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The Amburbium ("City Circuit", from ''ambire'', "to go around" + ''urb-'', "city"; plural ''amburbia'') was an ancient Roman festival for purifying the city; that is, a
lustration Lustration is the purge of government officials in Central and Eastern Europe. Various forms of lustration were employed in post-communism, post-communist Europe and more recently Lustration in Ukraine, in Ukraine. Etymology Lustration in ge ...
''(lustratio urbis)''. It took the form of a procession, perhaps along the old
Servian Wall The Servian Wall ( la, Murus Servii Tullii; it, Mura Serviane) was Ancient Roman defensive walls, an ancient Roman defensive barrier constructed around the city of Ancient Rome, Rome in the early 4th century BC. The wall was built of volcanic tuff ...

Servian Wall
, though the length of 10 kilometers would seem impractical to circumambulate. If it was a distinct festival held annually, the most likely month is
February February is the second month of the year in the Julian calendar, Julian and Gregorian calendars. The month has 28 days in common years or 29 in leap years, with the 29th day being called the ''leap day''. It is the first of five months not to ...
, but no date is recorded and the ritual may have been performed as a "crisis rite" when needed. The Amburbium can be hard to distinguish from the
Ambarvalia Ambarvalia was a Roman Roman or Romans most often refers to: *Rome , established_title = Founded , established_date = 753 BC , founder = King Romulus , image_map = Map of comune of Rome (metropolitan city of ...
in ancient sources, either because it was a similar set of ritual procedures performed on behalf of the city instead of the fields or rural areas ''(arva)'', or because both originated with the priesthood of the Arvales, "Brothers of the Fields". Historia Augusta, Vopiscus sees the two as closely related: "the city is purified, the hymns are chanted, the Amburbium is celebrated, the Ambarvalia is carried out." Both festivals seem to have involved the sacrifice in ancient Roman religion, sacrifice of a pig, a sheep, and a bull ''(suovetaurilia)''. The Amburbium's sacrificial victims ''(Glossary of ancient Roman religion#hostia, hostiae)'' were ''amburbiales.'' According to Maurus Servius Honoratus, Servius, for the Ambarvalia a ''hostia'' with the capacity to produce ''felicitas'' ("fecundity, blessedness") is led around in a ritual circuit three times; the ceremony, he says, is called an ''amburbium'' when it is the city that is circumambulated. The encircling ''(circuire)'' is identical with the purification ''(lustrare)''. Amburbium does not appear on any of the List of ancient Roman fasti, ancient calendars, and is thus assumed if annual to be one of the ''feriae conceptivae'', a moveable feast. Macrobius, an antiquarian#Ancient Rome, antiquarian writer of late antiquity, says that the semi-legendary second king of Rome Numa Pompilius, Numa added ''Ianuarius'' and ''Februarius'' to the end of the ten-month Roman calendar, calendar of Romulus, and instituted a lustration of the city in February, with the sacrifices to be offered to the Manes, Di Manes. The Amburbium is not named as such in the passage, but H.H. Scullard thought it might be meant. Most festival activity in February pertained to the care and propitiation of the dead. The scarcity of evidence may indicate that in the Roman Empire, Imperial period the Amburbium was celebrated irregularly as needed, but it was performed as late as 271 AD. According to the ''Historia Augusta'', on January 11 of that year the emperor Aurelian ordered a consultation of the Sibylline books, a collection of prophetic utterances from the gods ''(Glossary of ancient Roman religion#fata deorum, fata deorum)'', resulting in a lustration of the city by means of the Amburbium and Ambarvalia. The ritual has been compared to the lustral sacrifices described in the Iguvine Tablets, which were conducted by the ''Fratres Atiedii'', a "brotherhood" of priests at Iguvium (present-day Gubbio). It is one of several ceremonies of ancient Roman religion in which a sacred topography is marked out through a procession.


Description by Lucan

The Neronian poet Lucan describes a ritual circumambulation of the city that may be the Amburbium, though the account could also be a fictional composite. In his epic poem about Caesar's civil war, Lucan says that when Julius Caesar returned from Gallic Wars, Gaul and marched his troops toward the city, a panic broke out and a number of omens ''(prodigium, prodigia)'' were reported. Religious specialists were called in, among them an Etruscan religion#Etrusca Disciplina, Etruscan prophet ''(vates)'' named Arruns who orders up a sequence of ritual procedures, beginning with the destruction of all "wikt:freak of nature, freaks of nature" ''(Glossary of ancient Roman religion#monstrum, monstra)''. The "unspeakable fetuses of a sterile womb" ''(sterilique nefandos / ex utero fetus)'' are to be burnt using the wood of "unlucky" trees (religiously ''Glossary of ancient Roman religion#arbor felix, infelix).'' Arruns then sets in motion an amburbium, described in densely Glossary of ancient Roman religion, religious terms:
He bids the city to be circumambulated ''(urbem ambiri)'' by the fearful citizens, and the College of Pontiffs, pontiffs to encircle the length of the sacred boundary ''(pomerium)'' along the outer perimeter ''(Glossary of ancient Roman religion#finis, fines)'' while purifying the city walls by means of festal lustration ''(Glossary of ancient Roman religion#festus, festo … lustrum, lustro)''. A throng of lesser rank follow, wearing the Glossary of ancient Roman religion#cinctus gabinus, Gabinian cincture. The female priest in Fillet (clothing), fillets leads the Vestal Virgin, Vestal chorus; for her alone is it right to look upon the Minerva Palladium (mythology), brought from Troy. Then came those who conserve the gods' utterances ''(Glossary of ancient Roman religion#fata deorum, fata deorum'', that is, the priestly college of the ''quindecimviri sacris faciundis, quindecimviri'') and the arcane chants ''(Glossary of ancient Roman religion#carmen, carmina)'' and who call back Cybele after she has been Cybele#'Holy week' in March, bathed in the little Almo; and the learned augur who observes birds in flight on the left; and the ''epulones, septemvir'' who presents festal banquets, and the Glossary of ancient Roman religion#sodalitas, sodality of the Titii, and the Salii, Salian priest bearing the ancile, sacred shield gladly on his shoulder, and the flamen towering in his Apex (headdress), conical hat with the well-born point.
Lucan follows the procession with the sacrifice of a bull, whose Glossary of ancient Roman religion#exta, entrails reveal dire omens, and a prophetic speech by Nigidius Figulus based on his astronomical observations. It is unclear whether this Amburbium was a crisis rite actually held in 49 BC, or "a figment of his poetic imagination".Scullard, ''Festivals and Ceremonies of the Roman Republic'', p. 83.


See also

* Terminalia (festival), Terminalia * ''supplicatio'' * Argei


References

{{Roman religion (festival) Ancient Roman festivals Processions in ancient Rome February observances