Ancient Roman Votum pro Bubus – A Religious Offering to Mars Silvanus


Silvanus (from the Latin silva, which means forest) was one of the many Roman gods of agriculture and woods, the protector of boundaries, lands, and cattle. He was perhaps related to the Etruscan god Selvans, who had more or less the same attributes. There were other similar gods who shared similar characteristics, such as Pan and Silenus as rustic deities and Aristaeus as the inventor of agriculture and patron of flocks and beekeeping.
The worship of Silvanus was exclusively for men: the women were excluded and could not attend or perform the rituals. In the Roman sources, we find a few references to Silvanus, although there are many statues depicting this god, thus documenting the presence of this cult.
In Horace’s Epodes, we read that in autumn grapes were offered to Priapus and father Silvanus, the protector of boundaries (pater Silvane, tutor finium). In the Epistulae, Horace recalls the archaic agricultural practices of the Romans, who offered pork to Tellus, milk to Silvanus, and wine and flowers to Genius. In addition, Juvenal writes in a satire that pork was sacrificed to this god.
In Cato’s De Agri Cultura, we find the mention of a sacred ritual meant to keep the cattle in good health, offered to Mars Silvanus. In this case, we must remember that Mars, in his origin, shares some characteristics with Silvanus: Mars, as recalled in Ovid’s Fasti (1.238), is the god celebrated at the beginning of the year, the month of March, and is associated with the origin of life, nature, and rebirth of spring, which are all elements symbolized by his union with Venus, whose month is April. Some aspects of Mars make him a god of nature and not only of war, not to mention that he is the father of the Roman people since he sired Romulus and Remus with the vestal Rea Silvia.
Today, we are going to prepare the ritual offering described by Cato, who lists the exact quantities of ingredients (spelt, cured pork fatback, lean meat, and wine) but writes nothing about the preparation of this meal. We only know that it must be prepared in the forest during the day and eaten immediately. We assumed that this means that we have to prepare a simple meal with a few tools.
We decided to make a puls, the earliest food of the Italic populations according to Pliny, often offered as a sacrifice in Roman culture. We followed the directions of Cato for the preparation of granea triticea, excluding milk, which is one of the offerings for Silvanus but is not mentioned in this passage, and a recipe from De Re Coquinaria that describes a more complex puls in which we must boil the spelt and then add olive oil, minced meat, and other ingredients.
Another possibility is to roast the meat and serve it with puls dressed with pork fatback, but in any case, Cato did not feel the need to explain the preparation, only the precise amount of the ingredients, which is probably the only significant element for the preparation of this offering.
We have reduced the doses to make one serving, using 80 grams of spelt, crushed in the mortar, and 120 grams of cured pork fatback and pork tenderloin. If you wish, use other kinds of meat traditionally offered to Mars, such as lean cuts of beef or mutton. Pork fatback may be replaced with pork belly or pork jowl.

For more information about ancient cuisine, we suggest reading our book Ancient Roman Cooking. Ingredients, Recipes, Sources. Moreover, the complete translation of De Re Coquinaria is available on Patreon, with further translations of ancient and medieval sources.
To know more about the passage between ancient and medieval cooking, check out our translation, commentary, and glossary of a beautiful 6th-century source, De Observatione Ciborum, written by the physician Anthimus to the king of the Franks Theuderic; if you are interested in late-medieval cuisine, we recommend Libro de la Cocina. Medieval Tuscan Recipes and Registrum Coquine. A medieval cookbook. If you are interested in recipes for vegetables from the Antiquity to the beginning of the Modern Era in Early Italian Recipes. Vegetables, fruit, herbs, and flowers available in English and Italian.
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cured pork fatback
pork tenderloin

Coarsely crush the spelt. Bring it to a boil in plenty of water, then add the minced cured pork fatback and cook them for about half an hour. When it is almost cooked, add the minced pork tenderloin and cook again for a few minutes, then serve with a cup of wine.

Original text
Votum pro bubus, uti valeant, sic facito. Marti Silvano in silva interdius in capita singula boum votum facito. Farris L. III et lardi P. IIII S et pulpae P. IIII S, vini S. III, id in unum vas liceto coicere, et vinum item in unum vas liceto coicere. Eam rem divinam vel servus vel liber licebit faciat. Ubi res divina facta erit, statim ibidem consumito. Mulier ad eam rem divinam ne adsit neve videat quo modo fiat. Hoc votum in annos singulos, si voles, licebit vovere.

In this way, make the votum for the cattle so that they remain healthy. Offer this votum to Mars Silvanus in the forest by day for each head of cattle: three librae [a libra is equivalent to about 330 grams] of spelt, four and a half librae of cured pork fatback, four and a half librae of lean meat, and three sextarii [a sextarium corresponds to about half a liter] of wine. It is licit to put them in a single vessel and also to put the wine in a single vessel. It is licit that either a slave or a free man performs this sacred ritual. Once he has completed this sacred ritual, [the meal] must be consumed immediately. No woman is allowed to attend or watch the sacred ritual being performed. If you want, offer this votum every year.

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Libro de la Cocina by Anonimo Toscano. Medieval Tuscan Recipes
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De Observatione Ciborum by Anthimus. Early-medieval recipes at the court of the Franks.
Registrum Coquine by Johannes Bockenheim. A medieval cookbook
Ancient Roman Cooking. Ingredients, Sources, Recipes

Translations of Historical Sources
De Re Coquinaria by Apicius (Ancient Rome)
De Observatione Ciborum by Anthimus (6th century)
Appendicula de Condituris Variis by Johannes Damascenus (8th-9th century)
De Flore Dietarum (11th century)
Tractatus de Modo Preparandi et Condiendi Omnia Cibaria (13th-14th century)
Liber de Coquina – first part (14th century)
Enseignemenz (14th century)
Opusculum de Saporibus by Mainus de Maineris (14th century)
Libro de la Cocina by Anonimo Toscano (14th century)
Anonimo Veneziano (14th century)
Registrum Coquine by Johannes von Bockenheim (15th century)
Libro de Arte Coquinaria by Maestro Martino – first and second part (15th century)

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