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Arval Brethren

Arval Brethren (Latin: Fratres Arvales) or Arval brothers were a body of priests in ancient Rome who offered annual sacrifices to lares and gods to guarantee good harvests. The term can be translated as "Brothers of the fields" . The modern world knows them mainly from stone carved records of their oaths, rituals and sacrifices.

Origin

Roman legend held that the priestly college was originated by Romulus, who took the place of a dead son of his nurse Acca Laurentia, and formed the priesthood with the remaining eleven sons. They were also connected originally with the Sabine priesthood of Sodales Titii and were probably originally their counterpart among the Sabines.

The brethren dated back to the time of Numa Pompilius, second king of Rome, and persisted to the imperial period. Their task was the worship of Dea Dia, an old fertility goddess and probably an aspect of Ceres. On the three days of her May festival, the Ambarvalia, they offered sacrifices and led a procession chanting the Carmen Arvale, the exact meaning of which was no longer understood in later times. The master of the college selected the exact three days of the celebration by an unknown method. The celebration began in Rome on the first day, was transferred to a sacred grove outside the city wall on the second day and ended back in the city on the third day.

Structure and duties

Arval Brethren formed a college of twelve priests, although archaeologists have found only up to nine names at a time in the inscriptions. They were appointed for life and did not lose their status even in exile. Their sign was a white band with the chaplet of ears of corn.

The Brethren assembled in the Regia.

Their other duties included ritual thanksgivings and ambarvalia, the sacrifices done at the borders of Rome. Before the sacrifice, the sacrificial victim was led three times around a cornfield where a chorus of farmers and farm-servants danced and sang praises for Ceres and offered her libations of milk, honey and wine.

Restoration of the priesthood

The importance of Arval Brethren apparently dwindled during the Roman Republic, but emperor Augustus revived their practices to enforce his own authority. After Augustus' time emperors and senators frequented the festivities. At least two emperors, Marcus Aurelius and Elagabalus, were formally accepted as members of the Brethren. The first full descriptions of their rituals also originate from this time.

The last inscriptions about the Arval Brethren date from about 325 AD. They were abolished along with other pagan priesthoods in 400 AD.

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