Agonalia

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AGONIUM

A festival for Janus held on 11 January.

Janus must be propitiated on the Agonal day.
The day may take its name from the girded priest
At whose blow the God's sacrifice is felled:
Always, before he stains the naked blade with hot blood,
He asks if he should, Agatne? and won't unless commanded.
Some believe that the day is called Agonal because
The sheep do not come to the altar but are driven (agantur).
Others think the ancients called this festival Agnalia,
'Of the lambs', dropping a letter from its usual place.
Or because the victim fears the knife mirrored in the water,
The day might be so called from the creature's agony?
It may also be that the day has a Greek name
From the games (agones) that were held in former times.
And in ancient speech agonia meant a sheep,
And this last reason in my judgement is the truth.
Though the meaning is uncertain, Rex Sacrorum,
Must appease the Gods with the mate of a woolly ewe." ~ Ovid


In typical fashion Ovid offers a few different explanations for the name of the Agonium. One that he does not mention is that the name is a more ancient Latin term for sacrificial victim. The sacrifice of a ram was offered to Janus by the Rex Sacrorum at the Regia. Augustine of Hippo said that this sacrifice was offered to Agonius, which refers to Janus here. This name relates to the Quirinal Hill, in as much as its traditional name was Collis Agonus, the Colline Gate was called the Porta Agonensis, and the Salii priests who were headquartered on the Quirinal Hill were called the Salii Agonenses. It is possible that a special sacrifice for Janus was offered on the Quirinal Hill day; that is, in addition to the one in the Regia, but there is not any certainty that a second sacrifice was offered on the Quirinal, and, if so, by what priest.

Sources

  • Ovid, Fasti 1.318 ff.
  • Varro, Lingua Latinae 6.12
  • Augustine of Hippo, Civ. Dei 4.11.16
  • Fowler, W. W. (1899) The Roman Festivals of the Period of the Roman Republic, London.
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