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p1189 Ver Sacrum

Article by Leonhard Schmitz, Ph.D, F.R.S.E, Rector of the High School of Edinburgh,
on p1189 of

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

VER SACRUM (ἔτος ἱερόν). It was a custom among the early Italian nations, especially among the Sabines, in times of great danger and distress, to vow to the deity the sacrifice of every thing born in the next spring, that is between the first of March and the last day of April, if the calamity under which they were labouring should be removed (Festus, s.v. Ver sacrum; Liv. XXII.9, 10, XXXIV.44; Strab. V. p172; Sisenna ap. Non. XII.18; Serv. ad Aen. VII.796). This sacrifice in the early times comprehended both men and domestic animals, and there is little doubt that in many cases the vow was really carried into effect. But in later times it was thought cruel to sacrifice so many innocent infants, and accordingly the following expedient was adopted. The children were allowed to grow up, and in the spring of their twentieth or twenty-first year they were with covered faces driven across the frontier of their native country, whereupon they went whithersoever fortune or the deity might lead them. Many a colony had been founded by persons driven out in this manner; and the Mamertines in Sicily were the descendants of such devoted persons (Fest. l.c. and s.v. Mamertini; compare Dionys. I.16; Plin. H. N. III.18; Justin. XXIV.4; Liv. XXXIII.44).

In the two historical instances in which the Romans vowed a ver sacrum, that is, after the battle of lake Trasimenus and at the close of the second Punic war, the vow was confined to domestic animals, as was expressly stated in the vow (Liv. l.c.; Plut. Fab. Max. 4).


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