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date: 05 December 2022



  • H. S. Versnel


  • Roman Myth and Religion

A vow. Both Greeks and Romans habitually made promises to gods, in order to persuade them to grant a favour stipulated in advance. If the gods fulfilled their part, the vow-maker fell under the obligation to do as he had promised. Although the practice was no less popular in Greece, the vow developed an institutional form especially in Rome, owing to the practical and juridical aspect of Roman religion. Expressions such as v(otum) s(oluit) l(ibens) m(erito) (‘NN has paid his vow with pleasure and deservedly’), mainly in private votive gifts, and voti reus, voti damnatus (‘obliged to fulfil his vow’), mainly in public vows, belong to the fixed formulas. In the private sphere prayers for recovery and good health, crops, childbirth, safe return from an expedition, etc. were, in case of fulfilment, answered by a great variety of votive offerings. In public votive religion it was the magistrate who in the name of the state undertook to offer to a god or gods sacrifices, games, the building of a temple or an altar etc. , if the god on his side would give his assistance in such basic collective crises as war, epidemics, and drought. Formulas had to be pronounced in public and were very strict: mistakes required the repetition of the whole ceremony. In addition to these extraordinary vows there were also regular vota, pronounced for a definite period: e.g. the annually renewed vota of the magistrates for the welfare of the state on 1 January before the first regular sitting of the senate, and the vota at the termination of the lustrum (see lustration). Such vows found their direct continuation under the empire in the vota pro salute imperatoris (for the health or safety of emperor and his family) and became periodical: vota quinquennalia, decennalia (for five, ten years). Extraordinary vows (for the safe return of the emperor from an expedition, for the recovery of the empress in cases of sudden illness) continued to exist into late antiquity. The text of the votum was officially fixed in the presence of the pontifices (see pontifex), and the document went into the archives.


  • W. Eisenhut, Realencyclopädie der Classischen Altertumswissenschaft Suppl. 14 (1974), 964–73, s.v. ‘Votum’.
  • J. Scheid, Romulus et ses frères (1990).