Roman Sacrificial Procedure

Typical Roman sacrificial procedure can be broken into five main elements, not all of which were required at all times. There could be considerable variation in how individual rites were conducted and the following procedure should be considered more of a general guide.

Generally speaking in a military context, if a dedicated priest (Sacerdos) was not available to conduct the rite, then the highest ranking individual present in the unit would be responsible for doing so on everyone's behalf. However, this individual may delegate the duty to another member of the unit. In this sense, the rites are still conducted by the senior ranking individual through his delegated intermediary.

If a delegate is used, then the senior officer present should nominate the individual as follows:
'{name} I delegate you to conduct the sacrifice'.
The individual conducting the sacrifice must now cover his head, either with his cloak or with his toga, as a sign of respect to the gods and in preparation for the sacrifice.

The five main elements are as follows:

Praefatio: preliminary sacrifice

Praefatio: preliminary sacrifice

This is an optional preliminary sacrifice in order to invoke particular deities who will witness the main sacrifice. Typically the witnessing deities will be Janus (god of beginnings) and Vesta (goddess of the hearth).

The sacrificer approaches and stops before the altar. He kisses his right hand in the direction of the altar. This is the standard form of salute to a shrine or other sacred place and is known as the adoratio. A more formal version of the adoratio is to kiss the right hand and turn one's body in a complete circle in front of the altar.

The sacrificer then washes his hands in an act of ritual cleansing. The water is provided by an assistant. After this, the sacrificer offers incense or wine onto the altar fire or focus as follows:

'Father Janus, I give this offering that you may witness the rite'

Then place the incense or wine on the focus.

Then carry out the same procedure for the goddess Vesta.

Precatio: main sacrificial prayer

Precatio: main sacrificial prayer

If a praefatio has not been performed then the main sacrifice begins with the sacrificer approaching the altar, stopping before it, performing the adoratio and washing their hands in an act of ritual cleansing, as described above.

The sacrificer then touches the altar with one hand and directs the main prayer at the deity in question. The sacrificer states what will be sacrificed, the reason for the sacrifice and what is desired in return, as follows:

'{name of deity}, I honour you with this offering, so that you may continue to protect our unit, give us good fortune and destroy our enemies'

If the offering is a living animal sacrifice i.e. a blood sacrifice, then the killing, butchering and optional examination of the animal's entrails would take place at this point, known as the immolatio.

The Antonine Guard does not view animal sacrifice as acceptable for living history purposes but we can still adhere to authentic practice in this regard as there is a historical precedent for abstinence from living sacrifices, as stated by Ovid (Fasti).

Redditio: main sacrificial offering

Redditio: main sacrificial offering

At this point, the offering is actually given to the deity. If the offering is consumable, then usually only a small part is actually given to the deity. The rest is profanated and consumed by the participants after the sacrifice.

Offerings are given to the gods through the fire of the focus. With each offering, the act is confirmed with the following words:

'{name of deity}, be honoured by this offering'

Profanatio: if offering is consumable, then
excess is profanated for human consumption

Profanatio: if offering is consumable, then excess is profanated for human consumption

The sacrificer profanates the excess consumable offerings by touch. This allows the excess to be safely consumed by the participants after the main sacrifice, in the form of a banquet.

The sacrificer touches the excess consumable offerings and states the following:

'I declare this to be profane'

Epulum: feast/banquet in which excess
food is consumed by participants

Epulum: feast/banquet in which excess food is consumed by participants

After the profanation, the remaining edible offerings are eaten by the participants in a banquet, as if the human participants are now guests of the deity to whom the offerings were given. During the banquet, people are free to address the deity, making additional offerings and asking for favours and blessings in return.