Sigillaria (ancient Rome)

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In ancient Roman culture, sigillaria were pottery or wax figurines given as traditional gifts during the Saturnalia. Sigillaria as a proper noun was also the name for the last day of the Saturnalia, December 23,[1] and for a place where sigillaria were sold.[2] A sigillarius was a person who made and sold sigillaria, perhaps as an offshoot of pottery manufacture.[3]

The objects

In the dialogue of Macrobius's Saturnalia, the interlocutor Praetextatus says that sigillaria were substitutes for the sacrificial victims of the primitive religious rituals.[4] Interpreted as such, they raise questions about human sacrifice among the earliest Romans[5] (see also Argei and oscilla). The speaker Evangelus, however, counters that the figures are nothing more than toys to amuse children.[6]

The fair

For the four-day fair, vendors of the figurines and other gifts set up temporary stalls in the Campus Martius, and later in the portico of the Baths of Trajan. Juvenal says the vendor stalls blocked the paintings of Jason and the Argonauts in the Porticus Agrippiana.[7]


  1. ^ Robert A. Kaster, Macrobius: Saturnalia Books 1–2 (Loeb Classical Library, 2011), pp. 81 (note 110) and 110 (note 178).
  2. ^ Caroline Vout, Power and Eroticism in Imperial Rome (Cambridge University Press, 2007), p. 152.
  3. ^ Claire Holleran, Shopping in Ancient Rome: The Retail Trade in the Late Republic and the Principate (Oxford University Press, 2012), p. 192.
  4. ^ Macrobius, Saturnalia 1.10.24.
  5. ^ Carlin A. Barton, The Sorrows of the Ancient Romans: The Gladiator and the Monster (Princeton University Press, 1993), p. 166.
  6. ^ Macrobius, Saturnalia 1.11.1.
  7. ^ Scholiast to Juvenal 6.154; Lawrence Richardson, A New Topographical Dictionary of Ancient Rome (Johns Hopkins University Press, 1992), p. 398; Holleran, Shopping in Ancient Rome, pp. 191–192.
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