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p719 Lustratio

Article by Leonhard Schmitz, Ph.D, F.R.S.E, Rector of the High School of Edinburgh,
on p719 of

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

LUSTRA′TIO (κάθαρσις), was originally a purification by ablution in water. But the lustrations, of which we possess direct knowledge, are always connected with sacrifices and other religious rites, and consisted in the sprinkling of water by means of a branch of laurel or olive, and at Rome sometimes by means of the aspergillum (χέρνιψ), and in the burning of certain materials, the smoke of which was thought to have a purifying effect. Whenever sacrifices were offered, it seems to have been customary to carry them around the person or the thing to be purified. Lustrations were made in ancient Greece, and probably at Rome also, by private individuals when they had polluted themselves with any criminal action. Whole cities and states also sometimes underwent purifications to expiate the crime or crimes committed by a member of the community. The most celebrated purification of this kind was that of Athens, performed by Epimenides of Crete, after the Cylonian massacre (Diog. Laërt. I.10 §3). Purifications also took place when a sacred spot had been unhallowed by profane use, as by burying dead bodies in it, such as was the case with the island of Delos (Thucyd. I.8, III.104).

The Romans performed lustrations on many occasions, on which the Greeks did not think of them; and the object of most Roman lustrations was not to atone for the commission of crime, but to obtain the blessing of the gods upon the persons or things which were lustrated. Thus fields were purified after the business of sowing was over (Ov. Fast. I.669), and before the sickle was put to the corn.º [Arvales Fratres] The manner in which sheep were lustrated every year at the festival of the Palilia, is described by Ovid (Fast. IV.735, &c.). The shepherd towards evening sprinkled his flock with water, adorned the fold with branches and foliage, burnt pure sulphur and various herbs, and offered sacrifices to Pales. The object of this lustration was to preserve the flock from disease, contagion, and other evils (Cato, de Re Rust. C. 141). All Roman armies before they took the field were lustrated (Dion Cass. XLVII.38; Appian, Hisp. c19, Civil. IV.89, et passim), and as this solemnity was probably always connected with a review of the troops, the word lustratio is also used in the sense of the modern review (Cic. ad Att. V.20 §2). The rites customary on such occasions are not mentioned, but they probably resembled those with which a fleet was lustrated before it set sail, and which are described by Appian (Civil. V.96). Altars were erected on the shore, and the vessels manned with their troops assembled in order close to the coast. Every body kept profound silence, and priests standing close by the water killed the victims, and carried the purifying sacrifices (καθάρσια) in small boats three times around the fleet. On these rounds they were accompanied by the generals, what prayed to the gods to preserve the armament from all dangers. Hereupon the priests divided the sacrifices into two parts, one of which was thrown into the sea, and the other burnt upon the altars, while the multitude around prayed to the gods (cf. Liv. XXXVI.42, and XXIX.27, where also a prayer is recorded such as generals used to offer on these occasions). When a Macedonian army was lustrated, a dog was cut in two pieces in the place where the army was to assemble, and one half of the dog was thrown at a distance on the right and the other to the left. The army then assembled in the place between the spots where the pieces had fallen (Liv. XL.6; Curt. X.9 §12). But to return to the Romans. The establishment of a new colony was always preceded by a lustratio with solemn sacrifices (Cic. de Divin. I.45; Barth, ad Stat. Theb. IV. p1073). The city of Rome itself, as well as other towns within its dominion, always underwent a lustratio, after they had been visited by some great calamity, such as civil bloodshed, awful prodigies, and the like (Appian, Civil. I.26; Liv. XXXV.9, XLII.20). A regular and general lustratio of the whole Roman people took place after the completion of every lustrum, when the censor had finished his census and before he laid down his office. The lustratio (also called lustrum, Festus, s.v.) was conducted by one of the censors (Cic. de Divin. I.45), and held with sacrifices called Suovetaurilia (Liv. I.44; Varro, de Re Rust. II.1), because the sacrifices consisted of a pig (or ram), a sheep, and an ox. This lustratio, which continued to be observed in the days of Dionysius, took place in the Campus Martius, where the people assembled for the purpose. The sacrifices were carried three times around the assembled multitude (Dionys. Ant. Rom. IV.22). Another regular lustration which was observed every year in the month of February, was said to have been instituted because the god Februus was believed to be potens lustrationum, and because in this month the solemnities in honour of the dii manes took place (Macrob. Sat. I.13; cf. Hartung, Die Religion der Römer, I. p198, &c.).


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