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  • Writer's picturej. matthew thomas


In my studies regarding mapping I came across ‘Terminus,” the Roman god who protected boundary markers, his name meaning the name for such a marker. Introduced to Rome in 700 BC, it is believed to be an early animistic reverence, wherein power was inherent within objects, in this case a boundary marker as God… “a god concerned with the division of property.”

Stone markers were used to show divisions between properties and the God, Terminus, would look over the boundary, to maintain its position. An annual celebration on February 23 was made, call Terminalia, that brought the property owners together to celebrate, acknowledge, and renew the boundary marker.

“On the festival the two owners of adjacent property crowned the statue with garlands and raised a rude altar, on which they offered up some corn, honeycombs, and wine, and sacrificed a lamb. It is the traditional end of the Roman year. The rites of the Terminalia included ceremonial renewal and mutual recognition of the boundary stone, the marker between properties. A garland would be laid on this marker by all parties to the land so divided. After kindling a fire, honey-cakes, fruits and wine would be offered and shared, and songs of praise to the god called Terminus would be sung.”

I found this intriguing that there was actually a GOD of boundaries, a deity that oversaw the division of land. That such an act would be carried out in to a religious order only makes sense. The exploits of land has in many cases been derived as a religious act, perhaps this is just the beginning of this perspective.

One can also see the challenge and conflict it takes to divide up and take ownership of the land. It makes sense that a diety was needed to oversee this, to send prayers and make offerings too. It was a task too complicated and contentious for mere mortals.

And here is more of what that new year party looked like, From Ovid, Fasti II:

"When night has passed, let the god be celebrated With customary honour, who separates the fields with his sign. Terminus, whether a stone or a stump buried in the earth, You have been a god since ancient times. You are crowned from either side by two landowners, Who bring two garlands and two cakes in offering. An altar's made: here the farmer's wife herself Brings coals from the warm hearth on a broken pot. The old man cuts wood and piles the logs with skill, And works at setting branches in the solid earth. Then he nurses the first flames with dry bark, While a boy stands by and holds the wide basket. When he's thrown grain three times into the fire The little daughter offers the sliced honeycombs. Others carry wine: part of each is offered to the flames: The crowd, dressed in white, watch silently. Terminus, at the boundary, is sprinkled with lamb's blood, And doesn't grumble when a sucking pig is granted him. Neighbours gather sincerely, and hold a feast, And sing your praises, sacred Terminus: `You set bounds to peoples, cities, great kingdoms: Without you every field would be disputed. You curry no favour: you aren't bribed with gold, Guarding the land entrusted to you in good faith. If you'd once marked the bounds of Thyrean lands, Three hundred men would not have died, Nor Othryades' name be seen on the pile of weapons. O how he made his fatherland bleed! What happened when the new Capitol was built? The whole throng of gods yielded to Jupiter and made room: But as the ancients tell, Terminus remained in the shrine Where he was found, and shares the temple with great Jupiter. Even now there's a small hole in the temple roof, So he can see nothing above him but stars. Since then, Terminus, you've not been free to wander: Stay there, in the place where you've been put, And yield not an inch to your neighbour's prayers, Lest you seem to set men above Jupiter: And whether they beat you with rakes, or ploughshares, Call out: "This is your field, and that is his!"' There's a track that takes people to the Laurentine fields, The kingdom once sought by Aeneas, the Trojan leader: The sixth milestone from the City, there, bears witness To the sacrifice of a sheep's entrails to you, Terminus. The lands of other races have fixed boundaries: The extent of the City of Rome and the world is one."

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