Translation copyright 2000 Neil W. Bernstein; all rights reserved.
About Acca Larentia and Gaia Taracia, and the origin of the priesthood of Arval Brothers (1).
- The ancient annals celebrate the names of Acca Larentia and Gaia Taracia (or Fufetia). Acca Larentia received the greatest honors after death from the Roman people; Taracia, however, received them while she was still alive.
- The Horatian Law, which was brought before the Roman people concerning these matters, is a witness that Taracia was a Vestal. This law conferred a great many honors on her, including the right of giving testimony (2). She was the only one of all the women given the right to call witnesses. This word [testabilis], meaning “entitled to call witnesses,” occurs in the text of the Horatian law itself.
- (The opposite [of testabilis] is recorded in the Twelve Tables (3): “Let him be considered dishonest and disqualified from calling witnesses [intestabilis].”)
- If at the age of forty, moreover, she wished to leave her priesthood in order to marry, this was her right. The privilege to become deconsecrated and marry was given to her thanks to her charity and beneficence. She had given the Campus Tiberinus (also called the Campus Martius) to the Roman people. (4)
- But Acca Larentia sold her body publicly and had earned a great deal of money from this occupation.(5)
- In her will, as Valerius Antias writes in his History, she named King Romulus as the heir to her property (6). Others say that she named the Roman people.
- In return for her legacy, the priest of Quirinus made a public sacrifice to her and added a festival day in her name to the calendar (7).
- But in the first book of his Memorialia, Masurius Sabinus (8) follows certain historians in claiming that Acca Larentia was Romulus’s nurse. “This woman,” he says, “lost one of her twelve sons. Romulus offered himself to Acca in place of her son and called himself and her other sons the ‘Arval Brothers.’ From that point on, there were always twelve members of the College of Arval Brothers. The insignia of the priesthood are wreaths made from ears of grain and white woollen headbands.”
- The Arval Brothers celebrated the Ambarvalia, an agrarian ritual in the grove of Dea Dia outside Rome, around the 29th of May. Cf. Pliny, Natural History 18.6; Mary Beard, John North, and Simon R.F. Price, eds., Religions of Rome (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998), I.194-196.
- The Horatian Law is suspected of being an invention of the historian Valerias Antias (see n. 6 below); for the Vestals’ legal privileges, see Gellius’ entry on this site (Gell. 1.12, tr. Lefkowitz and Fant).
- Cf. Laws of the Twelve Tables 8.22, Gell. 15.13.11. The Twelve Tables (c. 451/0 BC) were Rome’s first law code.
- Pliny, Natural History 34.25 adds that a statue was decreed in honor of Gaia Taracia.
- The prostitution story may have begun with the historian Cato (first half of the second century BC). Livy makes Larentia the wife of Faustulus and the foster-mother of Romulus and Remus, including the prostitution story as an alternative (Livy 1.4.7; cf. Ovid, Fasti 3.55).
- Romulus was the legendary founder of Rome and its first king. In the first century BC, Valerias Antias wrote a history of Rome in 75 books (no longer extant) from its origins to 91 BC.
- The Larentalia, a festival for deified ancestors (Lares) was celebrated on the 23rd of December at Acca Larentia’s tomb in the Velabrum: cf. Ovid, Fasti 3.57-58; Varro, On the Latin Language 6.23-24, Macrobius, Saturnalia 1.10.11-17.
- Active in the first half of the first century AD, Masurius Sabinus was a prolific legal scholar; his book on civil law (Ius Civile, no longer extant) became the basis for legal commentaries by jurists of the later Empire.
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