ARGEI, the name given by the ancient Romans to a number of rush puppets (24 or 27 according to the reading of Varro, de Ling. lat. vii. 44, or 30 according to Dionysius i. 38) resembling men tied hand and foot, which were taken down to the ancient bridge over the Tiber (pans sublicius) on the 14th of May by the pontifices and magistrates, with the flaminica Dialis in mourning guise, and there thrown into the Tiber by the Vestal virgins. There were also in various parts of the four Servian regions of the city a number of sacella Argeorum (chapels), round which a procession seems to have gone on the 17th of March (Varro, L.L. v. 46-54; Jordan, Rom. Topogr. vol. ii. 603), and it has been conjectured that the puppets were kept in these chapels until the time came for them to be cast into the river. The Romans had no historical explanation of these curious rites, and neither the theories of their scholars nor the beliefs of the common people, who fancied that the puppets were substitutes for old men who used at one time to be sacrificed to the river, are worth serious consideration. Recently two explanations have been given: (1) that of W. Mannhardt, who by comparing numerous examples of similar customs among other European peoples arrived at the conclusion that the rite was of extreme antiquity and of dramatic rather than sacrificial character, and that its object was possibly to procure rain; (2) that of Wissowa, who refuses to date it farther back than the latter half of the 3rd century B.C., and sees in it the yearly representation of an original sacrifice of twenty-seven captive Greeks (taking Argei as a Latin form of ) by drowning in the Tiber. This second theory is, however, not borne out by any Roman historical record.
See Wissowa's arguments in the article "Argei" in his edition of Pauly's Realencydopadie. For the other view see W. Mannhardt, Antike Wald und Feldkulte, 178 foll.; W.W. Fowler, Roman Festivals, pp. 111 foll.
(W. W. F.*)
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)