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Favonius Cornelius

The Quindecimviri

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While it was the duty of the augurs and the haruspices to search for the signs from the gods and determine their favor or disfavor on things, it was up to the quindecimviri to interpret them. The principle duty of this priestly college was to guard the sacred Sibylline Books, a collection of oracles of the Sibyl of Cumae and thought to be the absolute authority in the various protocol of the state cult's ritual. They also had the associated role of supervising any new gods accepted into the Roman collection of recognized gods. The college was originally composed of two priests, but was later raised to ten, then fifteen and finally sixteen by Caesar's time.

 

When grave prodigies presented themselves to the observant Romans, if the collected Senate felt that the security of the state depended on responding in proper pious form, the quindecimviri were asked to consult the books and determine the course of action. In times which no religious precedent was apparent from the oracles, a new one was created under the auspices of this group and entered into the collection for all posterity.

 

 

There are numerous examples of their use in the histories, particularly by Livy:

 

Flaminius' defeat at Trasimene caused the college to be consulted, their verdict being that the rituals due to Mars, and that great games should be vowed to Jupiter and the temples of Venus and Mind. It is interesting to note here how the state cult's reaction to a devastating attack to the moral of the Roman people easily soothes their mind with games.

 

After Trasimene, another disastrous defeat at the hands of Hannible was delivered to the beleaguered Roman people at the battle of Cannae. Again the quindecimviri were asked to consult the books with a shocking decree as a result: the live burying of a Gaulic and Greek couple in the heart of the forum, testimony to the frantic state of mind of the Roman people and one of the few examples of Roman human sacrifice.

 

 

In 83 BC the unthinkable happened: the collection of the Sibylline books were destroyed. This event probably was a near fatal blow to the college, because the very underpinning of the college was the sacred continuity of the books. Though the Senate made a great effort to recollect copies of Sibylline writings from across the world, we see a steady decrease of their importance from this point, though it should be said that during these times many other of the more obscure colleges faded even with Augustus' attempts to revitalize them.

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That's a tragedy, I can only assume that a fired destroyed them. Favonius, the example you gave, can you give more details about why or what made the quindecimviri want to bury a Gallic and Greek couple in the forum.

 

I'm afraid not. The decision making behind their verdicts is completly lost to history, all we know is that they believed there was some precedent within the books for such a thing to occur. I think that the college often reccomended things they felt would calm the people rather than actually consulted the books.

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