Monday, April 4, 2016

Polytheistic Religions in Pre-Roman Italy: Part II

Ligurians were considered, even by ancient authors, the most ancient population in Italy. Certainly it was one of the biggest and was settled in the major part of western Alpine region before the Celtic expansion during V-IV century a.e.v. After the Celts’ coming, Ligurians merged with them and were known as Celtic-Ligurians. Their original language, before the strong Indo-European influence exerted by Celts, is supposed to be similar to the Rhaetians’, so Ligurians were not Indo-Europeans. Like the Celts, Ligurians were divided into various groups and we can hardly distinguish Celts from Ligurians among the names of northern Italy inhabitants, because their union was very deep-rooted: we can say that Ligurians were Apuans, who Romans brought to Samnius, Bagienni, Friniates, settled between Lucca and Modena, Ingauni, who subjected other Ligurians, Intimilii and Sabati; and also Lepontii, whose belonging to Ligurians was supposed on the basis of toponymy,  their pre-Indo-European dialect and the custom to bury corpses, Levii, settled around existing city of Pavia, who were bound to Anamares and defeated by Insubres, Salassi, who trade with transalpine populations through Great Saint Bernard pass, sacred to the god Poeninus.

Other populations in the same area are supposed to be Celts: Anamares, settled around Piacenza, Gauls (Senones, Boi, Cenomani, Sequani, settled in the Po valley), Insubres, settled in current Lombardy, Taurini, whose Celtic origins are supposed on the basis of toponomy, Taurisci, whose name, like Taurini’s, comes maybe from Celtic root taur- meaning “mountain”. The origin of Orobii was unclear to ancient authors also; the merging between Celts and Ligurians is particularly clear in some populations as Anamares, Bagienni, Taurini and Taurisci. Ligurians’ religion also went under Celtic influence: it might have been a “naturalistic” religion, with a strong cult of forests, woods, peaks and rivers, all worshiping places sometimes pointed out by a simulacrum, a stone or an altar, but deities’ names we know had a Celtic origin, probably because of the interpretatio the Celts did, in the same way Romans interpreted foreign deities.

So a healing deity is called Bormanus, while Romans called Jupiter the mountain god Poeninus. From the god Bekkos takes its name Mount Bego, full of rupestrian figures; this god was represented half human and half bull: horns or a half animal body are main features of many figures engraved in those rocks. From Celts, Ligurians borrowed the cult of god Belenos, who was worshipped as far as the Adriatic Sea coast. Ligurians also worshiped Hercules, like many other ancient Italian populations. They used to throw personal objects like weapons and jewels in rivers, lakes, marshes and torrents, but we don’t know exactly why they did so, as an offer to deities or to prevent everyone from using a dead person’s objects. The burial of the dead was the most spread practice until the Bronze Age, then cremation came into use.

When we talk about Italics, we mean all those Indo-European population which came to Italy. They are divided into two groups: Latino-Sicels and Osco-Umbrians (or Umbro-Sabellians or Umbro-Samnites). Among both these groups, relations among various populations had a strong religious feature and leagues of independent cities always had their seat in a sanctuary. They worshipped totemic animals and most of their deities were bound  biological cycles and agriculture. Among both groups, even though it happened more often among Osco-Umbrians, the ver sacrum (sacred spring) ceremony was practiced: in case of need, that is to say in case of famine or war, all fruits of the earth, animals and children (sometimes only boys) born that spring, among 1st March and 30th April, were consecrated to deities, especially Mars, and while fruits and animals were sacrificed, boys, once they turned twenty, left their original community and went away to found a city in the place where their totemic animal or deity would lead them, then this new group would take their name from the animal or deity.

There are also some deities we can call “Italic”, because their cult was practiced by both Latino-Sicels and Osco-Umbrians: these are, for example, Jupiter worshipped by Latins (Sanctuary of Iuppiter Latiaris) and also by Umbrians and Samnites, being mentioned in tables fm Gubbio (Umbrians) and Agnone (Samnites), and whose name comes from the Indo-European root meaning the daylight; a deity of fruits, a god according to Osco-Umbrians, a goddess according to Romans, who is Pomono or Pomona; Mars or Mamers or Mamurius, god of war but also patron of agriculture and guide in founding new communities, main god of the ver sacrum ceremony, which took place when there were problems in agriculture or about defense. The most ancient Italic group is the one of Latino-Sicels: archaeologists consider cultures settled around the Tiber mouth and in southern Etruria, those of Latins and Falisci, similar to the Sicels’, who overlap Sicanians and Elimi in Sicily.

At the beginning, Latins organized in a league of independent cities, having its center in Diana’s temple near Aricia, in the sacred wood of Nemi, guarded by the Rex Nemorensis, a priest who was killed by he who wanted to succeed him, generally a fugitive slave, and who stripped away a branch from a tree to declare his own right to fight with this priest. Having language and religious practices in common, Latin cities entered into federations that were more religious ones than politic, whose members gathered during some festivals to make sacrifices in sanctuaries. Main cultic center was Latian Jupiter’s (Iuppiter Latiaris) sanctuary, on Mount Cavo, among Albani Hills; here a white bull was sacrificed during the yearly festival of Feriae Latinae and meat was distributed among representatives of cities taking part to the league.

In Iuppiter Latiaris’ sacred area there was also a sacred spring of Nymph Ferentina, a goddess who should have also a sacred wood we didn’t identify. The city of Lavinium, being tied to myths about Aeneas, had a sanctuary dedicated to Penates, household gods of fireplaces, to whom salt and emmer were offered. Another important city, which Festus told was related to Etruscans but in which archaeologists didn’t find any trace of Etruscan culture but only of Grecian one, was Tusculum, hosting a temple dedicated to Jupiter, Latins’ main god, of whom two simulacra were found, and one dedicated to the Dioscuri, destroyed during Middle Ages. In Lanuvium Iuno Sospita (helper), with very bellicose features, was also worshiped.

The Falisci belong to the same branch of Latins and their language is very similar to Latin. But they also had close relations with Etruscan, as ancient authors affirmed Falisci were an Etruscan group. Their most important city, Falerii Veteres, had Minerva as patron and her temple was brought to Rome on the Aventino hill after third Samnite war ending, when the city was destroyed by Romans or, according to some historians, abandoned by the Falisci themselves who would find more convenient to move closer to their new allies, the Romans, building a new city, Falerii Novi, next to a  Roman built road. Falerii Novi’s gate dedicated to Jupiter still exists, and some inscriptions demonstrate the existence of cults to Mercury, Ceres and Liber; Juno quiritis, with very strong warlike features, was patron of the city. On the top of Mount Soratte there was a temple to Apollo, now replaced by a Christian church.

Scholars think that Sicels had established first in Bruzio, then in Sabines’ region, finally in Campania before they crossed the Straits of Messina and settled for good in Eastern Sicily, in XI century a.e.v. circa. As it happened to Sicanians and Elimi, Sicels were absorbed by Grecian colonization and took some features of Grecians’ religion: they worshiped the “Palici”, twin deities, patrons of navigations and agriculture we know only through Greek legends. Their name itself comes from Greek, meaning “born twice”, because they would be born first from their mother Talia the Nymph, and then from the ground which swallowed Talia at Hera’s command. Their father was Zeus; in this case Zeus was a translation by interpretatio of the Sicel god Adrano, known to be father of the “Palici”.

Populations belonging to Osco-Umbrian group came to Italy later and they were: Umbrians, who were settled around Tiber upper basin, Samnites, settled on Abruzzi’s mountains and divided into Carencini, Pentri and Caudini, then Hirpini, Aequi, Frentani, Volscians. Belonging to Samnite stock the Lucanians, Bruttii, Marrucini, Marsi, Vestini and Oscans; these were all called Sabellians by the Romans together with the Apulians, former inhabitants of current Apulia before Illyrian populations arrival, and with the Sabins, who could have originated by Umbrians with the migration practice called ver sacrum, ritual exodus of young people looking for new places to settle in. Bound to Sabines, there were the Paelignans, once believed to have come from Illyria.

Many of these population took their name from a sacred animal (Picenes, Hirpini, Lucanians, Frentani) or from their patron deity (Marsi and Vestini). They have some deities in common: Flusa was a goddess of earth or of vegetation in different pantheons, who became the Roman Flora, and then Saku or Sancus, god of pacts and contracts, and, according to Cato, main deity of Sabines, whose name was believed to come from this god’s son’s name, Sabo. In Rome, Sancus became Semo Sancus, god who supervised treaties, later identified with Dius Fidius and then with Jupiter Sancius, Jupiter watching over given word. During a certain period, the Oscan language was more spread than Latin; it’s as different from Umbrian as Spanish is from Italian, especially after Umbrian cultural renewal, a not very known change in common with Latin, while Oscan remained conservative.

Main sources for studying Umbrians’ religion are Gubbio’s tables, reporting ancient Umbrian texts to be pronounced during some rites performed in the city of Gubbio. One of these still survives in its Christianized form: originally it was a rite for purification, in which sacrificial victims, three different animals to honor three different deities, were asperged with water and carried at a run around the city for three times, nowadays people carry at a run three holy candles which are 275 kg heavy along the same path; before running, candles are asperged with water and dedicated to three different saints. The most evident feature of Umbrians’ religion is the deification of nouns, concepts, actions, objects because of their philosophy, thinking that every abstract concept had its own divine substance: so Fisovio Sancio is the god protecting Gubbio’s citadel, because he’s the divine substance of the rite which is going to be performed.

On the same tables we can find a list of sacrificial victims, paired with the most appropriate deity, and there are also vegetal offers every three sacrificial animals, so marking a division of deities in triads, maybe coming from Etruscan culture. To Jupiter Father, many times recalled in tables, an ox was to be offered, an over one year of age victim was to be offered to “Spettore”, a male lamb to the “Giovio” (maybe a Jupiter’s son, he could be someway similar to Hercules, whose cult was so spread in Italy), pork lard to Dicamno Giovio, an over one year of age sheep to Atto Giovio, a male pig to Atto Marzio. After the sacrifice to the evoker gods, the rite went on with divination through observation of flight of birds. We don’t know whether the Umbrians learned this practice from Etruscans or Etruscans learnt it from Umbrians; but it should be practiced a lot, in facts surnames coming from names of birds are still common in Gubbio.

The priest entered into a bond with the deity, who had to ensure the birds behavior would be expression of divine power, then the augur went on with divination. This big rite, done for purification and protection on the city and its army, ended with the sacrifice of three calves to Mars Hodio and three steers to Hondo Cerfio. These animals’ meats were eaten keeping silence, with a twist of bread. Music should also have much importance in Umbrians’ religion and the tables report instruction about how to construct a musical instrument with the needed sacrifices to Father Jupiter and to “Pomono Popdico”, a god also called “Poemune”, corresponding to Roman goddess of fruits, Pomona. Other inscriptions report the name of the goddess Cubra, later identified with Bonadea by Romans.

The same goddess was worshiped, with her name’s phonetic variant of Cupra, by Picenes as a mother goddess of fertility and she was their main deity. There are still two towns with the goddess’ name in theirs (Cupra marittima(= by the sea) and Cupra montana (=by the mountains)) and her temple was on Tesino’s mouth’s left bank. In this area some simulacres were found. According to ancient sources as Strabo or Pliny the Elder, the Picenes had their roots in Sabines from which they born by the ver sacrum ceremony, and established in current Marches following a woodpecker (in Latin picus), a bird sacred to Mars, from which they took their name.

It seems to be that this Osco-Umbrian group settled breaking up into families and tribes and merging with other inhabitants of the same region, a pre-Indo-European population which we don’t know much more about: this is the reason why some archaeologists prefer to call Picentes the former group and Picenes the latter. Picene culture never had unitary features and it varied from town to town, even though towns sometimes gathered into confederations. They traded with other population settled on Adriatic coasts such as Etruscans, Illyrians, Daunii and Liburni; some modern historians think that Liburni influenced Picenes’ culture by settling in the same region.


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