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This webpage reproduces an article in
Classical Philology
Vol. 27, No. 3 (Jul. 1932), pp268‑273.

The text is in the public domain.

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 p268  A note on the Compitalia

The beginning student who may have fallen on this article from a search engine should start with the basic article Compitalia in Smith's Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities.

During republican times in Rome and other parts of Italy the compita, where the Lares Compitales were worshiped, were not only religious centers, but also social and political ones. The compita in the various vici became natural gathering places for the slaves and freedmen and other lowly men to whom this worship particularly appealed. Ambitious politicians found that these societies could be exploited to great profit, and as a result it became necessary for more scrupulous statesmen to pay heed to them. In 64 B.C. Quintus Cicero in the De petitione consulatus viii.30 advises his brother: "Deinde habeto rationem urbis totius, collegiorum omnium, pagorum, vicinitatum." Cicero (Pro P. Sestio xv.34) vehemently denounces the illegal political powers that these associations had assumed: "Isdem consulibus inspectantibus servorum dilectus habebatur pro tribunali Aurelio nomine collegiorum, cum vicatim homines conscriberentur, decuriarentur, ad vim, ad manus, ad caedem, ad direptionem incitarentur." But the disorders arising from these clubs became so flagrant that in the year 64 B.C., by a decree of the Senate, the collegia compitalicia were abolished and with them passed away the celebration of the Compitalia. They were revived again in 56 B.C. by the Lex Clodia de Collegiis,​1 only to experience another setback after a few stormy years at the hands of Julius Caesar. At least it has been generally asserted by scholars that Julius Caesar suppressed them, but it is this statement which I wish to call into question.

Wissowa,​2 Boehm,​3 Saglio,​4 Grenier,​5 and Bulard​6 have all subscribed to this view, relying on three passages of Suetonius — Julius 42 and Augustus 31 and 32. I shall attempt to put a new interpretation on them, first by an analysis of the texts, and second by the help of two inscriptions, CIL VI.1324 and ibid. (1st ed.), I, p448 (2d ed., p37) — Dessau 6375. The first passage (Suetonius Julius 42) reads: "Cuncta collegia, praeter antiquitus constituta, distraxit." This states very clearly that he, Caesar, suppressed all colleges except those that had been organized in ancient times. It seems, however, much more  p269 probable that the collegia compitalicia were included in the category antiquitus constituta. We know that the worship of the Lares Compitales was one of the oldest at Rome. The Compitalia were celebrated as far back as the regal period. Dionysius of Halicarnassus IV.14 attributes the inauguration of this cult to Servius Tullius, and Macrobius I.7.34 speaks of the festival as being restored by Tarquinius Superbus and reformed by Junius Brutus. It is only giving Caesar due credit as a statesman to suspect that he would not have abolished one of the most popular cults in all Italy — at least among that part of the population that so loved to cause trouble. What he probably did was to enforce certain enactments which hindered these colleges in their political aspirations — making it impossible for demagogues like Clodius to use them for nefarious purposes, and forcing the colleges to devote their energies to their original purely religious ends.

The second passage (Suetonius Augustus 31) reads as follows: "Nonnulla etiam ex antiquis caerimoniis, paulatim abolita, restituit, ut Salutis augurium, Diale flaminium, sacrum Lupercale, ludos Saeculares et Compitalicios." Augustus' reform of the Lares cult, which from inscriptional evidence we can date as commencing in 14 B.C. and continuing until 7 B.C.,​7 is a matter of common knowledge and therefore I shall not speak of it here. It must be admitted that the phrase paulatim abolita"which had gradually fallen into disuse" — does not seem to imply that any of the foregoing rites were suppressed by official enactments, but only that from one cause or another they fell into disuse. Certainly sufficient reason for the neglect of almost everything can be found in the stormy years that followed on the death of Caesar.

The third passage (ibid. 32) — "collegia, praeter antiqua et legitima, dissolvit" — is similar to the first, save that here Augustus was the one who effected the measures. If we assume that the collegia compitalicia were included in the collegia mentioned here, it seems obvious enough that Caesar did not suppress them, for if he had done so, why should Augustus have had to repeat the measure? Very possibly this passage refers, among other things, to Augustus' reform of the Lares cult mentioned above, the aim of which we know was to increase order in Rome.​8 Perhaps, however, this passage should be interpreted in the same manner as the one in Julius 42 — "Cuncta collegia, praeter antiquitus constituta, distraxit" — namely, by urging that the collegia compitalicia should be included among those antiquitus constituta, or antiqua et legitima. Whatever interpretation is placed upon these passages, the conclusion seems evident enough that the collegia compitalicia were in existence in Augustus' time, and consequently the logical inference is that Julius Caesar did not suppress them.

There are two inscriptions which, although they do not prove the foregoing view conclusively, nevertheless strong increase its probability. The first one  p270 (CIL [1st ed.], I, p448) is on a stone which was found in Pompeii bearing one inscription above another. The top one reads C. Iulio. Caesare. Dict. Iter. M. Antonio. Mag. Eq. Mag. Vici. et. Compiti., and then comes a place for nine names — some of them obliterated, but recognizable are the names of some freemen and the rest are probably freedmen, although one may be a slave. Then comes the other dedication, beginning (C. Caes)are. M. Lepido. Cos., and then comes a place for seven names, two of which are undoubtedly those of freemen and the rest probably of freedmen. The date of the top inscriptionsº is 47 B.C., of the bottom one 46 B.C. An objection may immediately be raised that evidence from Pompeii is valueless for proving whether a measure was or was not passed at Rome. In answer to this it can be stated that Pompeii was made a Roman colony in 80 B.C. How long the garrison was retained there is unknown, but whether we wish to think of Pompeii in 46 B.C. as having the status of a Roman colony or that of a municipium, in either case it is probably safe to maintain that decrees passed by the central government at Rome were equally enforced in Pompeii along with the local measures. Assuming, then, that a law passed at Rome was also effective in Pompeii, we learn from this stone that in the year 46 B.C., magistri vici, the men who were in charge of the cult of the Lares Compitales in the vicus in which they resided, were fulfilling the functions of their office. In other words, up to the year 46 Caesar had not suppressed the collegia compitalicia. In 47, when he was in the east, numerous forms of disorder arose in Rome over the proposals of the tribune Dolabella to cancel debts. The trouble does not seem to have subsided until his return later in that year.​9 Riotous scenes of this sort are just the type in which the collegia compitalicia would have been likely to have played a leading rôle. It seems probable that Caesar, if he intended to suppress these colleges, would have seized upon this occasion as an opportune time to destroy such hotbeds of unrest, but obviously he did not, for in the following year, 46, we find the magistri vici still in office.

There is another inscription that throws some light on this problem. CIL VI.1324, reads Varro. Murena L. Trebellius. aed. cur. locumd ederuntº — then come the names of four freedmen, and then Mag. Veici faciund. coer ex. P.L. If this inscription could be dated between the death of Caesar and the time of Augustus' reform of the Lares cult, 44‑14 B.C., we should have conclusive proof that Caesar did not suppress the collegia compitalicia. We can show that it does not belong to a period after 14 B.C., but the proof that it was not set up before 44 B.C. is, although extremely probable, not absolute. There seem to be three possibilities as to when a Varro Murena and a L. Trebellius might have been curule aediles.

In the year 67 one of the tribunes was L. Trebellius. We do not know whether he ever held the office of curule aedile or not, but, of course, it is possible. When we try to discover whether there was a Varro Murena living then,  p271 we run against formidable difficulties. Cicero in his speech, Pro Caecina ix.24, delivered in 69 B.C., mentions a witness by the name of A. Terentius. Again in a letter written in 49 B.C. (Ad fam. XVI.12) he speaks of an Aulus Varro, and in another letter dated 46 B.C. (ibid. XIII.22) he speaks of a Varro Murena. It has generally been taken for granted that these three names all refer to the same man — A. Terentius Varro Murena, but I do not think there is any proof for this assumption. In the Pro Caecina, Cicero speaks violently against A. Terentius, while the two men mentioned in his correspondence are spoken of as close friends. There is no way of proving that the A. Terentius of the oration had both a Varro and a Murena in his name. Joseph Seidel, in his Fasti aedilicii, without proving the point, nevertheless gives strong evidence that the curule-aedileship was never held by these two men as colleagues at this time. He is able to date many curule aediles in this period, but the only Murena he finds is one who shared the aedile­ship with a Varro, and he argues that the full names of these men were C. Visellius Varro and C. Licinius Murena and that they held office probably in 59 B.C.10 Since we cannot be sure there was a Varro Murena living around 67, for when the apparent adoption of a Murena by a Varro took place we have no information, and since we have no evidence that if one was living he was aedile, it seems wise to resign the possibility that a Varro Murena and a L. Trebellius might have been curule aediles together shortly after 67 B.C., and to look elsewhere.

The second possible date for a joint aedile­ship of these two men is shortly after the year 47. In that year L. Trebellius was tribune; he opposed Dolabella in his proposed cancellation of debts mentioned above. This Trebellius, as we know from Cicero (Phil. VI.4.11 and XIII.12.26), held the office of aedile. We do not know when he was aedile, but it is a plausible assumption that it was several years after his tribune­ship — in 44 or later; in 45 there were no curule aediles for the first nine months. When they were elected, after Caesar's return from Spain in September, 45, a certain L. Aelius Lamia was apparently one of the incumbents of the office,​11 and naturally this would exclude the possibility of the two men with whom we are concerned being aediles in that year. Consequently we are justified in leaving the year 45 out of the discussion. Seidel​12 says that Trebellius was curule aedile in 44, and, on the basis of the inscription that we are discussing, names as his colleague Varro Murena. The statement that Trebellius was not aedile before 44 seems sound enough. If he was tribune in 47, it would be most unusual for him to be aedile in the next year, and, as we have seen, the year 45 is ruled out, for L. Aelius Lamia was curule aedile then. A difficulty lies in the question whether it can be proved for certain that L. Trebellius was curule rather than plebeian aedile.  p272 Seidel points out that in Phil. XIII.12.26 Cicero enumerates the adherents of Antony according to their senatorial rank. If Cicero is consistent throughout this passage, Seidel is almost certainly right in asserting that Trebellius held the curule office. If then L. Trebellius was curule aedile, it is extremely tempting on the basis of the inscription to say that Varro Murena was his colleague. If this assumption is correct — namely, that these two men held office together in 44 B.C. (certainly not before, although possibly later) — the assertion that Caesar did not suppress the collegia compitalicia is as good as proved, for if he took that step, he must have done so before the last three months of his life.

Unfortunately a difficulty may lie in the case of Varro Murena. The only possible man of this name of whom we have any knowledge seems to be the A. Terentius of Pro Caecina ix.24, the Aulus Varro of Ad fam. XVI.12 and Caesar Bel. civ. III.19, and the Varro Murena of Ad fam. XIII.22. If these three names all refer to the same person, I should suggest that the A. Terentius, who was a witness in the trial of Caecina in 67, by 44 B.C. would be considerably older than an aedile usually was. In case the men mentioned in the letters are identical, as they probably are, but distinct from the A. Terentius of the oration, the same argument might hold. Cicero speaks of them as personal friends, and it might be held that this implies that they were contemporaries. In the year 46 Cicero was sixty years old, and it must be admitted that it would be most unusual for the incumbent of the curule-aedileship to be in his sixties. But the assertion that they were contemporaries is a dangerous one to make in the case of Cicero, for he was prone to speak of men far younger than himself as if they were personal friends. It seems impossible, then, to maintain with any certainty that Varro Murena was too old to be aedile at this time, and consequently Seidel is very probably right in stating that he and L. Trebellius were curule aediles in 44. If we assume this, the same arguments proposed with regard to the other inscription would hold, and more forcibly. If Caesar suppressed the collegia compitalicia, it is almost certain that he did so before 44. And evidence derived from this inscription is more convincing than from the one of the years 47 and 46, for this one was found seven miles from Rome between the Latin and Labican ways, while the other was discovered in Pompeii, and certainly Caesar's decrees would have had more immediate effect in Rome than in the Campanian city. If this inscription is properly dated as belonging to the year 44, or later, I should say that it affords almost absolute proof that the collegia compitalicia were not suppressed.

There is a third possibility for the aedile­ship of these two men. The conspiracy of Fannius Caepio and Murena against Augustus in the year 22 B.C. is a well-known fact. This Murena is called by different names in the sources.​13 In Dio LIV.3 he is called Licinius Murena, and in Vell. Pat. II.91, Lucius Murena. In Suetonius Augustus 19 and Tiberius 8 he is called Varro Murena, and  p273 in Augustus 56 and 66, simply Murena. This man is generally conceded to be the one whom Horace addresses as Murena (Odes III.19.11 and Sat. I.5.38) and as Licinius (Odes II.10.1). The confusion in the names is well treated by Verrall.​14 All we need say here is that there was certainly one man, and very probably two men, by the name of Varro Murena living about 22 B.C. As every reference to this name indicates a man of considerable prominence, it is reasonable to assume that he (or they) was curule aedile at some time preceding 22 B.C. Whether there was a L. Trebellius who was aedile about that time we do not know. Certainly there must have been living then some descendants of the two Trebellii, tribunes in 67 and 47 respectively, the younger of whom we know was also aedile. It is quite within the range of possibility that a L. Trebellius was curule aedile shortly before 22 B.C. and that he had as colleague one of the men by the name of Varro Murena whom we have just mentioned.

To sum up the investigation of this inscription: The possibility of assigning it to shortly after 67 B.C. is scarcely worthy of consideration. The evidence for attributing it to the year 44 B.C. or later is much more plausible since we know that a L. Trebellius was aedile then. The chief objection to dating it thus is that the only Varro Murena available of whom we have any knowledge might have been older than one would expect an aedile to be. The third possibility, the one described last, would assign this inscription to a period shortly before 22 B.C. There is no evidence for dating it between 22 and 14 B.C. If it did belong to this period, however, it would still substantiate the statement that Caesar did not suppress the collegia compitalicia, and we know that it does not belong after 14 B.C., for after that date the inscriptions dedicated by the magistri vici are of a different type.15

In conclusion I should say that the three passages from Suetonius cited above do not state that Caesar suppressed the collegia compitalicia. The more reasonable interpretation is that they were generally neglected during the chaotic years following the death of Caesar and continued so until Augustus reformed the Lares cult. The two inscriptions support this view. CIL (Ist ed.) I, p448, dated 46, shows that by 46 B.C. Caesar had not suppressed the collegia compitalicia, and we have seen that the year 47 would have been the most probable time for taking such a step. CIL VI.1324, contributes further proof. I have given evidence that it almost certainly belongs to the year 44 or later, or shortly before 22 B.C., thereby showing that after the death of Caesar and before Augustus' reform of the Lares cult the magistri vici were still fulfilling the function of their office. It seems, therefore, the more reasonable conclusion that Caesar did not suppress the collegia compitalicia.

John V. A. Fine

Yale University

The Author's Notes:

1 Dio Cassius XXXVIII.13; Cic. Post red. in sen. xiii.33; Cic. In Pisonem 8; Ascon. In Pisonem 6.

2 Religion und Kultus der Römer IIte Aufl., p172.

3 Pauly-Wissowa, art. "Lares."

4 Daremberg-Saglio, art. "Compitalia" and "Compitum".

5 Daremberg-Saglio, art. "Vicomagister".

6 La Religion domestique dans la colonie italienne de Délos (1926), chap. iv, p168.

7 P.‑W., art. "Lares," p810; D.‑S. art. "Vicomagister".

8 Ibid.

9 Dio XLII.29 ff.

10 Seidel, op. cit. (Breslau, 1908), pp62‑63.

11 Ibid., pp73‑74.

12 Ibid., pp74‑75.

13 Drumann-Groebe, IV, § 194 (p206).

14 Studies in the Odes of Horace, essay "Murena," n. A.

15 P.‑W., art. "Lares"; D.‑S. art. "Vicomagister" and "Lares".

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