Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Brumalia--Ancient Latin Sources: Pre 46 BC, Republican Calendar

Bruma/Brumalia and the Old Republic Calendar

There are two basic types of information about the calendar of the Roman Republic: actual calendars themselves, called fasti; and literary references to calendar events. This article covers all available pre-Julian sources which mention Bruma or should mention it if it were a festival in the old Roman Republic.



While there was significant discussion among Romans about the Republican calendar, most of the discussions are by authors writing after the Julian reforms. There are important differences between these authors about the history and nature of various aspects of the Republican calendar. Most significantly, none of them records the Republican calendar itself.
The only example of a pre-Julian calendar that has come down to us is the fragmented Fasti Antiates maiores.
A close-up of the end of December shows that what we would call December 25th is labeled simply GC. That is, it is the 7th day of the nundinal period, and the C means Comitialis='assembly day.'
Now, using the Julian date of 8 ante kalends Jan for Julian December 25th and going back to Republican 8th day before the kalends of January would be Republican December 23rd.
On the 23rd there are some festivals named, but not Brumalia. LARE NP DIAN IVNON R INCAMP TEMPE. That is, The festival of Larentalia, and the dedications of the temples for Dianna and Juno, and the Tempestates. All of these festivals in the Repubican calendar were assigned to 10th day before the kalends of January in the Julian calendar. In other words, they remained on a date that would most readily be equated with December 23rd in the Gregorian calendar. Neither is there any note of Brumalia beginning in November.
Put simply, Brumalia is not known in any of the Republican works on the calendar or in the surviving representations of the Republican calendar.

Literary References To Bruma/Brumalia

These references are listed in chronological order. The original Latin context is given along with an English translation. The Latin forms of bruma are emphasized as well as the English equivalent.
The search was extensive. The text base is Classical Latin Texts: A Resource Prepared by The Packard Humanities Institute.

The search used:

This search also returns: subrumantibus [Columella  De Re Rustica ], subrumari [Festus, De Verborum Significatione 306.66].

Surviving Writings from the Roman Republic

Terentius Afer, Publius (190 BC -159)

In Terrence's play Phormio (161 BC) the word bruma could refer to winter as a season or to the winter solstice. There is no overt reference to any festivities associated with bruma.

Phormio 709
Geta's part from lines 704-710 uses the term Bruma with reference to a season or maybe even the winter solstice. But no feast or holy day is indicated.
"quot res postilla monstra evenerunt mihi!
intro iit in aedis ater alienus canis;
anguis per inpluvium decidit de tegulis;
gallina cecinit; interdixit hariolus;
haruspex vetuit; ante brumam autem novi
negoti incipere!" quae causast iustissima.
haec fient.
Do you ask the question? “How many circumstances, since then, have befallen me as prodigies? A strange black dog entered the house; a snake came down from the tiles through the sky-light; a hen crowed; the soothsayer forbade it; the diviner warned me not: besides, before winter there is no sufficient reason for me to commence upon any new undertaking.” This will be the case.

Cato, Marcus Porcius (234-149 BC)

Cato the Elder's book On Agriculture De Agri Cultura is dated to about 160 BC. The use of Bruma in this context could mean the winter solstice as a particular date. The context, however, is referring to broader periods of time. In this context, “by deep winter,” “by winter” would also give a proper understanding of the harvesting described. No festival is mentioned in association with Bruma.
De Agri Cultura 17.1.2
Robus materies, item ridica, ubi solstitium fuerit,
ad brumam semper tempestiua est; cetera materies
quae semen habet, cum semen maturum habet, tum
Oak wood and also wood for vine props is always ripe for cutting at the time of the winter solstice. Other species which bear seed are ripe when the seeds are mature, while those which are seedless are ripe when they shed bark.

Lucretius Carus, Titus (99-50 BC)

Lucretius' poem De Rerum Natura “On the Nature of Things” is a defense of Epicurean philosophy.
The discussion of the shortening of the days in book V is found in Watson's translation beginning at p 218. Bruma is used with reference to the winter solstice and the seasonal effects, but no mention of a feast or festivities is indicated.
De Rerum Natura 5.616, 5.640, 5.746
Nec ratio solis simplex [et] recta patescit,
quo pacto aestivis e partibus aegocerotis
brumalis adeat flexus atque inde revertens
canceris ut vertat metas ad solstitialis,
Nor does the law of the sun's motion appear plain and evident,
nor is it demonstrable how he passes from his summer regions
to the wintery part of his course in Capricorn [sic. for “Cancer”],
and how, coming back from thence, he turns to the solstitial points.
qui queat aestivis solem detrudere signis
brumalis usque ad flexus gelidumque rigorem,
et qui reiciat gelidis a frigoris umbris
which drives the sun from the summer signs
into the winter part of his course, and into freezing cold;
and the other may be that which sends him back from the freezing shades of cold
into the warm regions
altitonans Volturnus et Auster fulmine pollens.
tandem Bruma nives adfert pigrumque rigorem
reddit. Hiemps sequitur crepitans hanc dentibus algu.
Of great Volturnus, and the Southwind strong
With thunder-bolts. At last earth's Shortest-Day
Bears on to men the snows and brings again
The numbing cold. And Winter follows her,

Propertius, Sextus (b50–45 BC died 15 BC)

Propertius' book of Love Elegies was published circa 25 BC. Bruma is used with reference to winter as the cold time of the year.
Elegiae 1.8a.9
tu potes insolitas, Cynthia, ferre nives?
o utinam hibernae duplicentur tempora brumae,
et sit iners tardis navita Vergiliis,
I wish the time of winter frosts could be doubled,
and the sailor sit inert with the Pleiads absent.
If only your rope would remain tied to the Etrurian beach,
  • Sextus Propertius, Elegies (English) (ed. Vincent Katz)
  • Sextus Propertius, Elegies (Latin) (ed. Lucian Mueller)

Caesar, Gaius Iulius (100 - 44 BC)

Julius Caesar's De Bello Gallico was published 58–49 BC. There is a reference to Bruma in connection with the duration of darkness at the region of the Isle of Mona near Britannia. But there is nothing about a festival by that name or at that time.
De Bello Gallico
insulae existimantur; de quibus insulis nonnulli scrip-
serunt dies continuos xxx sub brumam esse noctem. nos
nihil de eo percontationibus reperiebamus, nisi certis ex
islands besides are supposed to lie [there], of which islands some have written that at the time of the winter solstice it is night there for thirty consecutive days. We, in our inquiries about that matter, ascertained nothing, except that,

Cicero, Marcus Tullius (106 - 43 BC)

Bruma in works by and attributed to Marcus Tullius Cicero.
About Cicero

(55 BC) De Oratore ad Quintum fratrem libri tres (On the Orator, three books for his brother Quintus)
De Oratore was written in 55 BC, set in 91 BC. Book III narrates the death of Lucius Licinius Crassus discussing Crassus' rhetorical theory. This book contains a reference to ad brumale signum, which in context may refer to the Tropic of Capricorn [J. S. Watson's translation, note 71 “Brumae signum. The tropic of Capricorn. De Nat. Deor. Iii. 14.”]. In context the phrase is used with reference to the orderly way the world and universe cycles each year. It may be a reference to the winter solstice as a reference point, or only a reference to that dark season of the year. There are no references to religious festivities associated with the word Bruma.
De Oratore 3.178.8
dum ut caelum terraque ut media sit eaque sua vi nutuque
teneatur, sol ut eam circum feratur, ut accedat ad brumale
signum et inde sensim ascendat in diversam partem; ut
so that the firmament should be round, and the earth in the middle, and that it should be held in its place by its own nature and tendency; that the sun should go round, that it should approach to the winter sign, and thence gradually ascend to the opposite region;
[J.S. Watson's Translation]

Cicero's (45 BC) De Natura Deorum (On the Nature of the Gods) is a philosophical dialogue discussing the theology of various Greek and Roman philosophers, focusing on questions of theology in the Stoic, Epicurean, and skeptical traditions. While bruma is used with reference to astronomical timing, the timing is not described with regard to specific dates. There are no references to festivities named for or associated with the brumae.
De Natura Deorum 2.19.5
Quid vero tanta rerum consentiens
conspirans, continuata cognatio quem non coget ea quae
dicuntur a me conprobare? possetne uno tempore flo-
rere, dein vicissim horrere terra, aut tot rebus ipsis se
inmutantibus solis accessus discessusque solstitiis bru-
cognosci, aut aestus maritimi fretorumque an-
gustiae ortu aut obitu lunae commoveri, aut una totius
caeli conversione cursus astrorum dispares conservari?
[LF 268:141 ]
Again consider the sympathetic agreement, interconnexion
and affinity of things: whom will this not compel
to approve the truth of what I say? Would it be
possible for the earth at once definite time to be gay
with flowers and then in turn all bare and stark, or
for the spontaneous transformations of so many things
about us to signal the approach and the retirement of
the sun at the summer and the winter solstices, or
for the tides to flow and ebb in the seas and straits with
the rising and setting of the moon, or for the different
courses of the stars to be maintained by the one
revolution of the entire sky?
[LF 268:142 ]
De Natura Deorum 2.50.8
regio; quae cum est aquilonia aut australis, in lunae
quoque cursu est et brumae quaedam et solstitii simili-
tudo, multaque ab ea manant et fluunt quibus et ani-
[L268:170ff ]
but also her position in the sky, which at one time is in the north and another in the south. The moon's course also has a sort of winter and summer solstice; and she emits many streams of influence,
[L268:170ff ]
De Natura Deorum 2.112.14
quem cum perpetuo vestivit lumine Titan,
brumali flectens contorquet tempore currum".
Hic autem aspicitur
[L268:230 ]
and when the Titan sun
Arrayeth him with never-ceasing light,
He turns his car to climb the wintry sky.
Here we behold …
[L268:231 ]
De Natura Deorum 3.37.6
causam Cleanthes adfert cur se sol referat nec longius
progrediatur solstitiali orbi itemque brumali, ne longius
discedat a cibo. Hoc totum quale sit mox; nunc autem
[L268:320 ]
The reason given by Cleanthes to explain why
The sun turns back, nor farther doth proceed
Upon his summer curve,
and upon his winter one likewise
[L268:321 ]

Cicero's (44 BC) De Divinatione (On Divination) Book II consists of refutations of types of divination which were described in Book I. These two volumes are one of the main primary sources we have about Roman religion. Here we three uses of bruma, two of which are explicitly to the winter solstice. In the case of the winter solstice the word bruma had to be modified to show that Cicero was speaking of the specific astrological date of the solstice: brumali ipso die, and ante brumam transmitteret. Cicero argues against the value of the winter solstice for divination. There is also no mention of festivals associated with bruma.
De Divinatione 2.33.14, 2.33.15
tagio, quam esse concedo multa enim Stoici colli-
gunt; nam et musculorum iecuscula bruma dicuntur
augeri, et puleium aridum florescere brumali ipso die,
et inflatas rumpi vesiculas, et semina malorum, quae
The Stoics have collected much evidence to prove it. They claim, for example, that the livers of mice become larger in winter; that the dry pennyroyal blooms the very day of the winter solstice, and that its seed-pods become inflated and burst and the seeds enclosed therein are sent in various directions;
[Falconer's translation at Perseus ]
De Divinatione 2.52.9
cum a summo haruspice moneretur, ne in Africam
ante brumam transmitteret, nonne transmisit? quod
ni fecisset, uno in loco omnes adversariorum copiae
by a most eminent soothsayer not to cross over to Africa before the winter solstice, did he not cross? If he had not done so all the forces opposed to him
[Falconer's translation at Perseus ]
  • M. Tullius Cicero, De Divinatione (Latin) (ed. William Armistead Falconer)
  • M. Tullius Cicero, Divination (English) (ed. William Armistead Falconer)

(44 BC) De Fato (On Fate)
Cicero's De Fato survives in a fragmented manuscript text. The work is a treatment of free will versus the idea that fate determines all human actions: a view which Cicero rejects. Here Cicero rejects the idea that birth on the winter solstice has any determining effect.
De Fato 5.2
. . . quorum in aliis, ut in Antipatro poëta, ut in
brumali die natis, ut in simul aegrotantibus fratribus,
ut in urina, ut in unguibus, ut in reliquis eius modi,
for instance in the case of the poet Antipater, in that of persons born on the shortest day, or of brothers who are ill at the same time, in the cases of urine and finger-nails and other things of that kind,
[Rackham translation ]

(62–43 BC) Epistulae ad Familiares (Letters to his friends)
The two references to bruma returned by the database search that were found in Cicero's letters use bruma as a general date rather than a specific astronomical or religious observance.
Epistulae ad Familiares
litteras adferebant ut opus aestate facere possent, eas mihi
post brumam reddiderunt. sed scito et multo pluris esse qui
de tributis recusent quam qui exigi velint et me tamen quod
that letter they did not put into my hands
till after midwinter. But let me tell you firstly, those
who object to pay the tax are far more numerous
than those
[Williams translation, p. 190f ]
Epistulae ad Familiares
sed valebis meaque negotia videbis meque dis iuvantibus ante
brumam exspectabis.
Ego a Sex. Fadio, Niconis discipulo, librum abstuli
But you must keep well, and look after my affairs, and expect to see me, by the favor of heaven, before midwinter.
I have walked off with a book from Sextus Fadios, Nicon's pupil …
[Williams translation, Vol 2, p. 62f ]

(87 BC) Arati Phaenomena (Cicero's translation of Aratus Solensis' Phaenomena)
Aratus was born c.310. Cicero's translation was probably completed around 87 BC while still in school (Poochigian, p. xxiv). We have groups of fragments of Cicero's translation. The rough equivalences are Ph. f. 1-12 and l. 1-184 from Aratus lines 1-757; and Prog. f. 1-9 from Aratus 758-1141. Here the term Bruma is used with reference to the season in the context of other astronomical events. But there is no feast.
Arati Phaenomena 34.62
Serius haec obitus terrai visit Equi vis, quam gelidum valido de corpore frigus anhelans corpore setifero magno Capricornus in orbe ; quem quum perpetuo vestivit lumine Titan, brumali flectens contorquet tempore currum.
"This powerful Horse visits the earth's horizon much later than Capricorn, who with his powerful lungs breathes out the frozen cold from his inhuman body while in the great circle, who when the Titan (sun) dresses him in perpetual light, turns his chariot to climb the wintery sky." [Tr. A.K. Ring]
Arati Phaenomena 34.282
Hunc, a clarisonis auris Aquilonis ad Austrum 530 cedens, postremum tangit rota fervida Solis ; exinde in superas brumali tempore flexus se recipit sedes. Huic orbi quinque tributae nocturnae partes, supera tres luce dicantur.
"This, while traveling from the loud breezes of the North to the South, until it finally touches the fiery wheel of the Sun. After that the wintertime prevails (returns), recovering its place in the sky. And so this world is assigned five parts for the night, three parts are dedicated/assigned for the day (light). [Tr. A.K. Ring]
Facete Dicta “Smart Remarks” one attributed to Cicero by Macrobius in Saturnalia 2.3.5 contains the word Bruma. No festival is indicated.
Facete Dicta 31.2
Magnum ostentum anno Vatini factum est, quod illo consulatu
nec bruma nec ver nec aestas nec autumnus fuit.
A great portent was made in the year of Vatinius, whose consulate
was neither in winter, nor summer, nor spring, nor autumn.
Found quoted in Macrobius' Saturnalia 2.3.5

Timaeus is Cicero's translation from the Greek of Plato's dialog. Here the term is used in an astronomical sense but with no reference to a festival.
Timaeus 34.2
Has igitur ob causas nata astra sunt,
quae per caelum penetrantia solstitiali se et brumali
revocatione converterent, ut hoc omne animal,
[Mueller's Latin text at Perseus ]
These are, therefore, born on account of the stars,
which penetrate through the sky entering the summer solstice itself, and at the winter [solstice] call back and turn, and this for every animal,
  • M. Tullius Cicero, Timaeus (Latin) (ed. C. F. W. Mueller, C.F.W. Mueller) in aedibus B. G. Teubneri. Lipsiae. 1900.

Cicero, Quintus Tullius (102 - 43 BC)

Quintus was Marcus' younger brother. Bruma is used here as a seasonal or loose astronomical reference. There is no festival indicated.
carmina 12
Pigra Sagittipotens iaculatur frigora terris.
Bruma gelu glacians iubar est spirans Capricorni,
quam sequitur nebulas rorans liquor altus Aquari.
[In Baehrens p. 315f ]
The constellation of Sagittarius is sluggish throwing cold on the earth.
Capricorn is breathing a freezing cold winter glow,
Which is followed by high Aquarius clouds sprinkling liquid.

Hirtius, Aulus (90 – 43 BC)

Hirtius was a Roman consul who wrote military history. His use of Bruma is as a season of cold. No festivities are indicated.
De Bello Gallico Liber VIII
Caesar militibus pro tanto labore ac patientia, qui
brumalibus diebus, itineribus difficillimis, frigoribus in-
tolerandis studiosissime permanserant in labore, bis cen-
Caesar promises his soldiers, as a reward for their labor and patience, in cheerfully submitting to hardships from the severity of the winter, the difficulty of the roads, and the intolerable cold, two hund-
[McDevitte and Bohn ]


This survey of pre-Julian/Republican sources is as comprehensive as I can make it. If anyone has other resources that should be included I would be very welcoming of the help.
What should be apparent to the reader is that in the era of the Roman Republic, before the Julian calendar reforms we have no calendrical or literary evidence of the existence of any holiday named Brumalia. Nor do we have indication of any festivities in December or November under that name.
There are a handful churchmen from antiquity that purport to explain aspects of the history of Brumalia. Whether they are actual history or anachronisms may not be fully known. But the literature from the Republic does not support the imposition of a festival of Brumalia during that period. The writers giving the most detail are also the ones from later antiquity. These are:
  • Tertullian (A.D. 155-240) De Idolatria (On Idolatry) chs 10 and 14.
  • John the Lydian (born A.D. 490): de Mensibus December.
  • Choricius of Gaza (A.D. 491-518),
  • John Malalas (c. 491 – 578) a Monphysite from Constantinople in his Chronicle 7.7.
  • St. Isidore of Seville (A.D. 560-636) discusses bruma in Etymologies 5.35.6.
Another important source from late antiquity is Macrobius' ( A.D. 5th century) Saturnalia, possibly the source for those churchmen who came after him.
I hope to deal with these writers in a third article, after I have completed the research on the use of Bruma/Brumalia in the Roman Empire after the Julian reforms.

Special thanks to Pr. Alexander Ring for translational help, criticisms, and reviewing my translations.