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LARES . The ancient Roman name for the deified souls of the dead was lases (Inscriptiones Latinae liberae rei publicae 4), a term for which the only possible comparison is Lasa, the Etruscan name for a nymph. An old theory according to which the lares (singular, lar ) were originally guardians of fields, roads, and other areas (Wissowa, 1912, pp. 166174) is not convincing. A fragment of the Proceedings of the Arval Brotherhood (Inscriptiones Latinae selectae 9522) and a fourth- to third-century bce dedication to the lar Aeneas indicate that the "mother of the lares " was a chthonic deity and that common ancestors were believed to be lares. Therefore the theory (Samter, 1901) that the lares were deified souls of ancestors is preferable.

The argument concerning whether lares originated outside the house (Wissowa) or inside (Samter) is probably a false problem, because the spirits of dead protected Romans everywhere. The ancient tradition is unanimous in maintaining that lares were deified souls (e.g. Festus 273; Glossaria Latina 2, 104); some authors suggest lares were the gods' manes, that is, the deified dead (Varro by Arnobius 3,41; Servius, On Aeneis 3,302); or they identify lares with the Greek daimones (Cicero, Timaeus 38; Glossaria Latina 2,121.17; 265.62); or with heroes (Dionyso of Halikarnassos 4,2,34; 14,3; Plutarch, On the Fortune of Romans 10; Glossaria Latina 2,121; 3, 290). Servius (On Aeneis 6,152) maintains that the lares cult can be traced back to an ancient custom of domestic burials. In fact, an Iron Age custom of burials in oak trunks is known, as are the cults of the lares Querquetulani (Varro, De lingua Latina 5,49) and the virae Querquetulanae (Festus 314), which were male and female spirits living in oak trees and oak bushes.

The Dionysian religion clearly exerted an influence upon the lares cult because both Dionysos and the lares were meant to connect and harmonize the world of life and the world of death. The lares were deified souls, and Greek deification was celebrated by a Dionysian triumphal parade from earth to Olympus, whereby the lares were conceived as drinking wine, wearing crowns, and sometimes accompanying satyrs.

Few myths related to the lares are known. King Servius Tullius was allegedly the son of the lar living in the hearth of royal palace, and because of that he founded the lares cult in the town and villages, which included the festivals of Compitalia and Paganalia (Dionyso of Halikarnassos 4,14; Pliny, Historia naturalis 36, 204). According to Ovid (Fasti 2, 583616) the lares praestites, protectors of Rome, were sons of the nymph Lara, who was raped by Mercurius.

The public cult of the lares was democratic in character and was seen as an alternative to the ancestor cult of noble families. The standard image of the lares, dancing and pouring wine, had no personalized features, whereas the ancestor masks of the aristocracy were believed to represent the precise personality of the deceased. The only lares with identifiable personalities were associated with Aeneas (Guarducci, 19561958) and Hercules (Floriani Squarciapino, 1952), who were common heroes to all Romans. In addition, the sow and the thirty piglets of Lavinium, which appeared to Aeneas as a forecast of the thirty Latin towns, were believed to be lares Grundiles (Schilling, 1976). In the first century bce a popular politician, Marius Gratidianus, merited a cult organized by the city's quarters. This cult was similar to that of the lares (Cicero, On the Duties 3, 80; Seneca, Ira 3, 12, 1; Pliny, Historia naturalis 33, 132; 34, 27). The cult of the emperor's genius was first organized by Augustus in 7 bce together with the lares cult in every city quarter (Cassius Dio 55,8.1; Suetonius, Augustus 3031; Ovid, Fasti 5,145 ff.; Niebling, 1956).

In the towns of central Italy the most important festival for the lares publici was the Compitalia, which was called Paganalia in the villages. The features of this festival survived late into the Christianized empire and constituted the core of paganism. The Compitalia occurred at the beginning of January near crossroads, where small altars or chapels stood. Every family hung wool dolls at the crossroad, and slaves hung balls (Festus, 273, Lindsay). People also offered cakes, garlic, and poppyheads, and a sow was sacrificed to the Mater Larum (Inscriptiones Latinae selectae 3615; Propertius 4,1,23). The festival's presidents were four magistri vici, authorities of the quarter or village, who often were also heads of craft guilds (Asconius, On Cicero's Pisonianam 7, Clark) and freedmen. The wall paintings of the Italic quarter at Delos show scenes of these plebeian meetings. The magistri can be seen wearing toga praetexta and accompanied by lictors and flute-players. The paintings also depict scenes of boxing matches and other games. Simple theatrical plays were presented during this festival (Nonius, 288, Lindsay; Propopertius 2,22,1; Suetonius, Augustus 43; Euantius, On the Comedy 5,2; Grammatici Latini 1, 488). Everyone, even the slaves, was permitted to drink a large amount of wine (Cato, On Agriculture 57; Persius 4, 2526). The lares were conceived as young men who danced, drank wine, and participated in the games. The Compitalia and Paganalia had the features of the great winter festivals (Lanternari, 1976), which took place during the seasonal pause in work, when the souls of the dead came back among the community and were entertained with banquets, dances, and other rituals, and the normal hierarchical structure of the society was suspended.

The public lares were also protectors of roads (lares viales: e.g., Plautus, The Merchant 865; Corpus inscriptionum Latinarum VI, 2103; VIII, 9755; XII, 4320), of enterprises of the Roman fleet (lares permarini, whose temple was dedicated in 179 bce: Livius 40, 52, 4; Macrobius 2, 10, 10), and of the army (lares militares : Martianus Capella 1, 46, 48; Corpus inscriptionum Latinarum III 3460; 3463; Acta fratrum Arvalium 86 Henzen). Two lares praestites, wearing dogs' coats over their heads and accompanied by dogs, were the protectors of Rome; their festival was celebrated on May 1 (Ovid, Fasti 5, 129146; Plutarch, Roman questions 51 and the Republican denarius of L. Caesius).

In private cult the lares were the ancestors of families (cf. lares Volusiani : Corpus inscriptionum Latinarum 6, 10266102667; lares hostilii : Festus, 90, Lindsay) and every Roman house had a lararium, a chapel where offerings were brought to the statues or paintings of the lares and the genius in form of a snake. The hearth was the most ancient seat of the lar domesticus or lar familiaris (e.g. Plautus, Aulularia 18; Ovid, Fasti 6, 306; Petronius 60). The lares were endowed with fecund might and were supposed to have made certain mythical girls pregnant, such as the slave who gave birth to Servius Tullius. In fact, the cult of the lares domestici was often entrusted to home slaves. The most important moments in the life of each Roman were marked by cultic acts in honor of the lares : birth, death, disease, and the liberation of slaves, as well as a young person's attainment of the legal age of adulthood, the rituals of which inherited features of initiatory rituals in which the lares played a major role. During the festival of Liber Pater, the Liberalia of March 17, fathers presented sons who had reached legal age as new citizens; the young man dedicated to the lares his bulla (hanging personal amulet) and was clothed with a toga (e.g., Persius 5, 31). A similar ritual for daughters corresponded to marriage, before which the bride dedicated her toys, a hair net, and the bandage that had been wrapped around her upper body to conceal her bosom. (Scholia to Horace, Satyres 1, 5, 65; Nonius, 863, Lindsay.) When the bride first went to her new husband's house, she dedicated coins to the lar of the hearth and to the lares of the crossroad (Nonius, 852, Lindsay), showing that she had arrived under the protection of these divine souls.

The souls of Roman ancestors had a "mother," the Mater Larum, who was a female divinity, or queen of dead, comparable to Ceres and the Greek Hekate. Her names Larunda, Lara, Larentia, and Acca (= mother) Larentia derive from the word lar, and the names Mania and Genita Mana derive from manes ; she was also called Tacita and Muta; that is, "silent goddess." Acca Larentia, a famous personage in the myths of Roman origins, played a role as the mother of Roman ancestors. At first she was a girl with whom Hercules once flirted (e.g., Plutarch, Romulus 5; Roman Questions 35); later she was the wet-nurse of Romulus (e.g., Livy 1, 4, 7; Plutarch, Romulus 4). In addition, the first eleven Arvales, Romulus's brothers, were her sons (Gellius 7, 7, 8; Pliny, Historia naturalis 18, 6). During the Compitalia families displayed hideous images of the face of Mania in order to gain protection against bad ghosts; people also offered garlic and poppyheads, which stood for human heads. This ritual was introduced by Junius Brutus when he founded the Republic, and by means of the ritual sought to appease Mania, who had been offended by Tarquinius Superbus (Macrobius 1, 7, 3435).

Mater Larum was honored during other festivals of the deadshe was seen as Tacita at the Feralia of February 21, and as Larenta/Larunda at the Larentalia of December 23. On that day the pontiffs and the flamen Quirinalis brought offerings to the burial site of Acca Larentia (Varro, De lingua Latina 6, 23; Gellius 7, 7, 7), the sacellum Larundae on the Roman Forum (Tacitus, Annales 12, 24; Varro, De lingua Latina 5, 74), where Romulus's nurse was buried and Hercules' beloved disappeared. In the archaic age this area was covered by the Velabrum marshes and was believed to be a gateway to the netherworld. On May 13 the Arval Brothers sacrificed two sheep to the Mater Larum (Acta fratrum Arvalium 145 Henzen) and during another ritual they prepared pots of cornmeal mush as her dinner (Inscriptiones Latinae selectae 9522). Similar pots were employed at the Greek Anthesteria, a Dionysiac festival celebrating the return of souls from the netherworld.

See Also

Ancestors; Arval Brothers; Penates; Roman Religion, article on The Early Period.


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lares gods of the household worshipped in ancient Rome in conjunction with Vesta and the penates; the phrase lares and penates is used to mean the home.


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lares see LAR.