Tavolo Agnone
by: M. Horatius Piscinus
Discovered on Monte del Cerro in 1848, in what was once Samnite territory (Molise) was a bronze tablet, bearing Oscan inscriptions on either side. Measuring 28 x 16.5 cm, the Tavolo Agnone had a handle and iron chain from which it could be suspended. Some regard this tablet as the oldest example of Oscan, dating it to c. 250 BCE, while others consider it to be of a somewhat later date. The inscription refers to a Garden of Ceres, and the tablet was discovered in an ancient sanctuary, remnants of which may still be seen today. Listed on the tablet are the stations where sacrifices were to be made during the performance of some ritual.

Side A

1.status pus set hurtin kerriiin 2. Vezkei statif 3. Evklui statif kerri statif 4. Futrei kerriiai statif 5 anter statai statif 6. Ammai kerriiai statif 7. Diumpais kerriiais statif 8. Lignakdikei entrai statif 9. Anafriss kerriiuis statif 10 maatuis kerriiuis statif 11. Diuvei verehasiui statif 12. Diuvei regaturei statif 13 hereklui kerrriiui statif 14. Patanai piistiai statif 15. Deivai genetai statif 16. Aasai purasiai 17. Saahtum tefurum alttrei 18. Putereipid akenei 19 sakahiter 20. Fiuusasiais az hurtum 21. Sakarater 22. Pernai kerriiai statif 23. Ammai kerriiai statif 24. Fluusai kerriiai statif 25. Evklui paterei statif.

The established ritual stations which are in the Garden of Ceres. 2. The Station of Vensicu. 3. The station of Euclus; the station of Ceres. 4. The station of the Daughter of Ceres. 5. The station of Interstitia. 6. The station of Amma Cerealis. 7. The station of the Nymphs of Ceres. 8 The station of Liganacdic Interna (of Ceres). 9. The station of the Rains of Ceres. 10. The station of Matis of Ceres. 11. The station of Jupiter Juvenal. 12. The station of Jupiter Rector, the Irrigator. 13. The station of Hercules of Ceres. 14. The station of Patana Pistis. 15. The station of the Goddess Genita. 16-19. At the Altar of Fire let a holy sacrifice be sanctified in the fires, every other year. 20-21. To the Florae by the Garden let there be a sacrifice made. 22. The station of Perna of Ceres. 23. The station of Amma of Ceres. 24. The station of Flora of Ceres. 25. The station of Euclus the Father.

Notes for Side A:

2. Vezkei has been variously identified as the national god of the Aurunci (F. Altheim, 1931; J. Heurgon, 1942), as Venus (V. Pissani, 1953; Larissa Bonfante, 1990), as Lucina (J. Whatmough), and as the god of the revolving year (Renard-Schilling; E. T. Salmon, 1967). 3. and 25. Euclus: chthonic Mercury, psychopomp in the circle of Ceres (F. Altheim, Terra Mater, 1931; E.T. Salmon, Samnium and the Samnites, 1967). Mercury’s close association with Ceres appears in the lectisternium of 217 BCE (Livy 22.10.9). 4. Daughter of Ceres: Proserpina, perhaps, but it may refer to another goddess in this tradition. Among the Paeligni she was call Persepona after Greek influences. 5. Interstitia: “The Goddess who stands in Between.” Possibly this is another reference to Proserpina. Pisani suggested she may have been the middle goddess in a triad (Lingue dell’Italia, 1953), but Salmon countered that no evidence of triads were present in Samnium. Salmon instead suggested that she is “the Midwife” who among the Oscan stood in between when delivering and infant, as opposed to the Roman obstetrix who stood “opposite” (E. T. Salmon, p. 159 n.4). 6. and 23. Amma: Mother. Salmon, contradicting his own argument against Samnite triads, offers that She represents the nutrix, posing a triad of “the goddess of happy childbirth” in genetrix, obstetrix, and nutrix all associated with Ceres (Samnium, p.153; 159 n. 5). 7. Nymphs of springs. 8. Liganacdici is widely accepted as meaning “Law-Giver.” Oscan entrai is assumed to mean Latin interna. Bonafante follows Vetteris in that Liganacdix Intera is between the Nymphs and Imbres as the nymph of the waters who is “in between” those of heaven (rain) and earth, thus perhaps dew, and lawgiver with the purpose of bringing water to the garden plants in a regular and orderly fashion. Salmon mentions Blumenthal having the Oscan entrai be adopted from Greek “chthonia,” and then suggests liganacdix is after the Greek liknophoros or the chthonic “Displayer of the Winnowing Fan,” a title of Dionyssus which was known in Italy. 10. Matis, an unknown god, perhaps Maris, or perhaps the agricultural Mars (Marte); his name may be related to “maturus” meaning “ripe”. Altheim tried to equate maatuis or matus with Latin manes. Salmon has Mater Matuta for childbirth, nursing, and bringing dew to crops. 11. and 12. Jupiter appears twice, the first time as a youth, verehasioi identified with juventus (CIL, IX, 5574; XI, 3245). Then as the Erect Irrigator, or in other words, the consort of Ceres who fathered Proserpina. That is taking diovei regaturei as Jupiter Rector. Vetter and Salmon prefer Jupiter Rigator, an otherwise unknown “god who brings water.” Either way it may be, Jupiter is posed as bringing the rains to irrigate the earth, and as the “irrigator” of Ceres. 13. Hercules does not appear in Greek myth associated with Demeter. Yet in Italic and Etruscan myth he may be seen as consort of Minerva, and in one legend, married to Juno. A joint festival for Hercules and Ceres was held on 21 December (Macrobius 3.11.10). J. Bayet suggested that in the Tavolo Agnone Heracles fecondant (“the fertilizing”) is meant (les origines de l’Hercule romain, 1926). This whole series of gods and heroes - Maris, Jupiter, and Hercules – may represent a series of consorts of Ceres. 14. Patana is Pantica or Panda in Latin, the goddess of opening, or ripening fruits (Arnobius 4.428); the fruits in this case are grains. She is closely associated with Ceres (Nonius Marcellus 1.6L) and later became an indigimentum of Ceres. (Varro distinguishes Panda from Ceres.) Pistis refers to opening grain on the threshing floor. 15. Genita is the goddess of the birthing of plants. She is possibly Genita Mana of Pliny (Natural History 29.58), and Plutarch (Roman Qestions 52). 22. Perna, in Latin, refers to a ham, and a sow or female piglet was the normal sacrifice made to Ceres (Ovid, Fasti i.349-350). She has been related to Anna Perenna who was the goddess of the New Year, and also of birthing. 24. Flora of Ceres. In Italic myth Flora is more a goddess of flowering crops (see Ovid, Fasti V. 261-272), especially of grains, and is closely related to Ceres. At Rome She acquired some Greek aspects (Varro L.L. 7.45; Acta Fratum Arvalium). Here She may be noted as a daughter of Ceres, in fact as the Daughter mentioned at station 4. Notice the symmetry between Euclus, the Daughter, and Amma at the beginning, and the appearance of Amma, Flora, and Euclus at the end

Side B
Aasas ekask eestint 2. hurtui 3. Vezkei 4. Evklui 5. Fuutrei 6. Anter statai 7. Kerri 8. Ammai 9. Diumpais 10. Liganakdikei entrai 11. Kerriiai 12. Anafriss 13. Maatuis 14. Diuvei verehasiu 15. Diuvei piihiui regaturei 16 hereklui kerriiui 17. Patanai piistiai 18. Deivai genetai 19. Aasai purasiai 20 saahtum tefurum 21. Alttrei putereipid 22. Akenei 23 hurz dekmanniuis stait.

1-2. These altars stand in the Garden 3. For Vensicus 4. For Euclus 5 for the Daughter 6. For Interstitia 7 for Ceres 8. For Amma 9 for the Nymphs 10-11. For Liganacdica Interna of Ceres 12. For the Rains 13. For Matis 14. For Jupiter Juvenalis 15. For Jupiter Pius Rector 16. For Hercules of Ceres 17. For Patina Pistia 18. For Divine Genita 19. At the Altar of Fire 20. a holy offering is burnt 21-22. every other year. 23. The Garden is at the disposal of the Decimani.

Notes for Side B:

The same stations are repeated here as on Side A, with the additional information of the Decimani who were probably the priests or society who were meant to maintain the sanctuary and conduct the rites.

Comments:

With its many stations, the Tavolo Agnone depicts a rite of purifying an area referred to as the Garden of Ceres. In this it relates to other purification rites involving a processional circumambulation and lustrations at different stations. Such rites were known to take place at another Oscan site, that of the Sanctuary of Hercules (Cippus Abellanus). These were related to the lustrations made at the city of Rome, at Roman colonies, military camps, and for special sites like temples. Such rites were held at special times of the year usually at the beginning and end of the growing season. The Tavolo Agnone is unclear on this one point, whether the full rite was conducted every other year, or if two rites were held every year. On the Cippus Abellanus mention is made of two rites being performed each year. It should be noted that four stations at Agnone are outside the Garden. Pater Euclus and Amma Cerealis were worshiped both within and outside the Garden, while Perna Cerealis and Flora Cerealis were worshiped only outside. These four stations outside the Garden indicate a different rite, but one of the same nature, performed for a Festival of Flora. It seems very close to the purification rite at Iguvium where the lustrations are made at four city gates. It may be then that the rite at Agnone was held at only these four stations once or twice a year, and that all fifteen were used for a special purification rite every other year.

The goddesses and gods associated with Ceres on the Tavolo Agnone would seem to indicate an agricultural rite was performed in the sanctuary. The sequence of stations may represent the growing cycle of crops. Assuming that the “Daughter of Ceres” is Proserpina as representing the seed that is to be sown and the numen Cereri that is frumentis germinantibus, and later that She becomes another Daughter of Ceres in Flora as the flowering grain, florentibus fructibus (Augustine De Civ. Dei 4.8). From the inscription on the Cippus Abellenus, we know of other Samnite “rites conducted at the Holy Sanctuary,…for the purpose of ensuring the fertility of the land, and that this rite of fructification (had) also been common to both cities, Avellanus and Nola.” What the Tavolo Agnone may indicate are stations on the boundary of such a sanctuary. The associated rite would then have been an ambarvalia involving a procession around the Garden of Ceres where sacrificial offerings would have been driven or carried, and sacrifices made along the route at each station. Virgil in Georgic I. 338-350 refers to such a rite, involving an ambarvalia dedicated to Ceres in consecrating fields. A parallel may also be drawn from Cato, himself a Sabellian, in De Agricultura 141 where the rite for purifying the land of an estate called not upon Ceres, but rather on Mars to defend the field against disease. In that it is similar to the rite Ovid mentions is conducted to Robigo (Fasti 4. 901-942). Cato’s rite is also very closely related to that of Iguvium where Mars Grabovius, along with Jupiter and Cerus (the consort of Ceres, not generally found at Rome except in the Carmen Saliari) are invoked to defend the city from disease. An alternative arrangement of the altars could be like those discovered at Lavinium in 1962, where thirteen altars are laid side by side (Salmon, Samnites p. 158 n.3). However this Latium site was in a very different context, representatives from different Latin cities offering to the same gods but each at their own city’s altar. The Agnone site refers to a polyatrous rite where each deity has his or her own altar. Other Oscan sites where similar polyatrous rites were conducted are known from Fondo Patturelli, where a garden of thirteen altars lay on the eastern outskirts of Sabellian Capua, and the Pisaurum site (CIL 1, 167-80). Although the exact layout of the altars cannot be known, they were likely set in the perimeter of a rectangular fanum.

There appears to be some symmetry in the sequence at the beginning of the tablet in Euclus, Ceres, the Daughter of Ceres, …Amma the Mother, and the Nymphs of Ceres, to the sequence at the end with the Florae, Ceres, Amma, Flora, and Euclus. Assuming that the “Daughter of Ceres” is Flora, and that the Nymphs of Ceres are associated with the Florae, then only the position of Ceres has been altered in the sequence. Even the central part of the sequence, - Matis of Ceres, Jupiter Juvenal, Jupiter Rector, Hercules of Ceres – may delineate a symmetrical pattern. This sequence suggests the ritual involved a representation of regeneration. Ceres identity of human souls as well as of the earth can be seen in the myth of Pelops. This myth seems to trace back to the indigenous people of the region, whose more ancient body of myth lay beneath the mysteries at Eleusis, Andania, and Samothrace. The same culture spread into Italy during the Neolithic. What may indicate that the rite did involve a myth of regeneration is the presence of Euclus, who is the Oscan Hermes acting as a psychopomp that leads souls (cereri) into infants and returns them to Ceres upon death. He is depicted as the psychopomp in second century BCE tomb paintings at Aesernia. There are certainly enough goddesses worshiped among the stations, who are associated in some way with birthing to suggest a rite of some kind very different from an agricultural purification. Whether it was a birthing rite, a deathing rite, or even possibly some rite associated with fecundity in marriage, some rite of passage may be implied.

The most prominent deity on the tablet is Kerres, who may be taken as Ceres. Significantly the tablet was found on Monte del Cerro. Ceres is well attested throughout central and southern Italy by Her Oscan name Kerres. No matter that some questions were raised in the past as to whether this Oscan Kerres was indeed the same Ceres found at Rome, among the Paeligni there was a definite identification of Oscan Kerres as Roman Ceres. Jupiter’s appearance in the Tavolo Agnone in association with Ceres has been taken to indicate that the Oscan Kerres is more like Juno. Juno, however, was not a goddess worshiped among the Oscans. Not until Her introduction by the Romans was Juno known among the Samnites, Her main centers among them being at the Latin colonies of Aesernia (CIL ix, 2630) and Beneventum (ILS 3110). The Tabula Rapinensis of the Marrucini has Kerres strongly associated with Jupiter in a manner taken to be Juno. From Capua comes the curse tablet of Vibia where an “avenging Ceres” or Kerres Arentike has also been taken as an aspect more of Juno than Roman Ceres. Some of the confusion comes from how Ceres is identified at Rome. Her cult at Rome is found very early in the Republic with the dedication of the Aventine Temple of Ceres, Liber, and Libera in 494 BCE. Worship of Ceres at this temple was closely associated with the Plebeians in opposition to the Patrician cults, and with Plebeian orientation with Sabellian Capua rather then the Patrician orientation towards Etruria. Around 216 BCE there was a change introduced in the cult of Ceres at Rome when women from Capua were brought to serve in Her special rites. Supposedly the women were of Greek ancestry, as Cicero refers to them (pro Balbo, 56). But they may be better understood as having reaffirmed Sabellian aspects into the Roman cult of Ceres. Later still in 186 BCE Liber became identified with Bacchus as a Sabellian Dionysiac cult spread to Rome, and Ceres began to become more closely identified with Greek Demeter. In doing so, Roman Ceres close identification with Greek Demeter, some aspects of Oscan Kerres became identified with Juno. The Samnite name for Jupiter was Lucetius, and there were two rather late instances where Juno is referred to as Lucetia to connect Her with Him. Her name at Rome as Juno Lucina is another assimilation of an Oscan goddess. These developments at Rome do not pertain to Oscan Kerres, but do reflect what She was among the Samnites. Jupiter was the chief god among the Samnites (Livy A. U. C. 10.38.2), and Ceres their chief goddess. This was especially true at Agnone where the adjective Cerealis is applied to most of the listed deities and She is found associated with Jupiter without mention of any aspect of Juno. Elsewhere other goddesses are closely identified with Her as well, such as the Marsi Angitia (Anagtiai diivai) being Anigitia Cerealis among the Paeligni. Unlike Ceres at Rome, at least the Ceres found among the poets identifying Her with Greek Demeter, Italic Ceres embraces more than just a goddess of wheat and the fertility of the earth. She is also a goddess of birth, marriage, the nurturing mother, regeneration, healing, and like many other Italic deities a goddess of prophecy. While the Garden of Ceres at Agnone may indeed have been primarily a sanctuary associated with the fertility of the earth, some of these other aspects of Oscan Ceres were still represented.

M Horatius Piscinus
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