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THE LEAGUE OF THE THUMB.
worthy to be rejected. And whenever one decides to be a friend, we [who would join in the covenant] make the greatest of all oaths, to live with one another, and to die, if need be, the one for the other. And this is the manner of it: Thereupon, cutting our fingers, all simultaneously, we let the blood drop into a vessel, and having dipped the points of our swords into it, both [of us] holding them together,1 we drink it. There is nothing which can loose us from one another after that."
Yet a little earlier than Lucian, Tacitus, foremost among Latin historians, gives record of this rite of blood-brotherhood as practised in the East. He is telling, in his Annals, of Rhadamistus, leader of the Iberians, who pretends to seek a covenant with Mithridates, King of the Armenians (yet farther east than Scythia), which should make firm the peace between the two nations, "diis testibus," "the gods being witnesses." Here Tacitus makes an explanation: "It is the custom of [Oriental] kings, as often as they come together to make covenant, to join right hands, to tie the thumbs together, and to tighten them with a knot. Then, when the blood is [thus] pressed to the finger tips, they draw blood by a light stroke, and lick3 it in turn.
1 See references to arms as accessories to the rite, in Africa, and in Madagascar, and in Timor, at pages 16, 32, 35 f., 45 f., 53, supra. 2 Annales, XII., 47. 3 See page 11, supra.
This they regard as a divine1 covenant, made sacred as it were, by mutual blood [or blended lives]."
There are several references, by classical writers, to this blood-friendship, or to this blood-covenanting, in connection with Catiline's conspiracy against the Roman Republic. Sallust, the historian of that conspiracy, says: "There were those at that time who said that Catiline, at this conference [with his accomplices] when he inducted them into the oath of partnership in crime, carried round in goblets human blood, mixed with wine; and that after all had tasted of it, with an imprecatory oath, as is men's wont in solemn rites [in "Sharb el-'ahd," as the Arabs would say] he opened to them his plans." Florus, a later Latin historian, describing this conspiracy, says: "There was added the pledge of the league,-human blood,—which they drank as it was borne round to them in goblets." And yet later, Tertullian suggests that it was their own blood, mingled with wine, of which the fellow-conspirators drank together. "Concerning the eating of blood and other such tragic dishes," he says, "you read (I do not know where), that blood drawn from the arms, and tasted by one another,
1 Arcanum; literally "mysterious,”—not in the sense of secret, or occult, but with reference to its sacred and supernatural origin and sanction.
See p. 9, supra.
3 Catilina, cap.
4 XXII. Historia, IV., I, 4.
THE COVENANT OF CATILINE.
was the method of making covenant among certain nations. I know not but that under Catiline such blood was tasted."1
In the Pitti Palace, in Florence, there is a famous painting of the conspiracy of Catiline, by Salvator Rosa; it is, indeed, Salvator Rosa's masterpiece, in the line of historical painting. This painting represents the covenanting by blood. Two conspirators stand face to face, their right hands clasped above a votive altar. The bared right arm of each is incised, a little below the elbow. The blood is streaming from the arm of one, into a cup which he holds, with his left hand, to receive it; while the dripping arm of the other conspirator shows that his blood has already flowed into the commingling cup. The uplifted hand of the daysman between the conspirators seems to indicate the imprecatory vows which the two are assuming, in the presence of the gods, and of the witnesses who stand about the altar. This is a clear indication of the traditional form of covenanting between Catiline and his fellow conspirators.
As far back, even, as the fifth century before Christ, we find an explicit description of this Oriental rite of blood-covenanting, in the writings of " the Father of History." "Now the Scythians," says Herodotus,3 "make covenants in the following manner, with whom1Apologet., cap. IX. 2 See stamp on outside cover. 3 Hist., IV., 70.
soever they make them. Having poured out wine into a great earthen drinking-bowl, they mingle with it the blood of those cutting covenant, striking the body [of each person having a part in it] with a small knife, or cutting it slightly with a sword. Thereafter, they dip into the bowl, sword, arrows, axe, and javelin.1 But while they are doing this, they utter many invokings [of curse upon a breach of this covenant];2 and, afterwards, not only those who make the covenant, but those of their followers who are of the highest rank, drink off [the wine mingled with blood]."
Again Herodotus says of this custom, in his day3: "Now the Arabians reverence in a very high degree pledges between man and man. They make these pledges in the following way. When they wish to make pledges to one another, a third man, standing in the midst of the two, cuts with a sharp stone the inside of the hands along the thumbs of the two making the pledges. After that, plucking some woolen floss from the garments of each of the two, he anoints with the blood seven stones [as the "heap of witness "4] which are set in the midst. While he is doing this he
1 See note, at page 59, supra.
2 See the references to imprecatory invokings, in connection with the observance of the rite in Syria, in Central Africa, in Madagascar, and in Timor, at pages 9, 20, 31, 46 f., 53, supra.
3 Hist., III., 8.
See page 45 supra, note.
THE DRINK OF THE COVENANT.
invokes Dionysus and Urania. When this rite is completed, he that has made the pledges [to one from without] introduces the [former] stranger to his friends—or the fellow citizen [to his fellows] if the rite was performed with a fellow-citizen."
Thus it is clear, that the rite of blood-brotherhood, or of blood-friendship, which is to-day a revered form of sacred covenanting in the unchangeable East, was recognized as an established custom among Oriental peoples twenty-three centuries ago. Its beginning must certainly have been prior to that time; if not indeed long prior.
An indication of the extreme antiquity of this rite would seem to be shown in a term employed in its designation by the Romans, early in our Christian era; when both the meaning and the origin of the term itself were already lost in the dim past. Festus, a writer, of fifteen centuries or more ago, concerning Latin antiquities, is reported as saying, of this drink of the covenant of blood: "A certain kind of drink, of mingled wine and blood, was called assiratum by
1 See references to the welcoming of new friends by the natives of Africa and of Borneo, at the celebration of this rite, at pages 36 f., 51, supra.
2 Sextus Pompeius Festus, whose chief work, in the third or fourth Christian century, was an epitome, with added notes and criticisms, of an unpreserved work of M. Verrius Flaccus, on the Latin language and antiquities.
3 See Rosenmüller's Scholia in Vet. Test., apud Psa. 16: 4.