Religion in ancient Rome
Glossary of ancient Roman religion
In ancient Roman religion, the
Flamen Quirinalis was the flamen
devoted to the cult of god Quirinus. He was one of the three flamines
maiores, third in order of importance after the
Flamen Dialis and the
Flamen Martialis. As the other ones he had to reside in Rome and was
not allowed to leave the city for any reason.
The theology of
Quirinus is complex and difficult to interpret. From
early times, he was identified with the deified Romulus, who
originally seems to have shared some common theological and
mythological elements with Quirinus.
1 Ritual functions
3 Relation to Dumezil's Trifunctional Hypothesis
4 Brelich's identification of
Quirinus as a mythical
archetype of primitive religion
The flamen Quirinalis presided over at least three festivals, the
Consualia Aestiva on August 21,
Robigalia on April 25, and Larentalia
on December 23.
These festivals were all devoted to the cult of deities of remarkable
Consus has been described as the god of the stored grains
(from condere, to store grains in an underground barn or silos).
Robigus was an evil spirit that could cause mildew and thus damage
Larenta was a figure connected to the primordial
legendary times of Rome or to the founding of the city itself.
Consualia Aestiva the flamen Quirinalis and the Vestals
offered a sacrifice at Consus's underground altar in the Circus
Maximus. Four days later the
Vestals took part in the rites of the
festival of Ops, goddess of agricultural plenty, the Opiconsivia. This
occasion was related to
Consus too and was performed in the
the forum, where
Ops had a very sacred chapel, open only to the
pontifex maximus and the Vestals.
Robigalia of April 25 required the sacrificial offering of blood
and entrails from a puppy, and perhaps also the entrails of a sheep.
The rite took place near the fifth milestone of the Via Claudia.
Ovid talks of a lucus (grove) on the site and reports a long prayer he
says was pronounced by the flamen Quirinalis. While the prayer may
contain elements from an actual formulation, Ovid's text is a poetic
Larentalia of December 23 were a parentatio, an act of funerary
cult in memory of
Larunda or Larentia. A sacrifice was offered at the
site of her supposed tomb on the Velabrum. She was not a goddess but a
sort of heroine, with two conflicting legends: in the first (and
probably elder one) Larentia is a courtesan who had become fabulously
rich after spending a night in the sanctuary of Heracles. Later she
had bestowed her fortune on the Roman people on the condition that a
rite named after her were held yearly. In the second she is Romulus
and Remus's wet nurse, also considered the mother of the Fratres
Arvales and a she wolf.
Gellius in a detailed passage on Larentia
makes a specific reference to the flamen Quirinalis. Macrobius
makes reference to the presence of an unnamed flamen, "per
flaminem". This flamen could neither be the Dialis nor the
Martialis, let alone the minores, given the nature of parentatio
(funeral rite) of the festival.
Beside these festivals that of
Quirinus himself, the Quirinalia, would
logically and probably require the participation of the flamen
Quirinalia were held on
February 17 and must be among
the oldest Roman yearly festivals.
Main article: Quirinalia
Quirinalia occurred on
February 17 in the
Roman calendar (a.d.
XIII Kal. Mart.).
Some scholars connect the
Quirinalia with the anniversary date of
the murder of
Romulus by his subjects on the basis of the calendar of
Polemius Silvius and of Ovid, where the story of Romulus's
apotheosis is related, and accordingly interpret the festival as a
Dumezil on the other hand remarks that in all other sources the
date of this event is July 7 (Nonae Caprotinae). Neither there is any
record of such a ritual in ancient sources.
He puts forward another interpretation based on the fact that the only
religious ritual recorded for that day are the stultorum feriae, i.e.
the last day of the Fornacalia. This festival used to be celebrated
separately by each of the thirty curiae. Therefore the
no fixed date and were not mentioned on calendars. Every year the
curio maximus established the days for each curia. However those who
had missed their day (stulti, fool ones) were allowed an extra off day
to make amends collectively. Festus and Plutarch state that
the stultorum feriae were in fact the Quirinalia. Their assertion
seems acceptable to
Dumézil for two reasons:
1) if it were not so then no Roman writer gave any indication of their
content. This is highly unlikely for in Rome religious rituals often
survived their theological justification.
2) the stultorum feriae bring to an end the organised operation of the
curiae in the
Fornacalia and this is a guarantee of their antiquity.
The connection hypothesised by
Dumezil between the flamen Quirinalis
and an activity regulated through the curiae is important as it
supports the interpretation of
Quirinus as a god of the Roman civil
society. The curiae were in fact the original smallest grouping of
The most probable etymology of curia is considered by many
scholars, to be rooted in *co-viria and that of quirites in
The Virites were goddesses worshipped along with Quirinus:
Gellius, writes to have read in the pontificales libri, that dea
Hora and Virites were invoked in prayers in association with the god.
The Virites, Quirinus's female paredrae, must be the expression of the
god's virtus, in the case of
Quirinus namely the personification of
the individuals composing Roman society as citizens, in the same way
as e.g. Nerio, Mars's paredra, must be the personification of military
Quirinus would be the Roman homologous of the correspondent last
component god of the supreme divine triad among all Italic peoples,
such as the Vofionus of the Iguvine Tables, whose name too has been
interpreted as a term meaning the increaser of the people (either from
Loifer, or from Luther, an abbreviation from Greek Eleutheros) or
simply the people, related to German Leute. This hypothesis is
confirmed by the fact that the two first god names at Iguvium are
identical to their Roman counterpart (Jov- and Mart-) and
grammatically were nouns, whereas name Vofiono- is an adjectival
derivation in no- of a noun root, just as *Co-virino. Moreover
philologists Vittor Pisani and Emile Benveniste have proposed a likely
etymology for Vofiono- that makes it the equivalent in meaning of
Relation to Dumezil's Trifunctional Hypothesis
The Consualia, Robigalia, Larentalia, and the last act of Fornacalia
(the Quirinalia) are the religious rituals performed by flamen
Quirinalis. If Romans' traditions were conserved, rather than
re-adapted, these rituals should reflect the most ancient and original
nature of god Quirinus. The festivals connect him to wheat at the
three important and potentially risky stages of its growth, storing,
Quirinus is thus concerned with a staple food. He
cooperates with god Consus, as is testified by the role of his flamen
in the Consualia, to the aim of assuring the nurture of the Roman
There is also a connection between the function of the flamen
Quirinalis in the
Quirinalia and the functioning of organized Roman
society as expressed through the role played by the curiae in the
Fornacalia. The curiae were in fact the smallest cell of ancient Roman
society. The role of the flamen Quirinalis in the Larentalia
is also significant. In the two legends concerning Larentia she is a
figure related to nurture, agricultural plenty, and wealth. She rears
the divine twins, is the mother of the Fratres Arvales, performers of
the agricultural propitiary rite of the Ambarvalia, and bestows wealth
on her heirs and figurative children. Her story hints to the link of
sexual pleasure and wealth. In the interpretation of
Dumézil this has
to do with the Indo-European myth of the divine twins, but Romulus's
connections to kingship and war are not necessarily part of the
original conception of Quirinus.
Dumezil the theological character of the god as reflected
in the functions of his flamen is thence civil and social, being
related to nurture, fertility, plenty, wealth, and pleasure. This
features make him the chief of all the gods of what he defines as the
third function in Indo-European religions.
Brelich's identification of
Quirinus as a mythical
archetype of primitive religion
Italo-Hungarian religious historian Angelo Brelich advanced a
hypothesis that could bring together all of the poorly understood
elements of the religious traditions concerning
Romulus and Quirinus.
He argues it is not likely that the two figures were merged at a later
stage in the development of the legend, but they were in fact one
since the most ancient times. This view allows us to understand why
the Fornacalia, the feast of the toasting of spelt, were also one of
the traditional dates of the murder of Romulus: according to this
tradition the king was killed by the patres, his body dismembered and
each bit of it buried within their own plots of land. Brelich sees in
this episode a clear reflection of a mythical theme found in primitive
religion and known as the
Dema deity archetype (from the character of
Hainuwele in Melanesian religion first described by German ethnologist
Adolf Ellegard Jensen). In such a pattern a founder hero is murdered
and dismembered, his corpse turning into the staple food of his own
^ This interpretation has been recently challenged by G. Capdeville as
not grounded in ancient documents. Moreover the Romans did not use to
store grains in underground barns or siloses. See article
^ Tertullian, De Spectaculis V 7
^ Varro Lingua Latina VI 21
^ Calendar of Praeneste,
Corpus Inscriptionum Latinarum
Corpus Inscriptionum Latinarum CIL I2 pp.
^ Ovid Fasti IV 905-942; prayer 910 sqq. For further discussion, see
^ Aulus Gellius. Noctes Atticae VII 7, 8.
Gellius above VII 7, 7.
Macrobius Saturnalia I 10, 15.
^ H. Wagenvoort Studies in Roman literature, culture and religion 1956
^ Ovid Fasti II 481-512
Dumezil La religion romaine archaique Paris, 1974, part I, chap.
^ Festus p.412 L2nd.
^ Plutarch Questiones Romanae 89.
^ P. Kretschmer "Lateinisch quirites und quiritare" in Glotta 10 1920
p. 147-157: E. Benveniste "Symbolisme social dans les cultes
gréco-italiques" in Revue de l'histoire des religions 129 1945 p.
7-9; A. Carandini Cercando Quirino Turin, 2007.
Gellius Noctes Atticae XIII, 2, 3, 1.
^ Phonetic correspondences l, eu, dh > u, o, f are perfectly
regular for Umbrian. Compare ‘leudhyo’ to German ‘Leute’.
^ Pisani, V. (1938). Mytho-Etymologica, Rev. des etudes
Indo-Europeennes, 1. Bucarest.
^ E. Benveniste. (1945). Symbolisme social dans les cultes
greco-italique, 129. Rev.d'Histoire des Religions.
^ G. Dumezil. La religion romaine archaique, Paris, 1974
^ A. Carandini. Cercando Quirino Turin, 2007
Dumezil La religion romaine archaique Paris, 1974, part I, chap.2
^ "Quirinus: una divinita' romana alla luce della comparazione
storica" in Studi e Materiali di Storia de