Praetextatus – Religion … Cults (Ch. 2.3)


Maijastina Kahlos, Vettius Agorius Praetextatus – Senatorial Life in Between. Acta Instituti Romani Finlandiae no. 26, Roma 2002.


Both Praetextatus and his wife Paulina are attested to have been involved with several polytheistic cults. In this chapter I treat their cult activities, priesthoods and initiations as a part of the aristocratic code of life and also as a part of the pagan tradition. The general circumstances of paganism as well as the status of individual cults in the fourth century will be discussed in order to illuminate what kind of traditions and significances these cults bore in Praetextatus’ and Paulina’s time.

Inscriptions CIL VI 1778, 1779 and 1780 introduce Praetextatus and his wife Paulina with an exceptionally large number of sacral offices and initiations. These epitaphs list the following priesthoods held by Praetextatus:

augur, pontifex Vestae, pontifex Solis, quindecemvir, curialis / curialis Herculis, sacratus Libero et Eleusinis, hierophanta, neocorus, tauroboliatus, pater patrum / pater sacrorum

while Paulina is mentioned as

sacrata apud Laernam deo Libero et Cereri et Corae, sacrata Cereri et Eleusiniis / sacrata apud Eleusinam deo Iaccho, Cereri et Corae / sacranea deae Cereris, sacrata apud Aeginam deabus, isiaca, tauroboliata, sacrata apud Eginam Hecatae / hierophantria deae Hecatae Graeco.    

In the cursus honorum of CIL VI 1779, Praetextatus’ priesthoods are listed first and his political magistracies are mentioned after them which could be regarded as a hierarchical order or as an order of importance[1] for in the funerary poem of CIL VI 1779 his political career is described as caduca ac parva and as sed ista parva. In CIL VI 1778 his priesthoods and political offices are listed side by side while in CIL 1779 the priesthoods are distinguished from the civil magistracies with the words in re publica vero. According to Lambrechts, the distinction between sacral and civil offices in CIL VI 1778 and 1779 is sharper than in many other inscriptions e.g. of the early Empire.[2] In an inscription erected in honour of the Roman senator Memmius Vitrasius, the civil and sacral offices are mingled together.[3]


The Roman civic religion

As an augur, pontifex Vestae, pontifex Solis and quindecemvir sacris faciundis, Praetextatus held three of the four priesthoods of sacerdotum amplissima collegia of the traditional Roman state religion. The Roman priesthoods are not necessarily listed in chronological order in CIL VI 1779 (augur, pontifex Vestae, pontifex Solis, quindecemvir) as Nicolaas and Palanque presume;[4] the chronological order was probably not essential at all. CIL VI 1778 shows a different order (pontifex Vestae, pontifex Solis, quindecemvir, augur) which might be an order of importance. The priesthoods of the old Roman religion are usually mentioned first in inscriptions but there also are exceptions, e.g. on the epitaph of Alfenius Caeionius Iulianus Kamenius his Roman and other priesthoods are mingled together without any classification.[5] The order of mystery and other cults varies: the cult of Mithras is usually among the first mystery cults mentioned in many ancient inscriptions but on Praetextatus’ epitaphs the Mithraic pater is mentioned last.

It was usual to hold civil offices and priesthoods of the Roman state religion at the same time, as many inscriptions indicate[6], because the Roman state and religion formed an integral unity where state life and religious life were closely connected with each other. The Roman state cult was performed for public utility, utilitas publica, and thus service to the gods was also service to the state. Therefore, if someone turned against the gods, he acted against the res publica as well.[7]

It has been often claimed that the Roman state cults lost their importance while the mystery cults still kept their significant position in the religious life of the late Empire, e.g. by F. Cumont, G. Wissowa, A. Grenier and K. Latte but even by later scholars.[8] This simplification of the religious situation in the fourth century has been challenged by R. MacMullen, G. Alföldy, T. Christensen and M.R. Salzman. In the Latin West the old Roman cults remained stronger and more important for wide circles than it has generally been thought, and most of the so-called Oriental cults did not compete with the Roman religion; instead, the Roman and Oriental gods were even connected with each other in a syncretistic way, e.g. Iuppiter Optimus Maximus and Baal; Fortuna and Isis.[9]

According to the above mentioned traditional – and now challenged – view, the mystery cults appealed to people more than the Roman civic religion because a personal connection with a deity became more and more important in late antiquity. This was because the Roman religion could not satisfy a private believer’s prospects of life after death while the mystery cults offered a personal relationship with a deity and promised life after death.[10]

The challenging view of Roman civic religion rightly stresses the vitality of the civic religion in late antiquity. The Roman gods were still popular and attracted people in the third and fourth centuries, that is, when the Oriental religions were expanding most intensively. People did not drop away from the Roman civic religion because of the mystery cults since the civic religion was flexible and capable of integrating the Oriental cults into itself and thus ‘westernizing’ them.[11] The Roman civic religion was not concerned about personal religion and individual feelings of spirituality or the problems concerning life after death but instead it was important as the state religion in the life of a Roman citizen. Modern scholars have often considered this as a disadvantage since our modern views of religion have been strongly influenced by the Christian tradition. In my opinion, we should not expect ancient religions to have offered religious experiences similar to those that modern religions promise to offer. It must be noted that the Roman civic religion also offered religious experiences and emotional satisfaction but these experiences were different from our modern Christianly-coloured concept of religion that emphasizes the transcendental dimension.

Augur. Besides Ragonius Venustus, Rufius Caeionius and Ulpius Egnatius Faventinus, Praetextatus was one of the last known augurs.[12] The augurate was a politically significant office because important political action could be started only under certain auspicia and an augur was needed to interpret them.[13] When public divination and other pagan ceremonies were supported during Eugenius’ usurpation in 394, Praetextatus’ and Symmachus’ friend Virius Nicomachus Flavianus is said to have predicted an end to the Christian religion. Flavianus appears as an expert of the ius augurale in Macrobius’ Saturnalia.[14] An unnamed Roman senator against whom the so-called Carmen contra paganos is targeted is accused of public divination, that is, of the activities of haruspices.[15] Most scholars have identified this haruspex as Flavianus but other persons, even Praetextatus, have been suggested (see ch. 4.2). Auguries are mentioned in sources as late as in the 440s when Salvian in Marseilles complains that consuls continued to read auguries and feed the sacred chickens.[16]

Quindecemvir. In addition to Praetextatus e.g. L. Aurelius Avianius Symmachus, Memmius Vitrasius Orfitus, Alfenius Caeionius Iulianus Kamenius and Clodius Flavianus were quindecemviri.[17] Quindecemviri sacris faciundis had been one of the most important Roman priestly colleges for they introduced new cults to the state religion and took care of the sacrifices to non-Roman gods. They supervised the Greek and Oriental cults, especially the cult of Magna Mater, and represented the Roman state at official ceremonies in her honour, appointing new priests and priestesses of the cult. Quindecemviri were experts in interpreting the Sibylline books, carminum Sibyllae interpretes, and had to know Greek because the books were written in Greek. These secret books could be seen exclusively by the quindecimviri and only with the senate’s consent, though in practice consultation was rarely called for.[18] The Sibylline books were read and interpreted at least until the end of the fourth century since Ammianus Marcellinus reports that the emperor Julian consulted the Sibylline writings before his expedition against Persia[19] and the Carmen contra paganos also alludes to the use of the Sibylline books, dicite qui colitis lucos antrumque Sibyllae (v.1). However, in the first years of the fifth century, Stilicho ordered the Sibylline books to be destroyed. Soon after, Prudentius boasts polemically that the Sibylline books could no longer utter the fates: non spumat anhelus / fata Sibyllinis fanaticus edita libris. This seems to have been the end of the college of quindecemviri, too.[20]

Pontifex Vestae. Pontifices Vestae, Vestals and the cult of Vesta had been a significant part of the Roman state religion in the previous centuries. The cult of Vesta remained in high prestige into the fourth century and retained feast days in the official calendar, as the calendar of Philocalus shows.[21] When Emperor Gratian cancelled the payments of the government to the Roman priestly colleges in the 380s, he also cancelled the privileges of the Vestals. The privileged status of Vestals was a much debated subject among pagans and Christians as the controversy over the statue of Victory in 384 indicates:[22] In spite of the loss of its economic benefits, the cult of Vesta was able to continue[23] because pagan senators, probably including Praetextatus, seem to have supported the cult financially.

After Praetextatus’ death the Vestals and sacerdotes virginum Vestalium decided to erect a statue to him to express their gratitude. We do not know exactly the reason for their gratitude but it probably had something to do with his priesthood. As a pontifex Vestae he might have paid some of the expenses of the cult after the removal of state support. The majority of the pontifices gave their support but Symmachus, followed by a small group of pontifices, turned against the statue project because he believed it to be against religious protocol. This dispute ended in Symmachus’ defeat as the chief of the Vestals Coelia Concordia erected a statue in the name of all the Vestal Virgins.[24]

The college of the pontifices is known to have repaired the mansion of the Salii Palatini at their own expense, obviously after Gratian’s measures against the traditional Roman religion. The pontifices in office in the 380s were Praetextatus, Symmachus, Nicomachus Flavianus, Publilius Caeionius Caecina Albinus, Alfenius Caeionius Iulianus Kamenius, Clodius Flavianus, possibly also Rufius Caeionius Sabinus, Ragonius Venustus and Petronius Apollodorus.[25] The last Vestal virgin is mentioned by Zosimus in an anecdote connected to Serena, daughter of Theodosius and wife of Stilicho. She went to the temple of Magna Mater where she removed a necklace from the statue of the goddess and put it around her own neck but the last Vestal Virgin saw her and rebuked her for this sacrilege.[26] The temple of Vesta was in use until 394 when the practices of the Roman civic religion were prohibited by Emperor Theodosius after the defeat of Eugenius.[27]

Pontifex Solis. In the third century, Sol the sun god became a prominent deity when Emperor Aurelian promoted the cult of Deus Sol Invictus to an official cult of the state in 274. The cult had a Roman form and character but it also became  syncretistic since Sol Invictus was official and universal, the sum of all attributes and functions of the other gods. Sol was also regarded as the thirteenth god among the twelve gods. His cult was supported by several emperors in the third century and in the early fourth century, including by Emperor Constantine whose special protector the deity was. The cult of Sol Invictus was the most important official cult during Constantine’s reign, remaining powerful even after his conversion to Christianity.[28]

According to the Expositio totius mundi et gentium, the Romans especially worshipped Jupiter and Sol,[29] and the calendar of 354 shows four festivals celebrated in honour of Sol. The cult was still practised at least until the late fourth century for pontifices Solis are known from inscriptions (e.g. from Praetextatus’ epitaphs) at the end of the century, a temple of Sol Invictus was still in use in Rome and other temples were built elsewhere in the Empire.[30] The sun god is known to have been worshipped in the fifth century since Augustine attacked the cult of Sol.[31]

The new college of pontifices Dei Solis established by Aurelian was made equal to the old college of pontifices. The old pontifices soon took longer names, pontifex maior and later even pontifex (Deae) Vestae, in order to distinguish their old priesthoods from the new ones. The priesthoods pontifex maior / pontifex Vestae and pontifex Solis never appeared in the same inscription for almost a century until the title pontifex Vestae finally appeared with pontifex Solis, for the first time in Memmius Vitrasius Orfitus’s inscriptions around 350. The priesthoods of Vesta and Sol seem to be closely connected with each other in the late fourth century, for example in the inscriptions of Praetextatus and Clodius Flavianus, and there is no sign of rivalry between the priestly colleges. Pontifex Solis disappears after Praetextatus’ time.[32]

Many pontifices Dei Solis accepted sacral offices of other cults, particularly in the fourth century when Sol was identified with other gods, especially with the other solar deities Apollo, Baal and Mithras. In Macrobius’ Saturnalia, in the speech attributed to Praetextatus, Iuppiter Optimus Maximus as well as Sarapis, Apollo and other gods are identified with Sol. According to G.H. Halsberghe, it was the tendency toward syncretistic monotheism of Deus Sol Invictus that gathered in the other deities.[33] The idea of the sun as the king of all is expressed in Emperor Julian’s hymn to Helios ho basileùs tôn hólon Hélios. For Julian, the sun god Helios was the most important deity since Helios in the intelligible world was the emanation of the transcendental Supreme Being in the world of ideas. In the visible world the sun god Helios was represented by the sun.[34] The cult of Sol rivalled Christianity in the fourth century and this is why Christian writers attacked Sol so bitterly, e.g. Arnobius who condemns the sun god and solar syncretism in his Adversus nationes.[35]

Curialis Herculis. The unusual title curialis Herculis in CIL VI 1779 follows after Praetextatus’ official Roman priesthoods, before the priesthoods of the foreign cults. According to Th. Mommsen, a curialis Herculis is identical with a sacerdos Herculis. The sacral status of sacerdos Herculis, curialis Herculis or pontifex Herculis in the fourth century is unclear but a curialis Herculis might have been a member of a society of the worshippers of Hercules, sodalitas, collegium, cultores Herculis, Herculanei or Herculanei Augustales.[36]

During the Empire Hercules had become the protector of the emperor in the imperial propaganda in which he was closely connected with the ideal of the ruler. As Victor and Pacifer he brought victory and peace for the Roman Empire and appeared as virtus Augusti, the symbol of the virtue of the emperor, from Gordianus onwards on many coins of e.g. Gallienus, Probus, Constantius Chlorus, Galerius, Maxentius, Constantine and Licinius. In the third century he was still important in the propaganda of Diocletian and Maximian; Maximian Herculius was depicted as his incarnation.[37] After 313 he disappears from the official propaganda but remains as the mythical model for the emperor in the fourth century, e.g. in Themistius’ orations to Julian and to Theodosius.[38]

As the benefactor of humanity and the hero of moral perfection, whose apotheosis manifested victory over death and human passions, Hercules was one of the most popular deities in the Roman Empire and in the third and fourth centuries his cult even rivalled Christianity in popularity.[39] In heracleology there were many features similar to christology, for example Heraclean sarcophagi in the second and third centuries often depict his descent to the Underworld and his victory over death. In addition to Hermes, Hercules is sometimes identified with Logos in the ancient philosophical literature, e.g. Emperor Julian regards him as Logos, the instrument of the creation of the cosmos.[40] The god still appears in late antique panegyrics. Claudian, for instance, compares Emperors Arcadius and Honorius with Bacchus and Hercules and Sidonius Apollinaris compares Emperor Maiorianus with Hercules.[41] Hercules appears on coins in the fourth century and at the beginning of the fifth century.[42]

Even in the late fourth century and the early fifth century the cult of Hercules gathered many devout adherents, in the provinces as well as in Rome. Augustine writes that Christians destroyed his statue in Colonia Sufetana (in Byzacena) and thus instigated a riot where sixty Christians were killed.[43] In a sermon in 401 Augustine claims that his cult no longer existed in Rome but that in Carthage he was still worshipped and his beard continued to be gilded.[44] A fragmentary inscription found in Ostia states that Numerius Proiectus, praefectus annonae, restored a temple of Hercules Invictus in 393 or the beginning of 394.[45]

Hercules seems to have been particularly important as late as at the end of the fourth century when the usurper Eugenius’ troops used his picture as a standard in the Battle of Frigidus in 394, though without success. Some scholars, e.g. H. Bloch, J. Wytzes and M. Simon, have even suggested that Julian’s Hercules-Logos was virtually a counterpart to Christ for the later pagans.[46] Hercules, who had become a solar deity and fused with Sol Invictus, indeed was significant for the pagan syncretists in the fourth and fifth centuries. Macrobius in his Saturnalia regards Iuppiter, Hercules and Liber as forms of the Sun. The virtus of Sol, the supreme deity, was embodied in Hercules who brought virtue to humanity.[47] In late antiquity the cult of Hercules had developed a mystery cult in which the mystical interpretation of the myth of Hercules expressed belief in immortality; e.g. the wall paintings in the hypogeum in the Via Latina from the fourth century depict his myth, showing him as a saviour god and a victor over death.[48]


Mysteries and initiations

Praetextatus participated in the cults of Magna Mater (tauroboliatus), Mithras (pater patrum; pater patrorum) and Hecate (hierophanta). He was also initiated into the mysteries of Dionysus and the Eleusinian mysteries of Demeter and Kore (sacratus Libero et Eleusiniis) and participated in the mysteries of Isis and Sarapis (neocorus). Paulina was initiated into the Eleusinian mysteries of Iacchos, Demeter and Kore (apud Eleusinam) and the Lernan mysteries (apud Laernam) of Liber, Demeter and Kore and moreover, into the cults of Hecate in Aegina (sacrata apud Eginam Hecatae; hierophantria), Magna Mater (tauroboliata) and Isis (isiaca).[49]

Mysteries were initiation ceremonies in which admission and participation depended upon some personal ritual to be performed on the initiate. Thus, they were a special personal form of worship, secret and exclusive initiation rituals that aimed at a change of mind through experience of the sacred and closeness to the divine.[50]

Paulina, amica numinum. As CIL VI 1779 and 1780 show, Fabia Aconia Paulina took part in Praetextatus’ cult activities and had been initiated into the mysteries of several deities. What is striking in the funerary poem of Praetextatus and Paulina in CIL VI 1779 is the emphasized position of religion and the role she has in religious activities. One of Paulina’s virtues is religiosity: she is dicata templis atque amica numinum (v.4 in part b), that is, she has been ‘consecrated’ in gods’ temples and as the friend of the gods she has earned the gods’ special favour.

An initiation into a mystery has been defined as a ritual change of status in the participant’s relation to a deity. In the initiation the cosmic abyss between humans and the gods is bridged and the initiate is believed to have overcome the threat of death or gained a better status in the after life.[51] The funerary poem manifests that Paulina’s husband has initiated her – pure and chaste – into all the mysteries and by the goodness of his teaching thus freed her from the fate of death. He has led her into the temples and dedicated her to the gods as their handmaid:

Tu me, marite, disciplinarum bono

puram ac pudicam sorte mortis eximens

in templa ducis ac famulam divis dicas;

te teste cunctis imbuor mysteriis (v.22-25)

As dutiful husband, Praetextatus has introduced Paulina to the sacred rites of the goddesses Cybele, Hecate and Demeter. He has consecrated her as priestess of Cybele and Attis through the bull rites, instructed her – the priestess of Hecate – in the threefold secrets of the goddess and prepared her for being worthy of the Eleusinian mysteries of Demeter:

tu Dindymenes Atteosq(ue) antistitem

teletis honoras taureis consors pius;

Hecates ministram trina secreta edoces

Cererisque Graiae tu sacris dignam paras. (v.25-29)

The words te teste cunctis imbuor mysteriis (v.24) in the poem indicate that Praetextatus had been a witness for Paulina before the gods, had led her into their temples, dedicating her to the gods as their servant, and had taught her the secrets of the cults, thus preparing her to be worthy of divine rites. He not only testified to her suitability for initiation but he was also the interpreter of the gods to her, witnessing that the gods had accepted her as an initiate and that the right moment had come. Praetextatus had the right to initiate his wife into mysteries because he was a priest in several cults. The same aspect of witnessing is found in Apuleius’ Metamorphoses where Lucius desires urgently to be initiated into the mysteries of Isis. First the request is refused because he has not yet been ‘invited’ but Isis will let her priest know when the time has come to initiate Lucius into her mysteries. The priest, as a double witness, speaks for him in front of the goddess.[52]

A woman initiated by her husband also appears on an epitaph on a sarcophagus from Ravenna where C. Sosius Iulianus and Tetratia Isias have a dialogue for the last time. She thanks her husband for having initiated her into the mysteries and taught her to say the ritual words, aoídima grámmata, to the goddess in the face of death. Tetratia Isias, like Paulina (v.23), has learned from her husband the sacred secrets that save her from death, that is, passwords or ritual formulae that help the deceased on his/her way to the afterlife.[53] In his Advice on Marriage (about 100) Plutarch recommended that husbands should make their wives choose the same gods and the same friends as they themselves had since it was the duty of a good wife to worship only the gods of her husband and not to perform any foreign rites.[54] The husband ought to be the philosophical mentor and the moral guide of his wife because, he warned, if women were left to themselves, they conceived strange ideas and low emotions. As a result of his authority the husband could expect appreciation and gratitude from his wife.[55] Paulina’s words in the funerary poem show appropriate respect for her husband and reflect attitudes similar to Plutarch’s advice as she praises her husband for illuminating his country, the senate and his wife, as well as for integrity of mind, character and scholarship. He had attained the highest peak of virtue, the poem testifies:

patriam, senatum coniugemq(ue) inluminas

probitate mentis, moribus, studiis simul,

virtutis apicem quis supremum nanctus es. (v.5-7)

Because of her husband Paulina, is celebrated and blessed throughout the world; she would otherwise be unknown but as Praetextatus’ wife she is known to all people:

Te propter omnis me beatam, me piam

celebrant, quod ipse me bonam, disseminas

totum per orbem: ignota noscor omnibus. (v.30-32)

It seems to me that the funerary poem in CIL VI 1779 stresses Paulina’s participation in Praetextatus’ religious activities and their consensus on religious issues in order to clarify that Paulina – unlike some Christian matrons – worshipped her husband’s gods. P. Brown regards the marriage of Praetextatus and Paulina, where Praetextatus took in hand the religious education of his wife, as an exception in the fourth century and believes that religious differences within an aristocratic family usually were either tolerated or ignored and that in mixed marriages between pagans and Christians particularly, the husband had to accept the religious conviction of his Christian wife. Thus, Plutarch’s advice, Brown claims, was not generally followed by the Roman aristocracy in the fourth century but the situation rather was the reverse: aristocratic wives and mothers gradually influenced their husbands and children, converting them to Christianity.

M.R. Salzman, however, has challenged Brown’s view, stating that the role of aristocratic women and intermarriages in the Christianization of the Roman aristocracy after Constantine has been greatly over-emphasized and that aristocratic women did not convert to Christianity earlier than aristocratic men.[56] L. Vidman lists some inscriptions from the third and fourth centuries in which husbands initiate their wives into mystery cults[57] but it is far from certain whether these kinds of couples were common or not in the fourth century.

Tauroboliatus in the cult of Magna Mater. In CIL VI 1778 and 1779 Praetextatus is mentioned as tauroboliatus and in CIL VI 1780 Paulina as tauroboliata, participants in the taurobolium, the rite carried out in the cult of Magna Mater. In the funerary poem of CIL VI 1779 Paulina is also called an antistes of Dindymene (Magna Mater) and Attis: tu Dindymenes Atteosq(ue) antistitem / teletis honoras taureis consors pius … (v.26).[58]

Magna Mater or Cybele had been recognized as a Roman goddess and a protectress of the Roman state during the Republic and thereafter her cult had become popular especially among the aristocracy, being supported by the emperors. Even the cult of Attis, the paredros and lover of the Mother, was officially recognized during the early Roman Empire.[59] During the reign of Diocletian and the reign of Julian the cult of Magna Mater was highly esteemed but Christian emperors turned against the cult.[60]

Because the taurobolium, bull offering, and the criobolium, ram offering, belonging to mysteries, were kept secret, we do not know much of these rituals. According to the few mentions and descriptions, a bull or a ram was slaughtered and the blood of the sacrificed animal was perhaps sprinkled on the initiate. However, much of the evidence comes from Christian polemics which often reveals more about the aspirations of Christian writers and their communities themselves, and therefore much caution is needed in interpreting, for example, the detailed description of the taurobolium by Prudentius in the Peristephanon. N. McLynn has rightly cast doubts upon the reliability of Prudentius’ account, asserting that Prudentius could not have first hand information on the ritual and that his bloodstained description is mostly illusory.[61]

Taurobolium is known to have belonged to the cult of Magna Mater from the second century onwards and continued until the 390s.[62] In R. Duthoy’s classification the ritual of taurobolium was successively a sacrifice (from 160s onwards), a purificatory rite (from the second quarter of the third century onwards) and a ‘baptism’ of blood (in the fourth century). In its later phase it may have included spiritual and moral elements. The bull’s blood was thought to strengthen a worshipper’s vital force and the offering was repeated after 20 years, though in 376 a Sextilius Agesilaus Aedesius is mentioned as having received his taurobolium and to have been in aeternum renatus. In the third, final stage in the fourth century, the taurobolium became a perquisite of the aristocracy, a kind of identifying badge for pagans, and it was possibly influenced by the Christian ceremonies. The transformations of the rite of the taurobolium have been seen as an indication of the vitality of late antique cults and their capability of generating new meanings for worshippers.[63]

A taurobolium was a very costly ritual; the expenses, however, were not always paid by a private person but sometimes by an association or by the state. In fourth-century Rome taurobolia were performed in the Phrygianum, the temple of Cybele situated on the Vatican Hill, as inscriptions found in the area (CIL VI 497-504) indicate. All these inscriptions were erected to commemorate either taurobolia or criobolia, many of which took place in April during the Megalensia festivities or shortly thereafter. Most of the altars date from the fourth century but with a gap of twenty-eight years: Magna Mater inscriptions disappear after 319 but reappear in 350-390.[64] It seems that Roman aristocrats particularly were interested in the taurobolium and the cult of Magna Mater after 370. G. Thomas considers this final ‘aristocratic’ phase in the history of the taurobolium as atypical, since, though the cult appears popular in the second half of the fourth century, there are no dedications to Magna Mater alone in the late inscriptions; Magna Mater is usually mentioned in connection with dedications to other deities.[65] The latest known dedication from Rome is from 391 (CIL VI 736). Festivals in honour of Magna Mater appear in the calendar of 354 and her sanctuary on the Palatine was still in use until the fifth century.[66] Christian writers kept on attacking Magna Mater and Attis in the late fourth and early fifth centuries, e.g. Prudentius in the above-mentioned passage on the taurobolium.[67]

In the fourth century the myth of Cybele and Attis was interpreted allegorically, especially by Neoplatonic philosophers who regarded Attis as a solar god and Cybele as a cosmic power, e.g. Julian in his hymn to the Great Mother and Macrobius in his Saturnalia. For Macrobius, Attis (as well as Adonis, Osiris and Horus) was a manifestation of the Sun god and his death symbolized the soul’s ascension to its celestial home as well as his birth represented the soul’s descent from heaven on earth.[68]

Neocorus, isiaca – the cult of Isis and Sarapis. In CIL VI 1778 and 1779 Praetextatus is called a neocorus. A neocorus, neokóros had originally been a servant or a warden who was in charge of the upkeep of a Greek temple, and later the title was adapted in the cult of Sarapis and Isis in which the neocorus gradually grew in importance and became the administrator of a temple, a high-ranking priest. During the Imperial Period, from the second and third centuries onwards, neocorus became a honorary title given to high officials; Praetextatus, for example, was one of these magistrates honoured with the title.[69] He is called a neocorus without any reference to any certain god but the title is to be related to the cult of Sarapis when it is used without further specification, for neocori are usually connected with the cult of Sarapis in literature as well as in inscriptions.[70]

Paulina’s title isiaca in CIL VI 1780 corresponds to Praetextatus’ neocorus and implies that she was not an ordinary participant of the cult but an adherent of higher rank who had already experienced initiation into mysteries. Isiacus or isiaca as well as anubiacus and bubastiaca were used as titles for adherents or priests of Egyptian deities though L. Vidman believes that in Paulina’s case the title isiaca refers to her initiation and not to any specific priesthood.[71] She was probably initiated into the mysteries of Isis as well as into other mysteries by Praetextatus himself (CIL VI 1779, v.25).

The cult of Isis was at its peak at the beginning of the third century in Rome but after Constantine the Egyptian cult seems to have weakened. However, in the fourth century it was still practised in Rome, Ostia, Portus and other Italian towns where she was especially important as the protector of navigation and connected with the annona. During Julian’s reign the cult of Sarapis even revived and survived in Egypt until the Serapeum in Alexandria was destroyed in 391.[72] Isis and Sarapis appear also on fourth-century coins and contorniates.[73] Feasts in honour of Isis, e.g. Navigium Isidis, were still celebrated at the end of the fourth century and even in the fifth century; in Falerii, for example, a festival in her honour was organized in 416 or 417. The Carmen contra paganos reproaches a senator who took part in a public festival of Isis: Quis te plangentem non risit, calvus ad aras / sistriferam Phariam supplex cum forte rogares? (v.98-99).[74]

Sacratus Libero (et Eleusinis), sacrata apud Laernam Deo Libero et Cereri et Corae – the mysteries of Lerna. Sacratus Libero in CIL VI 1779 shows that Praetextatus was initiated into the cult of Liber Pater, and sacrata apud Laernam deo Libero, Cereri et Corae (CIL VI 1780) that  Paulina was initiated into the mysteries of Liber Pater, Demeter and Kore in Lerna. Mysteries of Dionysus were celebrated at Lerna (Lérne in Argolis) where Dionysus was believed to have descended through the Alcyonian lake to bring his mother Semele back from the underworld. In Lerna, Demeter Prosymne and Dionysos Saotes had a common cult celebrated until the late Empire.[75]

Dionysus was worshipped everywhere in the Mediterranean world; there were many separate Bacchic mysteries that varied in different places and countries. Many Bacchic mysteries were strongly influenced by Orphism, which emphasized Dionysus’ connection with the nether world, and therefore the initiates looked forward to a blessed afterlife. Both men and women were admitted to the new Bacchic mysteries of the Imperial Period that originated from the Greek mysteries and had developed in the Hellenistic age.[76]

Dionysus appears with other divinities in the syncretistic aristocratic inscriptions in fourth- century Rome. E.g. Caelius Hilarianus (in CIL VI 500 from 377) was pater sacrorum et hieroceryx invicti Mithrae, sacerdos deae Hecatae and sacerdos dei Liberi; Ulpius Egnatius Faventius (in CIL VI 504 from 376) was augur, pater et hieroceryx Mithrae, archibucolus dei Liberi, hierofanta Hecatae, sacerdos Isidis and tauroboliatus. The cult of Dionysus is known to have been practised in Greece, Syria and Africa as late as the fourth and fifth centuries. Dionysus is depicted as a saviour figure in late antique mosaics found in Nea Paphos (in Cyprus).[77] Augustine discusses the Bacchic cult in Madaura, in Africa: Liberum illum, quem paucorum sacratorum oculis committendum putatis. Even the leaders and decuriones of the town had participated in the great Bacchic procession as furious bacchants: decuriones et primates civitatis per plateas vestrae urbis bacchantes et furentes.[78]

Pater patrum – the cult of Mithras. In CIL VI 1778 Praetextatus is called pater sacrorum and in CIL VI 1779 pater patrum.[79] The highest of the seven grades of the Mithraic mysteries was pater, sometimes called pater sacrorum, the pater of the sacred ceremonies while pater patrum was the leader of the patres and the central authority of a Mithraic community. In the Mithraic system, the soul of an initiate that once had descended through the seven planetary spheres to the earth returned to the stars through the same spheres. The ascension through the seven grades in the cult of Mithras represented this ascension through the planetary spheres and an initiate of each grade was under the protection of a planetary god. The hierarchy of the grades is represented on a pavement mosaic in Ostia and on a fresco in the mithraeum under S. Prisca in Rome. Fire, staff, bowl, jar, sickle, steering oar and the protector god Saturn are connected to a pater. A pater depicted on the Ostian mosaic has a Persian cap on his head, a staff of a Persian magus, a bowl for the sacrificial drink in his hands and Saturn’s sickle by his side.[80]

The cult of Mithras, a secret cult of men only, began to spread throughout the Roman Empire under the reign of Trajan and became popular in the second and third centuries, particularly under the Severi. Rome was an important centre for the cult and the temple under S. Prisca might have been the central shrine of the worshippers of Mithras.[81] The most important myth in the cult, the slaying of the bull by Mithras, was interpreted cosmogonically as the creation of the world and is usually depicted in the apse of a cave temple of Mithras. The sacral meal of Mithras and the Sun god and the mythical bull offering that belonged to the grade of a pater probably were connected with hopes of some kind of eternal life.[82]

The withdrawal of state support from the Roman cults by Gratian in the 380s did not influence the cult of Mithras since it had never been an official state cult and subsidized by public funds. It had always been financed by private persons like Tamesius Augentius Olympius who boasts in his inscription that he built a cave (of Mithras) at his own expense and that he did not need any financial support from Rome, antra facit, sumptusque tuos nec, Roma, requirit.[83]

Mithraea were destroyed by Christians even before the anti-pagan legislation as Jerome reports of Furius Maecius Gracchus, a Christian city prefect who destroyed a cave of Mithras in 377.[84] Later the destruction of temples of Mithras as well as of other pagan divinities became wider and more systematic, as excavations of mithraea, e.g. under S. Prisca, show.[85] Ambrose mentions Mithras but seems not to have known much about him because he confuses him with the great mother goddess, quam Caelestem Afri, Mithram Persae, plerique Venerem colunt.[86]

Hierophanta – hierophantria deae Hecatae – sacrata apud Eginam Hecatae – sacrata apud Aeginam deabus – the cult of Hecate. Paulina is called hierophantria deae Hecatae and sacrata apud Aeginam deabus in CIL VI 1780 and hierophantria and sacrata apud Eginam Hecatae in CIL VI 1779, that is, she was Hecate’s priestess and had been initiated into the mysteries of Hecate in Aegina. In CIL VI 1778 and 1779 Praetextatus is called hierophanta and though Hecate’s name is not mentioned, he is probably her hierophant. In the funerary poem Paulina refers to the threefold secrets of Hecate that Praetextatus has taught her: Hecates ministram trina secreta edoces (v.28).[87]

During the Roman Empire the chthonic goddess Hecate, whose cult originated from Asia and flourished particularly in Asia Minor, was worshipped throughout the Mediterranean area. In Greece the most important cult place was Aegina (Aígina) where her mysteries were celebrated every year. According to tradition it was Orpheus who had founded these mysteries that continued as late as the fourth century.[88]

In the fourth century the Roman pagan aristocrats wished to be initiated into numerous mysteries and in Rome Hecate’s mysteries, which were celebrated in a vault situated under the arx of the Capitoline hill, were among the most popular ones. Hecate appears with other deities such as Demeter, Cybele, Dionysus and Mithras in inscriptions and on contorniates in the late fourth century.[89] Her cult is mentioned in Carmen contra paganos, where the anonymous senator is a Triviae sacerdos (v.71), and Prudentius also mentions the goddess, describing sacrifices made to her.[90] Hecate’s shrines are known to have been in use in late antiquity, one in Athens until the end of the fourth century. Christians also destroyed her shrines; in Gaza, for example, a sanctuary of Hecate was destroyed among other pagan temples under Bishop Porphyry and in Rome Stilicho prohibited her cult.[91] Hecate had an important role in the Neoplatonic cosmogonical speculations. According to Eunapius, the Neoplatonic philosopher Maximus of Ephesus practised the Neoplatonic mysteries in a shrine of Hecate. P. Courcelle believed that the tradition of Hecate’s mysteries might have continued in the fifth century since even Martianus Capella was aware the mysteries and described them in his De nuptiis.[92] According to Augustine, the Neoplatonic philosopher Porphyry had interpreted Hecate as the World Soul in his De regressu animae and the return of the human soul to its celestial home was reproduced in her mysteries.[93]

Sacratus (Libero et) Eleusinis, sacrata Cereri et Eleusiniis, sacrata apud Eleusinam Deo Iaccho, Cereri et Corae, sacranea Deae Cereris – the Eleusinian mysteries. Praetextatus and Paulina participated in the Eleusinian mysteries since he is mentioned as being Eleusinis hierophanta and she sacrata Cereri et Eleusiniis or sacrata apud Eleusinam deo Iaccho, Cereri et Corae. Paulina is also called a sacrata of the god Iacchus, Iákkhos, the personification of the singing and shouting of the participants in the procession from Athens to Eleusis.[94] Praetextatus’ funerary poem also refers to the Greek Demeter, the goddess of the Eleusinian mysteries, Cererisque Graiae tu sacris dignam paras (v. 29).

Several Roman men and women are known to have been initiated into the Eleusinian mysteries.[95] It is possible that Praetextatus and Paulina joined the mysteries during Praetextatus’ proconsulate of Achaea because the Eleusinian mysteries took place exclusively at Eleusis and nowhere else: therefore, the couple must have been initiated at Eleusis. S. Roda proposes that the hierophant to whom Symmachus addressed three letters could be the hierophant who introduced Praetextatus and Paulina to the mysteries and even the same hierophant who led the emperor Julian and the philosopher Eunapius into the mysteries.[96] However, these identifications are merely hypothetical and without foundation.

The prestige of the Eleusinian mysteries seems to have increased in the fourth century but later the cult was gradually wiped out by imperial legislation and Christianity. The mysteries at Eleusis were apparently celebrated until 396 when the temple at Eleusis was pillaged during Alaric’s invasion of Greece.[97] Claudian’s poem De raptu Proserpinae has sometimes been interpreted as a description of an initiation into the Eleusinian mysteries.[98]

Praetextatus as the protector of the mysteries in Greece. Praetextatus’ participation in the Eleusinian mysteries explains why he was so active in protecting the mysteries in Greece when nocturnal sacrifices were prohibited in 364. Zosimus writes that Praetextatus opposed the law against nocturnal sacrifices, appealing to Emperor Valentinian, and succeeded in getting an exemption from the law for Achaea. He advised Valentinian that the prohibition of nocturnal ceremonies would make life intolerable for the Hellenes because then they could not celebrate ‘the most holy mysteries’ that tied mankind together with a divine bond. Therefore, Valentinian let the Eleusinian mysteries continue according to the ancestral custom from earliest times.[99]

The Eleusinian mysteries are not named in Zosimus’ account but it is probable that Zosimus refers to them since the law would have injured them particularly. It is possible that the prohibition of nocturnal rites was applied against the mysteries in Eleusis because Demeter and Persephone were underworld deities and were thought to be connected with the dead. This application of the law against a pagan cult was against the otherwise tolerant spirit of Valentinian I and Valens, and thus Praetextatus had to intervene and correct the error. The prohibition mentioned by Zosimus is probably identical with the law against nocturnal rites, CTh 9.16.7 in 364 in which Valentinian and Valens forbid severely – on the pain of death – maleficent prayers, magical practices and nocturnal sacrifices. This law was directed against the performance of magic, polluted sacrifices and nefarious prayers, not against pagan cults, though Zosimus claims that Valentinian wanted to impede the mysteries by means of this law. As I have mentioned above (ch. 2.1), laws banning magical practices were often used as weapons against pagan cults and it seems that polytheists in Greece feared such manipulation of CTh 9.16.7.[100] R. von Haehling has cast doubts on the historicity of Zosimus’ account since Praetextatus’ contemporaries Ammianus and Eunapius do not write anything about his defence of Hellenic cults[101] but in my opinion, von Haehling’s argumentum ex silentio is not sufficient. Even though Zosimus is not always reliable as a source, there is no particular reason to question his account of Praetextatus protecting nocturnal sacrifices.


The Cultivation of a myriad gods

The accumulation of priesthoods and initiations. The numerous priesthoods and initiations of both Praetextatus and Paulina were not an exception in fourth-century Rome but several inscriptions from the second half of the fourth century show that Roman pagan aristocrats gathered multiple priesthoods and initiations in the Roman civic religion as well as in the mystery cults. Ceres, Magna Mater, Attis, Mithras, Bacchus, Isis, Sarapis, Hecate and other deities appear together in these senatorial inscriptions. In addition to Praetextatus, Alfenius Caeionius Iulianus Kamenius had numerous sacral offices.[102]

Roman senators often functioned as priests of the Roman civic religion because the priesthoods enjoyed special political prestige. By the end of the third century, the accumulation of priesthoods had become a routine for aristocrats. It seems that the most powerful Roman aristocrats usually held the most important priesthoods in the same way as politicians in our modern societies also often undertake charitable or other voluntary duties. They manifested with their religious titles that they belonged to the well-to-do club of the aristocracy. There was not a radical difference between Roman magistracies and priesthoods but rather priests of official cults were regarded as magistrates of a sort and religious duties were regularly included in the civil career.[103] Therefore, priesthoods of the Roman religion are often listed with civic magistracies.[104]

The pagan Roman senators whose many priesthoods are shown in the inscriptions were traditionally divided into two competing groups, into Traditionalists and Orientalists. According to this hypothetical division introduced by D.N. Robinson in 1915 and later supported by H. Bloch, who wrote of the Traditionalists and Orientalists as if they were systematically organized parties, the majority, the dynamic Orientalists who took active part in the so-called Oriental mystery cults and held several priesthoods, both of the Roman cults and foreign cults, were headed by Praetextatus himself.[105] The few Traditionalists – Symmachus[106] and Publilius Caeionius Caecina Albinus[107] – confined themselves to the Roman civic religion only.

J. Matthews criticized this division as oversimplified and artificial, arguing that inscriptions or their absence do not reveal the whole truth of the religious situation in the fourth century, e.g. in Symmachus’ case; we should not jump to conclusions based on the argumentum ex silentio. If mystery or Oriental cults are not mentioned in his inscriptions, this does not imply conclusively he was not involved in these cults. Furthermore, when interpreting epigraphic material it must be remembered that an inscription that mentions a ‘religious fact’ is not necessarily a ‘religious inscription’ and that inscriptions were mainly of public nature. The Romans distinguished the public religio from private beliefs though sometimes it is difficult to make a distinction between public and private aspects of religion in the inscriptions because the cults of Magna Mater and Mithras, for example, functioned as both private initiation rites and public cults in the fourth century. The Roman pagans were religious hybrids who combined the priesthoods of the traditional religion with posts in the Oriental cults.[108] There was a wide range of various pagan attitudes that cannot be reduced into two factions for there never was any uniform doctrine of paganism.

The Roman aristocrats accumulating multiple priesthoods of pagan cults in the fourth century represent the last syncretistic phase in Graeco-Roman polytheism. Syncretism is a process in which first different religious systems are paralleled and later even assimilated and thus formed into a new religious syncretistic system. Syncretistic processes, in which various gods were interpreted as aspects of a common Hellenistic religious system, had been going on for centuries before the end of the fourth century. In fact, polytheistic cults had never been exclusive but rather they had tended to adapt deities, epithets and rituals from other cults, and the participation in one pagan cult did not exclude initiations into other cults.[109]

Several scholars have interpreted the syncretism of the late fourth century, the accumulation of pagan priesthoods among the Roman senatorial aristocracy, as a conscious and somewhat aggressive manoeuvre against the expansion of Christianity and as an opposition to the Christian emperors. It was also interpreted as a part of the so-called pagan revival from the second half of the century until the defeat of the usurper Eugenius in 394.[110] In a similar way the contorniates of the late fourth and early fifth centuries were interpreted as a manifestation of the paganism of the Roman senate and even an aggressive pagan propaganda by the senate but Mazzarino showed that the ‘pagan propaganda’ on the contorniates is only the use of  traditional Roman motifs.[111]

Earlier scholarly literature lapsed into over-interpretation of late antique art and literature, continuously finding plots against the imperial administration behind the art and literature commissioned by aristocratic patrons. Pagan motifs and classicizing tendencies result from aristocratic cultural traditions and do not suggest any particular pagan revival or reaction.[112] I believe that the religious and cultural activities of the Roman pagan aristocracy cannot be regarded either as a conscious promotion of the pagan religion or as an anti-Christian action but rather as a more passive preference for the status quo.

Could we regard the late syncretistic paganism as an expression of genuine religious emotions or was it only a form without content? Previous scholars regarded the Roman religion as a ‘dead’ tradition; L. Vidman, for example, claimed that the many initiations and priesthoods of the senators served only as symbolic scenery and the syncretism of late antiquity was the religion of the upper class, not of the people.[113] I am inclined to think that the Graeco-Roman cults cannot be seen merely as a ‘dead’ tradition that the pagan aristocrats, especially Symmachus, desperately tried to conserve. As I have already argued, the ‘forms and contents’ of ancient religions should not be hastily assessed according to modern Christianly-coloured concepts of religion. Moreover, the social impact of various polytheistic cults should not be underestimated in the Roman city life, even at the end the fourth century. Religion, particularly the  Roman civic religion, was a part of the social and cultural matrix of the Roman senators who made appearances as priests in public, at pagan ceremonies. Keeping up public appearances belonged to the senatorial way of life, and as a matter in fact, aristocrats continued these public appearances also as Christians, in Christian processions and festivals as well as in patronage of church building.

There were many different types of priests in polytheistic cults, full-time and part-time, male and female priests, but they were not usually professional. It might have been difficult to get volunteers to take care of the sacral offices as no compensation was paid. This is probably why priesthoods tended to accumulate in the hands of the few; thus, aristocrats assumed the multiple priesthoods because they could afford to hold them. The aristocratic epitaphs list priesthoods and initiations but we do not know which of the cults and rituals were actually celebrated in the late fourth century. Some rituals and festivals are known for certain to have been organized, for example festivals of Isis, that were celebrated in Rome in 394 and in Falerii in 416, and taurobolii that were arranged in Rome at the end of the fourth century. A taurobolium was a costly ritual to carry out, and some private sponsor had to pay the expenses. Only the wealthiest senators could keep pagan cults with their festivals, processions and offerings going on in Rome.[114] Pagan aristocrats, like Tamesius Augentius Olympius, are also known to have restored pagan shrines at their own expense.[115]

The neglect of priestly duties. The picture that sources give us of Praetextatus’ religious activities does not demonstrate an ideal. In one of his letters to Praetextatus, Symmachus is forced to remind him of his sacerdotal duties. The attention to priestly duties had kept Symmachus from writing to his friend, he complains, but Praetextatus had been prevented by the indifference of leisure at Baiae, me impedit pontificalis officii cura, te Baianii otii neglegentia. Symmachus asks bitterly who had granted his friend the cessation of his civic priestly duty, quis tibi has indutias publici muneris dedit?[116] Symmachus does not, however, blame Praetextatus for luxurious living at Baiae because he is sure that Praetextatus has dedicated himself to literary studies. In another letter Symmachus reproaches Praetextatus again, telling his friend how he has been occupied with the management of his priesthood. His conscience does not allow him to leave his duties because there is, he writes bitterly, so much negligence among the priests. He adds that being absent from the altars is a form of self-advancement for Romans, nunc aris deesse Romanos genus est ambiendi, and asks impatiently how long Praetextatus is going to stay in Etruria, vos quousque retinebit?[117]

In both letters – in epist. 1.47 in jest, in epist. 1.51 more seriously – Symmachus reproaches Praetextatus for not taking his sacerdotal duties seriously enough. Why did Symmachus have to blame Praetextatus for neglecting his duties? Was Praetextatus’ concession to the Roman state cult only formal and his interest in the Oriental cults genuine, as it has traditionally been explained, that is, did he not ‘believe’ in the state gods but was fascinated by the mystery cults? In my opinion, religious ideas and activities of Praetextatus and other pagan aristocrats cannot be interpreted in a simple division; therefore, I have rejected the traditional division of pagan Roman senators into Orientalists and Traditionalists.

Symmachus’ bitter words nunc aris deesse Romanos genus est ambiendi indicate that the neglect of pagan cultic duties was a method of career advancement, thus hinting that by leaving pagan cults and becoming a Christian, an opportunist could please the imperial court. His words show a certain kind of resignation but how reliable are they? D. Vera is probably right in regarding Symmachus’ complaints as polemically exaggerated because at the same time several laws against apostasy were issued (CTh 16.7.1 in 381; 16.7.2 and 16.7.3 in 383; 16.7.4 and 16.7.5 in 391; 16.7.6 in 396) and Christian writers note conversions back to paganism (for apostasies in the fourth century, see ch. 4.2).[118] The conversion of the Roman aristocracy to Christianity was not simply a rectilinear movement but a gradual wave-like process (for the discussion, see ch. 2.2).

Symmachus’ complaints raise a question as to whether or not the aristocrats fulfilled the sacral duties of their numerous priesthoods properly and how general the neglect of priestly duties was among the pagan aristocrats. It has been pointed out that in accumulating multiple priesthoods there was the risk that sacral duties were fulfilled only formally without any inner contact with each deity and that a person with numerous priesthoods and initiations could not possibly be a good priest for practical reasons since he had not enough time.[119] Here we come across the modern preunderstanding again. Was a priest of Roman civic religion, for instance, necessarily expected to have an ‘inner contact’ with gods (and what is this ‘inner contact’ supposed to have meant in late antiquity)? It is also possible that a polytheist with a syncretistic and/or pantheistic orientation or with a philosophical inspiration fulfilled his sacral duties with a special intensity, as for example Emperor Julian did.[120] For my discussion on syncretistic and monotheistic tendencies in late polytheism, see ch. 2.5.

Even Praetextatus, whose authority as a religious leader was greatly appreciated by Symmachus and even by the following generation, in Macrobius’ Saturnalia, seems to have neglected his priestly duties from time to time. Symmachus also reprimands his friend Nicomachus Flavianus for not fulfilling his duties properly enough.[121] We should not perhaps take Symmachus’ reproaches too seriously as they are written in a playful style according to the epistolary genre of his time; in his letters he complains in the same tone that he had not received enough letters or that he had received too short letters from Praetextatus or other correspondents (see also ch. 3.1). Symmachus himself wants to give the impression of taking his priesthood of the Roman official cult very earnestly, at least in his letters he boasts of having fulfilled carefully his sacral duties.[122] Symmachus’ reproaches resemble the tone of Sidonius’ letter in the fifth century in which Sidonius blames his correspondent Syagrius for staying in countryside and thus neglecting his duties as a magistrate in town.[123] Sidonius’ correspondent did not fulfill his civic tasks as magistrate while Symmachus’ friends neglected their sacral duties. Both duties belonged traditionally to the officii of a Roman senatorial magistrate, whose way of life entailed presence at the numerous ceremonies of the city, and it was these important public appearances that Praetextatus had neglected.


[1] Flamant 28 defines Praetextatus as “un homme religieux avant d’être un homme politique”.

[2] Lambrechts 16.

[3] CIL VI 1741 = ILS 1243: Memmio Vitrasio Orfito … praef(ecto) urbi, non multo interposito tempore iterum praef(ecto) urbi, proconsuli Africae, comiti ordinis primi, item comiti intra consistorium ordinis primi, legato petitu senatus populiq(ue) Romani, comiti ordinis secundi, consulari provinciae Siciliae, pontifici maiori Vestae, quindecimviro s(acris) f(aciundis), pontifici Solis, consuli, praetori, quaestori … 

[4] Nicolaas 86; Palanque 1934, 358.

[5] ILS 1264 = Ephem. Epigr. VIII 648 = CIMRM 206 = CCCA 469 = CLE 654.

[6] In the list of CIL 1741 = ILS 1243 (above p. 62 n. 55), the sacral and civic offices are even intermingled.

[7] Christensen 26; Alföldy 1989, 94; Beard – North – Price 1998a, 134-135. According to Wardman 169-172, the Roman religion was civic polytheism connected with the values and objectives of the state. Cf. Cic. de domo sua 1.1.

[8] Cumont 1910, 34-55; Wissowa 95; Latte 359; Robinson 1915, 89, followed e.g. by  Nicolaas 107-108; Klein 1971, 19, 162-163; Wytzes 146; Heyob 35; Barb 108.

[9] Alföldy 1989, 55-57, 101-102. MacMullen 1981, 5-7, for instance, has showed that the Roman deities, not the Oriental ones, were frequent in the Latin votive inscriptions in Italy as well as in the provinces during the late Empire. Christensen 26 speaks of the ‘Lebenskraft’ of the Roman religion in the third century and claims that the Roman gods and their cult was ‘handfeste Realität’ for most people. According to Salzman 1990, 17 the calendar of 354 confirms that the official Roman cults were the true mainstays of late paganism in Rome.

[10] E.g. according to Vidman 164 the gods of the traditional Roman religion did not inspire any deep religious feelings and the so-called Oriental deities were more ‘alive’ than the Roman gods. Cf. Thrams 15, 21, 52, 54.

[11] Wardman 135, Lane Fox 261, Alföldy 1989, 57, Barcelò 155 and Salzman 1990, 117 stress the vitality of polytheism in late antiquity and the dynamism of the Roman cults.

[12] L. Ragonius Venustus in CIL VI 503 = ILS 4151 = CCCA 232 from 390; Rufius Caeionius in CIL VI 511 from 377.

[13] Eisenhut 734-736; Beard – North – Price 1998a, 21-24. First there were three augurs, later nine, in Sulla’s time fifteen and in Caesar’s time sixteen. The senate also had the right to nominate augurs under the Empire but this was limited by the emperor’s commendation. An augur was nominated for life.

[14] Macr. Sat. 1.24.17. Aug. civ. 18.53-54. Rufin. hist. 2.33; Sozom. 7.22 about divination during Eugenius’ usurpation.

[15] Etruscus ludit semper quos vanus aruspex (v.8); Sed fuit in terris nullus sacratior illo, / quem Numa Pompilius, e multis primus aruspex, / edocuit vano ritu (v.34-36); Etruscis semper amicus (v.50).

[16] Salv. gub. 6.2.12.

[17] L. Aurelius Avianius Symmachus in CIL VI 1698 = ILS 1257; Memmius Vitrasius Orfitus in CIL VI 1739-1742; Alfenius Caeionius Iulianus Kamenius in CIL VI 1675 and in ILS 1264; Q. Clodius Flavianus in CIL VI 501 = ILS 4149 = CCCA 230 = CMRDM 25.

[18] King Tarquin is said to have originally nominated two outstanding men to read and interpret the Sibylline books but Sulla reorganized the number of the viri from ten to fifteen. The Sibylline books were ritual prescriptions of Greek origin, of rituals made according to Graecus ritus. Beard – North – Price 1998a, 62; Radke 1304-1305; Wissowa 536-537, 541-543. For the Sibylline books, see Parke 190-212, esp. 211.

[19] Amm. 23.1.7.

[20] Rut. Nam. 2.51-52. Prud. apoth. v.439-440; Paschoud 1986, 266 n.89; Cancik 1987, 69; Parke 211.

[21] For the Vestals, see Beard – North – Price 1998a, 51-54, 194, 382. Calendar of Philocalus: Salzman 1990, 157-161. The cult of Vesta was also mentioned in Expos. mundi 55. The old pontifices were renamed as pontifices maiores or pontifices Vestae or pontifices maiores Vestae to be distinguished from the priestly college of pontifices Solis established by Emperor Aurelian in 274.

[22] Ambr. epist. 17-18; Symm. rel. 3.

[23] The Atrium Vestae, the residence of the Vestals, remained in use at least until the end of the fourth century, cf. Zos. 5.38.3. LaBranche 60, 150 nr.23.

[24] Symm. epist. 2.36 (to Nicomachus Flavianus). Praetextatus’ widow Paulina erected a statue to Coelia Concordia to thank her for honouring Praetextatus (CIL VI 2145). See ch. 4.1.

[25] CIL VI 2158 = ILS 4944 commemorating the restoration mentions pontifices Vestae Plotius Acilius Lucillus and Vitrasius Praetextatus. LaBranche 186-187 nr.83; Bloch 1945, 211-212.

[26] Zos. 5.38.3.

[27] Zos. 5.38.2.

[28] Halsberghe 139-142, 158-162.

[29] Expos. mundi 55: Colunt autem et deos, ex parte Iovem et Solem.

[30] Halsberghe 163-170. For Sol in the calendar of 354, see Salzman 1990, 149-153.

[31] Aug. serm. 12.11; Aug. enarr. in psalm. 25.3.

[32] Memmius Vitrasius Orfitus in CIL VI 1739-1742. Q. Clodius Flavianus in CIL VI 501 = ILS 4149 = CCCA 230 = CMRDM  25 in 383 and Praetextatus in CIL VI 1778-1779. Halsberghe 145-146.

[33] Macr. Sat. 1.17-23. For Praetextatus’ speech in the Saturnalia, see ch. 5.3. Halsberghe 44, 79-80, 146-147, 165.

[34] Iul. or. 4.132D-133C.

[35] Arnob. nat. 1.29; 3.30; 5.42; 6.10; 6.12.

[36] Wissowa 282 n. 8: the title ‘ist noch nicht befriedigend erklärt’; TLL, ‘curialis’, 1488, 30-33; Jaczynowska 641-642. The word curialis in Paul. Fest. p.64M = 56 Lindsay: curiales flamines: curiarum sacerdotes; Paul. Fest. p.64M = 56 Lindsay: curiales mensae, in quibus immolabatur Iunoni, quae Curis appellata est. CIL X 1125 sacerdos Herculis and CIL VI 30893 pontifex Herculis from the fourth century.

[37] Jaczynowska 636-641; Derichs 104-113, 119, 127.

[38] In  epist. ad Them. 253C Julian refers to a speech of Themistius. In or. 34.28 Themistius compares Emperor Theodosius with Hercules. Bruggisser 1993, 60-64; Derichs 92, 101-102, 111-113; M. Simon 143.

[39] Seneca’s tragedies Hercules Furens and Hercules Oetaeus are Stoic interpretations of Hercules’ life and apotheosis. Jaczynowska 631-636.

[40] For Celsus (apud Origen. c. Cels. 7.53) Hercules and Jesus were comparable with each other. Analogies between Heracles and Jesus have often been proposed by modern scholars, e.g. by M. Simon 51, 63-69, 108-109, 113-114, 141-149, 157-159. Hercules in Seneca’s Hercules Oetaeus recalls remarkably the Jesus of the Gospels.

[41] Claud. paneg. Honor. cos. III, 208. Sidon. carm. 13.15-16, between 458-460. Hercules as a literary figure: e.g. Auson. 8.24.23-26 Peiper = 13.23.23-26 Prete (De feriis Romanis); Auson. 8.25 Peiper = 13.24 Prete (Monosticha de aerumnis Herculis). For Hercules in literature, see Bruggisser 1993, 74-77.

[42] A figure of Alexander-Hercules appears on coins in 356-359 when Memmius Vitrasius Orfitus, the city prefect and Symmachus’ father-in-law, seems to have taken the initiative of an emission. During Julian’s reign Hercules did not appear on coins but reappears on a contorniate emission during Gratian’s reign and Theodosius’ reign. In Honorius’ time a large emission of contorniates introduces Emperor Nero as Hercules. The contorniate emission after the sack of Rome in 410 introduces another type of Hercules. Derichs 113-117.

[43] Aug. epist. 50.

[44] Aug. serm. 24.6: Qui aliquando dictus est deus Hercules, Romae iam non est. Hic autem etiam barba inaurata esse voluit. … Deus fortitudinis solet dici Hercules. Tota virtus eius in barba.

[45] Bloch 1945, 199-201, 234. AE 1948, 127 = AE 1941, 66. For other fourth-century connections with Hercules, see Bruggisser 1989, 380-383.

[46] Bloch 1945, 237; Wytzes 168; Derichs 116; M.Simon 95-96, 141-142; Bruggisser 1993, 64-66. Hercules in Iul. or. 7.219B-220A. Theodoret. hist. 5.25.4; 5.25.17: Before the Battle of Frigidus, Theodosius proclaimed that the cross leads his army while Hercules’  image,                  leads that of the enemy and mocked the image and its uselessness after Eugenius’ defeat.

[47] Macr. Sat. 1.20.6: quippe Hercules ea est solis potestas quae humano generi virtutem ad similitudinem praestat deorum. Hercules is identified with Sol also in Porph. de cultu simulacrorum fr.8 Bidez (in Euseb. praep. evang. 3.11.25). According to M. Simon 150-155 Macrobius systematized the Herculean tradition of his time.

[48] Jaczynowska 660-661. There are both pagan and Christian themes in the same hypogeum: the Alcestis scene has its counterpart, the Lazarus scene in the next room.

[49] CIL VI 1779-1780.

[50] Burkert 2-3, 7-12; Pakkanen 64-70.

[51] A description of an initiation in Apul. met. 11.23. Burkert 8, 23-24, 99-101; Martin 62.

[52] Apul. met. 11.21. For witnessing in mysteries, see Festugière 136-138.

[53] SIRIS 586, from the second century, written in Greek but in Latin letters. I follow the interpretation of the last two lines proposed by Festugière 137-144 and accepted by Vidman 130-137. The reliefs and the signa Memphi and Glegori on the sarcophagus refer to the cult of Isis. In the initiation scene the husband ritually opens the wife’s eyes with balsam and they hold a book together in their hands. Egger 51-58 was the first to understand the reliefs as mystic;  Burkert 26, however, is sceptical about the mystic interpretation.

[54] Plut. praec. con. 19.140D:                                          ,                                   .                             µ       .                            µ                   µ                   µ              … Cracco Ruggini 1989, 263 presumes that this passage is a warning of the dangers of Christianity. Plutarch composed his advice to a Greek couple, Pollianus and Eurydice.

[55] Plut. praec. con. 48,145E. Brown 1988, 13.

[56] Brown 1961, 6 followed by Yarborough 1976, 165.

[57] Salzman 1989a, 214; Salzman 1992, 460-464; Salzman 1993, 370; Vidman 136-138, 160.

[58] Here tauroboliatus / tauroboliata and antistes seem to have the same meaning as Paulina is a tauroboliata but also an antistes of Cybele and Attis. Magna Mater was called Dindymene after the Mount of Dindymos / Didymos in Phrygia. Teletis taureis refers to taurobolium, the offering made in the cult of Magna Mater. Vermaseren 1977, 10, 81; McLynn 325, n.49; Burkert 5-6.

[59] Vermaseren 1977, 10-11, 38-41, 177-178. For the arrival of the cult in Rome, see Beard – North – Price 1998a, 96-98. Thomas 1506-1519 emphasizes the aristocratic character of the cult of Magna Mater in Rome.

[60] Vermaseren 1977, 179-180. Julian’s participation in the cult of Magna Mater: Greg. Naz. or. 4.52; Sozom. 5.2.2.

[61] Prud. per. 10.1006-1050. McLynn 314-320, e.g. 319: “the shower of blood belongs to the world of fantasy.”

[62] There were two kinds of taurobolia, public rituals for the emperor’s benefit, pro salute imperatoris and for the state, and private rituals for the benefit of an individual. The purpose of the public taurobolium was a sacrifice while the private ritual was a ‘baptism’ with blood. Vermaseren 1977, 11, 102, 180; Thomas 1522.

[63] Sextilius Agesilaus Aedesius in CIL VI 510 = ILS 4152 = CIMRM 520 = CCCA III 242. Repetitions are mentioned in CIL VI 502, CIL VI 504: bis deni … orbis, CIL VI 512 = ILS 4154: viginti annis expletis; Carmen contra paganos v.62: vivere cum speras viginti mundus in annos. Vermaseren 1977, 103, 106; Burkert 18, 25; Rutter 226, 242; Duthoy 112-126; Beard – North – Price 1998a, 384. However, McLynn 320-322 insists that the taurobolium had not changed dramatically since the third century.

[64] Guarducci 1982, 115-118; Vermaseren 1977, 45-47.

[65] Thomas 1524.

[66] Magna Mater in the calendar of 354: Salzman 1990, 164-169. Zos. 5.38.3: anecdote of Serena in the temple of Magna Mater (see p. 67). Pensabene 92 presumes that the temple on the Palatine was abandoned after the sack of Rome in 410.

[67] Prud. per. 10.1006-1050; Carmen contra paganos v.57-62; Aug. civ. 2.7; 6.7; 7.25; Arnob. nat. 5.5-7; 5.42; Firm. err. 3.

[68] Iul. or. 5.168C-169D; Macr. Sat. 1.21.7-11. Vermaseren 1977, 11, 86-87; 180-181; Raeder 212.

[69] Bloch 1945, 242; Witt 93; Pötscher 55; Vidman 53-60.

[70] Bloch 1945, appendix, 242-244. E.g. Firm. err. 13.3.

[71] Vidman 93, 159-160, 450; Burkert 47; Heyob 108-109. Thrams 72 claims that Isiaca might be a typical signum of a participant that was given in the initiation where Paulina had become a new person and therefore had been renamed.

[72] The temple of Isis in Portus was restored around 376: AE 1961, 152 = SIRIS 562; Serapeum at Alexandria: Rufin. hist. 2.23; Socrat. 5.16; Sozom. 7.15; Theodoret. hist. 5.22. Vidman 157; Heyob 34-35; Witt 242.

[73] Emperor Julian and Empress Helena were figured as Sarapis and Isis on coins which indicates that Isis had retained at least her symbolic prominence in the late fourth century. Witt 241-242; Budde 630-642.

[74] Navigium Isidis in the calendar of 354: Salzman 1990, 173-174; The festival in Falerii: Rut. Nam. 1.371-376. Vidman 160, 166; Alföldi  1937, 32.

[75] Paus. 2.37.2-6. Nilsson 1953, 182-184; Hennig 382-383; Merkelbach 1988, 32 n.4.

[76] Merkelbach 1988, 131-132; Nilsson 1953, 176-177, 182-194; Foucher 694.

[77] Bowersock 1990, 4-5, 48-52. Dionysus also appears with Hercules in a mosaic found in Sepphoris in Palestine.

[78] Aug. epist. 17.4 to Maximus of Madaura. Late initiations reported by Liban. or. 1.23; Liban. epist. 14.

[79] According to Merkelbach 246-249, the Mithraic inscriptions of the Roman aristocrats – Praetextatus among them – from the years 357-387 do not belong to the proper mysteries of Mithras because in these inscriptions Mithraism is only a part of these aristocrats’ syncretistic paganism. However, Vermaseren has included CIL VI 1778 in his corpus of Mithraic inscriptions as CIMRM 420.

[80] Celsus (apud Origen. c. Cels. 6.22) and Hier. epist. 107.2 of the grades. For the astral aspects of the mysteries, see Merkelbach 1984, 76-85, 127-129, 201-227, 237-238; Vermaseren 1963, 80, 127-128, 299, 480.

[81] Merkelbach 1984, 129, 149; 184-187.

[82] Iustin. apol. 66; Tert. praescr. 40.4. Speculations about salvation: e.g. et nos servasti (a)eternali sanguine fuso in a graffito, AE 1946, no. 84, found under S. Prisca, though the word (a)eternali is not clear. Merkelbach 1984, 145-146, 199; Burkert 111-112; Sanders 1982, 226 n.20; Beard – North – Price 1998b, 318-319; see also p. 174 n. 92.

[83] CIL VI 754 = CIMRM 406 = ILS 4269 = CLE 265.

[84] Hier. epist. 107.2. Cf. Prud. c. Symm. 1.561-563. Merkelbach 1984, 248 and Matthews 1975, 23 believe that the cave was situated on private property (maybe Gracchus’ own property) and that Gracchus himself might have been one of the initiates before his conversion to Christianity.

[85] Rufin. hist. 2.22; Sozom. 5.7 and Socrat. 3.2-3 describe destructions of mithraea. Usually a church was built over a cave of Mithras. Merkelbach 1984, 250.

[86] Ambr. epist. 18.30 about the great mother goddess.

[87] The threefold secrets, trina secreta here refer to the threefold nature of Hecate who is often called triceps, triplex, triformis, and Trivia. Sarian 987; Kehl 325.

[88] Paus. 2.30.2. Sarian 985; Kehl 323-326; Chuvin 218, 220-221.

[89] CIL VI 511 from Rome in 377, Rufius Caeonius: veneranda movet Cibeles triodeia signa … hiero(fanta) d(eae) Hecat(ae) … triplicis cultor Dianae. Hecate with Dionysus e.g. in CIL VI 507, C. Magius Donatus Severianus hierophantes Liberi patris et Hecatarum; CIL XI 671: sacerdotis Liberi et Ecate. Hecate with Mithras e.g. in CIL VI 733: Flavius Septimius Zosimus, sacerdus (sic) dei Brontontis et Aecate built a shrine of Mithras. Kehl 323-326; Courcelle 1943, 203.

[90] Prud. c. Symm. 1.364-371; Prud. apoth. 456-488. See also Greg. Tur. glor. mart. 40.

[91] Kehl col. 334-335 presumes that the subterranean cave where Emperor Julian, according to Gregory of Nazianzus (or. 4.55), was initiated into the Chaldean mysteries was Hecate’s temple (although Gregory does not mention Hecate’s name). Hecate’s temple in Gaza: Marc. Diac. vita S. Porph. 64.

[92] Eunap. vit. soph. 475. Mart. Cap. 9.910. Courcelle 1943, 202-203.

[93] Aug. serm. 241.7: … ipsam animam mundi vocari Iovem, vel vocari Hecatem, id est, quasi animam universalem mundum regentem … Hecate appears in Porphyry’s De philosophia ex oraculis haurienda and De cultu simulacrorum. Hecate as the World Soul in Chald. orac. fr. 51 = Procl. in rem p. 2.201.14-16. Kehl 335; Courcelle 1943, 203-205; Matthews 1989, 120.

[94] Later, especially in literature and mythology, Iacchus was confused with Dionysus Bacchus who originally did not belong to the Eleusinian mysteries. E. Simon 612, 614; Dietrich 454.

[95] Thrams 91; Mylonas 237; Chuvin 218.

[96] Eunap. vit. soph. 475-476; Symm. epist. 5.1-3. Roda 1973, 91-92 n.129. Seeck 1883, cxlviii and Callu 1982, 156 interpreted the receiver of the letters HIEROPHANTES as a name.

[97] Eunap. vit. soph. 476. Mylonas 287.

[98] Lizzi – Consolino 932.
[99] Zos. 4.3.2-3. Zosimus probably derived his information here from the history of Eunapius of Sardis who was well-informed about the religious conditions in Attica during the 360s. Paschoud 1979, 337 n.111; Trombley 1993, 70 n.298.

[100] CTh 9.16.7 (Sept. 9, 364): Ne quis deinceps nocturnis temporibus aut nefarias preces aut magicos apparatus aut sacrificia funesta celebrare conetur. Detectum enim adque convictum competenti animadversione mactari perenni auctoritate censemus. The law was issued by Valens alone while Valentinian was staying in Aquileia on his way to Milan (CTh 12.12.4 was issued in Aquileia, on Sept. 7, 364) but it seems to have also come into effect in the West. CTh 9.16.9 (May 29, 371) addressed to the Roman senate by Valentinian implies that people had complained that the prohibition was directed against the official haruspices of the Roman state cult since the emperor answers that all religious customs allowed by the ancestors, omnis concessa a maioribus religio, could continue. The official soothsaying, haruspicina, was not regarded as a crime when it was not used for harmful purposes. A law (CTh 9.16.8, Dec. 12, 373) issued in the Eastern part of the Empire and probably also brought in effect in the West, prohibits the teaching of astrology, mathematica, in public as well as in private, by day as well as by night. Secret nocturnal sacrifices had been prohibited even in the Republic and early Empire: Cic. leg. 2.9.21; Paul. sent. 5.23.14-19 (FIRA II, 409-410); Dig. 48.8.3. Mommsen 1899, 641-642; Fowden 1998, 549; Trombley 1993, 62, 70; Paschoud 1979, 337 n.111. See also p. 53.

[101] Von Haehling 165-166 also claims – in my opinion not convincingly – that because the CTh 9.16.7 was addressed to the praetorian prefect of Oriens, it came into force only in the Eastern part of the Empire governed by Valens while Achaea belonged to Valentinian’s part, and there is not any similar law extant from the Western part of the Empire. Trombley 1993, 70 suggests that it must have been Praetextatus’ successor as proconsul of Achaea who applied the law against the Eleusinian mysteries and thus Praetextatus was no longer proconsul of Achaea when he defended the mysteries. Praetextatus’ proconsulate had expired not long before the edict of Sept. 9, 364, nine days after the beginning of the new indiction.

[102] Alfenius Caeionius Iulianus Kamenius was VIIvir epulonum, magister [numinum], pater sacrorum summi invicti Mithrae, hierofans Hecatae, archibucolus dei Liberi, Xvvir sacris faciundis, tauroboliatus Deae Matris, pontifex maior. His taurobolium and criobolium were performed in the Phrygianum on the Vatican hill. CIL VI 1675 = CIMRM 516 = CCCA 284; ILS 1264 = CIMRM 206 = CCCA 469 = CLE 654; AE 1953, 238 = CIMRM 515 = CCCA 241B; CIL VI 31940 = CIMRM 395A = CCCA 283. A T. Flavius Vibianus at Leptis Magna under Constantine’s reign is attested to have accumulated several priesthoods: see IRT 567-568.

[103] Barcelò 153, 181; Scheid 265. For priesthoods as status symbols, see Alan Cameron 1999, 110-111, and for the elusive relationship between civic and religious offices, see Gordon 1990a, 194-196. Wardman 159, 173 points out that during the Republic the priesthoods played a more important part in the life of an ambitious politician than during the Empire. For the prestige during the Republic and the early Empire, see Beard – North – Price 1998a, 103, 192.

[104] E.g. in CIL VI 1699 = ILS 2946; CIL VI 1782 = ILS 2947; CIL X 1695 = ILS 1224a.

[105] Robinson 101; Bloch 1945, 203, 208-209. The division was still followed by Klein 1971, 47-50, 65; Wytzes 145; Heinzberger 21; Lippold 1983, 8; Cracco Ruggini 1979b, 66; Roda 1973, 69-73; Flamant 32-42; Polara 283.

[106] According to Bloch 1945, 208 Symmachus’ letters and his epitaph CIL VI 1699 reveal no interest in the so-called Oriental cults.

[107] Bloch 1945, 212-213 based his argument of Albinus’ ‘traditionalism’ as Symmachus’ follower on Macr. Sat. 1.2.15 where Albinus is said to resemble Symmachus in his age, habits and interests, on CIL VIII 2388 = ILS 5554 that does not mention any priesthoods of mystery cults, and on Hier. epist. 107.1 where Albinus appears as a pontifex of the Roman cult. However, CIL VIII 6975 = ILAlg II 541 = CIMRM 129 from Cirta states that Albinus restored Mithras’ speleum cum signis et ornamentis.

[108] The public cultus deorum was performed for society: Cic. nat. deor. 2.8; Cic. div. 2.70; civil theology in Aug. civ. 6.5. Matthews 1973, 178-188; Wardman 159. For the Roman concept of public festivities, see Rüpke 609-628.

[109] For syncretism as a process, see Pakkanen 82-86 and Ringgren 7-13 and for the syncretism of the Hellenistic religious system, see Burkert 3-4, 49, MacMullen 1981, 89-92 and Martin 10-11, 156. According to Vidman 139 syncretism reached its highest peak in the fourth century.

[110] Bloch 1945, 203-241; Vidman 158; Vermaseren 1977, 47; Merkelbach 1984, 246-247; Heyob 35; Hackenthal 239, 244; Thrams 61. Macrobius’ Saturnalia (for my discussion, see ch. 5.1) as well as the Historia Augusta have often been interpreted as anti-Christian pagan propaganda.

[111] Alföldi 1943; Alföldi 1937, 34-35 followed by e.g. Klein 1972, 12 but criticized by Mazzarino 1951a, 135-140.

[112] Over-interpretations criticized e.g. by Shelton 1989, 107; Salzman 1990, 213-218, 228-230; Averil Cameron 1993, 157-161; Alan Cameron 1999, 119-120.

[113] The Roman cults seen as dead e.g. by Bloch 1945, 209 and Vidman 157-158, 164-165.

[114] During the Empire the priests of Isis were professionals. For pagan priests, see Beard – North – Price 1998b, 194, 209; Vidman 165; Browning 177.

[115] CIL VI 754 = ILS 4269 = CIMRM 406 = CLE 265. According to CIL VI 2158, the college of the pontifices repaired the mansion of the Salii Palatini at their own expense, pecunia sua reparaverunt.

[116] Symm. epist. 1.47.

[117] Symm. epist. 1.51.

[118] E.g. Ambr. in psalm. 118 serm. 20.49 also complains of the opportunism of Christian converts. Vera 1981, 28.

[119] Halsberghe 146 believes that in Praetextatus’ time pagan cults had priests ‘of increasing incompetence’ whereas Lane Fox 34-35 underlines the strengths of the multiplicity and variety of pagan cults.

[120] Fowden 1998, 552 sees in Praetextatus’ activities and in Julian’s writings “… at work a certain tendency towards a more universalist, coherent view of polytheism.”

[121] Symm. epist. 2.34.

[122] Symm. epist. 1.47; 2.53. Symmachus uses specialized terminology in his letters to Praetextatus, e.g. in epist. 1.49, for he corresponds with Praetextatus as a sacerdos with another sacerdos, as Bruggisser 1993, 364 points out.

[123] Sidon. epist. 8.8.1: Dic … quousque tandem ruralium operum negotiosus urbana fastidis?


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