SILVANUS (Lat. siliia, wood), a deity or spirit of Italian woodland; not, however, of the wholly wild woodland, but of that which borders the clearings in a country not entirely reclaimed. Thus he is partly wild and partly civilized, and reflects the experience of the earliest settlers in Italy, whose descendants took him with them to the farthest limits of the empire, even to Britain, where we have many votive inscriptions to him, always as the friendly deity dwelling outside the new clearing, benevolent towards the settler in a strange land. This leading characteristic of Silvanus is shown clearly in Roman literature: Horace writes of the " horridi dumeta Silvani " (Odes, iii. 29) but he also calls him " tutor finium " (Epod. ii. 22) while for Virgil he is " arvorum pecorisque deus " (Aen. viii. 600). A writer on land measurement (Script, gromatici, i. 302) tells us that each holding had three Silvani domesticus (of the holding itself), agrestis (of the wilder pasture-land) and orientalis (of the boundaries). It is plain that in him the Italians had a very useful deity, and in all these capacities he became extremely popular, as the extraordinary number of his inscriptions shows. Unlike Mars, from whom he was probably in origin an offshoot (cf. the Mars Silvanus of Cato, De re rustica, 141; see MARS), he never made his way into the towns, but is almost the only Roman deity who from first to last retained the same perfectly intelligible rustic character. His double nature as deity of woodland and cultivated land is seen well in the artistic representations of him; he carries a young tree in one hand, a pruning-hook in the other.
See Wissowa, Gesammelte Abhandlungen (1904, p. 78 foil.).
(W. W. F.*)
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)