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p129 Argei

Article by Robert Whiston, M.A., Fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge
on pp129‑130 of

William Smith, D.C.L., LL.D.:
A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities, John Murray, London, 1875.

ARGEI. We learn from Livy (I.22) that Numa consecrated places for the celebration of religious services, which were called by the pontifices "argei". Varro calls them the chapels of the argei, and says they were twenty-seven in number, distributed in the different districts of the city. We know but little of the particular uses to which they were applied, and that little is unimportant. Thus we are told that they were solemnly visited on the Liberalia, or festival of Bacchus; and also, that whenever the flamen dialis went (ivit) to them, he was to adhere to certain observances. They seem also to have been the depositaries of topographical records. Thus we read in Varro, — In sacreis Argeorum scriptum est sic: Oppius mons princeps, &c., which is followed by a description of the neighbourhood. There was a tradition that these argei were named from the chieftains who came with Hercules, the Argive, p130to Rome, and occupied the Capitoline, or, as it was anciently called, Saturnian hill. It is impossible to say what is the historical value or meaning of this legend; we may, however, notice its conformity with the statement that Rome was founded by the Pelasgians, with whom the name of Argos was connected (Varr. L. L. V.45, ed. Müller; Ov. Fast. III.791; (Gell. X.15); Niebuhr, Rom. Hist. vol. I p214).

The name argei was also given to certain figures thrown into the Tiber from the Sublician bridge, on the Ides of May in every year. This was done by the pontifices, the vestals, the praetors, and other citizens, after the performance of the customary sacrifices. The images were thirty in number, made of bulrushes, and in the form of men (εἴδωλα ἀνδρείκελα, priscorum simulacra virorum). Ovid makes various suppositions to account for the origin of this rite; we can only conjecture that it was a symbolical offering to propitiate the gods, and that the number was a representative either of the thirty patrician curiae at Rome, or perhaps of the thirty Latin townships. Dionysius of Halicarnassus states (I.19, 38) that the custom continued to his times, and was instituted by Hercules to satisfy the scruples of the natives when he abolished the human sacrifices formerly made to Saturn (Varr. L. L. VII.44; Ov. Fast. V.621; Plut. Quaest. Rom. p102, Reiske; Arnold, Rom. Hist. vol. I p67; Bunsen and Platner, Beschreibung Roms, vol. I p688‑702).


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