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Bill Thayer

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 p102  Apex

Unsigned article on p102 of

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

[image ALT: Six examples of conical or round cloth caps with a spike fastened on top, much like the German army helmets of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. They are depictions of the Roman 'apex', a priest's cap: from antique sources.]
	APEX, a cap worn by the flamines and salii at Rome. The essential part of the apex, to which alone the name properly belonged, was a pointed piece of olive-wood, the base of which was surrounded with a lock of wool. This was worn on the top of the head, and was held there either by fillets only, or, as was more commonly the case, was also fastened by means of two strings or bands, which were called apiculab (Festus, s.v.), or offendices (Festus, s.v.), though the latter word is also interpreted to mean a kind of button, by which the strings were fastened under the chin (cf. Serv. ad Virg. Aen. II.683, VIII.664, X.270).

The flamines were forbidden by law to go into public, or even into the open air without the apex (Gell. X.15), and hence we find the expression of alicui apicem dialem imponere used as equivalent to the appointment of a flamen dialis (Liv. VI.41). Sulpicius was deprived of the priesthood, only because the apex fell from his head whilst he was sacrificing (Val. Max. I.1 §5).ºc

Dionysius (II.70) describes the cap as being of a conical form. On ancient monuments we see it round as well as conical. From its various forms, as shown on bas-reliefs​a and on coins of the Roman emperors, who as priests were entitled to wear it, we have selected six for the annexed woodcut. The middle figure is from a bas-relief, showing one of the salii with a rod in his right hand. The Albogalerus, or albus galerus was a white cap worn by the flamen dialis, made of the skin of a white victim sacrificed to Jupiter, and had the apex fastened to it by means of an olive-twig (Festus, s.v. albogalerus; Gell. X.15).

From apex was formed the epithet apicatus, applied to the flamen dialis by Ovid (Fast. III.397).º

Thayer's Notes:

a One of the best examples is a frieze of the Ara Pacis Augustae, depicting a religious procession, a section of which includes three flamines each wearing the apex.

b Similar bands, having completely lost their functionality, can be found today on the mitres of bishops, in the Western branch of Christendom at least: see in particular this article of the Catholic Encyclopedia, especially the section titled "Development of the Shape" and its drawing of how the miter has evolved over the centuries.

c In addition, Appian reports (B. C. I.74) that it was considered impious to wear it at the time of one's death. He also contradicts our article, stating in (B. C. I.65) that most priests only wore the apex when sacrificing.

Apex, plural apices, is also the ancient and modern name for a sort of accent mark that occasionally appears in Latin inscriptions, signifying a long vowel. See for example this photo, in which there are several: the most clearly visible one is over the V of LVCII.

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Page updated: 1 Jun 20