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In Ancient Roman religious tradition, Agonalia, or Agonia, was a festival celebrated several times a year, in honor of various divinities, such as Janus and Agonius, whom the Romans used to invoke upon their undertaking any business of importance. The word is derived either from Agonia, "a victim," or from Agonium, "a festival."

Its institution, like that of other religious rites and ceremonies, was attributed to Numa Pompilius. We learn from the ancient calendars that it was celebrated on the three following days: January 9, May 21, and December 11; to which we should probably add March 17, the day on which the Liberalia was celebrated, since this festival is also called Agonia or Agonium Martiale.

Purpose

The object of this festival was a disputed point among the ancients themselves; but as Hartung has observed , when it is recollected that the victim which was offered was a ram, that the person who offered it was the rex sacrificulus, and that the place where it was offered was the regiamarker, we shall not have much difficulty in understanding the significance of this festival. The ram was the usual victim presented to the guardian gods of the state, and the rex sacrificulus and the regia could be employed only for such ceremonies as were connected with the highest gods and affected the weal of the whole state. Regarding the sacrifice in this light, we see a reason for its being offered several times in the year.

Etymology

The etymology of the name was also a subject of much dispute among the ancients; and the various etymologies that were proposed are given at length by Ovid. None of these, however, are at all satisfactory; and we would therefore suggest another. It is well known that the Quirinalmarker hill was originally called Agonus, and the Colline gate, Agonensis. What is then more likely than that this sacrifice should have been originally offered on this hill, and should thus have received the name of Agonalia? It is expressly stated that the sacrifice was offered in the regia, or the domus regis, which in the historical times was situated at the top of the sacra via, near the arch of Titusmarker; but in the earliest times, the regia is stated by an ancient writer to have been upon the Quirinal, and this statement seems to render our supposition almost certain.

The Circus Agonensis, as it is called, is supposed by many modern writers to have occupied the place of the present Piazza Navonamarker, and to have been built by the emperor Alexander Severus on the spot where the victims were sacrificed at the Agonalia. However, modern authors have brought forward good reasons for questioning whether this was a circus at all, and has shown that there is no authority for giving it the name of Circus Agonensis.

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