Ritual Experience

Honorius paraded through Rome as if triumphant in battles against his enemies, Alaric and Gildo.  By the early fifth century, the triumphal route had long neglected to include the culminating progression up the Capitoline Hill.  Instead, Christian objections to the old tradition of sacrificing at Jupiter’s Capitoline temple led Honorius to conclude the ritual by addressing the populace from the rostra and meeting with senators at the Senate House.[1] Avoiding the Capitoline Hill had characterized ritual triumphs decades before Honorius’ victory celebration in Rome.[2] After the cessation of sacrifices on the hill as a feature of the triumph, an influential senator, Vettius Agorius Praetextatus, restored in 367 the Portico of the Consenting Gods located on that hill’s slope.   Dismayed at the prevailing neglect of the Capitol, Praetextatus moved statues from the interior chambers to outdoor spots in front of the columns and thereby exposed the formerly hidden images of the gods.[3] The portico’s inscription on the frieze attests to the “inviolable statues of the consenting gods with all their adornments at this site.”[4] By allowing the portico to provide a backdrop for the legally sanctioned public events of late antiquity, Praetextatus revived memories of lapsed triumphs ascending the Capitoline Hill.[5] The aristocratic Praetextatus even conducted his own procession to the top of the Capitol with magistrates parading before him, according to the bitter reaction written in a letter by Jerome.[6] Yet, Praetextatus reinstated honors to the pagan statues once tainted by secrecy, exhibiting them in full public view to minimize Christian objections to illicit pagan ceremonies.  Since Honorius did not lead the procession up the Capitoline Hill, he emphasized the dichotomy between memories of paganism embedded in the hill and the political connotations of the Forum’s paved assembly spots, where the emperor did march.

  1. [1] Claudian, VI. Cons., 587-591.
  2. [2] Augusto Fraschetti, La conversione da Roma pagana a Roma cristiana (Rome:  Editori Laterza, 1999), 9-75; Sabine MacCormack, “Change and Continuity in Late Antiquity:  The Ceremony of Adventus,” Historia 21 (1972): 721-752; eadem, Art and Ceremony in Late Antiquity (Berkeley and Los Angeles:  University of California Press, 1981).
  3. [3] Majastina Kahlos, Vettius Agorius Praetextatus:  A Senatorial Life In-between (Rome:  Institutum Romani Finlandiae, 2002), 91-93; Giuseppe Nieddu, “Il portico degli Dei Consenti,” Bollettino d’Arte  71 (1986):  37-52.
  4. [4] CIL.VI.102:  [deorum c]ONSENTIUM SACROSANCTA SIMULACRA CUM OMNI LO[ci totius adornatio]NE CULTU . . . . 
  5. [5] The legal performance of civic rituals well into the fifth century CE, as opposed to those forbidden rites that involved pagan sacrifice, can be deduced from the continuance of the Lupercalia into the 490s, when Pope Gelasius I (492-496) condemned the practice, C. Pomarès, Gélase Ier:  Lettre contre les Lupercales et dix-huit messes du sacramentaire léonien  (Paris:  Éditions du Cerf, 1959) 162-176.
  6. [6] Epist. 23.2-3; letter to Marcella written in 384.