ARVAL BROTHERS (Fratres Arvales), in Roman antiquities, a college or priesthood, consisting of twelve members, elected for life from the highest ranks in Rome, and always apparently, during the empire, including the emperor. Their chief duty was to offer annually public sacrifice for the fertility of the fields (Varro, L. L. v. 85). It is generally held that the college was founded by Romulus (see Acca Larentia). This legend probably arose from the connexion of Acca Larentia, as mater Larum, with the Lares who had a part in the religious ceremonies of the Arvales. But apart from this, there is proof of the high antiquity of the college, which was said to have been older than Rome itself, in the verbal forms of the song with which, down to late times, a part of the ceremonies was accompanied, and which is still preserved. It is clear also that, while the members were themselves always persons of distinction, the duties of their office were held in high respect. And yet it is singular that no mention of them occurs in Cicero or Livy, and that altogether literary allusions to them are very scarce. On the other hand, we possess a long series of the acta or minutes of their proceedings, drawn up by themselves, and inscribed on stone. Excavations, commenced in the 16th century and continued to the 19th, in the grove of the Dea Dia about 5 m. from Rome, have yielded 96 of these records from A.D. 14 to 241. The brotherhood appears to have languished in obscurity during the republic, and to have been revived by Augustus. In his time the college consisted of a master (magister), a vice-master (promagister), a flamen, and a praetor, with eight ordinary members, attended by various servants, and in particular by four chorus boys, sons of senators, having both parents alive. Each wore a wreath of corn, a white fillet and the praetexta. The election of members was by co-optation on the motion of the president, who, with a flamen, was himself elected for one year. The great annual festival which they had to conduct was held in honour of the anonymous Dea Dia, who was probably identical with Ceres. It occupied three days in May. The ceremony of the first day took place in Rome itself, in the house of the magister or his deputy, or on the Palatine in the temple of the emperors, where at sunrise fruits and incense were offered to the goddess. A sumptuous banquet took place, followed by a distribution of doles and garlands. On the second and principal day of the festival the ceremonies were conducted in the grove of the Dea Dia. They included a dance in the temple of the goddess, at which the song of the brotherhood was sung, in language so antiquated that it was hardly intelligible (see the text and translation in Mommsen, Hist, of Rome, bk. i. ch. xv.) even to Romans of the time of Augustus, who regarded it as the oldest existing document in their mother-tongue. Especial mention should be made of the ceremony of purifying the grove, which was held to be defiled by the felling of trees, the breaking of a bough or the presence of any iron tools, such as those used by the lapidary who engraved the records of the proceedings on stone. The song and dance were followed by the election of officers for the next year, a banquet and races. On the third day the sacrifice took place in Rome, and was of the same nature as that offered on the first day. The Arvales also offered sacrifice and solemn vows on behalf of the imperial family on the 3rd of January and on other extraordinary occasions. The brotherhood is said to have lasted till the time of Theodosius. The British Museum contains a bust of Marcus Aurelius in the dress of a Frater Arvalis.
Marini, Atti e Monumenti de' Fratri Arvali (1795); Hoffmann, Die A. (1858): Oldenberg, De Sacris Fratrum A. (1875); Bergk, Das Lied der Arvalbrüder (1856); Bréal, "Le Chant des Arvals" in Mém. de la Soc. de Linguistique (1881); Edon, Nouvelle Etude sur le Chant Lémural (1884); Corpus Inscriptionum Latinarum, vi. 2023-2119; Henzen, Acta Fratrum Arvalium (1874).
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)