually devoured the food was left to survive among the wholly rural populations. (Cp., however, Od. 7.201.) Aristophanes, in the Pax, could still ridicule the popular belief, which is seen in the offerings to the dead in tombs, and in Italy also to the Lares and Penates (cf. also Lucian, de Sacrificiis, 14). But the notion of the communion of god and man in the meal left very distinct traces long after the actual belief had faded; and from the Homeric age, where a big feast and a sacrifice are almost synonymous (e. g. in Od. 3.1 foll.), down to the great city festivals of later times, which supplied the population with food at the expense of the state, it is this firmly-rooted idea that governs the whole character of the ritual.

Honorific sacrifices might be either occasional or regularly recurring. In Homer, where the undisturbed life of family or city is not represented, the sacrifices are occasional and with a definite temporary object. Such too are found in historical times, and at Athens were called θυσίαι κατὰ ψηφίσματα (Dem. de Cor. p. 301.217): they were often suggested by an oracle, or sometimes were the result of a public vow, as before Marathon (Plut. de Malign. Herod. 26). At Rome the sacrifices at supplicationes would belong to their class [Supplicatio], and also those ex voto and those which occurred in family life on birthdays, at admission into the phratria, at funerals, &c. But in Italy the extraordinary sacrifices were most commonly undertaken for the purpose of divination (hostiae consultatoriae), according to the lore of the Etruscan Haruspices [Divinatio]. These are also found in, Greece, but far less frequently, and it has been doubted whether the art was native with the Greeks (Schömann, Alt. 2.275; Herm. 2.241 foll.) or whether it can be traced in Homer. The idea on which this peculiar turn given to sacrifice appears to be based, is that the god was thought to show his goodwill in the victim: i. e. the perfection of the parts of the animal was a sign of the god's satisfaction; their imperfection, of his hostility he refuses the gift. The same idea is seen in the scrupulous exactness, to be described later on, in the choice of the victim for ordinary sacrifice, and in the belief that it was a bad omen if it came unwillingly to the altar.

Where honorific sacrifices are regular and recurring on fixed days of the year, they indicate a higher civilisation, and produce a regulated calendar of city life, such as we are pretty fully acquainted with at Athens and Rome; sacrifice forming at all times the chief part of ancient worship. This city sacrificial system is, however, itself developed out of the regular religious life of the family and the gens. In the Roman family, not only on certain days, e. g. on kalends and ides, were sacrifices offered to Lares and Penates, but at every meal some portion was cast into the fire as an offering [Lararium], and also at birth, marriage, and funerals. The same was the case with the agricultural operations of the family and gens at certain seasons, e. g. at the time of sowing, ploughing, and harvest, and especially at the time, as at Rome in May, when the crops were in danger and needed special religious care (Lustratio; Cato, Cat. Agr. 141), and at the summer and winter solstices. Thus the ancient sacrificial celebrations corresponded generally with the seasons, and have left their mark in this respect on the modern Christian Calendar.

This regular sacrificial system had, we may note, two results, which are important for the religious history of antiquity:–1. The necessity of a trained priesthood to carry on the tradition of ritual. 2. The gradual destruction of the simple and primitive ideas of sacrifice: the age of formality sets in, and the formalism of the cult gradually destroys its original meaning.

These honorific sacrifices consisted either of drink offerings, incense offerings, or of animal and vegetable food. The use of incense, or sweet-smelling herbs, may have been a comparatively late introduction; but of the rest, there is no sufficient ground for supposing one to be older than another, though some ancient authors, and many modern ones, have imagined these animal sacrifices to be of later date than the unbloody (Plato, Legg. 6.782 C; Ov. Fast. 1.337; Plin. Nat. 18.7; Plut. Num. 8; cf. Pauly, Real. Encycl. vol. vi. p. 658). The question would be one rather of the practice in each locality, and would depend on the wealth, and the nature of the wealth, in each; e. g. in Boeotia, Copaic eels were an article of sacrifice ( Athen. vii. p. 297), and Spartan poverty was in some cases content with fowls (Plut. Inst. Lac. 25). Anthropological research does not seem to show that the sacrifice of animals is of later origin; and all we can fairly assume is that in Greece and Italy, as wealth increased and bloody sacrifices became more and more synonymous with feasts, these tended to increase both in number and variety. All these kinds of offerings, it should be noticed, are found in use together, as well as separately. [p. 2.581]

Drink offerings.–These include libations of all kinds; which from Homer downwards we find performed, at meals to domestic deities, or on special occasions, e.q. the entering into any treaty or engagement (Il. 3.295; cf. 2.341), by throwing a few drops from the drinking vessel on the hearth and the ground. So also the Greek, before going to rest, poured a libation to Hermes, the god of sleep (Od. 7.136; Buchholz, Homerische Realien, 3.293). Here also belong the Greek χοαί, or libations to the dead (Od. 10.518; cf. Verg. A. 5.77), and the Roman practice of profusiones, i.e. pouring libations on the grave, of wine, water, milk, oil, &c. (Marquardt, 3.312), on stated occasions, such as the Parentalia in February. Libations consisted usually of unmixed wine in historical times; but when wine could not be had, water would suffice, as in Od. 12.363; and in Greece some deities preferred no wine (Aesch. Eum. 107), and Hermes liked a mixture (Schol. Aristoph. Pl. 1132). The oldest libations, e. g. the χοαί, were probably of milk and honey mixed (μελίκρατον) or of milk alone (Eustath. ad Od. 10.519; Soph. El. 895), or of oil, if the anointing of sacred stones can be reckoned under this head (Paus. 10.24, 5; Theophr. Char. 16; Tylor, 2.151). So too in the worship of the oldest Roman deities milk was used, i. e. in that of Rumina, Cunina, the Camoenae, Faunus, Silvanus, Pales (Schwegler, R. G. 1.421, note and reff.).

Incense offerings.--Originally, as we saw, the gods were thought to be pleased by the sweet savour of the sacrifice; and this notion was acted on as early as the Homeric age in Greece, by employing sweet-smelling wood (θύον, Od. 5.59: a species of cedar wood, cf. Il. 6.269, 9.495; Hesiod, Op. 338) for the fire, and at Rome by the burning of sweet-smelling garden herbs (Verg. Ecl. 8.65, and especially Ov. Fast. 1.339). The real incense offering was both rare and costly. Incense, however, became an object of trade in later times, when it was the constant accompaniment of animal sacrifices (Arnob. 7.26). It is said to have come from Phoenicia by way of Cyprus, where it was used in the cult of Aphrodite Ourania (Empedocles in Athen. 12. 510; Hesych. sub voce θύα).

Offerings of fruits and cakes.--Fruits were offered in Greece chiefly as tithes or toll of the harvest of some crop (ordered by a Delphic oracle, Theopomp. fragm. 283), not only to Demeter and Dionysus (Paus. 8.42, 5), the especial deities of corn and wine culture, but to others, according to the local belief in their efficacy. At Athens, and probably elsewhere, there were in most temples tables, near the statue of the god, laid out with fruits of all kinds, as well as with cakes, honey, &c. (Aristoph. Pl. 678 and Schol.). This practice, the origin of the Roman lectisternia, is also represented on monuments (Martha, Les Sacerdoces Atheniens, p. 50; Bull. Corr. Hell. 2.74). Fruits also figure conspicuously in some Athenian festivals, e. g. at the Oschophoria and the Thargelia and boys are seen carrying baskets of fruits and cakes in the northern frieze of the Parthenon (Baumeister, Denkm. 1382: hence the names κανυήφοροι, κερνήφοροι, &c., for bearers of such utensils in various rites; Lobeck, Aglaoph. 26 foll.). So also at the Pyanepsia or festival of beans (the cheapest food at Athens), not only were these carried about in pots (χύτραι), but an olivebranch (εἰρεσιώνη), laden with various fruits hung on it, was carried in procession, and fixed at the door of the temple of Apollo. At Rome fruits are less often mentioned (for “primitiae frugum” in a general sense, cf. Tib. 1.1, 13 foll.), but at least, as a rule, the grain or fruit was cooked. Cakes of all kinds were used in abundance both in Greece and Rome, whether combined with animal sacrifices or independently. In Greece these were called πέλανοι, and πέμματα or πόπανα (Lobeck, Aglaoph. 1050 foll.), and were especially used in the cult of Apollo, e. g. at Delphi and Delos (Müller, Dorians, E. T. 1.343); also in that of Zeus at Athens, at the Erechtheia in the Acropolis (Paus. 1.26, 6), and that of Trophonius (a honeycake, μελιτοῦττα, Ar. Nub. 506; Paus. 9.39); and at the Athenian Munychia and in the worship of Artemis a special kind of cake was used, which was surrounded with torches called ἀμφιφῶντες (A. Mommsen, Heort. 404). At Rome, cakes were also in common use, especially in the form of the mola salsa–i.e. salt-cakes prepared by the Vestal Virgins from the first ears of each harvest, and used at the Vestalia, Lupercalia, and on the Ides of September (Serv. ad Ecl. 8.82)–and of the liba, for the making of which under various forms Cato gives receipts (R. R. 75 foll.). So important was the making of these on the right method that special fictores were employed for this purpose under the orders of the pontifices (Marquardt, 3.429).

Both in Greece and Italy the practice was common of making substitutes for animal sacrifices out of dough, paste, wax, &c., as we see in the worship of Zeus Meilichios at Athens (Thuc. 1.126), and in the Roman maniae, which Aelius Stilo (Fest. p. 129) described as “ficta quaedam ex farina in hominum figuras” (Lobeck, Aglaoph. 1080 foll.). These will be referred to later.

Offerings of animals.–These were of great variety, both as regards the animals themselves and the ritual used. It is not necessary to do more than allude at this point to human sacrifices, which for the most part belong either to our second chief division of piacular offerings, or to our third division of mystic or sacramental sacrifices. To this latter class probably belong those rare examples which seem to be survivals of cannibalism, e. g. in the worship of Zeus Lycaon in Arcadia and of Dionysus in Chios, and the occasional sacrifice of captives, as when Themistocles sacrifices Persian prisoners at Salamis to Dionysus Omestes (Plut. Themist. 13; Pelop. 21). The ordinary honorific animal sacrifices consisted mainly of those animals which had been already tamed by man, and used for food, e. g. the ox, sheep, goat, pig, and fowl; thus bearing out the theory that the original idea of such sacrifice is that it was a meal shared in by god and man. Where the victim is not one eaten by man, the sacrifice is almost sure to be piacular or sacramental. The local customs as to the choice of animals were of endless variety, and are hard to explain: it was a complete science to learn the predilections of the gods, which varied even at particular periods of the year. As the temple-priesthood developed [Sacerdos], so no doubt the ritual became more complicated, and had, in larger temples at least, to be fixed in writing: of this we have [p. 2.582]traces in inscriptions both of Italian and Greek origin (see Dittenberger, Sylloge Inscr. Graec. 373, 388, and especially the sacrificial calendar from Cos published in Journal of Hellenic Studies, vol. iv. p. 323; for Italy, the great ritual inscription of Iguvium, ed. Bücheler, Umbrica, and the Fasti diurni in C. I. L. vol. i.).

The following general principles may be traced amid a crowd of details. 1. As to sex. Male victims were usually sacrificed to male deities, and female to goddesses, both in Greece and Italy (Arnobius, 7.19, “Diis feminis feminas, mares maribus hostias immolare, abstrusa et interior ratio est, vulgique a cognitione remota,” &c. This rule held good in Greece so widely (though not without exceptions: see Stengel, Quaest. Sacrif. pp. 1-6) that an exception to it at Aulis in the worship of Artemis, which often exhibits abnormal features, gave rise to an explanatory myth (Paus. 9.19, 5). The same kind of symbolism is seen in the kindred custom of sacrificing a barren cow to the dead (Od. 11.30), with which may be compared the offering of a pregnant cow to Tellus at the Roman Fordicidia (Ov. Fast. 4.631), and of a pregnant sow to Demeter at Mykonos and Andania (Ditt. 373, 388). 2. As to colour. White animals were offered to heavenly deities, black to those of the under-world (Arnob. l.c.). Thus in Il. 3.103 a white sheep is to be offered to the Sun, a black one to Earth (cf. inscription from Mykonos, Ditt. 373): in Od. 11.33, to Teiresias in the under-world, black sheep. Black victims were offered to Poseidon in Od. 3.1 foll.: but we find also white ones offered him in later times (Ditt. 373). So at Rome, where the importance and difficulty of getting a white victim for Jupiter led to whitening with pipe-clay (Juv. 10.65, “cretatum bovem” ). 3. As to soundness. This was always demanded, though it could not be always complied with. It is expressly laid down in one of the most valuable ritual inscriptions we have (Ditt. 388, from Andania, line 70) that the animals are to be εὐίερα, καθαρά, δ̔λόκληρα (cf. Ditt. 373, line 20, and Pollux, 1.26). Hence the elaborate organisation in some cities to secure the proper selection; of which more at the end of this article. 4. Animals sacred to a deity were not usually sacrificed to that deity. This principle, which has a totemistic origin, and is found in full working order in many antique religions (e. g. the Egyptian and Mexican), probably was a ruling one in Greece in early times, but can now only be traced in survivals which are often obscure. One or two exceptions may be mentioned. No pig, in some places at least, could be offered to Aphrodite (Hermann, p. 150, note 3; Aristoph. Ach. 793): at Athens the goat might not be offered to Athene ( Athen. 13.592), whose aegis or goat-skin points to the goat as the totem of the Aegidae or goat-clan, which had the care of her worship. To her were usually sacrificed bulls and sheep, to Zeus bulls or heifers, to Demeter pigs. For a list of the predilections of Roman deities, see Marquardt, 3.173. In these and other cases of predilections, it is probable that the practice arose from the well-known rule that a totem-clan did not kill or eat its own totem: but as regards Italy and Greece the subject needs further investigation (A. Lang, Myth, Ritual and Religion, 2.70 foll.; Robertson Smith in Encycl. Brit. l.c. p. 135). Instances of the sacrifice of the sacred animal to the god to whom it is sacred are probably of the mystical order of sacrifices, and will be mentioned under that head.

These general principles may be said to have held good both in Greece and Italy. Before leaving this subject we may notice that combinations of animals for sacrifice were not uncommon. The best known example is that of the Suovetaurilia at Rome, where the ox, sheep, and pig were combined in the worship of Mars (Cato, Cat. Agr. 141): with this may be classed the τριττὺς of the Greeks, a combination of animals, but not always of the same three. (See Od. 23.277: ram, bull, and bear, to Poseidon; and cf. Eustath. ad Od. 11.130; Hermann, § 26, note 2.) Lastly, where the proper victims could not be had, substitutes in the form of cakes were sometimes used, as has been already mentioned (Thuc. 1.126, and Schol.: cf. Hdt. 2.47). In Thebes apples with wooden feet and horns to imitate sheep were used in the cult of Apollo (Pollux, 1.30), and a like practice is recorded of the Locrians (Schömann, 219). Such substitution was also known at Rome, and is enunciated clearly by Serv. ad Aen. 2.116, “Sciendum est in sacris simulata pro veris accipi; unde cum de animalibus quae difficile inveniuntur est sacrificium, de pane vel cera fiunt, et pro veris accipiuntur:” cf. Tylor, 2.367. But these substitutes are more common as survivals of human piacular sacrifice (see below).

B. Piacular Sacrifices[edit]

The general idea of the honorific sacrifice was that the gods might be propitiated with gifts, without any sense of sin being present in the worshipper's mind. From these must be distinguished (though the distinction is not always an easy one) those which have as their object the expiation of some sin, generally in early ages blood-guiltiness within a group of kin, or of purification from pestilence, &c., brought about by some sin (Encycl. Brit. s. v. Sacrifice, p. 136; Tylor, 2.350). The original idea was that this was inexpiable for the defiled kin, save by the death of the slayer. As the practice of substitution was extended, it came to be applied to such cases, and thus we find not only the sacrifice of human beings by no means uncommon both in Greece and Italy, but survivals of it in the form of substitutes, either of animals or of some kind of puppet, or of symbolic actions which indicate an originally real sacrifice. Further, piacular sacrifices for lesser offences, usually a part of a ritual of lustration, are found in later times, especially in Italy. Some examples must be given of each of these classes of expiatory sacrifice.

That the idea of guilt demanding a human life as expiation was not strange to the Greek mind is plainly seen in the myths, e. g. in those of Theseus, Orestes, and Iphigeneia (cf. also Eur. Phoen. 914, El. 1024; Plut. Pelop. 21; Verg. A. 2.118: where the blood-guiltiness is, however, not in each case clear). At Athens we find it surviving in the Thargelia when two men called φάρμακοι (Harpocr. s. v.) were driven out of the city and stoned; and in a rite found also at Ephesus at a Thargelia of that neighbourhood (cf. Tzetzes, Chil. 5.726 [p. 2.583]foll.; Hipponax, Fragm. 4 foll.; Mannhardt, Myth. Forsch. 126 foll.). At Rhodes a public victim was sacrificed at the beginning of the month Metageitnion, for whom a criminal was afterwards substituted (Porph. de Abst. 2.54, where other similar cases are given). At Leucas a criminal was sacrificed to Apollo by being cast from a rock: an age of greater humanity supplied him with feathers to break the descent, and rugs to fall on (Strabo, p. 452). A very similar case, as an expiation for pestilence, is recorded from Massilia by Servius (Serv. ad Aen. 3.57; Petron. 141). In this case, as in the Mexican and other savage rites, the victim was cherished ( “alendus anno integro publicis et purioribus cibis” ); and in all these examples they seem to have been adorned with garlands, &c., on their way to death. Sometimes an animal was substituted for the human victim, as at Potniae, where a goat was substituted for a boy in the bloom of youth (Paus. 9.8, 1; cf. 7.19, 2 and 3). Occasionally we meet with the rite surviving only in a symbolic act, as in the well-known case of the whipping of Spartan boys at the altar of Artemis Orthia till the blood was drawn. With this may be compared the striking passage, in Eur. Iph. T. 1458, where Athene orders the human sacrifice in expiation for the death of Iphigeneia to be commuted for the drawing of blood by a sword. So too, at the Roman Lupercalia the young men were smeared with the victim's blood, which was then wiped off with wool dipped in milk (cf. a curious parallel in Apollon. 4.700 foll., where purification for a murder is effected by smearing the murderer's hands with the blood of a young pig, and then wiping it off). Examples of the substitution of puppets are not wanting, especially at Rome, where the rush-puppets cast into the Tiber in May [Argei] are described by Dionys. as resembling men tied hand and foot, and were generally believed to be substitutes for old men (see especially Mannhardt, Antike Wald-u. Feldkülte, 265 foll.); and according to Macrob. 1.7, 34, the oscilla or “effigies maniae suspensae” were substitutes for the sacrifice of boys [Oscilla]. The meaning of these Roman rites is not, however, fully ascertained.

In the Roman religion proper we have no trace of a regularly recurring human sacrifice without substitution, which is doubtless partly owing to the practical sense of the people, to the value attached to human life, and to the bargaining character of their religion, so well illustrated in the story of Numa in Plutarch, Numa, 15. It may probably be traced, however, in the ver sacrum, in which the first-born of a tribe were devoted to a god, and sent forth from the city (Nissen, Tempt. 154; Fest. 379); in the rite of devotio (Liv. 22.57; Marquardt, 3.279 and reff.); in the spilling of the blood of a gladiator at the feriae Latinae (Tertull. Apol. 9; Marquardt, 297); in the consecratio of a criminal, who was thus made sacer and the property of the gods (Id. 257); and possibly in the ritus humanus of the Vejovis cult (Preller-Jordan, Röm. Myth. 1.265, and Macrob. iii, 9, 10, where it is noticeable that the formula of devotio includes Vejovis) as well as in the examples above given. In Etruria, and perhaps in other parts of Italy, human sacrifice was well known: see Müller-Deecke, Etrusker, 2.20, and Dennis, Cities and Cemeteries, 1.422, 478, 2.506; Gardthausen, Mastarna, plate at end of volume.

It is at Rome, however, that the ordinary piacular sacrifices which do not appear to represent substitution for human victims are best seen. There they form a distinct class, and their immediate object was to expiate, even by anticipation, any error or omission in the performance of ritual, or some sacrilege, however slight, such as the bringing of iron into the sacred grove of the Fratres Arvales (Henzen, Acta Fratr. Arv. 22, 136-140; Arvales). Of this kind were the hostiae praecidaneae, offered before the main sacrifice, in order to ensure the efficacy of the latter (Gel. 4.6, 7; Fest. p. 223: the προθύειν of Greek ritual seems to have a different sense). Here also belong the piacula of the supplications [Supplicatio], and all sacrifices ordered to be performed after the occurrence of prodigia. It is difficult to say how far the Italian sacrifices of lustration belong to this class, e. g. the suovetaurilia;> but the pikaklu of the Iguvians (Bücheler, Umbrica, p. 314) seem to offer a parallel and to bring them within the class (compare the language of the ritual in Cato, Cat. Agr. 141). Greek examples of piacular sacrifices not substitutes for human offerings are the χοιροκτόναι καθαρυοὶ of Aesch. Eum. 273; the Bouphonia at Athens, of which more hereafter; the holocaust to Zeus Meilichios in Xen. Anab. 7, 8; and many others may be found collected in Hermann, 2.23, note 19 and foll., and § 28, note 19, and in Schümann, 2.239. It should be noted that the piacular sacrifices can in general be distinguished from honorific by the fact of the victim being burnt whole or not cooked at all, and at Rome by the fact of its not being used for divination. They did not constitute a meal, but were whole burnt offerings, and, unlike the honorific sacrifices, did not always consist of edible animals, but included horses, asses, dogs (to Hecate), &c. See Stengel, Quaest. Sacr. pp. 23 foll.

C. Mystic or Sacramental Sacrifices[edit]

This is a class which it is hard to deal with, because the sacrifices here had in historical times lost their original meaning, being survivals from an age of which the culture is only to be studied among other races. They are believed to have their origin in the age of totemistic religion, in which gods are formed out of the totem animals. In that age we find--1. That the totem is not sacrificed to the god out of which it was developed, except on certain solemn occasions. 2. That on these occasions the sacrifice is of the nature of a sacrament, the totem being (as in Mexico) eaten by all the worshippers, who thus in a sense partook of the substance of their god. (J. G. Frazer, Totemism, reprinted from Encycl. Brit.; W. R. Smith, article Sacrifice, p. 137; A. Lang, Myth, Ritual and Religion, passim.) Here and there a sacrificial rite in Greece indicates a descent from this age: and others, which are less distinctly to be referred to it, may be noticed under the same head.

In the myth of Dionysus Zagreus, the god when captured by the Titans was torn asunder in the form of a bull (cf. Paus. 8.37, 3.) This myth reflected the nature of his sacrifices. In these, living animals were torn to pieces bulls [p. 2.584] or fawns and eaten raw by all the celebrants (Lobeck, Agl. 653 foll.). The god, as the animal, was once probably the totem of a tribe; and the worshippers danced about dressed up in the skins, i. e. took the god-nature upon them. Cf. for a similar practice of tearing to pieces in Chios, Porph. Abst. 2.55; but here the victim was human, and the origin probably cannibalistic. A Roman parallel may probably be found in the Lupercalia, where, after the ceremony of smearing above alluded to, the priests girt themselves with the victims' skins, and, before running round the Palatine, partook of a luxurious feast, which may be a substitutory survival of the old god-eating rite. Somewhat similar in character is the well-known worship of Zeus Lycaon in Arcadia (Paus. 8.2; 38, 5; Plato, Rep. 565 D); where the worshippers tasted the sacrifice, but he who ate the morsel of flesh contained in it was changed into a wolf. Cf. the Hirpi Sorani of Soracte (Mannhardt, Antike Wald-u. Feldkülte, 330), where another totemic feature is apparent, i. e. the wolves were said to have carried off the flesh from the altar. Again, in the Diipolia at Athens, the sacred bull was sacrificed, but the skin was sewn up and stuffed, and all partook of it, “the life of the victim being renewed in those who ate of it” (Porph. Abst. 2.29). This, as Prof. R. Smith (l.c.) has pointed out, is perhaps a relic of a form of blood covenant; for the legend of the festival connects the origin with the adoption of a new family by the Athenian citizens.

In this festival of the Diipolia we notice another feature which suggests a totemistic origin, and of which there are one or two other examples in Greek and Roman ritual. Among totemistic peoples it is the deadliest crime to kill the totemistic animal. Where this animal is sacred, the slayer would pay for its death with his life. Thus not the priest indeed, but the axe which slew the bull at the Athenian Zeusfeast, was solemnly tried and condemned (Paus. 1.24, 4). At Tenedos the sacrificer of the booted-calf (Lang, 2.233) was stoned and driven into the sea (Aelian, Ael. NA 12.34). Perhaps with this curious ritual may be compared the story of Apollo flying in terror after slaying the python (Lang, 2.195). Here also probably belongs the mysterious ritual of the Regifugium at Rome, which has been so strangely confused by many. [Regifugium]

Another mystical totemistic feature, already alluded to, is the wearing of the skin of the sacred animal. This, which is a very common feature among totemistic peoples, has also left its traces in Greece, e. g. in the Bacchic rites, and in Rome at the Lupercalia at least. As in Mexico, the priest frequently also wore the attributes of the god: examples will be found collected in Back, De Graecorum caerimoniis in quibus homines deorum vice fungebantur, Berlin, 1883.



The ordinary ritual of honorific sacrifice must now be more exactly described. Unbloody sacrifices, it should be noted, naturally did not call for the same exactness of observance as those in which animals were offered; while piacular sacrifices, in which the victim was almost always a whole burnt offering, or at least was not shared as a meal (holocaust), were not only comparatively rare, but also needed a simpler ritual than the meal-sacrifice, or followed the ordinary ceremony, at least in its earlier stages. The process to be described is found in all its main features in the Homeric poems. In later times, an endless variety of local usage arose, as the detail was developed partly through the influence of the temple priesthood, partly through the increasing wealth (and consequent ceremonial) of cities as well as temples. We will first describe the Homeric ritual, and then indicate some points in which its leading features became afterwards developed. The student who desires to study the local variation must refer to the works of Hermann, Schömann, Maury, and Martha, already frequently quoted; but more especially to Pausanias, and to the C. I. G. and C. I. A.

In Homer (see esp. Od. 3.418-463; Il. 1.446 foll.) the rite is as follows. The victim, for the choice of which there seems to have been no precise rule, though it must be in a general sense τέλειος (Il. 1.66; i. e. free from blemish), and of a kind appropriate to the god, was led to the altar, where, if an ox, its horns were or might be gilded, to gratify the eyes of the deity. Then follow certain preliminary rites of consecration. Water for lustration was brought, together with a basket of grain (οὐλαί: whether ground or not is uncertain): with the former the hands at least of the bystanders were sprinkled, and the latter was cast on the victim and the altar (χερνίψαντο δ᾽ἔπειτα καὶ οὐλοχύτας ἀνέλοντο, II. 1.449; cf. Od. 3.445). When this was done, the chief sacrificer, whether priest or not, offered his prayer (Il. 1.451), and at the same time cut some hair from the victim's head and cast it into the flame. This hair, if the sacrifice had relation to a treaty or compact, was divided among the parties concerned (II. 3.271). Then followed the slaughter of the victim either with axe or knife or both; it was killed kneeling, as it is often represented on sacrificial vases, with its head turned upwards if the sacrifice were to celestial deities, downwards if to those of the under-world (Od. 3.453). During the act of slaughter the bystanding women, if any, cried aloud (ὀλόλυξαν)–for what reason is not very clear; perhaps this noise, like the flute-music of later times, was meant to hide the cries of the animal, all unwillingness on its part being held of ill omen. Lastly, the flesh was cut up, the thighs were sliced, and the slices wrapped in double layers of fat and placed on the altar to be wholly consumed for the god, after wine had been poured on them. The entrails were then tasted, and arming themselves with long spits, such as are often seen in vasepaintings (see e. g. Baumeister, Denkm. p. 1107), and with five-pronged forks (πεμπώβολα), the sacrificers set to work to roast the rest of the meat for their own enjoyment. In Il. 1.472, this feasting is accompanied by hymns to the god.

This ritual remained practically the same throughout the history of Greek religion. In all Greek literature, down to Lucian, we find the same notions prevalent about the part taken by the god, and the same main features, e. g. the lustral water, the grain, the clipping of the hair, and the distribution of flesh between deity and sacrificers. See especially Aristoph. Peace 820 foll.; Lucian, de Sacrificiis, 14. The monumental [p. 2.585] evidence bears this out fully (see Martha, p. 67, note 5). But, apart from the great variety of local usage already referred to, we may note at least three points in which a general development took place in the way of elaborate regulations, and especially as regards--1, the choice of victims; 2, the ceremonial adornments; 3, the apportionment of flesh and skins. A brief reference to each of these is all for which space can here be found.

1. The tendency of temple–worship and priestly influence was to create a number of artificial requirements in respect of the colour, sex, purity and perfectness of victims, especially on great public occasions. This is most singularly illustrated in an inscription from Cos, lately discovered, and edited by Mr. Hicks (Journ. Hell. Stud. vol. ix. No. 2, p. 334 foll.). The selection of the ox for sacrifice to Zeus Polieus, on the 19th day of the Coan month Batromius, was a matter of the utmost solemnity and difficulty. A holocaust or piacular offering of a pig had been made on the previous day with a view to good-luck in the selection; but it is obvious from the inscription that the Hieropoioi, who sat at a table with the priest and inspected the oxen as they were driven past, had often great difficulty in choosing. When a second herd was driven in, an ox was to be sacrificed to Hestia, apparently as a further aid; cf. Dittenberger, 338, 70, whence we learn that at Andania (and probably at many other places) the victims underwent an examination by the priest or other official, who affixed a seal (σημεῖον) to them if approved of. On the other hand, such elaborate selection must have been well-nigh impossible in the case of the great hecatombs at Athens: there the chief function of the officials seems to have been rather the procuring than the selection of victims. (For the duties of βοῦναι and ἱεροποιοὶ at Athens, see Dittenb. 388; Martha, pp. 70 and 71; [Boonae; Hieropoei.]) In the case of private sacrifices, as distinguished from those undertaken by the state, it was no doubt the business of the priest of the temple where the sacrifice was to take place to examine the victim; but so long as it was of the right kind, colour, &c., it is not probable that further rigidity of rule was insisted on.

2. In regard to ceremonial adornment, we find a development chiefly in two particulars, viz. the wearing of wreaths, and the use of instrumental music. Wreaths and garlands, which on the monuments invariably adorn the sacrificer as well as the victim, are not mentioned in Homer (Schömann, p. 228). A few exceptions to this rule are mentioned in later literature, e. g. at Paros, in the worship of the Χάριτες, and on occasions of domestic grief (Apollodorus, 3.15, 7; D. L. 2.54). The place of the wailing of the women, as represented by Homer, at the moment of slaughter, is taken by the playing of the flutes (in Argos of a trumpet, Pollux, 4.87), as is often to be seen on sacrificial vase-paintings (Martha, p. 84). The passage of Apollodorus just quoted shows plainly that the absence of these accompaniments of sacrifice at Paros was a very unusual feature, and needed a legend to explain it. Other details, such as the use of oil and honey, the sprinkling of the altar with the blood of the victim, &c., may probably have been at all times in vogue in the temples, though unnoticed in the Homeric accounts of sacrifice. For the development of hymn-singing and dancing in relation to sacrifice, see Duncker, Hist. of Greece, vol. ii. ch. 14.

3. In regard to the apportionment of the victim's flesh, which in Homer, as we have seen, was a simple matter, we have in later times, chiefly from inscriptions, a vast number of details and regulations, showing the importance attached to it. Most of these define the portion which is the perquisite of the priest (θεομοιρία: γέρη: ἱερώσυνα). This differed in different worships: frequently it is the legs and skin; sometimes the tongue and shoulder; in Fragm. Com. Graec. p. 265 (Didot), the thighs, flank, and left side of the head are mentioned. (See Dittenberger, Nos. 373, 376, 379, and 388, line 85. Also Journal of Hell. Stud. l.c. p. 328 and note; Stengel, op. cit. p. 15 foll.) The rest of the animal might, in the case of private sacrifices, be taken home by the sacrificer to be used for a meal (the survival of the Homeric practice), or even sent in the form of presents to friends (Schömann, 231). This was, of course, impossible in the case of holocausts, which were rarely honorific sacrifices: e. g. it is expressly forbidden, in the inscription from Cos already quoted, to take away any part of the pig which was burnt the day before the Zeus festival. But in public sacrifices undertaken by the state, the disposal of the carcases, which at Athens at least were sometimes counted by hundreds, came to be an important matter of public revenue, about which full information will be found in Boeckh-Fränkel, Staatshaushaltung, vol. ii., appendices viii. and viii. b. Dermaticon was the general name for this source of revenue; the skin being retained as the special property of the state, while the flesh, after the magistrates had received their portions, was distributed among the whole number of demes, for purposes of feasting (C. I. A. 2.163, 305). In B.C. 334 the revenue arising from the sale of these skins was no less than 5,500 drachmas. Thus the simple primitive sacrifice, with its genuine meaning, came to be developed into a state detail, whose importance was much more material than spiritual.


The introduction of Greek religious practice at an early period overlaid the true Roman cult, and by degrees almost extinguished it, though a distinction was always maintained by the learned between the ritus Romanus and [p. 2.586] the ritus Graecus (Marquardt, 3.186). What features of ritual are to be understood by the former term, it is hard to say, except the veiling of the head of the worshipper, which is expressly mentioned by Macrobius (1.8, 2; 3.6, 17; Plut. Q. P. 10), and the use of laurel or other wreaths (Marquardt, l.c., note 4). It may also be noted that the use of music and dancing at sacrificial rites, which in Greece had such momentous literary results, never developed at Rome into more than the mere accompaniment of tibicines, the object of which was to preclude all ill-omened sounds from reaching the ears of the worshippers (Plin. Nat. 28.11). This, however, need not exclude the supposition that rude hymns, such as those which we still possess of the Salii and the Fratres arvales, were at one time in use (R. Peter, de Romanorum precationum carminibus; contained in the Commentationes in honorem Reifferscheidii, Breslau, 1884, p. 67 foll.). But we know enough to discern that the leading characteristic of the ritus Romanus was its solemnity and stillness, especially at the time when the prayer, which was a more essential feature of it than with the Greeks, was being led by the priest. This stillness is indicated, not only by the veiling of the head, but by the fact that the prayer was often not spoken aloud, but only muttered. Thus, in the elaborate and genuinely Italian ritual of the Fratres Atiedii, at Iguvium, we meet with the phrase “tases persnimu” – tacitus precator (Bücheler, Umbrica, p. 60, note); which is to be explained as a direction to the priest to murmur below his breath. (See reff. in Marquardt, 178, note 4, and Bücheler, l.c.) The more strictly religious, if not spiritual, character of the worship in Italy is also shown by the absence of revelry after sacrifice; or at least of the development of the rite into a matter of public feasting, as at Athens. Another characteristic which was more strongly marked in Italy than Greece was the extreme and superstitious precision required in the whole ritual. The form of prayer which the priest led and the worshippers repeated after him must be gone through without the slightest error; if such error were committed, the whole had to be repeated again. The same rule applied to the ritual of sacrifice itself (Bücheler, l.c. p. 81; Arnob. 4.31; Plut. Cor. 25); and in all such cases the error had to be wiped out by a piacular sacrifice in addition. The same precision was observed in regard to the posture of the worshipper, which differed in different cults: in the ritus Romanus it is likely that this posture was a kneeling one in the act of prayer (Marquardt, 179, note 4), while usually the person praying stood with outstretched arms, and looking to the east. In the cult of Tellus and Ops, he touched the earth with his hands (Macrob. 1.10, 21; 3.9, 12). But to gain an adequate idea of the extraordinary lengths to which this precision in all respects was carried by Italian custom, and maintained by written rules, the student should not fail to consult the Iguvian inscription so often quoted, with the translations and commentaries of Bréal or Bücheler (Bréal, Les Tables Eugubines; Bücheler, Umbrica. The first and sixth tables afford the best illustrations).

A succinct description of an ordinary Roman sacrifice may be given in conclusion; in which it will now be easy for the student to distinguish some at least of the Greek and Italian elements. For further detail he is referred to Marquardt, 180 foll. (in the new French translation, vol. i. pp. 216 fell.); and for an immense collection of variety of detail, which is however wrongly used as if belonging to a single act of sacrifice, to the article in Pauly's Encyclopädie, vol. vi. pt. i. pp. 671 foll.

The victim (victima is used of the larger, hostia of the smaller animals) was led to the altar adorned with fillet and ribbons (infulae and vittae); the gilding of the horns in the case of an ox is also mentioned (Henzen, Act. Fratr, Arv. 144). On great occasions of lustration, e. g. of an army by a general, or of the people by a censor, the leaders of the victims must have names of good omen. The Greek rule held good here also, that the victim must come willingly. Then followed the immolatio, also a counterpart of the Greek ritual, which consisted in dedicating the animal by strewing on its head the mola salsa or prepared cake (Serv. ad Aen. 4.57); wine and incense were also used for this purpose, and in Verg. A. 6.245 the Greek practice is alluded to of cutting hair from the victim's head and casting it into the fire. The beast was then slain, the larger ones with axe or hammer, the smaller with the knife: this was the business, in public honorific sacrifices at least, not of the priest, but of assistants (cultrarii, popae, victimarii). When the victim was dead, the most important part of the ceremony began: viz. the extraction and examination of the exta and the preparation for burning them on the altar. By exta is to be understood the liver, gall, lungs, and heart, with the interior skin. These, and especially the liver, were in all sacrifices except piacular ones subjected to a careful inspection, with a view to ascertain whether the god was pleased; the idea being, as has been already pointed out, that he showed his good and ill will in the organs of the victim. (For the complicated science of augury which grew out of this idea in Italy, see article Divinatio; Bouché—Leclercq, Divination dans l'Antiquité, vol. iv.) If the inspection were satisfactory (litare is the technical word), the priest proceeded to prepare the exta either by boiling or by roasting on spits; the latter practice seems to have been confined to the sacrifices of sheep and lambs (Varro, L. L. 5.98). They were then laid on a dish, together with certain other parts of the flesh (Arnob. 7.24), and in this form were called prosecta (for other forms of the word see Marquardt, 183; in the Iguvian inscription it is proseseto); on this again the mola salsa was sprinkled and wine poured (Cic. Div. 2.1. 6, 37), and it was then ready to be placed on the altar (exta porricere or reddere). That this preparation of the exta was the leading feature in the rite, is well shown in the fact that on the dies intercisi of the calendar, the slaughter of the victim took place in the morning, and the placing of the exta on the altar was delayed till the evening. The additions to the exta from other parts of the victim were called augmenta; the magmenta (Marquardt, 184) sometimes mentioned appear to have been separate dishes, also placed on the altar for consumption. The rest of the flesh, or viscera (Serv. ad Aen. 6.253), was eaten by those offering the sacrifice, or [p. 2.587] by the priest in the case of piacular sacrifices (ib. 3.231), where the victim was not burnt whole (cp. Arvales; C. I. L. 6.2104). But we hear very little of priests' portions or of sacrificial feasting; the Romans were never so lavish of their victims as the Greeks, and the absence of a regular temple-priesthood enabled them to dispense with perquisites as a means of securing the priests a livelihood. The inspection and preparation of the exta remained the chief object and feature of sacrifice; and thus, in spite of the predominance of the Graecus ritus, the peculiar characteristics of the Italian religious temperament were preserved till late times in the Roman ceremonial. (In the foregoing description of the Roman ritual, Marquardt's excellent account has been closely followed.) [W.W.F]