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In ancient Roman religion, the dii (also di) Novensiles or Novensides are collective deities of obscure significance found in inscriptions, prayer formulary, and both ancient and early-Christian literary texts.

In antiquity, the initial element of the word novensiles was thought to derive from either "new" (novus) or "nine" (novem).[1] The form novensides has been explained as "new settlers," from novus and insidere, "to settle".[2] The enduringly influential 19th-century scholar Georg Wissowa thought that the novensiles or novensides were deities the Romans regarded as imported, that is, not indigenous like the di Indigetes.[3]

Although Wissowa treated the categories of indigetes and novensiles as a fundamental way to classify Roman gods, the distinction is hard to maintain; many scholars reject it.[4] Arnaldo Momigliano pointed out that no ancient text poses novensiles and indigetes as a dichotomy, and that the etymology of novensides is far from settled.[5] In his treatise on orthography, the 4th-century philosopher Marius Victorinus regarded the spellings novensiles and novensides as a simple phonetic alteration of l and d, characteristic of the Sabine language.[6] Some ancient sources say the novensiles are nine in number, leading to both ancient and modern identifications with other divine collectives numbering nine, such as the nine Etruscan deities empowered to wield thunder[7] or with the Muses.[8] The name is thus sometimes spelled Novemsiles or Novemsides.

It may be that only the cults of deities considered indigenous were first established within the sacred boundary of Rome (pomerium), with "new" gods on the Aventine Hill or in the Campus Martius, but it is uncertain whether the terms indigetes and novensiles correspond to this topography.[9] William Warde Fowler observed[10] that at any rate a distinction between "indigenous" and "imported" begins to vanish during the Hannibalic War, when immigrant[11] deities are regularly invoked for the protection of the state.

The invocation of Decius Mus

The novensiles are invoked in a list of deities in a prayer formula preserved by the Augustan historian Livy. The prayer is uttered by Decius Mus (consul 340 BC) during the Samnite Wars as part of his vow (devotio) to offer himself as a sacrifice to the infernal gods when a battle between the Romans and the Latins has become desperate. Although Livy was writing at a time when Augustus cloaked religious innovation under appeals to old-fashioned piety and traditionalism, archaic aspects of the prayer suggest that it represents a traditional formulary as might be preserved in the official pontifical books. The other deities invoked -- among them the Archaic Triad of Jupiter, Mars, and Quirinus, as well as the Lares and Manes -- belong to the earliest religious traditions of Rome. Livy even explains that he will record the archaic ritual of devotio at length because "the memory of every human and religious custom has withered from a preference for everything novel and foreign."[12] That the novensiles would appear in such a list at all, and before the indigetes, is surprising if they are "new."[13]

Both the Lares and the Manes are "native" gods often regarded in ancient sources as the deified dead. Servius says that the novensiles are "old gods" who earned numinous status (dignitatem numinis) through their virtus, their quality of character.[14] The early Christian apologist Arnobius notes other authorities who also regarded them as mortals who became gods. In this light, the novensiles, like the Lares and Manes, may be "concerned with the subterranean world where ancestors were sleeping."[15]

Divine redundancy

According to some sources, Aeneas (shown here with the Penates in a 4th-century illustration) was one of the novensiles

The proliferation of deities among the Romans was mocked by the Church Fathers:

The inability of Romans of the classical period to explain just who were the di Indigetes and di Novensiles caused Christian apologists no end of amusement, and the whole project of classifying gods was denounced by Tertullian in a question: 'Shall I run through them individually, as many as they are, and as great: the new, the old, the barbarian, the Greek, Roman, foreign, captive, adopted, private, public, male, female, rustic, urban, naval, and military?'[16]

Tertullian took a euhemerizing approach in explaining why the gods of the Romans kept multiplying; they were all, he said, merely people (homines) with birthplaces (civitatibus, in quibus nati sunt) and tombs (sepulti).[17] Arnobius, similarly attempting to demonstrate the logical flaws in the Roman conception of divinity, offers what is perhaps the most extended discussion of the novensiles in any extant source, and lists seven authorities whose explanations of their identity strike him as mutually exclusive. Several other sources, he notes, say that the novensiles are people (homines) who have become divus, "divine" or "deified'; among these divi are Hercules, Romulus, Aesculapius, Liber, and Aeneas.[18]

Sabine origin

According to Arnobius, a Piso, most likely the Calpurnius Piso Frugi who was an annalist and consul in 133 BC,[19] said that the novensiles were nine gods whose cult had been established in Sabine country at Trebia. The location has been identified variously as the river Trebbia, Trevi nel Lazio, or one of the places called Trebula in antiquity, two of which -- Trebula Mutusca and Trebula Suffenas -- are in Sabine territory.[20] Gary Forsythe has conjectured that Piso's family came from the middle Tiber valley, on the border of Etruria and Sabine country, and that he was drawing on personal knowledge. The father of this Piso is probably the L. Calpurnius who dedicated a shrine to Feronia at Lucus Feroniae near Capena.[21]

Varro, who was himself Sabine, placed the Novensides in his much-noted catalogue of Sabine deities.[22] Inscriptions in Sabine country mention the novensiles or novensides, for instance, dieu. nove. sede at Pisaurum.[23] A Marsian inscription also names the novensiles without the indigetes.[24] The 19th-century scholar Edward Greswell sought to connect the nine novensiles of the Sabines to the nundinal cycle, the eight-day "week" of the Roman calendar that Roman inclusive counting reckoned as nine days.[25]

Nine deities

A 4th- or 3rd-century BC inscription from Ardea reading neven deivo has been taken to refer to the Novensiles as nine deities.[26] Granius Flaccus and Aelius Stilo, Arnobius says, identify the Novensiles with the Muses, implying that they are nine in number. In the Roman tradition, the Muses became identified with the Camenae, the Latin goddesses of fresh-water sources and prophetic inspiration. The two best-known of the Camenae were Carmentis (or Carmenta), who had her own flamen and in whose honor the Carmentalia was held, and Egeria, the divine consort of Numa Pompilius, the second king of Rome considered the founder of Roman law and religion. Numa had established a bronze shrine at the fountain in their grove, the site of his divine union with Egeria.[27] The fountain of the Camenae was a source of water for the Vestals.[28]

The 5th-century scholar Martianus Capella placed the Dii Novensiles within his Etruscan-influenced celestial schema in his work On the Marriage of Mercury and Philology,[29] and took their name as meaning "nine." He locates the Novensiles in the second region of the heavens, with Jove, Mars Quirinus, the "Military Lar," Juno, Fons ("Fountain" or "Source"), and the Lymphae (fresh-water goddesses).[30]

Council on lightning

Pliny[31] mentions nine gods of the Etruscans who had the power of wielding thunderbolts, pointing toward Martianus's Novensiles as gods pertaining to the use of thunder and lightning (fulgura) as signs. Books on how to read lightning were one of the three main branches of the disciplina Etrusca, the body of Etruscan religious and divinatory teachings. Within the Etruscan discipline, Jupiter has the power to wield three types of admonitory lightning (manubiae) sent from three different celestial regions.[32] The first of these, mild or "perforating"[33] lightning, is a beneficial form meant to persuade or dissuade.[34] The other two types are harmful or "crushing" lightning, for which Jupiter requires the approval of the Di Consentes, and completely destructive or "burning" lighting, which requires the approval of the di superiores et involuti (hidden gods of the "higher" sphere).[35]

Several scholars[36] have identified the Novensiles with the council of gods who decide on the use of the third, most destructive type of lightning. Carl Thulin proposed that two theonyms from the Piacenza Liver -- a bronze model of a sheep's liver covered with Etruscan inscriptions pertaining to haruspicy -- ought to be identified with the two councils, Cilens(l) with the Novensiles and Thufltha(s) with the Consentes Penates.[37] The Novensiles would thus correspond to the di superiores et involuti[38] and possibly the Favores Opertanei ("Secret Gods of Favor") referred to by Martianus Capella. Martianus, however, locates the Favores[39] in the first region of the sky, with the Di Consentes and Penates, and the Novensiles in the second; the Favores are perhaps the Fata, "Fates".[40]


  1. ^ Robert Schilling, "The Roman Religion," in Historia Religionum: Religions of the Past (Brill, 1969), vol. 1, p. 450; and "Roman Gods" in Roman and European Mythologies (University of Chicago Press, 1981, 1992), p. 71.
  2. ^ Matthew Dillon and Lynda Garland, Ancient Rome: From the Early Republic to the Assassination of Julius Caesar (Routledge, 2005), p. 114.
  3. ^ De dis Romanorum indigetibus et novensidibus disputatio (1892), full text (in Latin) online.
  4. ^ Franz Altheim, A History of Roman Religion, as translated by Harold Mattingly (London, 1938), pp. 110-112: "I pass deliberately over several other objections that may be raised against Wissowa's interpretation, because they would demand a long excursus".
  5. ^ Arnaldo Momigliano, "From Bachofen to Cumont," in A.D. Momigliano: Studies on Modern Scholarship (University of California Press, 1994), p. 319.
  6. ^ Marius Victorinus, the section De orthographia from Ars grammatica liber primus de orthographia et de metrica ratione, in the Teubner edition of Heinrich Keil, (Leipzig, 1874), p. 26 online.
  7. ^ Manilius, as noted by Arnobius, Adversus gentes 38-39; mentioned also, though not labeled as novensiles, by Pliny, Natural History 2.52.
  8. ^ Granius Flaccus and Aelius Stilo, as cited by Arnobius, Adversus gentes 38.
  9. ^ Schilling, Historia Religionum, p. 450, and "Roman Gods," p. 70.
  10. ^ Fowler, Religious Experience, pp. 157 and 319.
  11. ^ J.S. Wacher, The Roman World (Routledge, 1987, 2002), p. 751.
  12. ^ Livy, 8.11.1: omnis divini humanique moris memoria abolevit nova peregrinaque omnia praeferendo; Andrew Feldherr, Spectacle and Society in Livy's History, (University of California Press, 1998), p. 41, note 125.
  13. ^ Schilling, "Roman Gods," p. 70-71; Beard, Religions of Rome: A Sourcebook, p. 158; Roger D. Woodard, Indo-European Sacred Space: Vedic and Roman Cult (University of Illinois Press, 2006), pp. 7-8; William Francis Allen, "The Religion of the Ancient Romans," in Essays and Monographs (Boston, 1890), p. 68.
  14. ^ Servius, note to Aeneid 8.187: sane quidam veteres deos novensiles dicunt, quibus merita virtutis dederint numinis dignitatem.
  15. ^ Robert Turcan, The Gods of Ancient Rome: Religion in Everyday Life from Archaic to Imperial Times (Routledge, 1998, 2001), p. 97.
  16. ^ Clifford Ando, The Matter of the Gods: Religion and the Roman Empire (University of California Press, 2008), p. 135, citing Tertullian, Apologeticus 10.5.
  17. ^ Tertullian, Apologeticus 10.2-4. Oddly, given questions of Christian theology pertaining to the human and divine nature of Jesus (see discussion at Incarnation (Christianity), Hypostatic union, Communicatio idiomatum, Jesus in Christianity: Humanity, Christology: Person of Christ, and Seventh-day Adventist theology: The human nature of Jesus Christ), Tertullian also remarks that if Saturn, who as far as he can determine was the most ancient god, "were a man, he had undoubtedly a human origin; and having a human origin, he was not the offspring of heaven and earth" (tamen, si homo Saturnus, utique ex homine, et quia ab homine, non utique de Caelo et Terra, Apolog. 10.9). The language in the last phrase seems to echo the Orphic prayer formula "I am the child of Earth and starry Heaven" ( ? ? ? ), for which see Totenpass: Interpretation.
  18. ^ Arnobius, Adversus gentes 38-39, English translation online.
  19. ^ M. Burghard, Arnobius of Sicca: The Case Against the Pagans (Paulist Press, 1975), p. 368, note 224 (where he errs in giving the year of Piso's consulship as 233 rather than 133 BC); possible identifications discussed in Berichte über die Verhandlungen der königlich sächsischen Gesellschaft der Wissenschaften zu Leipzig (1848), vol. 1, pp. 429-430.
  20. ^ Gary Forsythe, "The Tribal Membership of the Calpurnii Pisones," Zeitschrift für Papyrologie und Epigraphik 83 (1990), p. 297; A Handbook of Rome and Its Environs (London, 1864, 7th ed.), p. 370 online.
  21. ^ Forsythe, "The Tribal Membership of the Calpurnii Pisones," p. 297.
  22. ^ Varro, De Lingua Latina 5.74.
  23. ^ CIL 1.178; for full inscription as transcribed in Engelbert Joseph Schneider, Dialecti latinae priscae et faliscae exempla selecta (Leipzig, 1886), p. 7 online.
  24. ^ CIL 12.375. Esos Novesede pesco pacre: "to the Lords Novesede peace bringing sacrifice".
  25. ^ Edward Greswell, Origines Kalendariae Italicae, Nundinal Calendars of Ancient Italy, Nundinal Calendar of Romulus, Calendar of Numa Pompilius, Calendar of the Decemvirs, Irregular Roman Calendar, and Julian Correction. Tables of the Roman Calendar, from U.C. 4 of Varro B.C. 750 to U.C. 1108 A.D. 355 (Oxford University Press, 1884), vol. 2, pp. 394-397.
  26. ^ CIL I2.455; Vittore Pisani, (1943) p.253 as quoted by G. C. L. Bakkum The Latin Dialect of the Ager Faliscus Amsterdam 2009 p. 62 ; Emil Vetter, "Di Novensiles Di Indigetes" in Indogermanische Forschungen LXII (1956) p.1.
  27. ^ Richard J. King, Desiring Rome: Male Subjectivity and Reading Ovid's Fast (The Ohio State University Press, 2006), p. 30.
  28. ^ Sarolta A. Takács, Vestal Virgins, Sibyls, and Matrons: Women in Roman Religion (University of Texas Press, 2008), p. 30.
  29. ^ For a diagram combining the heavenly sphere of Martianus Capella and that of the Piacenza liver, see Nancy Thomson De Grummond, Etruscan Myth, Sacred History, and Legend (University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, 2006), p. 50 online.
  30. ^ In secunda itidem mansitabant praeter domum Iovis, quae ibi quoque sublimis est, ut est in omnibus praediatus, Quirinus Mars, Lars Militaris; Juno etiam ibi domicilium possidebat, Fons etiam, Lymphae diique Novensiles: De Grummond, Etruscan Myth, pp. 45 and 151.
  31. ^ Pliny, Natural History 2.52.
  32. ^ Massimo Pallottino, "The Doctrine and Sacred Books of the Disciplina Etrusca," Roman and European Mythologies (University of Chicago Press, 1992), pp. 43-44; Stefan Weinstock, "Libri fulgurales," Papers of the British School at Rome 19 (1951), p. 125. The word may be either a Latinized word from Etruscan or less likely a formation from manus, "hand," and habere, "to have, hold." It is not apparently related to the more common Latin word manubiae meaning "booty (taken by a general in war)."
  33. ^ The description of the three types of lightning as "perforating," "crushing," and "burning" is Weinstock's, Libri fulgurales, p. 127.
  34. ^ Georges Dumézil, La religion romaine archaïque (Paris 1974), pp. 630 and 633 (note 3), drawing on Seneca, Naturales Questiones 2.41.1-2 and 39.
  35. ^ Weinstock, p. 127.
  36. ^ C.O. Thulin, "Die Goetter des Martianus Capella und der Bronzenleber von Piacenza," in Religiongeschichtliche Versuche und Vorarbeiten (1906) pp. 34-40; A. Grenier, "Indigetes et Novensiles," in Boletim de Philologia supplem. 1951, pp. 203-4; Gérard Capdeville, "Les dieux de Martianus Capella," Revue de l'histoire des religions 213 (1996), pp. 269-274.
  37. ^ Thulin, "Die Goetter des Martianus Capella," pp. 34-40 et passim online.
  38. ^ Named as such by Seneca, Naturales Questiones 2.41.1-2; Festus p. 219M = 114 edition of Lindsay; entry on peremptalia fulgura, p. 236 in the 1997 Teubner edition; and Martianus Capella; see also Arnobius, Adversus Nationes 3.38.
  39. ^ Martanus Capella, 1.45. For the passage in translation, see de Grummond, Etruscan Myth, Sacred History, and Legend, pp. 45-46. The name Favores, "favoring" gods, is a euphemism (compare Eumenides) in contrast to their destructive power; Iiro Kajanto, "Fortuna," Aufstieg und Niedergang der römischen Welt II. 17.1 (1981), p. 507, note 18.
  40. ^ Gérard Capdeville, "Les dieux de Martianus Capella," Revue de l'histoire des religions 213 (1996), pp. 260-262 and 273-274; see also Nancy Thomson de Grummond, The Religion of the Etruscans (University of Texas Press, 2006), pp. 41-42.

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