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p998 Sacra

Article by Leonhard Schmitz, Ph.D., F.R.S.E., Rector of the High School of Edinburgh
on p998 of

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

SACRA. This word in its widest sense expresses what we call divine worship. In ancient times the state as well as all its subdivisions had their own peculiar forms of worship, whence at Rome we find sacra of the whole Roman people, of the curies, gentes, families, and even of private individuals. All these sacra, however, were divided into two great classes, the public and private sacra (sacra publica et privata), that is, they were performed either on behalf of the whole nation and at the expense of the state, or on behalf of individuals, families, or gentes, which had also to defray their expenses (Fest. s.v. Publica sacra; Liv. I.20, X.7; Plut. Num. 9; Cic. de Harusp. Resp. 7). This division is ascribed to Numa. All sacra, publica as well as privata, were superintended and regulated by the pontiffs. We shall first speak of the sacra publica.

Sacra Publica. Among the sacra publica the Romans reckoned not only those which were performed on behalf of the whole Roman people, but also those performed on behalf of the great subdivisions of the people, viz. the tribes and curiae, which Festus (l.c.) expresses: pro montanis, pagis, curiis, sacellis. (See Dionys. II.2123; Appian, Hist. Rom. VIII.138, de Bell. Civ. II.106; Plut. Quaest. Rom. 89). The sacra pro montibus et pagis are undoubtedly the sacra montanalia and paganalia, which although not sacra of the whole Roman people, were yet publica (Varro, de Ling. Lat. VI.24, &c.; comp. Fest. s.v. Septimontium). The sacella in the expression of Festus, sacra pro sacellis, appear only to indicate the places where some sacra publica were performed (Göttling, Gesch. d. Röm. Staatsv. p176). What was common to all sacra publica, is that they were performed at the expense of certain public funds, which had to provide the money for victims, libations, incense, and for the building and maintenance of those places, where they were performed (Fest. l.c.; Dionys. II.23; Liv. X.23, XLII.3). The funds set apart for the sacra publica were in the keeping of the pontiffs, and the sacramentum formed a part of them. They were kept in the domus publica of the pontifex maximus, and were called aerarium pontificum (Varro, de Ling. Lat. V.180; Gruter, Inscript. 413.8, 496.6, 452.6). When these funds did not suffice, the state treasury supplied the deficiency (Fest. s.v. Sacramentum). In the solemnization of the sacra publica the senate and the whole people took part (Plut. Num. 2). This circumstance however is not what constitutes their character as sacra publica, for the sacra popularia (Fest. s.v. Popul. sacr.) in which the whole people took part, might nevertheless be sacra privata, if the expenses were not defrayed out of the public funds, but by one or more individuals, or by magistrates. The pontiffs in conducting the sacra publica were assisted by the epulones [Epulones.]

Sacra privata embraced, as we have stated, those which were performed on behalf of a gens, a family, or an individual. The characteristic by which they were distinguished from the sacra publica, is that they were made at the expense of those persons or person on whose behalf they were performed. Respecting the sacra of a gens, called sacra gentilicia, see Gens, p568B. The sacra connected with certain families were, like those of a gens, performed regularly at fixed times, and descended as an inheritance from father to son. As they were always connected with expenses, and were also troublesome in other respects, such an inheritance was regarded as a burden rather than anything else (Macrob. Sat. I.16). They may generally have consisted in sacrifices to the Penates, but also to other divinities. They had usually been vowed by some member of a family on some particular occasion, and then continued for ever in that family, the welfare of which was thought to depend upon their regular and proper performance. Besides these periodical sacra of a family there were others, the performance of which must have depended upon the discretion of the heads of families, such as those on the birthday, or on the death of a member of a family. Savigny (Zeitschrift, vol. II p3) denies the existence of sacra familiarum.

An individual might perform sacra at any time, and whenever he thought it necessary; but if he vowed such sacra before the pontiffs and wished that they should be continued after his death, his heirs inherited with his property the obligation to perform them, and the pontiffs had to watch that they were performed duly and at their proper time (Fest. s.v. Sacer mons; Cic. pro Dom. 51; comp. ad Att. XII.19, &c.). Such an obligation was in later times evaded in various ways.

Among the sacra privata were reckoned also the sacra municipalia, that is, such sacra as a community or town had been accustomed to perform before it had received the Roman franchise. After this event, the Roman pontiffs took care that they were continued in the same manner as before (Fest. s.v. Municipalia sacra; comp. Ambrosch, Stud. u. Andeut. p215).

(See Göttling, p175, &c.; Walter, Gesch. d. Röm. Rechts, p178; Hartung, Die Relig. d. Röm. vol. I p226, &c.; comp. Sacrificium).


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