Redeeming Christian Holy Days: Brumalia in the Roman Republic

Brumalia–Pre-Julian Latin Sources: Chronological Presentation

One of the modern claims against Christmas is that Christians took the ancient Roman holiday known as Brumalia and baptized it for their own use. The claim is that Brumalia was celebrated in ancient Rome on December 25th. And the claim is that it was a widely known and celebrated holiday in pre-Julian ancient Rome. I am working through the Latin literature and putting together translations for the Julian/Late Antiquity periods as well. But, God willing, that will be finished some time next year. This article deals with the pre-Julian period of the Roman Republic.

Web pages against Christmas often use this quote verbatim:

The New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of religious knowledge explains, “Christmas, the date of the festival depended on the pagan Brumalia (December 25) following the Saturnalia (December 17-24), celebrating the shortest day of the year and the new sun.
[https://www.google.com/search?client=ubuntu&channel=fs&q=The+New+Schaff-Herzog+Encyclopedia+of+religious+knowledge+explains%2C+%22Christmas%2C+the+date+of+the+festival+depended+on+the+pagan+Brumalia+%28December+25%29&ie=utf-8&oe=utf-8]

This misquote appears to have been inspired by Herbert W. Armstrong in his booklet The Plain Truth About Christmas
http://www.hwalibrary.com/cgi-bin/get/hwa.cgi?action=getbklet&InfoID=1313850170

But that is not what the New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia actually says. What it says, after showing the origins of the use of December 25th in some of the Church Fathers (e.g. Hippolytus, and Clement) the article raises the issue of whether the date was related to Roman pagan practices.

How much the calculation of Hippolytus had to do with the fixing of the festival on Dec. 25, and how much the date of the festival depended upon the pagan Brumalia (Dec. 25), following the Saturnalia (Dec 17-24) and celebrating the shortest day in the year and the “new sun” or the beginning of the lengthening of days, can not be accurately determined.
[emphasis added http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/encyc03.c.ii.html#c.ii-Page_48]

Armstrong himself actually does include these words in his booklet (p. 4), but when his booklet is cited the words “cannot be accurately determined” are most often left out.

It is also of interest that in Wiccan circles the claim is made that Brumalia was a specifically “pre-Julian” festival. Selena Fox wrote “Saturnalia Winter Solstice in Pagan Rome” first published at Circle Sanctuary Community Yule Festival workshop in 1993. In this she makes these claims:

Associated holiday festivals Consualia, end of sowing season festival (December 15). Dies Juvenalis, Coming of Age for Young Men (mid-December). Feast of Sol Invicta, the Unconquered Sun, set in 274 A. D. (December 25). Brumalia, Winter Solstice on pre-Julian calendar (December 25).
[emphasis added http://www.brightcolors.com/seasonality/calendar/saturnalia-winter-solstice-in-pagan-rome-2/ ]

But as we shall see in the evidence below, the pre-Julian calendar shows no evidence of any festival of Brumalia, nor do the surviving pre-Julian literary resources.

The claim about Brumalia being the origin for the date of Christmas comes from four basically different areas of interest.

  1. The earliest claims like this come from radical anti-Roman Catholic Protestants. They were iconoclastic, anti-liturgical, and tried to abolish any ritual traditions handed down through the Church. This includes the traditions of Increase Mather and Alexander Hislop. Alexander Hislop’s influence over the descendants of the Millerite movement would include, Armstrongism, Adventism, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and many Yahwist/Messianic groups.
    http://assemblyoftrueisrael.com/Documents/Christmas.html
    http://www.hope-of-israel.org/cmas1.htm
    http://www.churchofgodproclaimed.org/topics/christmas.htm
    http://www.ucg.org/the-good-news/4000-years-of-christmas
    http://sdahymnals.com/Hymnal/the-plain-truth-about-christmas/
  2. The second area making claims about Brumalia and Christmas are the History of Religions writers like Paul Ernst Jablonski [https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paul_Ernst_Jablonski] and those who followed him; like Herman Usener [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hermann_Usener] and Dom. Bernard Botte, O.S.B. [http://www.worldcat.org/title/origines-de-la-noel-et-de-lepiphanie-etude-historique/oclc/782107615].
  3. The Neo-pagan/Wiccan movement originating in the 20th century.
    http://www.witchipedia.com/feast:brumalia
    http://www.readthespirit.com/religious-holidays-festivals/winter-solstice-and-pagan-wiccan-yule/
    http://decanting-cerebral.tumblr.com/post/38724693531/keep-christ-in-our-neo-pagan-winter-solstice
    http://witchesofthecraft.com/2011/12/22/winter-solstice-celebrations-around-the-world-brumalia/
  4. Islamic apologists against Christianity.
    http://www.islamicity.org/6407/jesus-in-islam-and-christmas/
    http://www.missionislam.com/comprel/easterchristmas.htm

 

Actual historical study on Brumalia

The only reasonably thorough historical study on Brumalia was published in Latin by John Ramond Crawford in 1914.

 

T.C. Schmidt discussed the festival in his now defunct blog Chronicon,

 

Recently Roger Pearse began investigating Brumalia with much valuable information at his blog:

 

Bruma/Brumalia and the Old Republic Calendar

There are two basic types of information about the calendar of the Roman Republic: actual calendars themselves, called fasti; and literary references to calendar events.

 

Calendars/Fasti

While there was significant discussion among Romans about the Republican calendar, most of the discussions are by authors writing after the Julian reforms. There are important differences between these authors about the history and nature of various aspects of the Republican calendar. Most significantly, none of them records the Republican calendar itself.

The only example of a pre-Julian calendar that has come down to us is the fragmented Fasti Antiates maiores.

A close-up of the end of December shows that what we would call December 25th is labeled simply GC. That is, it is the 7th day of the nundinal period, and the C means Comitialis=’assembly day.’

Now, using the Julian date of 8 ante kalends Jan for Julian December 25th and going back to Republican 8th day before the kalends of January would be Republican December 23rd.

On the 23rd there are some festivals named, but not Brumalia. LARE NP DIAN IVNON R INCAMP TEMPE. That is, The festival of Larentalia, and the dedications of the temples for Dianna and Juno, and the Tempestates. All of these festivals in the Repubican calendar were assigned to 10th day before the kalends of January in the Julian calendar. In other words, they remained on a date that would most readily be equated with December 23rd in the Gregorian calendar. Neither is there any note of Brumalia beginning in November.

Put simply, Brumalia is not known in any of the Republican works on the calendar or in the surviving representations of the Republican calendar.

 

Literary References To Bruma/Brumalia

These references are listed in chronological order. The original Latin context is given along with an English translation. The Latin forms of bruma are emphasized as well as the English equivalent.

The search was extensive. The text base is Classical Latin Texts: A Resource Prepared by The Packard Humanities Institute.

The search used: http://latin.packhum.org/stats?q=bruma

This search also returns: subrumantibus [Columella  De Re Rustica 12.3.9.4 ], subrumari [Festus, De Verborum Significatione 306.66].

 

Surviving Writings from the Roman Republic

 

Terentius Afer, Publius (190 BC -159)

In Terrence’s play Phormio (161 BC) the word bruma could refer to winter as a season or to the winter solstice. There is no overt reference to any festivities associated with bruma.

Phormio 709

Geta’s part from lines 704-710 uses the term Bruma with reference to a season or maybe even the winter solstice. But no feast or holy day is indicated.

rogas?
“quot res postilla monstra evenerunt mihi!
intro iit in aedis ater alienus canis;
anguis per inpluvium decidit de tegulis;
gallina cecinit; interdixit hariolus;
haruspex vetuit; ante brumam autem novi
negoti incipere!” quae causast iustissima.
haec fient.

Do you ask the question? “How many circumstances, since then, have befallen me as prodigies? A strange black dog entered the house; a snake came down from the tiles through the sky-light; a hen crowed; the soothsayer forbade it; the diviner warned me not: besides, before winter there is no sufficient reason for me to commence upon any new undertaking.” This will be the case.

 

Cato, Marcus Porcius (234-149 BC)

Cato the Elder’s book On Agriculture De Agri Cultura is dated to about 160 BC. The use of Bruma in this context could mean the winter solstice as a particular date. The context, however, is referring to broader periods of time. In this context, “by deep winter,” “by winter” would also give a proper understanding of the harvesting described. No festival is mentioned in association with Bruma.

De Agri Cultura 17.1.2

Robus materies, item ridica, ubi solstitium fuerit,
ad brumam semper tempestiua est; cetera materies
quae semen habet, cum semen maturum habet, tum

Oak wood and also wood for vine props is always ripe for cutting at the time of the winter solstice. Other species which bear seed are ripe when the seeds are mature, while those which are seedless are ripe when they shed bark.

Wikipedia Article Cato the Elder http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cato_the_Elder

Wikipedia Article De Agri Cultura http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/De_Agri_Cultura

Encyclopedia Britannica Article http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/99975/Marcus-Porcius-Cato

De Agri Cultura on Bill Thayer’s Website LacusCurtius

http://penelope.uchicago.edu/Thayer/E/Roman/Texts/Cato/De_Agricultura/home.html

Latin text of ch. 17 http://penelope.uchicago.edu/Thayer/L/Roman/Texts/Cato/De_Agricultura/A*.html#17

English translation of ch 17 http://penelope.uchicago.edu/Thayer/E/Roman/Texts/Cato/De_Agricultura/A*.html#17

 

Lucretius Carus, Titus (99-50 BC)

Lucretius’ poem De Rerum Natura “On the Nature of Things” is a defense of Epicurean philosophy.

The discussion of the shortening of the days in book V is found in Watson’s translation beginning at p 218. Bruma is used with reference to the winter solstice and the seasonal effects, but no mention of a feast or festivities is indicated.
https://archive.org/stream/onnatureofthings00lucruoft#page/218/mode/2up

 

De Rerum Natura 5.616, 5.640, 5.746

Nec ratio solis simplex [et] recta patescit,
quo pacto aestivis e partibus aegocerotis
brumalis adeat flexus atque inde revertens
canceris ut vertat metas ad solstitialis,

Nor does the law of the sun’s motion appear plain and evident,
nor is it demonstrable how he passes from his summer regions
to the wintery part of his course in Capricorn [sic. for “Cancer”],
and how, coming back from thence, he turns to the solstitial points.
https://archive.org/stream/onnatureofthings00lucruoft#page/216/mode/2up

qui queat aestivis solem detrudere signis
brumalis usque ad flexus gelidumque rigorem,
et qui reiciat gelidis a frigoris umbris

which drives the sun from the summer signs
into the winter part of his course, and into freezing cold;
and the other may be that which sends him back from the freezing shades of cold
into the warm regions
https://archive.org/stream/onnatureofthings00lucruoft#page/216/mode/2up

altitonans Volturnus et Auster fulmine pollens.
tandem Bruma nives adfert pigrumque rigorem
reddit. Hiemps sequitur crepitans hanc dentibus algu.

Of great Volturnus, and the Southwind strong
With thunder-bolts. At last earth’s Shortest-Day
Bears on to men the snows and brings again
The numbing cold. And Winter follows her,
http://www.gutenberg.org/files/785/785-h/785-h.htm#link2H_4_0024

 

Propertius, Sextus (b50–45 BC died 15 BC)

Propertius’ book of Love Elegies was published circa 25 BC. Bruma is used with reference to winter as the cold time of the year.

Elegiae 1.8a.9

tu potes insolitas, Cynthia, ferre nives?
o utinam hibernae duplicentur tempora brumae,
et sit iners tardis navita Vergiliis,

I wish the time of winter frosts could be doubled,
and the sailor sit inert with the Pleiads absent.
If only your rope would remain tied to the Etrurian beach,
[http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.02.0067%3Abook%3D1%3Apoem%3D8a]

  • Sextus Propertius, Elegies (English) (ed. Vincent Katz)
  • Sextus Propertius, Elegies (Latin) (ed. Lucian Mueller)

 

Caesar, Gaius Iulius (100 – 44 BC)

Julius Caesar’s De Bello Gallico was published 58–49 BC. There is a reference to Bruma in connection with the duration of darkness at the region of the Isle of Mona near Britannia. But there is nothing about a festival by that name or at that time.

 

De Bello Gallico 5.13.4.1

insulae existimantur; de quibus insulis nonnulli scrip-
serunt dies continuos xxx sub brumam esse noctem. nos
nihil de eo percontationibus reperiebamus, nisi certis ex

islands besides are supposed to lie [there], of which islands some have written that at the time of the winter solstice it is night there for thirty consecutive days. We, in our inquiries about that matter, ascertained nothing, except that,
[http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.02.0001%3Abook%3D5%3Achapter%3D13]

 

Cicero, Marcus Tullius (106 – 43 BC)

Bruma in works by and attributed to Marcus Tullius Cicero.

About Cicero

 

(55 BC) De Oratore ad Quintum fratrem libri tres (On the Orator, three books for his brother Quintus)

De Oratore was written in 55 BC, set in 91 BC. Book III narrates the death of Lucius Licinius Crassus discussing Crassus’ rhetorical theory. This book contains a reference to ad brumale signum, which in context may refer to the Tropic of Capricorn [J. S. Watson’s translation, note 71 “Brumae signum. The tropic of Capricorn. De Nat. Deor. Iii. 14.”]. In context the phrase is used with reference to the orderly way the world and universe cycles each year. It may be a reference to the winter solstice as a reference point, or only a reference to that dark season of the year. There are no references to religious festivities associated with the word Bruma.

De Oratore 3.178.8
dum ut caelum terraque ut media sit eaque sua vi nutuque
teneatur, sol ut eam circum feratur, ut accedat ad brumale
signum et inde sensim ascendat in diversam partem; ut

so that the firmament should be round, and the earth in the middle, and that it should be held in its place by its own nature and tendency; that the sun should go round, that it should approach to the winter sign, and thence gradually ascend to the opposite region;

[J.S. Watson’s Translation http://pages.pomona.edu/~cmc24747/sources/cic_web/de_or_3.htm]

 

Cicero’s (45 BC) De Natura Deorum (On the Nature of the Gods) is a philosophical dialogue discussing the theology of various Greek and Roman philosophers, focusing on questions of theology in the Stoic, Epicurean, and skeptical traditions. While bruma is used with reference to astronomical timing, the timing is not described with regard to specific dates. There are no references to festivities named for or associated with the brumae.

De Natura Deorum 2.19.5
Quid vero tanta rerum consentiens
conspirans, continuata cognatio quem non coget ea quae
dicuntur a me conprobare? possetne uno tempore flo-
rere, dein vicissim horrere terra, aut tot rebus ipsis se
inmutantibus solis accessus discessusque solstitiis bru-
misque cognosci, aut aestus maritimi fretorumque an-
gustiae ortu aut obitu lunae commoveri, aut una totius
caeli conversione cursus astrorum dispares conservari?
[LF 268:141 https://archive.org/stream/denaturadeorumac00ciceuoft#page/142/mode/2up ]

Again consider the sympathetic agreement, interconnexion
and affinity of things: whom will this not compel
to approve the truth of what I say? Would it be
possible for the earth at once definite time to be gay
with flowers and then in turn all bare and stark, or
for the spontaneous transformations of so many things
about us to signal the approach and the retirement of
the sun at the summer and the winter solstices, or
for the tides to flow and ebb in the seas and straits with
the rising and setting of the moon, or for the different
courses of the stars to be maintained by the one
revolution of the entire sky?
[LF 268:142 https://archive.org/stream/denaturadeorumac00ciceuoft#page/142/mode/2up ]

De Natura Deorum 2.50.8
regio; quae cum est aquilonia aut australis, in lunae
quoque cursu est et brumae quaedam et solstitii simili-
tudo, multaque ab ea manant et fluunt quibus et ani-
[L268:170ff https://archive.org/stream/denaturadeorumac00ciceuoft#page/170/mode/2up ]

but also her position in the sky, which at one time is in the north and another in the south. The moon’s course also has a sort of winter and summer solstice; and she emits many streams of influence,
[L268:170ff https://archive.org/stream/denaturadeorumac00ciceuoft#page/170/mode/2up ]

De Natura Deorum 2.112.14
quem cum perpetuo vestivit lumine Titan,
brumali flectens contorquet tempore currum”.
Hic autem aspicitur
[L268:230 https://archive.org/stream/denaturadeorumac00ciceuoft#page/230/mode/2up ]

and when the Titan sun
Arrayeth him with never-ceasing light,
He turns his car to climb the wintry sky.
Here we behold …
[L268:231 https://archive.org/stream/denaturadeorumac00ciceuoft#page/230/mode/2up ]

De Natura Deorum 3.37.6
causam Cleanthes adfert cur se sol referat nec longius progrediatur solstitiali orbi itemque brumali, ne longius discedat a cibo. Hoc totum quale sit mox; nunc autem
[L268:320 https://archive.org/stream/denaturadeorumac00ciceuoft#page/320/mode/1up ]

The reason given by Cleanthes to explain why
The sun turns back, nor farther doth proceed
Upon his summer curve,
and upon his winter one likewise
[L268:321 https://archive.org/stream/denaturadeorumac00ciceuoft#page/321/mode/1up ]

 

Cicero’s (44 BC) De Divinatione (On Divination) Book II consists of refutations of types of divination which were described in Book I. These two volumes are one of the main primary sources we have about Roman religion. Here we three uses of bruma, two of which are explicitly to the winter solstice. In the case of the winter solstice the word bruma had to be modified to show that Cicero was speaking of the specific astrological date of the solstice: brumali ipso die, and ante brumam transmitteret. Cicero argues against the value of the winter solstice for divination. There is also no mention of festivals associated with bruma.

De Divinatione 2.33.14, 2.33.15
tagio, quam esse concedo multa enim Stoici colligunt; nam et musculorum iecuscula bruma dicuntur augeri, et puleium aridum florescere brumali ipso dieet inflatas rumpi vesiculas, et semina malorum, quae

The Stoics have collected much evidence to prove it. They claim, for example, that the livers of mice become larger in winter; that the dry pennyroyal blooms the very day of the winter solstice, and that its seed-pods become inflated and burst and the seeds enclosed therein are sent in various directions;
[Falconer’s translation at Perseus http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A2007.01.0043%3Abook%3D2%3Asection%3D33 ]

De Divinatione 2.52.9
cum a summo haruspice moneretur, ne in Africam ante brumam transmitteret, nonne transmisit? quod ni fecisset, uno in loco omnes adversariorum copiae

by a most eminent soothsayer not to cross over to Africa before the winter solstice, did he not cross? If he had not done so all the forces opposed to him
[Falconer’s translation at Perseus http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A2007.01.0043%3Abook%3D2%3Asection%3D52 ]

  • M. Tullius Cicero, De Divinatione (Latin) (ed. William Armistead Falconer)
  • M. Tullius Cicero, Divination (English) (ed. William Armistead Falconer)

 

(44 BC) De Fato (On Fate)

Cicero’s De Fato survives in a fragmented manuscript text. The work is a treatment of free will versus the idea that fate determines all human actions: a view which Cicero rejects. Here Cicero rejects the idea that birth on the winter solstice has any determining effect.

De Fato 5.2
. . . quorum in aliis, ut in Antipatro poëta, ut in brumali die natis, ut in simul aegrotantibus fratribus, ut in urina, ut in unguibus, ut in reliquis eius modi,

for instance in the case of the poet Antipater, in that of persons born on the shortest day, or of brothers who are ill at the same time, in the cases of urine and finger-nails and other things of that kind,
[Rackham translation http://www.informationphilosopher.com/solutions/philosophers/cicero/de_fato_english.html ]

 

(62–43 BC) Epistulae ad Familiares (Letters to his friends)

The two references to bruma returned by the database search that were found in Cicero’s letters use bruma as a general date rather than a specific astronomical or religious observance.

Epistulae ad Familiares 3.7.3.12
litteras adferebant ut opus aestate facere possent, eas mihi
post brumam reddiderunt. sed scito et multo pluris esse qui
de tributis recusent quam qui exigi velint et me tamen quod

that letter they did not put into my hands
till after midwinter. But let me tell you firstly, those
who object to pay the tax are far more numerous
than those
[Williams translation, p. 190f https://archive.org/stream/letterstohisfrie01ciceuoft#page/190/mode/2up ]

Epistulae ad Familiares 7.20.2.7
sed valebis meaque negotia videbis meque dis iuvantibus ante
brumam exspectabis.
Ego a Sex. Fadio, Niconis discipulo, librum abstuli

But you must keep well, and look after my affairs, and expect to see me, by the favor of heaven, before midwinter.
I have walked off with a book from Sextus Fadios, Nicon’s pupil …
[Williams translation, Vol 2, p. 62f https://archive.org/stream/letterstohisfrie02ciceuoft#page/62/mode/2up ]

 

(87 BC) Arati Phaenomena (Cicero’s translation of Aratus Solensis’ Phaenomena)

Aratus was born c.310. Cicero’s translation was probably completed around 87 BC while still in school (Poochigian, p. xxiv). We have groups of fragments of Cicero’s translation. The rough equivalences are Ph. f. 1-12 and l. 1-184 from Aratus lines 1-757; and Prog. f. 1-9 from Aratus 758-1141. Here the term Bruma is used with reference to the season in the context of other astronomical events. But there is no feast.

Arati Phaenomena 34.62
Serius haec obitus terrai visit Equi vis, quam gelidum valido de corpore frigus anhelans corpore setifero magno Capricornus in orbe ; quem quum perpetuo vestivit lumine Titan, brumali flectens contorquet tempore currum.

“This powerful Horse visits the earth’s horizon much later than Capricorn, who with his powerful lungs breathes out the frozen cold from his inhuman body while in the great circle, who when the Titan (sun) dresses him in perpetual light, turns his chariot to climb the wintery sky.” [Tr. A.K. Ring]

Arati Phaenomena 34.282
Hunc, a clarisonis auris Aquilonis ad Austrum 530 cedens, postremum tangit rota fervida Solis ; exinde in superas brumali tempore flexus se recipit sedes. Huic orbi quinque tributae nocturnae partes, supera tres luce dicantur.

“This, while traveling from the loud breezes of the North to the South, until it finally touches the fiery wheel of the Sun. After that the wintertime prevails (returns), recovering its place in the sky. And so this world is assigned five parts for the night, three parts are dedicated/assigned for the day (light). [Tr. A.K. Ring]

 

Facete Dicta “Smart Remarks” one attributed to Cicero by Macrobius in Saturnalia 2.3.5 contains the word Bruma. No festival is indicated.

Facete Dicta 31.2
Magnum ostentum anno Vatini factum est, quod illo consulatu nec bruma nec ver nec aestas nec autumnus fuit.

A great portent was made in the year of Vatinius, whose consulate
was neither in winter, nor summer, nor spring, nor autumn.

Found quoted in Macrobius’ Saturnalia 2.3.5

 

Timaeus is Cicero’s translation from the Greek of Plato’s dialog. Here the term is used in an astronomical sense but with no reference to a festival.

Timaeus 34.2

Has igitur ob causas nata astra sunt,
quae per caelum penetrantia solstitiali se et brumali
revocatione converterent, ut hoc omne animal,
[Mueller’s Latin text at Perseus http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A2008.01.0676%3Asection%3D34 ]

These are, therefore, born on account of the stars,
which penetrate through the sky entering the summer solstice itself, and at the winter [solstice] call back and turn, and this for every animal,

  • M. Tullius Cicero, Timaeus (Latin) (ed. C. F. W. Mueller, C.F.W. Mueller) in aedibus B. G. Teubneri. Lipsiae. 1900.

 

Cicero, Quintus Tullius (102 – 43 BC)

Quintus was Marcus’ younger brother. Bruma is used here as a seasonal or loose astronomical reference. There is no festival indicated.

carmina 12

Pigra Sagittipotens iaculatur frigora terris.
Bruma gelu glacians iubar est spirans Capricorni,
quam sequitur nebulas rorans liquor altus Aquari.
[In Baehrens p. 315f https://archive.org/stream/fragmentapoetaru00baehuoft#page/314/mode/2up ]

The constellation of Sagittarius is sluggish throwing cold on the earth.
Capricorn is breathing a freezing cold winter glow,
Which is followed by high Aquarius clouds sprinkling liquid.

 

Hirtius, Aulus (90 – 43 BC)

Hirtius was a Roman consul who wrote military history. His use of Bruma is as a season of cold. No festivities are indicated.

De Bello Gallico Liber VIII 8.4.1.2
Caesar militibus pro tanto labore ac patientia, qui brumalibus diebus, itineribus difficillimis, frigoribus intolerandis studiosissime permanserant in labore, bis cen-

Caesar promises his soldiers, as a reward for their labor and patience, in cheerfully submitting to hardships from the severity of the winter, the difficulty of the roads, and the intolerable cold, two hund-
[McDevitte and Bohn http://mcadams.posc.mu.edu/txt/ah/caesar/CaesarGal08.html ]

 

Summary

This survey of pre-Julian/Republican sources is as comprehensive as I can make it. If anyone has other resources that should be included I would be very welcoming of the help.

What should be apparent to the reader is that in the era of the Roman Republic, before the Julian calendar reforms we have no calendrical or literary evidence of the existence of any holiday named Brumalia. Nor do we have indication of any festivities in December or November under that name.

There are a handful churchmen from antiquity that purport to explain aspects of the history of Brumalia. Whether they are actual history or anachronisms may not be fully known. But the literature from the Republic does not support the imposition of a festival of Brumalia during that period. The writers giving the most detail are also the ones from later antiquity. These are:

  • Tertullian (A.D. 155-240) De Idolatria (On Idolatry) chs 10 and 14.
  • John the Lydian (born A.D. 490): de Mensibus December.
  • Choricius of Gaza (A.D. 491-518),
  • John Malalas (c. 491 – 578) a Monphysite from Constantinople in his Chronicle 7.7.
  • St. Isidore of Seville (A.D. 560-636) discusses bruma in Etymologies 5.35.6.

Another important source from late antiquity is Macrobius’ ( A.D. 5th century) Saturnalia, possibly the source for those churchmen who came after him.

I hope to deal with these writers in a third article, after I have completed the research on the use of Bruma/Brumalia in the Roman Empire after the Julian reforms.

About Pastor Joseph Abrahamson

Pastor Joseph Abrahamson serves Faith Ev. Lutheran Church, Clara City, Minnesota (E.L.S.). He and his wife, Mary, have 10 children. Pastor Abrahamson is a graduate of Bethany Lutheran Theological Seminary, and of the University of Wisconsin-Madison's Department of Hebrew and Semitic Studies. He has served on the Faculty/Staff at Bethany Lutheran College teaching Religion, Linguistics, Archaeology, and Self-Defense; and was on Staff at the University of Wisconsin as an Information Processing Consultant (Computer Geek) while doing graduate work in Semitics. Pastor Abrahamson served Clearwater Lutheran Parish (ELS) from 2001 to April 2015.

Comments

Redeeming Christian Holy Days: Brumalia in the Roman Republic — 4 Comments

  1. I’ve enjoyed reading your “Redeeming Christian Holy Days” series. This article about Brumalia and the characteristics of Republican Roman calendars has been particularly educational. You may find useful some of the artifacts on display in a current exhibit at NYU’s Institute for the Study of the Ancient World called “Time and Cosmos in Greco-Roman Antiquity”. Several images in this article show inscriptions concerning the Roman calendar: http://hyperallergic.com/331494/time-and-cosmos-institute-study-ancient-world/ . Whether not you’re able to visit the exhibit in person, the companion catalogue ( http://isaw.nyu.edu/exhibitions/time-cosmos/catalogue ) to the exhibit may be useful. Merry Christmas! ~ EJ

  2. I posted this quote on your Saturnalia post as well but I have another question. What is the word here for “Midwinter’s” referring to the festivals? Bruma or something else? To me, it is clear that Tertullian is wrapping up all the celebrations that happened in the winter time, and describes them in good detail. He is chiding the Christians for adopting these celebrations in order to appeal to pagans and bring them “into the fold.” I will admit that there is some error in this quote, particularly the statement about the 8th day, which is not only unbiblical but ignorant of the symbolic and unfulfilled prophetic meaning of the 7th day, or Sabbath (being the rest spoken of in Hebrews 4), which we haven’t even entered yet (that’s another conversation). Regardless, his point stands and the evidence presented is undeniable. Christians WERE syncretizing with paganism by the early 3rd century with the justification that they were doing good by “winning souls to the faith” so to speak. I highly doubt they were bowing to idols or having temple prostitutes but as Tertullian describes it, they were simply having a good time. There’s nothing wrong with enjoying life but he is clearly describing what they were doing as idolatry and sin.

    But, however, the majority (of Christians) have by this time induced the belief in their mind that it is pardonable if at any time they do what the heathen do, for fear the Name be blasphemed. Now the blasphemy which must quite be shunned by us in every way is, I take it, this: If any of us lead a heathen into blasphemy with good cause, either by fraud, or by injury, or by contumely, or any other matter of worthy complaint, in which the Name is deservedly impugned, so that the Lord, too, be deservedly angry. Else, if of all blasphemy it has been said, By your means My Name is blasphemed, we all perish at once; since the whole circus, with no desert of ours, assails the Name with wicked suffrages. Let us cease (to be Christians) and it will not be blasphemed! On the contrary, while we are, let it be blasphemed: in the observance, not the overstepping, of discipline; while we are being approved, not while we are being reprobated. Oh blasphemy, bordering on martyrdom, which now attests me to be a Christian, while for that very account it detests me! The cursing of well-maintained Discipline is a blessing of the Name. If, says he, I wished to please men, I should not be Christ’s servant. But the same apostle elsewhere bids us take care to please all: As I, he says, please all by all means. 1 Corinthians 10:32-33 No doubt he used to please them by celebrating the Saturnalia and New-year’s day! [Was it so] or was it by moderation and patience? By gravity, by kindness, by integrity? In like manner, when he is saying, I have become all things to all, that I may gain all, 1 Corinthians 9:22 does he mean to idolaters an idolater? to heathens a heathen? to the worldly worldly? But albeit he does not prohibit us from having our conversation with idolaters and adulterers, and the other criminals, saying, Otherwise you would go out from the world, 1 Corinthians 5:10 of course he does not so slacken those reins of conversation that, since it is necessary for us both to live and to mingle with sinners, we may be able to sin with them too. Where there is the intercourse of life, which the apostle concedes, there is sinning, which no one permits. To live with heathens is lawful, to die with them is not. Let us live with all; let us be glad with them, out of community of nature, not of superstition. We are peers in soul, not in discipline; fellow-possessors of the world, not of error. But if we have no right of communion in matters of this kind with strangers, how far more wicked to celebrate them among brethren! Who can maintain or defend this? The Holy Spirit upbraids the Jews with their holy-days. Your Sabbaths, and new moons, and ceremonies, says He, My soul hates. By us, to whom Sabbaths are strange, and the new moons and festivals formerly beloved by God, the Saturnalia and New-year’s and Midwinter’s festivals and Matronalia are frequented — presents come and go — New-year’s gifts — games join their noise — banquets join their din! Oh better fidelity of the nations to their own sect, which claims no solemnity of the Christians for itself! Not the Lord’s day, not Pentecost, even it they had known them, would they have shared with us; for they would fear lest they should seem to be Christians. We are not apprehensive lest we seem to be heathens! If any indulgence is to be granted to the flesh, you have it. I will not say your own days, but more too; for to the heathens each festive day occurs but once annually: you have a festive day every eighth day. Call out the individual solemnities of the nations, and set them out into a row, they will not be able to make up a Pentecost. (Tertullian. On Idolatry, Chapter XIV, c. 155 – c. 240 AD)

  3. (continued from above)
    Nobis, quibus sabbata extranea sunt et numeniae et feriae a deo aliquando dilectae, Saturnalia et Ianuariae et ***Brumae*** et Matronales frequentantur, munera commeant et strenae, consonant lusus, conuiuia constrepunt.

    Clearly Tertuallian was referencing holiday festivals here, and Bruma was included. Smoking gun? I think so.

    Paul and John, in the Spirit, warned the churches what was going to happen, and it did: Apostasy. Vain traditions of men. We can even look at the last 200 years of history to see that Christmas experienced a resurgence due to materialism and pagan folklore. Then People started crying out to put Christ back in Christmas. You can’t put Christ in something He wasn’t in to begin with, regardless of the name or wrapping put on it.

    Charles Spurgeon on Christmas:
    “We have no superstitious regard for times and seasons. Certainly we do not believe in the present ecclesiastical arrangement called Christmas. First because we do not believe in any mass at all, but abhor it, whether it be sung in Latin or in English: Secondly, because we find no scriptural warrant whatever for observing any day as the birthday of the Savior; and consequently, its observance is a superstition, because not of divine authority. Superstition has fixed most positively the day of our Savior’s birth, although there in no possibility of discovering when it occurred. It was not till the middle of the third century that any part of the church celebrated the birth of our Lord; and it was not till long after the western Church had set the example, that the eastern adopted it. Because the day is not known. Probably the fact is that the “holy” days were arranged to fit in with the heathen festivals. We venture to assert that if there be any day in the year of which we may be pretty sure that it was not the day on which our Savior was born it is the 25th of December. Regarding not the day, let us give God thanks for the gift of His dear Son.” —C. H. Spurgeon Dec. 24, 1871 (Spurgeon, Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, p. 697)

    A winter tradition resembling Yultide is illustrated partly in Jeremiah 10. We see nature worship there and pagan winter holidays were clearly a long standing tradition before the book of Jeremiah was written (I am not claiming this is “Christmas” but clearly there are similarities and a thread that follows through the centuries). God told us not to worship as the heathen do. Do not declare a feast day unto Yahweh, like the Israelites did at Mt. Sinai, and do not presume that God is pleased with your man-made “holy” day.

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