The Sibylline Books (Libri Sibyllini) were the magical books that were used when the city of Rome was in trouble. The Sibylline Books contained predictions and advice that should be followed. The usual advice was to admit a new god to the Roman pantheon of gods and begin worshipping him. Only fragments of the books have survived to our times, the rest have been destroyed.
He bought the books from Sibylla of Kyme Tarquinius the Proud – the seventh and last king of Rome. Legend has it that Sibyl herself offered the king nine books, saying that whoever interprets their text correctly will know the future. Tarquinius replied that the price for the books was too high, then Sibylla destroyed three of them and demanded the rest of the same price. Tarquinius refused to buy again, and Sibylla destroyed another three and repeated the same price. The king finally bought three books at a price for which he was offered nine books. They were stored in the temple of Jupiter on the Capitoline Hill and inspected at the behest of the senate.
In 83 BCE they were lost in the Capitol fire. Then new ones were brought from Greece and Asia. They were placed in the Temple of Apollo on the Palatine. Eventually, the books were destroyed in 405 CE on orders of Stilicho, possibly due to using prophecy to attack his reign in the wake of Alaric I’s attack.
Documented use of Sibylline books
The books were only used in times of greatest danger to Rome:
- 399 BCE – during the plague, one of the prophecies ordered the lectisternium ceremony (Livius 5, 13);
- 348 BCE – during another plague in Rome, which took place after short skirmishes with Gauls and Greeks; one of the prophecies ordered the lectisternium ceremony to be introduced (Livy 7, 27);
- 345 BCE – Seek advice after “it was raining stones and darkness fell on the sky during the day.” Publius Valerius Publicola was recommended for the position of the dictator (Livius 7, 28);
- 295 BCE – again during the plague, as a result, a temple of Venus was built at Circus Maximus (Livius 10, 31);
- 293 BCE. – again during the plague, the books ordered “to bring Asclepius from Epidaurus to Rome”, but the Senate ordered only one day of prayer to Asclepius (Livius 10:47);
- 240/238 BCE – Established on the advice of Ludi Florales;
- 216 BCE – when Hannibal defeated the Romans at Cannae, the books ordered two Gauls and two Greeks to be buried alive in the forum;
- 205-204 BCE – during the Second Punic War, as a result, African Scipio brought the cult of the goddess Cybele to Rome;
- 63 BCE – Publius Cornelius Lentulus Sura joined the Catiline conspiracy after reading in the books about the three Cornelius who would take power in Rome (Plutarch, The Life of Cicero, Xvii);
- c. 55 BCE – when the Romans hesitated to send troops to restore the king of Egypt – Ptolemy XII to the throne (Cassius Dio, Roman History 39:15);
- 44 BCE – according to Suetonius, the prophecy “only a king can triumph over the Party” sparked rumours that Julius Caesar wanted to proclaim himself king of Rome (Caesar, 79);
- 15 CE – when the Tiber flooded the lower parts of the city, one of the priests offered to consult the books, but the emperor Tiberius refused (Tacitus, Annales I, 72);
- 271 CE – when Rome was defeated at Placentia by the Alamans;
- 312 CE – Maxentius consulted the books before the battle with Constantine;
- 363 CE – Julian the Apostate consulted the books before the march to the Sassanids (Ammianus Marcellinus, History of Rome, XIII, 7).