Sibylline books

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The Sibylline Books were a collection of oracles in Greek hexameters that were consulted in crisis situations throughout the history of the Roman Empire .

Origin of Prophecies

The oldest collection of Sibylline oracles seems to have been made in the time of Solon (640-560 BC) and Cyrus in Gergis on Mount Ida ; it was assigned to the Sibyl of Marpessus and was kept in the temple of Apollo in Gergis. The collection came from Gergis to Erythrai ( Attica ) and to Cumae to the Sibyl of Cumae , who Aeneas asked about Virgil before his descent into the underworld ( Aeneid VI, 10).

Inclusion of the books in the state cult of Rome

The semi-legendary last Roman king Tarquinius Superbus is said to have bought the Sibylline books from a fortune teller ( Sibylle ).

The story of this last King of Rome's acquisition of the Sibylline Books is one of the famous mythical elements of Roman history. An (old) woman offered the Etruscan Tarquinius nine books of these prophecies for sale, which the king refused because of the exorbitant price demanded; she then burned three of the books and offered the rest again for the same price. Tarquinius refused a second time, she burned three more books and repeated her offer. Now Tarquinius gave in, bought the last three books at full price and then placed them in a vault of the Temple of Jupiter on the Capitol . The fortune teller is said to have been the Sibyl of Cumae , a sibyl who, according to Virgil ( Aeneid VI, 10), had already prophesied of the future of Rome to Aeneas , the mythical ancestor of the Romans, after landing in Italy. But even if the books are ascribed to her, they go back to the above-mentioned origins of Sibylline oracles.

The adoption of the Sibylline Books from Cumae is intended to represent a reaction against the cultural influence of Etruria and the beginning of an independent religious policy in Rome.

The knowledge of the three remaining books of the Sibyl is cited by Lactantius and Origen after AD 317 .

Administration and questioning of the books

The Sibylline books were entrusted to the care of two patricians ( Duumviri ), after 376 BC. Then ten guards were appointed, five patricians and five plebeians ( Decemviri ), finally, probably in Sulla's time , their number was increased to fifteen ( Quindecimviri ). These Decemviri Sacris Faciundis are usually former consuls or praetors who exercised their office for life and were released from all other public duties. Their job was to keep the books secret and safe. They consulted the books at the direction of the Senate (although, since the books were written in Greek and in hexameters , they were assisted by two Greek translators), not to get exact predictions of the future in the form of prophecies, but to determine the religious measures, which were necessary to avoid extraordinary accidents or to make atonement in the event of ominous signs (comets, earthquakes, epidemics and the like), whereby only the atonement rite described in the Sibylline books was proclaimed to the public, not the oracles themselves - whereby the abuse door and Gate was open.

The guardians of the Sibylline Books also oversaw the veneration of Apollo , the Magna Mater Cybele and the Ceres , whose cult had been introduced through the books. Thus one of the essential effects of the Sibylline Books was their influence on the introduction of Greek cults and the Greek world of gods into the original Roman religion , insofar as this had not already happened through the Etruscan religion. When the Sibylline Books were compiled in Anatolia , in the neighborhood of Troy , they took into account the gods and goddesses and their local rites, which were thereby introduced into the cults of the Roman state, a syncretistic amalgamation of national deities with the corresponding Greek deities, and a general modification of the Roman religion .

Loss and replacement

When the temple of Jupiter on the Capitol was built in 83 BC. The books were lost - and were, in accordance with the down-to-earth understanding of religion of the Romans, from the Senate in 76 BC. Replaced by a new collection of similar sayings gathered from Ilium (Troy), Erythrae , Samos , Sicily and Africa . This new Sibylline collection was deposited in the rebuilt temple, along with sayings of indigenous origin, for example those of the Sibyl of Tibur , the Marcius brothers and others. They were taken from the Capitol by Augustus in his capacity as Pontifex Maximus in 12 BC. After a review and a copy made, they were transferred to the Temple of Apollo Patrous on the Palatine Hill , where they fell victim to a fire according to Ammianus Marcellinus in AD 363.

The army master Flavius ​​Stilicho († 408) is reported to have burned an edition of Sibylline books in 405. But this contradicts the description of Ammianus Marcellinus mentioned above .

Traditional fragments

Some original verses from the Sibylline Books have been preserved in the Book of Miracles by Phlegon von Tralles (2nd century).

The Sibylline Books are not identical with the so-called Sibylline Oracle , a collection of supposedly prophetic writings compiled in the 6th century, based on Jewish, Christian and pagan sources from 150 BC. Go back to 300 AD.


  • John Scheid : Roman Religion - Republican Time , in: Fritz Graf (Ed.) With the assistance of Mary Beard u. a .: Introduction to Latin Philology . Teubner, Stuttgart / Leipzig 1997, ISBN 3-519-07434-6 .
  • Kurt Latte : Sibyllinische Bücher , in: Römische Religionsgeschichte (= Handbook of Ancient Studies , Dept. 5: History of Philosophy, History of Mathematics and Natural Sciences, History of Religion, Part 4), Beck, Munich 1960, reprint 1976, p. 160f, ISBN 978 -3-406-01374-4 .
  • Jörg Rüpke : The religion of the Romans . 2nd edition, Beck, Munich 2006, ISBN 3-406-47175-7 .
  • Jochen Walter: Pagan texts and values ​​in lactance (= Hypomnemata , Volume 165). Vandenhoeck and Ruprecht, Göttingen 2006, ISBN 3-525-25264-1 (Dissertation University of Heidelberg, Philosophical Faculty, 2003, 382 pages, under the title: Investigations on the significance of pagan texts and values ).

Web links


  1. in the form of linen books
  2. so z. B. described by Dionysius of Halicarnassus approx. 25 BC In Roman Antiquities IV 62
  3. Kurt Latte: Römische Religionsgeschichte , 2nd edition, Munich 1967, p. 160, note 1
  4. Kurt Latte : Römische Religionsgeschichte , 2nd edition, Munich 1967, p. 160
  5. ^ Des Lucius Caelius Firmianus Lactantius writings. Translated from Latin by Aloys Hartl. (Library of the Church Fathers, 1st row, Volume 36) Munich 1919, chap. 5
  6. after Tacitus , Annalen , VI, 12
  7. Amm. 23.3.3.
  8. ^ Rutilius Namatianus: De redito suo 2, 41