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Historia

Zeitschrift fr Alte Geschichte


Revue dHistoire Ancienne
Journal of Ancient History
Rivista di Storia Antica

Historia Band 63 Heft 1 2014


Franz Steiner Verlag, Stuttgart

CERES, THE PLEBS, AND LIBERTAS IN THE ROMAN REPUBLIC*


ABSTRACT: This paper offers a challenge to the modern consensus that the early Roman plebs amounted
to a state within the state with its own religious institutions, centering on the cult of Ceres, Liber,
and Libera. It argues that any evidence which can be made to show that this triad is plebeian applies equally to the state cult of Jupiter, Juno, and Minerva. The concept of plebeian religion is,
therefore, rendered meaningless. The paper then attempts to reevaluate the role of Ceres triad in
late Republican political culture by showing that these gods were understood as divine protectors
of libertas.

I Introduction
Modern interpretations of the domestic history of the early Roman Republic revolve
around the notion of the struggle of the ordersa centuries long conflict between
patricians and plebeians, the former to maintain their privileged position in the community, the latter to gain access to high office and secure economic reforms for the poor.1
This conflict is usually understood to have begun in 494 with the first secession of the
plebs and the establishment of the plebeian tribunate in the following year, to have been
characterized primarily by the struggle of the plebeians to gain legal recognition of their
*

I would like to offer my gratitude to Professors C. J. Smith and R. E. Mitchell, both of whom read
an earlier version of this paper and offered salutary criticisms. Though I imagine both would find
much to object to from different directions, the paper has benefited greatly from their advice. Many
of the ideas contained herein were presented at the 2012 meeting of the American Philological Association and by invitation at Ohio Wesleyan University. Thanks are due to the audiences for their
feedback. The anonymous readers for this journal have also offered many helpful suggestions. My
debt of gratitude to Nathan Rosenstein for his advice at all stages is enormous.
The bibliography for the struggle of the orders is immense. The best survey of the problems and
the history of the period is T. J. Cornell, The Beginnings of Rome: Italy and Rome from the Bronze
Age to the Punic Wars (c. 1000264 BC) (1995) (cited below as Cornell (1995)), especially 242292,
327344, though like any history of the period it is necessarily controversial at times. G. Forsythe, A
Critical History of Early Rome (2005), especially 147267, provides a somewhat different approach
to a survey of the subject. For the methodologies and approaches of a variety of outstanding scholars,
see K. Raaflaub (ed.), Social Struggles in Archaic Rome: New Perspectives on the Conflict of the
Orders (2005). C. Smith, The Roman Clan: the Gens from Ancient Ideology to Modern Anthropology
(2006) represents the most challenging and sophisticated reimagining of the development of Romes
social structure during the early Republic.

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Ceres, the Plebs, and Libertas in the Roman Republic

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institutions and access to the highest offices of state, and to have come to an end with the
lex Hortensia of 287, which at last granted to the plebeians the power to make laws in an
assembly organized by tribes. The narrative, therefore, is essentially a constitutional one.
The plebeians formed a kind of state within the state, made up of institutions designed
to mirror the patrician controlled state.2 To combat the patrician-consulship, the plebeians created their tribunes. To counter the patrician dominated comitia centuriata, the
plebeians established a tribal assembly of their own, the concilium plebis. In response
to the primary focus of the states religious devotion, the Capitoline triad of Jupiter,
Juno, and Minerva, the plebeians even established a triad of their own, focusing their
religious devotion particularly on the goddess Ceres and the temple which she shared
with the lesser-known divinities, Liber and Libera.3 Armed with these institutions, the
plebeians became, during the course of the struggle, an organization characterized by its
increasing size and potency, as well as its efficiency, solidarity, and ideological force.4
2

For the state within the state, T. Mommsen, Rmisches Staatsrecht III (1887), 145, (Gemeinde in
der Gemeinde). The notion of the state within the state carries with it a sense of something more
than simply a political organization. For most scholars, the plebs was a political movement, a state,
and a community of its own, with its own self-conscious identity. The plebs was a Gemeinde of its
own, separate and distinct from the populus, or Gesamtgemeinde (i. e., community as a whole). It
was a peculiar religious and political organization: A. Alfldi, Early Rome and the Latins (1965),
90. For Cornell (1995), 265, the plebs was a revolutionary organisation, which [i]n a society which
at no time in its history recognised the right of free association had no alternative but to create a
union which would have to defend itself, if necessary by violence. Ultimately, [t]he later vestiges
of the movement were gradually recognised and integrated with the institutions of the state.
Such unity of purpose is assumed for the plebs that the question must be asked how the struggle
of the orders lasted as long as it did. For A. Momigliano, followed by Cornell (1995), 24264 and
32744, J.-C. Richard, Les origines de la plbe romaine (1978), and C. Smith, op. cit. (n. 1), 2758,
among others, the answer was a plebs that was originally only a minority of the community. For
Raaflaub, the solution lay in believing that the goals of the plebs changed over time. See K. Raaflaub,
From Protection and Defense to Offense and Participation: Stages in the Conflict of the Orders, in
Raaflaub, op. cit. (n. 1), 185222, and Politics and Society in Fifth-Century Rome, in Convegno
sul tema Bilancio critico su Roma arcaica fra monarchia e repubblica : in memoria di Ferdinando
Castagnoli (Roma, 34 giugno 1991) (1993), 12957. The possibility that the plebs was not a unified
community within the community is usually overlooked.
Systematic considerations of Ceres plebeian nature include H. Le Bonniec, Le culte de Crs
Rome des origines la fin de la Rpublique (1958) (cited below as Le Bonniec (1958)), 34278,
and B. S. Spaeth, The Roman Goddess Ceres (1996) (cited below as Spaeth (1996)), 81102. On
the importance of Ceres plebeian identity, see R. M. Ogilvie, A Commentary on Livy Books IV
(1965), 3134, 337, 5002. On the centrality of Ceres for the plebeian state within the state, see
Cornell (1995), 2635; A. Alfldi, op. cit. (n. 1), 92: the political and administrative center of the
plebs was not the temple of Diana but that of Ceres, Liber, and Libera on the Aventine; Smith, op.
cit. (n. 1), 277: one other aspect of the plebeian movement deserves brief attention here and that
is its sophistication Greek influences have long been demonstrable, as has the way that plebeian
institutions mirrored patrician ones The plebeians had their triad, mirroring the Capitoline triad
of Jupiter, Juno and Minerva
T. J. Cornell, The Failure of the Plebs, in E. Gabba (ed.), Tria Corda: scritti in onore di Arnaldo
Momigliano (1983), 111.

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There have been few challenges to the theory that the plebs created a state within the
state during the early Republic.5 And these challenges have failed to gain wide acceptance,
in large part due to the fact that they are unable to provide a satisfying explanation for
the existence of the various plebeian institutions, including the supposedly plebeian cult
of Ceres. In this paper, I argue that Ceres was not, in fact, a particularly plebeian deity.
That is not to say that she was in no way associated in the Roman mind with the plebs.
She certainly was. Rather, I will show that any argument which might be used to assert
Ceres particular plebeianness, so to speak, would inevitably extend to other cults in
such a way as to render the notion of a plebeian deity meaningless. In particular, I will
show, if the temple of Ceres, Liber, and Libera can be argued to be especially plebeian,
then the Capitoline triad, itself the state cult par excellence, also becomes a plebeian cult.
As a result, the idea of plebeian religion, separate and distinct from that of the community
as a whole, becomes untenable. If my argument is accepted, one of the primary props for
the state within the state theory collapses. I hope, thereby, to encourage further debate
as to the nature of the plebs, both in the early Republic and in later periods.
Finally, it must be asked, what are we to make of Ceres place in Republican political culture, if she cannot be shown to have had a particular association with the plebs?
I will argue that her prominence in Roman civic consciousness, historical tradition,
and political propaganda can be explained by understanding her cult as being associated particularly with the notion of libertas, a concept of vital importance to Romans
of all social classes, however differently it might have been perceived by a nobilis, a
proletarius, or a Caesar.

II Ceres and Plebeian Officials


The ubiquity of the belief that the temple of Ceres, Liber, and Libera represented a cultural and political center for the plebeian community presents a methodological problem
as I attempt to disprove it. Though no ancient source ever specifically identifies Ceres
5

R. E. Mitchell, Patricians and Plebeians: the Origin of the Roman State (1990) is the most systematic
attempt to replace the struggle of the orders narrative. R. E. A. Palmer, The Archaic Community of
the Romans (1970) also offered a substantial revision of early Roman history. K. Sandberg, Magistrates and Assemblies: a Study of Legislative Practice in Republican Rome (2001), Tribunician
and non-tribunician legislation in Mid-Republican Rome, in C. Bruun (ed.), The Roman Middle
Republic: Politics, Religion, and Historiography: c. 400133 B. C.: papers from a conference at the
Institutum Romanum Finlandiae, September 1112, 1998 (2000), 12140, and The concilium plebis
as a legislative body, in U. Paananen (ed.), Senatus Populusque Romanus (1993), 7496, has emphasized the fundamental integration of the tribunate and of tribunician legislation in the machinery
of the state, as opposed to its separateness. Disagreement persists regarding the assemblies at Rome.
Most scholars believe, wrongly I think, that there were two tribal assemblies, one assembly of the
community as a whole (comitia tributa) and one belonging to the plebs alone (concilium plebis). If
we accept the very strong arguments that there was only one tribal assembly, we are then left with
questions as to whether that assembly was exclusively plebeian, or not.

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as a plebeian goddess, modern writers have been so convinced of this that no one as
far as I am aware has ever set out to prove it.6 Instead, systematic discussions of Ceres
plebeian nature have proceeded from the assumption and examined all of the evidence
in light of it. I begin my investigation with what I believe to be the fundamental element
of the theory of Ceres plebeianness: her relationship with the plebeian institutions of
the tribunate and the aedileship. Once it is shown conclusively that this relationship does
not provide evidence that Ceres was, more than other divinities, particularly plebeian,
the other proofs usually offered for the theory can be shown to be based on little else.

The Tribunes
The Romans believed the tribunes of the plebs to have been under the protection of
Ceres. This relationship, they believed, could be traced back to the very foundation of
the institution, when the plebeians, according to Dionysius of Halicarnassus, swore the
following oath in 493 upon the creation of the tribunate (Ant. Rom. 6.89.3):
, ,

. ,
, .
Let no one compel a tribune to do anything he is unwilling to do, as if he were just
any person, nor whip him, nor command another to whip him, nor kill him, nor
bid another to kill him. If anyone should do any of the aforementioned, let him
be accursed (exagistos), and his property become the sacred possession of Ceres
(Demeter).
Livy presents the details of this religious sanction against anyone who would harm a
tribune, a law known as the lex sacrata, in his narrative of the reconciliation after the
second secession of the plebs and the subsequent Valerio-Horatian laws (3.55.67):
et cum plebem hinc prouocatione, hinc tribunicio auxilio satis firmassent, ipsis
quoque tribunis, ut sacrosancti uiderentur, cuius rei prope iam memoria aboleuerat,
relatis quibusdam ex magno interuallo eos, tum lege etiam fecerunt, sanciendo ut
qui tribunis plebis, aedilibus, iudicibus decemuiris nocuisset, eius caput Ioui sacrum
esset, familia ad aedem Cereris Liberi Liberaeque uenum iret.
And when they had sufficiently strengthened the position of the plebs, first with
the right of appeal (prouocatio), then with tribunician auxilium, they renewed for
the tribunes themselves the principle that they be understood to be sacrosanctthe
memory of which had by then nearly faded awayby means of certain long disused
6

Le Bonniec (1958), 343 n. 7, on the temples plebeian nature: Tous les historiens modernes le
soulignent; on nous permettra de ne pas trop nous tendre sur ce point.

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GREGORY PELLAM

ceremonies; and they made them inviolate both in religious terms and in law by
bringing it about that anyone who had harmed the tribunes, aediles, or the iudices
decemuiri, would have his person become sacer to Jupiter, and his property sold to
benefit the temple of Ceres, Liber, and Libera.7
The two versions bear some differences. Most important is the inclusion in the terms
of Livys lex sacrata the provision that the violator, in addition to having his property
consecrated to the temple of Ceres, should have his person become sacer to Jupiter.8
It has been urged that Dionysius account reflects an earlier tradition. His version
declares the violator exagistos, but does not specify to which god, if any, such a status
refers. This version, then, reflects an earlier state of the tradition, prior to the conciliation of the orders.9 Only after the struggle of the orders is over and the plebeian organization has been officially recognized by the state can the plebeians have accepted
Jupiter, supposedly a patrician god, as part of their oath. Livys version, then, reflects
the realities of a time after the struggle of the orders was over, and the two orders had
been united into one community. However, this argument does not account for the fact
that, though Jupiter is not mentioned in Dionysius version of the oath, the god plays
a fundamental role in his account of the secession. After the oath had been sworn, the
seceding plebeians built an altar on the Sacred Mount in honor of Zeus Deimatios (possibly a translation of the Latin Jupiter Territor10), so named, he says, for the fear which
the plebeians had experienced during the secession.11 To exclude Jupiter from any account of the first secession and the establishment of the tribunate would require circular
reasoning. We can only argue that Jupiter cannot have played a role in the foundation
of the tribunate because he is a god of the community as a whole, or of the patricians,
not of the plebs, if we extract him from our sources accounts of these events. We would
only be inclined to do so, however, if we first assumed the Jupiter cannot have played
a role in the origins of the plebeian tribunate.
There is no doubt, then, that Ceres was understood in antiquity to be a guarantor
of tribunician sacrosanctity. As such, Ceres played a vital role in the protection of the
libertas of the plebs. However, it is not acceptable to deny Jupiter a role in the protection of the tribunes. No tradition exists according to which the plebs ignored Jupiter in
7 The sacrosanctity of the aediles was even in antiquity a matter of debate, and the nature of the mysterious iudices decemuiri is now entirely lost. See Ogilvie, op. cit. (n. 3), 5002.
8 For the notion of sacer (accursed), see Cornell (1995), 259: The formula sacer esto (let him be
accursed) was pronounced on persons who by their actions harmed the gods. Such a person became
forfeit to the god in question, and on death was surrendered into his power; anyone who killed the
offender was therefore carrying out a sacred duty, and did so without incurring any penalty or blood
guilt. In this way the tribunes of the plebs became sacrosanct (i. e. inviolable).
9 Le Bonniec (1958), 3456.
10 Cf. G. Forsythe, The Historian L. Calpurnius Piso Frugi and the Roman Annalistic Tradition (1994),
283. This is a mistranslation, to be sure, if Forsythes conjecture that Territor was an alternative form
for Terminus, representing Jupiters concern for boundary stones.
11 Dion. Hal. Rom. Ant. 6.90.1. See also Festus, s. v. Sacer mons, 424 L: discedentes Ioui consecrauerunt.

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establishing the tribunate. Whether or not the original lex sacrata included the provision
that the violator would become sacer to Jupiter, the Romans believed that he played a
vital role in the event. Accordingly, it can be asserted that Ceres, through her protection of the tribunes, was associated with the plebs. However, there are no grounds for
rejecting Jupiters role. If the fact of Ceres part in the protection of the tribunes means
that she was a particularly plebeian goddess, then Jupiter, too, must be a plebeian god.

The Aediles
Much is often made of connections between Ceres and the plebeian aediles, as well.12
According to Le Bonniec, on ne peut citer aucun autre magistrat romain qui soit plac
comme eux sous le patronage direct et presque exclusif dune divinit. Many scholars
have sought the very origin of the aedileship in a priesthood of the goddess. It is often
suggested that the name of the magistracy itself derived from a relationship with the
temple. Aedilis derives from aedes. The argument, then, is that the plebeian aediles must
have been named for their relationship with the plebeian aedes, the temple of Ceres.13
But this argument is based only on the assumption of Ceres plebeian nature. Ancient
authors made no such connection. Varro defined the aedile as the official who manages
sacred and private buildings (Ling. 5.81: aedilis qui aedes sacras et priuatas procurat).
For Varro, the word derives from aedes, as all presume, but he attaches it to various
buildings, both religious and private. Dionysius of Halicarnassus (Rom. Ant. 6.90.23)
believed that the aediles only gradually acquired their title from their maintenance of
sacred places (hieroi topoi). Therefore, one can only make the connection between
the name of the aedileship and the aedes Cereris by assuming that the connection must
exist because Ceres cult was particularly plebeian.14
A special relationship between the magistracy and Ceres has often been asserted on
the grounds that the aediles were responsible for certain religious obligations in honor of
the goddess.15 The aediles seem to have presided over a lectisternium in honor of Tellus
12 Spaeth (1996), 8690; Cornell (1995), 2635; Le Bonniec (1958), 34857; RE s. v. Ceres col 1975 ff.
13 Le Bonniec (1958), 353, with n. 4 for extensive earlier bibliography.
14 The argument has been made that the creation by Julius Caesar of the office of aedilis Cerealis
stands as evidence for the primitive association between the magistracy and the temple. For this
view, see M. Sordi, Il santuario di Cerere, Libero, e Libera e il tribunato della plebe. In Santuari
e politica nel mondo antico. Contributi dell Istituto di storia antica. Pubblicazioni della Universit
cattolica del Sacro Cuore, (1983), 12739, and Spaeth (1996), 86. This office can be best explained
by reference to administrative necessityCaesar created the office to facilitate grain distributions.
For the creation of the office, Dio Cass. 43.51.3.
15 Spaeth (1996), 878; Le Bonniec (1958), 348. Spaeth (1996), 87, n. 31, calls the flamen Cerealis a
functionary of the temple. It appears that the implication is that the aediles are the real priests of
Ceres. Plebeian associations for Ceres have also been asserted by Mommsen on the grounds that
the flamines Cereales seem de iure to have been recruited solely from plebeian gentes. According to
Festus Paulus 137L, maiores flamines appellabantur patricii generis, minores plebeii. Mommsen,

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and Ceres on the dies natalis of the temple of Tellus.16 They also presided over the ludi
Cereales.17 The importance of the ludi Cereales among the duties of the plebeian aedile
is confirmed by Cicero (Verr. 2.5.36), who called the games most holy (sanctissimi),
insisting that they must be celebrated with the greatest care and solemnity (maxima
cum cura et caerimonia). However, he also cites his responsibility for the ludi Florales
and the ludi plebeii. The significance of all three festivals is emphasized by Cicero,
who says that the ludi Florales are necessary so that Flora may be made propitious to
the populus and the Roman plebs through the renown of her games (populo plebique
Romanae ludorum celebritate placandam), and that the ludi plebeii are to be carried out
with the greatest dignity and reverence (cum dignitate maxima et religione).18 If we
should choose to posit a special relationship between Ceres and the plebeian officials on
account of the aediles responsibility for her games, then we must not only posit such a
relationship between the aediles and Flora, but also between the plebeian officials and
the Capitoline triad, in whose honor the ludi plebeii were held.
Aediles, both plebeian and curule, are often found using money raised through fines
for various illegal activities to pay for religious offerings. It has been argued that plebeian aediles would use these funds for particularly plebeian religious duties.19 We know
of seven instances of fine money being so used by plebeian aediles.20 This evidence
considered on its own would be striking, and certainly suggests a relationship between
the aediles and the temple of Ceres, Liber, and Libera. However, these are not the only

16
17

18

19
20

Rmische Forschungen (186479), 1.78 with n. 13, has concluded from this that patricians were
excluded from the minor flaminates. There is no reason to argue this point, except to ask whether all
the minor flaminates were dedicated to particularly plebeian deities. Must we, accordingly, assume
that Vulcan, Volturnus, and others are particularly associated with the plebeian state within the state?
Spaeth (1996), 878; Le Bonniec (1958), 523.
H. H. Scullard, Festivals and Ceremonies of the Roman Republic (1981), 1013; Le Bonniec (1958),
31523; D. Sabbatucci, Ledilit romana: magistratura e sacerdozio (1954), 2759; A. Piganiol,
Recherches sur les jeux romains (1923), 8791.
L. R. Taylor, Ciceros Aedileship, American Journal of Philology 60 (1939): 194202 showed
convincingly that Ciceros aedileship was plebeian rather than curule. Spaeth (1996), 89, argued
that [r]esponsibility for the games of Ceres comes first in Ciceros list, and its position indicates
its importance among the aediles duties. Rather, he has listed the games in chronological order:
the ludi Ceriales were held 1219 April, the ludi Florales, 28 April3 May, the ludi plebeii, 417
November.
Spaeth (1996), 8990; Le Bonniec (1958), 3489.
Livy 10.23.13: in 292, fine money from violators of pasturage laws was used by the aediles to hold
games for Ceres and offer golden bowls at her temple; Livy 27.6.19: the plebeian aediles used fine
money to hold games and offer bronze statues to the goddess; Livy 27.36.9: in 208 the aediles gave
three statues to the temple; Livy 33.25.3: in 197 they used fine money to erect three statues of the triad
of Ceres, Liber, and Libera. A relationship between Ceres and punishment for violation of pasturage
laws can be found already in the Twelve Tables. Pliny NH 18.12 writes that the 5th-century law code
included a provision that anyone who cut down anothers crops or used them for pasturage was to
be hanged and offered as a sacrifice to Ceres (suspensum Cereri necari iubebant). Pliny regarded
this as a severer sentence than that for murder.

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examples of this practice. We see offerings by the plebeian aediles from fine money
to a variety of other godsincluding Flora, Faunus, and the Capitoline triad.21 So we
must ask whether offerings by plebeian aediles make Ceres a particularly plebeian
goddess. If so, we must assume that any deity to whom plebeian aediles make offerings
are necessarily plebeian. Accordingly, Flora and Faunus become plebeian, which offers
little difficulty, since they are so little known. But we are once again confronted with
the bizarre notion that the Capitoline triad is as plebeian as the triad of Ceres, Liber,
and Libera.

The Asylum of Ceres


It has also been suggested that the temple was the site to which a plebeian seeking
tribunician auxilium would flee.22 This is based on a fragment from Varro saying that
those who were poor in resources and had fled to the asylum of Ceres would be given
bread.23 The evidence is insufficient to make such a claim. As Spaeth showed, there were
many temples which possessed asylums to which someone could flee for refuge.24 But
to turn Ceres asylum, attested only as a place where the poor could expect to receive
bread from the grain goddess, into the home base for tribunician auxilium can only be
based on the assumption that the plebeian official must make his headquarters in the
plebeian temple par excellence. The home of the tribunes is attested as a place where
one would expect to be able to benefit from tribunician auxilium.25 That is not to say
that it is the only place. During the day, one would probably flee directly to a tribune,

21 A temple to Flora: Ov. Fast. 5.27994; a temple to Faunus: Livy 33.42.10; three statues consecrated
at the temple of the Capitoline triad, as well as a feast for Jupiter: Livy 30.39.8. I am unaware of
strong evidence that Flora or Faunus were considered plebeian divinities during the Republic. Flora
is sometimes considered a plebeian goddess, based entirely on one line from Ovid (Fast. 5.352) that
Flora wishes her rights to be open to a plebeian chorus (uolt sua plebeio sacra patere choro). See
A. Merlin, LAventin dans lantiquit (1906), 192. Remarkably, Merlin insists that Ovide oppose
Flora, desse des courtisanes, dont les fidles portent des vtements bariols, la chaste Crs, qui
veut que les femmes pour lhonorer soient vtues de blanc (ibid. 355 et IV, 619 sq.). In other words,
Floras games are plebeian because her bawdy and lewd games are contrasted by Ovid with the more
chaste and solemn games of Ceres. Flora, therefore, is plebeian, just like Ceres. Spaeth (1996), 90
calls Faunus a plebeian divinity, but offers no evidence. For the ludi Florales, see T. P. Wiseman,
The Games of Flora, in B. Bergmann and C. Kondoleon, The Art of Ancient Spectacle. Studies in
the History of Art, 56 (1999), 195204.
22 E. Hoffmann, Die tarquinischen Sibyllenbcher, Rheinisches Museum fr Philologie, NF 5 (1895),
90113 at 99 n. 2; followed by Le Bonniec (1958), 345 and Spaeth (1996), 84.
23 Varro (Non. 63, Lindsay): qui ope indigerent et ad asylum Cereris confugissent panis darentur.
24 Spaeth (1996), 84.
25 Plut. Quaest. Rom. 81; cf. R. T. Ridley, Notes on the Establishment of the Tribunate of the Plebs,
Latomus 27 (1968), 53554, reference from 547 n. 4.

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wherever he happened to be. If we do not assume that the temple is the headquarters of
the tribunes, then we can find no evidence that it is so.26

The Plebeian Archive


There is general agreement among modern writers that the temple of Ceres was the site
of a plebeian archive.27 The evidence for this assertion derives from several ancient
sources. First, we can introduce the following, from Pomponius (Dig. 1.2.2.21):
ut essent qui aedibus praeessent, in quibus omnia scita sua plebs deferebat, duos
ex plebe constituerunt, qui etiam aediles appellati sunt.
They established two officials from the plebs to preside over the temples (aedes)
in which the plebs placed all of its decrees (scita), and they were even called aediles.
The temple of Ceres, you will notice, is not mentioned in this text. Le Bonniec called
the use of the plural intressant, and wondered whether there were, perhaps, other
temples in which the plebs kept their scita.28 Some scholars have assumed that the use
of the plural aedibus was a loose use of grammatical number, and referred only to the
temple of Ceres, or that it referred to different rooms in the temple.29 According to
Zonaras (7.15.27), the aediles were created specifically in order to assist the tribunes
in the handling of documents, though there is no mention of Ceres. In his account, the
documents to be managed by the aediles included documents submitted to the boule
(senate), the demos (the people), and to plethos (presumably the plebs).
Concrete evidence can be found, however, in Livys account of one peculiar provision from the Valerio-Horatian laws of 449 (3.55.13):
institutum etiam ab iisdem consulibus ut senatus consulta in aedem Cereris ad aediles
plebis deferrentur, quae antea arbitrio consulum supprimebantur uitiabanturque.
It was established also by these same consuls that senatus consulta be placed in the
temple of Ceres in the care of the aediles of the plebs, since before that they used
to be suppressed and corrupted at the whim of the consuls.

26 One will, of course, find it difficult to imagine a patrician fleeing to the temple in search of food.
Anyone who would find himself in the position to require such services would probably have been
a member of the plebs, but that does not mean that the practice is to be identified with the plebs per
se, but with the indigent.
27 See, e. g., Spaeth (1996), 856; Cornell (1995), 2634; Le Bonniec (1958), 3434; De Sanctis, La
origine delledilit plebea, Rivista di Filologia e di Istruzione Classica 60 (1932): 43345.
28 Le Bonniec (1958), 344 n. 2. One thinks of the publication of a bronze tablet of the lex Icilia de
Auentino publicando attached to the shrine of Diana on the Aventine, which was attested by Dion.
Hal. Rom. Ant. 10.32.
29 Spaeth (1996), 85, 208 n. 20; Cornell (1995), 450 n. 89 translates in the singular without explanation.

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Perhaps the law was a concession to the plebs as a class in order to allow them
to keep a watchful eye over the senates business. Some scholars have dismissed this
notice as an impossible anachronism, given modern consensus about the animosity between plebeian officials and the senate during the fifth century;30 however, Cornell has
defended the historicity of the reform, citing the general tendency of the plebs to desire
the codification of law.31 This policy, then, would have been a part of the concessions
to the plebeians to facilitate reconciliation after the second secession. I would suggest
a still different interpretation. Nowhere does Livy say that the innovation was undertaken as a concession to the plebs specifically, but instead that the consuls instituted the
precaution to prevent consular abuses. This policy protected the senate from potential
abuses of consular power. The beneficiaries of this law were senators, not plebeians.
The innovation is portrayed by Livy as a protection against potential tyrants, like that
Appius Claudius who had just used the decemvirate as a springboard for monarchy,
and fits perfectly with the Valerio-Horatian prescription against the election of a magistrate not subject to prouocatio. Whether the notice is historical or was invented in
later centuries, it was perceived as protecting the libertas of the senate. In this way, it
contributes to a vision of Ceres as protector of libertas, rather than as a plebeian goddess.32 The aediles, therefore, served the function attributed to them by Zonaras, who,
as we have seen, believed that they were responsible for all written documents of the
senate, people, and plebs. There can be no grounds, then, for assuming that the aedes
to which Pomponius referred was the temple of Ceres.33

30 A. Drummond, Rome in the Fifth Century, in CAH VII.2 (1989): 225; A. Alfldi, op. cit. (n. 1), 94.
31 Cornell (1995), 264.
32 Consider also the argument of W. Eder, The Political Significance of the Codification of Law in
Archaic Societies: An Unconventional Hypothesis, in Raaflaub, op. cit. (n. 1), 23967, according
to which codification of law in the archaic period in Greece and Rome reflected an assertion on the
part of the aristocracy which served the purpose of securing aristocratic predominance. This view
is consistent with the otherwise surprisingly non-popular measures of the twelve tables. I suggest
that this notice should be perceived in the same way. T. J. Cornell, The lex Ovinia and the Emancipation of the Senate, in C. Bruun (ed.), The Roman Middle Republic: Politics, Religion, and
Historiography: c. 400133 B. C.: papers from a conference at the Institutum Romanum Finlandiae,
September 1112, 1998 (2000), 6990, argues persuasively that the senate essentially came into
existence as an independent institution at some point in the 330s with the passage of the lex Ovinia,
having previously been little more than an advisory council serving at the pleasure of the consuls. If
the measure regarding the storage of senatorial decrees in the temple of Ceres is historical, I suggest
that it belongs to an early Republican process of gradual self-assertion on the part of the senate. An
anonymous reader has also pointed out to me that the protection of decrees of the senate, which in
the late Republic operated to some degree as a legislative body in itself, would have represented in
that period a protection of the whole community.
33 One might wonder to what temples Pomponius was referring. We know that senatus consulta were
stored in the temple of Ceres. We also know that the lex Icilia de Auentino publicando was published
in bronze at the Aventine temple of Diana (above, n. 28). Presumably documents were preserved in
a wide variety of sacred places.

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We cannot doubt that Ceres and the temple which she shared with Liber and Libera
had an association with the plebeian officials. Ceres protected the tribunes sacrosanctity. But, unless we drop any reference to his involvement in the lex sacrata, which
we can only do through a petitio principii, then so did Jupiter. The plebeian aediles
celebrated games every year in honor of Ceres, but they did the same for the Capitoline
triad. They also made offerings at her temple and built statues in her honor. But these
same honors were enjoyed by Jupiter and his triad, as well. One might speak vaguely
of plebeian associations for Ceres, Liber, and Libera, but these associations likewise
must be extended to Jupiter, Juno, and Minerva. Any reference to the temple of Ceres
as the headquarters of the plebeian officials relies on an a priori conclusion that any
plebeian archive or asylum for seeking tribunician protection must be at the temple
of Ceres, because she is the plebeian goddess. They, consequently, cannot be used as
evidence that Ceres was uniquely associated with the plebeian state within the state.
Therefore, if Ceres, Liber, and Libera constitute a plebeian triad, then we must declare
Jupiter, Juno, and Minerva plebeian, tooalong with Flora, Faunus, and any other
divinity celebrated by or considered to be protective of a plebeian official. The notion
of plebeian religion, separate and distinct from the religion of the whole community,
becomes essentially meaningless. On the other hand, through her protection of tribunician sacrosanctity, as well as the decrees of the senate, a picture begins to emerge of a
relationship between Ceres and the concept of libertas.

III The Foundation of the Temple


Our source for the foundation of the temple is Dionysius of Halicarnassus, who tells us
that the dictator Aulus Postumius vowed a temple to Demeter, Dionysos, and Kore in
496, prior to the battle of Lake Regillus. In this battle, the Romans faced an alliance of
Latin communities seeking to reinstate the recently ousted king of Rome, Tarquinius
Superbus. Dionysius tells us that the armys supplies were low. The crops had failed
and the Romans, because of the war, had been unable to import sufficient food. The
Romans were concerned that the famine would undermine their efforts to preserve their
nascent liberty, so the dictator commanded that the Sibylline books be consulted. The
books required that these three gods, the Greek translation of Ceres, Liber, and Libera,
be propitiated. Postumius then vowed to these gods that, if the crops should improve,
he would build temples to them and establish annual sacrifices in their honor. The gods
came through. The land produced magnificently and imports were even richer than before the war. With the tyrant repulsed once and for all, sacrifices and feasts were held in
honor of these gods, and construction of the temple was begun.34 Then, in 493, after the
seceding plebs had returned from the Sacred Mount, the consul Sp. Cassius dedicated the
temple, whose construction was funded from the spoils of the battle of Lake Regillus.35
34 Dion Hal. Rom. Ant. 6.17.24.
35 Ibid. 6.94.3.

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Those who perceive a strong link between the cult of Ceres at Rome and the plebs
look for evidence in a consideration of the origins of the temple of Ceres, Liber, and
Libera.36 For Le Bonniec, the temples dedication was a concession on the part of the
patricians to the plebeians in order to garner their support for the coming battle against
the Latins.37 The fact that the temple was dedicated at last in 493, when the plebeians
had succeeded in securing the establishment of the tribunate, reflected a double victory
for the plebs, with both their new magistracy and their special cult gaining some recognition. This argument, of course, cannot serve to support the view that Ceres cult was
associated particularly with the plebs, because it assumes the relationship. If we do not
assume that Ceres was in some respect a particularly plebeian goddess, then there are
no grounds on which to use this episode as evidence for those associations.38
Neither the vowing nor the dedication of her temple can then be seen as concessions
to the plebs. However, I suggest that we can draw some considerable conclusions from
the story of the dictator Postumius vow before the battle of Lake Regillus. Whether
Dionysius account of the vow has any basis as an historical event we cannot be sure.
But Romans of later times apparently believed it to be true, and we ought to concern
ourselves more with when the Romans believed the temple to have been vowed than
when they believed it to have been dedicated. For the Romans, the temple of Ceres,
Liber, and Libera was associated with the salvation of the brand new Republic when
its existence was under threat by the Latins bent on reinstating the ousted monarch. In
Roman legend, then, the cult of Ceres traced its very origins to the first great threat to
Romes libertas, and the dictators promise was vital to its preservation. The fact that
the Romans believed the dedication to have taken place in 493, when the first secession
came to an end and the tribunate was established, can only have reinforced the connection
between the cult and the concept of libertas. The connection between the foundations
36 Spaeth (1996), 91; Le Bonniec (1958), 343; Cornell (1995), 263; M. Sordi, op. cit. (n. 14), 135;
R. Ridley, op. cit. (n. 23), 5456; M. Hoffman, Rom und die griechische Welt im 4. Jahrhundert.
Philologus supp. 27.1 (1934), 100.
37 Le Bonniec (1958), 342343.
38 For a different view, see M. Sordi, op. cit. (n. 14), 1326, who argues that the date of the establishment of the tribunate was actually 471, but that plebeian writers sought to increase the stature of the
tribunate by pushing its foundation as far back into history as possible and picked 493 as the perfect
date, because that was the year of the dedication of the temple of Ceres. The argument rests on an
unusual interpretation of a passage from Livy (2.58.12). According to Livy, in 471 for the first time
tribunes were elected in an assembly organized by tribes (tum primum tributis comitiis creati tribuni
sunt). For Sordi, this means that tribunes were elected for the first time in 471. But the word order,
with primum tributis given special prominence, suggests that what Livy is saying happened for
the first time was election in a tribal assembly. This reading is also rendered preferable by the fact
that Livy has just narrated twenty-two years of tribunician activity. The following sentence, citing
the historian Piso for a tradition that the number of tribunes was increased in that year from two to
five, suggests that Livys predecessors were also convinced that the tribunate was well established
already by 471. Nor does Diod. 11.68.8 suggest anything other than that the number of tribunes was
increased (though he suggests the new number was four rather than five); cf. Ogilvie, op. cit. (n. 3),
382.

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of the temple and of the tribunate is not unimportant. But the connection does not show
Ceres to have been a particularly plebeian goddess. Rather, they contribute to a much
more complex vision of Ceres role in Roman civic consciousnessthat Ceres, Liber,
and Libera (Ceres, Free, and Free!) had first preserved the Romans freedom at Lake
Regillus and then guaranteed the freedom of the plebs after the first secession.

IV The Location of the Temple


The precise location of the temple cannot be determined with any certainty. We can at
least say that it was somewhere in the vicinity of the Circus Maximus, which lay between
the Palatine and the Aventine hills.39 We can be a little more specific, because Dionysius
of Halicarnassus puts the temple near the western end of the Circus, which is adjacent
to the Forum Boarium.40 Arguments have been made that the temple should be located
in the Forum Boarium itself,41 or on the slopes of the Aventine.42 During the nineteenth
century most scholars advocated the Forum Boarium location, with arguments focusing
on identifying the site of the temple with the Church of Santa Maria in Cosmedin, which
is in the Forum Boarium. But the objection was raised that the following passage from
Livy makes this identification impossible (40.2.12):
uer procellosum eo anno fuit. pridie Parilia, medio ferme die, atrox cum uento
tempestas coorta multis sacris profanisque locis stragem fecit, signa aenea in Capitolio deiecit, forem ex aede Lunae, quae in Auentino est, raptam tulit et in posticis
parietibus Cereris templi adfixit
That year the spring was tempestuous. On the day before the Parilia, at about midday, a severe wind storm made ruins of many places sacred and profane; it struck
down the bronze statues on the Capitol, and it ripped off the door from the temple
of Luna, which is on the Aventine, and fixed it against the back wall of the temple
of Ceres

39 Pliny NH 35.154; Tac. Ann. 2.49; Vitr. De Arch. 3.3.5.


40 Dion. Hal. Rom. Ant. 6.94.3.
41 E. Simon, Die Gtter der Rmer (1990), 45; E. Nash, Pictorial Dictionary of Ancient Rome (1968),
1.227; Le Bonniec (1958), 26676; D. Van Berchem, Il tempio di Cerere e lufficio dellannona
a Roma, Bullettino della Commissione Archeologica Comunale di Roma 63 (1935), 915; G. B.
Giovenale, La Basilica di S. Maria in Cosmedin (1927), 35371. For early bibliography, see A.
Merlin, op. cit. (n. 21), 935.
42 Spaeth (1996), 823; L. Richardson, A New Topographical Dictionary of Ancient Rome (1992), 80;
F. Coarelli, Il Foro Boario dalle origini alla fine della Repubblica (1988), 6670; S. B. Platner and
T. Ashby, A Topographical Dictionary of Ancient Rome (1929), 110; A. Merlin, op. cit. (n. 21), 935
(including earlier bibliography).

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Richter argued that the door to the temple of Luna, which Livy places on the Aventine, could not possibly have been blown so hard by a storm as to be fixed to the rear of
the temple of Ceres if it had been located in the Forum Boarium.43
Le Bonniec made an important observation, however.44 The phrase describing the
location of the temple of Luna, which is on the Aventine (quae in Auentino est), is
used by Livy to emphasize the remarkable nature of the storm. Livy is describing a series of prodigies brought about by the severity of the storm, which were so severe that
the haruspices demanded that the gods be propitiated. That fact which Livy describes
is so dramatic precisely because the temple of Luna is on the Aventine and the temple
of Ceres is not. Pointing out that the temple of Luna was on the Aventine would hardly
have added any significance to the fact that the storm had affixed that temples door to
the temple of Ceres, if the latter were also on the Aventine!
In favor of an Aventine location, a passage from Dionysius of Halicarnassus has been
mobilized (Rom. Ant. 6.94.3), according to which the temple was built near the termata
of the Circus Maximus and situated beyond the starting points (
). For Merlin,
this passage shows that the temple must have been located on the Aventine, because
it says that it was over (hyper) the starting points.45 Merlin interprets hyper to mean
that the temple was at a higher elevationplacing the temple, then, on the slopes of
the Aventine. But the preposition here, with the accusative, is not likely to mean over
in the sense of at a higher elevation. For such a reading we would expect to find the
genitive. The best reading for this text, then, would be in the sense of beyond. Spaeth
argued that this passage could allow us to pinpoint the temples location precisely:46
The termata () are the goals around which horses and chariots had to turn
at races, located in Roman circuses at the ends of the spina, or the central divider
on the long axis of the track. In the Circus Maximus the spina ran east-west. In this
passage, then, the term termata, plural here being used for the singular, should apply to one end of the spina, probably the westernmost one, as this was the final turn
before the end of the race, and terma also means end, culmination. The phrase
defines the location of the temple in relation to the spina; it is
located after or behind its western end. This sets its location along an east-west axis.
The are the starting points for a race, in Latin the carceres, located at the
western end of the Circus.
The observation that Dionysius gives two points in order to locate the temple on both a
north-south and an east-west axis is a keen insight. But it seems to me arbitrary that we
should choose to interpret epi tois termasi as placing the temple on the east-west axis, or
hyper autas hidrumenos tas apheseis for north-south. He could as easily have intended
43
44
45
46

O. Richter, Topographie der stadt Rom (1901), 180 n. 1.


Le Bonniec (1958), 2689.
A. Merlin, op. cit. (n. 21), 945.
Spaeth (1996), 83.

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it the other way around. His language is too imprecise for satisfactory interpretation.
However, if we should interpret the description in the opposite manner, we would be left
with a location in the Forum Boarium. The temple would be south of the termata and
west of the carceres, rather than to the west of the termata and south of the carceres.
This reading would also be consistent with Livys amazement that the door of Lunas
temple had been blown all the way to the temple of Ceres, because the door would have
been cast all the way down the Aventine and into the Forum Boarium.
The Aventine location has been interpreted as confirming Ceres plebeian nature,
because the Aventine is generally believed by modern scholars as having been associated
particularly with the plebeian state within the state.47 The connection is only as strong
as the arguments for placing the temple on the Aventine. Beyond that, it is necessary
to ask whether the presence of her temple on the Aventine would cause her to be associated particularly with the plebs. That would only be so if their association with the
Aventine meant that Mercury, Jupiter Elicius, Juno Regina, Minerva, Luna, and Diana
were all particularly plebeian deities.48 To be sure, some scholars have attempted to
make such connections. But if we continue to expand the list of plebeian deities based
on their association with the Aventine, we are forced to make the list so large that the
concept of plebeian religion begins once again to lose all meaning.

V Ceres and the Magna Mater


Just as Ceres is widely understood to be the plebeian goddess par excellence, a general
consensus exists that, in addition to the state cult of the Capitoline triad, the patricians
had their own special divinity in the Magna Mater, whose cult was introduced to Rome
near the end of the Hannibalic War in 204.49 While it is not my purpose to examine the
cult of Magna Mater at any length, it becomes significant for my argument, because
scholars who see in Ceres a plebeian goddess often find evidence for it in a rivalry

47 For the Aventine location as evidence for Ceres plebeianness, see Spaeth (1996), 823 with
earlier bibliography. For the plebeianness of the Aventine, see A. Merlin, op. cit. (n. 21), 69288,
lAventin le quartier plbien de Rome par excellence ; J. Bayet, Tite-Live Histoire Romaine
Tome 3 (1942), 126 n.1, un faubourg plbien; Ogilvie, op. cit. (n. 3), 107, traditionally plebeian
hill; J. Heurgon, The Rise of Rome to 264 B. C. (tr. J. Willis) (1973) 167, political and administrative
centre of the plebs ; A. Alfldi, op. cit. (n. 1), 90, the seat of the peculiar religious and political
organization of the plebs.
48 For the relationship between various divinities and the Aventine, see A. Merlin, op. cit. (n. 21),
140244.
49 For the patrician cult of the Magna Mater, see Spaeth (1996), 927; Le Bonniec (1958), 3657; J.
Colin, Les snateurs et la mre des dieux aux Megalensia: Lucrce 4.79, Athenaeum 32 (1954),
34655; H. Graillot, Le culte de Cyble, mre de dieux Rome et dans lEmpire romain (1912). For
the introduction of the cult to Rome, see Livy 29.10.411.8, 14.514; Ov. Fast. 4.247348; App.
Pun. 7.9.56; Dio Cass. 17.61; Herodian 1.11.

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between the two goddesses.50 Let us briefly consider the evidence for the patrician associations of the Magna Mater, as well as her rivalry with Ceres.
According to Valerius Maximus, in 194, during the Megalensia, the games in honor
of the Magna Mater, the curule aediles established separate seating for the senators,
setting them off from the rest of the people, an unprecedented act of segregation in the
history of games at Rome.51 Also, we are told that patricians engaged in a mysterious
ritual called mutitationes during the Megalensia.52 This fact comes from Aulus Gellius, who, in showing the kinds of questions he and his peers would discuss during the
Saturnalia at Athens, said that the following question was considered: why the patricians are in the habit of having mutitationes at the Megalensia, while the plebs do the
same at the Cerealia.53 To our endless frustration, Gellius does not tell us what answer
or answers were offered during those discussions. But we do see these two pieces of
evidence that the Magna Mater was in some way associated with the elitethough it
would be a stretch to say with the patricians per se. We also see some evidence for a
rivalry between the two goddesses, in that each had festivals in April which were characterized in part by the celebration of mutitationes. However, Gellius tells us that the
practice of patricians holding these dinners during the Megalensia, with plebeians doing the same at the Cerealia, was current in his own time. He does not tell us when the
practice began. When Ovid writes of the Megalensia, he says nothing of a class basis
for the mutitationes, but merely suggests that it was a more common practice during
the festival than at other times.54 Nor does he say anything about mutitationes during
the Cerealia, plebeian or otherwise.55 Plautus writes of Cereal dinners.56 Though that
is often regarded as referring to mutitationes during the ludi Cereales, and as evidence

50 Le Bonniec (1958), 365: rivalit; Spaeth (1996), 92: antagonism.


51 Senators, not, contra Spaeth, patrician senators: Val. Max. 2.4.3; 4.5.1. I will not deal in any detail
with assertions that it was the patricians per se who had brought the cult to Rome. Although the man
chosen as the best man (uir optimus), P. Scipio, and the woman who carried the stone representing
the goddess, Claudia Quinta, were both patricians, we are told by Ovid (Fast. 2914) that it was a
great throng of people of all classes (omnis eques mixtaque grauis cum plebe senatus/ obuius ad
Tusci fluminis ora uenit) who went to the Tiber to receive the goddess. Nor is it an important point
that the games were celebrated by the curule aediles, an office open to both patricians and plebeians. Cf. Spaeth (1996), 94, who, in asserting that the patrician families had a special connection to
the goddess because a big part of their claim in moving her cult to Rome was based on their Trojan
descent. It was precisely this Trojan ancestry, she argues, that patrician families emphasized.
But among those patrician families, she includes the Metelli, a notable plebeian family, and the one
which Ovid tells us provided the dedicator of her temple (Fast. 4.3478).
52 The word appears only here and in the calendar of Praeneste, and even there it is in reference to the
cult of the Magna Mater. The meaning seems to be mutual invitations to banquets.
53 NA 18.2.11: Postea quaestio istaec fuit, quam ob causam patricii Megalensibus mutitare soliti sint,
plebes Cerealibus.
54 Fast. 4.3536.
55 Ibid. 4.393620, 679712.
56 Men. 101.

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for their existence as far back as the third century,57 the connection is not certain, and
there is no reference in the text to a class-distinction at the dinners.
Accordingly, while we have evidence that senators enjoyed special privileges at
the Megalensia, all we can assert about a class basis for the mutitationes is that by
the second century A. D. the patricians celebrated special feasts at that time, whereas
plebeians celebrated them during the Cerealia. But the fact that Ovid emphasizes the
presence of the plebs at the arrival of the cult of Magna Mater in 20458 and the fact that
he makes no reference to a division between patricians and plebeians per se at these
festivals lead to difficulties if we attempt to show a strong class division between the
cults of the two goddesses.59 That is not to say, however, that there was not a kind of
theological problem created by the presence of the two deities at Rome. When the cult
of Magna Mater was brought to Rome in 204, the harvest was the best in ten years. 60
Then in 191, the temple of the Magna Mater was dedicated, and in that very year was
established the fast of Ceres (ieiunium Cereris), which has been plausibly interpreted
as a concession to the grain goddess to counteract the increased prominence of the
Magna Mater, who had recently been credited both with a bountiful harvest and victory
in Romes greatest war.61 But to interpret the establishment of this fast as a concession
to the plebs requires that we first assume Ceres status as the plebeian goddess, which
we cannot do. The ieiunium Cereris must be chalked up to religious scruple rather than
political calculation.

VI Sp. Cassius and the Consecratio Bonorum


I have discussed in section II the role Ceres, Liber, and Libera played in the protection
of tribunician sacrosanctity by being beneficiaries of the consecratio bonorum of anyone who violated the lex sacrata. This relationship is the basis of the notion of Ceres as
plebeian goddess. However, we find an example of the offering of consecratio bonorum
to Ceres which has nothing to do with tribunician sacrosanctity. According to tradition,
Sp. Cassius was three times consul (502, 493, 486), a triumphator, and during his second
consulship he concluded the foedus Cassianum, which laid the foundation for Romes
future dominance over the Latin league, and in the same year dedicated the temple of
Ceres itself. In 486, he was responsible for a similar treaty with the Hernici. During the

57 Spaeth (1996), 210 n. 72; Le Bonniec (1958), 366.


58 See n. 51 above.
59 He even says that there are more mutual invitations to banquets at the Megalensia than at any other
time. That is hardly consistent with the notion that the majority of the population would have been
holding competing dinners at the Cerealia.
60 Plin. NH 18.16: quo anno Mater deum aduecta Romam est, maiorem ea aestate messem quam antecedentibus annis decem factam esse tradunt.
61 Livy 36.37.45. For the ieiunium Cereris as a concession to Ceres in relation to the prominence of
the cult of the Magna Mater, see, e. g., Spaeth (1996), 96; Le Bonniec (1958), 4489.

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91

same consulship, it was believed, he also proposed the first lex agraria, and, having
been maligned throughout the year as a would-be tyrant by the landed interests who
opposed his law, was executed in 485 under suspicion of having sought to establish a
tyranny.62 There were apparently at least two versions of the events leading to his death.
Both Livy and Dionysius follow a version of events in which Cassius, having been maligned for his tyrannical ambitions throughout the year of his consulship, was tried by
patrician quaestors immediately upon stepping down at the end of his term. Each also
offers the variant, according to which Sp. Cassius tyrannical ambitions were discovered
by his father and he was tried and executed under the authority of his father, but they
both reject it in favor of the public trial. The important detail here is that a consecratio
bonorum was supposed by these authors to have been made to the temple of Ceres from
the property of Cassius. Although Livy seems to attach the consecratio to the version
which he rejects by stating that the property was dedicated by the father,63 it appears
that the tradition that it had taken place was independent of that version and could be
associated equally with either one.64 It seems, then, that there was a widespread tradition
associating Sp. Cassius adfectatio regni with a consecratio bonorum to the temple of
Ceres, whether the consecratio was performed compulsorily by the state, or as a matter
of religious expiation by the father.65
I dwell on that point to emphasize the fact that the tradition of the consecration of
Cassius property to Ceres was associated with the punishment for aiming at tyranny
rather than as a private expiation by the Cassii to a goddess with whom they were particularly associated as a result of Sp. Cassius having dedicated the temple in 493. Since
tradition associated Sp. Cassius with the first attempt in Roman history to distribute
land to the poor, Cassius can fairly be regarded as having been thought of in antiquity
as a popular leader. How, then, are we to explain a consecratio bonorum to Ceres from
the property of a leader who had attempted a distribution of land to the plebs? The best
solution is simply that Ceres was not thought of as a particularly plebeian goddess, as I
have attempted to show. Instead, the combination of Ceres association with the defense

62 There are two narrative accounts: Livy 2.41; Dion. Hal. Rom. Ant. 8.6880. Various testimonia with
variant details can be found at, e. g., Piso fr. 47 Forsythe (= Plin. NH 34.30) ; Pliny NH 34.15; Val.
Max. 5.8.2; 6.3.1; Cic. Dom. 101; Rep. 2.49; 2.60; Lael. 28; 36; Phil. 2.114; Diod. 11.37.7; Flor.
1.17.7; Dio fr. 19. Cf. Ogilvie (1965), 3379 for a compelling vision of an historical Sp. Cassius. For
a more recent study of the adfectatores regni in Roman history and historiography, see C. Smith,
Adfectatio regni in the Roman Republic, in S. Lewis (ed.), Ancient Tyranny (2006), 4964.
63 2.41.10: sunt qui patrem auctorem eius supplicii ferant: eum cognita domi causa uerberasse ac
necasse peculiumque filii Cereri consecrauisse; signum inde factum esse et inscriptum: ex Cassia
familia datum.
64 Dion. Hal. Rom. Ant. 8.79 uses the fact of the consecratio bonorum as evidence against the notion
of the execution of Cassius at the hands of his father.
65 Cf. O. De Cazanove, Spurius Cassius, Ceres et Tellus, in Revue des tudes Latines 67 (1989),
93116, who argues that the reference to Sp. Cassius as tribune of the plebs in Valerius Maximus
(5.8.2) reflects a tradition in which the father was punished with a consecratio bonorum from his
own property for having killed a tribune.

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of Rome from the reinstatement of Tarquin in the battle of Lake Regillus, the protection
of tribunician sacrosanctity, the guarantee of the independence of senatorial decrees,
in addition to the names of her triadic comrades Liber and Libera, led naturally, in the
minds of later Romans, at least, if not also to those of the fifth century, to an attribution
to the three gods of the protection of Romes libertasincluding the punishment of
potential tyrants.66

VII Conclusions
In this paper, I have put forward two arguments about the cult of Ceres, Liber, and Libera
during the Roman Republic. The first argument is a negative one: Ceres can only be
identified as a particularly plebeian goddess by defining plebeian religion in such a
way as to render the term essentially meaningless. With the second argument, I attempt
to make some sense of Ceres significance in Roman historical and political thought,
as a goddess whose functions include protecting libertas. Both arguments have wideranging implications, which I would like to explore in this concluding section. But first
I would like to deal with a potential concern about my argumentation to this point. It
could be said that I have failed in this paper to deal satisfactorily with the distinction
between the original historical significance of Ceres and her temple and their later
political and cultural significance.
I suggest that the two problems are essentially inseparable. It is quite possible that
in the early Republic Ceres was perceived of as the goddess of the plebeian state within
the state, separate and distinct from the religion of the community as a whole, but as
time went on she came to be incorporated into the broader context of Roman religion.
However, to prove such a conclusion would require that we dismiss much of the evidence
which shows Ceres to have been part of that wider context from the beginning, and
which shows that the same evidence for plebeianness relates to other divinities, some
of whom are generally regarded as being gods of the community as a whole. There are
two ways of disregarding that evidence. The first is to assume that Ceres is a plebeian
goddess and Jupiter, Juno, and Minerva are not; therefore, anything that detracts from
that vision must be disregarded. But that begs the question. The other way would be to
insist that the evidence for the early Republic is so hopeless that we cannot trust our
sources when they include Jupiter, Juno, and Minerva (and many others) in the kinds of
plebeian associations attributed to Ceres. But if that were the case, then we could not
hope to make any claims about Ceres early significanceeven her status as a plebeian goddess.
66 Cf. Spaeth (1986) 739; B. S. Spaeth, The Goddess Ceres and the Death of Tiberius Gracchus,
Historia 39 (1990), 18295. Spaeth argues persuasively that the expiation of Ceres after the death
of Tiberius Gracchus was carried out not to placate the goddess after the murder of a tribune (or,
at least, not only for that reason), but to purify the city after an attempted tyranny, which was the
charge which his enemies hoped to make stick against the dead reformer.

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I would suggest that Ceres probably began to develop her association with libertas
at a very early date. I generally find more convincing the arguments of those scholars
who are more optimistic about the possibility of recovering useful historical facts about
the early Republic.67 A skeptical approach to the sources, one must note, would not allow for this conclusion. Nor would it be any more favorable to the plebeian goddess
theory. One would be left to analyze later perceptions about Ceres cult, and I hope that
I have made a compelling case that Romans throughout the better attested periods of the
Republic viewed Ceres as being a preserver of libertas. This only makes her a plebeian
goddess insofar as plebeians were concerned with libertas. But plebeians most certainly
did not have a monopoly on concern for libertas.68

The Concept of Plebeian Religion


I have argued that there was no plebeian religion, separate and distinct from the religion of the community as a whole. However, I would prefer to suggest that, in the sense
that the vast majority of Romans were plebeian, all religion at Rome was essentially
plebeian religion, with the exception of religious practices and offices which were
exclusively enjoyed by patricians. That understood, we ought to recognize that it was
the patricians, and later the nobilitas, who created, or attempted to create, a religion of
their own. Exclusive access for patricians to certain priesthoods in the early Republic
does not suggest a separate plebeian religion, but a claim on the part of patricians to a
special status within the community.
A question arises from these conclusions, which is deeply significant for modern
interpretations of early Romes domestic history. If there was no plebeian religion, was
there a plebeian Gemeinde at all? Where do we find evidence elsewhere that the plebs
was a unified and well organized state within the state, whose members identified
themselves as being distinct from the Gesamtgemeinde? If the plebeian tribunes were
protected by the same goddess that protected the state from attempted tyranny, then
what makes them officials of anything other than the state itself? If the aediles tended
to the temples, festivals, and cults of a wide variety of gods, including the Capitoline
triad, which was most central to the religion of the entire community, then what were the
plebeian aediles other than domestic and religious officials of the Roman Republic? In

67 I believe the most compelling argument in favor of this view is T. J. Cornell, The Value of the
Literary Tradition Concerning Archaic Rome, in K. Raaflaub, op. cit. (n. 1), 4774. Scholars, of
course, have taken widely divergent views about the reliability of our sources, and have developed
drastically different methods for reconstructing early Roman history. For more skeptical views, see
G. Forsythe, op cit. (n. 1), 5977; R. E. Mitchell op. cit. (n. 5) passim.
68 Cf. C. Wirszubski, Libertas as a Political Idea at Rome during the Late Republic and Early Principate (1950). For another interpretation of Ceres, Liber, and Libera, in their status as a cult Graeco
ritu, as being central to Roman self-identity, see J. Scheid, Graeco ritu: A Typically Roman Way of
Honoring the Gods, Harvard Studies in Classical Philology 97 (1995), 1531.

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this regard, we would be well served to follow the definition of the aedile provided by
Varro as an official who manages sacred and private aedes. What makes them plebeian,
it appears, is the fact that only plebeians could hold the office.69 It is not my intention
in this paper to develop a systematic argument to the effect that there was no plebeian
community or state within the statethat will require a separate study. Rather, I hope
to encourage renewed discussion on the topic by showing that the existence of plebeian
religion can no longer be used to support arguments for the state within the state theory.
The functions of the tribunes and aediles (as well as the plebeian comitia tributa) must be
examined in their own right, in the absence of any assumptions about their relationship
with plebeian cult. Most important, however, if the plebeians did not possess a unified
sense of purpose, centered on the cult of a tutelary deity, should we really wonder that
it took so long for individual elements of the plebs to achieve their goals?

Ceres and Libertas


What, then, are we to make of Ceres role in the civic consciousness of the Romans? I
have shown throughout this paper that the triad was related in traditions about the early
Republic to the concept of libertas. In this final section, I would like to explore the
ramifications of this conclusion for the history of the later Republic. All of the arguments
I have used reflect Romes historical tradition, whether or not they are representative
of the historical reality of the fifth century. It is necessary, therefore, to conclude that
Romans of the last century B. C. believed that Ceres, Liber, and Libera protected their
libertas. As such, they could be seen as protectors of anyone who fought for libertas.
Usually, the use of Ceres in the propaganda of political figures in the late Republic is
interpreted as an attempt to curry favor with the plebs itself.70 In the words of Spaeth,
[t]he image of Ceres became especially significant in the 40s B. C. The goddess appears on nine coin types between 48 and 42. By placing the goddess on coins, argues
Spaeth, the issuers proclaimed their allegiance to the political values she embodied,
foremost among which was the survival of the plebs and their libertas, liberty.71 As
I have shown, we cannot usefully make the connection between Ceres and the plebs,
but we can still make the case that the use of Ceres on coins appealed to libertas. This,
needless to say, would not simply have offered an appeal to the plebs.
Spaeth offers an impressive list of coin types featuring an image of the goddess
minted by Caesar and his supporters, by the tyrranicides, by the supporters of the second
triumvirate, and by Augustus. In addition to the coins bearing her image, we should note,
Augustus restored the temple of Ceres (Tac. Ann. 2.49). Historians have interpreted these
69 Only plebeians could be tribune: Livy 2.33.1. Only plebeians could be aedile: Pompon. Dig. 1.2.2.21.
70 Spaeth (1996), 97102, with references to earlier bibliography passim; Le Bonniec (1958), 35878.
Though Spaeth does not believe that every reference to Ceres was necessarily an appeal to the plebs,
she largely follows Le Bonniec in interpreting them in that way.
71 Spaeth (1996), 989.

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Ceres, the Plebs, and Libertas in the Roman Republic

uses of Ceres primarily as attempts by these figures to portray themselves as protectors


of the plebs. But, since we cannot necessarily assume that any image of Ceres was associated with the plebs per se, we might instead interpret these examples as reflecting
the image which each of these groups and individuals attempted to propagate of themselves as protectors of libertas.72 I believe that Spaeth is most correct when she writes
of the coin types issued by the tyrannicides that Ceres appears on these coins as the
patroness of libertas.73 Though this role for Ceres has been recognized at times, I have
attempted to show that this was a function which overshadowed any relationship with
the plebs per se. We ought not to be surprised by the fact that Ceres became a popular
figure for coin issuers in the 40s B. C. The great concern in the public discourse during
that decade was not the self-assertion of the plebs as a unified political entity. Rather,
the concern was for libertas: what form it would take, whose interests it would serve,
and who should be considered to be its earthly protector. The man who could best lay
claim to the protection of libertas put himself in good stead, not only with the plebs,
but with all Romans for whom liberty was the foundational principle of their state,
whatever implications the term might have had for Romans of different social classes.
In the late Republic, then, to cultivate ones relationship with Ceres, Liber, and Libera
was to associate oneself not with the plebs, but with the preservation and restoration
of res publica itself.

History Department
California State University
Chico CA 95929-0735, USA
gpellam@csuchico.edu

Gregory Pellam

72 For the meaning and importance of libertas to Caesars political position, see R. Morstein-Marx,
Dignitas and res publica: Caesar and Republican legitimacy, in K.-J. Hlkeskamp (ed.), Eine
politische Kultur (in) der Krise? Die letzte Generation der rmischen Republik (2009), 11527;
see also K. Raaflaub, Caesar the liberator? Factional Politics, Civil War, and Ideology, in F. Cairns
and E. Fantham (eds.), Caesar against Liberty? Perspectives on his Autocracy (2003), 3567.
C. Wirszubski, op. cit. (n. 68), 8796 illustrates the use of libertas as a slogan by the tyrannicides.
73 Spaeth (1996), 100. Cf. Le Bonniec (1958), 377.

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