Wednesday, July 22, 2009


Version at BMCR home site
Jörg Rüpke, Fasti sacerdotum: A Prosopography of Pagan, Jewish, and Christian Religious Officials in the City of Rome, 300 BC to AD 499. Oxford/New York: Oxford University Press, 2008. Pp. viii, 1107. ISBN 9780199291137. $399.00.
Reviewed by Linda Zollschan

[Table of Contents below]

Scholars of ancient Rome will be delighted that Rüpke's monumental work, Fasti sacerdotum, has been translated into English and thus become accessible to a wider readership. The work of translation was done by David Richardson who has faithfully rendered the original German into English.1 For those unfamiliar with the German edition, its aim was to construct annual lists for the city of Rome of attested priests, cult officials and followers from 300 BCE to 499 CE, lists that included not just pagan priests but also the officials from Jewish and Christian groups. The work falls into two main parts: a compilation of annual lists of priests and religious functionaries and a set of alphabetically arranged individual biographies. Understandably, the whole work was 14 years in the making and required a team of assistants.

The idea of the compiling the biographies is to personalize the religious history of the city of Rome through a biographical approach. Rüpke intends the work to be an instrument for researchers in the field of religious and cultural history. At all times he is aware of the limited nature of the source material at our disposal, which is derived largely from inscriptions (p. 2). In Chapter 2 he gives a clear outline of the history of modern studies that compiled priestly fasti starting with Mercklin in 1848. Chapter 3 provides an overview of the religious specialists that explains their functions. Rüpke covers, in this chapter, a brief explanation of every Roman priesthood and imperial cult. Included in this section are also officials associated with the synagogues in Rome, with the cult of Isis, Mithras, the Mystai Liberi and with Jupiter Dolichenus. In addition, the various Christian religious specialists have been covered.

The original German edition was published in 2005 in three hardback volumes (1860 pp.). It came with a CD so that by computer one could navigate through the lists, and with each name there was a bibliography, although not as extensive as in the print edition. The English edition is in one hardcover volume without the CD. In the German edition, Volume 1 contains the annual lists of priests and lists of priests for each college or group. Volume 2 contains a biography for each individual mentioned in the lists in volume 1 with details of their political careers and religious activity. Volume 3 is a collection of varia written by Rüpke where he sets out his views on some controversial issues with clarity and insight. In this way Rüpke makes it clear where he stands on various issues that underlie much of the material in the work so that one may be free to agree or to take issue with him.

The English edition contains the lists of priests from Volume 1, the almost 4,000 biographies from Volume 2, the bibliography and the Index of Names and Index of Sources from Volume 3. It is to be regretted, therefore, that space in the English edition did not permit the translation of most of the articles from Volume 3. In the English edition only a few chapters are included in the front of the volume before the annual lists of priests and the biographies. Those chapters that were chosen to be translated and included in the English edition are:

'How to use the Annual Lists and Biographies' (which is essential reading),

'Livy, priests' names, and the Annales Maximi' (first appearing in Klio 75 (1993) 155-179), a chapter that is essential in order to understand why Rüpke considers the name of any priest before 300 BCE unhistorical;

'The Lists of calatores for the years AD 101 and 102' (first appearing as 'Möglichkeiten und Grenzen der Prosopographie' in C. Auffarth and J. Rüpke (edd.) Epitome tes oikoumenes: Studien zur mediterranen Religionsgeschichte römischer Zeit (Festschrift for Hubert Cancik and Hildegard Cancik-Lindemaier, Stuttgart, 2002, 89-111),

'Structural Change in the Cult of Jupiter Dolichenus: Observations on the Inscriptions of the Aventine Dolichenum (first appearing in Historia Antigua 12 (2003) 105-118) and

'Religion and Administration in the late Imperial period'.

Rüpke does not make it clear why he chose the above material for inclusion. The first two and the last are clearly relevant, but the other two do not seem to be interesting for the general public. It is very much to be regretted that most of the essays on many important subjects that appeared in the original German edition have not been translated and included in the English edition. Those essays omitted from the English edition are:

'Priests, Professionals, and Prophets: Considerations regarding the typology of religious specialists'

'Priestly Colleges: religious associations of the Roman Nobility'

'Divination and Political Decisions in the Republic'

'The Economy of Roman Priesthoods'

'The Inscriptions of the Vicomagistri'

'Libri sacerdotum'

'The Interface between politics and religion in the Republic: sacral law in Rome in the Republic, Imperial religious policy and the method of recruitment into the priesthoods'


'Priestly Legislation of the Republic and the Principate'

'Perspectives on the scholarship concerning religion'.

It is to be hoped and very much recommended that a Supplement to the English edition will be published so that all of the above material can be made available to the English speaking readership.

There is a slight, but not insignificant, change of title in the English translation. The German original edition was subtitled Prosopographie der stadtrömischen Priesterschaften römischer, griechischer, orientalischer und jüdisch-christlicher Kulte bis 499 n. Chr. While the English translation shows a slight variation as A Prosopography of pagan, Jewish, and Christian religious officials in the City of Rome, 300 BC to AD 499. The change clarifies an ambiguity in the German edition that Rüpke would be dealing with all priests who are attested from any period down to 499 CE when on inspection one finds that Rüpke decided to designate all priests before 300 BCE as 'fictive'. The English translation makes his boundaries clear, namely, that he will include, but not treat as historical, priests before 300 BCE.

In his essay on 'Livy, priests' names, and the Annales Maximi', Rüpke makes it clear that most of the historical tradition before 300 BCE has been filled in with historical reconstructions and that the names of priests that Livy provides are given in the framework of concrete events and not for the sake of naming a particular priestly office. A majority of events down to the fourth century he dismisses as fictitious and says the names are suspect because they are the names of the most well-known men of the period in question (p. 27). Is it self-evident, as Rüpke asserts, that Valerius Antias invented a Valerius as the first fetialis known by name (p.29)? Studies on Antias have shown that the names he inserted are generally those of much lesser figures.2

Of interest to many readers will be Rüpke's views in the same essay on the subject of priestly books and the annales maximi. Rüpke's basic findings (pp. 37-38) are that the commentarii pontificum provide reliable information only after 249 BCE and the pontifices were never the repository of Roman historical 'consciousness' with the exception of the annales maximi, which he concludes were the published edition of the commentarii 'expanded by amounts of historically uncertain or invented material, provided by P. Mucius Scaevola.' Rüpke contends that the annales that emerged from the hand of Scaevola constituted nothing less than a forgery.

The largest part of the work, the biographies, will probably be the most used section of the volume and for this reason some words need to be said about Rüpke's selection of material for inclusion in them. Rüpke makes clear (p.20) that the biographies are not comprehensive because they are confined to listing the religious offices of the particular individual in the order of their acquisition along with appropriate dates and an outline of their magisterial career, family relationship and economic activity. The references to the modern prosopographical sources and epigraphic material provided enable the reader to follow up any aspect not dealt with in the text.

In each biography dates are given for each priest. Readers should be cognizant of the problems in assigning dates given the available evidence. On pp. 21-22 Rüpke sets out his methodology for resolving chronological issues and readers should acquaint themselves with his procedures and assumptions. The chronology of individuals where evidence is not precise or lacking is sustained by the use of assumptions of general life expectancy and by considerations of typical career patterns and the customary ages of entry into office. Rüpke holds that one can assume 10-15 years of life after the last attested office held. Individuals whose period of office cannot be assigned to any single year are designated as belonging to broad periods, such as, the Augustan period, the Imperial period or the second quarter of the third century CE.

All the sources are given for priestly offices, but not, however, for the office of pontifex maximus after it began to be held by the emperors. For such information the reader will need to turn to the work of Ruth Stepper.3 Rüpke mentions only briefly the knotty problem of the emperors' membership in priestly colleges (p. 22). The expression cooptatio in omnia collegia is accepted by Rüpke after the second century AD to mean membership of the pontifices, augures, septemviri epulonum and quindecimviri sacris faciundis. He excludes sodales Flaviales or sodales Titii or Fetiales (p. 23).

Under the heading 'Membership Tables', there is a section 6 (pp. 1001-1004) where Rüpke lists 'falsely identified priesthoods'. Often it is hard to see why many of these individuals have been excluded from the list of verifiable priests. It requires the reader to look up every inscription mentioned in the biography of each of the 'false' priests. In many cases, the literary evidence is discarded unless backed up by epigraphic evidence. In other cases the problem is a disputed reading of an inscription. The reader would have been better served if the reason/s for their 'falsehood' had been stated clearly beside the name of each of 'false' priests.

Each priest that Rüpke considers historical has been assigned a number from 1 -3590. It would appear from some checking I have done that there are no changes in the priestly lists from the German edition and that the numbering for individual priests remains the same in the English edition. Those Rüpke considers unhistorical or whose priesthood is subject to some doubt are included but without any number. Listed in this way are, for example, priests considered unhistorical, e.g. M. Valerius and Sp. Fusius (both fetial priests in the 7th century, according to Livy 1.24.3-9), M. Atilius (II vir s.f. according to D.H. 4.62.4 in the 6th century BCE), Cornelius and Postumius (both priests in the temple of Diana in the 6th century BCE) and L. Valerius Potitus (RE 307) (IIvir s.f. in the 4th century BCE). On the other hand Romulus and Remus are listed with numbers but with the description of the latter as a 'legendary figure'. Other names without numbers are those whose priesthood is considered not absolutely verifiable, for example, the pontificate of M. Aemilius Honoratus, the augurate of M. Licinius Crassus (RE 58), the pontificate of Cn. Cornelius Urbicus (RE 402a) and the pontificate of M. Iunius Homullus in early 2nd century CE and the Xvirate of Iulius Eubulidas in the 4th century CE. Unfortunately, there are some oversights in the lists of priestly names. Omissions, particularly in a work so large, are inevitable. Rüpke states that his aim is to compile all the known individuals who filled a particular post in a given year where it is known with a relatively high degree of probability (p. 23). The extent to which his lists are complete may be measured by an analysis of one of his lists of priests, that of the fetial priests. I can only report from the results of my own research into the fetial priests4 and use that as a litmus test of the completeness of the lists of priests given by Rüpke for each collegium. In the German edition Rüpke listed 31 fetial priests and 13 fictitious fetial priests. In the English edition he lists 35 fetials and also the same 13 fictitious ones. This corrects an error in the German edition which listed four fetial priests under a list called 'festiale' (vol. 1, p. 588). As far as the lists for fetial priests are concerned, there are several names that have been overlooked. As an example, I was surprised to see that C. Sempronius Speratus (CIL 2.2344) had not been included. I would send out a plea to all who, in the course of their research, find names of priests in other collegia not found in Rüpke's lists that they send them to the author. It is in the interests of all of us who work in the field of Roman history to keep this work updated.

Additions and amendments will be keenly awaited in what should be the publication of a second volume to the English edition or by a Supplementary volume, as a work of this scope and value deserves updating along the lines of the supplement, volume 3, to Broughton's Magistrates of the Roman Republic, which includes addenda and corrigenda.

Where the author has done readers a service is to provide the latest research and interpretation of inscriptions that have been misread in the past. As an example I cite the case of the inscription CIL 3.291, which in many of the older lists of priests was interpreted as referring to a certain Bellicus Sollers. This false reading is now corrected as referring to L. Caesennius Sospes (p. 588).

Some references given in the biographies are not given in full, making it hard for the reader to find the exact work, and this is particularly annoying. For example, in the biography of Cn. Domitius Afer Marcellus Curvius Lucanus (p. 658) reference is made to a work by Alföldy but with 14 items in the bibliography by this author it is hard to discern to which work Rüpke refers. In the English edition the bibliography has been updated with a few items up to 2007. As far as I could tell there were eight new entries, five from the pen of Rüpke himself.

Rüpke is to be congratulated on providing all scholars with a major research tool that I am sure will open up new avenues of study for many years to come in the same way that Broughton's work continues to do. I congratulate and salute the author and his team of advisors for completing such a massive project and for producing a remarkably useful resource. The work is an indispensable research tool for all historians of ancient Rome working not just in the field of Roman religion, but also in Roman politics and society. The price will probably mean that the volume will mainly be purchased by institutions. All university, college, state and public libraries should have this volume in their collection.

Table of Contents:

1. Statement of aims
2. Research History
3. How to use the annual lists and biographies
5. Livy, priests names, and the annales maximi
6. The lists of calatores for the years AD 101 and 102
7. Structural change in the cult of Jupiter Dolichenus: observations on the inscriptions of the Aventine Dolichenum
8. Religion and Administration in the late Imperial period
Membership Tables
General Bibliography
Index of Names
Index of Sources


1.   David Richardson is also part of the international team translating the Pauly Encyclopedia. In the translation only an occasional oversight is found, for example 'und' instead of 'and' on p. 788.
2.   R.M. Ogilvie, A Commentary on Livy. Books 1-5, Oxford, 1965, 14-15.
3.   Ruth Stepper, Augustus et sacerdos. Untersuchungen zum römischen Kaiser als Priester, Wiesbaden, 2003.
4.   See L. Zollschan (forthcoming) The Fetial Priests: the sources and new perspectives.

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