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Bill Thayer

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p1048 Situla

Unsigned article on p1048 of

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

SITULA, dim. SITELLA, (ὑδρία), was probably a bucket or pail for drawing or carrying watera (Plaut. Amph. II.2.30), but was more usually applied to the vessel from which lots were drawn: Sitella, however, was more commonly used in this signification (Plaut. Cas. II.5.34, 43, II.6.7, 11, Liv. XXV.3, XLI.18. It appears that the vessel was filled with water (as among the Greeks, whence the word ὑδρία), and that the lots (sortes) were made of wood; and as, though increasing in size below, it had a narrow neck, only one lot could come to the top of the water at the same time, when it was shaken (Situlam huc tecum afferto cum aqua et sortes, Plaut. Cas. II.4.17; Cic. in Verr. II.51; Vopisc. Prob. 8). The vessel used for drawing lots was also called urna or orca as well as Situla or Sitella (Cic. in Vatin. 14; Val. Max. VI.3 §4; Virg. Aen. VI.431, &c.; Lucian, V.394, with Schol.; compare Pers. III.48).

[image ALT: A hard-to‑read woodcut of a small object shaped like a ball with a funnel inserted into the top, a handle on either side, and a pair of sketched-in feet. It is an ancient Roman 'situla'.]
It is important to understand the true meaning of Sitella, since almost all modern writers have supposed that the name of Sitella or Cista was given indifferently to the ballot-box, into which those who voted in the comitia and courts of justice cast their tabellae: but Wunder (Codex Erfurtensis,º p. clviii &c.) has proved, that the opinion of Manutius (de Comitiis Romanis, c15, p527, ed. Graev.) is correct, who maintained that the Sitella was the urn, from which the names of the tribes or centuries were drawn out by lot, so that each might have its proper place in voting and that the Cista was the box into which the tabellae were cast. [Cista.] The form of the Sitella is preserved on a coin of the Cassia gens, which is represented in the annexed cut.º

Thayer's Note:

a Our dictionary's article is perverse: the main meaning of situla is this one — a common household bucket or pail. A nice engraving of a Roman bucket illustrates Cornelia Harcum's article "Roman Cooking Utensils in the Royal Ontario Museum of Archaeology" (AJA 25:37‑54).

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Page updated: 30 Oct 10