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[personal profile] lesbiassparrow
Rome is an oddly conservative society; they do not like to get rid of practices even though they're clearly not appropriate for a world empire. One of these has to do with declaring war. The traditional way to declare war is for a fetialis, a member of a priesthood, to announce four times that your war is justified. The first time is at the borders of your enemy's territory, the second to the first person you meet, the third at the gates of the enemy city and the fourth in their forum. (A bit of a bollocks to do if they didn't have a forum, of course. I suspect you just found two houses huddled together and went with that if nothing else served.) 33 days later the person sent out to do this would declare that before the gods that the Roman demands had not been met and return to Rome. Next you get yourself one of the fetiales to take a fire-hardened spear and hurl it into enemy territory: this must be witnissed by four adults. (There are a few variants on this, but it all comes down to essentially the same things. The main source is Livy, who has the classic account.)

Why? Because a war must be just. You have to either seek compensation for an injury and be turned down or properly declere war. Otherwise it isn't fair and the gods don't like people who aren't fair and will crush them like a bug. (We will leave aside the issue of the giant Roman army and how fair that waa.)

Of course, this became unworkable as the Roman empire got bigger and bigger. Just marching out to the limits and returning home would take FOREVER. Or the enemy might be nomadic or have migrated from their territory so you had no idea where to hurl that damn spear. Additionally, there were only about 20 (max) fetiales and as they were also aristocrats and probably spending much of their time already fighting wars you couldn't send them out all the time.

The Romans could have given up killing people and warring but that would have been to get rid of most of what the Romans liked doing, which was, well, killing people and fighting. So they continued to send out messengers to declare wars (but these were no longer fetiales). And they decided that you could force someone from the territory you were fighting with to buy land in Rome (probably near the temple of Bellona) and toss your spear into it. Honour satisfied. Gods on your side. Victory assured.

A little note on auspices in war: generals on campaign marked out a special part of their camp for taking the auspices; this was your templum. Any ritual you did outside this would be void (another get out of jail free card for generals - if you cast lots to take a route and the route turns out to be a disaster you can suddenly decide that it was taken outside this templum.) Now, I think you brought a pot of sacred earth with you on campaign (from within the pomerium) but I'm having a hard time remembering how I know this.

Now I shall watch the mini-series Augustus. WHICH IS GOING TO BE AWESOME. It has a very surprised Peter O'Toole on the cover.

ETA: Ask a Roman a question is still open for business.
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lesbiassparrow

August 2011

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