National Geographic : 1946 Nov
Sacrifice of the "Suovetaurilia" T HE OFFICIAL State religion of Rome was a totally dif ferent matter from the popular mystery creeds. Per haps it should not be termed a religion at all, but only a ritual, since it was largely impersonal, had no moral. dogma, and evoked little emotional response. It smacked of the practical Roman legal mind, regarding faith as a contractual relationship with deities, wherein man agreed to observe certain ceremonies and make certain offer ings in return for divine protection. To avert calamity and ensure prosperity for the community through magical acts calculated to placate the unseen forces around them was the priests' business. If the proper magic was performed, the demons and spirits would be benign. The calendar listed many such procedures, each set for its correct day or season and each scheduled to be performed in its due place and manner. Naturally some of these appointed days became general holidays, precursors of the numerous saints' days and fixed festivals of southern Europe today. Among the common animals sacrificed to propitiate the gods, a pig was the least prized, a sheep of more moment, an ox or a bull of prime merit. A white steer was fitter for celestial gods, a black one for the underworld divinities, a red one for the fire god. Male animals were suited for male gods, and female for goddesses. Once every five years, when the registry office of the two censors had completed its enumeration and property lists of the entire people, a specially elaborate sacrifice of lustra tion was performed on behalf of the populace. A pig, a sheep, and an ox, representing the three grades ofliving sacrifice, were solemnly ledinprocession as intheillustration and slaughtered at the altar. The beasts must not betugged ordragged, but must seem to come as if of their ownaccord. After incense and wine had been consumed on a living fire, thevictims were sprinkled with wine and with coarsely ground salted meal and then slain according to a precise ritual. Astrange superstition was that the favor of the gods and the fortune ofmen could be determined from the appearance of thevictims' internal organs. In the illustration the Roman temple onthedistant hill top is in the modified Etruscan tradition. That inthefore ground adheres closely to Greek architectural forms, retain ing from older usage onlythe high-platform base with the steps restricted to a singleapproach from thefront. As in Greek practice, theRoman altar stood out ofdoors and in line with the. central doorway of theshrine which it served. It was sometimes, asinGreece, placed com pletely free on the pavedarea infront of thetemple; at other times it was built into thestairway soastobelevel with the temple floor, the steps descending around orpast it. The columns of the greatest temples rose 50to60feet above their platforms, whichinturn were raised considerably above the level of the heads of thehuman throng. Conse quently, the victims and their attendant train might move to the altar where the highpriest and his colleagues awaited them and yet be wholly unaware oftheheight towhich the splendid temple towered above them.