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For the novel by Robert Harris, see Lustrum (novel).

A lustrum (plural lustra) was a term for a five-year period in Ancient Rome.

The lustration was originally a sacrifice for expiation and purification offered by one of the censors in the name of the Roman people at the close of the taking of the census. The sacrifice was often in the form of an animal sacrifice, known as a suovetaurilia.

These censuses were taken at five-year intervals, thus a lustrum came to refer to the five-year inter-census period. Lustrum (from luo, Gr. λούω) is a lustration or purification of the whole Roman people performed by one of the censors in the Campus Martius, after the taking of the census was over. As this purification took place only once in five years, the word lustrum was also used to designate the time between two lustra.

The first lustrum was performed in B.C. 566 by King Servius, after he had completed his census, and afterwards it is said to have taken place regularly every five years after the census was over. In the earliest period of the republic, the business of the census and the solemnities of the lustrum were performed by the consuls. The first censors were appointed in B.C. 443, and from this year down to B.C. 294 there had, according to Livy (X.47), only been 26 pairs of censors, and only 21 lustra, or general purifications, although if all had been regular, there would have been 30 pairs of censors and 30 lustra. Sometimes the census was not held at all, or at least not by the censors. The census might take place without the lustrum, and indeed two cases of this kind are recorded, in B.C. 459 and 214. In these cases, the lustrum was not performed because of some great calamities that had befallen the republic.

The time when the lustrum took place has been calculated. Six ancient Romulian years, of 304 days each, were, with the difference of two days, equal to five solar years of 365 days each, with one leap year of 366 days; or the six ancient years made 1824 days, while the five solar years contained 1826 days. The lustrum, or the great year of the ancient Romans, was thus a cycle, at the end of which, the beginning of the ancient year nearly coincided with that of the solar year. As the coincidence, however, was not perfect, a month of 24 days was interposed in every eleventh lustrum. It is highly probable that the recurrence of such a cycle or great year was, from the earliest times, solemnized with sacrifices and purifications, and that King Servius did not introduce them, but merely connected them with his census, and thus set the example for subsequent ages, which however, as we have seen, was not observed with regularity.

The last lustrum was solemnized at Rome, in A.D. 74, in the reign of Vespasian.[citation needed]

Relief depicts a long continuous scene that may be divided into three main groupings from left. The first is a group of four men wearing togas. Two are seated, and one is writing in a tablet. Two tall military guards divide this group from the central scene of sacrifice. Two musicians, markedly shorter than the soldiers, play a lyre and a horn. An unadorned altar, waist-high, stands in the center. To the viewer's left is the tallest figure in the composition, a military officer wearing a high plumed helmet and holding a long slender spear. standing by an altar. On the other side of the altar a priest, his head ritually covered, extends a libation bowl. A boy attendant pours from a pitcher into the bowl, and to that boy's right is a smaller boy looking on and lifting his right hand to the top of his head, a gesture that appears quizzical to modern viewers but may have some other significance in its Roman context. The priest is accompanied by a third boy close to his left side who stands ready with a towel. The right side of the relief is devoted to the procession of the three animal victims for the suovetaurilia, each led by a young male attendant, barechested but wearing a short kilt-like garment, with a wreath on his head. The first leads a enormous bull with a tasseled rope dangling from below its left horn. A fourth male attendant in the same attire follows closely on the bull's hindquarter, waving a palm branch in each hand. The attendant bringing the ram is followed by another veiled figure carrying a pole from which a banner unfurls. The attendant herding the pig is followed by another soldier bearing a long shield and looking back at another whose shield rests on the ground, covering most of his body. The last figure is a cavalryman, back turned to the viewer, next to his horse.
Census frieze from the so-called "Altar of Domitius Ahenobarbus", with the taking of the census (at left) and the procession of the suovetaurilia: the tall warrior standing at the altar is sometimes identified as the god Mars himself[1]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Katja Moede, "Reliefs, Public and Private," in A Companion to Roman Religion (Blackwell, 2007), p. 170.

External links[edit]

Original courtesy of Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lustrum — Please support Wikipedia.
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