In ancient Roman religion
Religion in ancient Rome
Religion in ancient Rome encompassed the religious beliefs and cult practices regarded by the Romans as indigenous and central to their identity as a people, as well as the various and many cults imported from other peoples brought under Roman rule. Romans thus offered cult to innumerable deities...

, the Salii were the "leaping priests" of Mars
Mars (mythology)
Mars was the Roman god of war and also an agricultural guardian, a combination characteristic of early Rome. He was second in importance only to Jupiter, and he was the most prominent of the military gods worshipped by the Roman legions...

 supposed to have been introduced by King Numa Pompilius
Numa Pompilius
Numa Pompilius was the legendary second king of Rome, succeeding Romulus. What tales are descended to us about him come from Valerius Antias, an author from the early part of the 1st century BC known through limited mentions of later authors , Dionysius of Halicarnassus circa 60BC-...

. They were twelve patrician youths, dressed as archaic warriors: an embroidered tunic
A tunic is any of several types of clothing for the body, of various lengths reaching from the shoulders to somewhere between the hips and the ankles...

, a breastplate
A breastplate is a device worn over the torso to protect it from injury, as an item of religious significance, or as an item of status. A breastplate is sometimes worn by mythological beings as a distinctive item of clothing.- Armour :...

, a short red cloak (paludamentum
In Republican and Imperial Rome, the paludamentum was a cloak or cape fastened at one shoulder, worn by military commanders and by their troops. As supreme commander of the whole Roman army, Roman emperors were often portrayed wearing it in their statues and on their coinage...

, a sword, and a spiked headdress called an apex. They were charged with the twelve bronze shields called ancilia, which like the Mycenaean
Mycenaean Greece
Mycenaean Greece was a cultural period of Bronze Age Greece taking its name from the archaeological site of Mycenae in northeastern Argolis, in the Peloponnese of southern Greece. Athens, Pylos, Thebes, and Tiryns are also important Mycenaean sites...

 shield resembled a figure eight. One of the shields was said to have fallen from heaven in the reign of King Numa, and eleven copies were made to protect the identity of the sacred shield, on the advice of the nymph Egeria
Egeria (mythology)
Egeria was a nymph attributed a legendary role in the early history of Rome as a divine consort and counselor of the Sabine second king of Rome, Numa Pompilius, to whom she imparted laws and rituals pertaining to ancient Roman religion...

, 'consort' of Numa, who prophesied that wherever that shield was preserved the people would be the dominant people of the earth.

Each year in March the Salii made a procession round the city, dancing, and singing the Carmen Saliare
Carmen Saliare
The Carmen Saliare is a fragment of archaic Latin, which played a part in the rituals performed by the Salii of Ancient Rome.The rituals revolved around Mars and Quirinus, and were performed in March and October...

. Ovid
Publius Ovidius Naso , known as Ovid in the English-speaking world, was a Roman poet who is best known as the author of the three major collections of erotic poetry: Heroides, Amores, and Ars Amatoria...

, who relates the story of Numa and the heavenly ancile in his Fasti
Fasti (poem)
The Fasti is a six-book Latin poem by Ovid believed to have been left unfinished when the poet was exiled to Tomis by the emperor Augustus in the year 8...

(3.259-392), found the hymn and the Salian rituals outdated and hard to understand. During the Principate
The Principate is the first period of the Roman Empire, extending from the beginning of the reign of Caesar Augustus to the Crisis of the Third Century, after which it was replaced with the Dominate. The Principate is characterized by a concerted effort on the part of the Emperors to preserve the...

, by decree of the Senate, Augustus'
Augustus ;23 September 63 BC – 19 August AD 14) is considered the first emperor of the Roman Empire, which he ruled alone from 27 BC until his death in 14 AD.The dates of his rule are contemporary dates; Augustus lived under two calendars, the Roman Republican until 45 BC, and the Julian...

 name was inserted into the song (Res Gestae 10). They ended the day by banqueting. Saliaris cena became proverbial for a sumptuous feast.

King Tullus Hostilius
Tullus Hostilius
Tullus Hostilius was the legendary third of the Kings of Rome. He succeeded Numa Pompilius, and was succeeded by Ancus Marcius...

 is said to have established another collegium of Salii in fulfilment of a vow which he made in the second war with Fidenae and Veii. These Salii were also twelve in number, chosen from the patricians, and appeared to have been dedicated to the service of Quirinus
In Roman mythology, Quirinus was an early god of the Roman state. In Augustan Rome, Quirinus was also an epithet of Janus, as Janus Quirinus. His name is derived from Quiris meaning "spear."-History:...

. They were called the Salii Collini, Agonales, or Agonenses.

It is unclear whether the primary aim of the ritual was to protect Rome's army, although this is the traditional view.


In addition to the myth of the ancile, several other explanations are offered in Greek and Latin sources for the founding of the priesthood. An origin among the Etruscans is attributed to a founding by Morrius, king of Veii
Veii was, in ancient times, an important Etrurian city NNW of Rome, Italy; its site lies in Isola Farnese, a village of Municipio XX, an administrative subdivision of the comune of Rome in the Province of Rome...

. The Salii are also given an origin in connection with Dardanus
In Greek mythology, Dardanus was a son of Zeus and Electra, daughter of Atlas, and founder of the city of Dardania on Mount Ida in the Troad....

 and the Samothracian
Samothrace is a Greek island in the northern Aegean Sea. It is a self-governing municipality within the Evros peripheral unit of Thrace. The island is long and is in size and has a population of 2,723 . Its main industries are fishing and tourism. Resources on the island includes granite and...

 Penates, or the Salius
In Greek and Roman mythology, Salius is an Acarnanian who in one alternative tradition was the legendary founder of the ancient Roman priesthood of the Salii....

 who came to Italy with Evander and in the Aeneid
The Aeneid is a Latin epic poem, written by Virgil between 29 and 19 BC, that tells the legendary story of Aeneas, a Trojan who travelled to Italy, where he became the ancestor of the Romans. It is composed of roughly 10,000 lines in dactylic hexameter...

competed in the funeral games
Funeral Games
Funeral Games is a 1981 historical novel by Mary Renault, dealing with the death of Alexander the Great and its aftermath, the gradual disintegration of his empire...

 of Anchises
In Greek mythology, Anchises was the son of Capys and Themiste . His major claim to fame in Greek mythology is that he was a mortal lover of the goddess Aphrodite . One version is that Aphrodite pretended to be a Phrygian princess and seduced him for nearly two weeks of lovemaking...


Interpretations of the rituals

Dumézil interprets the rituals of the Salii as marking the opening and the closing of the yearly war season. The opening would coincide with the day of the Agonium Martiale
In Ancient Roman religious tradition, Agonalia, or Agonia, was a festival celebrated several times a year, in honor of various divinities, such as Janus and Agonius, whom the Romans used to invoke upon their undertaking any business of importance...

 on March 19, and the closing with the day of the Armilustrium
In ancient Roman religion, the Armilustrium was a festival in honor of Mars, the god of war, celebrated on October 19. On this day the weapons of the soldiers were ritually purified and stored for winter. The army would be assembled and reviewed in the Circus Maximus, garlanded with flowers. The...

 on October 19. The first date was also referred to as ancilia movere, "to move the ancilia," and the second as ancilia condere, "to store (or hide) the ancilia." Dumezil views the two groups of Salii — one representing Mars and the other Quirinus — as a dialectic relationship showing the interdependency of the military and economic functions in Roman society.

Georg Wissowa
Georg Wissowa
Georg Otto August Wissowa was a German classical philologist who was born in Neudorf, near Breslau.Wissowa studied at the University of Breslau, and in 1886 became a professor at the University of Marburg, and in 1895 a professor at the University of Halle.Wissowa was a specialist in the study of...

 maintained that the ritual of the Salii is a war dance
War dance
A war dance is a dance involving mock combat, usually in reference to tribal warrior societies where such dances were performed as a ritual connected with endemic warfare....

 or a sword dance
Sword dance
Sword dances are recorded from throughout world history. There are various traditions of solo and mock battle sword dances from Greece, the Middle East, Pakistan, India, China, Korea, England, Scotland and Japan...

, with their costumes clearly indicating their military origin.

Because the earliest Roman calendar
Roman calendar
The Roman calendar changed its form several times in the time between the founding of Rome and the fall of the Roman Empire. This article generally discusses the early Roman or pre-Julian calendars...

 had begun with the month of March, H. Usener thought the ceremonies of the ancilia movere were a ritual expulsion of the old year, represented by the mysterious figure of Mamurius Veturius, to make way for the new god Mars born on March 1. On the Ides of March
Ides of March
The Ides of March is the name of the 15th day of March in the Roman calendar, probably referring to the day of the full moon. The word Ides comes from the Latin word "Idus" and means "half division" especially in relation to a month. It is a word that was used widely in the Roman calendar...

, a man ritually named as Mamurius Veturius was beaten with long white sticks in the sacrum Mamurii, in Usener's view as a form of scapegoat ritual
Scapegoating is the practice of singling out any party for unmerited negative treatment or blame. Scapegoating may be conducted by individuals against individuals , individuals against groups , groups against individuals , and groups against groups Scapegoating is the practice of singling out any...

. Mamurius was the mythic blacksmith who forged eleven replicas of the original divine shield that had dropped from the sky. According to Usener and L. Preller Mars would be a god of war and fertility while Mamurius Veturius would mean Old Mars. Mars is himself a dancer, and the head of the Salian dancers, patrician young men whose parents were both living (patrimi and matrimi). Wissowa compares the Salii with the noble youth who dance the Lusus Troiae
Lusus Troiae
The Lusus Troiae or Ludus Troiae was an equestrian event held in ancient Rome. It was among the ludi, or games, celebrated at imperial funerals, temple foundings, or in honor of a military victory...

The ritual dance of the Salii would thus be a coalescence of an rite of initiation
Initiation is a rite of passage ceremony marking entrance or acceptance into a group or society. It could also be a formal admission to adulthood in a community or one of its formal components...

 into adulthood and war with a scapegoat ritual (see also pharmakos
A Pharmakós in Ancient Greek religion was a kind of human scapegoat who was chosen and expelled from the community at times of disaster or at times of calendrical crisis, when purification was needed...


Other 19th-century scholars have compared the rituals of the Salii with the Vedic myths
Vedic mythology
Vedic mythology refers to the mythological aspects of the historical Vedic religion and Vedic literature, most notably alluded to in the hymns of the Rigveda...

 of Indra
' or is the King of the demi-gods or Devas and Lord of Heaven or Svargaloka in Hindu mythology. He is also the God of War, Storms, and Rainfall.Indra is one of the chief deities in the Rigveda...

 and the Maruts
In Hinduism the Marutas , also known as the Marutagana and sometimes identified with Rudras, are storm deities and sons of Rudra and Diti and attendants of Indra. The number of Maruts varies from two to sixty . They are very violent and aggressive, described as armed with golden weapons i.e...


Ancient authors quoted by Servius Honoratus and Macrobius recorded that Salii had existed at Tibur, Tusculum
Tusculum is a ruined Roman city in the Alban Hills, in the Latium region of Italy.-Location:Tusculum is one of the largest Roman cities in Alban Hills. The ruins of Tusculum are located on Tuscolo hill—more specifically on the northern edge of the outer crater ring of the Alban volcano...

 and Veii
Veii was, in ancient times, an important Etrurian city NNW of Rome, Italy; its site lies in Isola Farnese, a village of Municipio XX, an administrative subdivision of the comune of Rome in the Province of Rome...

 even before their creation in Rome.


  • Numa's Salii Palatini were dedicated to Mars surnamed Gradivus (meaning "he who walks into battle"), and were quartered on the Palatine Hill
    Palatine Hill
    The Palatine Hill is the centermost of the Seven Hills of Rome and is one of the most ancient parts of the city...

  • Tullus' Salii Collini were dedicated to Quirinus
    In Roman mythology, Quirinus was an early god of the Roman state. In Augustan Rome, Quirinus was also an epithet of Janus, as Janus Quirinus. His name is derived from Quiris meaning "spear."-History:...

    , and were quartered on the Quirinal Hill
    Quirinal Hill
    The Quirinal Hill is one of the Seven Hills of Rome, at the north-east of the city center. It is the location of the official residence of the Italian Head of State, who resides in the Quirinal Palace; by metonymy "the Quirinal" has come to stand for the Italian President.- History :It was...

    . Rosinus
    Johannes Rosinus
    Johannes Rosinus was the German author of a work on Roman antiquities called Antiquitatum romanarum corpus absolutissimum, which first appeared at Basel in 1585....

     called them Agonenses Salii. The second group of Salii may in fact have been created during an Augustan reorganisation of the priesthood. Paulus ex Festo p. 10 M reads: ...Agones dicebant montes, Agonia sacrificia quae fiebant in monte; hinc Romae mons Quirinalis Agonus et Collina Porta Agonensis: "Agones were called the mounts, Agonia the sacrifices that took place on the mounts; hence in Rome the Quirinal mount (is named) Agonus and the Porta Collina Agonensis".

Salian virgins

Sextus Pompeius Festus
Sextus Pompeius Festus was a Roman grammarian, who probably flourished in the later 2nd century AD, perhaps at Narbo in Gaul.He made an epitome in 20 volumes of the encyclopedic treatise in many volumes De verborum significatu, of Verrius Flaccus, a celebrated grammarian who flourished in the...

 makes a perplexing reference to "Salian virgins" (saliae virgines). Wearing the paludamentum
In Republican and Imperial Rome, the paludamentum was a cloak or cape fastened at one shoulder, worn by military commanders and by their troops. As supreme commander of the whole Roman army, Roman emperors were often portrayed wearing it in their statues and on their coinage...

and pointed apex of the Salii, these maidens were "hired" to assist the priests
College of Pontiffs
The College of Pontiffs or Collegium Pontificum was a body of the ancient Roman state whose members were the highest-ranking priests of the polytheistic state religion. The college consisted of the Pontifex Maximus, the Vestal Virgins, the Rex Sacrorum, and the flamines...

 in carrying out sacrifices in the Regia
The Regia was a structure in Ancient Rome, located in the Roman Forum. It was originally the residence of the kings of Rome or at least their main headquarters, and later the office of the Pontifex Maximus, the high priest of Roman religion. It occupied a triangular patch of terrain between the...

. It has been suggested that the passage in Festus describes a transvestite initiation ritual. An earlier explanation held that the maidens played the role of absent warriors in some form of propitiation
Propitiation is appeasing or making well disposed , especially a deity, thus incurring divine favor or avoiding Divine retribution.-Christian theology:...

. The meaning of their being "hired" is unclear.
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