Collective Performance Replaced by Individual Reading

Reading, then, informed ritual action. It could even replace actual ritual action. The development of the Roman calendar in the late republican and early imperial years attests a religious dynamic that allowed individual reading to supplement or replace collective performance, thus expanding the possibilities for individual appropriations of ritual traditions. This was enabled, to be exact, by the production of a graphical representation of a calendar that listed all the days of a year and organized them in a clearly structured way, in terms of months—a direct ancestor of our modern calendar.[1] In this, Roman calendars were unique in the ancient Mediterranean world.

The Roman calendar in the form of the fasti included a wealth of religious, or, more specifically, ritual information. Days that were (by analogy to plots of land) the property of individual gods and therefore restricted for human use (feriae) were marked with names and abbreviations that could easily be associated with corresponding ceremonial rituals. Additionally, the foundation dates of temples and their anniversaries were listed, usually involving larger ceremonies in situ .[2]

The relationship between this text and the performances needs elucidation. It might be surprising, but it should be remarked all the more: the relationship between the calendar and ritual is not normative. It is easy to associate the ritual, but actual ritual data form no part of the fasti. Nor should we assign to them a function comparable to that of the so-called Attic calendars of demes: the latter were simply lists of ceremonies and the particular days on which they occurred, specific to the deme concerned. They included statements of the appropriate sacrificial animals that were intended to regulate the corresponding financial duties of certain districts or persons.[3] By contrast, it is the uniformity of Roman calendars that is most astonishing: the preserved inscriptions differ only in size or quality of the stone, but not in content, regardless of whether they were situated in a temple, a building of an association, or a private house. We almost never find even a hint that there was a specific cult associated with such a place.[4]

Fasti Vcrolani, January through March. Early first century AD. Photo by G. Radke.

This characterization is true of both Roman calendars and the copies found outside Rome. Of the approximately fifty copies that have been found (mostly in fragmentary state), almost one half are from the city of Rome, while the remainder come largely from Latium, Etruria, and Campania. The only exceptions in Italy are the so-called Fasti Guidizzolenses from the region of Brixia. The southernmost example, the Fasti Tauro- menitani, belongs to the Augustan colony Tauromenium of Sicily. This is the only copy that has been found outside Italy.[5]

We assume the primarily local character of ancient societies, yet the ceremony list containing the fasti of Urbinum Metaurense in north Umbria is identical with the list of the fasti from Venusia. The dates mentioned are Roman dates, even in copies of obscure Italian municipalities. The inscriptions do not even add data regarding local or regional festivals or rituals. In all the extant copies there is only one example of such supplementation:[6] Verrius Flaccus, the author of the Fasti Praenestini and an Augustan scholar, adds two local events to the list of Roman activities. This, however, occurs in a calendar that is already unusual for other reasons: it is the only calendar that connects the reproduction of the Roman fasti with a continuing commentary on these fasti.

The temporal distribution of the calendars is significant. The oldest Roman fasti must have been created by around 170 BC. These would have supplied the blueprint for the painted wall calendar found at Antium.[7] The oldest marble version comes from the shrine of the Arvals in Rome, which might have been reorganized by Augustus around 30 BC. This calendar was created very soon after Augustus’s victory at Actium.[8] Urban copies remained predominant in the following period; only few calendars from Latium, Etruria, or Campania date to the Augustan period. But by the rule of Tiberius, they had spread over all of central Italy—and then proliferation ceased.

The information conveyed in the calendars also parallels the expansion of the imperial cult. Already in the Augustan period, the calendar of festivals was filled with a vast quantity of imperial data, from birthdays and days of accessions to power, to weddings and victories and, last but not least, disclosures of conspiracies.[9] Usually, these new dates did not acquire abbreviated festival names but were marked by the addition of short explanations for the new legal character of the day: feriae, quod eo die . . . (for instance, “this day is a day of the gods, because on this day Caesar occupied Alexandria”). Such is the pattern for many of the dates. Within a few years, this manner of registration lent the fasti a specific profile.

As argued previously, such a calendar of urban, Roman dates cannot be a prescriptive text for cult in, for instance, Antium. Considering the (frequently considerable) distances between such places and Rome and the lack of precise information conveyed, it could not even have supplied useful information on Roman cults for travelers planning to go to Rome. The calendar is, rather, a medium for representing imperial festivities, days of victories, honors, births, and the like, irrespective of the actual location of the reader; that is to say, it is independent of performance. Reading such a text afforded awareness of a date, even on another day. In terms of the individual appropriation of an imperial and metropolitan ritual tradition by reading, it was probably not the isolated information on single days that was important, but rather, a careful or cursory reading of the complex text of the fasti in its entirety. Of course, even more significant would be the production of such a text—to pay for its engraving and to design a headline or to have further information added. This allowed individual expression of loyalty, consent, and assimilation to the Augustan system. To put it anachronistically, there was no need to participate in celebrations; it was enough to hang posters.[10] The act of displaying such a calendar was the most important performance, permanently remembered by the monument itself, and actualized by its reading. This opened a new perspective for imperial communication: rituals might be created in order to ensure their representation in calendars. Attempts to “occupy” and “redefine” certain dates[9] might have had just such a motive.

If the image of Roman religion as a ritual system is to be replaced by an attempt to understand ancient religious practices and ideas as lived ancient religion, textualized practices are of primary importance. Not only does the “record” offer us glimpses into varying contemporary views on the complexity and malleability of religious practices (as well as their intellectual and emotional characteristics), but the very production of text adds to this complexity: its consumption informs individuals’ appropriation of traditional religious practices, and perhaps incites them to modify old practices, or even invent new ones. Thus, the perspective of lived ancient religion does not simply supplement a previous reconstruction of a ritual system; rather, it renders the description more historical and more dynamic. Those who were entitled to conduct auspicia were the same people listening to Ennius’s Annales; ambitious pontiffs were familiar with the records of the Pontifex Maximus; civil war generals read Varro and Livy or their sources; the nobles of the uppermost or upward-oriented echelons of society who very occasionally adopted the ritual role of an Arval were the ones who were able to read the Arval records; Italians newly defining their relationship to Rome and the emperors studied or produced copies of the fasti. These texts were also composed with such an audience in mind—sometimes exclusively. Text and ritual were interdependent contexts for ritual performance and for the reception of text respectively. Hence they shaped religion with a potency greater than that of mere intellectual attribution of sense or the preservation and transmission of knowledge. The coupling of ritual and exegesis in traditional scholarship did not sufficiently capture this relationship.

Communication about ritual—in historical matters, specifically written communication about ritual—was an inseparable part of ritual. As a consequence, I have proposed a modification of the term “ritual,” which tends to imply a normative, repeated structure of acts, a script, or an ontology independent of any instantiated action. The term “performance,” by contrast, lays open a perspective on the actualization of ritual, not just on individual variants, but also on interpretations and individual motivations—individual appropriations that inform ritual action and are informed by communication about ritual. For a performance to be characterized as ritual, it was not important that the act was repeated stereotypically, but that the performers and/or observers were aware of or assumed such a character: ritualization rather than ritual. Only thus is the quality of ritual guaranteed for the dining pontifical committee; only thus the ritual quality of the Arval acta increases the dignity of the priests’ actions; thus, even the isolated spear throwing of Octavian could be a ritual as well as an individual and highly original appropriation of military and religious traditions.

  • [1] For the history of the reception of the Roman calendar, see Rupke 2006a.
  • [2] See Rupke 2011b. This type of documentation was probably nonexistent before the secondcentury BC.
  • [3] For a summary treatment, see Dow 1968; Whitehead 1986, 185—208; Parker 1996, 43—55.
  • [4] For the following, more details are given by Rupke 2011b, 8—18; the texts were edited byDegrassi 1963.
  • [5] For the particularities of this calendar, especially the attempt to combine the Roman calendar with a local Greek lunisolar calendar, see Rupke 1995, 133—38; Ruck 1996.
  • [6] The local character of the dies vern(arum) in the Fasti Antiates ministrorum is doubtful. SeeRupke 1995, 144-45.
  • [7] Ibid., 346—52, 366-67.
  • [8] Ibid., 178.
  • [9] See Herz 1978.
  • [10] See Rupke 2011b, 124—39. For such processes of medialization, see Galinsky 1996.
  • [11] See Herz 1978.
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