Human Scapegoats in Classical Antiquity

  • James George Frazer


We are now prepared to notice the use of the human scapegoat in classical antiquity. Every year on the fourteenth of March a man clad in skins was led in procession through the streets of Rome, beaten with long white rods, and driven out of the city. He was called Mamurius Veturius, that is,” the old Mars,” and as the ceremony took place on the day preceding the first full moon of the old Roman year (which began on the first of March), the skin-clad man must have represented the Mars of the past year, who was driven out at the beginning of a new one. Now Mars was originally not a god of war but of vegetation. For it was to Mars that the Roman husbandman prayed for the prosperity of his corn and his vines, his fruit-trees and his copses; it was to Mars that the priestly college of the Arval Brothers, whose business it was to sacrifice for the growth of the crops, addressed their petitions almost exclusively; and it was to Mars, as we saw, that a horse was sacrificed in October to secure an abundant harvest. Moreover, it was to Mars, under his title of “Mars of the woods” (Mars Silvanus), that farmers offered sacrifice for the welfare of their cattle. We have already seen that cattle are commonly supposed to be under the special patronage of tree-gods.


Classical Antiquity Artificial Fertilisation Human Victim Reproductive Energy Festive Season 
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Copyright information

© Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Limited 1990

Authors and Affiliations

  • James George Frazer
    • 1
    • 2
    • 3
    • 4
    • 5
  1. 1.Trinity CollegeCambridgeUK
  2. 2.OxfordUK
  3. 3.Cambridge and DurhamUK
  4. 4.GlasgowUK
  5. 5.Universities of Paris and StrasbourgFrance

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