Thursday, February 13, 2003

Human sacrifice in ancient Rome

In our discussion of human sacrifice in ancient Rome, I found an excellent website about the Roman viewpoint of the propiety of using humans for sacrifice in religious rituals. It seems the Romans were particularly concerned about the violation of "boundaries". "Roman laws were considered to have been handed down by the gods, and those who broke the laws were therefore considered to have violated sacred prescriptions. Especially in matters of violating oaths, or moving boundary markers, violating the sacred bonds of the society which were safeguarded by the gods, the guilty were judged to be executed in order to restore the divine order, and in that sense might be considered as sacrificial victims."

An example: "When Servius expanded the city walls, a sacrifice was made of four individuals, buried beneath the old pomerium wall that encircled the Palatine Hill. Those bodies were only recently discovered after Carandini discovered the old Palatine pomerium wall. The four tombs included the usual ritual elements, dating to about 650 BCE. Tomb 1 was an adult male; age 30-40, with his head inclined and arms at his side. Along with him were buried two amphorae, a collana (necklace), one plate and two fibulae. Tomb 2 was a child laid in a sleeping position, along with one small amphora and two fibula. Tomb 3 was a young adult male aged 16-18, laid out like the older male. He was buried with one amphora; a large cup, two little cups, two plates, two pieces of bronze and one ring, all placed on the left side of the tomb. Tomb 4 was a female laid out in a fetal position, and oriented in a different direction from all the others. She was buried along with one amphora. These sacrifices were made because the old wall was being violated in the process of extending the pomerium with the new Servian Wall."