The Campus Martius Field of Mars was a public area of Rome used for military activities; as such, it was dedicated to Mars, god of war and father of Romulus and Remus, legendary founders of the city. During the census proceedings, a collection of citizens, among them military men serving as guards, are taking part in a religious rite, the suovetaurilia from sus [pig], ovis [ram], taurus [bull] : a ceremony during which livestock were sacrificed to the gods.
The sacrifice, whose purpose was purification, was performed at state ceremonies; during agricultural festivals to drive out evil from the fields and purify new crops; as atonement for ritual errors; before military campaigns; and at the conclusion of the census. The census was the first and principal duty of the Roman censors, high magistrates in charge of this 5-yearly activity.
To carry out the census and the purifications that concluded it, they had the power of summoning the people to the Campus Martius, each tribe separately, by public crier. A person voluntarily absent from the census was considered incensus and risked imprisonment and death.
Even art can be used for promotion and persuasion. Yet this census-taking relief, a glimpse of Roman life, did more than serve the purposes of the state. It witnessed one of the foundation stones of Roman civilization; a ritual special to the Romans for it symbolized their status as a populus , a people, capable of collective action Eliot, poet and critic of modern European culture.
And while his words may not have universal application, they do call attention to Roman legacy in some of our practices. Certainly we relate to the census. In ancient Rome, the practice served to count citizens and assess military strength and tax revenue.
Classical Literary Criticism: Poetics/Ars Poetica/On the Sublime by Aristotle
In public health, it helps calculate population density. The number of humans, animals, plants, wildlife, and vectors per unit area influences the spread of communicable diseases and their impact, a tax of its own.
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Related Horace for students of literature: the Ars poetica and its tradition
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