Epigraphy, Hadrian1900, Museum, Roman festival, Roman Mythology, Roman Religion, Rome

The Acts of the Arval Brethren of AD 118 (#Hadrian1900)

In 2014, Rome celebrated the bimillenary of the death of Emperor Augustus who took his last breath aged 75 in his villa in the town of Nola in AD 14. To commemorate this important milestone, the Italian capital launched a series of special events, including the opening of the Villa di Livia in Prima Porta and the houses of Augustus and Livia on the Palatine Hill (see here and here). In addition, new spaces of the Museo di Terme di Diocleziano (Baths of Diocletian Museum) were also reopened after 6 years of restoration. These included parts of the Natatio (a huge 4,000 square metre open-air pool once covered with marble) and the Cloister of Santa Maria degli Angeli which had been closed for 50 years. In the context of celebrating Augustus’ legacy, Rosanna Friggeri, Director of the National Roman Museum, decided to exhibit the restored texts of the Arval Brethren (fratres arvales) in the Cloister of Santa Maria degli Angeli.

View of the Cloister of Santa Maria degli Angeli.

The Arval Brethren were an ancient college of priests revived by Augustus as part of his religious policy and the emperor’s wish to return to the archaic cults. They were assigned to the cult of Dea Dia, a goddess of fertility and abundant harvests. Her worship dates back to early times and is of either Latin or Sabine origin. The Brethren performed a number of rites and sacrifices during the year, and especially during the three days of their main festival held in May. They kept a detailed record of their oaths, rituals and sacrifices, year by year and day by day. These were recorded on marble slabs and covered the walls of the round temple of Dea Dia in their sanctuary, a sacred grove located by the fifth milestone on the Via Campana (the current district of La Magliana). The cult of the Arval Brethren was centered on the goddess Dea Dia and included offering sacrifices for the fertility of the earth. The other rites, as recorded by the Acts, were innovations of the imperial period and concerned the well-being of the emperor and of the imperial household.

Plan of the sacred grove of the goddess Dea Dia. The Arvales entered it only to celebrate the annual sacrifice or to execute maintenance work, after having offered each time an expiatory sacrifice. The grove included a circus for games and several temples, among which the Caesareum and the Tetrastylum.
Augustus as Arval (Vatican, Sala dei Busti).

The Arval brotherhood consisted of twelve members, elected for life from the highest ranks in Rome, and usually included the reigning emperor as one of them. The Brethren comprised of a master (magister), a vice-master (promagister), a flamen, and a praetor, with eight ordinary members attended by servants and chorus boys. The attendance at the annual meetings, as shown by the inscriptions, varied between three and nine members.

Today, these inscribed texts, known as the Acts of the Arval Brethren, represent a precious testimony of religious practices in the Roman world spanning 300 years, from the age of Augustus (21 BC) to that of Diocletian (AD 304). Many of these texts survived in fragments and were brought to light by excavations on the spot sacred to the goddess Dea Dia. They were first published in 1874 by German epigraphist Wilhelm Henzen in his Acta Fratrum Arvalium quae supersunt.

Some of these texts are now exhibited in the small cloister’s ambulatories of the Baths of Diocletian in Rome. On entering the cloister visitors can hear the choirs of S. Carlo and of St Cecilia reciting the chapters of the Acts.

The Acts of the Arval Brethren exhibited in the Cloister of Santa Maria degli Angeli at the Baths of Diocletian Museum.

The surviving annual records of the Arval Brethren related to the period of Hadrian include the year 118. The events recorded that year took place during the consulships of Pedanius Fuscus (January to March) who Hadrian appointed as ordinary consul at the beginning of 118, C. Ummidius Quadratus (from May 118) and L. Pomponius Bassus (attested 9 July). Pedanius Fuscus was the emperor’s great nephew and is assumed to have initially been regarded as Hadrian’s heir. The year 118 started with New Year’s vows for the good health and safety of the emperor.

3 January

[Imp(eratore) Caesar]e Tr[ai]ano Ha[dri]ano / [A]ug(usto) II co(n)s(ulibus) / Cn(aeo) [Pedanio] Fusco [Sali]natore / III Non(as) I[anuar(ias)] / magisterio / M(arci) V[al]eri Treb[i]ci [D]eciani / [in Capitolio votorum] nuncupandorum causa [pro salute] / [Imp(eratoris) Caesaris divi] Traiani Pa[rthici f(ilii) divi Nervae] / [nepotis Traia]ni Hadriani [Augusti p(atris) p(atriae) fratres] / [Arvales convener]unt M(arcus) Valeri[us Treb]icius [De]/[cianus mag(ister) Q(uintus) Ful]vius Gillo Bittius Proculus Ti(berius) / Iulius Candidus Caecilius Simplex / Ti(berius) Iulius Candidus / Ti(berius) Iulius Alexander Iulianus / L(ucius) Antonius Albus / P(ublius) Metilius Secundus

CIL VI 32374 – 3 January AD 118 (click to zoom)

On January 3, the Arval Brethren met in Rome on the Capitol to offer vows for the well-being (pro salute) of the emperor. The magister, the elected leader of the Arval Brethren, was Marcus Valerius Trebicius Decianus who was the master of the brotherhood from at least the year 105. He is recorded in the Acts of that year as performing a sacrifice to Dea Dia with incense and wine. The other members included Quintus Fulvius Gillo Bittius Proculus, a Roman senator who was proconsul of Asia in 115/116 AD under Trajan and who is attested to have been admitted to the Arval Brethren from the year 101. The others present in the college were Tiberius Iulius Candidus Caecilius Simplex, Tiberius Iulius Candidus, Tiberius Iulius Alexander IulianusLucius Antonius Albus and Publius Metilius Secundus.

7 January

isdem co(n)s(ulibus) VII Id(us) Ian(uarias) / in pronao aedis Concordiae ad sacrificium deae Diae indi/cendum fratres Arvales convenerunt ibique M(arcus) V[alerius] / Trebicius Decianus magister manibus lautis [velato] / capite sub divo culmine contra orientem cu[m collegis] / suis indixit quod bonum faustum fel[ix fortu]/natum salutareque sit / Imp(eratori) Caesari divi Traiani Parthici filio Ner[vae nep(oti)] / Traiano Hadriano Augusto totique dom[ui] / eius populo Romano Quiritibus fratribusque Ar[vali]/bus sacrificium deae Diae hoc anno erit ante diem / VI K(alendas) Iun(ias) domi ante diem IIII K(alendas) Iun(ias) in [luc]o et domi / ante diem III K(alendas) Iun(ias) domi consummabitur [a]dfuerunt / in collegio M(arcus) Valerius Trebicius Decianus mag(ister) / Ti(berius) Iulius Candidus Caecilius Simplex Ti(berius) Iulius Candi[dus] / L(ucius) Antonius Albus P(ublius) Metilius Secundus /

CIL VI 32374 – 7 January AD 118 (click to zoom)

On January 7, the Arval Brethren gathered in the pronaos of the Temple of Concord in the Roman Forum to proclaim the sacrifice of Dea Dia and announce the dates for the May festival (indictio). Marcus Valerius Trebicius Decianus, the master, with washed hands, veiled head, in the open air, beneath the gable, facing east, with his colleagues, proclaimed: May it be good, propitious, fortunate, successful and salutary for the emperor Caesar Trajan Hadrian Augustus, son of the deified Trajan Parthicus, grandson of the deified Nerva, pontifex maximus, and for the whole of his house, for the Roman people, the Quirites, and for the Arval Brethren; the sacrifice of Dea Dia this year will be May 27 at home (domi), May 29 in the grove and at home (in luco et domi), May 30 it will be completed at home (the domus was that of the magister of the Brotherhood while the locus was the Arval Grove containing the temple of Dea Dia). Present in the college were Marcus Valerius Trebicius Decianus the magister, Tiberius Iulius Candidus Caecilius Simplex, Tiberius Iulius Candidus, Lucius Antonius Albus, Publius Metilius Secundus.

26 February

isdem co(n)s(ulibus) IIII K(alendas) Mart(ias) / in pronao aedis Concordiae habita sollemni prec[atione] / per M(arcum) Valerium Trebicium D[ec]ianum mag(istrum) in locum [P(ubli)] / Metili Nepotis L(ucium) Iulium Catum ex litteris Imp(eratoris) C[aesaris] / Traiani Hadriani Augusti fratrem Arvalem / cooptaverunt et ad sa[cr]a vocaverunt ibique tabulae / aperta[e si]gno [signatae quod] exprimit kaput Augusti / [in quibus] scriptum [fuit] Imp(erator) Caesar Traianus / [Hadrianus] Aug(ustus) fra[tribus Arval]ibus collegis suis / [salutem in locum P(ubli) Me]tili Nepotis col/[lega]m nobis mea senten[tia coopto L(ucium)] Iulium Catum / [ad]fuerunt in collegio M(arcus) V[alerius Treb]icius Decianus / mag(ister) Ti(berius) Iulius Candidus Caec[ilius Simplex] Ti(berius) Iul[ius] Candidus / Ti(berius) Iulius Alexander [Iulianus / L(ucius) Iuli]us Catus /

CIL VI 32374 – 26 February AD 118 (click to zoom)

On February 26, the Arval Brethren assembled in the pronaos of the temple of Concord in the Roman Forum where, after a solemn prayer, the co-optation of a new member took place in accordance with the recommendations contained in a letter from Hadrian sealed with the signum impressed with the head of Augustus. The letter was opened by the magister and Lucius Iulius Catus was co-opted in place of Publius Metilius Nepos. Present in the college were Marcus Valerius Trebicius Decianus the magister, Tiberius Iulius Candidus Caecilius Simplex, Tiberius Iulius Candidus, Tiberius Iulius Alexander, Lucius Iulius Catus.

6 March

isdem co(n)s(ulibus) pr(idie) Non(as) M[art(ias)] / [i]n luco deae Diae piaculum ob arb[orum caeden]/darum causa(m) quae tempestate vel vi maiori decide[rant] / porcis et agnis [s]truibus fertisque per M(arcum) Valeriu[m] / Trebicium Deci[an]um mag(istrum) II et publicos Arva[lium]

CIL VI 32374 – 6 March AD 118 (click to zoom)

On March 6, the Arval Brothers assembled in their sacred grove and offered an expiatory sacrifice for the felling of trees which had been damaged in a storm. Pigs and lambs were sacrificed to Dea Dia by Marcus Valerius Trebicius Decianus the magister. The sacrifices were accompanied with cake offerings. One of the other functions of the Fratres Arvales was to execute maintenance work in the grove. When the trees fell from decay or after a storm or were struck by lightning, and when replanting was undertaken, solemn sacrifices (suovetaurilia maiora) were offered on the spot.

27 May – The record of the first day of the Dea Dia festival

VI K(alendas) Iunias / in domum M(arci) Valeri Tr[eb]ici Deciani mag(istri) fratr[es Arvales] / praetext[a]ti sacr[ific]ium deae Diae ture v[ino fecerunt] / ibique discumbentes toralibus albis segmen[tatis sacri]/ficium ture vino fecer[un]t pueri patrimi [et matrimi] / senatorum fili(i) praetextati cum publicis ad [aram] / rettulerunt./

On May 27, the first day of the festival, the Arval Priests met at sunrise in the house of their magister, Marcus Valerius Trebicius Decianus, and made offerings of incense and wine to Dea Dia. After these offerings they gathered for a banquet with the sons of senators, whose fathers and mothers were still alive and changed the toga praetexta in which they had sacrificed for a white dinner-dress. Then they repeated the offerings of wine and incense and took them to the altar.

29 May – The record of the second day of the Dea Dia festival

i[s]dem co(n)s(ulibus) IIII K(alendas) Iun(ias) / in luco de[ae Di]ae M(arcus) Valerius Trebicius Dec[ia]nus magis/ter [a]d aram immolavit porcas piaculares [d]uas luci / coinquendi et operis faciundi [ibi]que vac[cam honorar(iam)] / albam [a]d foculum deae Diae imm[o]lavit [ibique sacer]/dot[e]s in tetrastylo consederu[n]t e[t ex sacrificio epulati] / sunt sumptisque praetextis et coronis [spiceis vittatis] / lucum deae Diae summoto adscenderu[nt et per mag(istrum) M(arcum)] / Valerium Trebicium Decianum [e]t per Ti(berium) Iu[lium] // Can[didum Caecilium Simplicem agnam opi]mam im[m]olarunt perfe/ctoqu[e sacrificio omnes ture vino f]ecerunt [dei]nde coronis in/[latis signisque] un[ctis Ti(berium) Iulium Candidum C]aec[ili]um Simpli/[cem ex Saturnalib]us prim[is in Saturnalia sec]unda mag[ist]rum an/[nuum] fecerunt ibique in [tetrastylo] d[iscumbentes] aput Trebicium / Decianum magistrum epulati sunt [post epulas] riciniatus solia[tus] / corona [pactil] rosacia Trebiciu[s Decianus mag(ister)] summo[to supra] / carcer[es asce]ndit et signum q[uadr]igaris [et desultoribus misit] / pra[eside]ntibus Iulio Cand[ido A]ntonio A[lbo victores palmis et] / [coronis a]rgenteis honoravit a[df]uerunt in collegio i{s}d[em q(ui) VI K(alendas) easd(em)]

On May 29, the second day of the festival (which was the most important of the three), the Arval Brethren assembled in the grove of Dea Dia and made several sacrifices. First came expiatory sacrifices of young sows made by the magister to ensure the pruning of the woods and the completion of diverse works; then he sacrificed a white cow to Dea Dia herself. The rest of the Brethern sat down in the tetrastyle and feasted off the sacrifice. Clothed in their purple-bordered toga praetexta and wreath made of ears of corn, they then ascended the grove of Dea Dia with attendants and carried out the solemn sacrifice of an ewe-lamb to Dea Dia. After the sacrifice was complete, all the members made a libation with incense and wine. Afterwards, they proceeded to the election of the new magister (Tiberius Julius Candidus) for the ensuing year (from the coming Saturnalia to the next). Then they went down to the tetrastyle where, reclining in the dining room, they feasted in the presence of the master. Next came the four-horsed chariots races in the circus of the grove with acrobats specialized in vaulting between running horses. The magister honoured the victors with palms and silver wreaths. The brethren then returned to the house of the magister and dined together.

CIL VI 32374 – May to July AD 118 (click to zoom)

30 May

isdem [co(n)s(ulibus)] III [K(alendas) I]un(ias) / [in domum M(arci)] Valeri Tr[ebici De]ciani [mag(istri)] fra[t]res Arvales [ad consum]/[m]andum sacrum deae Diae conv[enerunt] ibique inter [cenam Valerius] / [T]rebicius Decianus mag(ister) Iuliu[s Candid]us Iuliu[s Alexander Iulianus Ant]/[o]nius Alb[us Iu]lius Catus ture vino f[ecerunt mi]nistr[antibus] / pueris p[atri]mi[s et mat]rimis senatoru[m fili(i)s]

On May 30, the third day of the festival, the Arvales celebrated again at the house of the magister and the rituals were similar to those followed on the first day.

9 July

VII I[d(us) Iul(ias)] / in C[apitol]io ob adventum I[mp(eratoris) Caes(aris) Traiani Had]riani Aug(usti) fratres / [Arvales] convenerunt ib[i]que [Trebicius Decia]nus mag(ister) ob adven/[tum faustum eiusdem n]omine colle[gi(i) fratr]um Arvalium Iovi O(ptimo) M(aximo) / [bovem marem Iuno]ni Reginae v[ac]cam Minervae vaccam Saluti / [publicae p(opuli) R(omani) Q(uiritium)] vaccam Mar[ti] ultori ta[urum] Victoriae vaccam / [Genio ipsius taurum i]mmola[vit adf]uer[unt in collegio Imp(erator) Caesar] / [Traianus Hadri]anus Aug(ustus) M(arcus) Vale[rius Trebicius Decianus] / [mag(ister) Q(uintus) Bittius Pro]culus C(aius) Vitoriu[s Hosidius Geta] / [Ti(berius) Iul(ius) Alexander Iulia]nu[s] / / [in pronao aedis Concordiae habita sollemni pr]ecat[ion]e p[e]r Tre[bicium] / [Decianum mag(istrum) in locu]m Caecili [Strabonis] C(aium) Vitorium Hosidiu[m] / [Getam ex litt]eris Imp(eratoris) Caes(aris) Nervae [T]raiani optimi Aug(usti) Germ(anici) D[ac(ici) Parth(ici)] / [fratrem Arval]em cooptaverunt et a[d s]acra vocaverunt [ibique] / ta[bulae aperta]e signo signatae quod [e]xprimit Mars[yam et Olympum] / su[ringe ca]nentes in quibus sc[riptu]m fuit / Imp(erator) Caes(ar) N[erv]a Traianus Op[timus Aug(ustus) Germ(anicus) Dac(icus) Parth(icus) fratribus] / Arvalib[us] collegi(i)s suis [salutem in locum C(ai) Caecili] / Straboni[s nobis mea sententia collegam coopto C(aium) Vitorium] / Hosidium [Getam adfuerunt in colleg(io) Trebicius Decianus mag(ister)] / Iulius Can[didus] / [Ti(berius) Iuli]us Iuli[anus]

On 9 July, the Arval Brethern promptly gathered to sacrifice at the temple of Jupiter Optimus Maximus on the Capitoline Hill and offered sacrifices in honour of the arrival of Hadrian in Rome. Trebicius Decianus, the magister, sacrificed seven beasts in the name of the college, one each to Jupiter, Juno, Minerva, Salus Publica, Mars Ultor, Victoria and Vesta, in honour of Hadrian’s “auspicious advent”. The emperor attended the ceremony in person as one of the co-opted members. A new member was co-opted in accordance with the reading of a posthumous letter of Trajan. The text of the letter was quoted with a description of the closing seal, portraying Marsyas and Olympus playing the flute. The two new members of the Arval Brethren were C. Vitorius Hosidius Geta and the younger Haterius Nepos who had probably been with Hadrian in the east. Afterwards, fullilment of vows were pronounced for the emperor’s good health and safe return (ob salutem et reditum).

The Acts of the Arval Brethren exhibited in the Cloister of Santa Maria degli Angeli at the Baths of Diocletian Museum.


  •  CIL 06, 02078 (= CIL VI 32374)
  • Beard, M. (1985). Writing and Ritual: A Study of Diversity and Expansion in the Arval Acta. Papers of the British School at Rome, 53, 114-162.
  • Henzen, Wilhelm, ed. Acta Fratrum Arvalium quae supersunt (Berlin, 1874)
  • Harry Thurston Peck, Harpers Dictionary of Classical Antiquities (1898) Fratres Arvāles (link)
  • Scheid, John. Les frères arvales: recrutement et origine sociale sous les Julio-Claudiens (Paris: Collection de l’École Pratique des Hautes Études) 1975.
  • Scheid, John. Romulus et ses frères: Le collège des frères arvales, modèle du culte public dans la Rome des empereurs (Rome) 1990.
  • Broise, Henri, et John Scheid. “Etude d’un cas : le lucus deae Diae à Rome”. Broise, Henri, et John Scheid. Les bois sacrés : Actes du Colloque International (Naples 1989). Naples : Publications du Centre Jean Bérard, 1993. (pp. 145-157).

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