by: M. Horatius Piscinus
The city of Iguvium, modern Gubbio, lies about 150 km north of Rome. It was here that seven bronze tablets were discovered in 1444. Inscriptions on these tablets date to the era of the Punic Wars in the third century BCE. They are written in Umbrian, an Italic language related to, yet distinct from Latin or Oscan. Tablets I-IV are in Umbrian characters, while VI and VII are in Latin characters. Our knowledge of Umbrian being uncertain, translations of the tablets can only be tentative. What they offer is a record of the Fratres Attides, twelve priests who performed various ceremonies on behalf of the city of Iguvium. Intriguing is the relationship of these ceremonies with the religio romana in where parallels can be drawn, and also where differences may be noted.
Iguvium Table VI a, 1-18:
This first selection describes the procedures taken when conducting an augury. Part of the ritual is reminiscent of the Fetiales rite described by Livy (A.U.C. 1.24) in that a magistrate is instructed on how first to demand that an augury be taken. The observance of the auspices is made in a manner like that known from Roman sources. At Iguvium, as with the Auguraculum on the Arx in Rome, there was an "established" place for taking auguries, but the boundaries of the templum to be used were again named as part of the ceremony (compare with Varro: On the Latin Language, VII.8). Both the flight of birds and the calling of birds are mentioned as augural signs, as at Rome but not among either the Greeks or Etruscans (Cicero: On Divination 1.41, 2.35, 38; On the Nature of the Gods II.4; Pliny: Natural History X.18; Horace: Carmina III.27.15). And the important feature is the direction from which the signs come. A crow on the right is regarded as a good omen (Plautus: Asin. II.1.12; Cicero: On Divination 1.39). The Umbrian names of different birds cannot be identified and so those mentioned in the translations are based more on Roman example than can be certain. There are little details, too, like the mention of the augur holding a ritual rod (lituus) and the requirement that he remain seated throughout the ceremony, which closely parallel Roman practice. Even in its phrasing this rite parallels Roman sources. Cato’s pastores pecuaque salua seruassis (De Agricultura 141) is the same archaic construction as the Umbrian uiro pequo saluo seritu found at VI a 3.
The magistrate (arsfertu) shall begin this ritual with an observation of the birds: a green woodpecker and a crow on the right, a woodpecker and magpie on the left. He who shall go to observe the calling birds shall, while being seated, command the magistrate from the hut as follows: "Demand that I observe a green woodpecker on the right, a crow on the right, a woodpecker on the left, a magpie on the left, birds on the left, sacred calling birds on the left." The magistrate shall make these demands in these words: "There observe a green woodpecker on the right, a crow on the right, a woodpecker on the left, a magpie on the left, birds on the left, sacred calling birds on the left, for me, for the city of Iguvium, for this station which has been established." While the one observing the calling birds is seated in the chair, no one is to make a sound and no one else is to sit in the way until he who has gone to observe the calling birds shall return. If there is any noise or if anyone else sits in the way, he shall make the ceremony null and void.
The templum where the magistrate remains for the sake of purifying Mount Fisus when established, is defined as follows: from the lower corner, which is closest to the Altar of the Gods, to the topmost corner which is closest to the Stones of Augury, then from the topmost corner of the Stones of Augury to the city border, from the bottom corner at the Altar of the Gods to the city border. Then he shall observe for signs on both sides of the city boundaries. The city boundaries: from the Stones of Augury to the exits, to the observation post, to the Portico of Nurpius, to the Vale, to the Temple of Smurcia, to the House of Miletina, to the third tower of the rampart; from the Stones of Augury to the Via Vesticii, to the Garden of Rufer, to the House of Nonia, to the House of Salius to the Via Hoii, to the Padellan Gate.
Below these boundaries which have been written down above, he shall watch for the green woodpecker on the right, a crow on the right. Above these boundaries, he shall observe a woodpecker on the left, a magpie on the left. If the calling birds sing forth, he shall make the following announcement while seated in the hut, and he shall call out to the magistrate by name: "A green woodpecker on the right, a crow on the right, a woodpecker on the left, a magpie on the left, birds on the left, sacred calling birds on the left, for you, for the city of Iguvium, for this station which has been set up." In all these rites for the lustration of the people and for the purification of Mount Fisus, he shall hold the ritual rod.
Iguvium Tablet VI a, 19-31:
Tablet VI A then continues with a sacrifice to Jupiter Grabovius on behalf of the city. Grabovius is the Oak god whose sacred grove was on the Capitol prior to the founding of the Capitoline Temple of Jupiter. His Umbrian name is Iuve Krapuvi. Mention is made of some things that might negate the sacrifice. One speaks of "the effect of the (oxen)" which is conjectured here from Roman sources to mean that when the haruspices examined the entrails they may find it had been unacceptable. There is then made a disclaimer that if any part of the ritual had been omitted that Jupiter overlook the mistake and accept the sacrifice as offered.
The vessels at the Trebulan Gate which shall be shown for the sake of purifying the Mount of Fisus, he shall show them in such a way that fire be given to be kindled from fire. Likewise at the Tesenacan Gate, likewise at the Veiian Gate.
Before the Trebulan Gate he shall sacrifice three oxen to Jupiter Grabovius. He shall speak these words as he presents the sacrificial cakes: "Jupiter Grabovius, you I invoke in prayer, for Mount Fisus, for the city of Iguvium, for the name of the mount, for the name of the city. Be favourable and propitious to Mount Fisus, to the city of Iguvium, to the name of the mount, to the name of the city. In sacred rite, I pray with good prayers, Jupiter Grabovius, according to the sacred rite I call to you in invocation, Jupiter Grabovius. O, Jupiter Grabovius, you I invoke with this yearling ox as a propitiary offering for Mount Fisus, for the city of Iguvium, for the name of the mount, for the name of the city. Jupiter Grabovius, by the effect of the (oxen) [if the haruspices should see this victim is unacceptable], because a fire has been allowed to arise on Mount Fisus or that in the city of Iguvium due rites have been neglected, let this offering be considered unintended [so that offense is not given]. Jupiter Grabovius, whatever of your ritual has been omitted or sinned against or transgressed or injured or ignored, if in your ritual there has been some failing seen or unseen, Jupiter Grabovius, if it is right that with this yearling oxen purification is accomplished, Jupiter Grabovius, purify Mount Fisus, purify the city of Iguvium, purify the elders, the priests, Jupiter Grabovius, the lives of men and beasts, and of the crops as well. Be favourable and propitious with your peace to Mount Fisus, to the city of Iguvium, to the name of the mount, to the name of the city, Jupiter Grabovius, keep safe Mount Fisus, keep safe the city of Iguvium."
Iguvinian Table IA: ESTE PERSKLUM AVES ANZERIATES ENETU…
Commence the ceremony by observing the birds, those from the front and those from behind. Before the Tebulan Gate sacrifice to Jove Grabovius three oxen. Offer grain and farina as victims (vatuva=victimas), arrayed on trays in piles as ribs make them, offered with wine, with honey mead, before the Mount of Fisus, for the city of Iguvium; in the manner of the murmuring formula of prayer over each portion of grain and bacon fat.
Before the Trebulan Gate sacrifice three sows to Jove of Mount Fisus for the city of Iguvium. Undertake these sacrifices of grain [cakes] with honey mead in the manner of the murmuring formula of prayer over each portion of grain. Before the Tesenacum Gate sacrifice three oxen to Mars Grabovius atop the Mount of Fisus, for the city of Iguvium; offer grain victims spread as ribs upon a tray, made with the murmuring formula over each portion of grain.
Before the Tesenacum Gate sacrifices three sows and grain to Fisus Sacus (Semo Sancus?) upon the Mount of Fisus for the city of Iguvium. Carry vessels of honey mead and grain to sacrifice to Fisus on Mount Fisus as offerings for purification of the city of Iguvium, of its name and of its people, made in the manner of the murmuring formula of prayer over each portion of grain.
Before the Veiian Gate sacrifice three oxen warmed to Vofonius Grabovius on Mount Fisus for the city of Iguvium, with the grain victims arrayed on a tray, with wine and honey mead, in the manner of the murmuring formula of prayer over each portion of grain.
Before the Veiian Gate sacrifice three (calves?) to Jove upon Mount Fisus for the city of Iguvium…reveal the grain, with the honey mead offered, the precator saying aloud over the roasted grain….this victim solely, offered to Jove of Mount Fisus for the city of Iguvium, made in a prancing procession (?) with raised feet …
This third selection concerns a lustration of the city boundaries. The ceremony begins with the taking of auspices. Sacrifices are made at stations near the various gates of the city, indicating a procession being made around the city boundaries. This ritual seems quite similar to the lustratio made at Rome on its city boundaries, a rite of purification of the entire community (Strabo 5.3.2; Livy I.44.2; X.9). These rites may be linked to a more general form of lustratio used in rustic rites (Virgil: Georgic I.338-350, Eclogue V.63-80; Cato: De Agricultura 141), and to rites performed at Oscan sanctuaries as recorded in the Cippus Abellenus and Tavolo Agnone.
One detail indicated here is that over each offering of grain there is said an invocation in the manner of a formulam clare, spoken aloud but in murmuring tones so that it could not be heard by those attending the ceremonies. This is contrasted at the end where mention is made of "revealing" the offered grain and vessels of honey mead, and would indicate the gods then being addressed aloud in a manner for the populace to hear. It indicates that the inscribed names of the gods, and the ones shouted out to the populace, differed from the names said over the sacrifices. Keeping the names of the deities secret, and never spoken except in certain rites, is known to have been practiced at Rome with regard to the protectress of the city, the Bona Dea, Dea Dia, and some other deities (Pliny N.H. III.65).
The deities called upon in these tablets are for the most part familiar, yet here is where the Umbrian rites differ most from that of Rome. Jupiter Grabovius is again mentioned, as is Mars Grabovius and Vofonius Grabovius. While Jupiter was associated with Grabovius at Rome, Mars was not, and Vofonius was unknown. In another tablet a different triad is found of Jupiter, Mars, and Cerus, each again identified with Grabovius. There is an even closer association drawn between Mars and Cerus in the two names Tursa Cerfia Cerfer Martier and Prestota Cerfia Cerfer Martier, where they are identified together as protective deities of Iguvium. Cerus may be the consort of Ceres, but if so he does not appear at Rome except in the very archaic Hymn of the Salii, just as many other goddesses arrived at Rome without the consorts found for them among Oscan inscriptions. Also at Rome Praestites are found as special protective Lares of the city. The term is also used of Jupiter, but never with Mars as it is found on the Tabulae Iguvium. Finally, there is mention made of Fisus Sacus who is regarded as the god of oaths, called either Semo Sancus or Deus Fidius at Rome. There also occurs the Mount of Fisus. Much as the Capitol served at Rome, Mount Fisus is the central sacred area of Iguvium where the most important gods took up their abode in the city’s temples.
The importance of the Iguvium Tablets and similar Oscan inscriptions is that they allow some insight into the Italic context of the religio romana. Often much is made of the influences on Rome from Etruria, Greece, and other parts of the Mediterranean. At times forgotten is the base of Italic tradition that was being influenced. Commenting on the religious ideas of the Samnites in relation to the religio romana, E. T. Salmon observed that there was a "stock of ideas and customs which were not a monopoly of any one single people of early Italy." At its very earliest Rome was in part Sabine, and later Sabellian and Samnite elements entered into Rome. The religious institutions, procedures, and myth of the religio romana all contained components drawn from these Oscan speaking peoples. What the Tabulae Iguvium show is that the same components existed among the Umbrians, thereby placing the earliest forms of the religio romana into a broader Italic tradition shared by Latins, Oscans, and Umbrians alike.
- Mary Beard, John North, and Simon Price, Religions of Rome, 1998.
- Georg Dumezil, trans. P. Krapp, Archaic Roman Religion, 1970.
- J. W. Poultney, The Bronze Tablets of Iguvium, 1959.
- E. T. Salmon, Samnium and the Samnites, 1967.
- E. Courtney, Archaic Roman Prose, 1999.