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Terminus is often depicted as a bust on a boundary stone. “CONCEDO NULLI” here means: “Don’t give up the land”.
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Terminus was the god of boundaries between private estates, but above all national boundaries. He was also the guardian deity of the border signs itself, which in Latin had the same name as the deity and was sometimes identified with him. Each of the boundary stones was sanctified through an offering to a god. His cult, according to descriptions in the late Republic and Empire, focused on border stones with which the god could be identified.

Siculus Flaccus’ records of surveying contain a description of the ritual of blessing the boundary stone: bones, ashes and blood of the sacrificial animal, crops, honeycombs, and wine were placed in a pit in the ground at the boundary of the property, and then the sacrifice was covered with a stone.

In honour of Terminus there were holidays called Terminus. They were celebrated once a year, on February 23, especially by landowners. Neighbouring families decorated their side of the stone with garlands and offered sacrifices on the altar, which, according to Ovid, also included crops, honeycombs and wine. The stone itself was sprinkled with the blood of a sacrificial sheep or pig. Then there was a joint feast and songs to the praise of God.

However, there were also public celebrations. Ovid mentions a sheep sacrifice at the sixth milestone from Rome on Via Laurentina, which in the past may have marked the border between the ancient Romans and their neighbours in Laurentum. A stone or altar dedicated to Terminus was also located in the Temple of Jupiter the Greatest in the Capitol. As it was believed that it must have been outdoors, there was a small opening in the vault directly above it. Over time, Terminus’ association with Jupiter led to him being considered an aspect of this god. Dionysius of Halicarnassus uses the phrase “Jupiter Terminalis”; the inscription “Juppiter Ter” has also been preserved.

There is evidence that Terminus’ sphere of care extended from the protection of property boundaries to borders in a more general sense. In the calendar of the Roman Republic, when the month of Mercedonius was added during the intercalation, it followed February 23 or 24, and some ancient writers believed that Terminalia on February 23 once marked the end of the year. The decision of Diocletian in 303 CE on the beginning of the persecution of Christians on February 23 was read as an attempt to call upon God to “end Christianity”.

Ancient writers believed that the origins of the Terminus cult in Rome date back to the reign of Romulus (around 753-717 BCE) or his successor Numa Pompilius (717-673 BCE). Modern scholars identify Terminus with the remnants of animist religions or with the Roman version of the Proto-Indo-European belief in a deity overseeing the distribution of goods.

  • Kempiński Andrzej, Encyklopedia mitologii ludów indoeuropejskich, Warszawa 2001
  • Schmidt Joël, Słownik mitologii greckiej i rzymskiej, Katowice 1996

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