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 p719  Lustrum

Article by Leonhard Schmitz, Ph.D, F.R.S.E, Rector of the High School of Edinburgh,
on pp719‑720 of

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

LUSTRUM (from luo, Gr. λούω), is properly speaking a lustration or purification of the whole Roman people performed by one of the censors in the Campus Martius, after the business of the census was over. [Censor; Lustratio.] As this purification took place only once in five years, the word lustrum was also used to designate the time between two lustra. Varro (de Ling. Lat. VI.11, ed. Müll.) erroneously derives the word lustrum from luo (I pay), because the vectigalia and tributa were paid every five years to the censors. The first lustrum was performed in B.C. 566 by king Servius, after he had completed his census (Liv. I.44; Dionys. IV.22), and afterwards it is said to have taken place regularly every five years after the census was over. In the earliest period of the republic the business of the census and the solemnities of the lustrum were performed by the consuls. The first censors were appointed in B.C. 443, and from this year down to B.C. 294 there had, according to Livy (X.47), only been 26 pairs of censors, and only 21 lustra, or general purifications, although if all had been regular, there would have been 30 pairs of censors and 30 lustra. We must therefore conclude, that sometimes the census was not held at all, or at least not by the censors. We also learn from this statement that the census might take place without the lustrum, and indeed two cases of this kind are recorded (Liv. III.22, XXIV.43)  p720 which happened in B.C. 459 and 214. In these cases the lustrum was not performed on account of some great calamities which had befallen the republic.

The time when the lustrum took place has been very ingeniously defined by Niebuhr (Hist. of Rome, I. p277). Six ancient Romulian years of 304 days each were, with the difference of one day, equal to five solar years of 365 days each, or the six ancient years made 1824 days, while the five solar years contained 1825 days. The lustrum, or the great year of the ancient Romans (Censorin. de Die Nat. 18), was thus a cycle, at the end of which, the beginning of the ancient year nearly coincided with that of the solar year. As the coincidence however was not perfect, a month of 24 days was intercalated in every eleventh lustrum. Now it is highly probable that the recurrence of such a cycle or great year was, from the earliest times, solemnized with sacrifices and purifications, and that Servius Tullius did not introduce them, but merely connected them with his census, and thus set the example for subsequent ages, which however, as we have seen, was not observed with regularity. At first the irregularity may have been caused by the struggles between the patricians and plebeians, when the appointment of censors was purposely neglected to increase the disorders; but we also find that similar neglects took place at a later period, when no such cause existed (Sueton. Aug. 37, Claud. 16). The last lustrum was solemnized at Rome, in A.D. 74, in the reign of Vespasian (Censorin, l.c.).

Many writers of the latter period of the republic and during the empire, use the word lustrum for any space of five years, and without any regard to the census (Ov. Fast. II.183, IV.701, Amor. III.6.27; Horat. Carm. II.4.24, IV.1.6), while others even apply it in the sense of the Greek pentaeteris or an Olympiad, which only contained four years (Ovid. ex Pont. IV.6.5, &c.; Mart. IV.45). Martial also uses the expression lustrum ingens for saeculum.

(Cf. Scaliger, de Emend. Tempor. p183; Ideler, Handb. der ChronOl. II. p77, &c.).

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