All Roman sacrifices can be divided into two categories. The first category will include public offerings (sacra publica). They were performed by state priests in honor of important state festivals. The second category is private sacrifices (sacra private), which were performed in honor of the household gods.
Usually, public sacrifices took place as follows. A person who goes to a public sacrifice had to bathe in flowing water (if he failed to do so, then he had to sprinkle himself with water from a sprinkler), put on festive clothes (white) and decorate his head with a wreath. The beginning of the sacrifice was considered the phrase "favete linguis". She called on the people to be quiet, because it was believed that the sacrifice could be disturbed by loud conversations.
Then the priest performed a prayer (precatio) before the image of the god. The priest stood with his hands up, his head covered by a toga. This was necessary so that nothing would be conspicuous that might disturb his devout mood. Sometimes prayers were performed with kneeling, touching the sacrificial altar with their hands.
After the end of the prayer, they went directly to the main part of the sacrifice. Males were used for sacrifice to the gods, and females to the goddesses. Both large (bulls, cows) and small (sheep, goats, calves) cattle were used. The priests examined the animal before performing the rite, as it should be healthy and have no flaws. The animal's head was wrapped with white woolen ribbons (vittae) and bandages (infulae), and sometimes its horns were covered with gold. Then he was led on a leash to an altar decorated with wreaths and woolen bandages. If you had to pull the animal by force – it was considered a misfortune.
After that, the priest began to consecrate the animal. He sprinkled the head of the sacrificial animal with water mixed with wine, tasting it himself and giving it to those present to taste. After that, he sprinkled toasted powdered spelt with salt on his head. Then he cut off some of the animal's fur and threw it into the sacrificial fire. The priest finished the consecration by drawing a line with a knife from the forehead obliquely to the tail with the words "macta est".
After that, the servant, with the priest's consent, killed the victim with an axe or a sacrificial hammer. Then they cut the throat with sacrificial knives. The blood was collected in bowls, mixed with wine and salt, and poured on and around the altar. The dead animal was placed on the altar, watered with wine and sprinkled with frankincense. Then it was cut open and the entrails were removed with long knives, which were later examined by the victims.
If everything was in excellent condition – then the sacrifice was considered successful and, accordingly, the rites continued. Otherwise, this procedure was repeated (for the time of the sacrifice, several animals were prepared for slaughter). Before the sacrificers examined the entrails of the animal, the priest offered incense and a sacrificial cake, burning both on the altar on which the slaughter took place.
The examined organs (liver, bile, lungs, and heart) were placed in a basket, watered with wine, sprinkled with incense, offered three times around the altar, and later burned on it. The priest called on the gods for mercy, and if the smoke rose, it meant that the gods had accepted the sacrifice. The sacred rite ended with the priest walking around the altar with his hands raised, thereby praising the gods and asking them for protection. He spoke first to Janus, and then to the god to whom the sacrifice was made, and then to Vesta.
The most solemn sacrifice was considered a hecatomb, often performed during triumphs. Sacrificial animals – bull, ram and wild boar. The animals were led in a procession around the place to be cleansed and then sacrificed.
Other rites were observed when sacrificing to the underground gods. The sacrificers were dressed in black clothes, the sacrificial animal had to be black in color. When they were slaughtered, their heads were held down to the ground, the top was cut from the bottom, the blood flowed into a specially prepared pit, all the parts were burned – none of it was used for food.
During the republic, during the years of disasters, human victims were brought. Victims of this type are also mentioned during the Roman Empire.
Along with the blood sacrifice, there were also bloodless sacrifices. These offerings consisted of wine, milk, honey, frankincense, fruit, and biscuits.
If there were private blood sacrifices, they were performed according to the same actions as public ones. But bloodless sacrifices were more common. There were three types of private sacrifices:
Domestic gods (according to the Romans, they were the souls of their forefathers) were worshipped at home hearths, which also served as altars. The Romans put down part of the food, sprinkled part of the drinks, and performed morning and evening prayers. But over time, when the Roman way of life changed and the hearth was moved to the kitchen, special altars were built to the house gods, which were placed in the back of the house.
The utensils needed to perform the sacrifice were diverse and numerous. It was made according to certain regulations.
These include: a ladle, a censer, a sacrificial spoon for wine at libations, a narrow-necked vessel with a handle, sacrificial bowls, baskets for entrails, axes and hammers, knives of various types, sprinkles, sacrificial tables on which the slaughtered animal was gutted and quartered.
1. F. Velishsky "Life of the Greeks and Romans"
2. P. Giro "Private and public life of the Romans"
3. Sergeenko M. E. "Life of Ancient Rome"