Arval Brothers

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ARVAL BROTHERS . The college of Arval Brothers (Collegium Fratrum Arvalium), a Roman religious fraternity of great antiquity, was restored in about 28 bce by the future emperor Augustus. It is known from a few references in literary works and, chiefly, from a famous collection of about 240 fragments of official records on marble that represent fifty-five different years and cover the period from 21 bce to 241 or even 304 ce.

Usually numbering twelve and presided over by an annually elected leader (magister ) with a flamen (priest, i. e., one of the brothers) to assist him, the Arval Brothers met in Rome or in the sacred grove of the goddess Dia. In Rome, depending more or less on the sovereign, the college took part in regular public worship (vota, votive sacrifices on the occasion of political or dynastic events). The brothers also celebrated rites connected with their own liturgy, a liturgy that culminated in the festival of the goddess Dia. This festival was a movable one, and during the first part of January the brotherhood determined the days of the festival for that year. It was usually celebrated on May 17, 19, and 20 if the year was an odd-numbered one and on May 27, 29, and 30 if the year was even-numbered.

The festival of the goddess Dia lasted three days. The first day was celebrated in Rome, in the house of the president of the brotherhood, and consisted of a banquet eaten in the presence of the goddess during which the priests passed from hand to hand dried and green ears of grain as well as loaves of bread crowned with laurel.

On the second day the brotherhood went to the sacred grove of the goddess Dia at the fifth milestone on the Via Campana, on the boundary of the ager Romanus antiquus ("ancient Roman soil"), where her shrine stood next to a temple to Fors Fortuna. Here, in the morning, the president offered Dia two sacrifices: young sows in expiation of possible faults and a cow to do her honor. The brothers then ate a sacrificial meal. Afterward they donned the wreaths made from ears of grain that were their mark and at midday entered the shrine of Dia. In front of and inside the shrine they performed a second, complex series of rites that is still obscure to us in many respects. First they sacrificed a ewe lamb to Dia; then they once again passed the dried and green ears of grain from hand to hand and offered a meal to the "mother of the lares " by throwing down in front of the temple ollae (vessels of sundried clay) that contained a grain porridge. Then, behind closed doors, the priests performed a solemn dance (tripudium ) and sang the famous Carmen Arvale, a hymn of great antiquity that is known to us from an inscription of 218 ce. A sacrificial banquet, chariot races, and another banquet in Rome concluded the second day. On the third day the Arval Brothers held a further banquet in the home of their president and handed around the ears of grain one last time.

The rites of the festival were addressed to Dia, goddess of "the sunlit sky"; she was asked to favor the proper ripening of the grain, symbolized in the rite by the continuity between green grain and grain that had become fully ripe. The Carmen Arvale, on the other hand, was addressed to Mars as defender of landed property and of the ager Romanus. A possibly late interpretation connects the Arval Brothers with Acca Larentia, the supposed nurse of Romulus and Remus, and thus associates them with the story of Romulus; this is consistent with the hypothesis that the Arval rites go back to the end of the period of the kings (sixth century bce).

See Also

Dea Dia; Flamen.


Henzen, Wilhelm, ed. Acta fratrum Arvalium quae supersunt. Berlin, 1874.

Olshausen, Eckart. "'Über die römischen Ackerbrüder': Geschichte eines Kultes." In Aufstieg und Niedergang der römischen Welt, vol. 2.16.7, pp. 820832. Berlin and New York, 1978. Includes a bibliography.

Scheid, John, Romulus et ses frères. Le collège des frères arvales, mo-dèle du culte public dans la Rome des empereurs. Bibliothèque des Écoles Françaises d'Athènes et de Rome, vol. 275. Rome, 1990.

Scheid, John, Commentarii fratrum arvalium qui supersunt. Les copies épigraphiques des protocoles annuels de la confrérie arvale (21 av.304 ap. J.-C. ). Collection Roma antica, vol. 4. Rome, 1998.

Syme, Ronald. Some Arval Brethren. New York, 1980.

John Scheid (1987 and 2005)

Translated from French by Matthew J. O'Connell