1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Herald

HERALD (O. Fr. heraut, herault; the origin is uncertain, but O.H.G. heren, to call, or hariwald, leader of an army, have been proposed; the Gr. equivalent is κῆρυξ: Lat. praeco, caduceator, fetialis), in Greek and Roman antiquities, the term for the officials described below; in modern usage, while the word “herald” is often used generally in a sense analogous to that of the ancients, it is more specially restricted to that dealt with in the article Heraldry.

The Greek heralds, who claimed descent from Hermes, the messenger of the gods, through his son Keryx, were public functionaries of high importance in early times. Like Hermes, they carried a staff of olive or laurel wood surrounded by two snakes (or with wool as messengers of peace); their persons were inviolable; and they formed a kind of priesthood or corporation. In the Homeric age, they summoned the assemblies of the people, at which they preserved order and silence; proclaimed war; arranged the cessation of hostilities and the conclusion of peace; and assisted at public sacrifices and banquets. They also performed certain menial offices for the kings (mixing and pouring out the wine for the guests), by whom they were treated as confidential servants. In later times, their position was a less honourable one; they were recruited from the poorer classes, and were mostly paid servants of the various officials. Pollux in his Onomasticon distinguishes four classes of heralds: (1) the sacred heralds at the Eleusinian mysteries;[1] (2) the heralds at the public games, who announced the names of the competitors and victors; (3) those who superintended the arrangements of festal processions; (4) those who proclaimed goods for sale in the market (for which purpose they mounted a stone), and gave notice of lost children and runaway slaves. To these should be added (5) the heralds of the boulē and demos, who summoned the members of the council and ecclesia, recited the solemn formula of prayer before the opening of the meeting, called upon the orators to speak, counted the votes and announced the results; (6) the heralds of the law courts, who gave notice of the time of trials and summoned the parties. The heralds received payment from the state and free meals together with the officials to whom they were attached. Their appointment was subject to some kind of examination, probably of the quality of their voice. Like the earlier heralds, they were also employed in negotiations connected with war and peace.

Among the Romans the praecones or “criers” exercised their profession both in private and official business. As private criers they were especially concerned with auctions; they advertized the time, place and conditions of sale, called out the various bids, and like the modern auctioneer varied the proceedings with jokes. They gave notice in the streets of things that had been lost, and took over various commissions, such as funeral arrangements. Although the calling was held in little estimation, some of these criers amassed great wealth. The state criers, who were mostly freedmen and well paid, formed the lowest class of apparitores (attendants on various magistrates). On the whole, their functions resembled those of the Greek heralds. They called the popular assemblies together, proclaimed silence and made known the result of the voting; in judicial cases, they summoned the plaintiff, defendant, advocates and witnesses; in criminal executions they gave out the reasons for the punishment and called on the executioner to perform his duty; they invited the people to the games and announced the names of the victors. Public criers were also employed at state auctions in the municipia and colonies, but, according to the lex Julia municipalis of Caesar, they were prohibited from holding office.

Amongst the Romans the settlement of matters relating to war and peace was entrusted to a special class of heralds called Fetiales (not Feciales), a word of uncertain etymology, possibly connected with fateor, fari, and meaning “the speakers.” They formed a priestly college of 20 (or 15) members, the institution of which was ascribed to one of the kings. They were chosen from the most distinguished families, held office for life, and filled up vacancies in their number by co-optation. Their duties were to demand redress for insult or injury to the state, to declare war unless satisfaction was obtained within a certain number of days and to conclude treaties of peace. A deputation of four (or two), one of whom was called pater patratus, wearing priestly garments, with sacred herbs plucked from the Capitoline hill borne in front, proceeded to the frontier of the enemy’s territory and demanded the surrender of the guilty party. This demand was called clarigatio (perhaps from its being made in a loud, clear voice). If no satisfactory answer was given within 30 days, the deputation returned to Rome and made a report. If war was decided upon, the deputation again repaired to the frontier, pronounced a solemn formula, and hurled a charred and blood-stained javelin across the frontier, in the presence of three witnesses, which was tantamount to a declaration of war (Livy i. 24, 32). With the extension of the Roman empire, it became impossible to carry out this ceremonial, for which was substituted the hurling of a javelin over a column near the temple of Bellona in the direction of the enemy’s territory. When the termination of a war was decided upon, the fetiales either made an arrangement for the suspension of hostilities for a definite term of years, after which the war recommenced automatically or they concluded a solemn treaty with the enemy. Conditions of peace or alliance proposed by the general on his own responsibility (sponsio) were not binding upon the people, and in case of rejection the general, with hands bound, was delivered by the fetiales to the enemy (Livy ix. 10). But if the terms were agreed to, a deputation carrying the sacred herbs and the flint stones, kept in the temple of Jupiter Feretrius for sacrificial purposes, met a deputation of fetiales from the other side. After the conditions of the treaty had been read, the sacrificial formula was pronounced and the victims slain by a blow from a stone (hence the expression foedus ferire). The treaty was then signed and handed over to the keeping of the fetial college. These ceremonies usually took place in Rome, but in 201 a deputation of fetiales went to Africa to ratify the conclusion of peace with Carthage. From that time little is heard of the fetiales, although they appear to have existed till the end of the 4th century A.D. The caduceator (from caduceus, the latinized form of κηρυκεῖον) was the name of a person who was sent to treat for peace. His person was considered sacred; and like the fetiales he carried the sacred herbs, instead of the caduceus, which was not in use amongst the Romans.

For the Greek heralds, see Ch. Ostermann, De praeconibus Graecorum (1845); for the Roman Praecones, Mommsen, Römisches Staatsrecht, i. 363 (3rd ed., 1887); also article Praecones in Pauly’s Realencyclopädie (1852 edition); for the Fetiales, monographs by F. C. Conradi (1734, containing all the necessary material), and G. Fusinato (1884, from Atti della R. Accad. dei Lincei, series iii. vol. 13); also Marquardt, Römische Staatsverwaltung, iii. 415 (3rd ed., 1885), and A. Weiss in Daremberg and Saglio’s Dictionnaire des antiquités.  (J. H. F.) 

  1. These heralds are regarded by some as a branch of the Eumolpidae, by others as of Athenian origin. They enjoyed great prestige and formed a hieratic caste like the Eumolpidae, with whom they shared the most important liturgical functions. From them were selected the δᾳδοῦχος or torch-bearer, the ἱεροκῆρυξ, whose chief duty was to proclaim silence, and ὁ ἐπὶ βωμῷ, an official connected with the service at the altar (see L. R. Farnell, Cults of the Greek States, iii. 161; J. Töpffer, Attische Genealogie (1889); Dittenberger in Hermes, xx.; P. Foucart, “Les Grands Mystères d’Eleusis” in Mém. de l’Institut National de France, xxxvii. (1904).