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 p521  Fasti

Article by William Ramsay, M.A., Professor of Humanity in the University of Glasgow
on pp521‑523 of

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

FASTI. Fas signifies divine law: the epithet fastus is properly applied to anything in accordance with divine law, and hence those days upon which legal business might, without impiety (sine piaculo), be transacted before the praetor, were technically  p522 denominated fasti dies, i.e. lawful days. Varro and Festus derive fastus directly from fari (Varr. de Ling. Lat. VI.2; Festus, s.v. Fasti), while Ovid (Fast. I.47) may be quoted in support of either etymology.

The sacred books in which the fasti dies of the year were marked, were themselves denominated fasti; the term, however, was employed in an extended sense to denote registers of various descriptions, and many mistakes have arisen among commentators from confounding fasti of different kinds. It will be useful, therefore, to consider separately the two great divisions, which have been distinguished as Fasti Sacri or Fasti Kalendares, and Fasti Annales or Fasti Historici.

I. Fasti Sacri or Kalendares. For nearly four centuries and a half after the foundation of the city a knowledge of the calendar was possessed exclusively by the priests. One of the pontefices regularly proclaimed the appearance of the new moon, and at the same time announced the period which would intervene between the Kalends and the Nones. On the Nones the country people assembled for the purpose of learning from the Rex Sacrorum the various festivals to be celebrated during the month, and the days on which they would fall (Macrob. I.15). In like manner all who wished to go to law were obliged to inquire of the privileged few on what day they might bring their suit, and received the reply as if from the lips of an astrologer (Cic. Pro Muren. 11). The whole of this lore, so long a source of power and profit, at length made public by a certain Cn. Flavius, scribe to App. Claudius Caecus (Liv. IX.46; Plin. H. N. XXXIII.1; Gell. VII.9; Val. Max. II.5), who, having gained access to the pontifical books, copied out all the requisite information, and exhibited it in the forum for the use of the people at large. From this time forward such tables became common, and were known by the name of Fasti. They usually contained an enumeration of the months and days of the year; the Nones, Ides, Nundinae, Dies Fasti, Nefasti, Comitiales, Atri, &c. [Calendarium], together with the different festivals, were marked in their proper places: astronomical observations on the risings and settings of the fixed stars, and the commencement of the seasons were frequently inserted, and sometimes brief notices annexed regarding the introduction and signification of certain rites, the dedication of temples, glorious victories, and terrible disasters. In later times it became common to pay homage to the members of the imperial family by noting down their exploits and honours in the calendar, a species of flattery with which Antonius is charged by Cicero (Philipp. II.34. See also Tacit. Ann. I.15).

It will be seen from the above description that these fasti closely resembled a modern almanac (Fastorum libri appellantur totius anni discriptio, Festus); and the celebrated work of Ovid may be considered as a poetical Year-book or Companion to the Almanac, having been composed to illustrate the Fasti published by Julius Caesar, who remodelled the Roman year. All the more remarkable epochs are examined in succession, the origin of the different festivals explained, the various ceremonies described, the legends connected with the principal constellations narrated, and many curious discussions interwoven upon subjects likely to prove interesting to his countrymen; the whole being seasoned with frequent allusions to the glories of the Julian line.

Several specimens of fasti, more or less perfect, on stone and marble, have been discovered at different times in different places, none of them, however, older than the age of Augustus. The most remarkable, though one of the least entire, is that known as the Kalendarium Praenestinum or Fasti Verriani. Suetonius, in his short treatise on distinguished grammarians, tells us that a statue of Verrius Flaccus, preceptor to the grandsons of Augustus, stood in the lower part of the forum of his native town, Praeneste, opposite to the Hemicyclium, on which he had exhibited to public view the fasti, arranged by himself, and engraved on marble slabs. In the year 1770 the remains of a circular building were discovered in the immediate vicinity of the modern Palestrina, together with several fragments of marble tablets, which were soon recognised as forming part of an ancient calendar; and upon further examination no doubt was entertained by the learned that these were the very fasti of Verrius described by Suetonius. An Italian antiquarian, named Foggini, continued the excavations, collected and arranged the scattered morsels with great patience and skill; and in this manner the months of January, March, April, and December, to which a very small portion of February was afterwards added, were recovered; and, although much defaced and mutilated, form a very curious and useful monument. They appear to have embraced much information concerning the festivals, and a careful detail of the honours bestowed upon, and the triumphs achieved by, Julius, Augustus, and Tiberius. The publication of Foggini contains not only an account of this particular discovery, but also the complete fasti of the Roman year, so far as such a compilation can be extracted from the ancient calendars now extant. Of these he enumerates eleven, the names being derived either from the places where they were found, or from the family who possessed them when they first became known to the literary world:—

  1. Calendarium Maffeiorum, which contains the twelve months complete.

  2. Cal. Praenestinum, described above.

  3. Cal. Capranicorum, August and September complete.

  4. Cal. Amiterninum, fragments of the monthsº from May to December.

  5. Cal. Antiatinum, fragments of the last six months.

  6. Cal. Esquilinum, fragments of May and June.

  7. Cal. Farnesianum, a few days of February and March.

  8. Cal. Pincianum, fragments of July, August, and September.

  9. Cal. Venusinum, May and June complete.

  10. Cal. Vaticanum, a few days of March and April.

  11. Cal. Allifanum, a few days of July and August.

Some of the above, with others of more recent date, are given in the Corpus Inscriptionum of Gruter, in the 11th vol. of the Thesaurus Rom. Antiqq. of Graevius, and in other works of a similar description; but the fullest information upon all matters connected with the Fasti Sacri is embodied in the work of Foggini, entitled Fastorum  p523 anni Romani a Verrio Flacco ordinatorum Reliquiae, &c. Romae, 1779; and in Jac. Van Vaassen Animadverss. ad Fastos Rom. Sacros fragmenta, Traj. ad Rhen. 1795; to which add Ideler's Handbuch der Mathematischen und Technischen Chronologie, Berlin, 1826.

Before quitting this part of our subject, we may make mention of a curious relic, the antiquity of which has been called in question without good cause, the Calendarium Rusticum Farnesianum. This Rural Almanac is cut upon four sides of a cube, each face being divided into three columns, and each column including a month. At the top of the column is carved the appropriate sign of the zodiac; then follows the name of the month, the number of the days, the position of the nones, the length of the day and night, the name of the sign through which the sun passes, the god under whose protection the month was placed, the various agricultural operations to be performed, and a list of the principal festivals. Take May as an example:—


(See the commentary of Morcelli in his Opera Epigraphica, vol. I. 77).

II. Fasti Annales or Historici. Chronicles such as the Annales Maximi, containing the names of the chief magistrates for each year, and a short account of the most remarkable events noted down opposite to the days on which they occurred, were, from the resemblance which they bore in arrangement to the sacred calendars, denominated fasti; and hence this word is used, especially by the poets, in the general sense of historical records (Horat. Sat. I.3.112, Carm. IV.13.13, III.17.4º).

In prose writers fasti is commonly employed as the technical term for the registers of consuls, dictators, censors, and other magistrates, which formed part of the public archives (Liv. IX.18; Cic. Pro Sext. 14; compare Cic. Philipp. XIII.12; Tacit. Ann. III.17, 18). Again, when Cicero remarks in the famous epistle to Lucceius (Ad Fam. V.12), "Etenim ordo ille annalium mediocriter nos retinet quasi enumeratione fastorum," he means that the regular succession of events meagrely detailed in chronicles fixed the attention but feebly, and was little more interesting than a mere catalogue of names (compare Ad Att. IV.8).

A most important specimen of fasti belonging to this class, executed probably at the beginning of the reign of Tiberius, has been partially preserved. In the year 1547, several fragments of marble tablets were discovered in excavating the Roman forum, and were found to contain a list of consuls, dictators with their masters of horse, censors with the lustra which they closed, triumphs and ovations, all arranged in regular succession according to the years of the Catonian era. These had evidently extended from the expulsion of the kings to the death of Augustus, and although defective in many places, have proved of the greatest value in chronology. The different pieces were collected and arranged under the inspection of Cardinal Alexander Farnese, and deposited in the Capitol, where they still remain. From this circumstance they are generally distinguished as the Fasti Capitolini. In the years 1817 and 1818, two other fragments of the same marble tablets were discovered in the course of a new excavation in the Forum. A fac-simile of them was published at Milan, by Borghesi, in 1818.

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