Human sacrifice in the Ancient Rome

Gladiators from Leptis Magna

Today I would like to speak about a topic which is worth – highlighting but almost unheard. In fact, although Romans left to us buildings, laws, books and any other foundation for a civilized life, they did horrible things, like human sacrifice. It is interesting to note that Romans always denied that they did human sacrifice in the past, laying that at other people, called “barbarians”.
From an overall perspective, human sacrifice was rare but documented. According to Livy, after the defeat at Cannae in 216 BC , in which Romans lost against Hannibal, two Gauls and two Greeks in male-female couples were buried in a stone chamber used for the purpose at least once before. The rite was probably repeated in 113 BC, in order to propitiate the gods for the upcoming invasion of Gauls.
Another arcane custom regarded the ritual of Argei, who were the princes that, according to the myth, came with Hercules to live near Rome. Although the meaning of the ceremony was almost obscure, Romans carried on following their traditional rite. This ritual planned a procession in the city and, after that, straw figures were tossed in the river Tiber. According to Dyonisius of Halicarnassus, this practice may have been a substitute for an original sacrifice of elderly men.
Moreover, another interesting point regards the origin of the gladiatorial games. Some historians infact believe that they were a funeral rite for generals, founding their theory on a passage of Livy, who explained that in 264 BC a fight between gladiators was held in order to celebrate the death of a Roman military aristocrat.Borghese_gladiator_1_mosaic_dn_r2_c2 (1)
In the end, according to Pliny the Elder, human sacrifice was banned by law during the consulship of Publius Licinius Crassus and Gnaeus Cornelius Lentulus in 97 BC, although by this time it was so rare that the decree was largely symbolic.
After 15 years, another human sacrifice happened in Rome. Cicero and Sallust reported that Catilina, a fallen Roman nobleman, tortured, tore apart and killed Marcus Marius Gratidianus, who was a remarkable politician in that age. Some historians believe that Catilina’s murder was a cerimony because, according to the sources, it was held on the tomb of Catulus, who was a Catilina’s relative. Is it possible that Catilina committed a ritual sacrifice in order to calm down the soul of an ancestor?


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s