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War priests: the fetiales and dynamic conservatism in Roman religion

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posted on 2023-04-13, 23:40 authored by Luke Peloquin

The fetiales of ancient Rome were priests responsible for declaring wars and signing peace treaties. They were an elite college, or group of priests, involved with religion, and government. Despite their important role in Roman society, the fetiales require more attention, particularly regarding how their college changed throughout its history. Modern scholars have debated the role of the fetiales in the Roman Republic (509-44 BC), but this debate revolves around their origins in a mythologised history and sources written hundreds of years after the actions described, for example by Livy, causing some scholars to question the veracity of these sources and to consider the possibilities of political invention after the death of Julius Caesar. It is notable that although the fetiales are mentioned in some sixty Latin inscriptions, scholars have hitherto overlooked the epigraphic evidence in studies of the fetiales. These inscriptions date from the Imperial period onwards but they do reveal to us who the fetiales were. This dissertation considers the Latin epigraphic evidence in conjunction with literary sources such as Livy, Polybius, and Cicero to bring all the ancient source material to bear in a reconsideration of the fetiales in the history of both the Roman republic and the Roman empire. The research clarifies our understanding of one of Rome’s most important diplomatic, religious, and political institutions. It paves the way for future studies of other Roman priesthoods or political offices, based on a similar methodology, grounded in epigraphic evidence and taking the debate about the role of Roman priests into the imperial period. The dissertation also demonstrates how the fetiales as a priesthood adapted to historical change from performing an important function in preserving peace between the cities of Latium to acting as an advisory body during the later Republic, and finally, a segment of the Imperial aristocracy integrated with the court of the Roman emperor. The dissertation also identifies dynamic conservatism as a strategy that maintained and develop the significance of the fetiales across a period of one thousand years. 


Table of Contents

Chapter 1. Origins and Early History of the Fetiales -- Chapter 2. The Policing of Roman Citizens -- Chapter 3. The Later Republic and Disappearance of the College -- Chapter 4. The Fetiales under the Julio-Claudians -- Chapter 5. Fetiales in the Later Empire and the End of the College -- Conclusion -- Appendices -- Bibliography

Awarding Institution

Macquarie University

Degree Type

Thesis MRes

Department, Centre or School

Department of History and Archaeology

Year of Award


Principal Supervisor

Ray Laurence


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82 pages

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