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NIHIL NOVUM SUB SOLE

1001 deeds, sayings, curiosities and anecdotes of the ancient world

In Rome the declaration of war is a sacred act that only “fetial” priests can perform.

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Unfortunately war is an activity too often in the history of men. Despite the violence it engenders and which develops, war is subject to rules and rites. The Roman people, very superstitious and ritualistic, has rituals for all activities, and also for war. War is an action so important that only “fetial” priests can declare.

The Romans were at war with each other peoples almost every day of their  history. A few days remained closed the temple of Janus that stayed open in times of war, ready to assist the legions.The wars made them many disappointments, but also a huge empire. Now,  the war is a very serious subject submitted to a complex religious ritual performed by specialized priests,  the fetials. The Romans are a people very ritualistic.
The historian Livy reproduces the sacred formulas, which created by Ancus Martius, fourth king of Rome, used the fetial priest   for the declaration of war:

The fetial approaches the border of the bully people, his head covered with a cloak of wool and says:

"Listen Jupiter, hear the inhabitants of  frontiers, hear you too, justice:  I am the messenger of the Roman people, come with a righteously, and godly mission ".

Then present their complaints; continues after putting Jupiter to witness:

"If I,  messenger of the Roman people, outraged the laws of justice and religion, do not let my country ever again return".

Pronounce this formula to the first man he meets, says it when he  enters the enemy city and repeats when  reachs the public square. If he does not receive satisfaction solemnly  in within thirty-three days,  he declares war on this way:

"Listen you Jupiter and you Juno, Quirinus and all the gods of heaven, earth and hell, listen: I put on witnesses injustice of this town, who refuses to return what is not theirs. Now the elders of my country will deliberate on measures to restore our rights."

The messenger returned to Rome and the king raised the issue to the senators. If a majority approved of the war, the fetial priest wore  to the borders of enemy an iron spear or stake hardened in the fire and infused with his blood. In the presence of at least three young men said,

"because they have acted against the Roman people, son of Quirinius, and transgressed against him, the Roman people, son of Quirinius  has provided war; the senate of the Roman people, son of Quirinius, has  proposed, sentenced and decreed, and I and the Roman people declared it and I break the hostilities. "

After these words hurled the spear into enemy territory.

The war, holy in its origin, must  also end with  a religious action. Part of the spoils of the enemy belonged to the gods who had heard the words of fetial and supported their claim and were delivered in the temple of Jupiter Feretius.

When over time the wars were held away from the capital, the fetial priest  went to Campus Martius in Rome and there celebrated the ceremony just described.

Maybe some wicked and cruel individual thinks that in war there are no rules, but the Romans knew that only a very formalistic ritual guaranteed the necessary support of the gods.

The man, being social, needs permanent rules, rituals and laws to regulate and control all social activity, including violent war. So are objectionable and cause us embarrassment modern and current scenes of gratuitous violence.
 

   
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