Livy XXV. 1. 6-12: quo diutius trahebatur bellum

by Tom Gardner

quo diutius trahebatur bellum et variabant secundae adversaeque res non fortunam magis quam animos hominum, tanta religio, et ea magna ex parte externa, civitatem incessit ut aut homines aut dei repente alii viderentur facti. nec iam in secreto modo atque intra parietes abolebantur Romani ritus, sed in publico etiam ac foro Capitolioque mulierum turba erat nec sacrificantium nec precantium deos patrio more. sacrificuli ac vates ceperant hominum mentes, quorum numerum auxit rustica plebs, ex incultis diutino bello infestisque agris egestate et metu in urbem conpulsa, et quaestus ex alieno errore facilis, quem velut concessae artis usu exercebant.

primo secretae bonorum indignationes exaudiebantur; deinde ad patres et iam ad publicam querimoniam excessit res. incusati graviter ab senatu aediles triumvirique capitales quod non prohiberent, cum emovere eam multitudinem e foro ac disicere adparatus sacrorum conati essent, haud procul afuit quin violarentur. ubi potentius iam esse id malum apparuit quam ut minores per magistratus sedaretur, M. Aemilio praetori urbano negotium ab senatu datum est ut eis religionibus populum liberaret. is et in contione senatus consultum recitavit et edixit ut quicumque libros vaticinos precationesve aut artem sacrificandi conscriptam haberet, eos libros omnis litterasque ad se ante kal. apriles deferret, neu quis in publico sacrove loco novo aut externo ritu sacrificaret.

The war dragged on, and people’s sentiments and circumstances vacillated with fortunes and misfortunes. The longer this went on, the more it was that so many superstitious rituals — largely foreign — befell the state, that all of a sudden, either men or the gods seemed to have been rendered different. And now the Roman rites were abolished not only in secret and behind closed doors, but also in public. In the forum and the capitol there was a crowd of women whose sacrifices and prayers to gods neglected the custom of their forefathers. Prophets and priests had captured the minds of men. The number of these increased with rural people forced by need and terror from their fields, which lay untilled and unsafe due to the long war, and due to the easy profit to be had in the delusions of others (which they plied as if it were a sanctioned trade).

At first, good men aired their objections in private. Then the matter came before the senate and became a public complaint. The aediles and triumviri capitales were strongly reprimanded by the Senate for not preventing this; when they tried to expel the crowd from the forum and to disperse the ritual objects, they narrowly escaped injury. Now that the disorder appeared too strong to be quelled by lower magistrates, the matter was given over to Marcus Aemilius, the praetor urbanus, so that he could free the people from these superstitions. He both read a senatorial decree at a public assembly and issued an edict that whosoever had books of divination, or prayer-books, or instructions for sacral rites, was to deliver all such books and writings to him before the first of April, and that nobody was to sacrifice in a public or consecrated space according to new or foreign rites.