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Flamen Quirinalis

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Title: Flamen Quirinalis  
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Flamen Quirinalis

In ancient Roman religion, the Flamen Quirinalis was the flamen devoted to the cult of the god Quirinus. He was one of the three flamines maiores, third in order of importance after the Flamen Dialis and the Flamen Martialis. As the other ones he had to reside in Rome and was not allowed to leave the city for any reason.

The theology of Quirinus is complex and difficult to interpret. From early times, he was identified with the deified Romulus, who originally seems to have shared some common theological and mythological elements with Quirinus.

Ritual functions

The flamen Quirinalis presided over at least three festivals, the Consualia Aestiva on August 21, Robigalia on April 25, and Larentalia on December 23.

These festivals were all devoted to the cult of deities of remarkable antiquity: Consus has been described as the god of the stored grains (from condere, to store grains in an underground barn or silos).[1] Robigus was an evil spirit that could cause mildew and thus damage growing wheat. Larenta was a figure connected to the primordial legendary times of Rome or to the founding of the city itself.

During the Consualia Aestiva the flamen Quirinalis and the Vestals offered a sacrifice at Consus's underground altar in the Circus Maximus.[2] Four days later the Vestals took part in the rites of the festival of Ops, goddess of agricultural plenty, the Opiconsivia. This occasion was related to Consus too and was performed in the Regia of the forum, where Ops had a very sacred chapel, open only to the pontifex maximus and the Vestals.[3]

The Robigalia of April 25 required the sacrificial offering of blood and entrails from a puppy, and perhaps also the entrails of a sheep. The rite took place near the fifth milestone of the Via Claudia.[4] Ovid talks of a lucus (grove) on the site and reports a long prayer he says was pronounced by the flamen Quirinalis. While the prayer may contain elements from an actual formulation, Ovid's text is a poetic recreation.[5]

The Larentalia of December 23 were a parentatio, an act of funerary cult in memory of Larunda or Larentia. A sacrifice was offered at the site of her supposed tomb on the Velabrum. She was not a goddess but a sort of heroine, with two conflicting legends: in the first (and probably elder one) Larentia is a courtesan who had become fabulously rich after spending a night in the sanctuary of Heracles. Later she had bestowed her fortune on the Roman people on the condition that a rite named after her were held yearly. In the second she is Romulus and Remus's wet nurse, also considered the mother of the Fratres Arvales and a she wolf.[6] Gellius in a detailed passage on Larentia makes a specific reference to the flamen Quirinalis.[7] Macrobius makes reference to the presence of an unnamed flamen, "per flaminem".[8] This flamen could neither be the Dialis nor the Martialis, let alone the minores, given the nature of parentatio (funeral rite) of the festival.

Beside these festivals that of Quirinus himself, the Quirinalia, would logically and probably require the participation of the flamen Quirinalis. The Quirinalia were held on February 17 and must be among the oldest Roman yearly festivals.


Some scholars[9] connect the Quirinalia festival with the anniversary date of the murder of Romulus by his subjects on the basis of the calendar of Polemius Silvius and of Ovid,[10] where the story of Romulus's apotheosis is related, and accordingly interpret the festival as a funerary parentatio.

Dumezil on the other hand[11] remarks that in all other sources the date of this event is July 7 (Nonae Caprotinae). Neither there is any record of such a ritual in ancient sources.

He puts forward another interpretation based on the fact that the only religious ritual recorded for that day are the stultorum feriae, i.e. the last day of the Fornacalia. This festival used to be celebrated separately by each of the thirty curiae. Therefore the Fornacalia had no fixed date and were not mentioned on calendars. Every year the curio maximus established the days for each curia. However those who had missed their day (stulti, fool ones) were allowed an extra off day to make amend collectively. Festus[12] and Plutarch[13] state that the stultorum feriae were in fact the Quirinalia. Their assertion seems acceptable to Dumézil for two reasons:

1) if it were not so then no Roman writer gave any indication of their content. This is highly unlikely for in Rome religious rituals often survived their theological justification.

2) the stultorum feriae bring to an end the organised operation of the curiae in the Fornacalia and this is a guarantee of their antiquity.

The connection hypothesised by Dumezil between the flamen Quirinalis and an activity regulated through the curiae is important as it supports the interpretation of Quirinus as a god of the Roman civil society. The curiae were in fact the original smallest grouping of Roman society.

The most probable etymology of curia is considered by many scholars,[14] to be rooted in *co-viria and that of quirites in *co-virites.

The Virites were goddesses worshipped along with Quirinus: Gellius,[15] writes to have read in the pontificales libri, that dea Hora and Virites were invoked in prayers in association with the god. The Virites, Quirinus's female paredrae, must be the expression of the god's virtus, namely the personification of the individuals composing Roman society as citizens, in the same way as e.g. Nerio, Mars's paredra, must be the personification of military prowess.

Hence Quirinus would be the Roman homologous of the correspondent last component god of the supreme divine triad among all Italic peoples, such as the Vofionus of the Iguvine Tables, whose name too has been interpreted as a term meaning the increaser of the people (from Loifer, or from Luther, from Greek Eleutheros) or simply the people related to German Leute. This hypothesis is confirmed by the fact that the two first god names at Iguvium are identical to their Roman counterpart (Jov- and Mart-) and grammatically were nouns, whereas name Vofiono- is an adjectival derivation in no- of a noun root, just as *Co-virino. Moreover philologists Vittor Pisani and Emile Benveniste have proposed a likely etymology for Vofiono- that makes it the equivalent in meaning of *Co-virino: Leudhyo-no. Phonetic correspondences l, eu, dh > u, o, f are perfectly regular for Umbrian (compare German Leute).[16][17]

Relation to Dumezil's Trifunctional Hypothesis

The Consualia, Robigalia, Larentalia, and the last act of Fornacalia (the Quirinalia) are the religious rituals performed by flamen Quirinalis. If Romans' traditions were conserved, rather than re-adapted, these rituals should reflect the most ancient and original nature of god Quirinus. The festivals connect him to wheat at the three important and potentially risky stages of its growth, storing, and preservation. Quirinus is thus concerned with a staple food. He cooperates with god Consus, as is testified by the role of his flamen in the Consualia, to the aim of assuring the nurture of the Roman people.

There is also a connection between the function of the flamen Quirinalis in the Quirinalia and the functioning of organized Roman society as expressed through the role played by the curiae in the Fornacalia. The curiae were in fact the smallest cell of ancient Roman society.[18][19] The role of the flamen Quirinalis in the Larentalia is also significant. In the two legends concerning Larentia she is a figure related to nurture, agricultural plenty, and wealth. She rears the divine twins, is the mother of the Fratres Arvales, performers of the agricultural propitiary rite of the Ambarvalia, and bestows wealth on her heirs and figurative children. Her story hints to the link of sexual pleasure and wealth. In the interpretation of Dumézil this has to do with the Indo-European myth of the divine twins, but Romulus's connections to kingship and war are not necessarily part of the original conception of Quirinus.[20]

According to Dumezil the theological character of the god as reflected in the functions of his flamen is thence civil and social, being related to nurture, fertility, plenty, wealth, and pleasure. This features make him the chief of all the gods of what he defines as the third function in Indo-European religions.

A. Brelich identification of Romulus with Quirinus as a myhtical archetype of primitive religion

This scholar advanced a hypothesis that could bring together all the misunderstood elements of the religious traditions concerning Romulus and Quirinus. He argues that it is not likely that the two figures were merged at a later stage of the legend, but they were in fact one since the most ancient times. This view allows us to understand why the Fornacalia, feast of the toasting of spelt were also one of the traditional dates of the death of Romulus by the dismembering of the king's body. Brelich sees in this episode a clear reflection of a mythical theme found in primitive religion and known as the dema archetype (from the character of Hanuwele in Melanesian religion). In such a pattern a founder hero is murdered and dismembered, her corpse turning into the staple food of his people.


  1. ^ This interpretation has been recently challenged by G. Capdeville as not grounded in ancient documents. Moreover the Romans did not use to store grains in underground barns or siloses. See article Consus for detailed discussion.
  2. ^ Tertullian, De Spectaculis V 7
  3. ^ Varro Lingua Latina VI 21
  4. ^ Calendar of Praeneste, Corpus Inscriptionum Latinarum CIL I2 pp. 316-317.
  5. ^ Ovid Fasti IV 905-942; prayer 910 sqq. For further discussion, see Robigalia.
  6. ^ Aulus Gellius. Noctes Atticae VII 7, 8.
  7. ^ Aulus Gellius above VII 7, 7.
  8. ^ Macrobius Saturnalia I 10, 15.
  9. ^ H. Wagenvoort Studies in Roman literature, culture and religion 1956
  10. ^ Ovid Fasti II 481-512
  11. ^ G. Dumezil La religion romaine archaique Paris, 1974, part I, chap. 2
  12. ^ Festus p.412 L2nd.
  13. ^ Plutarch Questiones Romanae 89.
  14. ^ P. Kretschmer "Lateinisch quirites und quiritare" in Glotta 10 1920 p. 147-157: E. Benveniste "Symbolisme social dans les cultes gréco-italiques" in Revue de l'histoire des religions 129 1945 p. 7-9; A. Carandini Cercando Quirino Turin, 2007.
  15. ^ A. Gellius Noctes Atticae XIII, 2, 3, 1.
  16. ^ V. Pisani "Mytho-Etymologica" Rev. des etudes Indo-europeennes (Bucarest) 1, 1938
  17. ^ E. Benveniste "Symbolisme social dans les cultes greco-italique" Rev.d'Histoire des Religions 129,1945
  18. ^ G. Dumezil. La religion romaine archaique, Paris, 1974
  19. ^ A. Carandini. Cercando Quirino Turin, 2007
  20. ^ G. Dumezil La religion romaine archaique Paris, 1974, part I, chap.2
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