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In ancient Roman religion, a sacellum is a small shrine. The word is a diminutive from sacer ("belonging to a god").[1] The numerous sacella of ancient Rome included both shrines maintained on private properties by families, and public shrines. A sacellum might be square or round.[2]

Varro and Verrius Flaccus describe sacella in ways that at first seem contradictory, the former defining a sacellum in its entirety as equivalent to a cella,[3] which is specifically an enclosed space, and the latter insisting that a sacellum had no roof.[4] "Enclosure," however, is the shared characteristic, roofed over or not. "The sacellum," notes Jörg Rüpke, "was both less complex and less elaborately defined than a temple proper."[5]

The meaning can overlap with that of sacrarium, a place where sacred objects (sacra) were stored or deposited for safekeeping.[6] The sacella of the Argei, for instance, are also called sacraria.[7] In private houses, the sacrarium was the part of the house where the images of the Penates were kept; the lararium was a form of sacrarium for the Lares. Both sacellum and sacrarium passed into Christian usage.

Other Latin words for temple or shrine are aedes, aedicula, fanum, delubrum and templum, though this last word encompasses the whole religiously sanctioned precinct.

Cult maintenance of sacella

Each curia had its own sacellum overseen by the celeres, originally the bodyguard of the king, who preserved a religious function in later times.[8] These were related to the ritual of the Argei, but probably there were other rites connected with these sacella.[citation needed]

A case tried in September 50 BC indicates that a public sacellum might be encompassed by a private property, with the expectation that it remain open to the public. It was alleged that the defendant, Ap. Claudius Pulcher, a censor at the time, had failed to maintain public access to a sacellum on his property.[9]

List of public sacella and sacraria

The following is an incomplete list of deities or groups of deities who had a known sacellum or sacrarium in the city of Rome.

Provincial and later usage

In a manuscript from the Abbey of Saint Gall, sacellum is glossed as Old Irish nemed, Gaulish nemeton, originally a sacred grove or space defined for religious purposes, and later a building used for such.[22] In Christian architecture, rooflessness ceases to be a defining characteristic and the word may be applied to a small chapel marked off by a screen from the main body of a church,[23] while an Italian sacello may alternatively be a small chapel or oratory which stands as a building in its own right.


PD-icon.svg This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainLeonhard Schmitz (1875). "article name needed". In Smith, William (ed.). Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities. London: John Murray.

  1. ^ Aulus Gellius, Attic Nights 7.12.5, discounting the etymology proffered by Gaius Trebatius in his lost work On Religions (as sacer + cella).
  2. ^ Leonhard Schmitz,‘Sacellum’, in William Smith, A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities (London: John Murray, 1875).
  3. ^ Varro, Res Divinae frg. 62 in the edition of Cardauns.
  4. ^ Verrius Flaccus as cited by Festus, p. 422.15–17 L: sacella dicuntur loca dis sacrata sine tecto.
  5. ^ Jörg Rüpke, Religion of the Romans (Polity Press, 2007, originally published in German 2001), pp. 183–185.
  6. ^ Ulpian, Digest I.8.9.2: sacrarium est locus in quo sacra reponuntur.
  7. ^ Ittai Gradel, Emperor Worship and Roman Religion (Oxford University Press, 2002), p. 10.
  8. ^ Dionysius Halicarnassus II 64, 3.
  9. ^ The plaintiff was Marcus Caelius Rufus, a curule aedile in 50 and two years later a praetor. Cicero, Ad familiares 8.12.3, and Livy 40.51.8; Michael C. Alexander, Trials in the Late Roman Republic, 149 BC to 50 BC (University of Toronto Press, 1990), p. 169.
  10. ^ Ovid, Fasti 1.275.
  11. ^ Solinus 2.
  12. ^ Tacitus, Annales 12.24.
  13. ^ Solinus 1; called an aedes by Pliny, Natural History 10.29.
  14. ^ Servius, note to Aeneid 8.190.
  15. ^ Varro, De lingua latina 5.54
  16. ^ Described by Cicero, accurately or with exaggeration, as maximum et sanctissimum ("most holy and great"), Har. Resp. 32; "it may have been nothing more than a Compital shrine," observes Steven H. Rutledge,"The Roman Destruction of Sacred Sites," Historia 56.2 (2007), p. 182.
  17. ^ The use of the word capta may imply that Minerva was held prisoner, in contrast to deities that were transferred to Rome by the ritual of evocatio, which invited a deity to change sides with the promise of superior cult; Robert Schilling, "Minerva," Roman and European Mythologies (University of Chicago Press, 1992, from the French edition of 1981), p. 137.
  18. ^ Roger D. Woodard, Indo-European Sacred Space: Vedic and Roman Cult (University of Illinois Press, 2006), p. 254, note 6.
  19. ^ Festus, entry on Naeniae deae.
  20. ^ Livy 10.23.
  21. ^ Festus excerpted by Paulus, p. 135 in the 1997 Teubner edition.
  22. ^ Bernhard Maier, Dictionary of Celtic Religion and Culture (Boydell Press, 1997, 2000, originally published 1994 in German), p. 207.
  23. ^ James Stevens Curl, ‘sacellum’ in A Dictionary of Architecture and Landscape Architecture (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000).

External links

The dictionary definition of sacellum at Wiktionary

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