Quirinus is one of the most complex deities in the Roman pantheon. Unlike many other Roman gods, there are no known myths attached to him and he had little distinct personality of his own. However, the rituals attached to his worship formed an important part of the state religion of Rome.
Some historians believe that Quirinus was originally worshiped by the Sabines, an ancient Italian people who lived to the east of the Tiber River and were absorbed by the Romans in the third century BCE. This theory is based on the writings of Roman scholar Varro (116–27 BCE). However, many historians dispute this claim and argue that this theory was based on the mistaken association of the name of Quirinus with that of Cures, the chief Sabine city. Unlike gods such as Jupiter and Mars, Quirinus did not become identified with an equivalent Greek deity. Because of this, we have no body of myths involving him. Little was known about his appearance or personality, although we do know that he was sometimes depicted as a bearded man dressed in clerical clothes.
Quirinus's importance lies in the fact that he was one of only three gods served by a major flamen, the name given to a member of the oldest and most sacred of the Roman priestly colleges. Some scholars believe that the name derives from the same Indo-European source as the Sanskrit word Brahman, the name given to the priest class of ancient India. The post of flamen dates to the archaic era. The archaic era was the earliest period of Roman culture, stretching from around 1000 BCE to the beginning of the Roman Republic in 509 BCE. The flamen of Jupiter, the flamen of Mars, and the flamen of Quirinus are often called the priests of the "archaic triad." Each of the three divinities had his own special area of concern. Jupiter presided over legal and religious affairs, Mars's sphere of influence was war and the protection of the state, while Quirinus was concerned with the fruitfulness of the harvest and the overall well-being of the citizens.
Once a year, the three flamens, or flamines, came together at the shrine of Fides (the goddess of good faith), which was on the Capitoline Hill in front of the great Temple of Jupiter Optimus Maximus. Roman historian Livy (59 BCE–17 CE) describes the ritual, whose origin he attributes to the second Roman king, Numa Pompilius (c. 715–673 BCE). According to Livy, Numa "established the annual ritual of Fides and set it down that the flamines should go in a two-horse hooded carriage to the goddess's chapel, and that they should wrap their hands up to their fingers in preparation for making sacrifice as a sign that Good Faith must be kept." At the ritual's conclusion, the flamens unwrapped and clasped each other's hands in a gesture of agreement. This pledge was a symbolic act meant to mark the union of the three gods' spheres of influence and assure the gods' protection of the city of Rome.
The temple of Quirinus on the Quirinal Hill (also named for the god) was completed in 325 BCE. Roman poet Ovid (43 BCE–17 CE) describes the temple as being shaded by a large grove of trees. Pliny the Elder (23–79 CE) wrote that in front of the temple there grew two sacred myrtle trees. One was called the patricians' myrtle and the other, the plebeians'. The patricians and the plebeians were the two classes of citizens in Rome. According to Pliny, when the patricians were dominant in the state, their tree flourished but the plebeians' myrtle shriveled. When the plebeians grew stronger, the patrician myrtle began to fail and the plebeians' tree grew vigorously.
The flamen of Quirinus appeared on at least three other occasions during the Roman liturgical year. During the Consualia, a festival held on August 21, he made sacrifices at the underground altar of Consus, the god of the stored harvest. At the Robigalia (on April 25), the flamen performed a sacrifice meant to protect the crops from disease. Finally, at the Larentalia (on December 23), the priest of Quirinus made a public sacrifice to Acca Larentia, the mythical benefactress of Rome, who was sometimes said to be the stepmother of Romulus and Remus. Quirinus himself was sometimes identified with Romulus, the deified founder and first citizen of Rome. According to Livy, when Romulus died he ascended to heaven and became Quirinus.
Another festival, the Quirinalia (on February 17), belonged specifically to Quirinus, though there is no direct mention of his flamen in its rites. This festival was popularly known as the Feast of Fools. It allowed those "foolish" Romans who no longer knew their proper curia (city ward) to have a catch-up day on which they could perform rites connected to the making of bread. These rituals had been carried out earlier by the 30 Roman curiae in separate ceremonies on days posted by the chief officer of each group.
See also: JUPITER; MARS; PRIESTS AND PRIESTESSES; ROME; ROMULUS AND REMUS.
- Turcan, Robert, and Antonia Nevill, trans. The Gods of Ancient Rome: Religion in Everyday Life from Archaic to Imperial Times. New York: Routledge, 2001.